Richie lay still and content, his eyes closed
and the evening sun warm on his skin, as he enjoyed another caress
from his energyless companion. It was a good few hours since the
couple had found the sanctuary of the peaceful loft; they had
spent the time in exploration and weren't ready to tire yet. The
young man tensed and made a bright exclamation as Naomi bit into
the flesh of his muscled stomach. He chose the time to sit up
and wrapped the delightful presence into an all-encompassing embrace.
The young woman laid into his arms and gazed up at his smiling
face, a twinkle in her eyes - it was a look the young man was
beginning to recognise, and he raised an eyebrow. He shifted in
pleasure as one of her wandering hands ran over the small his
back, and the other drifted enticingly up his inner leg.
"Not again?" he murmured, and collapsed
back down onto the blanket in amused disbelief, "I may be
Immortal, but I have my limits."
His goddess laughed at the exclamation, but
decided to change her ideas for the time being, instead, returning
to the tantalisation of a few moments before; there may have me
a lack of concern in her partner's tone, but she knew the truth
in his words. It was too soon to arouse him again, she'd been
experimenting over the hours they'd spent together, and was fully
aware of her companion's abilities. Yet, there was still fun to
be had. The young woman was no longer the unsure creature of before,
she knew exactly what she was doing, and how to touch him - soon,
he'd reach for her again. Richie groaned, laughing all the same
at the sometimes savage loving of his darling - comfortably, he
The young man glanced off to his left as his
hand contacted with cold metal, idly he picked up the watch that
he'd removed a long time earlier. He blinked against the sun and
read the time and he laughed again. Dropping the watch, the youth
turned back to his companion and tickled her back fondly. His
talk was absent as he disclosed, "We've missed supper."
"Mm," Naomi replied, and nipped
at his chest, just on the edge by his arm where he liked it.
The young man let out a breath as her touch
went to the point where she broke the skin. He smiled as his flesh
tingled, and then observed, "Not that you'll be needing any."
The girl raised her head at that and grinned
wildly; it was true she'd taken more bites out of her lover than
most people take to eat a four- course meal. Richie took the opportunity
to pull his paramour up to him, and she lay down next to him.
The togetherness was comfortable, and both partners relaxed for
a moment, content in the still evening.
"The others will be wondering where we've
got to," the young man perceived, but then caught the smirk
of his companion and decided, "no, correction, they'll know
where we've got to, and what we've been doing. I can just see
the guys reaction now - hope you don't mind me par- grilled."
"We'll make a half-descent barbecue together,"
Naomi answered, giggling easily, and teased, "Agatha won't
let me pass over the juicy bits."
"Oh really!" her soul-mate huffed
in mock disdain, and rolled over into the beginnings of a pleasant
The girl screamed as his fingers danced over
her flesh - he had long since discovered that she too was ticklish
- and reached right back. The sport soon turned into a passionate
embrace, and the noise that drifted out of the small window became
low and filled with murmurs of pleasure.
The Immortal ran his teeth over his lover's
neck where she knelt with her back to him, and one hand caressed
her breasts, the other touched her softness. He pressed close,
nibbling her shoulder, tasting the sweet salt that was on her
skin; she was trembling and panting as he brought her on. A rush
of adrenaline coursed through his veins, as she gasped and leant
back into him, her passion being met. He wrapped his arms around
her as the moment passed, and they breathed together as her heartbeat
settled. He felt good being close to his one-time taboo; he still
felt the nature of her, the Quickening that would be, and the
light in which he saw it now was glorious. There was pure contentment
in his heart as the youth embraced his Eternal Love.
Yet, the peace was not to last any longer
- a single crack cut the quiet evening and sent a jolt through
the couple. It was the sound of a gun, not a farmer's rifle for
scaring the birds, but a pistol, and a youngster's scream followed
it. Richie started and went into Immortal overdrive - gun shots
were not healthy where Mortals were concerned, Mortals about whom
he cared. Rapidly, he grabbed his clothes and began to pull them
on, Naomi was quick to follow suit. Shirt loose on his back, jeans
half fastened, boots in hand, Richie ran down the length of the
loft and came to a cautious halt at the open exit. His companion
caught up with him as he was pulling on his protective footwear
and straightening his clothes.
"Stay here and keep out of sight,"
he ordered firmly, laying a hand on his beauty's arm.
The immediate response was negative, a swift
shake of the head and a worried frown, but her lover continued
logically, "I'll go and see what's happening, if I don't
come back, it means there's something wrong, probably more than
one of them and they're not friendly - wait `til dark and then
go for help."
The argument was to the point, and the young
man was not taking any counter, there was a look in his eyes,
protective, definitely Immortal, and Naomi had seen it before.
She recognised the purpose of the warrior and knew she could not
match it. The concern didn't leave her gentle features, but she
accepted his command with a brief nod.
"Be careful," she whispered and
laid a kiss on his cheek.
Richie turned into the kiss and pushed back,
he was not feeling any easier about the disastrous sounds than
his partner. The embrace over, he let his training kick in - it
wasn't designed for reconnaissance, but he'd have to do. He moved
with the poise of the Immortal fighter, his senses keen to an
unusual hunt, as he surveyed the barn below for person, or persons
unknown and then climbed down the ladder.
The farm was quiet as the Immortal inspected
it from the half-open barn door; the yard in front of him was
empty except for a dusty van which lay between him and the house.
There were sounds of fear coming from beyond his vision, and then
the youth was glad of MacLeod's teaching. He closed his eyes for
a moment and centred on the noise - there were at least two voices
he didn't recognise, both male. Yet, his mind's eye recalled the
picture of the truck, it's backdoor swung open - if there were
only two, why had one man sat in the back of the truck. Then came
an answer, a third male voice he didn't know, but it wasn't aggressive
sounding, it held a similar fear to the tones he knew. Things
were not looking good, the only up point being that there had
not been another shot fired.
His movements as silent as the world around
him, the young form ran for the cover of the empty vehicle. From
there he looked through the cab over to the house; he only had
a side view, but it was enough. Through the side kitchen window,
the youth saw four figures in the kitchen, two blue shirted men
with their backs to him, and Jon and Agatha - Richie made out
a dim view of the kids and a third stranger through in the dining
room. A gun was being waved about by the intruder nearest the
window, and he was threatening his hostages, "We're only
here for a while, people, and we don't want no trouble. You all
stay quiet and we leave nice and early tomorrow morning without
anyone getting hurt. Understand?"
Agatha nodded silently - there was Eternal
hazard in her eyes, but she was not about to endanger her Mortal
companions. It was a side to the woman that Richie had not seen
before, she was the Immortal now, like him, and there was a hunger
in her eyes as she stared at the two strangers. The youth had
never seen one of his kin look at a Mortal in such a manner, but
he felt the rage too as he heard the condescension and arrogance
in the intruder's tone. He stayed a moment longer, assessing the
situation, but there was not much he could do alone that would
not put his friends in harm's way, so he prepared to turn away
and head back to the barn. However, a glint from the window as
sun reflected on something shiny caught the concealed man's eye
and stopped him from leaving his position. He froze in dread as
he recognised his own sword, held out by a fourth trespasser.
The reaction of the nearest man was unexpected and rapidly changed
the youth's mind about leaving the area. The leader, as he appeared
to be, snatched the weapon from the finder and waved it nastily
at his companion. His manner was maddened and there was fear in
his voice as he attacked the passive stranger with, "There's
one of them here? You didn't tell me. You treacherous freak!
Which one is it?"
The rapier swung dangerously close to Agatha,
then Jon, then back to the source of the frustration. Richie reacted
out of instinct, fighting was not good, even among the enemy,
and the implication of the intruders' leader was obvious. Immortal
anger inspired, he moved towards the farm house, not quite sure
why he was doing it.
The enraged, apparently unhinged stranger
continued to threaten his subordinate, who made no sound. A stream
of words protracted, and the Immortal newcomer was backed against
a wall, the sword at his neck when Richie felt him for the first
time. The youth was stood in the doorway still as a statue when
his kin breathed in sharply and looked over toward the portal.
"The sword belongs to me," the poised
figure disclosed smoothly, no sign of emotion on him, he was regarding
The blade was swiftly moved away from the
first neck and came rapidly towards its owner. Richard Ryan did
not move his body, only his attention; penetrating, powerful eyes
gazed through the Mortal as he dared to lay the sword on an Immortal
shoulder. There was no chance of intimidation on either side,
however, one was too dense to recognise power when he saw it,
the other too busy controlling the pot of rage inside to even
"Maybe you weren't deceiving me, Tarant,"
the Mortal sneered, glancing over his shoulder at his nervous-looking
Richie followed the look and once again levelled
himself on the stranger. There was a knowledge between them, and
a common ritual to follow.
"Russ Tarant," the unkempt, wild-eyed
kin disclosed quietly.
"Richard Ryan," was the even response.
"Have you heard of him?" the Mortal
between them interrupted the moment of introduction.
His underling merely shook his head briefly.
The man was a pitiful creature really; he stood, his shoulders
hunched, his eyes dull, his hair greasy, his chin covered in stubble.
He looked about thirty, but there was age, and a weariness in
his eyes, and he did not carry a sword. That was not surprising,
his blue shirt went with standard issue blue jeans and a number
on the clothing, he was a `guest of the State', or rather, had
recently been one. Richie's anger at the Immortal interloper died
as he took in the pathetic form, there was no danger from him,
no fight, he was being used. The real sense of threat came from
the sword holder - average height, average build, mouse brown
hair, clean-shaven, there was nothing special about the man at
first glance, but once the blond youth had looked into his eyes,
he knew the selfish, onerous qualities that lay behind the sneer.
A shift of the sword at his neck, and the
unusual being's attention hardened on his adversary. The Mortal
glared venomously at the passive statue and menaced loudly, "You
listen to me, freak, and make sure you understand me. As I told
these nice people here, we are only staying for the night, Tarant
thought it might be a place to hide until the heat dies off. Now,
I know about your kind, my friend talks a lot when I give him
enough booze, and I know plenty to dispose of any unwanted garbage.
Whatever you're thinking, don't, remember, I got the sword. Any
trouble and I take you out, and then I'll take a couple of your
friends as well. Got it?"
The young man nodded, there was real intent
in the flash of the other's eye and he wasn't going to provoke
it. Naomi was still free, she could go for help. It was not time
to play the hero, especially with an opponent who knew his weaknesses.
The intimidator held the blade to his neck for a little longer,
just to make some kind of point, and then he turned away, swinging
both gun and rapier dangerously.
"Carter, go and find Guinea - tell him
his perimeter sweep sucks and to do it again," he ordered.
"You three, into the other room with your friends."
Richie sat at the end of the table closest
to the kitchen, staring, supposedly, fixedly out of the window,
but in fact keeping half an eye on the activities in the other
room. He sat away from the others, and had not greeted anyone
- he knew that whatever happened now, he was a focus of attention
for the nervous leader, whose name was Hill, and he would not
pass the association onto any of his comrades. Instead, he was
being watched from either side: the hostile eyes of the captors
ran over him occasionally, half aware of the poise in the seated
figure; the youngsters were huddled together at the far end of
the room, as far away from the five men, who gathered in the outer
room, as possible, and their gazes drifted, occasionally settling
on him with something close to uncomfortable revelation. They'd
heard what had passed in the outer chamber, and the enigmatic
links between the newcomer and their companion was another unusual
quality about him to file away. The Immortal ignored them all,
but the small figure being held close by Biff was the hardest
to neglect. Annie was frightened, a tiny child he desperately
wanted to sweep into his arms and wrap in all the comfort he could,
but he recognised the danger in which his fondness could place
her. The toddler could not understand his reasoning, and only
her companion's and Agatha's presence stopped her from protesting.
The adults seemed to accept his logic, the looks which had passed
swiftly on their entrance into the room had settled that, but
the cool exterior was only adding to the growing mystery of the
man the teenagers had thought they knew. However, it could not
be helped, and dealing with the present was enough of a problem,
future incidents due to his behaviour now would have to be dealt
with when they arose. So they sat, silent and tense, prisoners
of five escapees with a couple of police pistols and now the contents
of Jon's gun-cupboard.
There was a stranger among the group who wasn't
in league with their captors; a young police officer, no more
than Richie's age was sat in a dishevelled heap in the corner
next to Agatha. He was pale and obviously shaken by the rough
handling that he'd been given, and also by the shooting of his
partner, which he had briefly recounted to the older woman who
had taken charge. The men had skipped from the county jail, two
murderers, and three bank robbers - answering the APB that had
followed had been unhealthy for the rookie's chaperone and terrifying
for him. They'd left the man bleeding badly in his car, no use
as a hostage, but relieving him of his gun, handcuffs and partner.
The description of their previous actions made it quite clear
that the men were desperate and very jumpy.
The young Immortal took in all the information
His direct observations of the intruders served
only to back up the cop's disclosures. Hill never seemed to sit
still, he was hyperactively pacing up and down the kitchen, sometimes
waving the weapons around at his comrades, sometimes throwing
them down on the table in frustration. He would pause occasionally
to glance out of the window, or survey his prisoners - neither
view seemed to give him any succour. Tarant was a passive creature,
inactive in the most part, seated at the table his head in his
hands, remaining inert despite the occasional shove or thump given
him by his companions. He had found a bottle of cooking brandy
in the cupboard, and helping himself regularly, he didn't seem
to care much about anything. The other three, Guinea, Carter and
Pitbull were the muscle of the team such as it was. Largely overweight,
rather than well built, there was still considerable amounts of
power that could be applied by the bulks. They responded to orders
from their leader, squabbling occasionally amongst themselves,
but obviously subservient to the brains of their escape.
None of the men seemed to like the others
much, theirs was a union of convenience that was fast becoming
troublesome. There was tension among the captors as well as their
hostages, but for different reasons and none of them good. It
had already been demonstrated that Hill did not trust his companions;
Richie assessed him as a habitual loner, cold, but prone to regular
bouts of temper that could prove dangerous. The others did not
worry the young warrior, one was weak, the others stupid, but
the man who held his sword was neither. He didn't like the way
the absconder eyed him, calculating as carefully as he was, assessing,
considering, his face dark.
Hill was not comfortable with his Immortal
hostage, there was a fear in his eyes which made him more of a
possible threat. Richie did his best to stay still and inconspicuous,
but by his very presence he made his nemesis nervous. He could
not lower his unusual shield, it held back the emotions that could
make the situation worse, but the calm, almost serene mask was
the lesser of two evils when it came to antagonising the anything
but unruffled opposite.
It was not more than half an hour before Hill's
watch from the kitchen was not enough for him.
Richard Ryan's manner tensed almost invisibly
as he recognised the hostility begin its path towards him. His
fellow Immortals saw the shift in his demeanour, they too were
on edge, but it was not something that was visible to someone
who was not watching for it. Hill seemed to have no sense of the
identification he was being given and gained the apparently absent
creature's attention by a fast swipe of a hand on his shoulder.
The unusual man responded slowly, turning his head and staring
coldly up at his opponent, but he couldn't stifle the flash of
anger that crossed his face at the pernicious nature of his abuser.
He was silent, but his heavy attention spoke for him; Hill chose
to take it as fuel to his fire.
"Think yourself better than us, freak?"
he sneered in his usual dissatisfied fashion. "How long you
been in the Game?"
"Long enough," Richie answered glacially,
and the look in his eyes held no doubt as to the truth of his
The youth didn't like his enemy, and it was
beginning to show; his facade wasn't perfect and his disgust at
the other's audacity was beginning to show. It wasn't a Mortal's
place to pry into Immortal affairs, the Watchers had been a bad
enough revelation, but another renegade holding such information
was not a pleasant prospect. Once again, the would-be intimidator
was not getting anywhere, and his inability at something he found
so easy to hold over his normal acquaintances was yet another
chagrin. The sword, glinting in the evening sun was brought slowly
up level with the seated form's face, but it was held away from
"Lethal piece of antique," Hill
tried to belittle the weapon's elegance and failed, but pressed
on, "How many have you killed with this?"
That drew the Immortal attention more effectively
than any sneer; this was not a conversation to have in front of
innocents. His glare said as much and his captor laughed.
"Hit a nerve, eh, freak?" he brought
the razor edge in under an immobile chin. "Don't want me
tarnishing your image? How many heads have you taken, murderer?"
Hill had said enough, it was time to end the
dialogue before he revealed any more personal opinions on the
Gathering. Richie reacted with an urgency made out of anger and
self-protection. His hand went out, grabbed the hilt of his sword
and twisted out and away from both of them. The Mortal had only
a moment to complain as the metal crashed down on the floor, but
he was quick enough to lift his gun. It was all that held the
two men apart as Richard Ryan stood and faced the evil at his
full height. The pistol jabbed in his ribs and he glanced down
at the black housing. It seemed pathetic and he hissed coldly,
"Expect me to be scared of that, or you? You don't understand
us, you can't."
There was stillness; the young man had managed
to unnerve his antagonist into a second's immobility. His enraged
gaze seemed to captivate the Mortal as he glimpsed the danger
that truly demonstrated the soul of an Eternal. It was the youth
who ended the confrontation, it would do no good; he turned away
in distaste, trying to gather back in his self-presence. His movement
was enough to break the temporary spell and his opponent was not
happy at the show of defiance. A noise near a snarl came from
his mouth and Richie turned in time to see a solid piece of metal
coming down on his head. The butt of the gun cracked at his skull
and elicited a grunt of pain, but feeling was gone into blackness
before much of the exclamation escaped his lips.
Light came out of dark and then pain out of
sensation; the world into which Richie awoke caused him to groan
loudly. He was lying down, and putting a tentative hand to his
head, the youth attempted to sit up. Several hands came to help
him, and he opened his eyes in response. He found himself half
seated, half lying on the window seat, and both Kathleen and Agatha
knelt by him. The older woman's face spoke for her and it said
`that was a stupid thing to do', Kathleen seemed more appropriately
concerned, but then she didn't know that even in the few seconds
he had awoken, the ache was ebbing away as his body healed itself.
The image before his eyes was a little blurred to begin with as
a concussion sorted itself out, and he blinked several times,
wincing as he placed his fingers on the part of his scalp that
was still mending.
"Richie, you okay?" his Mortal aide
questioned in a hushed whisper, glancing at the half-closed door
of the kitchen as she did so.
"I will be," the young man responded
gratefully, trying to act like someone dazed, even though the
inconvenience cleared quickly.
He carefully sat round and placed his feet
squarely on the ground while lowering his head onto his knees.
He let out a sigh, not for the discomfort he was feeling, but
for the looks on the faces he had seen as he sunk down into that
position. Even the caring woman next to him seemed nervous, and
the recalled conversation did not conjure pleasant ones for the
future. They'd seen the killer instinct, the Immortal- indignation,
the difference in him, and his friends were more than just concerned
for his physical well-being. They'd been bemused before, uncertain
of the unusual qualities that he'd called into play the moment
he'd faced Hill, but now, part of that edge had been given specific
form in the allegations that the convict had laid at his prisoner's
feet. There had been no denial of the accusations and there had
been a vague, unthought hope in many a face that one would follow
shortly. Yet, the young Immortal could not bring himself to raise
his head and remove their angst with a glib lie - he was a killer,
he had taken heads with the sword that Hill carried, and he wanted
to make them understand why his life held such brutality, but
there was too much that he could not reveal to so many Mortals
and he would not prevaricate.
There was movement close by, and the young
man felt a body moving away from him; Richie glanced up and was
in time to see Kathleen moving over to her silent charges. His
attention was quickly taken by the look on Agatha's face however,
and it did not look pleased.
"I know I didn't handle that very well,"
the young man shrugged and defended himself immediately in a whisper
that was meant to be low to all ears, not just their adversaries,
"but would you have preferred for that bastard to have continued
our interesting conversation?"
Jon began a quiet conversation with his nearest
neighbour as he became aware that it was not good to eavesdrop
the Immortals. Agatha paused a moment, waiting for the murmuring
to grow through the company, and then her frown was put into words.
"There were better ways to confront that
one," the woman responded, "but I have to admit that
he was looking for a fight. As it rests now, however, we still
have a serious problem."
"Thanks to Tarant," Richie made
a face and then pressed on with a question that he had wanted
to ask before, but had not had the opportunity, "How does
he know this place anyway?"
Agatha's face was unreadable as she recalled
something, but there was a sad aspect to her features as she disclosed,
"Twenty years ago, he came into town, a drifter, a drunk,
obviously sick and tired of his life. We came across each other
and I felt sorry for him. The ranch was a working farm then, and
I offered him a place in by bunk house for as long as he needed
it. I was intending to try and dry him out, but he only stayed
a few days. He worked hard, said little, kept to himself when
he wasn't working, and then he was gone before pay day. He skipped
in the middle of the night, and one of my men found some money
on his bed along with a note apologising for the fact that it
was so little, and that he was sorry to have taken advantage of
my hospitality for so long. His name was different then, something
Clint, I think, but apart from that, I have no idea who he is."
"He remembered you," her companion
observed and continued, "and he has told Hill a lot about
us, but hasn't revealed anyone to him unless he had to. What's
"Survival," was the cool response
through pursed lips.
"And meanwhile, we have four loose cannons
in the kitchen, and twenty Mortals in their firing line,"
the youth shook his head in frustration.
"Keep cool, Kid," Agatha laid a
wiser hand on his arm as she saw the anger at the back of his
eyes. "Don't give Hill an excuse to go for your head. He's
near enough to the edge to do it."
"I don't intend to offer myself to him
on a platter," Richie answered, but there was an uneasy feeling
in the pit of his stomach as his friend's words rang true.
Their conversation broke up soon after the
warning, Agatha returning to reassure her companions, the young
Immortal sat back and glanced over his shoulder out of the window.
The sun was dropping out of the sky and it would be night soon;
the youth's mind wandered to his darling hidden in the hay loft
- her task would begin shortly. Despite the situation, the room
was quiet, and Richard Ryan let his thoughts drift over the image
of loveliness he held in the front of his mind. She did not judge
him, she understood his life, the way it had to be shaped to cope
with the Game. She and the recollection of her touch sent a warmth
through the chill of the hazardous reality that the farm had become.
However, the real world always has a way of reasserting itself.
The captors kept an eye on their prisoners
from time to time, and it was not long before Hill became aware
of the fact that his defiant Immortal was once again conscious.
His reaction was not all that calm. The convict's face looked
only a little less mad than when Richie had last seen it as he
slammed open the door, and stalked menacingly over to the lone
figure his quarry had once more become. The youth glared at him,
but he kept his actions under control, Agatha's caution held firmly
in his thoughts, his hands by his sides, his body poised in case
the blade in hand was used in an attack. Only his eyes blazed
his hatred of the arrogant interloper. It took an amazing amount
of self- control not to move as the man lifted the back of his
left hand to his victim and swiped it across an unprotected face.
The youth let the momentum of the strike carry him back into the
seat, rage flaring in his spirit held passive by the weapon gripped
in the other hand. Silence, cold, frightened wordlessness fell
over the rest of the room as they watched the interaction unfold.
The atmosphere prickled as Hill paused a moment in his position
over the smouldering prey. He waited for a response, a reason
to use the hard steel, but none came, Richie was awkwardly submissive.
Eventually, the man relaxed back from the
blond youth, his eyes still holding the dangerous disquietude,
but it being satisfied for the moment by the lack of defiance.
Richie bit his tongue as plenty of caustic quips came to mind
at the grin of victory which spread across his antagonist's lips,
he merely righted himself and glowered.
"Learnt a bit of humility, eh, freak?"
he taunted, testing the limits of his reach. "Now what were
"Don't try to judge us," the young
man cut back with quiet assurance, as Hill touched on the sensitive
issues once more; there was control about him once more as he
forced his Immortal calm to take over.
"Why not?" the Mortal returned with
mockery in his tone, his minor triumph giving him indulgence in
the derision. "Yes, you mentioned this before, something
about not understanding you wasn't it? None of these good people
here understand you do they?"
The Immortal stayed silent, unwilling to respond
to the enquiry which he knew would be twisted around whatever
he said. There was something about bigotry that stank, no matter
in what form it appeared, and at that moment, the escapee reeked
with its foul odour. Richard Ryan, street-kid, no responsibilities,
would have physically struck out at the unfounded animosity, but
it was the ageless being, obligated to protect the Mortals close
by, who kept his tongue guarded, and merely listened to the contention
as it was revealed.
"The rest of us mere Mortals can never
understand the great band of freaks, can we?" the man dug
at the foundations of his focus' self- control, "You make
pretence at our ordinary little lives, but when push comes to
shove, the EndGame is this sword," Hill waggled the beautiful
workmanship out for all to see. "You live by it, you'll die
by it. If we see you use this, will we understand you then, Richard
Richie stared up at his tormentor, his gaze
steely, but giving away no emotion, his feelings were too well
clamped down for any break in the facade this time. He felt the
eyes on him grow wide as the dialogue continued and his senses
told him of the horror in the air. Hill was proving quite eloquent,
but there was no counter to his ridicule, not without argument
that would reveal sources of more awkward questions and feelings.
"A challenge, freak, isn't that how's
it's done?" the Mortal taunted, and for an awful moment the
youth thought that he was offering himself, however, Tarant appeared
at the door, apparently on cue.
The young man glanced at him and then back
at his harrasser, and this time there was horror in his eyes.
He was not cut off from the peace around him to forget the power
and serenity of the land on which he stood, and the very idea
of lifting the sword in contest made his being shiver.
"This is holy ground," he disclosed
in a subdued, but very firm tone, his disbelief at even the suggestion
showing in his manner.
Hill laughed, a cold, humourless sound, and
then enlightened, "Yes, Tarant's attitude was very similar
to yours - your priorities are perverse, but he was adamant about
your laughable lore. However, I like to know what I'm dealing
with, and Guinea found a solution to my dilemma," the aforementioned
appeared next to the defeated-looking Tarant once more on his
mark; the large man was holding the second, larger leather case
"These belong to you too, freak?"
the taunter continued, and the infuriated look he received gave
him the affirmative. "Thought so. Now, these," he took
the bag from his henchman and unzipped its contents onto the table,
"aren't so lethal as the metal kind, but you can spar with
them. I want to see how well you handle yourself, freak, and I'm
sure your friends would like to see just how deadly you can be.
You and Tarant, outside, now."
"No," the youth returned immediately,
the idea of combat with a hostile Immortal unthinkable to him.
Hill was ready for the rejection, and Richie
caught a slow, pained shake of the head from the mysterious would-be
combatant; he glanced at him as his antagonist moved away and
the look in his eyes was nothing but sadness. The young man quickly
returned to watching the more threatening figure as he walked
purposefully over to the huddled group of teenagers. There was
terrified silence as the evil surveyed his captives with a self-satisfied
smile; it was becoming quickly obvious that he had been planning
his moves carefully since returning to the room, and the young
Immortal experienced a sinking feeling as one finger raised and
beckoned deliberately to Emily. The girl was afraid, but walked
forward as the gun that lay slack in the beckoning hand became
the incentive for movement. The scene played out before the youth
was slow and defined, that was until the teenager came within
reach of her captor; then, a hand hooked around her waist and
pulled her to the escapee with dextrous speed. The delicate creature
screamed in fear, and it was not just Richie who rose to his feet
to try and aid her plight. However, the young man froze as the
more fatal design of sword was lifted menacingly to her throat
as she was held immobile.
"You have two choices, freak," Hill
spat, his eyes flaring with the hatred in his soul. "I've
explained this to my colleague, and now I'll explain it to you.
Pick up the stick, go outside and show me how well you can use
it, or this little lady who screams so well will be screaming
some more as I slit her throat."
There was no doubt in the young Eternal's
heart as to the aggressor's sincerity, the look of utter hostility
that was levelled on him told him how deep the purpose ran. Hill
was afraid of what he knew, but afraid like a cornered dog is
of those who threaten it. He was snarling for all he was worth
and his bite was not very far away. With regret, but knowledge
that it was the only option, both Immortals slowly reached for
the wooden sword-sticks.
Richie's face spoke through his silence as
the two men walked slowly out onto the veranda; his body was taut
as he fought very real urges to drop his arm and turn from what
he was about to do. There was an open hostility in the air, and
mixing it with weaponry did not make a recipe that any Immortal
could ignore. The young man's soul sang with inharmonious disquiet
as he felt the atmosphere around him recoil from the violence
that was about to unfold; this was no tutorial, or friendly spar,
no matter how much Hill had tried to make it so, and the challenge
could not be denied.
Ryan glanced at his opponent as they stepped
in tandem down the porch steps and onto their arena - for once
he felt in accord with the shell of a man as he read the same
instincts in him as ran through his own heart. Tarant was kin
and he too understood the nature of the power around him. There
was a vague disbelief at what he was doing in the old creature's
eyes, yet, the stick was held expertly in his palm, a firm grip,
but not so tight as to hinder sword play - this was a being who
had fought more than one battle in his life. The Immortal was
a mixture of signals for his younger associate, on the one hand
he was pitiful, a man given up on life, lost in drink and his
own despair, on the other, there was an Eternal within, who had
surfaced as soon as the weapon had touched his flesh. The Tarant
that strode into view of the Mortal who dominated him under most
circumstances was far from the weak figure that had been apparent
only moments earlier, and Richie recognised the fact. The way
he moved was smooth, unaffected by whatever drink he had recently
been almost desperately swigging, his face was clear and most
of all there was the strength of the warrior in his eyes.
The look that was eventually returned to the
younger Immortal was one that showed sadness, but also the readiness
for battle. The two men turned to face one another a metre or
so apart on the dusty paddock, their movements calm and controlled,
their emotions only visible to each other through the closeness
of combat. Tarant paused a moment, stick held passively as he
surveyed his competitor, Richie was more than willing to oblige
the moment as he gritted his teeth against the overwhelming wrongness
of his present situation. His feelings must have been obvious
to the suddenly composed figure before him, and there was a warning
to be given. The mysterious Eternal was sincere, his tone flat
and cold as he disclosed, "I know what this place means,
Ryan, but don't let it stop you fighting - if Hill thinks we're
holding back he won't hesitate in slitting the girl's throat."
"Let's get on with it," was all
the other could find to reply, animosity in his tone not really
aimed at his opponent, but at the situation they both found uncomfortable.
Richard Ryan sank his weight onto his back
leg and shifted the wood above his shoulder in the graceful arc
he had practised so often. The movement was smooth, controlled
as muscles flexed and a gaze set hard, but within, the young Immortal
was churning. He became a poised statue as he waited for Tarant
to settle himself into readiness. Reluctance showed strong in
the other's features, only for a moment, before his visage too
hardened to the composure of the fighter and his body lost the
look of a scruffy hobo. Richie was vaguely surprised by the change
he witnessed as he finally became certain of the Immortal that
had been so deeply hidden. The youth drew in breath and prepared
himself for the first strike, there was no underestimating his
opponent once the sword was levelled with a poise that spoke of
The eyes on them no longer mattered, even
the holy ground's influence became distant as both figures anticipated
the battle. Tarant moved first, slicing the dull edge through
the air towards what would have been a deep cut to a leg. Yet,
his combatant was ready and wood skidded down wood as he brought
the weapon swiftly round to block the blow. The attacker backed
off, the strike a mere test of skill and readiness; Richie couldn't
find the urge to follow through the defence as his rival stood
straight and left himself open for an assault, his face showed
the frustration as half his instincts told him to cut and the
other half screamed revulsion at the hostility. Tarant was still
as he watched the internal struggle, a being hovering about the
point of attack.
"There is a razor's edge to your friend's
throat," the man hissed emphatically at the blond youth.
"For her sake, strike!"
The sound that escaped Ryan's throat was not
coherent, but held the essence of his dilemma in its anguish as
he swung wildly into a blow. Arms flexed, teeth gritted as the
fighters met, their sticks crossed and they came almost nose to
"Good," Tarant encouraged the enraged
look on his companion's face and continued, "now we fight."
Richie wasn't expecting the almost inadvertent
push which sent him a few paces backwards away from his opponent,
but he did managed to ready himself as, with a flash of danger
in his eyes, the older Immortal brought his weapon around once
more and stepped into the offensive. The arc just missed his shoulder
as the youth side stepped and deflected with efficient dexterity.
Emily's terror at the forefront of his mind, spurring him on,
the young man powered back thrusting into the space that Tarant
left open. Both bodies spun as the strike missed its target and
gazes met once more. Faces were grim, but there was no denying
an excitement that flared in both pairs of eyes, combat spoke
to the soul and inspired the fire in Ryan's heart - it was a base
instinct, an emotion that characterised a warrior. It beat back
the call of the sacred around him, centring him on the strength
in his rival; this was battle, for good or bad, and everything
outside that dimmed.
The sound of wood clashing did not hold the
ring of the deadly steel, but there was no doubt in those who
watched the battle unfold as to the lethal ability contained in
either body. The weapon was almost irrelevant as the Immortals
moved with a fatal grace. Slice, or thrust, parry or block, every
move was precise and deployed with a passion that could not have
been called human. The two men who fought had been born for the
purpose, and that innate skill burnt in their eyes and shone in
the dimming of the evening. They were detached from the rest of
the world: from the shadowy figure who walked around on another
perimeter search, keeping well back from the intense battle; from
the still figures in the dining room, silent and afraid, but also
strangely awed by the destructive power before them; from the
cold figure who stood on the porch watching every move with a
concentration that almost made him lose hold of the hostage he
had wrapped close - only the girl's trembling occasionally brought
the rapier's blade to her neck, and the pistol into her ribs.
Breath hissed between his teeth as Richard
Ryan pushed his opponent away from his body as their sticks locked
once more. Tarant was an adept swordsman despite what first appearances
may have suggested, and the young man was using all the skills
he possessed to meet the challenge. His body may have long since
healed from the strenuous kata of that morning, but its influence
was still with the blond Immortal as he focused on his competitor
and blocked another carefully placed slice. Wood danced down his
own weapon and sent the familiar vibrations through his taut muscles
as the deflection took affect. Duncan would have been proud of
the presence his pupil displayed as with perfect timing he shifted
his stance enough to unbalance the dark man. A small twist of
the stick and Tarant stumbled backwards, his wooden sword waving
in useless air. Movements were almost played out in slow motion
as the young warrior took in every minute shift of his combatant's
body and his mind rang with the battle. His opposer was unlucky,
there was an old sack lying on the ground left over from the baseball
game and his back foot contacted with it. The hessian strips left
where the material had been worn wrapped themselves evilly around
the dirty boot; another step onto the main sack itself, then an
attempt to lift the ensnared ankle as the backwards lurch continued
its natural course and Tarant's fate was sealed. His leg caught,
but had enough momentum to shift the material from under the failing
body, and then the swordsman was toppling to his doom. The stick
slipped from his grasp as the man fell awkwardly to his knees.
Instinct was leading both Immortals as they
had used it to force away the heavy restriction of their surroundings,
and it was his gut that led Richard Ryan into the final, fatal
strike for the neck. There was no consideration that the instrument
in his hands was a blunt piece of wood, he was an Immortal, and
this was the end of the challenge. The movement was controlled,
powerful, precise, deadly - the arc came down with all the force
of a body behind it. Tarant looked up at his possessed competitor
and very suddenly the world hit back. Richie's eyes widened as
suddenly everything came back and the shock ran through his body.
Emily, Hill, the reasons behind the battle daggered into his mind
and ice ran down the young man's spine. He wasn't sure how he
did it, but as reality cut at his mind, the youth's body spasmed
and he brought his attack to an abrupt halt. He breathed hard,
a little confused by the panic that had suddenly run through his
being and looked down at Tarant. The young man had frozen his
slice only millimetres away from his opponent's neck. The man
himself just stared up at the stunned victor an indistinct age
in his features. Both men sensed the power which had the ability
to stop an Immortal in the midst of a death strike, and it held
them in the bewildered tableau.
A single sound brought the pair out of their
momentary stillness, it was hard and cut into the calm of the
pause - Hill was applauding them. Richie lowered the sword stick
and turned to stare caustically at the mocking action, angry at
the offence he had so nearly committed against his code.
"So you're lethal as well, freak,"
the man sneered, raising his pistol in careful defence since he
had released his hostage back into the house. "Tsch, tsch,
Tarant, I thought you were supposed to be good at this sort of
There was no reply from either Immortal as
the younger held out a hand to aid his fallen companion. The moment
of realisation had brought something home to the blond youth,
and as he helped his kin to his feet, he realised that the scruffy
figure was not his enemy. They were stood together, shoulder to
shoulder, brothers in the Gathering as they faced their tormentor.
Hill read the signs before him and didn't like what he saw.
"Trying to kill each other do something
for Immortal relations, did it?" the convict growled, his
volume low and menacing.
"Understand us any better now?"
Richie returned coldly, the stick still held lightly in his palm.
The reply was never to come as the conversation
was interrupted by a startled scream. The young man recognised
the sound of his loved one and spun towards the barn in time to
see her slight figure come running out of the door, followed by
the hulking form of Guinea. He was moving in defence before his
brain told him that such an idea might not be advisable; Richie
moved with a speed that defied the energy he had just expended
as he charged towards the chaser. Yet death travelled faster.
The shot rang in the youth's ears and halted his path with the
jarring in his being. He froze where he was, stunned by the pain
which erupted in his heart. Yet it wasn't his own body which failed
- his cry of `No!' daggered through the still air as, in anguish,
he saw Naomi convulse with the power of Hill's bullet entering
End Of Part 6