There was a faint feeling
of surprise which hung at the back of Richie's mind as he came
round; it drifted through the dull ache of old pain that occupied
his body and held back the clearing of his thoughts. He was alive,
that wasn't what should have happened. Slowly, as thoughts came
back on line, the question as to why he was still alive pushed
into his consciousness. Weak breath on his lips, the young man
lifted his head and opened his eyes. As reality hit fully, he
groaned and considered that oblivion was a better place.
Patrick's story of
the young Immortal he had rescued came to mind as the youth became
aware of his situation, and he felt sick. An attempt to stretch
strained, throbbing muscles came up against leather and metal;
with something near horrified disbelief, the young man gathered
that he was bound by buckled straps at ankle, knee, waist, elbow,
shoulder and wrist. The constraint held him against a backboard
a few degrees off vertical, his legs slightly apart, his arms
in a crucifix position. His shirt, whatever had been left of it,
had been removed, but he was relieved to find that his blood-
stained jeans were still in place.
but his instincts telling him this was not a good place to be,
the young man struggled against the imprisonment, but the leather
would have held the strongest man. His muscles in his arms flexed,
but didn't even strain the material, instead the rough edges cut
into his flesh. Only as red welts began to appear on his skin
did the young man give in, and relaxed into the position into
which he had been forced with a reluctant curse.
With little else to
do, the youth examined his surroundings; the place was dim and
damp without windows, and for the second time that day, Richie
realised he was being held below ground. The walls were earth
held back with wooden slats, and there was a strong smell of peat
that filled the room. The floor beneath his bare feet was also
earth and cold on his soles. There was a table in front and to
the left, what lay on it sent a chill down the young man's spine:
there was a wide variety of blades, from his own sword through
small throwing knives to a large, serrated edge hunting knife;
the cross- bow and its six nasty looking bolts conjured images
the youth would rather not have considered; a whip would have
been the last of his worries had it not been for the collection
of metal spikes on its tip; Richie breathed hard when he recognised
a hard-headed hammer; there were also several implements the prisoner
could not identify, and their cruel appearance caused him to labour
against his manacles anew. Dying in battle was one thing, but
tied and helpless made the young Immortal angry and scared; this
wasn't how his kind were meant to meet their end. His situation
was a severe bending of the rules, and a sense of injustice was
better that abject horror.
The maddened captive
was breathless and sweating when his soul told him he had a visitor;
as the shiver of knowing ran through his body, he complained,
his sound coming out as a cry of fury. The helpless youth reacted
to the presence of his adversary with a voicing of his opinion
of Hemar's policy.
he yelled at the composed, almost elegant figure of his captor
who appeared within his vision. "Let me out of this and we'll
finish this now."
The blond figure laughed,
a cold, victorious sound that caused a rise in his hostage; the
young man flexed, an incoherent cry on his lips, and the backboard
nearly moved, groaning at his attack. Hemar raised an eyebrow,
impressed by the pot of rage within, but his reply to the defiance
was plain, "Oh, but it is finished, Ryan, you died, I beat
you, now I will finish you in my own time."
Richie growled madly
at the leather-clad form which approached him, picking up the
whip on his way past the table. The young man hung onto his anger,
his eyes blazing, as the plaited hide was used to shove his chin
upwards; nose to nose with his abductor the powerless creature
was determined not to show any fear.
"You caused me
a lot of discomfort today, Richard," the other disclosed,
and there was seething anger in his visage, "I don't forget
things like that. Maybe I would have killed you there and then
if you had not deceived me, after all, you must know that I had
other business to deal with. Now, you will suffer. When I finally
take your head, you will be begging to die that one final time."
"Don't count on
it, Asshole," was the outwardly definite hiss of response;
inside, Richie was not quite so sure about his tolerance.
His retort was punished
with a thwack across the face with the coiled whip, and the German
turned rapidly away from him. His stride was slow and sure as
he walked a little way back from his captive, and there was something
silky warm in his tone as he carried on his taunt, "I've
been doing this a long time, Boy, and I've broken better men than
you. When I amused myself with mortals, I had to be so careful
with them, they do break so easily. I can draw out pain so that
the moment of death lasts so long a war-hardened knight offered
his own sister if I would just let him die. You, on the other
hand, have many lives which we will traverse over the next few
days, or weeks, depending on how soon I become bored. You will
lose track of time, then you'll begin to lose your mind, until
by the time I remove your head from your neck, you will no longer
even be sure of your own name."
Richie remained silent,
the depth in the other's voice keeping him in almost invisible
dread. He kept his face straight as he watched the triumphant
figure turn on his heel, an unpleasant smile on his lips; he knew
that anything he did now would only fuel the abomination's fire.
His eyes followed blankly as the torturer played absently with
the instrument in his hands. The man was good at what he did as
he proceeded to give the impression of looking right through his
captive's soul. The youth wasn't sure if his tormentor gauged
exactly what would intimidate him the most, or whether it was
that he was using a well-practised technique, but there was a
confidence about the snake that ran Ryan's blood cold. His throat
was dry as he listened as passively as possible.
"I find the reaction
is always so much better when I explain what I am about to do,"
the Immortal gloated, his eyes sparkling with sordid intent. "We
will begin with a tantaliser, my gentle introduction to
the age-old art of torture. This whip has been with me for almost
a hundred years. I took it from a trapper who crossed my path
in 1897, he didn't have any use for it once I'd practised my skills
on him. It was very ordinary when I acquired it, but I made a
few modifications to make life, or rather death more interesting.
The steel blades on the end slice through cloth far more effectively
than the original design, so you can imagine what it does to flesh."
The words were chosen
carefully and the thoughts that ran through Richie's mind weren't
pleasant. Yet the condescension which surrounded his captor was
something which incensed the young man. His fight was still very
much intact, and it came out in his usual flair for words. If
this animal was going to hurt him, the youth reasoned, defiance
his only defence against the cold dread that sat at the back of
his mind, then he was going to cut right back.
"What is it you
get out of this, Hemar?" he questioned mockingly, "Is
it a substitute `cause you can't get any?"
The rest of his breath
rushed out of the prisoner's lungs as he held back a cry; he heard
the crack of the whip after he felt the sharp needles rip through
his ribs and the shock sent a shiver through his body. He glared
at his harrasser in silent rage, but his eyes showed the disbelief
that the sadist had actually gone through with his threat. This
was not something for which Duncan had prepared him, and the young
Immortal realised as the surprise hit him that he had still been
hoping that this was all some elaborate game which would end in
his release and the `proper' fight to the death. The German smiled
at him and grinned evilly as he read his subject perfectly.
"Yes this is
real, Richard," the beast disclosed almost whimsically, "I
do intend to make you pay for the indignity of this afternoon
with interest, not because I'm temporarily unhinged, but because
I enjoy it. I have had people call me mad, cruel, and since the
word was invented, sadistic, and maybe I'm all of those, but I
do so love my work.
Now, we are going to
continue with my prelude until I am satisfied that I have heard
you scream long and hard enough for you to have accepted that."
Richie wasn't sure
which scared him the most, the look in the man's eyes at that
moment, or the idea that this was just the beginning; whatever,
he couldn't stifle the whimper that escaped his lips as the whip
struck again, tearing through his jeans.
Hemar was not a careful
walker, he seemed as destructive in stride as he was in description,
and where he had entered the clearing was a mess of broken grass
and flattened bracken. Duncan smiled to himself as the trail became
visible and his pace became swifter. Silent, dedicated to the
search, the Highlander loosed his limbs and trotted smoothly onward.
His body was taut,
his torso flecked with blood from deep gashes all over his battered
flesh, but Richard Ryan's face was set in a grimace of determination,
and nothing but controlled breath came through his clenched teeth.
There was a stubborn streak in the young Immortal, and his tormentor's
words had become a challenge as the metal sliced over and over.
The pain was familiar, it had come and dulled away so many times,
and it was becoming a kind of mantra to a meditation of denial.
Hemar, his face black with effort and frustration was on the outside,
separated by a protective shield. The barrier was so strong that
it took the young man a few seconds to realise that the blows
had stopped. He blinked wildly as his torturer's swift stride
to the table across his vision brought him back. His skin tingled
with the unnatural ability to heal itself even as the more recent
cuts still twinged mercilessly, and the young man let out a breath
of release; had he won the first battle? From his adversary's
mood, it was at first sight a positive answer to the mental question;
eyes blazed with hatred and temporary defeat as he spun on his
prisoner, a bag in hand. Ryan tensed as the large form moved on
him, but he was not prepared for the other's answer to his lack
The captive screamed
helplessly as searing agony shook his body; Hemar stood close,
his hand firmly over a large slice which crossed his victim's
chest. Small white grains slipped from between his fingers where
a few missed their target, but most of the vicious salt stained
red as it contacted with vulnerable flesh. Richie trembled, his
struggle against the bonds, which held him, confused and disoriented.
The world danced with spots of bright light as his being fought
the shock, but his will was not strong enough to beat this one.
Unable to contain the torment with his cry, the youth was forced
into retreat. As the throes peaked, the hopeless scream cut out
and the drained prey's eyes rolled in his head; the blackness
that came was a welcome respite.
The Clansman rested
on his haunches as he paused and surveyed a split in the path
from which his quarry had broken to face Richie. This was not
a well-trodden path, being more of an animal track than a human
one, and the sign of man was not difficult to distinguish from
his wild companions, but moonlight was not quite so easy as sunshine.
The tracker scoured the way ahead for the tell tale marks of man-made
clothing. What he wanted was highlighted silver against the black
earth; a small twig totally crushed by a solid sole not a soft
pad, or a hoof. A quick examination to make certain of the first
assessment, and Duncan was on his trail once more.
The youth coughed and
gasped in a deep lung full of air as cold water hit his face and
forced him from his release. His muscles spasmed once as the pain
of the salt was still with him, but it was a remembered hurt and
he calmed. Squinting through the drips of liquid which ran from
his hair, Richie stared fixedly at his oppressor. Relinquishing
an empty bucket, Hemar rested himself against the heavy table
displaying his tools. His features held a contemplative look about
them as his eyes ran over the selection of weapons.
"I think you're
going to prove something of a challenge," he admitted warmly,
nodding distractedly to himself as his fingers played over several
blades. "I misjudged you in the woods this afternoon, and
I seem to have done so again. I thought you might fail quickly,
but there's an obstinate side to you, but then again, that's why
I run my little marathon, to see just how much a man will take."
The younger Immortal
watched without a sound as his abuser's grasp finally came to
rest on his own sword. He'd never disliked his blade, it had almost
become part of him, an elegant piece of craftsmanship which had
saved his life on more than one occasion; yet, in Hemar's hand,
it became ugly, the aura exuded from the sadistic monster corrupting
its beauty. Richie swallowed as his captor tested the weapon for
weight and balance.
example of its kind," the German complimented, but it came
out more like a jealous sneer. "You know, I was considering
breaking it in front of you, since you shattered my second best
blade when you pushed me off the edge, but then I decided that
it was too good for such pettiness. I'm going to keep it, and
maybe I'll use it to remove your head. An interesting irony, taking
an Immortal's Quickening with his own sword, I quite like the
The prisoner relaxed
a little, passive at the threat; the experiences of the last minutes
had set his mind firmly on the present, and considering what was
between him and final death, the information seemed almost irrelevant.
If the weapon was not going to be used in the near future then
he wasn't interested in philosophising about it. He closed his
eyes, a momentary admission of the sickness he felt within at
the madness without, but nerves snapped them back open as the
torturer continued in a manner that would have more suited idle
"You're my first
subject here," he breathed waving a hand proudly around at
the black chamber. "I was planning for it to be Lyonaise,
but the fat pig refused to let me get a death swipe in anywhere,
but at his neck."
"He was not a
pig!" Richie seethed in a hoarse snarl, his emotions rising
in defence of his friend.
Hemar smiled to himself,
a private victory in his manner as he stood in response, replacing
the sword with a shorter blade. He walked over to the bound form,
knife raised, and crowed, "So you still have a voice. I was
waiting for a little show of spirit, I do like to know how well
I'm progressing. Now we're going to see how much of a pretty pattern
I can carve on you before you start to heal."
Ryan started, a gasp
in his throat as cold steel was laid against his bare chest; the
captor's gaze held his own, almost hypnotic in its depravity as
the moment of tension was strung out. If he hadn't been sure before,
the hapless creature knew now that he was faced with an expert
as his feelings were drawn into a knot of tight abhorrence. There
was a coolness about the impressive figure, but it could not be
mistaken for separation from his work; it was clear that the twisted
individual revelled in his task, and his job satisfaction made
the horror of it all the more terrible. The knowledge drained
his spirit as surely as if a tap had been opened and it was water
running down a plug-hole.
The pain was largely
immaterial this time; it was the helplessness, frustration, degradation,
that his victim felt as he was used as a source of cruel, pointless
experimentation, of which the German drank. Despite this thought
in his mind, the youth could not control the anguish in his soul
as he was so used. Hopelessly, he closed his eyes and tried to
take his being to another place. However, Hemar knew exactly what
he was doing; each nick caught the demoralised form's attention,
inspiring tense spasms more of emotion than physical hurt. There
was no control about him except the ability to keep most of his
sentiment hidden from the gloating satisfaction, but there was
no real doubt as to what the young man was feeling. Richie was
not a good liar, and his front crumbled slowly: first a heavy
sigh as the strokes continued and he felt his flesh shift to heal
itself; then a whine as mocking laughter greeted the answer to
the senseless test; finally almost a sob at the humiliation that
filled his soul. His sound was animalistic as he gasped back the
tension even as he realised that it was too late, his wretchedness
had been revealed. In despair, he squeezed shut his eyes and hung
his head as Hemar's laughter became stronger; he was ashamed of
his weakness despite knowing it was how he was designed to feel.
The calculation behind his emotional state made no difference
to its effect.
Richie hung on desperately
to what was left of his self-esteem as the intrusive noise cut
at his soul. He would not break, this would not be the victory.
Very suddenly the ridicule stopped, as with resolve built on anger,
the youth opened his eyes and spat at his oppressor. It was a
small sign of defiance, which received a harsh slap of punishment,
but Hemar backed off once the blow was delivered, disquieted and
thrown off track. The moment interrupted, there was no point in
continuing the torment; Richie relaxed again, letting the pain
ease away as it unfailingly did, alone in his own mind as his
enemy regrouped for another attack.
The tracker was almost
invisible as he stood tall, and still on the edge of the break
of cover; not even nature recognised his presence as night animals
walked within feet of his immobile form. Something had called
him to a halt here, an instinct, a request for patience from his
spirit. Within this sphere, Duncan MacLeod was at his wildest,
a form working on intuition and innate qualities that were bred
into his kind. There was only part reason behind the momentary
repose, the path spread wide here, where all the plant-eaters
came to feed, and his senses need time to pick out the trail;
yet mostly it was the feeling in his gut that told the Clansman
to wait a few moments and let the world move toward him.
The spontaneous urge
If he'd been moving,
the Highlander wouldn't have heard the faint whimper of young
human fear that slipped through the breeze into his range. There
was no doubt it was a child's sound, and immediately, his quick
eyes scanned the pasture and he turned his head to try and assess
direction. The noise was almost so quiet that the shifting of
his own hair against his shirt drowned it out, but a hiccup as
a small throat choked back terror gave him what he wanted. Duncan
took a careful step off to his left, toward a thicket of bushes
on the edge of the open space. The man made barely a sound, but
the hidden body was on alert, and there was a rustling as they
panicked. The Immortal felt the rush of energy as his being sensed
another, and there was a scream of horror from a small, dark shape
which attempted to dart out of cover. The Scot pounced with the
efficiency of a stalking cat, but his aim was not to hurt, and
he landed rolling with the tiny body cradled protectively in his
Annie kicked and screamed
anew as they came to rest on the soft turf, her helpless form
trembling with dread. She was no match for the huge man who held
her, and Duncan sat up, trying to abate her fear with as gentle
a hold as possible.
"Easy, easy, Annie,"
he soothed, rocking her as a buried memory of his `mother' showed
him how, "I won't hurt you. I'm Duncan, Richie's friend."
Distraught sobs came
from the toddler as his words seeped through her panic; she was
still afraid, but she wanted so much to believe him. It took a
few moments, but as another feeling led him and the man relaxed
his embrace, the child turned of her own accord and grabbed desperate
hold of his shirt. MacLeod wrapped the bundle in as much comfort
as he could as his heart went out to the pain in her soul; he
truly understood the look in Richie's eye last he had seen him
as he gave succour to the helpless. He had felt the tingling in
his skull, and his substance knew the truth of what he
held close; the Highlander experienced a painful rage. There was
the fury at what could have brought a child to such terror, but
also there was a stirring in his essence as to the very nature
of the little girl.
It felt better to focus
on the more explainable part of his emotions, and Duncan quickly
turned to the urgent task at hand. Still swaying smoothly, the
Highlander asked quietly, "What happened, Pumpkin?"
the plaintive voice wailed in despair. "Rich-ee cut."
Mac pacified as best he could, but couldn't stifle a sense of
inadequacy about any support he could offer.
Nothing he could do
would ever be enough to heal the hurt he perceived flowing through
the weary girl. There was still a lot to do, and with an effort
the Immortal convinced himself that he could not dwell on Annie's
condition if he was to help his tutee. Regretfully, he eased the
small body away from his, and stood her up until she gazed blearily
up into his face. He did not hide any of his concern as he spoke
carefully, "Richie's in trouble, and you and I have to help
him, Penelope-Anne. I need you to show me where he is."
There was still distress
in the young feature's, but the child seemed to calm at the urgency
in his tone. Richie was a hope, one of few she had left in the
darkness of her fear; his need swiftly became her stamina. Her
face grave, a hiccup in her being as she tried to quell her horror,
the little girl turned and pointed smartly straight across the
brush. A nod of appreciation, and a brief smile of encouragement,
and the Clansman swept the toddler into his arms. She was light
in his hold as she wrapped herself around his waist and neck;
once more en route, the Immortal struck up a fit pace.
The scraping of wood
on wood caught in Ryan's senses and drew his attention away from
the stillness for which he had been reaching out. His body and
mind ached in unison as he raised his head and watched his captor
bleakly. The large man was picking up his cross-bow; there was
a sneer of expectation on his lips. There was no need to read
minds, it was obvious what type of scenarios were running through
the diseased brain, and still there was a slight, protective disbelief
sitting at the back of the young man's thoughts as he wondered
disgustedly at a being who could take pleasure from such acts.
Hemar had been silent
for a good few minutes, only the tread of his heels as he paced
the earth floor had split the pensive atmosphere. The youth's
show of rebellion had been enough to upset the insanity's train
of thought, and the pause had been for him to think, but it had
inadvertently served the purpose of allowing the barbarity of
the situation to sink into Richie's soul. As he had fought the
intimidation and torment, he had done so with a will born out
of desperate instinct, and that had kept out the cold to which
the quiet forced access. It was a repugnant, parasitic feeling
which began from the abhorrence of his position, and each beat
of his heart had drawn it further through the helpless man's spirit.
The ice made him tired; the injured being healed without, but
he could not reach the meditative state within that would mend
his psyche. Each soft thump of boot on soil reminded him of where
he was and what was happening.
The bleak hurt halted
a while as the torturer's actions unwittingly drew his prisoner
away from the internal rot. The distrust of reality also dissipated
as the troubled mind found focus once more. The effort at cracking
the whip had dishevelled the smart appearance of the German; the
disorder of his blond locks and the rumples in his clothing made
more sense than the spotless figure that had first arrived. There
was a truth about the maniacal Immortal that defied denial.
Gervace was well aware
that he had his victim's full attention as a heavy gaze fell on
him. There was still a wall between him and victory, that showed
in the strength of the stare, but a barrier had been broken. The
shell that every spirit caries around itself in order to interact
with society had been cracked; there was no front left around
Richard Ryan. The desperation in his soul as he fought the pain
within was plain, unhidden. Any pretence at bravado was gone,
Richie's lip had failed him. Any reaction would be open to scrutiny
from now on, and the abuser smiled with satisfaction.
to understand now, aren't you, Richard," the silky smooth
tones taunted, as his long-practised fingers slid a shaft into
place blind. "It is no use trying to pretend with me, I know
what effects my attention have. Our relationship will become closer
as we continue, I might even describe it as intimate. I will be
inside your soul before it becomes mine."
There was a sickly
sweetness hanging about the man's manner, even as he prepared
for more horrors. Hemar was happy, content in his work; Richie
watched with morbid fascination as the master attended to his
task, checking the details of the weapon. The dedication he witnessed
was quite absorbing, a perverse admiration in a terrible ability
that somehow soothed the ache within. The illogical ease sank
into numb loathing as the gaze hardened and was levelled on its
was the clipped disclosure from the poised body as the bow was
A whistle danced across
the still room. The crunch of bone and the definite thud of power
contacting with wood was jarring after the delicacy of the first
sound, and made little sense. For a second, the youth felt nothing,
his senses protecting him with shock; yet reality came. Ryan's
left leg erupted with agony, and then the young Immortal cried
out without reservation Spasms ran through his body as it fought
the destructive hurt, but this time he did not pass out. Instead,
the youth's vision swam, distorting the face of evil before him
into a mask of worse proportions.
the helpless captive screamed, frantic with hatred of the being
whose nature was more aptly described in his tangled view.
Another bolt flew as
it was loaded and fired with proficient ease.
Richie yelled, finding defence of his suffering in the disclosure
of the fact he experienced.
His eyes rolled as
blood oozed from the wound made in his side, but they came back
to rest waveringly on the bow-man. The shot by itself would have
eventually been fatal, the young man could feel the draining of
his life. Yet Hemar was loading again. The image of the weapon
pointed at him was at least in three as it shifted in and out
of focus, but there was a set to the features behind it that would
not be denied by even his vision. His captor meant to kill
young man breathed wearily, his lungs running short of capacity;
his last syllable was clipped as the final bolt sliced through
his heart and he tensed involuntarily against an ending.
His torturer's distorted
visage in his mind, Richard Ryan gave in to blackness.
of Part 6