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Innocence and Justice by Sophie
There is a sequel to this story which can be found at :
Heaven Sent

 

Part 7

The cabin looked very innocent from without, but the trembling from his tiny charge as she stared fixedly at it told Duncan MacLeod of its sinister secret. His deep eyes scanned the building as he crouched low in cover about a hundred metres from the wooden structure. The Highlander had a firm, protective hold on Annie, whose young muscles were ready to carry her off in terror at the slightest sign of anything. The pair had been still and silent in that same position for a good half an hour as the elder Immortal weighed up the situation. There was movement within and had been for some time; light from a window constantly changing indicated that, but the opening was covered with a thin curtain, and it was impossible to tell who, even how many were causing the movement. Richie had to be inside somewhere, but where he was and whether Hemar was between him and his would-be rescuer was a concern. There was a lot a trained swordsman could do with a blade before even the swiftest of men could stop him. The vantage point was frustrating, it could give no clear view of within at such a distance, but the unusual man did not want to risk moving any closer for the chance of alerting his adversary to his presence. Instead, it was a patience built on experience that kept the Scot back until he was good and ready. There would be an opening.

The night was bright, and the clearing in which the possibly beautiful cabin stood was bathed in the iridescent glow of the nocturnal reflector. There was a peace in the woodland as it went on its life without knowledge of the brutalities it contained. An owl called from on high, Annie started and her trembling became momentarily worse. The Clansman understood her angst, there was much he was holding back through years of self-discipline, and with sympathetic awareness, he hugged the child to him. Her small form leant into his, glad of the support, and a plaintive sigh slipped through her lips. Her courage and patience were beyond her apparent years, and made her companion wonder if there wasn't something more adult which no one saw beneath the protective shell. He did not dwell on the possibility, it was far worse than the eternal child's present state.

Duncan jolted as he realised that the tiny creature was drawing his attention away from his task, and that the noise of a door being opened alerted him back to it. Orange light fell out into the silver world and the hidden couple quickly ducked down further in case wary eyes fell on their place. Penelope-Anne was unnaturally silent, even her breath controlled in a manner very unchildlike, but her eyes were wide with young fear as she watched the large form of her abductor stride out into the open. The German was not carrying his sword, but he was scanning the area with a self-assured smile, and his mood was not idle as he headed off towards the path down which Annie had led MacLeod.

"Annie," he called confidently, "come to Gervace, I have a present for you."

The girl rapidly buried her head in her companion's shoulder as the address reached her. Mac didn't even want to contemplate what possibilities were running through the pervert's head as he listened to the tone and recognised the sick flare in the other's eye. He gritted his teeth as he comforted the distressed child, and waited as the monster he was repulsed to call his kind headed off. Richie was his first concern; there had been no Quickening since his watch had started, and he prayed that there had been none since Annie had run. Once he was sure that Hemar was out of earshot and buzz-range, the Immortal picked up the toddler and ran smoothly into the cover of the cabin.

The place was one large room, a table at one end and a few cupboards beside an open hearth; the chamber was still a mess from the Quickening, and there was blood on the floor, but Duncan was relieved to see that Patrick's body had been removed. He was momentarily confused by the lack of life within, but then a trap-door close to one wall caught his eye. The candidates for what could be down there played themselves out for the Highlander as he considered the kind of man the place's owner was, and he made a quick decision. As he moved urgently over to the opening, the man put down Annie. He paused by the side of the door and knelt in front of the passive girl. He used the same direct eye-contact as before, and tried to instil his concern on her as he disclosed, "I want you to stay up here while I go down and look for Richie. Will you keep watch for me and yell if anything happens?"

There was no moment of indecision, the young form understood the message inside his request with Immortal age, and she nodded seriously. The child was scared, but her years on the Earth gave her an extra strength that a normal youngster did not have. MacLeod was sure she could cope.

There was some considerable tension in Duncan's soul as he descended a steep set of slatted stairs into a dingy basement. He felt nothing, no sign of Immortal presence, but there was a smell of recent life in the air which drew him all the way down. The room was quite large, split into two by a pile of boxes. The first part of the room into which he made land was a storage area, full of more cartons and a couple of tea chests. There were a number of pieces of weaponry and armour sticking out of one, the other was less obvious as to its contents. The investigator did not give himself time to decipher the space any further; the second chamber hidden from view had a light coming from it and looked to be more promising. As calmly as possible, trying to prepare himself for whatever was beyond, the tutor went in search of his pupil.

As he rounded the obstruction, the Highlander dropped his sword and rushed at the sight which met him. Richie hung from his bonds, his body lifeless, his head heavy on his chest. There wasn't a scratch left on his corpse where it had repaired itself, but his torso was still covered with his blood that had been drawn so mercilessly, and his jeans were in shreds, the only physical testimony to what he had suffered. Revulsion welled up in the Scot, disgust at the sadism, and, horrified at his friend's condition, the man moved to remedy the situation. His hands were swift and urgent with repugnance as he grappled with the heavy buckles that held the youth's nearest arm. Death still present, the limb began to flop down to the cadaver's side, in illogical denial of that, Duncan leant an elbow to keep the slack flesh against the board. It was an odd position as he stretched over to loose the other arm.

The Immortal shuddered, but relief flowed through him as there was a gasp from his companion, and he recognised life in his race. The captive did not share his reaction to the identification. It was the Highlander's quick responses which saved his face from wild scratches as the freed arm was brought up in attack. A growl of base-level humanity came from the prisoner as disorientation still held him and he responded to the presence in a way that the last experience of such a being had left him. The hand that reached for flesh was bent into a rigid claw worked by desperation and a pit of emotion too much to decipher. Duncan grabbed his fellow's wrist, its tendon's taut with effort, he did not need much power, his companion was weak, and he called to the soul within.

"Richie, Rich, it's me, Duncan," he calmed, his face close to the youth's.

Clouded eyes snapped open, blinking distractedly, but the body relaxed with a sigh as true recognition reached the helpless Immortal. The figure before him suddenly seemed very young as Duncan gave support to the exhaustion he found there. There was not a word, or other form of interaction as the injured spirit trusted his ally to finish the release, he was barely keeping his limbs under control as he leant against the stronger form. He was almost a puppet as the elder sat him down on the earth floor.

Richie sunk his head to his knees as MacLeod put him down; he wanted to respond, to speak the emotions that were inside, but the world was a strange place at that moment and it left him dumb. The presence of his good friend in the midst of the horror that he had expected was more of a shock than Hemar's cruel face would have been, and the jigsaw puzzle of reality was taking a bit of time to stick back together. There was a pang of shame at his condition hidden in his soul, a sense of immense relief that he was free, a moment of anger that MacLeod must have come through Hemar to reach him - that he had been denied revenge. Some of his condition was so logical, the rest was a mess, and it was unnerving. Yet, slowly, the young man began to make more sense of himself, and he sighed heavily. His comrade was knelt next to him, and he looked across, a ghost of a grateful smile on his lips.

"Thanks, Mac," he spoke softly, his voice hoarse from a dry throat.

Duncan merely nodded, and patted his friend's shoulder, it did not seem wise to ask if he was alright. The look that passed between mentor and protege spoke volumes, it said everything that could not yet be voiced, and there was so much pain in the youth's eyes that the Scot had to force himself to hold the gaze. The younger knew what he must be conveying to his comrade, and it did not make him feel any better, so he turned to questions.

"How did you find me?" he asked quietly, switching to stare at the floor, a waver of low self-esteem in his tone.

"Started from what I knew, and followed Hemar's trail here," the Immortal explained, not really interested in the answer, but knowing that talk was better than silence.

The next disclosure was not a natural progression of speech, but it made sense to the excitable figure in shock as he disclosed, "That bastard killed Patrick. He went off without me, and I was too late to catch up."

The guilt was obvious, Mac was intuitive enough to know that a verbal reassurance that blame was not his, would not help the plight of his fellow. It would take time to work through all the emotion being expressed in the one being, and there was not enough of it to start right then. There was still the wandering enemy with which to deal, and it was best to dam the flood before it started.

"Rich, we have to get out of here," Duncan began, a gentle palm on his tutee's arm, "there isn't enough room down here to swing a sword."

Richard Ryan was not far enough gone to miss the meaning behind the statement, and his eyes were wide as he returned his attention to MacLeod. Hope rose in his soul, a bitter, resentful desire that wasn't very healthy, but it built a wall of sanity back to the world.

"Hemar's still alive?" he questioned, the expectancy mixed with vengeance in his manner.

"He went out to look for Annie - she was with me, and we took the opportunity to look for you," the Highlander responded, a little concerned at the hard edge that came into the youthful voice.

Ryan was on his feet in moments, a new energy born of hatred firing him, and he reached without hesitation for his sword which was still on the table. There was a wildness to his aspect, made no less by the state of his appearance, and the danger in his eyes this time was worry to his kin. Duncan steeped in his way as he almost ran for the exit. The stare that fell on him told the Clansman that there was no logic fuelling the brain that was moving into attack mode, and that he was not welcome in the path.

"No, Rich, you're not fit to fight him," MacLeod warned, the truth of his comrade's weakened condition and his mental state all too evident in his sound.

Anger flared in the young man's eyes, but it settled as the concern reached him. This was a man, an old man who cared greatly for him and he was right, but that did not make any difference to the call in his soul. Yet, the youth wanted to make his companion understand. He couldn't find eloquent words to express himself, that part of Richie Ryan was still very much out of reach, but he tried to confer the necessity of finishing the confrontation.

"I need his head," the warrior explained, the shield momentarily lowering and the vulnerable being within becoming once more visible.

There was no need for more, Duncan understood; in that second, he realised that the broken creature he had released would be all that was left if there was no end to the sadism of their adversary. It was not an easy move he made, but reluctantly, the elder stepped aside - he knew his protege, and, to him, there would be no point in keeping a head that could not see its own worth.

Annie was silent as the youth passed her, a shadow against the wall who saw and understood the mark of the hunter. Even the touch of her soul caused only a momentary distraction from the course on which he was fixed. A sword lay on the table, another broadsword; the Immortal grasped it in his free hand and headed rapidly out of the door. Emotion fuelled the possessed figure, but was also irrelevant as focus brought in his training and his desire for the kill became a cold decision. The fighter was the only part of Richard Ryan to be within reach as he stalked out into the silver night, and his purpose was clear in his features. The form didn't pause to consider his motives, because inside, he knew they would have shocked, and chilled him into retreat. Only once before had he felt the insane rage for retribution, and the outcome of his meeting with Mako had had bitter, and undesirable consequences. The young Immortal had changed much since that time, and the feelings he had had over that death were mixed, and had led to many of the alterations in his thinking. That part of his soul was locked inside a steel prison.

Hemar wasn't hard to find; the man was on his way back to the cabin after the fruitless search for Annie, and he came in range as his opponent reached the middle of the open space. This time, the intensity in his skull was not a warning, it was a beacon leading him into the hunt, and Ryan froze as his gaze landed on a surprised Immortal. The German was stood on the edge of the clearing, a similar look on his face to that which had been there at their first encounter. There was a moment where the consideration of his weaponless status flashed across the man's face, but it disappeared as he saw the second blade in his adversary's hand. He was smiling nastily as he began to move out of cover towards his dishevelled rival, assessing the honour that was inherent in the youth, despite the lack of it that had been adequately displayed in the last few hours. The challenger was silent as he waited, throwing the sword a few feet away; the smugness of his opposite was not enough to rile him this time.

"You think you can take me?" the elder sneered, picking up the arm.

There was no reply, a poised figure merely raised his own blade and prepared for combat. There would be no intimidation, just the plain clash of steel until the task was finished, either way. The calm opponent was a strange sight, a mixture of contradictions; on the one hand he appeared young, shorter than Hemar by a telling distance, filthy, shredded, a battered street urchin, on the other he was the warrior, his muscles rigid, glistening in the moonlight, swift and determined as battle commenced. The torturer saw the edge in his competitor, and it worried him enough into making a first, tentative strike. He swung at the still form. The blade of the elegant rapier glittered brightly in the moonlight as its owner countered with a speed that defied the trauma he had just experienced. The ferocity of the parry and push that followed it caught the German by surprise, and he stumbled backwards; his side came open, and Ryan went for it. Hemar grunted as his white shirt split and blood soaked into its weave. He had enough presence to raise his weapon as a second attack quickly followed the first. The younger Immortal paused as his antagonist was forced back again, the look he received was of angry realisation of the power that revenge had given the young form. The warrior gave the sadistic brute a moment to let the knowledge sink in, and then in silent determination, he moved in again.

A slice, a thrust, a swipe, all were blocked more by practised luck than judgement as the German regained his wits. Then the more experienced figure tried to place his own advance. Ryan's nerves were open and had tuned his senses to limits he couldn't define, but the move was obvious, almost child's play to him, and he had shifted smoothly to block it even before it had really started. There was a grim smile of satisfaction on his face as their swords locked and he came close to the speedy breathing of his opponent. There was disbelief in the tall man's eyes, the nearest the madman could ever come to fear, and the idea of weakness sent a thrill of adrenaline through the hexed being. Even as he was the one to be pushed backwards due to the giant's size advantage, his grin became wider, and he brought his momentum under perfect control. There was complete clarity in his mind as he feigned instability; Hemar moved in for a blow and the artificial opening closed with ruthless speed. There was a mild look of surprise on the monster's handsome features as the warrior sliced fatally for his neck.

The blond head rolled and in that moment all of Richard Ryan's pain came back. The task complete, the young man's barrier fell without warning, and a look of anguish swept across his face. He dropped his sword and stared helplessly down at the fallen body, vulnerability and shame rushing in to fill the void that was the tense seconds between death and Quickening. When the power came, it was a welcome release, and Richie screamed through it. This was pain, but so different from his recent torment that it washed at his soul; it was surreal, an unnatural agony that spoke of ancient lore, and supernatural selection. As it gripped the young flesh, it took hold of the injured soul and wrapped it in justice. The cry that rang out into the night was one which spoke of two pains, but only one hurt, and it was a healing sound to the ears that understood it.

Duncan watched from the door of cabin as his kin partook of the Immortal rite of passage. The blue lightening was secondary as it leapt from body to ground and lit up the area, what he watched was the transition from utter despair through hate, to sorrow as the once more weary form began a healing. A Quickening was always turbulent, always uncertain in what it would touch, but there was no doubt that this one was reaching for a soul.

Richie fell to his knees, exhaustion ripping through him, his eyes tight shut, his cry losing volume as his breath ran out. His arms reached out to the storm about him, accepting it without reservation, needing its agonising cure. He was whole again, he was the Immortal, the human, the warrior, the street-punk, his spirit was repaired. As the light died and his arms sunk to his sides, the young man knew that there was more mending to be done, that not even the force of the magic could cure everything in his being. The loathing was still there, the shame, the horrors would always be in his memory, but they weren't quite so soul destroying now. He could face them.

Calm after the tumult, the youth relaxed onto his heels. Suddenly, he was no longer alone. A small body like a missile rammed into him and clamped itself around his neck. Numb after the electricity, Richie took a few moments to respond to the sobbing, relief-filled child, but as the world caught up and his eyes focused on the bonnie girl, he wrapped Annie in an all-encompassing embrace. If his own hurt wouldn't go away so easily, at least he could offer all the comfort he had to the shaking, traumatised toddler.

End of Part 7