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.
he called confidently, "come to Gervace, I have a present
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
"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
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
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.
of Part 7