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Dividing of The Ways by Tasha

This is the first in the Dividing series, the others may be found at:
Discoveries
Disclosures

 

Part 7

When Chris had reached MacLeod's place he had been babbling incoherently as if his rationality had taken the night off. It took Madelaine a good ten minutes to calm him down enough to find out what had happened, and Mac had to do a lot of interpreting as well. The Highlander gathered that Richie had been attacked and was in human terms dead, but not where this had occurred, or for that matter when. Now that the link between the twins was half back in place it appeared to have a profound effect on the way Chris reacted to his brother's state of health. His sibling's death had apparently unhinged the young man's reason, and only slowly was it returning as his mother and her friend tried to talk to him.

The world was a very peculiar place for the potential Immortal at that time, and everything seemed somehow dreamlike as his mind tried desperately to locate a brother who could not answer. A desperate need to help overwhelmed all other thoughts in Chris's brain and it was difficult to concentrate on the details of what had happened, but he tried frantically. It had taken the young man quite some time to half run, half walk across town, and as his brothers recovery became closer so did his. By the time his mother had retrieved her sword from her hire car, he was almost normal.

"We were, um, in the carpark behind the Pizzazz," he explained slowly, "I had to go back for my keys. When I came back out ..I felt danger. There were three of them .. two with guns, one with a sword, and they had surrounded the others. Richie and the other guy fought.. but not as if they were really trying to kill each other. I couldn't hear what they were saying but suddenly they stopped the fight and .. and one of the other men shot Richie. I lost it for a bit and when I came back to myself a van was speeding away, and I couldn't see the licence plate."

His mind kept reliving the experience and he was finding it difficult to vocalise.

"I felt him die, I felt Richie's pain, and I felt the life leave him," he continued as well as he could. "All I kept saying to myself was Find MacLeod . I think it was Richie's last thought."

Chris was in considerable distress but he was trying desperately to stay coherent, and Madelaine put an arm around his shoulders comfortingly. Neither of the Immortals could possible understand what he was going through, but they were no less angry than him. Mac's face was stormy and getting darker by the second, he objected violently to Immortals who used back stabbing methods to challenge others, and he was furious. He whirled into the other room and came back carrying his sword in his hand as if he was ready to tear apart anyone who got in his way.

"We're going to the car park," he said firmly and pulled on his jacket quickly.

There were no objections from the other two and all three left the house quickly, heading straight for the Highlander's car, they were in quite a hurry. It was as they reached the black vehicle that Chris gasped and almost bent double at which point Duncan grabbed him to prevent him hitting the tarmac. By the time he stood up again he looked much better and the colour had returned to his face even though his eyes were still angry.

"He's back," he said quietly, and the Highlander patted him on the back reassuringly.

=====================================================================

In the time it had taken his so called opponent to reach his control room, Richie had removed his jacket and surveyed the entire room several times with his eyes. The over garment may have offered some protection from the promised traps, but the young Immortal suspected he was going to need speed more than an extra layer, and the tailored top coat was restricting. As far as he could tell there were no hidden doors in the circular wall, and he surmised he was definitely supposed to use one of the obvious exits so neatly and probably, in one case, lethally provided. He'd spotted the camera in the ceiling very quickly and it did not come as a surprise that he would be watched all the way, in fact he suspected it was less Craven's honour, than his love of the spectacle, which drove him to kidnap his victims.

The shackle released with no warning and the young Immortal's adrenaline shot up immediately as the game began and his innate sense of danger kicked in with full force, bringing all his senses to their sharpest. MacLeod would have been proud of his pupil had he been there to see the way he set about the task in front of him. He no- longer dwelt on the fear inside, he just converted it to excited energy and he drew all his faculties about him to warn of any threat. The obvious option was to walk to the door on the level and leave the same way Manheim had, but Richie's instincts screamed at him as he approached.

=====================================================================

"Oh that would be so disappointing," his captor said to everyone in general as they watched the large screen from chairs arranged before it at the top of the house. "They all go for the first door, I thought it was obvious myself."

The control room consisted of the viewing panel, three comfortable chairs arranged in front of it, and a control board at which Craven was seated and anxiously awaiting his captive's first move.

=====================================================================

Despite what his hunch told him the young Immortal almost reached out to take the handle of the door, after all what could it hurt to just try it, but he stopped half way. He couldn't convince himself to just act on impulse and ignore the door, his rational mind was still too much in control, but with half his senses trying to warn him something had to get through. Instead of gripping the catch he just touched it with the back of his hand and a spark arched from the metal as electricity tried to ground itself through his body. The charge pushed him backwards and there was a distinct thud where his torso would have been in front of the wooden frame. Had he gabbed the door handle he would have been paralysed by the current, and the arrow that was protruding out of the oak panel would have been in his back. He made a mental note to check all exits before using them, and began to climb the ladder.

=====================================================================

Chris rubbed the back of his hand absently as they stood in the empty car park next to Beren's still open hire car, and a shiver ran through him. He knew his brother was in danger, but the feeling was indistinct and couldn't tell him any details. It was like a timer inside his head, as if something were counting down to an event, and he didn't know what it was or what would happen when the clock reached zero. Something caught the corner of his eye and he turned to see what it was whilst Duncan examined the tyre marks on the tarmac, but there was nothing there. The feeling of being watched settled neatly between his shoulder blades, almost as if the eyes of the universe had just fixed on him, and it gave him the most eerie feeling. He almost tried to tell Mac that he felt something, that there was something going on here he did not understand, but he couldn't find the words.

"This vehicle has off road tyres," the Highlander said and shook the young man out of his contemplation, "and there's mud in the tracks. Whoever took Richie and the others is not a city dweller, they come from out of town."

"But where out of town?" Madelaine asked rhetorically, and the three unusual people looked at each other silently.

Richie's coat had still been on the ground when the three had arrived, no-one had checked the carpark after the incident and no-one had removed anything from the scene, it was almost as if everyone knew that coming anywhere near would mean trouble.

"There's just too much ground to cover," MacLeod said with a fierce pummel of the ground, and then he stood up.

Not even all his experience and knowledge could help him now, there just wasn't enough information.

"I think it's time to call in some favours," he said slowly and looked from Madelaine to Chris and back again. "I think I know someone who will know more about the Immortal's in the area than we do."

Both his companions looked surprised, most Immortals considered themselves the best source of information wherever they were, self- reliance was a must in their world.

"There's another Immortal in the city that knows it better than you?" Madi questioned curiously, MacLeod was known for being one of the most fastidious of their kind.

"No," Duncan replied evenly, "Dawson is mortal but he makes it his business to know all about us."

His two companions looked rather shocked, most Immortals considered themselves unobserved.

"He's a Watcher," the Highlander elaborated slowly, "they've been observing us for centuries. It wasn't until some of them went rogue and decided to prevent the Gathering we found out about them, they were the ones who killed Darius. Dawson has been a help in the past. If there are other Immortal's in the area he'll know, or be able to find out. Let's find a phone and I'll call him."

It was against Madelaine's principles to rely on a mortal, especially one who's business it was to spy on Immortals, but she was willing to do anything to get her son's brother back. She didn't acknowledge the feeling consciously but Richie brought out the mother in her just as Chris did, and she was not a woman to come up against if you had crossed her.

=====================================================================

The hatch at the top of the ladder, as it turned out, lead into the same corridor as the electrified one, and once he'd opened it cautiously, Richie jumped down into an empty hallway. He heard the click as he landed and instead of standing up, he rolled, which saved him from another arrow. Craven obviously liked projectiles because this second one stuck out from the exactly opposite position in the panel to the first. In fact it was just where the young Immortal's chest would have been had he risen to his feet as he had originally planned.

"He's good," Manheim commented in his deranged fashion, as the next camera recorded Richie's evasion tactics, "so unlike other young ones. Now we'll see if he's intelligent as well as agile, if he is he may even make the third level. That would be so entertaining."

Every nerve in Ryan's body was on edge, and every fibre of his being was dedicated to surviving at all costs. At every stage there appeared to be a choice of routes to take, and once again there were two ways out. One of these exits was a perfectly normal looking door, and the other was a crawl way, both of which were in the end wall, and both of which looked totally innocent. Logic said the door would be booby-trapped and the hole would be safe if the more difficult route, but Richie didn't trust logic, especially where Craven was concerned. The older Immortal wasn't the methodical type, in fact he was the artistic genius type, which suggested nothing would be that predictable and for all Rich knew both exits were dangerous.

Of course the ways out weren't his first problem, before he would even get close to them, there was the hallway itself, and the black and white chess board like tiles made the young Immortal very nervous. The squares began a quarter of the way down the corridor and ended at the same distance from the other end, a distance the captive couldn't jump. On the wall were inscribed the words "Darkness Falls" which drew Richie to a halt, but didn't help much as he stared at them. He had a sneaking suspicion that if he stepped on the wrong tiles something nasty would happen, he'd played enough arcade games in his time, and so he decided it best to test out this theory before continuing. He fished his keys out of his pocket, quite deliberately threw them at the chequered floor and waited, he wasn't disappointed. As the metal objects landed on the middle white square three jets of flame shot out of the wall and incinerated the empty space where his body would have been, had he joined his possessions on the board.

"Brain, Ryan," he told himself quietly, "not brawn."

Quite a few Immortals played chess, it was one game of which they never seemed to tire, and Richie knew this, so he decided to focus on that idea since it was the obvious one. He wasn't the greatest player in the world, but with MacLeod as a mentor he could hardly have failed to pick up the game, but this wasn't an evening in front of the fire with the Highlander's board and pieces. The solution had to have something to do with the inscription, but the young Immortal had never heard a reference like it, and for a while it gave him no clues, that was until he decided to try lateral thinking. Then a smile slowly spread across his face as the meaning suddenly became clear.

"Very good, Manheim," he said aloud, "'Darkness Falls'... Knight Moves."

He walked to the edge of the tiles and stood for a moment, sending up a silent prayer that this wasn't just one of his opponents sick jokes, and then he stepped onto the left knight's square. There was absolutely no reaction from the flame throwers in the wall and so he took his life in his hands and stepped two up and one to the right in his first move. He held his breath, ready to leap out of the way if anything happened but his educated guess had been right and he was safe. Three more rapid moves took him to the other side of the chess board, and with great relief he left the flames behind him and took a moment to enjoy the small success.

Back in the viewing gallery Craven smiled appreciatively, he may have been insane, but he liked to see his system challenged. Richie was proving more entertainment than the older Immortal had had in years.

The feeling of triumph lasted only a few seconds, for once Ryan was not about to get cocky with his situation, this was too important. Where a fool may have rushed in sure that Craven, meant to make the way forward as difficult as possible, this Immortal chose to check first. Sometimes the young man may have been impetuous but he was definitely no fool. One habit Richie had picked up as a child was collecting junk in his pockets, and he'd never grown out of it. He had several pieces of useless stuff in his trousers, even though he had just been out for the evening. His pockets were somewhat like a black hole, there was more matter in them than anyone would ever see, and this time he fished out a small Koosch ball that just happened to be nearest the top. With a flick of his wrist he propelled the small rubber toy into the crawl space and waited.

The ball came to a halt quickly about halfway down the little passage towards the hatch at its end, and nothing untoward happened, but an instinct held Richie back and he waited. A very powerful feeling ran through the young Immortal as his eyes fixed on the projectile telling him there was something wrong here, but still he was beginning to feel a little stupid as the five second mark ticked past and he still hadn't moved. Mind almost overcame heart, and then quite without warning three evil looking metal spikes shot out of the grill work in the crawl space to vindicate his caution. One came from beneath and two from the upper diagonals, and had he been in the tunnel they would have done the young Immortal some serious damage. This trap had been on a delayed action, Richie just wondered how long it would be before the sensors became more sophisticated and ceased to trigger unless a living body was in the way. Now the door way the only possible exit and so as the spikes withdrew back into their sheaths he traversed the short distance to the wall beside it.

Not wishing to find his life extinguished by over confidence he flattened himself against the paint-work and brushed the handle with the back of his hand, just to make sure Manheim hadn't decided to boobytrap both ways out. A trapdoor in the high ceiling above the centre of the chess board opened at the contact, but nothing lethal entered the room, only a key dropped on a short string. It dangled at that point in space just high enough so Richie would have to jump for it and he had a sinking feeling. He turned the handle and pushed, the door didn't move, it was locked.

However the young Immortal didn't fancy playing dodge the flames if he jumped and came down on the wrong square, not to mention the fact that the rules could have changed from this end, so he peered at the lock dubiously. He fished in his pocket for the third time and pulled out what looked like an ordinary penknife which wasn't a regular Swiss army at all. He flicked it open and revealed several large, all purpose skeleton keys and slipped the first one into the lock. It took him a couple of seconds, but in under a minute the door swung open and the next room was revealed.

"Never mess with a burglar," the young Immortal whispered to himself almost silently.

Earlier he'd really wished he brought along the keys little brothers, but now he was glad he'd brought any at all.

The little escapade, however, did not please Craven, bypassing the challenges was not in his idea of this game and he didn't like it at all. He hit a button on the control panel viciously.

"Leave the skeleton keys," he said coldly, "they're against the rules."

He sounded like a spoilt child having a tantrum, but that didn't change the fact that he was holding Richie's friends, so reluctantly the Immortal placed them on the floor.

"I didn't realise there were any," he said to the world in general knowing that he would be heard, but the dialogue was over.

The next room had a low ceiling and very odd looking walls which did not bode well for Ryan, and he entered very cautiously, this was going to be a very long night.

=====================================================================

There were traps within traps, puzzles and genuinely evil things ahead of the young Immortal, but with senses peeled, a sharp instinct and genuine intelligence he proceeded with only minor mishaps. He gained cuts and grazes, scrapes and bruises but nothing that injured him adversely or slowed him down, and he proceed through level one with cautious speed. There was only one almost fatal mistake before the last room of the first phase and that occurred three open rooms and one two corridors after the chessboard. The challenge in the centre of the chamber had been one of dexterity rather than intelligence to do with beams and swinging axes which Richie had crossed easily. He'd thanked MacLeod silently many times for drilling him in numerous disciplines, and that was just one example.

It had been as he chose his exit he had nearly come to the second sad end that night when he picked the left not the right door, and tried to open it. None of his careful testing had showed him the micro- switch in the door lock, and as he'd walked through, a machine gun had started spraying bullets in his direction. His quick reflexes had saved him and allowed him to leap out of the way with only a flesh wound to his leg. He'd seen the weapon before it began to fire and had literally flung himself sideways in self preserving abandon, so only a wayward limb had been anywhere near the firing line. Although the wound hurt like hell it began to heal quickly in true Immortal style and although he was limping for a while, by the time he entered the last room with a large flight of stairs and two visible doors announcing the next stage, he'd almost forgotten the small groove in his flesh.

End of Part 7