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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 8

As with any computer game the last section of the level was expansive and possibly the most lethal and Craven had out done himself. The room was two stories high, and the stairs lead to the second floor which surrounded the outside of this huge room. Richie didn't like the look of the floor the moment he set eyes on it, because it was variegated, and in this game two tone meant hidden switches and definite trouble. He was still more alert than any mortal would have been at this point, but tiredness was setting in, after all it was nearly three o'clock in the morning. Since the leg wound he had gathered a few more abrasions than he would have liked when compensating for the injury, but the previous obstacles had failed to stop him and his Immortal body was fixing everything very quickly, so he ignored them.

The entire top half of the room was traversed by a crazy maze of climbing frame which stopped about six feet from the stairs at the other end. There were ropes up into the structure all along the end where he was standing, all before the floor became tiles. Several ornate snakes painted inside the pattern of the surface gave Richie the message, this wasn't a subtle one.

"Okay lets play Tarzan then," he said sarcastically and took the moment to survey the route up to the cage work.

There were four ropes in all that would provide a path upwards and so the young Immortal went to each in turn with the view to inspecting them. His sortie turned out to be very instructive. He took his time investigating them, and at each turn he found a nasty surprise and a reason to avoid the route. One appeared to be an average gym rope, the type all school pupils had been instructed to climb at some time in their lives, but it held a viscous secret. Tiny camouflaged razors were placed at regular intervals, sharp penetrating blades that would have cut Richie's hands to ribbons the moment he touched them.

It's opposite number oozed clear oil as soon as the competitor put any weight on it, and so became more than a little difficult to climb being somewhat slippery. A third just fell out of the ceiling the moment he pulled on it, and landed in a heap at his feet, so that left just one route towards the climbing frame. If the rope had been lighter he would have picked it up in the hope of finding a use for it later, but it was too bulky to be of any great value so he left it where it fell. There was just one thing that bothered him about the only normal rope left to him, and that was that it led to a platform right next to a large piece of metal grill work in the main wall, and that boded very ill for this situation. Darkened openings were very bad in this arena, and he would be in direct line of fire if he climbed the particular route to the higher plane.

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

"It's the only way up," Craven whispered to himself as he watched, hunched up over the control panel, totally absorbed by his opponent's progress, "take it, there is no other option."

The unbalanced Immortal had slowly become more involved in the game playing itself out before him, and he seemed to have forgotten about his other prisoners. The three mortals sat silently there minds all praying for their friend it no-longer mattered that he was different to them, he was their only hope.

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

Finally Richie made his move, but it was not to climb the unadulterated rope, he walked to the cord covered with oil and with a stubborn determination and a grip strengthened by sword play he began to ascend. It was very hard going since he could never let his hands loosen for even a second, or he began to slip on the surface which was slick with lubricant, but eventually he reached the top. He himself was slippery by the time he hauled himself over the edge, and he almost fell, but strength born of complete stubbornness saved him and he lay for a moment on the solid surface just trying to convince himself of what he had just done.

Being covered in friction reducing fluid was not a great idea considering the task that was before him, and so Richie removed his completely saturated shirt and used the ruined garment to wipe his skin as clean as was humanly possible. With paranoid foresight he didn't discard the filthy garment, but tied it in a small bundle around his waist, just in case it would come in handy. There was almost no trace of the old bullet wounds on his chest now, all that showed were rapidly fading scars that his body was reabsorbing as the minutes past. This young Immortal really was a fine specimen and the residue of oil he could not remove from his torso did nothing but enhance the fact, something that Beren noticed even if most of her mind was preoccupied.

From his new vantage point it was possible to view the entire room with more ease so Richie settled down on his haunches to think out the best way across the new minefield . The climbing frame consisted of metal poles of various lengths bolted together, and it was spanned at odd intervals by other surfaces, horizontally and vertically. Some pieces were wooden like the one on which Richie was sitting, some were metal grill work, some sheet metal, and yet others were no more than what appeared to be thin plastic sheeting. There were narrow beams and wide catwalks, even ropes between wide gaps at some points, and one by one the young Immortal ruled out particular routes because of the hazards they obviously provided. His sharp eyes picked out the flimsy connectors on one of the sheet metal walkways, and the frayed ropes along another section; anything near the walls was to be avoided, and under the chandelier like lighting in the centre of the room was an obvious place for a trap. He made a conscious decision to stay away from any solid areas whenever possible because often they were box like structures which would severely limit his options should they turn out to have a nastier side to them.

He took about ten minutes in all to survey everything carefully, and ignoring the catwalk off his current platform he began to climb the bare metal pipes, very glad that they were easier than the oiled rope. However, it wasn't just the walkways Craven had booby trapped, and the first thing Richie came up against was a totally clear sheet of glass, that was so skilfully set up that he didn't even suspect that it was there until he was right up to it. Only as he touched it and looked down did he see the small electronic device attached to the bottom of the pane, and instinctively he threw himself backwards, knowing that the contact had already been made and the trap sprung. As he half fell half jumped towards another piece of pipe-work the entire sheet of glass exploded into a thousand razor sharp shards. Pieces of the clear material went everywhere and only the quick move saved Richie from serious damage, but even so as he pulled himself up on the second frame his back displayed large numbers of small scratches.

These tiny wounds provided the most visual demonstration of the Immortals healing process as sparks played across each of the many lacerations, leaving no trace of the damage to the flesh. For John it was the most peculiar thing he had ever seen, totally amazing for a physician intimate with the working of the normal human body.

The twin Immortal decided to proceed a little more carefully, and with renewed concern he pulled himself along the single metal bar somewhat slowly. At the end of this he had no choice but to take a platform since it was that or drop to the ground, so he pulled himself upright cautiously. There were wires strung across the walkway at various angles and each one was attached to small black boxes with blinking red lights on the top : this was not supposed to be a subtle obstacle. Since this was the only way forward and going backwards usually resulted in nastier surprises, the young man proceeded to pick his way through the viper's nest. He had no idea exactly what the black cubes would do if their feelers were tweaked, but he determined that he really didn't wish to find out. It took some interesting contortions at some points, but Richie's body was young and supple, and he'd always been good at the hoop and wire game. Eventually, he reached the other side in one piece.

A small respite seemed in order after that achievement, so he took a moment to rest his aching muscles before choosing the continuation of his trip through the heights. From up here the artistry that had gone into painting the floor could be truly appreciated, and as he peered down Ryan could see that everyone of the seven snakes had been created by the same hand. The ornate serpents were truly beautiful with their metallic scales and even in his present situation the young Immortal had to admire them. There had been other artwork along the way, but nothing had been painted with such passion, and Richie immediately had the impression that Craven had done this room himself. Something in the style imitated the Immortal's insanity, the coiled reptiles spoke of pain and passion that was distinctly Immortal in origin. The victim of the piece suddenly felt something for his persecutor. Immortal's didn't just become evil overnight, very few were psychopathic to begin with: usually something drove them to become the people they were, and the paintings said a great deal about their creator. For just a moment Richie allowed himself to see the beautiful works on the floor and then he wiped them from his mind. Once upon a time Manheim had probably been a good man but now he was the enemy, and the younger Immortal banished all else from his thoughts.

He broke out of his reverie by preparing to step onto another pair of pipes when something caught his eye and he turned to see what it was. He saw only a glimpse of a shape, a half formed image of a person that his brain immediately discounted as a trick of the light, but it made him change his route forward. Without really knowing how, he was sure that the way to go was in the direction where he had seen the vague figure and he did not pause to question the feeling, it was so complete.

It was almost like a dream really, as one minute the young Immortal was just standing, staring forward and then, much to his adversaries fascination, he was moving through the obstacles at speed. There was no hesitation in his movements, and very quickly Richie made his way forward through the climbing frame, at no point coming to any harm. By the time Ryan's feet touched the empty white floor in front of the stairs, Craven could not believe what he was seeing; no-one had even crossed the maze before and not died at least once. However he wasn't the only one a little bewildered by the younger Immortal's current position, the captive himself was slightly amazed. The feeling was gone now, but there had been a definite influence, a sort of guiding light, for those few minutes Richie had been in the cage work, and he had no idea what to make of it. He stood at the base of the stairs for a moment just trying to work it out in his mind and Manheim left him to it.

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

Duncan left his two companions in the car as he walked up to the entrance of Joe's place and found the door open for him. The club had closed about an hour previously, but Dawson was waiting for his friend behind the bar.

"What can I do for you, Highlander?" the middle aged man asked calmly.

On the phone there had been no explanation of the situation and all the bar owner knew was that Mac required some help.

"I need some information," the Scotsman returned evenly, and it was obvious to both men that Mac was carrying his sword, "and I think you will be able to give it to me. Richie's been snatched and I need to know of any other Immortal's in the area so that I can find him."

The Watcher appeared a little uncertain, helping Immortals in their own private battles was not his style, and Duncan rarely asked such questions.

"MacLeod," the grey haired individual replied cagily, "I am not in the habit of giving any of you the upper hand in the Gathering."

"Three mortals were taken as well," Duncan explained earnestly, "and they're not covered by our rules. Trust me when I say that I know someone is as good as torturing Richie, and that does not bode well for his friends."

They were so different, these two men, dark and light, Immortal and mortal and yet a common decency joined them. Those of MacLeod's kind were one thing, but those of his own were another, and Dawson had never really liked the non-interference rule anyway. His position shifted that much closer to the Highlander's.

"I'll have to make enquiries," the Watcher said calmly, "but I think we can probably find the information you need. It may take a while depending on how long the Immortal you're looking for has been in the city, and whether their Watcher has caught up with them yet. Is there anything you can tell me about this Immortal that can narrow the field?"

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

Chris was not happy sitting in the car just waiting, in fact he was becoming increasingly agitated with the whole situation, and it wasn't difficult for his mother to spot the anxiety. Mortals were a touchy subject with Madelaine since she had been betrayed by someone she trusted very early in her Immortal life, and it took a lot for her to place her faith in anyone, especially one who's career was to spy on her own kind. She was not happy with the turn of events, but she could see that her son was even less so, although his distress came from not being involved more than anything else.

"I'm going in," the young man said finally and reached for the door handle, "I want to meet this guy face to face."

It was all the woman could do to keep up with him, let alone stop him, as he exited the car very rapidly. That peculiar feeling of being watched had descended forcefully over Chris again, he felt very close to his twin and he wanted to do something.

"MacLeod, what aren't you telling me?" Dawson suddenly as Duncan came to the end of what he knew about the Immortal Chris had seen.

The mortal was of course an observer, and the fact that he was not being told the entire story was obvious to him.

"Immortals aren't psychic so how do you know what's happening to Richie if you don't know who's taken him?" the Watched enquired in a very straightforward manner.

It was at this moment that the door swung open and a very familiar silhouette was framed in the door way by the street light outside, quickly followed by another, and slowly the two entered. Recognition and then confusion flashed across Joe's face as he laid eyes on the young man coming towards him, even as the look in Chris's eyes made the Watcher remember a time when he and Richie had not been friends. It was quite obvious to all present that Dawson had no idea that this was not the Immortal he thought it was standing in front of him, and so Duncan decided to step in before anyone could embarrass themselves.

"This isn't Richie," the Highlander said smoothly as Joe sent him a confused stare, "everything I have told you is the truth. Joe Dawson meet Chris Seaton, Richie's twin, and his adoptive mother Madelaine Seaton."

The Watcher looked stunned, he was as aware of the connotations of Chris as the Immortals, and it astounded him, but he was also bemused by how his organisation could have missed something this big.

"How the hell don't I know about this," was all Dawson could find to say, and MacLeod knew exactly how he felt: he'd thought the same thing only a few days ago.

"I'm not Immortal yet," the young man said in his distinctively peculiar accent, "so who'd take notice of a normal kid."

It wasn't quite a good enough explanation, but then again nobody had a better one.

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

Finally Richie came back to himself and the way forward resolved itself in his mind: what he saw he did not like. The stairs rose in a straight line for a few feet and then turned in a right-angle to complete the means of reaching the balcony, and the square formed at the change in direction was deliberately floodlit. If that wasn't enough, the entire staircase was carpeted which provided any number of ways to hide a switch or a sensor that he would never be able to see until it was too late. This final obstacle could turn out to be the most lethal yet, and the young Immortal knew he couldn't afford to take any chances. His guiding light was gone, for this hurdle he was on his own.

In the end Ryan decided to circumvent the problem and leave the impressive flight of steps to themselves whilst he climbed the outside of the banisters. It was after all an obvious place for infra-red sensors in a normal house, and having been a burglar, Richie was very sensitive to these things. It was not a difficult ascent, and Craven had been less cunning on this route than the young man had expected, so very quickly he reached the top. Only at the last minute where the banisters met the wall did he finally cross to the side most people used to traverse the vertical distance, and then came the last choice of level one. There were two doors, one to the left and one to the right, both of which proclaimed that they were phase two in large ornate letters. Unfortunately there was absolutely no hint as to which would lead to the rest of the house and which would spring a trap, both the doors were exactly the same and Manheim had not chosen to give the slightest suggestion as to the correct decision.

"Choose, Ryan," Craven's voice said over the intercom. "Choose and the moment you open a door I swear two of your companions are safe."

There was nothing for it, Richie had to determine which route to take, and so finally he wandered over to the left most door cautiously. Any kind of exit in this game was a dangerous place, even the ones that led to the right place, and he took great care to look over every inch of the portal before he even touched it. Since nothing revealed itself, even as he brushed his hand over the handle, he decided that he had to go forward and with a deep breath he pushed the oak divide. There was no telltale click, no noise at all that would indicate a trap and so he took his life in his hands and stepped over the threshold: that was his mistake. Three jets of gas erupted into life, and too late the young Immortal tried to hold his breath. The poison was already in his system and quickly the burning in his lung became a spreading numbness. He fell to the floor gagging, the tendrils of death ready to shut out the world, and the pain lasted only a few seconds as the oblivion reached over him and removed all signs of life.

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

There was no denying that Dawson found Chris fascinating, his face was alight with such curiosity that it was impossible to ignore, but he held back the instinct to ask questions very well. Chris's demeanour said that he was not quite sure whether to place his faith in this man, a little of his mother's unease rubbing off on him, but it was also obvious that he had no wish to hide either. Give a little, get a little was a good motto, and if this Watcher wanted the low down of himself and Richie in return for his own information the twin was quite happy to give it.

Yet Joe did not request anything for his help, and he moved off to the phone with only a few words of greeting and some final checking on the details. It was as the older man picked up the receiver to call his colleagues that Chris grabbed at his throat convulsively as the burning agony of the poison attacking his twin's system mirrored itself in his own, and he collapsed to his knees choking involuntarily. For just a moment he was Richie, they were one, and they shared the pain of dying as if they were the same being. This time the mortal of the two maintained enough reason for information to pass between the link.

"Manheim," he said convulsively, "his name is Manheim."

Madelaine moved to comfort her son, but the incident was over, Richie was dead and this time Chris coped much better with the loss. His internal balance shifted back almost immediately, and with his mother's help he regained his feet to find Dawson staring at him.

"Now you know how we know what's happening to Richie," the twin said quietly, and sat down slowly on a bar stool as his legs wobbled slightly.

End of Part 8