Poison could be removed from
an Immortal's system very quickly and it took only a very short
time for the competitor in the arena to regain consciousness.
When the young man opened his eyes on the world again he had been
out for just under five minutes and he'd been moved. Instead of
lying in the doorway where he had fallen he was propped up in
the corner of the room onto which the door had opened, and the
portal was closed.
"One down, two to go,"
Craven's victorious tones informed his opponent jovially. "I'm
sure you'll find level two much more challenging, although I must
admit you have performed beyond my expectations."
"Why, thank you," Richie
replied acidly and picked himself up off the floor, but he did
not go on since Beren's life still hung on his success.
He did not think Craven would
break his word, but he still held sway over the twin where the
young woman was concerned.
The rules had obviously changed
since this arena bore little resemblance to those which had come
before or a real room for that matter, in fact it was decorated
in such a way as to cause an optical illusion, distorting the
space available. The warping of the walls was created by the tonal
qualities of the art work but what really played havoc with the
eyes of any observer was that the actual designs were S.I.R.D.S.
"And I bet there's a message
in this lot," Richie mumbled to himself.
Over the last few years you had
to have had your head in a bubble not to know what one of these
S.I.R.D.S. was, but the young Immortal was one up on most people
in that he could actually see them. Single Image Random Dot Stereograms
were a modern phenomenon over which Immortals had a particular
advantage since they were practised in altering their perception,
but here there were no pieces of paper which could be waved around
until an image resolved. The young Immortal daren't move around
the room to play with distance either and so he took the bold
move of walking right up to the edge of the peculiar pattern and
What he was about to attempt
no mortal could have done unless they had a few decades to practice
it, and Richie wasn't even sure about it himself, but some of
the things Duncan had been teaching him were not just about keeping
his body in shape there were exercises in concentration as well.
Whatever tweaked their genetic structure to make them capable
of spectacular cell regeneration also gave Immortals advantages
in the mental line, and just now Ryan decided he was going to
need them all. No feature was visible on the wall, no exits at
all: the arena had been so well created that not even a suggestion
of door made itself known to a cursory inspection. However, as
the unusual individual let his focus shift, the far wall dissolved
and the outlines of two portals showed themselves, and on one
of the was a large 3-D arrow.
Of course from his present angle
it was impossible to see what designs the floor held since probably
the most annoying thing about S.I.R.D.S. was that you had to be
almost perpendicular to them to actually see the image. Starting
off from the other end and working backwards would of course set
off every trap in the room and defeat the point of finding the
hidden trail in the first place, so all he could do was start
from were he was sitting and work along the edge of the pattern.
Very carefully he stood up and basically stared at his feet, doing
his best to ignore the ache beginning in the muscles of his eyes.
At first nothing would resolve
as his brain refused to alter it's perception and take in the
peculiar visual stimulation, but finally after a few frustrating
minutes he found what he was looking for. An arrow about a foot
long leapt out at him and quite deliberately he stepped on it
with his eyes already scanning for the next one. The concentration
it required meant that he had to ignore all else and Craven knew
this, so he had supplied a few distractions. The first time was
on his third arrow and something exploded harmlessly next to Richie.
Even though he didn't fatally step off the spot on which he was
standing he did loose the focus. This caused the young Immortal
to swear as the normal room came swimming back and almost made
him loose all sense of balance. I
t had been planned that way,
but Richie was up to the test. It took a great amount of self
control to bring his aching eyes back into check, but with a will
made of iron he centred himself and brought his mind back to the
job in hand. It soon became clear the idea was that the little
episodes would try to make Richie move off the trail and therefore
set off the booby traps but as it turned out he was superior to
the task. Not even the strobe caused him to wobble as he closed
his eyes and quite simply waited for it to stop. The arrows only
led to one door and there were no extra trickery on the portal
so with his head buzzing the young Immortal moved on to more tasks.
"Manheim just basically
means trouble," Dawson informed the select little group sitting
at his bar, "he's actually known about Watchers since the
turn of the century, and he takes delight in killing us whenever
he can find us. We didn't know he frequented this area at all,
the last record we have of him is in Austria where he killed the
man watching him. I've put the word out for any information that
may tell us where he's taken Richie and the others, but it's going
to take some time."
MacLeod did not look particularly
happy at this but then he couldn't blame Joe for something beyond
"It sounds like he plays
the Game very well," the Immortal commented coldly. "When
I get my hands on him we'll find out just how well."
"What I can tell you,"
his friend continued evenly, "is he's just over five hundred
and thirty years old, he always has at least ten hirelings in
his employ to guard his back, and he's very efficient when it
comes to dispatching his victims. Two hundred years ago he began
to trap those he challenged and as far as we know no-one has ever
Chris said quietly and for the first time lost any trace of his
American accent, it seemed that he swore in English.
Whilst Richie was moving through
the obstacles their host appeared to completely ignore his three
prisoners and they sat each holding their neighbours hands. They
hadn't dared to move the chairs from their equally spaced, almost
regimented positions, but both John and Angie lent towards their
partner as much a the chairs arms would allow. The male of the
partnership had possibly the most expressive face as they watched
their friend on the screen, and one by one the ideas the doctor
held dear were shown to be anything but absolute. The young mortal
was not sure if he believed that Manheim would release them, but
he held to the hope that the peculiar man who had become his friend
over the past few days would prevail, and they'd never have to
Beren was hypnotised by the large
screen that continually focused on the man she loved, and she
barely appeared to breathe. She watched every move without any
show of emotion at all, not even when there was a near miss or
a clear victory did she react, and she was almost a statue. At
that particular time, life meant nothing to her, her own body
was irrelevant and her mind followed the action, free of any other
focus: all she cared about was the man on the screen. Extreme
situations tend to bring out extreme reactions in those involved
and in this case Beren was certainly an example of a very definite
response: her decision to love Richie without reservation had
been made suddenly and forced on her, but it was irreversible
and she was consumed.
As predicted the second level
proved more difficult than its downstairs cousin with more inventive
traps and particularly devious puzzles, but much to Craven's delight
his prisoner rose to the challenge. Even as his body became more
tired, Richie's mind went up a gear in a way he had never realised
it could, and pulled his weary flesh with it in an incredible
show of mental energy. Every twisted hazard the older Immortal's
insanity placed in front of his considerably junior opponent was
surpassed and left behind. The entire level was on a different
scale to the previous in that the rooms were smaller and the tasks
larger, but there weren't as many of them and relatively quickly
the end game of the current section revealed itself.
The arena was the same shape
as its predecessor in that it was longer than it was wide and
there were stairs at the far end, but it was about half the size.
The three steps down into it, however, did account for a couple
of low ceilings Richie had noted on his way through the previous
level. What revealed itself as he opened the large oak door was
not a mental test, nor a mechanical one, in fact it was very human.
Four large, agile looking men waited for him in the centre of
the very empty space and there was no mistaking their intent.
With a slight sinking feeling,
Richie recognised the weapons they were carrying, and for the
hundredth time thanked the powers that be for a man like MacLeod
as a teacher. One of the four was oriental and carried a pair
of evil looking, multi-pronged, daggers which looked more like
mutant corn forks than real weapons; another was Asian and his
chosen weapon was all too familiar to anyone who knew street gangs:
Nunchacka. Their companions on the opposite side of the room were
an Afro-Caribbean and a Caucasian, carrying a large wooden Kendo
sword and a foot long machete, respectively. None of this cheered
Richie up at all. This was a game without defined rules, but they
all stood stock still, clothed in a parody of ninja style, and
awaited his approach like sinister ornaments. In this situation,
Ryan's only advantage was his Immortality which gave him the edge
in speed and awareness, but he was outnumbered four to one by
armed mercenaries, and that was grossly unfair.
It was as his captive walked
slowly towards his opponents that Craven leant over the control
panel and altered the camera setting to achieve the best view,
a gesture which was only half appreciated by his other guests.
With his left hand he compulsively fingered Richie's unusual penknife
which he had had retrieved along with the discarded keys, he seemed
to relish the trophy somehow.
There was still little sign of
life in the four men as the young Immortal came within a few feet
of them, and they all just eyed their adversary speculatively.
It was quite obvious that they weren't particularly impressed;
Richie wasn't the tallest of his kind in the world, but of course
they were judging him by mortal standards despite what they had
been told. These four had been employed by Manheim for several
years specifically for their current purpose, but they had never
come up against one of their paymaster's opponents before, because
none had ever made it this far. Quite frankly the ageless man
didn't appear much of a challenge, he was tired, and it showed.
Had he been mortal, his life would have been over very shortly,
of course he wasn't, and letting them misjudge him would be his
greatest advantage in the short run.
There was one dilemma for Richie
in this fight, one which he had never before had to resolve: he
was not a born killer, and the idea was still difficult for him
even when it came to the Game, and these were mortals which made
it even worse. They were willing to kill him, that much was plain,
but he was not willing to take their lives unless absolutely necessary,
which gave him fewer options in this battle. If he were going
to complete this arena with his conscience intact, he was faced
with disarming and rendering harmless four very large men, not
an easy task at the best of times.
"So how do we do this, gentlemen,"
he asked calmly and paused ready for any move, "Do I get
to take you on one at a time, or is this a free for all thing?"
The two at the ends of the what
was a half circle moved into action at his words, and began to
circle behind him.
"Guess that answers my question,"
Richie commented nonchalantly, but never once did he loose track
of his opponents.
There was obviously a game plan
here and the first to come at the Immortal was the oriental, the
only mercenary under six foot two, but unlike his mortal rivals
Richie didn't see this as an advantage. As one of the evil looking
forks came his way, Ryan feigned a move left and ducked right,
fooling the chain, the machete and the forks into a shift along
his original course. This left only the Boken wielder, who found
a very fast, determined Immortal coming in his direction. The
young man never gave his opponent time to begin to use his weapon
as the heal of his hand shot through the dark skinned individual's
defence, and took him out with one sharp blow in exactly the right
place. Unbelievably the mercenary crumbled as the first punch
was thrown, and Richie relieved him of the Kendo sword on his
way down before his companions realised exactly what had happened.
If he'd had time the young Immortal
would have been mildly astonished at his own performance, but
he wouldn't get a second chance to surprise his three, still very
mobile adversaries so he moved in. Now swords was one thing every
of his kind knew a lot about, and now he had a wooden one, possibly
the best weapon Richie could have chosen. He may have been averse
to killing any of his foes but broken bones were not a problem,
and he went straight for the quickest solution to the battle.
The carrier of the machete had his legs swept out from under him
before he pulled his act together, but the other two were faster
and came after their opponent quickly. Richie had no choice but
to back off as the Asian swung his weapon in a wide arc and all
the Immortal could do was hold his sword out in front of him as
a shield. Time was on the mercenaries' sided and so they waited,
as much to their rival's dismay, their bruised companion slowly
regained his feet. One man was down and out, but the others were
very much still in this match, and all three came at Ryan with
With detached calculation the
Immortal noted that the Caucasian was the weak link in the attack
since his reactions were that micro- second slower than his compatriots,
and that made him the unknowing centre of attention. With considered
accuracy Richie swung the wooden weapon in a blocking parabola
and shifted his weight onto his right foot to put all his strength
into sending the two faster adversaries backwards. Of course the
man with the machete saw the opening at the combatant's back and
moved in to strike, as the young man was busy deflecting a blow
from the Asian. However, as Ryan's right hand held the wooden
barrier against the Oriental's weapons and his left caught the
flying stick from the other's direction, his foot came up and
dealt a stunning blow to the Caucasian.
A foot in the groin did nothing
for the man's reflexes and he folded into a painful heap on the
floor; the combat forgotten in his own private agony. Nobody had
remotely suggested that this was a fair fight, and the white face
of the fallen man was due payment for over confidence as far as
Richie was concerned. The pitiful whine that escaped the mercenary's
throat made the young Immortal wonder briefly if maybe he'd kicked
him a little too hard, but that didn't stop him continuing the
move he had begun. The one footed stance was not stable, but than
the ageless man hadn't expected it to be, and he threw his centre
of gravity sideways, rolling out of the conflict. There was somewhat
more respect in the eyes of the two remaining combatants as he
came to his feet, especially as the scratch on his upper arm that
the fork wielder had managed to inflict sparked and vanished.
As for Richie, he was on a high,
nothing impinged on his consciousness except his purpose, and
adrenaline flooded his system; at that moment he was a weapon,
balanced and accurate, a state of mind few mortals knew existed.
There was no doubt that the machete carrier was out of the match
because he quietly keeled over as the other three circled. What
was really eerie about the Immortal was that he fought silently,
as the other attacked they shouted their own particular war cry,
but Ryan never made a noise as he wreaked soundless havoc. Without
backing into a wall Richie couldn't prevent the two remaining
mercenaries from taking positions on either side of him, and so
once again they took the advantage.
This time the chain wielder came
at him first and he used the wooden sword to block the incoming
offensive and struck under the stand-off with his hand, but his
adversary was ready this time and blocked the punch as his comrade
advanced against Richie's back. A kick would have done no good
now because the oriental was expecting it and it was basically
a surprise blow that could land him in serious trouble if blocked,
so he went through the move in which he was engaged. Unfortunately
his opponent had been expecting this and the Asian blocked his
route out as the other moved in for a killing blow. Richie felt
cold metal touch his bare skin and desperately he twisted, deflecting
the blow from it's original course between his ribs, but the sharp
implement still dug in and glanced off the bone which really hurt.
The bar made for a suitable surface
onto which to collapse as white hot agony shot up Chris's side
but it lasted only a moment.
"This twin business has
it's downside," he said with sarcastic tone as MacLeod reached
over to help him.
There was a question in Duncan's
eyes, it was obvious.
"Just pain," the young
man told them all quietly, "he still has his head and he's
Just as he said this, the phone
The young Immortal saw red at
the Oriental's fork sliced open his flesh, and pure need overcame
warrior calm. With unnatural speed and furious exactness Richie
released his only weapon and rounded on his most dangerous opponent
with fist and elbow followed, by the ball of his other hand, which
sent the fork wielder backwards. The man's eyes went glassy and
his weapons dropped from his hands uselessly, but as he fell a
chain flew over the Immortal's head and efficient hands pulled
it tight. Only a quick limb prevented the metal from damaging
the yonger man's Adam's apple outright, and it took a great deal
of strength to stop the weapon digging in. Richie could defend
himself or prevent the choking grip, not both so he had to make
With vicious precision he let
the top half of his body go limp, and then suddenly brought his
head back sharply. There was the splintering of bone and the grip
slackened, Richie had quite efficiently broken his opponent's
nose. He slipped out of the hold quickly, gasping for air, and
caught the free end of the weapon as it dropped away from its
user's grip. They came up slightly dazed, each holding one end
of the Asian's nunchuka and glared at each other.
Blood poured from the brown skinned
individual's nose in a silent river, it was clearly flattened
at the bridge, and hatred glinted in the mercenary's eyes. Richie's
own wound hurt, but he put that to one side of his mind as his
adversary pulled hard on his end of the weapon, trying to free
it from the Immortal's hand. However, the young man's grip was
beyond strong and into the granite region, so it did not give,
in fact he pulled back suddenly and messed up the Asian's centre
"Good night," he said
calmly, the first sound he had made since starting the fight,
and his left foot shot out at the mercenary's chin.
The blow must have shaken a few
of the man's teeth loose, and it certainly put him out of the
ball park. He swayed gently as if he might regain his wits, but
at a second pull on the martial weapon he fell over gracefully.
The last opponent was beaten and Richie was nearly exhausted as
he let go of the wooden pole and gazed at the stairs. Gingerly
he fingered the deep cut in his side and noted gratefully that
it was already scabbing, but he also knew it was going to slow
This time there was no outside
banister he could climb because the steps were encased from floor
to ceiling, and he had no choice but to ascend them carefully.
At every move forward he checked his surroundings, even as he
reached the landing at the top and was presented with two directions
as usual. In keeping with what he had seen before, both ways through
announced that level three lay behind them. Maybe his fatigue
made him careless, or maybe it was a well hidden sensor, but he
never saw the silent bolt which flew at his back as he chose to
move left again. He barely realised he'd been hit before the poison
on the arrow attacked his system, and he knew he'd lost again.
His hand touched the handle that meant Beren's safety and turned
it; as numbness crept through his body, the door opened just a
crack. As he fell he just had time to realise that Craven didn't
play fair at level crossings, and then the world vanished in blackness.
The night's activities were not
a lot easier on Chris than they were on Richie, and as the latest
incident slowly passed into a manageable feeling at the back of
his mind, his fury exploded.
"MacLeod," he said
in a voice that was so cold it could have frozen hell, "I
want a piece of this Immortal."
There were four of them in the
car and they were headed out of the city, no-one chose to comment
on his statement although Madi tried to comfort her son.
Craven turned to his three prisoners
calmly and smiled as the screen went blank whilst his associates
prepared Richie's lifeless body for the next round of the insane
"Well it seems your friend
has outreached all my expectations," he said evenly, confident
in his own superiority, but pleased with the entertainment. "It
appears he has saved all of you: that is as long as he doesn't
break any of the rules, so you need not fear. It'll take a while
for him to recover from this one so, can I offer any of you a
Had it come from anyone else
it would have been a reasonable question, but from those mad lips
it made gore rise in Angie's throat. However, John found a voice
first and Richie's words of warning were at the forefront of his
"No," the doctor said
and tried to keep emotion out of his voice, "thank you."
That seemed to satisfy the madman,
and he turned back to play with the control without further conversation.
The next time Richie awoke, he
was given no chance to fully recover: in fact the moment he came
to he had to move. He was on some sort of platform and the second
he opened his eyes it began to trundle forwards.
"Wait too long and you're
toast," Craven's wild tones informed the younger Immortal
and he had to go into action.
The problem with this room was
it had no floor: it went all the way down to the basement at which
point there were some very well lit stakes. Staying on the little
train on which he had been placed was not a viable option because
as the trucks passed the halfway point of the track, a nozzle
sprayed acid all over them. A demonstration was provided by a
piece of meat left on one of the furthest platforms which dissolved
into a nasty liquid residue in a very short space of time. That
meant the only place left to go was under the structure, and this
Richie did with all due haste, so that he ended up literally holding
onto his life by his finger tips. Muscles complained and sinews
cracked at the speed with which he moved and as he soon found
out the bars under the tracks brought hazards of their own.
By this time, however, the young
Immortal was beyond tired: he'd regenerated three times in as
many hours; he'd passed through numerous physical and mental tests,
and he was well into the pure will stage. So long as the situation
called for it, Richie would go on; when it was over he'd probably
collapse in a heap. He hung motionless for a while, really unaware
of the strain on his arms, more just a sort of dazed confusion,
and then brought his situation into focus once more. For one moment
he thought he saw something in the room with him and then he knew
the guiding light was back. Something other than Craven was in
this game and with quiet certainty Richie knew he wasn't going
to die as he finally perceived that his current situation should
have been impossible for an Immortal of his years. Manheim had
been right, the youngster had a knack of surviving, and he was
beginning to wonder if something had stacked the odds in his favour.
Level three should have been
more difficult than it's predecessor, but with his unseen influence
to tweak his instincts, Richie found it traversible.
Even as his brother re-entered
the fray, Chris and friends moved through the night towards him,
and Madelaine noticed a peculiar look in Chris's eyes. There was
the anger and hatred in his gaze, but there was also something
else, something distant and quietly calm.
"There it is," Mac
said finally as lights became visible from the road and he pulled
the car to a stop and shut off the head lamps. "We walk form
Joe was with them since he had
refused to be left behind, but he waved them to go ahead as his
legs meant he was slower. Both Immortals had their swords in their
hands: they were not being coy about exactly why they were here,
and anyone who got in their way was going to know about it. For
the first time since they'd arrived in the States, Chris became
aware that his mother could be a very dangerous woman. She'd only
been challenged once in his lifetime and then she had hidden most
of it from her adoptive son; this was probably the first time
he'd seen her with the killing glint in her eye. She always made
sure her sword was in easy reach just like any other of their
kind, but this was different, she was going into battle.
Richie and Chris had adapted
to being twins and so had their mentors, both of whom were as
protective about the new half as they had been about the one.
Duncan looked on the pair as youngsters who needed guidance and
maybe the odd hand, and Madelaine was like any natural mother
with two children. Chris was her son and now so was Richie; which
meant she took what was happening very personally. Manheim had
a queue for his head and no matter what happened now, he was going
to loose it as far as the two Immortals were concerned. For one
second Mac and Madi both thought about telling Chris to stay back
with Joe and then they saw his face: rage did not quite cover
his feelings and they showed all too plainly on his visage.
Most of the wildlife ignored
them and there were no guards to bother them as they climbed the
wooded bank to the house: the owner was obviously not expecting
visitors. The outside of the building was very impressive even
in the artificial light: if not the architecture, the size would
impress anyone. A ramp went down into an underground part of the
structure on the right side where the road came up, and three
massive stories rose from ground level to dwarf some of the huge,
ancient trees. Most of the windows were obviously bared and shuttered,
making them blank, closed eyes of some great hulking monstrosity
from another age.
It wasn't just one building:
it had an old core and Craven had added bits sideways and upwards
to create the gigantic structure which dug into the mountain on
which it was built. The three interlopers approached silently
and stayed out of the light thrown from the third floor windows
on the left side and almost immediately found a large set of fire
escape stairs. The strangest thing about the building was it had
only two entrances visible to the naked eye: the downward ramp
and the door at the top of the steel steps. There was absolutely
no other security on the outside; there weren't even outside lights
sensitive to movement: nothing noticed that the newcomers were
there at all.
Chris stared up at the dark mass
of the building and knew exactly where Richie was, just before
his knees buckled with reflected pain.
Level three had proved no obstacle
to Richie as he followed his nose through room after room, occasionally
setting off a trap or two and removing himself from trouble, just
to make sure Craven didn't become bored. All he thought about
was reaching the end and coming face to face with his enemy for
the second time. He'd passed through rooms with spiked, moving
walls; falling ceilings; trapdoors; bitter cold; poison gas and
all manner of deadly devices with barely a scratch and the last
arena did not seem to pose a real threat either. It was almost
like a dream, as if it couldn't really harm him no matter what
happened because he knew what was going on before it actually
The game ended as it had begun,
with a chess board, and this one was covered with giant pieces
that took exception to anyone in their firing line. The pawns
only noticed anything diagonally, one square in front of them;
the rook on a straight line and so forth as if it were a real
game. They shot everything from poison darts to flames to liven
up the process of crossing the board, all moved as if in a match
and they expected the same of Richie. He could move as any piece
he liked, but only in turn, but if he didn't play within a few
second one of his colour would move instead and he had no way
to remove one of the opposing pieces. There was no hedging either
and if anything saw a chance it was going to dispose of him as
the pieces did to each other with seemingly, unrestricted abandon.
It took him ten minutes to traverse
the peculiar games room as his mind calculated move after move
with a skill at chess he knew he did not possess, and finally
there was his sword hanging on the wall. Yet this was the end
game and with cold certainty, Richie knew that Craven would have
one last trap for him, one last pitfall that he could not possibly
survive. Dying with a sword in his hand would be no good to him
and the young Immortal suspected that poison awaited him at the
top of the three steps which led to his weapon. This time he was
not going to fall victim to any lethal substance, and he made
a few risky decisions.
The bishops on the board fired
two foot long stakes of about half an inch in diameter and one
had just about followed him to the edge of the board, so cautiously
he began backing up. From the control room it appeared that he
was examining the end of the arena for traps, but actually he
was working up to springing one he could survive, and then with
the game over, moving in for the kill. He was positive that once
he was supposedly dead for the third time the cameras would go
off, and Craven's hirelings would move in, at which point he could
take them on.
Quite deliberately he took that
one step back too far and the bishop noticed him immediately:
as he spun, a look of startled realisation on his face, it fired.
The metal spike sliced into his body just below his rib cage and
could very easily have been fatal had it not been for his split
second timing, and that was just the impression he gave. The pain
was very real and so it took very little acting to convince all
watching he was hurt; what took skill was the falling to his knees
and dying convincingly. Eventually he lay, unmoving on his side
and Craven fell for it. After a few seconds a voice came over
the intercom and it answered Richie's prayers.
"He's dead," Manhiem's
voice said half triumphant, half surprised, "the game's over.
Put him in the blue room, I'll be there in a moment and the traps
are off so take his sword to the trophy room."
What the spectators saw was a
hidden door open in the wall next to the chess board, and the
grey suited man walk through with an associate; then the screen
went blank. Craven turned to his prisoners calmly with victory
in his eyes and smiled, but only for a second as he became aware
of another Immortal. The moment Chris had collapsed, Duncan had
charged up the stairs and as the cameras went off he attacked
the door. Very quickly he had defeated the flimsy lock and was
into the corridor outside the control room: it didn't take him
long to open the portal that lay between him and his opponent.
He came through the door loudly and one hundred percent warrior
with sword at the ready.
"I am Duncan MacLeod of
the clan MacLeod," he said coldly; his Scottish accent almost
reappearing in his anger, "and your head is mine."
The other Immortal in the room
looked totally startled, but he soon gathered his wits as the
Highlander approached, although at that moment there did not seem
to be any way out for him: he held no sword. Duncan was just about
furious enough to forget his long adhered to honour and take his
head anyway, but he didn't have to. As Madelaine appeared from
the doorway with Chris just outside, Manheim hit a button on the
control panel and the entire end wall began to move. He was gone
before he could really take in the newcomers and by the time the
structure had withdrawn completely the blond madman had a sabre
in his hand, and the room had doubled in size. As Chris entered
the room, still in pain, but walking, he almost phased Craven:
the Immortal's research hadn't included the twin, and he was as
shocked by the concept as everyone else had been.
"Two of them," he said,
somewhat amazed: his peculiar blend of insanity and rationality
showing, "how extraordinary."
"Worry about your head,"
Mac snapped icily, and weighed the strength of his opponent as
the man brought his sword to play.
There was definite skill in the
mad Immortal, but Duncan knew he could take him; not that he would
have cared if the odds had been against him, anyway. They were
almost within striking distance and Mac raised his sword; very
ready to attack and get this over. The Scotsman wasn't a blood
thirsty individual, but he wanted this head: this animal had been
torturing his friend and that was all that was in his mind. However,
he wasn't to get his way this time because as he moved to begin
the assault on Craven, something stopped him.
"Highlander," a very
angry voice called from behind him, "he's mine."
It was a formal address and Richie
was very serious about the statement, and that was what made MacLeod
withdraw. Quite frankly, the young Immortal looked like death
warmed over with blood all over the place from the raw wound in
his side, but there was no denying his right to this battle. His
grip on his sword was strong and the steel in his eyes belied
the obvious physical injuries he had suffered. On this one, Duncan
knew he had no place getting in the way. His friend was an Immortal
just as he was, and he deserved the respect Mac would give to
any of his older comrades, even if it meant he could loose his
head. They passed one look that said everything needed and then
Richie walked towards the man who had caused him a very painful
"Look after the others,
please," he said to his friend evenly and raised his sword
Had it not been for one thing,
Craven would have believed his luck had just changed, but the
fury and determination in his opponent's gaze was somewhat disturbing.
"Never turn your back on
your enemy until you are sure they are dead," the younger
man said coldly, "your employees are nursing concussion."
"Quite," said Manheim,
the excitement of the fight in his voice, "I shalln't make
that mistake again."
Richie moved in for the attack
first and they threw and parried a few blows: trying out each
other's swordmanship again before the real battle was joined.
Neither showed any weakness, not even the injured, younger Immortal
and they circled warily. The second time he moved in, the hail
of slices Ryan rained down forced Craven backwards, but he was
not an inferior blade master and he came back with a flurry of
his own. The sound of clashing metal filled the room and the mortals
were frozen in place as they watched sparks fly as blow followed
blow. Richie's style followed MacLeod's very closely, but there
was something about it distinctly his own as well and he parried
like no- one Duncan had ever seen.
He forced Manheim towards a wall
and threw all his weight behind a strike which drove them nose
to nose into the structure. Pure strength met pure strength, and
they struggled against each other with blades close to necks.
It wasn't, however, going to be that easy and with a show of Immortal
skill, Craven sent his adversary backwards and they were back
in free fighting room. Now the older took the initiative and began
a furious hail of cuts and thrusts at Richie, who steadfastly
deflected them, even as he had to step backwards. His mind snapped
up a gear and suddenly he was fighting on instinct again; the
almost psychic ability back in place. Finally there was an opening
and as the mad Immortal raised his arms to strike again, the younger
moved under his guard and thrust his sword into the madman's body.
He withdrew quickly and watched his opponent crumple in pain and
This, however, was a life and
death battle and Richie gave only a moment respite, going in for
the kill. It had been a while since Craven had been up against
anyone near his own standard, and he hadn't taken a wound in quite
a while, so he was virtually unprepared. He blocked the blows
the young Immortal sent his way, but barely, and one hand clutched
at the hole in his side convulsively. He fell to his knees under
the strain and then the inevitable happened: Richie's sword caught
his with a giant spark at just the right angle and it flew from
his hand: the battle was over. The victor stood for a moment,
breathing hard and stared at Craven, who to his credit stared
right back as cold steel touched his neck. The insanity was so
clear in his eye, but there also surfaced a basic bravery in the
face of death, and Richie's fury evaporated. He could see into
the man's soul, and even as his mind groped for the familiar rule
it sounded so empty.
"There can be only one,"
he said quietly and raised his sword, but he couldn't quite believe
Chris heard a noise and turned
as the grey suited man appeared in the doorway, blood dripping
from a gash in his forehead, but gun in hand. As the still mortal
twin saw him, the man recognised the young man and all he perceived
was a face that was all too familiar. He was confused and slightly
groggy so it never occurred to him that this person wasn't wearing
the same as the Immortal who had attacked him, and his only thought
was to slow him down. Without pausing, or realising what was happening
in the rest of the room, he raised his gun and fired: Chris didn't
stand a chance and for the first time he felt the real pain of
a fatal injury.
Richie's world exploded and Craven
was forgotten as he felt his brother's agony and the life leaving
him. He couldn't help dropping his sword, he froze: a scream of
denial on his lips and suddenly he knew who had been helping him.
Chris clung to this side of the divide bravely as their eyes met
and Madelaine went for the man who had shot her son. Both twins
knew that something was going to happen, but his pain took the
knowledge away from Chris. Vague shadows gathered around Richie
as he stood in the centre of the room and he finally perceived
who they were and why they were there. These were the essences
of every Immortal who had died without passing on their Quickening,
at the hand of mortals or in decapitating accidents. However they
had passed from this life they were here. Their energy had never
been continued into their kindred, and yet it couldn't be destroyed
so it lived on outside the Game.
"Get out," Richie said
breathlessly as he finally understood, "Mac leave if you
want a choice. The Game is about to divide; leave now or your
path is decided."
There were only precious seconds
left and he couldn't explain anymore as those only he could see
closed in, the nearer Chris came to death. Duncan saw his friend
and believed that something incredible was about to commence:
he was not completely immune to the atmosphere in the room. However,
the Highlander was not known for backing out and he was not leaving
now: if Richie was in this so was he. As for Madelaine: she was
not leaving her son and as life slipped from him it was too late
to change anyone's mind.
Invisible hands reached out and
touched Richie and the most incredible agony filled every cell
of his body: he had no choice but to scream. His legs gave way
and he collapsed as MacLeod moved towards him, but the Scotsman
couldn't get within six feet as something held him back. Suddenly
energy bolts began to lance across the young Immortal's body as
the power that was entering him began to show, and all at once
it erupted from him in all directions. It was like a Quickening
without a beheading and at what magnitude it was incredible. The
white lightning found every Immortal in the room, including the
new one still senseless on the floor, and they were all engulfed
in the agonising transfer of energy.
It found every molecule of their
bodies and forced muscles into spasm just like electricity: Madelaine
backed into the wall; Duncan fell to his knees; Craven was thrown
across the floor; and Chris convulsed where he lay. The source
of the visible energy seemed to levitate a few inches off the
ground trapped in perfect agony. The mortals in the room cowered
as most things remotely sensitive in the area exploded as power
touched them, yet they were untouched by the Quickening. However,
the seemingly random distribution of energy was not to be the
end of this peculiar, cataclysmic event, and as never before the
Immortals felt power being dragged out of them again. The small
sparks were dying out and then they were all joined: one to another
with long blue and white arcs like a crazy spiders web. They were
all crying out in shared pain and then as suddenly as it had begun
it was over: Richie fell to the floor, out cold; Madelaine slipped
down the wall; Duncan almost fell forward, but regained his feet
with a lurch; Craven tried to reorient himself; and Chris curled
into a small ball where he was lying.
It had been a stunning and yet
invigorating experience and Immortal looked at Immortal as they
realised they had just been changed. The three mortals cowering
in their chairs slowly uncurled from their defensive positions
and tried, without much success, to understand what had happened.
The silence was so sudden as to be almost as distracting as the
noise, but that wasn't what Beren was worried about. She shot
into life and went to her fallen love without heeding anything
else. All trace of any wound on all Immortals was gone, as was
any trace of blood on the surface of the skin. As the young English
woman leant over her unresponsive beau it was as if he had been
blasted clean: there was not a trace of dirt or grime anywhere.
MacLeod and Craven were staring
at each other as if they'd just seen each other for the first
time, and both appeared slightly stunned. There was one vitally
important thing about the blond Immortal now that was different
from before: the madness had gone from his eyes. Manheim was looking
at the world as sanely as any of them, and he didn't seem to know
how to take this. He wasn't, however, given time to contemplate
his new situation for very long as a quiet beeping drew his attention
to the wrecked control panel. A small red light was flashing in
time to the electronic noise and Craven's eyes opened in shock.
he said loudly, "it set off the self-destruct. The whole
building is wired we have ten minutes to get as far away as possible."
The previous conflict seemed
to have been forgotten, much to the incredulity of the mortals,
but they weren't about to argue with plastic explosive. MacLeod
moved to usher out John and Angie before going to Beren and Richie;
Madelaine went to her half conscious son, and Craven hit a larger
button on the control panel. Bells started going off everywhere
and the mortal staff knew exactly what that meant and the evacuation
began. With a quick thrust, Duncan sheathed his sword and gently
moving Beren aside he hoisted the unconscious Richie into a fireman's
lift and the young woman picked up her beau's weapon carefully.
They headed for the door at speed as the others disappeared and
lastly came Craven, who retrieved his sword before turning his
back on his chamber of horrors.
of Part 9