Part 1

Scene 1

In an alley not very far from Joe's....

Richie Ryan was roaming aimlessly. His gaze was fixed on the ground, his shoulders sunk low. The young man was having another of those days. It was growing into a habit lately. Memories of the past were haunting him, and nightmares woke him up whenever he tried to get some sleep. He was feeling insecure and restless, like he used to feel when he was only a street kid, alone on too many dark and cold nights.

Richie couldn't really tell yet what was eating him up inside. Or, at least, he wouldn't confess it even to himself. Writing didn't help either. Having a couple of drinks, and kicking at the trash scattered about the lonely alleys, was a good enough pastime for the moment. In fact, the forever-young Immortal was heading to Joe's bar to get some more to drink, and maybe to find some company, or a friendly ear to bend.

His attention was caught by something no one else could have detected. He stopped instantly and backed against the once-red brick wall. His ice- blue eyes quickly checked the area on both sides, all his senses alert and ready to act. There was still some sunlight, but there were also many dark and obscure places, niches in which a hostile aggressor could hide. Richie could feel his or her presence. His hand tightened its grip on the long hilt of his sword. He was breathing deeply, focusing on what he was perceiving. After a little hesitation, he started cautiously to explore the dirty alley before him, trying to locate the origin of the dazzling sensation at the back of his brain. His body moved slowly with the awareness of many fights in every muscle and bone.

He looked around.

"Where are you?" He called out a few moments later, exasperated by the waiting and by his own personal frustration. "Come out!" he dared his mysterious opponent, but his voice's echo died unanswered. The feeling was getting fainter.

Richie started to turn away, assuming the other Immortal had decided to leave , when suddenly he caught a slight movement out of the corner of his eyes.

In the gloom further down the alley, there was a lot of smelly rubbish all piled up, along with trash cans, junk, wet and rotten cardboard, and more.

{Feels like the old times...}, Richie thought ironically.

Something beyond and beneath the pile moved again. Fainter and fainter was Richie's sense of another Immortal presence.

{He's going to die}, Richie's conclusion was obvious.

He walked towards the debris, still firmly holding his sword. What lay defenseless before his eyes caught him by surprise.

"Kill me." She was breathing hard, bleeding profusely from the deep wound in her side, her body twisting in pain "This is a good chance," she added, her voice barely audible. Despite the defiant attitude, her face was expressionless.

Richie didn't even need to think about it. He put away his sword and looked around for inconvenient witnesses.

"No way," he told her, then watched her die. It took only a few seconds more.

"I'll take you home, lady. I can't leave anyone in this dirt," he whispered to her dead body.

Richie took off his jacket to put it gently over the slender woman, thus covering most of the blood. He stopped only for a second to look at her. Pity swelled in his heart and softened his features. It wasn't right to live a life like this, to die alone, to live alone. He couldn't stand it anymore. The young man easily lifted the Immortal stranger in his arms, and holding her, protecting her, carried her away.


Scene 2

A Watchers' Reunion...

Darkness. Smoke. Tension. Some glasses are empty, some remain untouched. Papers are passed around. The men's and women's eyes convey a range of emotions. Some are furious, others afraid, all are serious, worried, thoughtful, uncertain.

Words are exchanged. Ideas, opinions, conjectures, suppositions are born and pass one to another. Information, news, facts, hypothesis grow among them.

They are Watchers.

They observe, register, keep track, record, collect the data. The tone is subdued, the sounds muffled. Habitual secrecy imposed their caution upon them.

One of them has been injured. Why? Who is this previously unknown aggressor? Their wounded will heal and recover, but still...

The anger rises in tides, every time nearer, every time higher. Other voices call to soothe the souls.

A Decision is finally taken.

The Word is to look carefully for the immortal stranger. Find her. Discover her story. Keep more than an eye on her.

Murmurs trail off.

Some are confused. Some will willingly obey. Some will not. The fire burns under the ashes. The Reunion is over.


Scene 3

All is colorless...

She is walking towards Darius's small, gothic church.

Her legs feel as if they are moving through a thick, smelly mud. Every step ferociously demands all of her will. But the more she walks, the farther away the stone building is. It's like being in a long corridor that's elongating and revolving on itself. A tunnel, never-ending.

{Late...I know it's late...I will be late... it's.. Always... Too... Late...}

All is colorless...everything seems to be filtered through a gloomy, dirty brown and a solid grey. There is a green, sick and twisted light poured all over.

{I can't see...where is he...I can't see...the others...can't see...}

The young woman tries to walk faster, to run, but the church keeps its distance. In her mind, the priest's serene smile is a painful reminder. Her body fights to reach the church in time. Her throat feels swollen, her voice croaks, only a whisper, although her lungs are screaming at their full.

{Please...don't...please, please, please, please...}

Everything then always happens so fast. The men come out from the church, hurrying each other, a shameless, cruel ferocity on their faces. Their secret guilt and hatred lay a dark path under their steps.

A name.

Horton.

A tattoo.

All is clear in her eyes and ears. She stretches her arms to their fullest, her hands unnaturally elongated to reach those men.

{You are a monster...it's Too Late...I'm a monster...}

But then the terrible cry of pain tears apart her precarious world.

Darius is dead. Darius is dead. Darius has been killed. Assassinated. Murdered. Darius....

The nightmare is always the same...


Scene 4

At Richie's place...

Richie was busy making coffee. Now and then, he looked at his sword, carefully laid near at hand. He stopped for a moment, considering the funny side of owning what many called a "bastard" sword. He had been called that many times.

For a moment, he considered sitting in front of the portable, to kill the wait, but he knew he had to be ready to fight, probably in a very short time.

The Immortal woman would wake up again very soon. He wanted to talk to her, to know her. His loneliness and confusion hurt like an aching hunger.

Suddenly, he felt her living presence, and in no more than a couple of seconds, he heard her screaming.

The young man turned towards the couch where she was lying. He was already holding his sword in one hand, and her axe in the other.

She stopped screaming and got up quickly. She was breathing fast and convulsively, her wild eyes like those of a beast in a trap. She scanned the place for her weapon, then fixed her gaze upon him. She froze, waiting for his move.

"I'm Richie Ryan," he said. Sometimes he wished so much he had something more significant to add to his name, just like Mac had. {Stop comparing yourself to him!} he rebuked himself. {Stop pitying yourself, Ryan!}

"Altea Werner," she answered cautiously after a little while. Then she went straight to the point, as was her habit: "You didn't kill me. Why?" She looked puzzled and concerned. But also ready to defend herself.

Richie could see the tracks of the tears the nightmare had left on her face. He would remember this image forever. He immediately felt attracted to her, she looked so strong, but fragile at the same time.

"I'm not a headhunter," he answered. "If you want to fight, just say so. But that's not what I want."

"So I am your prey of war," she stated.

"What do you mean?" Richie was perplexed. She seemed to be out of place, somehow.

"You didn't kill me when you could. When I dared you to. So now you could claim my life as yours."

Richie smiled, then burst out laughing. This was the first time in many days.

"It's not slavery time anymore, lady. Where are you from?"

"You're not going to fight with me?" she asked, still suspicious.

"No way." Richie said, walking nearer, holding her axe out to her. "Here. Take your weapon."

His friendly gesture needed no words of explanation.

They looked into each other's eyes, deep-dark and ice-blue, both so intense behind his smile and her frown. In that moment, something was established between them, instinctively. Complete trust, maybe, originating in an act of peace, two lonelinesses silently recognizing each other.

Altea raised her hand to take back her labrys from Richie's grip and her fingers barely touched his skin. This was her first contact with someone else's flesh in four years. She couldn't help feeling how soft and warm Richie's skin was. A warmth that instantly made her legs tremble.

"You're a strange beast." Altea broke the embarrassing silence with her rude comment. Then she started to speak to herself, apparently reciting a kind of ritual. The unusual and stranger sounds probably came from her ancient language, unknown to modern ears. By impulse, Richie put his hand on her mouth to stop her talking.

"Hush..." he said gently, "just tell me who you are, where are you from. That's all I want, honest." He smiled again his incredible, tender smile, then turned around and headed for the kitchen. "I have coffee ready. We'll sit and talk, ok?"

{If she wants to, she'll attack me now}, he thought. It was a leap in the dark.

But nothing happened, so he laid down his sword, took the coffee cups and gave one to her. Then he leaned carelessly against the wall, sipping the hot liquid.

"So..." He invited her to begin.

Altea was still standing, full of doubts. This red-headed Immortal had taken her by surprise. She couldn't quite understand him. In the recent years, her world had been quite simple. The only good person she knew was dead. The others were either insignificant or evil. It hadn't always been like that, of course, but Altea couldn't even think of that other time...her time.

She sat back on the couch, firmly holding her labrys for comfort. Her lips were sealed, though. "Hum, so you're not the fast-mouth type, I guess..." Richie commented after a short silence. "You don't have to..."

She started to talk, interrupting him. Her eyes were fixed on the black liquid in her cup.

"I was born...a very long time ago. I am what your world calls an Amazon, a warrior-woman. The last one of my tribe, I guess. Unless..."

{I would have known, by now. No other Immortal Amazons around. I'm alone. I will always be.}

Altea paused, lost in her mind. Richie was staring at her, afraid to interrupt what evidently was a hard task for the woman. He observed her hands clenched around the cup, the tension in her shoulders.

"I died young, in battle. Someone...someone killed me from behind," she hesitated, then put aside the terrible memory. Not being able to even remember her killer's face was something that called the wrath of her gods.

"Some researchers found me wandering in Northern Greece. It seems I was released from my entombment by an archaeological dig, five years ago. They thought I was a survivor of some armed conflict, too shocked to remember anything or to talk properly. They treated me as a...refugee with really bad post-traumatic stress syndrome and amnesia." Altea repeated those words with contempt and awkwardness, words that the young woman had obviously heard over and over long before knowing their meaning.

"They treated me like a poor idiot and bounced me from one place to another. Nobody wanted me for long, I was...difficult to treat. I ended up in Paris, in a kind of shelter for mentally disabled..."

Altea paused again. The next words seemed too painful to pronounce, but it wasn't the same disgust for bland labels that gripped her this time. She inhaled deeply and forced herself to continue.

"A priest...named Darius found me there. One of the nurses attended his church and talked to him about me and my strange language. It was only a kind of ancient Greek, in fact." A fleeting smile appeared on her lips, like a flash in the night. She was now surprised by herself. She hadn't told any of this before, to anyone. Not that there had been anyone to talk to, since Darius's death.

Abruptly, as was usual for her, Altea raised her head and looked Richie directly in his eyes. The cup was left abandoned at her side.

"He took care of me. Darius explained to me what I was, and all about the Game and the Rules and Holy Ground. He knew my world, my language. He taught me what I needed to know to survive and to live in this world...well, he tried to...he took care of me..." Altea repeated the last words, while her voice and, obviously, her thoughts trailed off.

It was Richie's turn to talk now.

"What are you doing here? It's a long way from Paris...and who hurt you like that, I mean, who fought with you?" he asked all at once, then added as an afterthought, "I knew Darius. He was...a great man."

"I stink." She announced suddenly.

The intimacy born of the confidences was broken -- on purpose? Richie strongly suspected. He watched her, perplexed but curious. She changed from one mood to another with such a speed. Then, Richie realized with a shock that she was undressing herself without concern, right there in front of him, in the middle of the living room. He tried gallantly to focus his gaze at her head- level, and not to sneak a look lower.

"Uhm...You're not supposed to go around like that, lady. Naked, I mean," he remarked.

He then thought, quite amused, {This situation is getting interesting}. He couldn't help a very mischievous smile.

She didn't answer. Darius had taught her about what was considered good manners in this society, but that didn't mean she was ready to quit her habits. Showing off naked was a way to tell to this XX century young male that he didn't impress her, that he was nothing.

She stopped right in front of him, with her head tilted to the left.

"Where's the bathroom?" she asked.

"That way," Richie used his left hand to show her the direction.

Despite his good and honorable intentions, he couldn't help glancing quickly at her. His smile died on his lips. She had so many scars.


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