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The Heretic

Part 2

Scene 4

Duncan found Sister Luke in the church garden. For once, it wasn't cold or raining. Today, the sister wore work-clothes, and seemed locked in bitter combat with a patch of weeds.

"Sister?" he said to get her attention.

She looked up and smiled at him. "Duncan! I've been worried about you. We couldn't find you at the hospital. Father Dylan will be glad to hear you're all right."

Duncan nodded, distracted. His mind was on other things. "Sister, have you ever heard of a group called 'Values First?'"

The animation drained from her face. Sister Luke stood up and pulled off her gardening gloves.

"Yes," she said at last, not looking at him. "Two of them came in for a meeting with Father Dylan a few months back. I don't think it ended well. They're not too happy with some of the changes we're making here."

"Unhappy with you," Duncan said, watching her closely.

A small smile twitched the corner of her mouth. "Why, no, Duncan, they're quite happy with me. So long as I stay among the sisters and don't aspire to the priesthood, that is."

Sister Luke frowned and glanced up the garden path. Other figures could be seen, working among the plants. "This is a work period, I can't stand idle. But if you need to talk, come along." She flashed him an impish smile. "You can move some nice, hea vy boxes around the kitchen."

Duncan laughed and followed her. Secular creature that he was, he still didn't quite understand what drew people to the religious life, though he'd had cause over the centuries to be grateful to them. She led him to the rectory kitchen, and as promised, put him to work.

"So what did you want to talk to me about?" she asked, getting out a large bowl and a plastic bag of vegetables.

"Have the people at Values First given you any problems? Phone calls, letters, things like that?"

Sister Luke arranged the vegetables on the chopping board, a slight frown on her face. "Duncan...there will always be people who take the tenets of faith and twist them to their own purposes. They limit Our Lord to a handful of verses and unrelated text. We pray for those so misguided, we don't keep logbooks on them."

Duncan frowned. That lengthened his list a bit more than he liked. "They're not the only ones?"

"Holy Mother Church has been a target for both good and evil since the beginning," she told him with a sideways glance. "That's part of the price of taking a stand."

Oh, how true that was. And at how high a cost. "So you don't think yesterday's incident was due to their interference?"

"I don't see how it could be," she admitted. "We had an outside caterer to prepare the luncheon-we're really not equipped for elaborate meals here. But the woman who runs the business has been a parishioner for several years. We like to keep things in- house whenever possible."

Damn. So much for that option. "What about the staff? Servers, clean-up crew? Did the caterers supply them as well?"

Sister Luke scraped the chopped vegetables into the bowl, frowning over his question. "No, those were all volunteers from the community." Sister Luke appeared genuinely puzzled. "Why do you ask?"

The image of the woman Immortal flashed before his mind's eye. He picked his next words with care. "Among the volunteers, was there a young woman, pretty, with dark hair? She wore a long, navy coat, and she may have left early, before people became sick."

The nun thought about it. "That describes a lot of the women, but the only one who left early is Jean. She had to get back to her shop."

Duncan tried not to obviously pounce on the offering. He had a name, now, and with a little luck, he might just be able to get a location as well. "What shop?"

"Oh, she runs a little curio shop in the city. It has some kind of water name. I'm afraid I can't remember exactly what it is." The nun looked at Duncan. "You don't think Jean had anything to do with what happened?"

"Do you know her very well?" he asked, side-stepping the question.

"Jean is very quiet, keeps to herself." Luke paused, and set her work aside. "She struck as being...very sad. And very angry. She's one of those who could use a spiritual advisor, but for whatever reason, will never ask for one or seek one on her own. "

'Spiritual advisor.' A confessor. So, something about this "Jean" had set the sister's mental alarms ringing. Good to know he wasn't simply becoming paranoid in his old age.

"We try to help troubled souls, but to give help, it first must be asked for. Anything else is force." Sister Luke shook her head and resumed her vegetable chopping. "I've spent many an evening praying for Jean."

"She may have seen something, may know something about what happened yesterday. Do you know of any place, besides the shop, where she might be?"

A public shop or Holy Ground. The first made confrontations difficult, the second made it impossible. She had to go someplace else. Everyone had a pattern. He just needed to find hers.

But the nun shook her head. "I'm sorry, Duncan. As I said, she keeps to herself. That's all I know about her."

He nodded, hiding his disappointment. Still, he had a name, now, and a place. That would give Joe something to work with, if he could convince the other man to help him. The woman might very well be innocent, someone who chose to avoid a fight. No one compelled an Immortal to care for mortals. After a certain age, most tried not to, having lost too many friends and lovers to chance and time.

But that nagging voice in the back of his mind told him there was more to this. He stood up. "Thank you for speaking with me, Sister. Is there anything else I can help you with?"

She smiled. "Only if you can give me some extra time! I seem to have fallen behind here."

Extra time. Would that he could. "Sorry, fresh out."

She laughed. "Go on, then. I've people to feed."

Duncan managed a smile for the woman and quietly departed St. Michael's.

Scene 5

The early dinner crowd had started drifting in, followed soon by the middle-management people stopping in for their after-work drink. The chatter of the growing crowd almost covered the sound of the phone, but that was why they gave you that nifty little flashing light.


"It's MacLeod. If I told you that woman I saw yesterday might know something about the poisonings, would that let you look her up in your files?"

The Highlander never wasted time on idle chatter, Joe reflected. He'd take offense, except Mac probably didn't even realize what he was doing. "What else can you tell me?" Mac sounded relieved. "She's going by the name 'Jean', and she runs a curio shop here in Seacouver."

Joe waited, but Mac said nothing more. "That's it?"

"That's not enough? She's about medium height, dark hair, Caucasian."

The Watcher checked a sigh. "Oh, that narrows it down."

"I thought the name would help," Mac said, aggrieved.

"There's no surety she's listed in the files by that name. It's not like Immortals send us change of address cards." Joe glanced up at the clock. Time to cut the conversation short. He didn't want Mike getting suspicious.

"I don't suppose you know what kind of sword she's using?"

"We didn't get to that part."

Joe rolled his eyes heavenward. This would be worse than searching for Kronos and company. At least Cassandra had been able to provide decent descriptions of the Immortals in question. And he couldn't farm this out to Research. So much for getting an early night tonight.

"I'll see what I can find. But don't expect to hear from me soon."

"All right. And Joe...thanks."

Joe smiled. "Don't worry about it. I'm running a tab."

Scene 6

Midnight in Seacouver.

Most of the buildings here were dark, shut down and waiting for the return of the light. At St. Michael's, a light burned over the main door, a silent, lying invitation. The door was locked, the promised sanctuary as false as anything else spewed by those within its walls.

It was a cheap lock, as well.

Familiarity let her avoid the creaky places on the floor, though it seemed absurd to attempt stealth. They'd learn soon enough that someone had been in their precious sanctuary. Soon enough, but too late to change anything.

It began quietly enough, candles knocked down and scattered across the floor, incense ground into the runner. Then the altar cloth was stripped off, slashed and flung down. In rapid succession, the metal ornaments followed it, the collection box, handmade by a retired church member, smashed under five heavy blows.

A frenzy seemed to overtake the vandal then, and anything not bolted down became a lawful target. Books, draperies, even the baptismal font, fell under the visitor's rage.

St. Michael's wasn't enough to contain it. Spurred by long-nursed fury, the vandal carried the destruction to other churches. Some were despoiled with cans of paint raided from the church's own basement. Others had their delicate stained glass windows smashed, their statues knocked off their bases.

By sunrise, there wasn't one place of worship in downtown Seacouver that had escaped unscathed.

Scene 7

Duncan set the phone book aside with a grimace. US West had proven less helpful than he'd hoped. The yellow pages listed only four shops that met Sister Luke's "something with water" label. He'd called all four of them, asking for Jean. Each time, he' d been told, with varying degrees of politeness, that no-one by that name worked there.

Duncan leaned back, lacing his hands behind his head. Of course, it was possible that the shop simply wasn't listed, or that Sister Luke had simply mis-remembered the name. He frowned. Maybe he should look up these Values First people. But this 'Jean' was involved somehow, he knew it.

{Like you knew it was Richie at the racetrack?} mocked the small voice in his mind. {Like you knew Horton wasn't in that coffin, that Kronos was stalking you?}

Duncan curled forward, arms wrapping around himself. God, now that had been a lapse in reason, long stretches of time where he wasn't sure if it was the world that had gone mad, or himself. And still, despite all he could do, things still had a tendency to slip sideways on him. He had seen through the Lisa Millone masquerade... But these recent spate of events had the power of belief behind them. {What's the most dangerous part of fighting a fanatic? Not that he'll die for his beliefs, but that he'll kill you for them.}

Maybe he was wrong about Jean. But the more he wrestled with it, the more deep-rooted the certainty became. Jean was involved. He just had to find out how.

The flip-phone shrilled and Duncan grabbed for it, hoping it was Joe. Instead, an anxious male voice asked him to come to St. Michael's. It took Duncan several tries to get a word in, then lost even more time as he pieced together the cause of the man's distress.

Then, Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod, once a warrior for the cause of the Catholic Stuarts, hung up on a priest. He grabbed his jacket and headed for the lift-and St. Michael's.

Scene 8

He found Sister Luke among the other nuns, huddled together like storm-struck refugees, in one of the church's basement rooms. Hot tea, the most potent-and likely only-tranquilizer available, was making the rounds. The sisters preferred to rely on their faith during times of stress, but what he'd seen on the way in here was enough to shake the most devout of souls.

The sanctuary was in shambles. In the annex, just before the entrance into the church proper, there had been a statue of the Madonna. Now, it lay smashed, ruined. Every item that had symbolized the beauty and peace gained from faith had been defaced or destroyed. Duncan felt cold claws in his gut. The enormity of the rage behind this...such willful destruction went beyond vandalism into the realm of vendetta.

Sister Luke gave him a strained smile. "I'm sorry, Duncan. I didn't mean for Father Dylan to call you away from your work."

Duncan shook his head. "I couldn't have stayed away, Sister."

One of the other nuns, a young woman who didn't look old enough to have taken her final vows, began to cry softly. The cup and saucer rattled as Sister Luke set them aside and went to her, putting her arms around the girl.

She sobbed against Sister Luke's shoulder. "How could they do this?"

Sister Luke didn't try to speak. Duncan looked away, uncomfortable. He was an outsider here, graceless and crude as a mule among gazelles. The soft sound of the nun's weeping continued. Sister Luke made soothing noises.

"These people are angry at God. Fortunately, Our Lord can hold it all, and has a heart large enough to forgive it."

"I don't," the young nun said stonily.

The elder sister remained quiet for a long moment. "Then ask Him for help," she said quietly. "Because to allow them to awaken hate is to lose the love that helps the world."

"I didn't say I hated them," the sister protested.

Sister Luke just looked at her until she lowered her eyes. The older nun patted her hand and stood up. "Duncan, will you walk with me?"

The Highlander straightened, grateful to escape this room of mourning women. Holy Ground might very well be his only refuge, but he found it difficult to meet the eyes of these women. Their too-wise eyes saw deeper than he liked. He didn't want to bring his demon-haunted soul among them.

Outside, he felt safer, though even the church gardens had been ravaged. Sister Luke stopped by the plot where she'd been working- God, had it only been the day before?

"Nothing was stolen," she said, almost to herself. "Robbery I could understand. This..." she gestured helplessly.

"What's to understand?" he asked roughly. "It's evil."

She gave him a searching look, and he flinched away from her regard. Once, he'd been driven away from hearth and home, kith and kin, for being under a demon's power. Then, it hadn't been true. Now...if anyone could see the marks of the demon's manipulations, it would be someone here.

"Evil arises from ignorance, Duncan. You can't fight it with more of the same. When was the last time you successfully solved a problem by knowing nothing about its cause?"

Duncan pressed his lips together and looked away. Too many memorable examples swept through his mind. Sister Luke touched his arm.


He wouldn't look at her. Couldn't.

"Sister, please...there is more here than is apparent." Little things kept screaming at him for attention, but if there was a message in this destruction, it was in a language he couldn't read.

"Will you at least take more care of your security here? I know someone who can get a top-grade alarm system installed by tonight-and never mind the cost, I'll pay for it. A donation, a gift-"

But she shook her head. "No, Duncan. I understand your fears, but we've discussed this option among ourselves, and chosen not to take it." She spread her hands. "This is a house of God. To do our work, we must be accessible."

She understood nothing! "Accessible, yes, but not vulnerable!"

"A locked door offers no sanctuary," she reminded him.

"It does when it's between you and someone who means you harm!" Duncan burst out.

Sister Luke shook her head and lowered her eyes. "And what of those who come to us for help, only to find that locked door?"

The depth of her faith shook him. Once, he had believed in something that deeply, had raised sword and a company of armed men to fight for an ideal, a hope that might become truth. And his faith had died alongside the men on Drummoisse Moor. He wanted to shake her, rattle some sense of self-preservation into that head. But she was a holy woman, consecrated to God. He clenched his hands and shoved them into his jacket pockets.

"I'm sorry, Sister, I had no right to say those things."

She smiled at him. "Duncan...there are those in this world who set themselves as guardians, protectors of life and property, much as the archangel Michael is guardian and protector. You are one of those, I think, and it is often a thankless job. We guard the intangible spirit. Our defenses can't be the same as the ones you use...but there may be a time we can work together."

He looked her full in the face. She seemed serene, a bit distant, as if she were held away from the world he walked through. Duncan swallowed hard. For so long, his strength had relied on his arm and his will to see his opponent fall. He'd forgotten there were other kinds of strength.

"I hope so too, Sister," he said at last. He made a slight bow, student to teacher, layman to holy woman, and left her contemplating the ruined garden.

Scene 9

Duncan stood outside the church, right across from where he'd first seen Jean. He began to retrace his steps. She'd been there...moved over to here, then gone down this way. Duncan stopped at the end of the narrow alleyway. She'd looked back at him before dashing out. He'd followed her, emerging out onto this sidewalk-and had lost her. It was as if the ground had opened up and swallowed her, or she'd turned invisible somehow.

The frustration returned. If he could just ascertain Jean's involvement-or lack thereof-in the church attack, he could better prepare for the next. For there would be another.

"Excuse me, had the 97 bus come by here yet?"

Duncan blinked and focused on the pretty woman standing before him. "What? Oh. I'm sorry, I don't know."

"Oh." She looked disappointed. "I thought, since you were waiting at the bus stop, it might not have come yet."

Bus stop. The child-Immortal Kenny had escaped him on a school bus. Could Jean have done the same on a local bus? It was an absurd escape route-that wound through several public places, effectively shielding her from any retaliation by an Immortal following her. If anyone followed her. Who would think to look for an escaping Immortal on a bus?

He thanked the puzzled woman and sprinted for the nearest phone. A call to information got him the number for the bus company. Another call got him the full route for the 97 local. He hung up, grinning. Finally, a lead in this maze. Jingling his keys, he headed for the T-bird.

Scene 1 0

He almost drove past it: The Coral Reef. It sounded more like a seafood restaurant than a shop where you could buy things. It was a smallish place, tucked in against a larger building, an architect's afterthought. You had to be looking for it to find it.

Well, now he'd found it.

Duncan parked the car a block away from the shop's door and started towards it. What would he say when he confronted the woman? {Excuse me, did you poison several people and sack and defile a place of worship? If so, why? If not, sorry to have disturb ed you, have a nice day.} That seemed a little on the blunt side.

Outside the shop, he felt the first warning surge of an Immortal's presence, shards of ice dancing along his spine. Well, that answered the question of whether she was in. Duncan put his hand on the doorknob and turned it.

A small bell tinkled overhead, but whoever was inside needed no such warning of his arrival. The small shop appeared cramped, filled with display cases and wire racks featuring marine-related crafts and calendars. He took a deep breath and thought he detected the tang of salt water.

A shadow detached itself from one of the long cabinets and the icy feeling along his spine intensified. He whirled to face it and came face-to-face with a brunette woman with pale, cold eyes. She held a naked sword in a sure grip, its tip pointed just below his heart. One swift lunge, and she'd have him impaled on the end of the blade.

"I'm not here to fight," he said, raising his hands.

"That's your mistake."

And she stepped closer.

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