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Part 3

Scene 1 0

RICHIE'S APARTMENT

Richie returned from the kitchen with a snack of fruit and crackers for Mary. To his surprise she hadn't moved from her spot on the couch, and still clutched her copy of "The Nutcracker".

"More read?" she begged.

Richie smiled and replied, "Sure thing, sweetheart." He set the tray on the coffee table but Mary ignored it and reached up to pull Richie onto the couch.

"More read!" she demanded, waving the book. Richie settled in and turned a page.

"Bad, bad mouse!" shouted Mary, picking up where they'd left the story.

"Yes, but look! Here comes the King of the toy soldiers. He will fight the bad, bad mouse!" Mary pointed to the Soldier King, who was engaged in a sword fight with the Evil Mouse King.

"Unka Dunky!" she shrieked. Richie was flabbergasted. How would Mary have come to associate Duncan with swords? He would have to ask Mac about this. Mary frowned and crawled into his lap, pressing herself into his chest.

"Bad man, bad mouse. Mary bye-bye?" she asked querulously.

"No, no honey," Richie soothed, "Uncle Duncan and Uncle Richie would never let that happen." He realized that Mary's gaze was locked on the picture of Clara hiding terrified in a corner, and quickly turned the page.

"The bad, bad mouse gave Uncle Duncan a boo-boo, and he fell down," Richie improvised. Mary's eyes formed perfect circles in her tiny face. "But wait! Smart, smart Mary is going to save Uncle Duncan! See--she's taken off her shoe, and what does she do with it?"

Mary quickly turned the page and exclaimed "Throw shoe!"

"Yes! See? Mary gave the bad mouse a boo-boo and Uncle Duncan got up and. . ." Here Richie paused; the concept of killing seemed too harsh to introduce to a two-year-old. ". . . And he made the Mouse King go in time out and say he was sorry!" Richie finished triumphantly. Mary clapped her hands in delight and seemed to notice the tray on the table for the first time. Moments later Richie's hands were full trying to keep cracker crumbs and pieces of banana from becoming one with the rug.


Scene 1 1

A SERVICE CORRIDOR

Bouncing ceiling tiles and war drums?? Duncan fought to regain consciousness and became aware that the pounding sound was coming from his own head as it bounced along the service corridor floor as his two assailants dragged him along by his feet. As his head cleared he realized he'd been relieved of his katana--one of the dancers carried it carelessly in his left hand, as if it posed no more danger than a simple stage prop. They hadn't bothered to tie his hands; either they hadn't anticipated his waking up so soon-- chalk one up to immortal healing powers--or they were simply overconfident idiots. Duncan allowed himself a brief internal smile; either way would do!

They stopped before an elevator. As one captor released his hold to press the button, Duncan seized the opportunity to kick free and push off the wall into a back-handspring. The sudden motion took the other by surprise and he sat down hard as the immortal's left foot sailed over his head. A moment later Duncan had floored both captors with a neat roundhouse kick, knocking one out cold and regaining possession of the katana.

"You should be more careful with sharp objects," he admonished the other, "you could get hurt." He allowed the blade to press against the man's flesh. "Now where were you taking me? And where is Anne?


Scene 1 2

THE PARKING GARAGE OF THE SAME HOTEL

Duncan MacLeod tried the huge steel doors which led to the backstage area from the parking garage, but they were firmly locked from within, and their smooth exteriors offered not so much as a keyhole to try to pick. {Amanda herself would be hard-put to break in this way,} Duncan thought ruefully. Very well, through the front door he would have to go. He turned and strode purposefully in the direction of the main lobby.

Just before arriving at the ballroom he remembered the reception going on within and took a few precious seconds to smooth his hair, dust off his clothes and assume an expression more suitable for the situation. There was no sense in calling the attention of Security before attempting to slip past them!

Entering the room he turned towards the entrance to the walkway which connected the ballroom with the theater lobby. With dismay he noted that it had been closed and, presumably, locked. In fact, an hors d'oeuvres station had been set up directly in front of the door. So much for the direct route back!

His gaze swept the room seeking another entrance. At first glance there seemed to be none, but closer inspection revealed a small door almost concealed behind several racks of costumes. Dancers passed through this door occasionally, on their way to or from mingling with the patrons in the ballroom. A single security guard sat on a chair next to the door. Duncan considered trying to talk his way past the guard but could think of no plausible reason for using what was obviously an artists' entrance. His attention returned to the racks of costumes and a crazy plan began to take shape.

Duncan strolled over to the farthest rack and casually removed the costume of the Nutcracker king. Turning, he sauntered toward the nearest exit. An usher gave him a long look but he favored her with his most charming smile and said "auction item," as if that explained everything. She relaxed and Duncan headed into the corridor in the direction of the rest rooms. He spotted an individual restroom reserved for the handicapped and quickly slipped inside, locking the door behind him.

The tights in particular proved difficult to don--they weren't called "tights" for nothing, he grumbled to himself as he struggled to wedge himself into the costume. Eventually he succeeded, and in a stroke of luck discovered that the slightly curved sheath for the Nutcracker's prop sword perfectly concealed his katana. He slipped on the giant headpiece and stepped back into the corridor.

Duncan re-entered the ballroom by a different door, then moved smoothly towards the artists' entrance. Years of martial arts training combined with his natural cat-like agility allowed him to move with a dancer's grace, and the guard barely glanced at him as he passed through the artists' door. The disguised immortal walked briskly past a series of green rooms and dressing rooms, stepping around and in some cases over clusters of dancers chatting and drinking coffee in the hallways.

Duncan turned the corner at the end of the populated hallway and released a breath that he hadn't realized he was holding. As his eyes adjusted to the dimmer light he noticed a hand-lettered sign taped to the wall, reading "Crossover to Stage Left," with an arrow. He moved in the direction indicated and soon spotted a similar sign on a small door. Trying the handle, he was somewhat surprised to find the door unlocked. He let himself into a pitch-dark passageway. Groping along the wall he felt cables and wires underfoot. Suddenly the wall gave way to something heavy and velvety and he realized he must be behind the rear curtain of the stage. He was bending to try to peek under the curtain when his senses were flooded with the presence of another immortal. At the same moment he had to fling a hand over his eyes as the stage lights sprang brilliantly to life. Squinting, he drew his katana and raced across the remaining distance to the closest stage wing.

Looking onto the stage he both saw and felt Kijinsky, dressed in the costume of the Evil Mouse King. Behind him, tied up like a package under the huge Christmas tree, sat Anne Lindsey.


Scene 1 3

THE STAGE

Duncan flung off the headpiece to his costume and stepped onto the stage.

"Let her go, Kijinsky; she's not part of this."

Kijinsky removed the head from his mouse costume and replied, "Oh, but she is! The audience is essential, MacLeod--I wouldn't have sent you two tickets if I'd wanted to face you alone. But don't worry, I won't harm her. I want her to live with the knowledge of your death the way Peter suffered with the memory of mine."

With that he raised his sword and stepped toward Duncan. The Scottish immortal moved forward to meet him, and they traded a few initial blows. Swords sparked as the pace of the fight increased, but neither man seemed to have the upper hand. Duncan remembered Kijinsky's flying leaping style from their first encounter and was somewhat surprised that the Russian was choosing to fight with both feet on the ground. He suspected he himself would be the victor in a battle of sheer endurance; surely Kijinsky must realize this as well. Why was the dancer holding back?

Meanwhile, from her vantage point amongst the Christmas packages, Anne witnessed the fight. While the drugs had left her with a pounding headache, she was at last able to think clearly again. Forcing her eyes from the battle, she searched for a way to loosen her bonds. She spotted a metal brace helping support the Christmas tree. If only she could get to it she might be able to cut the ties that bound her wrists. . .

Abruptly Kijinsky switched styles and began a series of leaps, tracing a triangular path around his opponent and forcing him to spin rapidly to maintain a defence. At the same time he worked Duncan upstage towards a small area rug in front of the set's fireplace. Kijinsky abruptly reversed direction and a dizzy Duncan had to spin the other way. He stepped back hard with one foot onto the rug and felt it give way beneath him. The rug had concealed a small trap door! Duncan pitched backward and Kijinsky aimed a thrust straight at his heart. However, the momentum of Duncan's fall carried him back just far enough that the sword missed its mark and penetrated only his costume. But he found himself flat on his back with one leg down the trap door, the other straight in front of him and his arms splayed to the sides. Kijinsky laughed and raised his sword to deliver the killing blow.

"For Peter," he said. Suddenly a shoe came flying through the air and knocked the dancer soundly on the back of the head. It was neither heavy enough nor thrown with sufficient force to cause injury, but it did provide a moment's distraction. That instant was all Duncan required to swing his leg free of the trap door and deliver a solid kick to Kijinsky's knees. As the dancer staggered Duncan rolled to his right, clearing the trap door and ending in a crouched position. His katana traced a deadly arc as he rose, pivoting, and took Kijinksy's head.

"Take cover, Anne!" he managed to shout before the quickening seized him. Anne dropped her other shoe which she had been preparing to throw and inch-wormed her way back under a heavy table which was part of the drawing room set. Already the stage lights were flashing and popping, and the quickening proved as spectacular as one would imagine a theater quickening to be.

It had almost subsided when a final tendril of energy burst the "snow fly" high in the proscenium and "snow" gently fell upon the stage. Anne released the cords which bound her legs and raced to Duncan.

"Thank you," he breathed and wrapped his arms around her.


Scene 1 4

RICHIE'S APARTMENT

Duncan and Anne quietly let themselves into Richie's apartment. Richie lay sprawled on the couch with Mary sound asleep on his chest. "The Nutcracker" lay on the coffee table next to the remains of their snack.

"How was the show?" Richie asked sleepily.

"You might say the story came to life before our very eyes," replied Duncan with a mysterious smile. Anne walked to the coffee table and picked up the book.

"You know," she remarked, "I think I'll put this away for a while. I love 'The Nutcracker', but I've had quite enough of it for one season!"

The End

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