THE CULT OF IMMORTALITY
"Where are we going?"
"I don't know. I was following you."
"Oh. Well where are we?"
"Haven't a clue."
"Oh." Coming to an abrupt halt, Kronos looked around, scanning the empty horizons. There were a lot of trees, a lot of open ground, and not a lot else.
"We're in England," Methos offered helpfully, and Kronos nodded.
"Yes. That bit I knew."
"Well we're not that lost then." Methos sighed. "We've been heading roughly north west since we left the coast. We ought to be close to London."
"London?" Kronos made a face. "I was there a few years ago. It's changed. I don't recommend it."
"Yes, I've heard a few stories about it myself." Methos shrugged. "Still, it's is the logical place to head for. Besides, we've not been there together in years. It'll be nice to have a look round the old place again."
"I'll take your word for it," Kronos told him. Methos merely smiled.
"Don't see it as it is now, then. See it as it was. Whenever I visit London I can't help remembering the parties we used to have there. We were stationed just outside the town for several months, remember?"
"Yes. Trying to bribe the commander so that he'd let us leave the camp to go and have a little fun."
"And then we used to go down to Aquae Sulis if we managed to get a couple of days off." Methos laughed. "The Romans certainly knew how to party. London isn't much like Londinium, though, brother. That was a long time ago."
"Yes, I'd noticed. I dropped in on Aquae Sulis a while back. They call it Bath now, and the mosaics are all buried under houses."
"Times change, brother."
"Yes, I'd noticed that too."
They walked on, enjoying the peace and quiet. Methos listened to the bird song that filled the air around them. He tried to identify the different sounds, but couldn't. It was odd, really, that in something like five thousand years of life he had never seemed to find the opportunity to study wildlife. Somehow there had always seemed to be something else to do instead. He stifled a yawn, the hot sun and restful silence conspiring to make him sleepy. Kronos noticed the yawn and smirked.
"Feeling sleepy brother? You must be getting old."
"Very funny." Methos pointed ahead. "What's that - there on the horizon?"
Kronos frowned. A dark shape was just visible, sprawling before them. "Looks like a town. I guess that must be London."
"Then we're not lost after all." The old man looked almost disappointed. "Pity. It's a nice day for getting lost. If you have to lose track of where you are, you might as well do it when the sun is shining."
"You have a strange notion of fun, Methos."
"It's a nice name, don't you think? I've decided that I'll use it as my alias for a little while."
"Okay... Richard." They strolled on, the sun seeming to follow them as they walked. Gradually, as the hours passed them by, London grew closer, its wooden buildings blocking the sunlight, and imprisoning the Immortals in a cool, dark shade. Methos made a face.
"This place has grown," he muttered disapprovingly.
"And somebody should shoot the architect." Kronos glanced around. "All these buildings crammed together. Mind you, it would probably be a good place to hold in a siege."
Methos raised his eyebrows. "Already planning your defence?" he asked dryly. "There's nobody to fight here, brother. Look at this place. Does anybody here look like they have anything worth stealing?"
"Still good practice." Kronos frowned, his natural suspicions aroused. "There's something wrong."
"Of course." The older Immortal smiled to himself, rolling his eyes. "Isn't there always? What is it this time?"
"You can laugh, but I mean it." Kronos glanced about. "There aren't many people out in the streets. I know it's getting late, but it won't be dark for a long time yet. The streets should be full of people. Everything is quiet."
"That's true." A faint fluttering of concern made Methos glance around, before he smiled again, and reproached himself for being as paranoid as his companion. "Come on. We'd better find somewhere to stay."
"I'm not so sure." Kronos still looked doubtful. "Something's definitely not right. I don't think we're going to be very welcome here."
"We're not usually terribly welcome wherever we go, brother. It's probably got something to do with the trail of bodies we always seem to leave in our wake." Methos pointed ahead. "See? A boarding house. We'll go in, and book a couple of rooms. There isn't anything wrong."
"If you say so." They approached the building, their footsteps loud in the odd silence of the city. Methos pushed open the door of the inn and looked around. Inside the place was dusty. with an air of desolation that seemed somehow sad. He frowned. A place like this should have no shortage of custom.
"I told you something isn't right." Kronos wandered into the quiet inn and looked around. "Looks like nobody's been here in months."
"Yeah." Methos nodded sadly. "It must be the plague."
"Probably." Kronos glanced out of the window. The streets still looked deserted. "Do you suppose everybody is dead?"
"I doubt it. Not everybody." Methos shook his head. "I hate this. All this desolation. I had no idea things were so bad in Britain."
"Probably aren't. Just in the towns." Sounding unconcerned, Kronos turned back to his companion. "Things will sort themselves out. They did last time."
"Yeah, and then the plague came back again." Methos shook his head. "This is getting scary, brother. Imagine a world with nobody in it but Immortals."
Kronos grinned, but did not reply, and Methos sighed.
"You'd soon get bored, with no one to terrorise."
"Relax." Kronos sighed, his old friend's worries beginning to frustrate him. "It's not going to kill everyone. Diseases never do. They'll find out what's causing it."
"But you already know, don't you?"
Kronos shrugged. "Maybe. I have a theory, but to be honest I haven't given the matter much thought. It doesn't matter to us, does it?"
"Probably not." Methos regarded his friend thoughtfully for a moment. "You could make a cure, if you put your mind to it."
"I imagine that I probably could, yes."
"Then why don't you?" It was a direct challenge, and Kronos looked surprised. It was not often that Methos sounded so accusatory.
"Because. Why should I? It's not my problem. They're mortals, brother; I have no need to protect them."
"Millions have died."
"And millions more probably will." Kronos shrugged. "So what? Hell, brother, if diseases aren't killing them, they're killing each other. Why should I try to save them?"
"Because you can?"
"Huh." Kronos shook his head. "It's not like that, and you know it. Methos, when did you first realise that the Earth was round? Or that the planets go around the sun? We knew where America was a thousand or more years before Columbus found it. We have to leave the mortals to discover these things for themselves."
"Maybe." Methos turned away, heading for the door. "Maybe."
"There's no maybe about it. You know I'm right." Kronos shrugged. "And anyway, this world is getting too crowded. There's altogether too many people living in it. It won't hurt to get rid of a few."
Methos glanced back. For a moment Kronos saw something flash in his companion's eyes, but it was there for too brief a second to be sure what it was. It looked like anger, or perhaps indignation, and the younger Immortal wondered at it. Methos worried him at times. It was disturbing, somehow, that the most ruthless man in all of the world; a man who had been even more cold-blooded than Kronos himself, had so suddenly become caring, and plagued by his conscience. As Methos left the boarding house, Kronos smiled to himself. Methos was still Methos. Deep down they were still the same.
"Er... brother?" Methos' voice floated in from the street, and Kronos caught the prevalent note of concern within it. He joined his companion outside. Six men, all carrying sticks and swords, were coming down the road towards them.
"What do you think?" Methos asked. Kronos shrugged.
"Looking for outsiders?" he suggested. "Probably trying to keep out possible plague carriers."
"Then they're about a century late." Methos glanced around. "We better make a run for it."
"Why?" Kronos sounded almost belligerent, his hand already on his sword hilt.
"Because." Methos grabbed his friend's arm. "Come on." For a second his companion resisted, then he allowed Methos to pull him away. They ducked into a side street, and broke into a run.
"Why are we running away?" Kronos asked.
"Because it's easier than fighting."
"For you, maybe."
"For both of us." Methos glanced back, and caught a glimpse of the men behind them. "They're still with us."
"In here." Kronos led the way down an alley, and they found themselves doubling back, heading once more towards the main street. The footsteps behind them faded, and Methos grinned.
"Good. I'm sorry, but I didn't feel like a fight just then. Certainly not with six men all twice my size."
"Whatever." The incident already seemed to have passed from Kronos' mind. "What next?"
"I don't know. Head further into the city maybe. There'll be more people towards the centre. We can find something to do. I was planning to go further inland and visit one of the universities."
"Going all scholarly again?" Kronos grinned. "I swear you're cheating, brother. The professors fall at your feet when you translate all those ancient texts, but it's hardly any great feat for you."
"So I speak one or two languages..." Methos said, his tone deeply innocent. "I can't help being a genius."
"Huh. You speak ancient languages because you were a citizen of all the ancient cities."
"True." Methos smiled happily, the conversation bringing pleasant memories of the feel of ancient texts, and the quiet, musty smell of old college libraries. He sighed contentedly. "I was meant to be an academic."
"The eternal student." Kronos smiled. "You still surprise me, Richard, even after all these years."
"Good." Methos grinned. "Don't worry. I'm not about to settle down somewhere for all that long. You don't get rid of me that easily."
"Is that a threat?" They continued walking down the streets. Even the few people who had been visible now seemed to have vanished. Everywhere was quiet and still. It was eery, and the two Immortals fell silent themselves, wandering through the darkening streets with more than a little unease.
"Going somewhere?" The voice came from behind them, breaking the silence so suddenly that it almost made the two old men jump. They turned slowly, and found themselves face to face with the six men who had been chasing them. Methos scowled. Just when he had thought that they were doing alright.
"What do you want?" he asked. The leader of the six laughed shortly.
"What do you think? We want to keep our streets clean of people like you. We don't want your kind here."
"We don't have the plague," Methos told him. "We're only passing through."
"I don't care what you're doing. You're not wanted here. We don't like strangers."
Kronos stepped forward. "Then let's see you try and drive us out," he challenged, a bright smile making his eyes blaze brilliantly. The big man who had been speaking returned the smile, lifting his heavy sword.
"My pleasure," he said, his voice full of quiet confidence. Kronos drew his own sword, walking towards the enemy with an easy, unconcerned stride. Methos also drew his sword, almost unwillingly eager for a fight. His pulse raced, and he felt the brief flush of excitement that always preceded a clash with an enemy.
The buzz that filled Methos' mind tore all thoughts of fighting the six mortals from his mind. He whirled around, feeling the Immortal presence grow stronger, closer, and more threatening. Kronos had halted his own advance and stood motionless, sword still at the ready, but his attention elsewhere as he glanced about in frustrated concern. The large man who had confronted him paused too, frowning at this sudden halt in the action. He looked around, searching for whatever it was that had made the two strangers suddenly become so alert.
The soft sound of footsteps came from directly behind Methos, and the hair on the back of his neck rose, a cold finger tracing a shivering path down his spine. Slowly, very slowly, he turned around, raising his sword. For a second the streets remained empty, then a figure emerged from one of the dark alleys. He stood stock still, a silhouette in the gathering dusk, then he walked forward. He was not tall, or heavily built, but he had a commanding, almost aristocratic presence. Methos allowed himself a flutter of a smile. This Immortal had the look of a renegade; an adventurer like Methos himself.
"Leave us." The new arrival stepped forward a few more paces, his sword conspicuously still in its sheath. "I've told you before; you bring strangers to me, you don't fight them in the streets."
"They asked for it." One of the men spoke up, sounding sullen.
"I don't care. Get back to your posts." Slowly the men sheathed their swords, filing away into the darkness. The streets were left silent.
"Thankyou." Methos offered the new Immortal a friendly grin. "I trust that wasn't just a ruse so that you could fight us in privacy?"
"You'll regret it if it was," Kronos muttered, drawing up alongside Methos, his sword still drawn. The third Immortal laughed shortly.
"I assure you that I have no desire to take your heads; unless you give me reason to do so." His accent was French, and his voice was pleasant and friendly. "I am Connor MacLeod of the clan MacLeod, and I only wanted the chance to talk to you."
"We can talk." Methos nodded guardedly. "You speak as though there was something wrong."
"There is." The Immortal glanced about, as if nervous or suspicious of something. "I don't like to talk in the streets."
"Then lead on." Methos smiled idly. "But if you try anything... I have little control over my companion."
MacLeod smiled back, an easy smile that made him look considerably less than dangerous.
"And who has control over you, my friend?" he asked, and turned away. Methos glanced over at Kronos, who shrugged. His expression showed just enough curiosity to push the suspicion aside. The two old friends followed MacLeod down a dark side street, twisting and turning through a maze of small alleys, past the tall wooden buildings that reached up towards the darkening sky above them. Finally they arrived at a small building. Lights shone from the windows, a welcoming sign that was in contrast to the dark hostility that Methos and Kronos had witnessed in the rest of the city. MacLeod knocked on the door, a hesitant pattern of sound that was obviously a way of identifying himself to someone inside. He glanced back at his two companions as he pushed the door open.
"This is not a good place to be right now," he said, speaking softly. "This is likely to be the only house in the whole of the city where you'll get a friendly welcome. Everyone is terrified of strangers, desperate to survive the plague. They'll kill anyone who is unknown; any strange face is an enemy. It was not the most sensible time to come here."
"We didn't think." Methos followed MacLeod into the house. "We came from France. I suppose we've got a little out of touch with recent events over here."
MacLeod laughed somewhat hollowly. "Maybe I will be glad you came," he said, and gestured around. "Please; take a seat."
The two old Immortals sat down on two chairs positioned near a large window which looked out into the street. They were in a warm, low-ceilinged room, with simple furnishings but an air of quiet comfort. MacLeod sat down opposite them, his eyes moving from one to the other of his guests, studying them thoughtfully. Methos watched him too, seeing the dark blond hair, the young face and the honest eyes. Connor MacLeod was not a terribly old Immortal, but he felt quite powerful.
"You haven't introduced yourselves," the blond Immortal said, making the statement into a question. Methos nodded slowly.
"We don't give our names to just anybody," he said. "Especially not to strange Immortals who appear out of the shadows." He glanced over at Kronos, then shrugged. "My name is Richard Clark."
"James Conrad," Kronos put in, his voice suggesting that it was a lie, but that he would defy anybody to accuse him of failing to tell the truth. MacLeod nodded.
"One name is as good as another," he said lightly. "I'm pleased to meet you, Richard, James. I just wish that I could give you a more fitting welcome." He shook his head slightly, the sad look coming back to his face, and momentarily dulling the light in his eyes. "You've sailed into troubled waters."
"The plague is hardly a problem for us," Kronos told him. Connor nodded.
"I wish the plague was our only concern," he said. "What I am speaking of is something that could be much worse, and it concerns Immortals; all of us."
"What do you mean?" Methos felt a frown decorate his forehead, and for a second he could hear the beating of his own heart. Connor made a brief, helpless gesture that turned into a floundering shrug.
"It's crazy," he said. "It's all crazy. There's a man; an Immortal by the name of Edward Doyle. He calls himself Sir Edward, but I've no idea if the title is real. He is..." Again there was a vague shrug. "He is mad. Completely mad; and his insanity seems to be contagious."
"In what way?" Methos asked. MacLeod stood up and walked over to the fire, resting his arms on the mantlepiece as he spoke.
"He has formed a cult. A very powerful Cult of Immortality. He has many followers, all Immortals too. They have sworn to die for him, to do all that they can to be sure that he is the One. It's as if they've lost their minds. They're completely under his spell, completely devoted to him. Everything is insane."
"A Cult of Immortals?" Methos leaned back in his chair. The thought was disturbing. Over the years he had encountered numerous Immortals who had devised schemes to ensure their continued immortality, but this was a new one.
"They came to me a few weeks ago," MacLeod continued, turning away from the fire. "I was taken to Doyle, and he tried to make me follow him. They said that I could join, or forfeit my head to the cult. Doyle's men won't take heads themselves; they reserve that for him." He seemed lost for a moment. "They are all sworn to defend him to the death if necessary, and one day, when they are all that are left, they have sworn to give him their own heads too."
"I see." Methos frowned. "How did you get away?"
"Simple. I asked for some time to think." MacLeod flashed him an oddly youthful grin. "It's an old trick, but they left me alone long enough to climb out of a window. I've been hiding from them ever since. It's not an ideal way to live, but I think it beats sacrificing my existence to an insane cult leader."
"I think you're right." Methos shook his head, staring into the leaping flames in the fire place. Beside him he saw Kronos stand up and walk to the window.
"You say they're all Immortals?" he asked. MacLeod nodded.
"All Immortals. All mindless. They're nothing at all on their own. They've sold themselves completely to Doyle."
"So I suppose that leaves it up to us to do something about it," Methos said, speaking mainly to himself.
"I can't do anything alone." MacLeod looked at each of the Immortals in turn, searching for something hopeful in the dark face of Kronos as he turned from the window. "I don't mean to make you feel as though you have to help me, but Doyle does have to be stopped. We have to do something."
"We?" Kronos spoke the word as a challenge.
"Yes. We." Methos gave Kronos a warning look, receiving a faint grin in reply. "We have to do this, James."
"My pleasure. Many heads waiting to be taken." Kronos grinned. "It could be fun."
"It won't be fun," MacLeod warned. "You've no idea how single-minded these people are. They can't be talked to, or swayed. They're completely dedicated to their cult, to Doyle. I'm at a loose end."
"We specialise in loose ends," Methos told him, a cheerful determination shining in his eyes.
"Yes. We hang people from them," Kronos added, his face darkly impassive. Methos rolled his eyes, and MacLeod allowed himself a faint smile.
"I have several people working for me," he said. "They patrol the streets, report on what Doyle and his people are up to. Since they're mortals they can't be detected. You met a few of them tonight."
"Ah, yes." Methos smirked. "Those charming locals who wanted to make us leave town. You have nice friends MacLeod."
"I'm sorry about that." Connor gave him a faintly sheepish smile. "I needed help, and they'll do anything for money. I'm afraid I'm rather too used to working on my own. I'm not very good at choosing assistants."
"So long as they get the job done, and so long as they don't know too much." Methos shrugged. "Nothing else matters."
"That's what I was hoping." MacLeod sat down again, seeming reassured now that these two Immortals appeared to be on his side. He leaned back in his chair, staring at his strange allies. The one who called himself Richard was frowning slightly. He had a likeable face, with eyes that were, for the most part, honest. His companion was unreadable, with eyes that glittered and a mouth that formed a hard line. Whatever or whoever he was, he obviously did not want it to show on his face. MacLeod could not shake the feeling of suspicion that troubled his mind; the concern that always came to the forefront when he had to have dealings with other Immortals. You could never be sure how far it was possible to trust an Immortal. Many would try to appear friendly, and then would take your head as soon as you turned your back. He certainly was not quite comfortable with this pair. Even the apparently easy going Richard had an air of secrecy, an unpenetrable veil behind his eyes. MacLeod was not yet old enough to recognise the centuries of experience that made the pair what they were. He wondered what they were thinking; how far they trusted him, but right now all that really mattered was that they could work together.
"Connor?" A woman's voice called from some other part of the house, and the three Immortals, tense in their silence of unease and lack of trust, all jumped. Kronos' hand flew to his sword, and Methos snapped his eyes over to MacLeod. The younger Immortal shook his head, standing up.
"It's alright, Rachel," he called. "I think we can trust them."
"You think you can trust us?" Sword drawn, Kronos had stepped away from the window, and was now just a few paces from MacLeod. "Do you have any more mortals hiding around here?"
"She wasn't hiding." MacLeod stood up, his eyes angry and hard. "I knocked when we got here. You must have guessed that there was someone here."
"What's she doing here?" Kronos met Connor's gaze and held it, his formidable stare making the younger Immortal both slightly afraid and more than a little angry.
"She lives with me." MacLeod broke eye contact, turning towards the door and ignoring his belligerent new ally. Kronos glowered, but did nothing to obstruct the younger man. Instead he sheathed his sword, apparently content to limit himself to a fierce scowl. At the door MacLeod greeted a mortal woman, taking her hand and leading her into the room. She had brown hair and gentle eyes, and Methos rose instinctively to his feet. MacLeod smiled lightly.
"This is Rachel Campbell," he said. "She's the step-daughter of a friend of mine - an Immortal. He was killed and she saw everything. She knows all about us." He gestured at the two men. "These are Richard and James. They've recently arrived from France."
"Are they going to help us?" Rachel stepped forward, shaking Kronos' hand as though unaware of any tension still in the air. "Doyle killed my father, because he wouldn't join the cult."
"Well don't worry." For all his suspicions and violent tendencies Kronos was more than capable of playing the perfect gentleman when he felt like it. He offered the mortal woman a surprisingly gentle smile. "Doyle won't make it to the end of the month with his head in tact." Rachel smiled sadly.
"That's always the way, isn't it," she said softly. "Immortals always kill each other. There's no way for you to live together, no way to allow for a change of heart."
Kronos grinned. "Immortals don't go in for changes of heart," he said. "Once we start down the dark path we just keep on going that way." He cast a sidelong glance at Methos. "Right brother?"
"Probably." Methos smiled at Rachel. "Most of the time all we can do is kill men like Doyle," he said, trying to sound repentant. "It'll be him or us."
"I know." She shrugged. "Just so long as I don't have to watch it. Once was enough."
"Well so long as it's not our heads that you have to see fall," Connor grinned teasingly, although Rachel did not seem to see much humour in his words. She shook her head.
"I have no intention of staying to watch Doyle kill you," she said. "I won't watch you die." Her voice altered suddenly, asking for a change of subject. "Now who is hungry?"
"I am," Connor told her, and she smiled.
"You always are." The blond Immortal grinned at that, and shrugged.
"Living forever gives you an appetite," he told her, and turned to his colleagues. "Richard? James? There's nothing here to rival French cooking, but I do have some rather good beer in the cellar."
"Beer?" Methos grinned happily. "Connor my boy, you just said the magic word."
They sat together in the small, firelit parlour, eating bread and stew, and drinking the beer. It was a local brew, strong and smooth, and Methos sighed with the contented air of a true connisseur.
"Nice," he said happily. "Very nice. France may have good food, but they don't have good beer."
"You were happy enough with the wine," Kronos shot back. He had finished eating and was sitting on the floor by the fire, watching the flames.
"True. There's a lot to be said for French wine.' The old Immortal sighed again. "But you can't beat English beer."
"Yes you can." MacLeod drained his tankard. "Scottish beer. It even beats whisky. My father used to brew his own." He looked momentarily sad, as though the memory of his father was not a very happy one. Suddenly he grinned. "My earliest memory of my father is when he got drunk on his own beer, and tried to dance with his mother-in-law. She didn't think it was very funny." Rachel put an arm around his shoulders, offering him a gentle smile, and he grinned back, grateful for her presence.
"It's hard sometimes," he said, apparently mellowed slightly from the beer. "When you have to remember that your parents are not your parents, and when all the happy memories end in sadness. My parents did not understand when I didn't die. They thought that I was possessed."
"Immortality brings unpleasant days to everyone." Methos shrugged vaguely, as though sadness were not a concern of his. "When you live forever you're bound to be sad one day."
"Or every day when you watch the one you love fade before your eyes." MacLeod looked up at Rachel, and looked suddenly guilty. "Sorry."
"It's alright." She refilled his tankard. "I've accepted the inevitable. I would rather grow old than have to live forever. I don't envy you three."
"Why not?" Kronos did not turn from the fire. "We have unlimited strength, unlimited power, unlimited opportunities to conquer and destroy."
"And all of eternity to watch all that you love fade away." Rachel did not smile. "It doesn't matter if it's a person, or a place, or just a way of life - if you're immortal you'll outlive it, and have to leave it all to fall into the dust." She stared at him for a second, watching the reflections of the leaping flames in his eyes. The warmth and the alcohol were getting to them all, she thought, except perhaps for this impenetrable man, with his dark face and fathomless eyes. It would be interesting to get the opportunity to get to know him a little better, but somehow Rachel knew that she never would. All the years that were available to her would not allow her to see very far beneath the shadows that masked his face. Kronos shrugged at her last words, as if there was no reason to reply to them. Immortality had caused him to lose people, and a way of life that he loved; but life went on, and after four thousand years you came to accept that.
"My father used to brew his own beer," he said instead, offering a rare comment on his ancient life. Methos looked surprised.
"Really? I thought you were nomadic."
"We were." His old friend turned from the fire, smiling softly at the old man. "But he was as addicted to the stuff as you are." He frowned. "It was very dark, and very strong, and he used to feed it to his horses to make them run faster."
MacLeod laughed. "My father used to do the same thing. He thought it would give him an edge in battle. I don't think it really worked, but the horses seemed happy."
"My father preferred wines. He grew vines beside the house, and my brothers and I used to crush the grapes for him when we were small." Methos leaned back into his chair and shook his head. "By the gods that was a long time ago."
MacLeod gazed at him, frowning slightly. "How old are you, Richard?" he asked. Methos smiled.
"Older than you, MacLeod. A lot older than you. That's all that you need to know."
"Because knowledge is a dangerous thing." Kronos stood up and wandered over to the windows, gazing out. The firelight was too strong for him to be able to see anything beyond his own reflection, and he turned away. "Where we come from is our own business, and nobody needs to know it except us."
Methos nodded in agreement. "You'll understand, when you get older," he told the younger Immortal. "Caution comes with experience."
"Then tell me at least how you died," MacLeod asked. "If we're to be allies we should trust each other. All I know about you two are your names."
"That's all you need to know." Methos shrugged. "But if you're that interested, it was a knife that killed me. It hurt like hell, but that was nothing to the fear I felt when I woke up again afterwards and found that the hole had gone. I guess we all know that feeling."
"Sure." MacLeod nodded. "I was killed in battle. It was a fight between my clan and another. There was a man there; the Kurgan. He tried to take my head, but I was rescued by my clansmen." He frowned. "My father watched me die, and seeing me come back to life was too much for him. His last words to me were curses of terror."
"That's life, MacLeod." Kronos glanced over at Methos. "I'm going to take a walk, brother. I'll see you in a little while."
"Be careful." Methos grinned. "And try not to kill anything, okay?" His companion shrugged.
"Depends on whether anything gets in my way," he said vaguely, and was gone, wandering out into the dark streets. Methos watched him go, a sad smile on his face. He knew that Rachel's words had disturbed his old friend more than he had allowed to show. The changing of the times was the hardest thing for Kronos to accept. MacLeod raised his eyebrows.
"Your friend is a strange man," he said. Methos smiled.
"We're all strange men. Or women. Sometimes secrecy and silence are the least strange things of all." He suppressed a yawn. "I'm tired. We've been on the go since we left France."
"What did you do there?" Rachel asked, beginning to collect up the plates and tankards.
"Oh... This and that." Methos smiled. "James is something of a scientist. He worked with Galileo for a time, and he's a member of the Royal Society here in England as well. France is a place with many openings for a man like him. I was working with a group of scholars, helping to translate some old texts." He yawned again. "Sorry."
"Don't apologise." MacLeod stood up. "I'll show you where you can sleep. Should I wait up for James?"
"No, don't bother." Methos had a slight suspicion that Kronos had gone in search of the six men who had confronted them earlier. "He'll be a while yet. He doesn't sleep much."
"Okay. If you're sure." Connor grinnned, and led the way to the door. "And tomorrow I guess we go after Doyle."
"We do." Methos gave him a hard nod. "The sooner we deal with him, the better."
In a large buliding on the other side of London, a large man crouched on the floor before a big chair on a raised dais. There was a man in the chair, tall and broad shouldered, with eyes of ice. He wore a long robe, heavily decorated with gold braiding, and sandals made from twisting strips of leather dyed scarlet. His thick white hair grew to shoulder length, and lent his face an air of maturity and fierce pride.
"You have news for me?" The man on the chair stared down at his cowering guest as though he were confronting a fly, or some other tiny insect.
"Yes, Sir Edward." The large man nodded enthusiastically. "I've been doing as you said; watching MacLeod. He thinks I'm working for him."
"There were two strangers in town today. MacLeod took them away with him. I didn't see where they went, but-"
"You didn't see?" The white haired man on the chair stood up, towering over his crouching servant on the floor below. "What am I paying you for? All this time and you still don't know where MacLeod is hiding."
"I'm sorry!" The big man ducked, as if expecting a blow that never came. "The - the two strangers. I think they were Immortals. They seemed to know that MacLeod was coming before he appeared. Like you said that you can detect others like you."
"Really?" The tall man sat down again, smiling to himself. "Two new Immortals... What were they like?"
"Er... They were men. Dark, and young looking. One was tall, the other smaller."
"Good." The tall man - Sir Edward Doyle - nodded slowly, rubbing his jaw with long, strong fingers. "Two new toys. Servants or sacrifices though; that's the question."
"I can bring them to you." The big man, who had been so confident when he had challenged Kronos earlier in the evening, was now almost flat against the ground in his eagerness to prostrate himself before Doyle. "They'll trust me if MacLeod tells them I work for him. I can bring them, and you can do what you want with them."
"Oh, I intend to." Doyle smiled benevolently. "But you've served your purpose now, my friend. I have no further use for you."
'Then I can go?" The man looked up hopefully, and Doyle laughed.
"No," he said gently. "You can die, but don't let it trouble you. You'd be dead of the plague in a few months anyway."
"What?!" The big man stumled to his feet. "You told me that-"
"I told you that you could help me." Doyle sighed, as if everything was too much strain to bother with. "I didn't mean that I was going to let you live. You're only a mortal, my dear Stephen. Created to die, and to fall before Immortalkind." He raise his voice.
"Davis! Lewis!" A door opened, and two men appeared, Immortals with nearly a thousand years experience between them. Doyle gestured at the terrified mortal. Suddenly desperate, the big man tried to run past the two men, but they caught him, holding him tightly. Doyle gave him another benevolent smile.
"It won't hurt very much, Stephen," he said. "Not for long anyway. And then you won't have to worry about your little mortal concerns anymore. You should thank me, really."
"No! Damn you Doyle, I'll..." The mortal's voice faded as he was dragged away, and Doyle smiled after him, leaning against one arm of his throne like chair. A frown crossed his face. Two new Immortals. Sir Edward Doyle - who had been born some three thousand years previously with the name of Ionichus - liked new Immortals. He liked to speak to them; to tell them of his dreams and his plans; to convince them that his way was best and that there was no other path. If they did not agree then he would feel the joy of two more Quickenings. To take their heads would be a fitting way to deal with them. After all, if they did not agree to worship him they would be heretics, and heretics had to be dealt with. Even mortals agreed with that, although they worshipped a different god. Doyle wanted them to worship him, but mortals did not understand. Some pretended to, like Stephen, but they all failed in the end. A drawn out scream of agony and fear echoed around the building, and Doyle smiled. Stephen was gone; another heretic dealt with. He didn't know it, but elsewhere in the city Stephen's five colleagues from earlier in the day were meeting their own ends, one by one, as they encountered the sword of Kronos.
Methos yawned, stretching comfortably, and smiled at the wooden beams of the roof above him.The room was warm from a fire in the chimmney place, and the pile of blankets made a bed that felt better than any feather mattress. He tried to be lazy, but there was a nagging worry in his mind that brought his thoughts back to Sir Edward Doyle. From what Connor had said, the man was obviously insane, and therefore hardly suitable to be the One. If he continued with his current operation, though, he had more than a vague chance of surviving to the last.
But what of Connor MacLeod? Methos took a moment to consider his new ally. MacLeod was, he had discovered late last night, a Scotsman - a Highlander - who had not been an Immortal for an especially long time. He had taken a few heads, but for the most part was trying just to live his life. Like Methos himself, he intended to live and play his own way, and only to involve himself in the Game if circumstances prevented him from avoiding it. He seemed honest and sincere, although he appeared to be somewhat inexperienced, and Methos discovered that he liked this Highlander. That surprised him, and it also made him a little uneasy. Paranoia came easily to Methos, and he did not trust strangers readily. It worried him that he liked MacLeod.
Smiling to himself, Methos rolled over and stood up. At times his suspicions and worries amused even him, and he told himself to ignore them for now. He wandered over to the windows, and threw open the shutters, gazing out into the cool, misty air of dawn soaked London. The streets remained largely empty, and the stillness disturbed him. A lone street urchin ran down one street, and Methos watched him until he had gone from sight. Even that small, wretched boy was better than the silence.
"Morning, brother." Methos jumped. He was so used to the prsence of Kronos that he had not noticed him when he awoke. The other Immortal sat on the floor, leaning against the wall. He was toying idly with his sword, and although the blade was clean, Methos imagined that it had seen some action since Kronos had vanished the previous night.
"How did you get here?" Bothered by the other man's presence, Methos crossed the room, staring down at his companion accusingly. Kronos offered him a lazy grin.
"You were fast asleep," he answered. "I could have been anyone, brother. You want to keep your eyes open more."
"I'll remember that next time I'm asleep." Methos reached out and dragged Kronos to his feet. "How about you? I trust you had a restful night?"
"Slept like a baby." Kronos sheathed the sword, his expression still one of cool indifference. "How does the world look this morning?"
"The same as it looked last night," Methos told him. "Quiet, unsettling - and in need of a cure for the plague."
"Well I'm sure we can do something to correct one of those three." Kronos opened the door. "It won't stay quiet for long once we've found Doyle."
"True." Methos hung back for a second, to watch Kronos as he left the room. "Brother..."
"What?" Kronos stopped, but did not look back. Methos considered for a moment, thinking about the argument they had had the previous night.
"Could you make a cure?"
"I don't know." Kronos remained still for a moment longer. "The question is surely whether or not I'm going to try."
"And are you?"
Methos paused. The question was largely irrelevant, since he wouldn't have known where to begin. He frowned, and Kronos turned towards him slightly, waiting for an answer. Methos shrugged.
"Probably." The younger Immortal nodded.
"That's the difference between us, brother." He walked down the stairs and was gone from sight. After a second Methos followed.
The front room where they had all talked the previous night seemed dark. The shutters were drawn, and the fire had died. Rachel was working to build it up again, struggling with a pair of flints and a pile of tinder. Kronos wordlessly took over, again demonstrating the odd conflicts of his character, and Methos opened the shutters. The view was no more inspiring from this window than from the one upstairs.
"London is dead," he announced, more to himself than to the others. Rachel smiled sadly at his back.
"I hope not. The rest of the city isn't so bad. It's just the poorer areas where the plague has really shown itself." She watched Kronos stoke up the fire, trying to make the new flames blaze more brilliantly.
"Doyle hasn't helped of course," she added softly. "He recruits the locals to help him, and many of them never come back. People hide, for fear of him. They don't know who he is, of course, but they do know that he's evil; and that's enough."
"A few years and the place will pick up again." Kronos took the heavy iron kettle from Rachel and arranged it on the flames, earning a grateful smile in the process. "Stop worrying, brother. We'll deal with Doyle, and see what happens then. Once one cloud has gone, others tend to follow."
"That's true." Rachel turned to leave the room. "You're an Immortal, Richard, not a god. You can't change the world."
"I can try." Methos flashed her a cheerful grin, which faded as soon as she was gone. "So." He glanced over at Kronos. "Doyle is killing mortals as well."
"Looks like it." The younger Immortal stoked the fire, toying idly with the poker. It was red hot, but he appeared not to notice. "Still, we've all done that, brother."
"True." The door opened, and Rachel came back into the room, carrying bread and porridge on a tray. Connor was with her. He nodded a greeting to his fellow Immortals, and sat down.
"I've been out looking for some of my men," he said, sounding concerned. "I have them positioned around the city as spies. They've been very useful."
"And?" Kronos did not flutter so much as an eyebrow, and his expression remained one of vague interest.
"I couldn't find them. They all seem to have vanished." MacLeod was frowning. "All except for one. I found his body near to where I met you last night. His throat had been cut."
"Unpleasant." Methos avoided looking at Kronos, not wanting to draw any attention to him right now. "Must have been a street robbery."
"I imagine so." MacLeod shook his head. "It's a shame. He was useful, although I can't say that I ever really trusted him."
Methos watched Kronos as he poured water from the heavy kettle into four mugs. Rachel was smiling, glad for his ready assistance. The older Immortal suppressed a scowl. It was infuriating at times, how Kronos managed to swing so rapidly from violent to chivalrous. It made it hard to stay angry with him. The old man sat down, gratefully accepting the breakfast which Rachel placed before him. Perhaps he would argue this out with Kronos later. Somehow he doubted it. It never seemed to matter what either man did; the other was never angry with him for long, if at all.
"We'd better be off." As they finished their breakfast, MacLeod stood up, and Kronos and Methos followed suit. They both glanced towards Rachel, and MacLeod shrugged. The mortal woman saw the gesture.
"I'm not staying behind," she announced, her tone determinedly defiant. "Doyle killed my father."
"He wasn't your father," Methos told her. "There was no blood tie."
Rachel rounded on him angrily. "So I'm not supposed to want to avenge his death? You people can't have children, so maybe that's why 'blood ties' are so important to you. To the rest of us they're not very important at all." Methos lowered his eyes and she relented a little. "I'm sorry. I know it hurts that you can't have a family of your own. I didn't mean to rub it in."
"No, it's okay. You're probably right." Methos shrugged. "I'm sorry too."
Rachel brightened a little. "Then I can come?" The three Immortals exchanged a look, and she frowned. "I'm hardly useless you know..."
"I know." Connor smiled at her. "Okay Rachel. You can come. Just - please be careful."
"I will if you will." She crossed to a cupboard on the wall and withdrew a sword belt, which she buckled around her waist with a practiced ease. "This was my father's," she said, glancing towards Methos and Kronos. "I took it from him after he died. I always hoped that someday I'd get the chance to use it against the man who killed him."
"Don't be too eager to fight Doyle." Methos strode to the door and led the way out into the street. "He must be a powerful man by now, and he won't be easy to defeat."
"I know. I saw him fight my father." Rachel glanced around, blinking up at the cold grey sky, and the drab buildings. Their surroundings were not inspiring. Somewhere there were the shouts of children, that drifted towards them on the light breeze, but the sounds were not happy.
"Which way?" Not wanting to waste any time in contemplation of the scenery, Kronos was looking towards MacLeod. The young Immortal pointed.
"That way should take us towards Doyle's last known address. WIth luck, we'll detect the other Immortals, and that will guide us in."
"And warn them of our presence." Methos sighed. "Oh well, can't be helped." He took the lead, striding through the streets with Kronos beside him. Rachel followed, and MacLeod brought up the rear. They all scanned the roads and alleys which branched off around them, searching for possible adversaries, the three Immortals tence with expectancy. At any moment they might feel that tell tale buzz of energy that would tell them there were others of their kind nearby.
They walked on, further and further throught the streets. Methos had no idea of the time, for the sun was hidden behind thick grey clouds. He shrugged off the feeling of foreboding that had settle over him the previous day. The streets seemed more cheerful now, and there were more people present as they moved into the better off areas of town. A few market stalls were setting up, a few more children were in evidence. All the people that they passed sent suspicious stares towards the four; they were not known in the area,and any strange face might bring new infection. Some of the passersby seemed belligerent, too scared of the plague to even consider being polite, and Methos heard Kronos growl faintly as one young man threw a stone at the strangers. The youth made no move towards them however; that might carry greater risk of catching the plague.
They rounded a corner. Shouts echoed about them, and immediately the four were alert. They heard the unmistakeable sounds of stones clattering against a building, as they were flung as inaccurate missiles at some unseen target. Methos glanced about, first at the gang of ragged youths hurling the stones, and then in search of the subject of their abuse. MacLeod lowered his eyes.
"I hate this," he murmered. "The locals believe that the plague is carried by dogs and cats. I have no idea if they are right or not, but they do all that they can to kill the poor animals anyway."
"They're not right." Taking a step forward, Kronos drew his sword and stormed towards the crowd of youths. He swung his weapon, warming up in preperation for what was to follow.
"Stop that!" Methos heard him call, and the boys swung around. A few showed fear at the arrival of this dark looking man. Some fled. One of the older boys laughed.
"Why?" he asked. "We get paid good money for this."
"Not anymore." With a quick thrust, Kronos killed the boy, pulling his bloodied sword from the stilled chest. Rachel gasped, amazed at the sudden change that she was witnessing in the Immortal's character. The other boys, shocked and terrified, scattered quickly, and soon the street was empty. Kronos kicked aside the rubbish piled at one side of the road, and bent to pick up a small bundle of fur. A black cat hissed at him menacingly, but he paid no attention to its warnings, and rejoined the others.
"You killed that boy..." Rachel said, her foice faint.
"Yes." Kronos was unmoved. He gazed steadily at the cat, unconcered by the effect his actions had had on Rachel and MacLeod. Methos watched his friend, almost amused by the recent events. It was probably the influence of Silas, he thought, that led Kronos to perform such acts. Even in the darkest, hardest days, the Horsemen had never really been cruel to animals. Only humans. There was something vaguely cat-like about Kronos, decided Methos, and that made him smile.
"What do we do with it now?" he asked. Kronos shrugged.
"Let it go? These creatures aren't the source of the plague. The people here would see that if they'd give the matter some serious thought." He set the animal down, and turned away, his mind already on other thoughts. He cleaned his sword blade as he walked, and Rachel stared after him nervously.
"He scares me," she said softly. Methos found himself smiling.
"He'd take that as a compliment," he told her, and set off after his old friend. Rachel glanced up at Connor, but the young Immortal merely shrugged.
It takes all sorts to make immortality, his expression said, and after a second the two followed their companions. A moment later the cat trotted after them.
"Do you feel that?" Glancing over at Kronos, Methos kept his voice low, although there was really no need. His friend nodded.
"Six of them," he said, his expression one of concentration.
"About that." Methos glanced back at Rachel and MacLeod, and saw that the younger Immortal was also tense and wary. Rachel frowned at all three.
"Immortals?" she asked.
"Yes." MacLeod laid a hand on his sword hilt. "And they now know about us."
"Doesn't matter." Methos squared his shoulders. "They'er going to come to us, right? So all we have to do is wait here and look innocent."
"You're going to let them find us?" MacLeod sounded surprised, and not entirely happy. "They'll take us to Doyle, and try to make us join the cult."
"Yep." Methos stiffened. "Get ready boys and girl. Here they come."
From the shadows of a nearby alley, six men appeared, and quickly began to spread out, attempting to surround the four companions. Kronos and Methos both drew their swords, but Methos made no attempt to stop them. It would look less contrived if they reacted with some concern and suspicion.
"MacLeod." One of the new comers smiled. "You came back."
"That's right." MacLeod relaxed slightly, rising to the situation like a professional. "I've been thinking a lot about what you all said to me, and I've brought some friends to hear it too."
The Immortal, with all the certainty of a true believer, did not seem to doubt MacLeod's words. Instead he nodded.
"Good. But one of your companions is a mortal."
"Yes... but a mortal can serve your cult too, right?" Stepping forward quickly, Rachel tried a eager smile. "My father was an Immortal. I want to work for something he would have approved of."
"Okay." The leader of the six eyed the two drawn swords. "But you can't see Sir Edward with your weapons drawn."
"No, of course not." Methos frowned at his companions, who sheathed their blades, a little unwillingly. They all felt rather as though they were walking into certain disaster, but the old man frowned at his own cautiousness. He had convinced Greek generals and Indian princes of his devoted loyalty in five different millennia. He felt certain that he could successfully keep his head before Sir Edward Doyle.
The six Immortals kept watch over the little band as they walked, but they did not seem overtly attentive. MacLeod's assurances that they wished to learn more about the cult had obviously appealed to the religious fervour of these people. Methos wondered who they all were; where they had all come from. They couldn't all be weak minded fools who had been taken in by a charismatic leader. He knew from experience that cults did not work that way. He wondered what bright ideals Doyle had appealed to; what uncertainties and doubts he had manipulated. The six men who led them towards the cult leader's headquarters had the shine of fanaticism in their eyes, and that disturbed the old man greatly. He did not often feel that great a sense of fraternal fellowship where other Immortals were concerned, but he felt it strongly now. He hated to see them with their minds shackled in this way. If they were to live for centuries there had to be something better for them than this.
The procession stopped as they reached a large building. Its walls of stone and wood suggested permanence, and Methos imagined that it was one of the city's older buildings. That figured. Doyle would probably not have settled for some more recent construction that lacked solemnity and style. The six cult members led them in through a suitably ostentatious door, and into a candelit corridor beyond. The candles flickered from tall, sentry like candlesticks arranged in precise rows. Methos raised his eyebrows. There was a distinct Church-like feel to this place that was at once imposing and slightly ridiculous. The sensation of Immortal presence was very strong. He tried to imagine how anybody could be led to believe in all this cult business, but then relented a little. He remembered only too well, back in 999, when the whole of Europe had been over run by cults predicting that the world would end in the year 1000. They had stirred up a lot of support and a great deal of panic, and then had quietly disappeared. Vaguely he wondered what would happen in 1999. He also wondered if he would be around to see it.
"This way please." At the front of the procession, once of the six cult Immortals opened a door and gestured towards a room beyond., They all walked through. Methos blinked around as he and his friends found themselves in a huge leisure room. Leather chairs were arranged in small groups, and paintings hung from the walls. Methos recognised a few rare pieces, and at least one that he had seen being painted. The room was filled with Immortals, sitting or standing about. None of them were talking, none were looking at the paintings. They all had a look of complete emptiness, with vacant eyes that seemed to see all by understand nothing. They all turned to look at the new arrivals, but did not speak. No one smiled a greeting, or even nodded.
"This is where our members meet together to discuss the writings and the speeches of our leader, Sir Edward." With a sudden flash of notable enthusiasm, one of the six guides gestured about. "Members are not encouraged to spend much time in the outside world. Its influence tends to be corrupting."
"Of course." Methos nodded understandingly. "I can see that."
"Good." The Immortal looked delighted. "If you would like to wait here, I shall ask Sir Edward if he is free to speak with you."
"Thankyou." Methos smiled after him, and then flopped down into one of the nearby chairs. The other five cult members dispersed, seeking points in the room where they could join their companions in listlessness. The four friends gathered together, close enough to talk without being overheard.
"Nice set up," Methos said, and MacLeod smiled grimly.
"These people are mindless," he answered, his tone one of clear disliking for the situation. "They can't do anything without Doyle's say so."
"Good." Kronos surveyed the room with apparently disinterested eyes. "I count thirty. Think you can take ten Quickenings in one go, brother?"
Methos smiled. "I doubt it," he said with amusement. "But there's no doubt that we'll have to go through this lot if we plan to hit Doyle. Even if we could just kill him, these people would want revenge. And something tells me that we're not going to see him alone."
"You mean you're going to kill all of these people too?" Rachel frowned, a little uncomfortable. "Do Immortals have that low an opinion of life?" MacLeod lowered his eyes, but Kronos did not flinch.
"What are they to you?" he asked. "Just strangers. Nameless faces. Who knows where they all come from. Immortals have no one to mourn for them."
"My step father did." Rachel held the Immortal's gaze, but he was entirely unrepentant.
"That's just hard luck." His face hardened. "Do you have a plan, Richard?"
"Maybe." Methos frowned slightly. "I want to hear what Doyle has to say first. Then we ask for somewhere to think things over. Somewhere where we can be alone, and in private, and can talk this through properly.
"Why don't we just kill Doyle?" MacLeod asked. Methos shook his head.
"Because I don't think we can. He's sure to be guarded. We may have to gain his trust, so that one of us can see him alone. That's the time to strike. Otherwise... if we have to have a full scale battle there's no way to do it without attracting attention. The odds are a little against our favour, wouldn't you say?"
"Just a little." MacLeod grinned. "Okay, so we wait. But for how long?"
"I don't know. I don't much relish the thought of having to play along with a nut like Doyle, but if it's the only way..." Methos glanced up. "Heads up everyone; our friend is returning."
In a few strides their companion from earlier was back with the little group. He smiled at them all, as if he were giving them some great honour.
"Sir Edward will see you now," he said, his voice positively ecstatic. "He has agreed to grace you with his good will, and a chance to to hear his teachings from his own lips. Please; this way. He led them from the leisure room and down another candle-lit corridor, shorter this time. At the end of the corridor was a large oaken door, decorated with brass fittings. The Immortal knocked, and a loud, imperious voice answered.
"Come in Foster."
The Immortal - Foster - pushed the door open, and preceded his charges into a large, brightly lit room. Methos stared about.
There were no windows in the room, and the walls were lined with a huge tapestry display, interrupted only by the door. The floor and ceiling were of dark wooden panelling, and a dais of white stone - marble? Methos wondered - bore a large, carved wooden chair. A tall, silver haired man sat on the chair, dressed in a long scarlet robe with trimmings of fur. Gold braiding heavily decorated the robe. He nodded gravely at the group now standing before him.
"Sir Edward." Foster bowed low. "These people wish to hear your words. MacLeod you know of course. These others are friends who are interested in hearing more."
"Very good." Sir Edward Doyle glanced at each of the four companions. "Does one of you speak for you all?"
"I do, Sir Edward." Deciding that he was likely to be the most diplomatic, Methos stepped forward. "My name is Richard Clark. MacLeod you already know, and these others are Rachel Campbell and James Conrad."
"I'm pleased to meet you." Doyle inclined his head graciously, and smiled at Rachel. "I'm particularly pleased to see that there is a mortal who wishes to join me. I was beginning to lose hope for the salvation of your race, young woman."
"Oh, I'm very interested in you, Sir Edward," Rachel told him. "I'm sure many of my kind will be, just as soon as they hear all about you."
"Good, good." Doyle glanced from the credible enthusiasm of Methos, past the impassive features of MacLeod, to Kronos. The Immortal looked as interested as Methos, and the cult leader seemed satisfied. He nodded slowly. "Very good."
"We can't promise that we'll join you," MacLeod said, his voice hesitant. "But we are eager to learn all that we can. Perhaps you could tell us about your group."
"I could." Doyle was silent for several seconds. "But I would hardly call it a group. It is a religion. All religions start with an idea, held by just a few, and yet they grow." He smiled benignly, looking for all the world like some priest surveying his flock. "When Mohammad first spoke, only a few listened. When Jesus first taught, only twelve followed him. I have forty." He smiled again. "Forty four, perhaps, if you should join..."
"Are you saying that you're some kind of... prophet?" Rachel asked. Doyle slammed his fist down against the arm of his chair, and she jumped.
"No." For a second sparks burned in his eyes, then he calmed them. "No. My dear mortal woman, I am much more than a prophet. I am a god!"
"A... god?" Methos smiled politely. "In what way exactly?"
"In everyway!" Doyle sounded faintly indignant, but the anger was gone. "When I am the One - the final, the all, the everything - then I shall be supreme!"
"When you're the last Immortal you mean?" Methos frowned.
"Exactly." Doyle grinned hugely, and leaned forward slightly in his chair, his eyes unnaturally bright. "When I am the One, I shall take the Prize. Untold power will be mine. What other god can claim that? I shall rule over all who are, and over all who shall be. Do you understand?"
"I understand." Methos nodded. "And as members of your... religion, it would be our duty to protect you, and to ensure that you are the One?"
Doyle inclined his head in an imperious gesture.
"You will bring Immortals to me for conversion or beheading. You will take an oath never to take a head unless it is impossible to avoid. You must swear to give me your heads when the time comes, and to defend me with your lives. In return I shall give you spiritual enlightenment, true fulfillment, and a chance to share in the glory of a man who will one day rule all." He stared at them all, his eyes fiercely bright, and his smile manic. "My doctrines are simple. I shall instruct you on how the world came to be created, how the universes work. I shall teach you the correct path to Enlightenment. Seclusion, contemplation and meditation. Study of my writings. You will become one with yourselves and your fellow devotees."
"I see." Methos nodded earnestly. "It certainly all sounds very interesting, SIr Edward. May we take a moment to think it through?"
"Of course." Doyle turned to the line of uniformed guards behind the throne - there were ten of them that Methos had already counted - and waved a hand. "Take these four to a room where they can be alone." He smiled. "Oh, and MacLeod... Don't think that you can pull the same trick as before. This time there will be no windows."
The door clanged shut, and locked with a loud click. The four companions glanced around at the room into which they had been directed. It was comfortable enough, with paintings on the walls, and woven rugs on the floor. Several chairs were positioned together in the centre of the room, and Methos sat down in one, looking thoughtful.
"I think we can agree that Doyle is completely insane," he commented, his mind apparently elsewhere.
"You can say that again." Rachel say down opposite him, and glanced up at MacLeod and Kronos. "But what do we do about it? There were ten guards standing behind him."
"Yes..." Methos frowned, and then seemed to snap back to the present. "You did notice, though, that his followers are encouraged not to take heads on their own initiative?"
"That's not exactly encouraging." Kronos gazed moodily at the floor. "He also said that they bring him Immortals for beheading. That could mean they're taken before him as prisoners."
"True. And I have no plans to end my life dragged before Doyle in chains, unable to defend myself." MacLeod fingered his sword hilt. "They have left us armed, though, Richard."
"Yep." Methos made a face. "Okay, so we can't kill him outright. He has forty men with him, who'll defend him to the death..."
"Which could be their undoing," Kronos put in. The others glanced towards him, and he looked suddenly earnest.
"Remember, brother? The religious fundamentalists we met in Turkey? And others before, in other countries. They believed that it was their duty to die for their god, just as these people do, except that in Turkey they believed that to die was the greatest honour of all; that it was the fastest and best way to achieve spiritual fulfilment. They were almost suicidal."
"I remember." Methos nodded. "We had a fight with a group of them, after we inadvertently insulted one of their leaders. Half of them couldn't throw themselves in front of our swords quick enough."
"Suicide?" MacLeod looked amazed. "You really think these people are that dedicated?"
"They did look pretty devoted." Rachel said, a note of hope in her voice. "Remember Foster? He looked besotted."
MacLeod nodded. "You're right," he admitted. "But even so... It seems impossible that anyone would be that desperate to die."
"You'd be surprised. I've seen it before. Sometimes they're just determined to prove their courage, sometimes they're anxious to save face, or to prove a point. Religion can often be dangerous, when it's taken to these extremes." Methos shook his head sadly. There had been a mortal once, named Susannah. He had met her in Cornwall in 999, and had tried to protect her, when she had become involved in the Millennium Cult. Like many others she had been dragged into the religious fervour associated with the year 1000, and eventually she had become convinced that the destruction of everything was just around the corner. On the 31st December she had run away, and Methos had searched for her everywhere. In the end he had found her in the middle of a forest, with many of her fellow cult members. They had committed suicide, desperate to be the first to go to meet whatever deities they worshipped, just before the world came to an end. The old Immortal had held the lifeless body of Susannah in his arms and tried to understand her devotion to her cult, and to her beliefs; had tried to understand how she could have been led to this. Eventually he had had to just forget about it, and try to put it all down to experience. Part of him was still angry that he had not been able to save Susannah from her own, self-destructive beliefs.
"Are you alright, Richard?" Rachel's voice broke the memories, and Methos blinked at her, for a moment confused by his sudden return to the here and now.
"Yeah. Sorry, I was just thinking about something." He smiled, looking somewhat vague still, and then glanced around at the others.
"Okay, so maybe Doyle's followers - or some of them at least - will be easy to kill. At any rate we have to get rid of Doyle. Are we all agreed on that?" He looked only at Rachel, knowing that the other two would agree with him. The mortal woman nodded, a little sadly. "Good. Then we have to get him alone. It looks as though we're going to have to join this cult." He frowned. "This is going to call for some serious acting. Everyone has to look like a true convert. Hang on Doyle's every word. Sound like you think he's the greatest man you've ever met. Try and copy that look that the other cult members have in their eyes. Sort of... empty. It's important, because if Doyle doesn't believe us, he'll kill us straight away."
"That's encouraging." Rachel smiled wanly. "We could have to keep this up for weeks."
"You can leave if you want," Methos told her. "We can probably slip one out past the guards."
"No." She shook her head emphatically. "I wanted to come, and I haven't changed my mind. I'm just not going to enjoy it very much."
"None of us are." MacLeod put an arm around her shoulders, and she smiled up at him. Methos stood up, beginning to prowl around the room with a dark face. It was some time before he noticed that Kronos was beside him. The old man stopped, and frowned at his confederate.
"What is it?" he asked. Kronos smiled.
"Nothing much. I was just a little concerned about you."
"Me? Why?" Methos tried to sound indignant, but he already knew that his old friend had guessed his thoughts.
"It's Susannah again, isn't it. You're still angry with yourself because she ran away that day."
"Yes, I suppose so." He shook his head sadly. "It makes me angry when I see a man like Doyle exploiting people, brother. We're probably going to have to kill most of them, if not all. Because he brainwashed them."
"They didn't have to join."
"Maybe, maybe not. Susannah was no fool, you know. But she joined."
"Yes. But that was different." Kronos shook his head, the particular exasperation that he reserved for Methos showing in his eyes. "Yes, she was bright, she had a lot going for her. She was also a devoutly religious fifteen year old girl. These people are adults. More than that, they are Immortals! They could be several thousand years old; centuries at least. Very few Immortals are that religious, so Doyle probably didn't appeal to their spiritual sides. They probably all hoped to use this situation to their advantage; and look where it got them. There is no need to feel sympathy for these people, brother. They can't be compared with Susannah."
"I suppose you're right." He sighed, shaking his head. "But I do feel sorry for them. Don't you?" Just a little?"
There was a pause. "Maybe." Kronos shrugged. "I don't know. Yes I suppose. They've lost their minds to something they think they believe in, but it's all for nothing. They're going to die, thinking it's for the glory of Sir Edward Doyle, when really it's just so that we can destroy this cult. Maybe I do feel sorry for them."
"And what do you believe in brother?"
"Me?" Kronos smiled. " I believe in swords, and in my skill with them. I believe in the power of the Quickening. I've seen gods die, brother. Who remembers Hermes now? Who worships Poseidon?"
Methos smiled. There was a reassuring simplicity to Kronos which had brought him back to his senses more than once before. He was grateful for it again right now. A rattle at the door interrupted his thoughts, and prevented him from speaking further. They all glanced towards the door as it opened. Foster stood in the corridor outside, his expression of blissful devotion unchanged.
"Sir Edward wishes to hear your decision," he said, his anxious voice displaying his eagerness for them to join. It was probably a great honour to be responsible for introducing new recruits into the cult, reflected Methos.
"Of course." He smiled at Foster. "I think Sir Edward will be pleased. We've all decided to join you here."
"Oh good!" Foster ushered them along the corridor, back towards Doyle's peculiar throne room. "Then you can look forward to your inductions. I'm so pleased for you." He sighed. "I wish that I could feel the Enlightenment again, for the first time. It felt so wonderful, to experience clarity of perception; as though my eyes had been opened for the first time."
Methos and Kronos exchanged glances. This sounded ominous. They followed Foster into the throne room, and Methos bowed before Doyle.
"Sir Edward." He put on his best grave expression. "We have discussed everything that you said to us, and we are delighted to tell you that you have convinced us. You're right. Immortality needs guidance in this way, and we would be honoured to follow you, and to learn all that you have to teach."
"Good." Doyle nodded. "Then we can begin the inductions immediately. Which of you is to go first?"
"Me." Rachel stepped forward before any of the others could move. Doyle clicked his fingers, and a guard stepped up with a goblet. Methos could see some liquid inside, but it was nothing that he recognised. He frowned. Suddenly he got the impression that Doyle did not allow for gradual conversions. He stepped forward, ready to call out to Rachel, but it was too late. She swallowed the liquid.
Immediately Rachel could hear Doyle's voice speaking to her. It seemed to come from far above her, or maybe from far below. As she looked she suddenly saw him all around her, speaking in a voice that she seemed to feel or to see, rather than to hear. All of her senses appeared confused, and she seemed to be able to taste what she saw, to feel what she heard. She could hear her own heart beating, but it was far faster than she ever remembered hearing it beat before. She frowned, suddenly aware that all of the colours that she saw, or felt, or smelt around her had swapped places, or had changed altogether. Nothing seemed right, and yet nothing seemed wrong. Her whole sense of perception had altered, and her mind felt as though it were expanding, just to keep up. Her eyes opened wide in wonder, and she gazed about, eager to explore this new world. Only Doyle's voice seemed to be real to her just now, and she heard it without listening. All that he said seemed to fit, seemed to make sense amidst all the confusion, and she nodded in excitement. He was right, she could see that. He had to be right, because everything else was wrong. No, not wrong, just... not right. She smiled. It was confusing, but Doyle made sense. She stepped towards him, and saw his face, looming large before her. He was smiling at her, and holding out his hand. She felt a huge grin spread across her face, and realised that she was looking at him with the same expression of lost devotion that she had seen in the faces of Foster and the others. It didn't matter. Doyle was right. He was all that she wanted to listen to, all that she wanted to hear. She took his hand. He laughed, and she heard the sound as an oddly broken, echoing noise. Slowly her vision cleared.
"Rachel? Rachel are you alright?" It was MacLeod's voice, and she turned towards it, blinking as she looked into his worried eyes. Stupid man. Didn't he realise that everything was alright, once Doyle had spoken?
"I'm fine." She smiled around at the room, seeing Doyle's followers in a new light. Now they all looked like family. They were smiling at her, welcoming her into their midst with shining eyes and friendly faces.
"Welcome to my family." Doyle laid a hand on her shoulder, and she knelt before him, gazing up at him with loving eyes. It all made so much sense to her now. How she wished to defend him, to protect his life with her own.
"And who will go next?" Doyle was addressing the other three, and Rachel turned, looking at her friends with excitement. She wanted them to share in this.
"Connor?" she asked, a little breathless. "It's wonderful, Connor. Try it." There was no immediate response and she frowned, troubled. "James? Surely you're not afraid? Richard?" Still there was no answer. Methos stared back at her, his eyes calm but his mind in turmoil. He had not been expecting this.
"Gentlemen..." Doyle's voice held a note of warning. " I don't like to be kept waiting."
"No, of course not Sir Edward." Methos frowned. He could hope that the drug would not affect him. He was more powerful than most younger Immortals. He didn't hold much hope though.
"Sir Edward?" Rachel sounded confused. He glanced down at her, intending to silence her, but something in her eyes made him frown.
"They-" She frowned hard. "They're trying to trick you. They don't want to join you. They want to kill you."
"Rachel..." The pain in MacLeod's voice made something sound in Rachel's head; a warning perhaps, or the voice of conscience. Doyle's voice echoed inside her skull, drowning out the words of her own mind.
"Really?" The cult leader stood up, stretching his full height before the newcomers for the first time. "Then they must die." He waved a hand at his guards. "Take them."
As one the guards moved forward, Foster in the forefront. There was no anger in their empty faces, only the desire to obey Doyle. Methos drew his sword, seeing MacLeod and Kronos react likewise. There was fire in the latter's eyes, and Methos could almost see the flames of a Quickening reflected in them.
"Don't take any heads," he ordered. "That would be suicide. We have to get out of here." Doyle's laugh echoed around the room.
"There's no escape. You give me your loyalty, or you give me your heads."
"Guess again." Leaping forward with a sudden burst of elation, Methos swung his sword about in an arc. Foster's sword spun through the air, clattering across the floor, and the old man laughed. This was perfect. Half of these people were probably so drugged that they could no longer use their weapons to any effect. He despatched Foster with a quick thrust to the heart, and sent several others the same way. Beside him Kronos was battling away with his usual ferocious energy. An arm fell to the ground, spilling blood on the wooden flooring, and an anguished howl degenerated into pitiful yelping. MacLeod was also causing a fair bit of damage, and Methos gave a wild whoop of delight as he slashed about him.
"For Sir Edward!" With a crash, the door swung open, and suddenly a new wave of cult members surged into the room, scattering the three desperate Immortals. Methos felt strong hands grab him from behind. A burst of panic momentarily caught at his mind, before his customary coolness quenched it. He glanced about. MacLeod was still fighting, and Kronos was nowhere in sight. He frowned. This did not feel at all good.
"Bring him here." Now that the sounds of battle had diminished considerably, Doyle's voice carried easily across the room. Methos felt himself being dragged towards the cult leader, his feet barely touching the ground as he was pulled up onto the dais. He offered Doyle a crooked grin, one of his favourite looks of innocence. It did wonders with mortal women, but somehow Doyle did not look convinced.
"You will join me. I must know who you are and where you come from." Doyle reached to one side, and lifted a goblet into the air. Methos guessed that it was filled with the same liquid that had stolen Rachel's mind. The thought filled the old man with horror, and he struggled ineffectually. He couldn't let this happen. Surely he could not end some five thousand years of travel and adventure as the mindless disciple of an insane Immortal with an ego problem? He felt his guards force him to his knees, and felt their fingers on his jaw, tilting his head back and prising his mouth open. He blinked up at the goblet, sweat blurring his vision, and panic making his mind go blank. That was a sensation that he was unused to, and he didn't like it. He struggled fiercely, but he had no way to break free. In the corner of his eye he saw that MacLeod had also been overpowered. There was still no sign of Kronos.
Slowly the goblet tilted towards him. Doyle began to tip it. Methos could almost taste the liquid, long before the goblet was tilted enough for any to spill. He stared at it, transfixed, the contents of that goblet the only clear thought in his mind.
With a sudden sound of pure rage, so clear that it cut through the room, Doyle's throne splintered and split, as a sword swung down onto the wooden chair, cutting through the back, through the seat, and sending shards of oak flying about the dais. Doyle swung around, the liquid from the goblet spilling over the floor. Methos felt the grip of his guards slacken, and he hurled himself to one side, rolling down the steps of the dais, and blinking up as Kronos wrenched his sword free from the ruins of the throne. His face was black with rage, his eyes wild. Doyle backed away, and Methos allowed himself a brief smile, gleefully satisfied to see the fear on the cult leader's face. The old man was concerned though. When he was in a rage such as this one, Kronos was entirely unpredictable. Even his own mind was incapable of keeping his sword in check. If he killed Doyle, nothing could hold back the enraged devotees, who would be anxious for revenge.
Kronos stared about him, his expression daring the guards to try their luck. He knew that he could not kill Doyle now, not with some forty other cult members waiting to be dealt with, all in this building somewhere. That knowledge only served to make him even more angry. He lashed out with his sword, sending Immortals scuttling out of his way. None of them seemed especially anxious to die for Doyle today. He grinned, thinking how likely it was that they would all die soon anyway. This cult had to end. Immortality did not need people like Doyle.
"We're leaving," he said, his voice threatening, and positively evil. "All four of us. No one is going to stop us."
"You won't get far," Doyle hissed, his eyes narrowed with hate.
"We'll take our chances." Grabbing Rachel by the arm, MacLeod made for the door. The mortal woman struggled fiercely, slapping at him, but he dragged her onwards, gritting his teeth against the onslaught. Behind him Methos and Kronos backed to the door, watching for signs of a possible attack.
"Let me go!" The long corridor stretched out before them, and Rachel fought her would-be rescuers down every inch of it. MacLeod's grip was loosening, and Methos caught the woman from behind.
"I'm sorry," he said, "but this is for your own good." He swung his fist, trying to control the force behind the punch, to avoid causing too much damage. Rachel slumped unconscious into MacLeod's arms.
"Well done brother. Nice to know you haven't lost your old touch." Kronos grinned, taking the lead as they hurried onwards down the corridor. "They aren't far behind us though..."
"I know." Methos pointed to a door ahead of them. "Get a move on. We have to get out of the building. Look for something we can use to get us away from here. Horses, a cart - anything!"
Breathless, they hurried onwards, dashing down seemingly endless corridors, through a constant succession of doors, until finally they broke out into fresh air. They quickened their pace, racing across a courtyard, and on to a cobbled street beyond.
"Over here!" Methos caught sight of a cart standing unattended nearby. He ran to it, pulling Rachel up into it. Kronos and MacLeod leapt up beside him, and the old man grabbed the reins, urging the horses forward. Shouts echoed behind him, and he spared a quick glance back. Several of Doyle's men were chasing after them. He grinned. They did not have much of a chance on foot.
"Where are we making for?" MacLeod asked, brushing dust from his eyes as the cart hurtled through the streets.
"I don't know." Methos tried to shrug, a not entirely advisable action whilst driving. "Somewhere safe. I'd still like to go back and get Doyle."
"You're nothing if not stubborn." MacLeod grinned, excitement showing in his eyes. "Do you think that the drug he gave Rachel will wear off?"
"Probably, given time." Methos gazed at the road ahead, frowning in concentration. It was not easy to control the horses at this speed. "It's hard to say. It could wear off in minutes... or never. I'm sorry MacLeod."
"She wanted to come." MacLeod smiled sadly, and tried to find a reliable handhold. He felt as though he were being thrown all over the place. "At least we've got her away from Doyle."
"Er... yes. About that." Kronos, who had been at the back of the cart, began to crawl forward to join the others at the front. "I think we have guests coming, Richard."
"What?" Methos glanced back. A small army was in pursuit, some forty horse backed Immortals, coming closer and closer. He felt their rage, making their life forces stronger than normal. "Damn."
"Doyle's with them." MacLeod frowned. "What do we do?"
"I don't know." For once Methos felt completely helpless. "We could try to lose them."
"How?" MacLeod stared around, looking for inspiration among the mostly empty streets. "Try the side streets, the alleys. Maybe we can lose them if we twist about a lot."
"Right." Gritting his teeth, Methos wrenched hard at the reins, and the cart spun about, heading down a side street. Suddenly the walls of the houses were close around them, bearing down on them, with no room to spare at the sides of the cart. The metal rims of the wheels sent sparks flying into the air as they struck the stone of some of the houses, and Methos felt his stomach lurch as he swung the cart again, sending it down seemingly narrower and narrower alleys, trying to make ever tighter turns.
"They're still with us brother." There was no real emotion in Kronos' voice. No fear, no despair. There was not even any anger. Methos frowned hard, almost able to feel the furrows pressing deep into his forehead.
"Okay..." he hissed, suddenly and inexplicably longing for a cool beer and a comfortable armchair. Somewhere near him he heard Rachel groan, and prepared himself to have to deal with yet another enraged cult member. "Hold on everyone."
Moaning softly, Rachel struggled to her feet, wavering slightly as the cart leapt and bounded about beneath her. She frowned, obviously surprised to see London racing past her, and she turned to MacLeod, searching for an explanation. He was gazing ahead, an expression of disbelief on his face. James looked positively radiant, excitement shining in his eyes. She frowned again, and turned to see what had captured their attention. Richard was gripping the reins of two large black horses. His shoulders were hunched, his feet braced against the wooden floor of the cart. She could not see his face. He was making for the open space in the centre of a slum part of town. Something was wrong with the road ahead, and as they drew closer she saw that the road ended altogether. Instead of cobbles and hard packed dirt, a gaping hole yawned at the sky. A mass grave, for burying plague victims. A shout of disbelief stuck in her throat, and she tried to reach out a hand to stop Richard. It was no use. With a sudden burst of energy, the horses leapt. Their feet waved uselessly in mid air, and the cartwheels spun crazily, searching for the road that should have been beneath them. A shout of pure glee came from someone, but Rachel could not tell who.
With a bone jarring thud, the cart slammed back onto the ground, and Rachel fell over, rolling about in the bottom of the cart. MacLeod and Kronos grabbed at her, stilling her undignified tumbles. Methos took the cart onwards a little more, slowing as he noticed the buckled wheels and the exhausted horses. Finally he steered them into a small alley and stopped altogether.
"You - you-" Stammering, Rachel almost fell from the cart, her wavering finger pointing at each of the three Immortals in turn. "How could you? Damn you Connor! It's all very well you risking life and limb in some insane chase, but I only have one life. I could have been killed. You - the three of you - you just don't care!"
"Rachel..." MacLeod jumped down, and caught hold of her. "We could hardly ask your permission." He frowned. "Are you alright now?"
"Alright? I could have been killed!" She blinked, confusion showing in her face. "Did something happen?"
"You could say that." MacLeod smiled, and hugged her. "I guess the excitement must have over ridden the drug."
"Drug? What drug?" Rachel frowned. "Oh... I remember." She shuddered. "It was horrible. I lost my mind. The whole world went peculiar, and I - I wasn't me anymore. I didn't like it."
"It certainly didn't look like much fun." Methos smiled at her. "Still, provided we can stay one jump ahead of Doyle's men we should be okay." He looked about. "This place looks empty. Let's try in here."
"What are we going to do?" Rachel fumbled to draw her step-father's sword. "We can't fight all of them.'
"Well we have to try!" Methos ushered everybody through the nearest door. They found themselves in a wooden building, which looked as though it were in one of the less well-off areas of town. Closer inspection revealed it to be a bakery. Methos glanced inside one of the ovens and smiled happily.
"Mmm. Fresh baked bread."
"Sorry to be a killjoy Richard..." MacLeod shut the oven door. "But we do have forty people chasing after us. It's not going to take them long to find us."
"You're a philistine, Highlander." Methos grinned. "Okay. Bread later." He paused, obviously thinking of something pleasant. "I wonder if the baker has any decent beer round here..."
MacLeod shook his head. "You're as nuts as Doyle." He began to look around the room. "This isn't going to be the easiest place to defend. I prefer to fight in the open."
"I'd prefer not to fight at all." Rachel rubbed at her head and shuddered. "But anything beats drinking more of that liquid. I just can't describe how strange I felt."
"Don't worry, that's all over." MacLeod smiled reassuringly, with a confidence that he did not entirely feel. Kronos smirked at them all, his eyes slightly mocking beneath a dark fringe of hair.
"When you lot have quite finished, we do have a battle to fight," he reminded them, his voice showing faint amusement. "They'll be here any time now."
"Suggestions anyone?" Methos glanced about. There were various cooking utensils in the room, but nothing that seemed likely to give them any great advantage during a battle. The room was large, but otherwise it was just an ordinary bakery.
"Make it dark in here." It was beginning to get dark outside anyway, and it was not hard to follow Kronos' suggestion. They tugged the shutters across the windows, and pitched the room into almost total blackness. Now. with luck, there would be a certain element of surprise on their side.
"How can we fight forty of them?" Rachel asked, her voice coming from some unseen point in the shadows.
"We don't have to. Cut an Immortal's arm off and it won't grow back. Fight to maim, not to kill." Kronos' voice was cold and hard, and Methos, for the briefest moment, saw the war paint again, and heard the savagery and the screams of all the tortured souls he and Kronos had massacred. That was all going to happen here again today, if their plan went right. At least he could cling to the fact that the victims were to be Immortals, and not innocent travellers and unsuspecting settlers. How he longed, at times, for the days when he had known no conscience or remorse.
With an explosion of noise and a splintering of wood the door burst open, and a flood of Immortals burst into the room. They ran so fast that there had been no time to prepare after Methos and his friends had felt their approach. The four in the bakery raised their swords, attacking from different angles in the dark, unable even to see of they were fighting friend or foe. Methos felt his sword cut through all that it touched. He heard screams of pain and rage, but felt no blade touch him in return. In the darkness it was impossible to tell what he was cutting, but he felt the floor become slippery underfoot, and recognised the smell of blood that he knew only too well. Somebody lumbered past him, and he felt the stump where an arm should have been. A sharp sword point caught at his arm, but did not penetrate much below the skin. He gritted his teeth and struck back, blind but determined. A dull cry echoed in his ears. He thought he heard Rachel cry out, but the noise did not sound like that of someone who had been mortally wounded. He shut his ears to the sounds, trying not to hear them, and hearing instead the shouts of the other men who had died in this way. Men who had already been dead for thousands of years. He had killed them then, and now he felt as though he were killing them all over again. This time there were no cries of terrified children, but he heard them anyway. He fought on through the memories, and tried to kill them, hoping for an end to all this noise and unseen damage.
The sounds of battle began to fade, and then ceased. Methos heard footsteps, as someone struggled and skidded across the treacherous, blood slicked floor. A second later the oven doors swung open, illuminating the scene with the eery light of the oven fires. Methos saw a sea of broken bodies. Immortals; some awake, others unconscious, lay everywhere. They had lost arms and legs, and others sported battered chests and backs. There was blood all over the place. The old man blinked, amazed, then looked around at his friends. MacLeod was nursing a wound in his side. It did not look deep, although it was undoubtedly painful. Kronos was streaked with blood, although it was impossible to tell how much was his and how much belonged to the others.
"Now what?" Shaky and pale, Rachel gazed around at the pitiful scene.
"We kill them." Kronos sounded matter-of-fact.
"What?" Rachel stared at him in disbelief. Kronos dismissed her aghast expression with a shrug.
"You can't expect them to live for an eternity with no arms, or no legs," he said, as though what he was suggesting would be a blessed relief for the cult members. "They'd have no chance. They'd be dead as soon as they met another Immortal. It's better this way." He hefted his sword in one hand. "It'll be quick, and most of them won't know what's happening."
"He's right." Almost sick to hear himself say it, Methos raised his own sword. "Are you with us MacLeod?"
"I suppose so." The Highlander took a deep breath. "The Quickening will be... somewhat powerful."
"Then we'll have to be careful." Methos steeled himself and stepped forward.
They walked through the maimed bodies, slashing every which way, beheading Immortals almost as though they were scything their way through corn in a field. They worked at speed, cutting onwards even as the first tell tale tendrils of blue lightning began to emerge from the bodies on the ground. As the last head rolled across the floor, a sound like thunder filled the room. One by one the windows smashed, and the walls shook as the power of the Quickening shut out the world and dragged the three Immortals into a sudden, wild crescendo of pain and pleasure. The whole of existence seemed to fade before their eyes, as new Quickenings arose to take the place of others before they had properly begun to fade. The fires from the ovens leapt free, racing across the floor, and beginning to catch at the walls. The floor shook, and beams tore free from the roof. Slates crashed into the street outside, and MacLeod, on all fours, fighting against an unbelievable crushing pressure, glanced up for a moment. In the shadows he caught a fleeting glimpse of two men, framed for a second in the doorway. Sir Edward Doyle, leaning on the faithful Foster for support. MacLeod had no energy for speech, and movement was impossible as he fought against the madness. He could do nothing except watch the two men disappear, and then was no longer even sure if he had truly seen them. The Quickening raged on, stunning in its intensity, agonising, filling the three Immortals with unspeakable pain, and charging them with undreamed of energy, all fulfilling power, and a sense of great joy. Delight flooded through them, and anger and fear mingled with love and laughter in their minds. It seemed as though it would never end, and they almost wished that it never would. Slowly and inevitably, however, the whirling madness ceased.
Rachel took a deep, shaky breath, and sat down on the nearest collapsed beam. She stared around. The lightning had cleared and the wind had stopped, but the air of devastation was more apparent than ever. The shattered windows left glass lying on the floor and in the street outside. The door hung on its hinges, battered and scratched almost beyond recognition. Holes gaped in the walls, and the broken ovens spilled rivers of flame across the floor. The mortal woman gripped her dripping sword and swallowed hard, still unbelieving of all that she had seen.
With a low groan, Methos clambered to his feet and looked around. He whistled at the extent of the destruction, amazed by all that had happened. The fires caught his attention and he roused Kronos and MacLeod.
"Come on. It's time to get out of here." Helping Rachel to her feet, Methos began to head for what was left of the door.
Wait!" She glanced about. "Doyle. Where is he?"
"Doyle? I haven't seen him." Methos glanced around at the headless bodies, the mass of gore that obscured the disfigured Immortals. "He was here."
"He got away." MacLeod brushed soot and brick dust from his clothes. "I did see him, but he ran out. I was too busy to do anything."
"Damn." Kronos kicked at the ashes around them, sending sparks fountaining into the air.
"Forget it brother. We've destroyed the cult. There's nothing more we can do. He could be anywhere." A beam crashed to the floor, consumed immediately by the growing flames. "Come on. We have other things to worry about right now."
"But the fire. It could burn down half the houses in the street. Shouldn't we try to stop it?" Rachel watched the leaping flames, already aware that the situation was hopeless. Methos pushed her out of the door, and the others followed. Rachel glanced upwards, amazed at the sheer size of the fire. It was already consuming the bakery roof.
"Quickly. We have to get out of here." MacLeod began to lead the way down the road. The fire was spreading to some of the surrounding buildings, and shouts of panic were beginning to rise above the crackles and roars of the flames.
They ran quickly through the streets, leaving the fire behind, running until dawn touched the horizon with a faint pink light. By then London was behind them, and they stood on a hill above the town, gazing down at the flames. They had spread rapidly, and there was now a huge blaze visible, obscuring much of London from sight.
"It's going to destroy the city..." MacLeod breathed.
"Possibly." Transfixed, Methos gazed at the fire, feeling the odd elation that had filled him many times before, when the Four Horsemen had wreaked this kind of havoc in the name of entertainment. Beside him Kronos was also gazing at the fire, delight in his eyes. The old man could almost hear the flames, and imagined that he could feel the heat. There were other people climbing the hill, looking for a better view, many of them stunned, most smoke blackened. It was hard to tell from a distance just how much of the town had been touched by the flames.
"To think it was all our fault..." Her voice hushed, Rachel could not take her eyes from the distant fire. "If only we had been able to leave Doyle down there with his followers."
"Yes." Methos nodded. It was disturbing to think that the insane Immortal had escaped; that he was still out there somewhere, and might return at any time. He made a promise to himself as he stood there, a promise that he was determined to keep. He would meet Doyle again. He would end this; somewhere, someday, he would take Doyle's head; or lose his own trying.
"Richard?" It was Kronos, and Methos tore his eyes away from the flames to turn to his oldest friend.
"I'm going." Kronos shrugged. "We were just passing through anyway, and there's no reason to stay. Are you coming?"
"Yeah. Yeah I am." Methos glanced over at MacLeod and Rachel."Er... How about you?"
MacLeod and Rachel exchanged a look, and the Highlander smiled.
"We're staying," he said. "I want to see if I can help at all. There's a lot to be done here now. It's not my city, but we were partly responsible."
"Fine." Methos nodded. "It's goodbye, then."
"Looks like it." Rachel smiled at them both, and then Kronos was gone, marching off down the hill without a backwards glance. MacLeod watched him go, a troubled look on his face.
"Why do you stay with him, Richard?" he asked. Methos smiled, a distant expression on his face. No doubt MacLeod was remembering the boy who had been trying to kill the cat. Or maybe he was just thinking of all the scowls, and that oddly dark and distant nature.
"James isn't what you think he is," he said at last. "He's not what anybody thinks he is. And I'm certainly not. He's - well we've been through a lot together." He smiled again, a little sadly this time. "And whatever he is, I probably made him that way. It's not his fault that I've changed; that the world's changed, and he hasn't." He shrugged. "Maybe you'll understand, when a few more centuries have passed you by."
"Perhaps." MacLeod did not look convinced. "Well... goodbye, Richard."
"Goodbye." Methos smiled at Rachel and then clasped MacLeod's hand. "We will meet again, Highlander. I'm sure of it."
"I'll count on it." MacLeod grinned his boyish grin. "Till the next time then."
"Yeah. Till then." Methos turned and was gone, hurrying after Kronos. He caught him up as they reached the bottom of the hill, by which time MacLeod and Rachel were already gone from sight. They settled into step together, and walked along in companionable silence for some time.
"Where are we going?" Kronos asked eventually. Methos shrugged.
"Wherever the wind takes us, brother."
"And where's that?"
"Who knows. Are you in any hurry to get anywhere?"
"Then... " Methos shrugged. "Then hang a left at the next tree and keep going till we hit something exciting."
"Sounds okay to me." Kronos grinned. "Can we find another city to set fire to?"
"Certainly. Is there any other major capital you have a longing to see in flames?" They both laughed. It was wonderful to have no ties; to not have to be a part of the sorrow and the misery that was going to come from the burning of London. It felt good to be on the road again. Methos slung an arm around the shoulder of his old friend and set his sights on some distant point. He smiled as he wondered what the mortals would imagine the cause of the fire to be. They would certainly never guess the truth. But then, Methos knew the truth about many things that the mortals could only guess at. He let out a sigh of contentment, and exchanged a cheerful grin with Kronos. Together the two eternal companions quickened their pace, and took the road that headed northwest. After a second, a small black cat began to follow them.
The Royal Society (for the Improvement of Natural Knowledge) was founded in 1660, although strictly speaking it did not become the Royal Society until it was ratified by King Charles II in 1662.
The Great Fire of London started in a bakery in Pudding Lane in September, 1666.