"Methos? Methos?" The voice was soft but persistent, and proved all too impossible to shut out. Methos sighed and raised his head, looking towards the source of the call.

"I'm over here."

"Ah!" She was clearly pleased to have discovered him at last, and he tried not to make his scowl too obvious. It wasn't really her fault. She couldn't always be expected to know when he was feeling the need to be alone for a while. He hated these gatherings, when they were expected to enjoy each others' company, and to be friendly. When they were all supposed to eat and drink and make merry, as though the rest of the world had ceased to exist. That was just the problem; these people refused to accept that the rest of the world did exist. For them there was nothing beyond the distant mountains, and they could not understand when he stood alone by the city walls, trying to imagine what else might be out there. What other cities, what other peoples.

"Did you want something?" He stood up slowly, not so as to be impolite, but just so that she might take the hint that he had not wanted to be disturbed. She smiled.

"I wanted you. We missed you inside. Now stop being such a misery, and come and have some fun."

"I don't want to. I don't find it fun." He sighed. "You can all enjoy yourselves without me."

"So that you can stay out here and dream, and your poor wife can sit in there on her own, and worry about what it is that she's doing wrong?" She sighed, shaking her head. "There are times, Methos, when I really fail to understand you. My first born son… You should take after your father more."


"Don't 'mother…' me. It's high time you stopped all of this dreaming, and wondering about the rest of the world, and settled down to life as a husband. And as a father." This last was emphasised, and he scowled. He had no idea why he had no children as yet. It certainly wasn't through lack of trying.

"Yes mother." It was always easiest not to argue. How could he hope to make her understand anyway? She had always believed in responsibility, and as long as he lived he did not think that he would be able to persuade her that he just did not belong here, with all of these farmers and part-time warriors; the people who had tried for years to get him to follow in his father's footsteps, and become a scribe. Him. It had taken a lot of hard work, and a lot of skirmishes, to convince the rest of the city that he was a fighter and not a writer. That he was supposed to ride fiercely into battle with a sword in his hand, not write about it once it was all over. Now he was supposed to go back in the feasting hall, and play the good host, trying to look as though he actually cared anything for those people. Those sad, sheltered individuals who cared for nothing save their gardens and their families. How could he make them understand that he wanted so much more?

"Come along then." She was already walking back towards the hall. He sighed, hanging back for a moment and trying to summon up some enthusiasm from somewhere within. It had been getting harder and harder of late to even pretend that he enjoyed life here. It was as if he became more restless with every passing day. Something had to give.

"Come on Methos." There was a sharp edge to his mother's voice, and he sighed again and hurried to catch up with her. His sword knocked against his leg as he ran, and he let his hand lie against it, feeling the metal. It meant something to him, in a way that nothing else did. Even Aita, his wife, could not make him feel as though he truly belonged. Not in the same way that a fast horse, and a wild battle could. Certainly there was nothing in this city that could make him feel quite so fulfilled.

"There you are!" Rhudan, Methos' uncle, stood up as the pair entered. He raised a large drinking horn into the air, shouting loudly. "The host returned at last. Where were you, Methos? Out exploring the world?"

There was an echoing chorus of laughter in response. Methos forced a smile. Most of the city's inhabitants knew about his desire to see what lay beyond the mountains, but none of them seemed to share his feelings. For them it was all just a joke.

"He was sitting by the river, looking typically miserable." Methos did not look at his mother as she spoke, but merely headed for a nearby table. Aita offered him a smile as he went past, but he did not seem able to summon up the inclination to smile back, even though it was not her fault. Of all of them she understood him the most, but she was still very much a product of this city. She was still as blinkered as the rest of them.

"Well I've got something that will cheer him up." Rhudan stood, sauntering over to his nephew's table. "A proposition for you, Methos. Something to shake you back into something like a productive mood."

"Such as?" Trying to keep his impatience from showing, Methos looked up. Rhudan was grinning stupidly, showing that the alcohol was beginning to get to him.

"A race." The big man giggled. "I was talking to a friend of mine, from Charis, and he bet me ten barrels of wine that somebody from here couldn't make it over there within a day. So what do you think, my boy? You're the fastest horseman I know."

"Ride to Charis within a day?" Methos leaned back in his chair, frowning slightly. "On my horse that would be easy. And you say he'll give you ten barrels?"

"Ten of the best. Half yours if we win." Rhudan giggled again. His mirth was taken up by the others in the room, all half drunk. Methos allowed a small smile to take over his face.

"You're on." He stood up. "Will you see me off?"

"You're going now?" Rhudan looked confused, his wine-addled brain not quite grasping the idea properly. "But it's nearly dark."

"No time like the present." Methos could almost have kissed his uncle. What more perfect excuse could there be for missing yet another get together than the chance to defend his city's honour? Even his mother couldn't blame him for leaving now.

"But--" Rhudan was still frowning, then he shrugged and giggled happily. "Sure. No time like the present." He raised his drinking horn into the air. "To Methos!"

"Methos!" The drunken shout echoed about the room, and Methos grinned happily. His eye caught Aita's, and he frowned. He actually felt quite bad about leaving her, but it would only be for a couple of days. He crossed to her, taking her hand in his, and leading her outside.

"I'll be back before you miss me." He smiled. "I'll bring you something from Charis. What would you like?"

"You." She sighed. "Do you have to go now? I hate these things as much as you do. Can't I go too?"

"Your horse isn't as fast as mine. I would only leave you behind." He kissed her hand. "I'll see you soon."


"I never make promises." He grinned at her, the same boyish, charming grin with which he always managed to divert her displeasure. "Never promise anything and never tell the truth. Two codes to live by."

"I hate you, and I don't know why I ever agreed to marry you." She smiled. "Hurry back."

"I intend to. Rhudan might let me take five barrels if I win, but he'll certainly make me pay at least five if I lose." He let go of her hand. "See you soon."

"Of course." She smiled at him, standing still where she was as the men followed her husband to the stables. He cast a last glance back at her as he mounted up, seeing her silhouetted against a line of flaming torches, his mother beside her. Neither of them waved. He turned away, thinking about Charis and the ten barrels of wine. They made good wine in Charis.

"Good luck, Methos."

"Thanks." Methos nodded down at Rhudan, and galloped away. He cast a quick look back as he left the city's gates, and saw that his audience had already departed, gone back to make the most of the feast. He smiled into the wind, wishing that he could take the same pleasure that they did from it all. To him it was just another part of the life he had come to hate.

"You're a fool, Methos." He wasn't sure if he had spoken the words aloud, or had just thought them. Either way he agreed with them implicitly. He was a fool. Here he was running a race, with night just about to fall, and all for the honour of a city full of people who had been laughing at him all of his life. For a moment he almost considered not returning, but he knew that the thought of Aita would drag him homeward. It would take something very powerful indeed to keep him from his wife.

The shadows grew darker, and the sun sank further beneath the mountains. Methos watched the night close in around him. Night was something to be feared, for nobody truly knew what it meant and what might happen once it had taken hold of the world. He wondered about the creatures who were supposed to roam these plains at night, but dismissed the thoughts. He was a warrior, and warriors were not afraid of tales told to frighten children. Even so, he let his hand rest on his sword hilt. No harm in being ready, just in case.

The night deepened. Every sound seemed louder, more intense. Methos looked about, glad of his horse's good eyesight. He scowled, wondering what could possibly have led him to be so foolish as to have attempted this now. Perhaps he too had drunk a little too much at the feast. He frowned into the darkness, hoping that his horse did not stumble. He did not relish the idea of being stuck out here, with all of these shadows for company. Here, even the wind sounded like a woman screaming, crying desperately for help in the middle of nowhere.

The sound came again, and this time the horse reacted to it. Methos pulled on its halter, whispering to it to stop. The beast stood uneasily, tossing its head in restlessness. Methos stared about, waiting for the sound again. This time when it came he jumped. The noise sounded horribly close, and all of his instincts told him to ride in the other direction. The scream echoed again, and his blood ran cold. It could be almost anything; a ghost, or a demon. Some creature of the night, anxious to kill him, or to do something worse. His hands tightened on the horse's halter. He could ride on towards Charis, and hope that he didn't hear the sound again, or he could ride towards it, and try to find out what it was. The greater his fear became, the more anxious he was to discover the truth. He nudged the horse onward.

The ground raced by. The scream echoed about him again, louder than ever this time, and he guided his mount towards it with every muscle screaming in readiness. With a suddenness that was breathtaking, the ground dropped away, and then the horse was almost falling down a steep, sandy slope. He jumped to the ground, sword drawn. Before him lay a torch, lying in a heap of dying flames, and by its last, sorry light he could just make out the figures of two men. They were holding a woman, struggling desperately against them with a strength that was fading as rapidly as the light from the fallen torch.

"Leave her alone!" Methos stepped towards the three, his sword reflecting a reddish glow. One of the men laughed.

"Who are you?"

"My name is Methos." He raised the sword threateningly. "Now let her go. She's done nothing to you."

"You're a fool." The second man let go of the woman and took a few steps forward, drawing his sword. "A dead fool."

"Not yet." He glanced from one to the other of the men, wondering if they would fight fair, or if he would have to take them both on at once. The first man was still holding the woman, and showed no immediate sign of causing trouble.

"Get back on your horse and ride away." The second man, pointing at Methos with his sword, was trying to sound reasonable. Methos took another step forward. Suddenly the fate of this woman had become very important to him. He knew that he couldn't leave her now.

"No chance." He used his sword point to knock the other man's weapon to one side. Distantly he was aware that the first man had moved, taking the woman and moving out of his line of sight. It was faintly disturbing, but he was keyed up for a fight and would not be distracted now.

"You'd better be ready to die." With a sudden lunge, the second man came at him, and Methos dodged easily. He met his opponent's sword, hearing the crash of dull metal. As he prepared to make a more effective attack, he heard a faint noise behind him. He started to turn, distracted by something he could not place, and yet which seemed to be terribly important. Something touched him, pressing against his back. He could barely feel it, and yet at the same time it was impossible to ignore. He glanced down. A knife was protruding from his side, and as he looked up, he saw the first man grinning at him, yellowed teeth catching the last light before the torch fluttered out. Methos tried to raise his sword, but nothing happened. The man was still smiling. The knife came out, and in his last moments of conscious thought, the young warrior felt it stab into his chest. He choked, and could do nothing to stop himself from collapsing. Far, far above him, he heard the sound of voices, and thought that he heard the woman sob, her cause now lost. He tried to speak, tried to say something, but nothing would come. Oddly, as he felt the blackness take him, his last thought was not of his city, or even of Aita. All that he seemed able to think about was the race. Now he would never reach Charis, and he would never know if he could have won. Somehow that seemed a greater loss than knowing that his life had reached its end.


Hot sunlight was the first thing that he became aware of; a vague sensation of warmth which confused him. Opening his eyes seemed like a ridiculous waste of energy, so he lay where he was, silent and still, until the pain in his chest forced him to sit up. He coughed harshly, aware of racking pains which coursed through his body. Everything seemed to hurt, but at least that meant that he was still alive. He pressed his hands to his chest. There was blood everywhere, and through the gash that the knife had cut in his tunic, he could see a gaping hole in his skin. Blood and something unidentifiable stared back at him through the hole, and he felt himself go suddenly cold. Where was the justice in waking from a stupor, only to have to wait to die? There was no chance of surviving an injury like that one. He sat down on a nearby rock, staring at the ground. Odd that it was so hot. The sun was almost at its highest point, which meant that he had somehow survived the whole night, and most of the day. He had never seen a man live for that long, with such a hole in his chest.

Methos sat still for some time, staring at the ground, and wondering what he was supposed to do next. What did one do, when death seemed unwilling to take you? He had seen men injured, and he had seen men die. Death was a part of life. He had no idea what it meant, if the inevitable refused to happen. There was probably some omen in all of this; a portent of some terrible event which was to come. Perhaps he had been touched by some demon in the night; perhaps the woman and the two men had not been people at all, but spirits of some kind. They might have enchanted him in some way, or possessed him. He shivered, hugging his arms tightly about himself. He was still cold, despite the heat of the day, and yet he was sure that his fatigue was fading. Somehow, despite the wound, he felt that he was becoming stronger, as if the injury had never even happened at all.

"You should have stayed in the city, Methos." Startled by the volume of his voice, the young warrior stared about. He was unused to such solitude. Back home he sought it constantly, but was never able to find it. Here he had it in abundance, and yet he had never before wanted companionship so much. If he was going to die, it seemed strange that it should happen here, and now. There was nobody to see it, nobody even to find out what had happened. Nobody back in the city would ever know what had become of him.

The fluttering of the wind against a piece of cloth caught Methos' eye, and he glanced towards it, wondering why he had not noticed the movement earlier. A dark shape, covered in material of some sort, lay just out of his normal line of sight. He wondered what it might be, and was surprised to find that his legs had more than enough strength to carry him towards the object. He knelt beside it, suddenly aware that the material was familiar, and that the shape, too, was known to him. He pulled some of the cloth aside. The woman from the previous night, her face deathly pale, lay wrapped in her own cloak, blood long congealed on her inert form. His eyes ran over her; a single knife wound in the chest, identical to his own. So why was she dead, when he was not? She did not look weak; in fact she looked to be at least his equal.

With a long, drawn out sigh, Methos sat down beside the woman, and pulled the cloth back over her body. He felt an odd sense of loss at the discovery of her death; an odd comradeship for her, even though he had never known her. The thought that the two men had killed her, shortly after stabbing him, when there had been nobody left to protect her, affected him deeply. He touched his bloodstained tunic, right where the cloth had been torn by the knife. He felt no pain at all now. He glanced back at the covered shape of the woman. She was dead, and yet he was not. Had her dying life force mingled with his own, somehow strengthening him? He had heard tales that such things might be possible. He had also heard tales of spirits, who enchanted humans, granting them life beyond death, that they might be servants, or slaves to some power that they could not understand. He shivered. Such thoughts did little to improve his mood. He was afraid and confused, and the gradual realisation, as his strength grew and warmth returned to his limbs, that death was not imminent, frightened him greatly. He was angry with himself for feeling such fear, and yet he could not stop the icy shivers from running up and down his spine. He took a deep breath, determined to face whatever had occurred, and with shaking fingers he pulled his tunic away from his chest, staring down at the blood which covered him. It was old and dry, and the hole it had originally come from had faded away entirely. Aside from the dried blood, there was nothing at all to mark where the knife had gone in. He ran his hand along his side, where his assailant had struck first, and felt nothing at all save the tear in his clothing. His wounds had healed completely.

"By the gods…" Falling to his knees, Methos stared at his hands, still marked with his blood. He could see it; it was there. That meant that he couldn't have imagined the injury. Then how could this have happened? Tales of spirits and demons flooded his mind; half-forgotten tales from his youth about the mysterious creatures who inhabited the world beyond the city walls at night. Or perhaps he hadn't been possessed; perhaps he had always been a demon himself. Perhaps that was why he had always known such a sense of restlessness. The thought made him shiver again. What if anybody found out? What if somebody somehow saw that he couldn't be hurt? What if this power was to stay with him for life? He would be burnt alive as a demon for sure. Fear at what his one-time friends back at the city might do to him made his hands shake as he drew the knife from his belt and stared at its blade. He had to find out. He had to know. Gritting his teeth, he rammed the blade through the palm of his hand. Sweet agony flooded through his body, and he clenched his teeth to stop himself from crying out. His fingers strove to clench into a fist, trying to ease the pain, but he forced his hand to stretch out flat, and pulling the knife free, he watched carefully.

At first it was almost as if nothing were happening. He saw a small river of blood fall onto the ground, and watched it for a moment as it mingled with the dirt. Then, slowly to begin with, he saw the torn edges of his skin start to come together. Bit by bit, the skin closed over the wound, and soon there was nothing left of it at all. He closed his eyes. What did this mean? Was he possessed, or was he some begotten creature with only the facade of humanity? Either way, he had a big decision to make. Somebody would pass this way eventually; the road between his city and Charis was well-travelled, and he did not want anybody who knew him to see him. What dangers might it put them in? What might his demon do to them? He stared at the knife blade. He could try to end it all now; try to bring death before anything else could happen; but somehow, deep inside, he knew that it was impossible. There was no way that he knew of to end this, except maybe to find somebody who might be able to tell him what was wrong. Some scholar, perhaps. Someone learned in the ways of demons. Somebody who would not kill him as soon as they learnt what he was. He wondered if there was such a person. Unlikely, in a world where a man would kill his own mother if the soothsayers saw portents of doom in her actions. He stood up. Somebody out there had to know what had happened to him. Somebody, somewhere, might even be the same as him; cursed, or maybe blessed, in the same way. Without further ado, he picked up his sword. Of his horse there was no sign, and he imagined that the two men had taken it with them. Inconvenient, but not too much of a problem. He could walk, and he could run, and there was no shortage of water in these parts. He glanced towards the sun to get his bearings, knowing all too well which was the way back home. That brought his thoughts to Aita. Could he go back to her? Could he pretend that this hadn't happened? In his heart of hearts he knew that that couldn't work. Somebody would find him out, and he was even more afraid of what they might do to him than he was of the unknown power which had made him this way. Distantly he wondered if she would wait for him, or if she would even remember him, once a few years had passed; but he would not take the risk of returning home, and maybe causing her to be burned alongside of him when they discovered what he was.

With a troubled heart, he stuck his sword into his belt and turned his back on his city; and with fear and dread filling equal parts of him, he began to walk onward towards the mountains. He had always wanted to go there, but it was fear which drew him there now. It felt as though he were running away, but it had to be. So long as he remained possessed, he could not return home. He did not see how he could stay anywhere for long. Odd that he could think so clearly, despite the speed with which everything had happened; and yet he knew that he was doing the right thing. His life lay towards the mountains now; it had to. Somewhere out there, there had to be the answers to his questions.


"Hello? Methos?" He blinked and looked up.

"Yes? What?"

"What do you think?" There was an exasperated edge to the voice. "My boy, if you are going to attend these lectures, please at least pretend to be awake."

"Oh, sorry." Methos straightened up in his seat, and glanced around. The lecture room was empty, so he had obviously missed the lesson in its entirety. Everybody else had gone home.

"You should spend more of your nights sleeping, and less of them playing with your sword, Methos." Atholes, his tone teasing, sat down on the stone bench beside his pupil. "So, you were dreaming. About what?"

"What makes you think I was dreaming?" Methos rubbed his eyes, still feeling the strangely detached sensation of having been awakened in the midst of dreamland. "I was just tired."

"You were asleep, and therefore you dreamt." Atholes leaned back, smiling at his companion. "You dreamt about your last day with your family, and the moment when you became an Immortal. Yes?"

"How did you know?" Methos stood up, agitated. "Sometimes it feels as if you're inside my head. I wish you'd stop it."

"I do what comes naturally." Atholes shrugged. "My boy, I was an old Immortal many, many seasons before your city was built. I know things. I have taught many an Immortal, and I know that they all dream the same way at first. About what happened to them, about their regrets. They all want to go back to the way that they were before."

"Can you blame me?" Methos began to pace, trying to work off some of his frustration. "When I left my home, I didn't know what had happened. I was so scared… Like nothing I've ever felt before. Even when I met some old man, who told me what I was, I didn't stop being afraid. Of course I want to be like I was before. If anybody ever finds out what we are, they'll kill us."

"But we're immortal, my boy." Atholes smiled sadly. "I wondered why it was that you came to me. Why you agreed to stay. I thought that you wanted to learn from me."

"I did." The younger man scowled at the teacher. "You said that you taught younger Immortals, that you could show me what it meant to be one of us. All you've done is teach me about your philosophies, and about some ridiculous theories that you have about life, and people, and the world. I wanted to learn to be a warrior."

"You are a warrior." Atholes sighed. "All of our kind are. Destined to kill each other for something that not one of us understands. I teach what I think you need to know. The locals are happy to come here and listen to my lectures. What makes you so different?"

"I'm an Immortal. A warrior. I fight, I don't need to learn." Methos turned his back on the older man and began to walk towards the door. "Back home, in the city, they wouldn't let me be a fighter because my father was a scholar. Now I find you trying to immerse me in scrolls too."

"It's your decision, Methos." Atholes watched his pupil as he walked through the doorway. "But there is more to life than swords and blood."

"Not to me, old man." His voice already fading, Methos walked on.

It was late afternoon when he reached the town. Atholes lived in near seclusion on the edge of a small settlement of faded white houses, built amidst a network of fountains and gardens. The town was peaceful, but it meant nothing to the Immortal. He was tired of peace and quiet. Restlessness had consumed him again. After leaving his home behind him he had walked for days, aware that he should have died many times over; of exposure, or of thirst. Finally he had reached a small town hidden in the mountains where an old man who looked as though he should have died a good many seasons ago had sat all on his own by a fire. Methos had felt drawn to him, in a way that he did not understand. The man had told him things; many things; none of which made a lot of sense. So he was an Immortal. He couldn't die. It was his destiny to fight others of his kind, in some Game to see who was the best; who was the ultimate Immortal. The One. There was some award that went with this achievement. A Prize that nobody knew anything about. At first he had laughed at the old man, and then he had listened to him more closely. He wasn't sure which idea he liked least. Was it better to be a demon, or to be possessed, or to be a rootless Immortal, who had to spend the rest of his life killing all those like him just to stay alive?

"You think too much, Methos." Kicking at the ground, the Immortal wandered through the streets. The market traders were closing their stalls for the day, and the busy sounds of earlier had faded to a muted babble. He strolled past the stalls, eyeing the mixed selection of fruit and vegetables. He had a taste for meat, red and barely cooked, but in this place nobody ate meat except in the winter. He scowled again. Damn town. It was full of people who seemed to have nothing better to do with their time than to listen to Atholes lecturing about philosophy and science; telling them all that peace was the path to follow, and that war and violence would one day become part of the past. He let his hand fall to his sword hilt. War and violence would never cease when there were men like him around. He hadn't fought all his life to be allowed to take his place as a warrior just for some scholar to lead the human race onto some new and peaceful trail.

"Methos!" The voice was soft and feminine. Methos sighed. Rachel was Atholes' adopted daughter, a bright and excitable young woman who liked to help the market traders in town. She knew nothing of her father's true identity, and was similarly in the dark about Methos, but never seemed to cease in her enthusiastic attempts to find out more about him. He tried to push past a group of traders in an attempt to avoid the young woman, but she caught up with him easily.

"Hello Methos! How was my father's lecture today?"

"It was... fine." He tried to remember something about it, but all that he could recall was the dream, which brought his thoughts right back to his earlier sense of unrest. He wanted to do something positive; to go somewhere, to meet some other Immortals. What good that would do, he didn't know. He had little chance against someone of Atholes' experience, that was for sure, but he couldn't help feeling that a part of him wanted to die; that something within him was still looking for the glorious death in battle that he had thought of as a boy. Anything was better than wandering the world for the rest of Time, afraid to tell anybody who he was, and always afraid that somebody might find out.

"You were asleep again, weren't you." Rachel laughed. "You're hopeless. It's a wonder father still keeps you around."

"Maybe he likes my company."

"Maybe. I certainly do." She smiled, and slipped her arm through his. "Shall we go for a walk, Methos? Along by the river?"

"I have things to do." His tone was deliberately hard, but she didn't seem to notice. Instead she moved even closer to him.

"Such as what? You never do anything except practise with your sword, and try to pick fights with the locals. A group of the traders were complaining about you earlier. They said you were trouble, and that my father is a fool to let you stay on." She smiled at the memory. "Are you trouble, Methos?"

"Yes." His tone was still harsh, but she still did not seem to be getting the message. "You should go home, Rachel."

"I like it here." She sighed happily. "You know, Methos, we could go fishing if you liked. That would give you something to do besides playing at being a warrior."

"I'm not playing." This time he surprised even himself with the harshness of his tone, and he swung her round to face him. "I am a warrior. I've killed men before, Rachel, and I've ridden into battle wanting to kill them. I don't care what your father says about it all."

She looked momentarily taken aback, then frowned, pulling out of his grip.

"Okay, take it easy. I was only teasing." She smiled suddenly. "I'll teach you to catch fish by tickling them if you like. Father taught me when I was a child."

"I know how to tickle fish." He was finding it hard to keep the impatience from his voice, and was caring less by the minute. "I have things to do, Rachel. I'll see you later."

"But I want to come with you." She sighed, looking more and more like a small girl as she gazed up at him. "Come on, Methos. Relax for a moment, can't you? Why can't you just settle down and have some fun?"

"Because relaxing isn't what I do best." He pushed her to one side, and wandered on down the path through town, heading for the river. Several of the townspeople cast disapproving looks his way as he went on past, but he ignored them. Just as Rachel had said, they thought that he was trouble, and he wasn't about to help them to change that thought. He would rather that they feared him and kept out of his way, rather than trying to be friendly like Rachel, and just getting him angry.

The riverside was deserted except for two small boys, and they ran as soon as he appeared. All of the local children had learnt to be afraid of the sullen and silent man who went each day to the river to practice with his sword. At first they had stayed to watch him, but he had scared them all away with a battle yell, and now they left him alone. Not that he would really have done anything to them... He smiled at the thought. It was fun, playing the violent, nightmarish figure who liked to scare small children. More fun than being the respected and respectable son of the local scribe, anyway.

Drawing his sword, Methos practised a few moves, allowing the weight of the roughly made weapon to flow through the air. It never felt quite right in his hands; not like the men in the town where he had grown up. There had been men there who could cut grapes in half whilst wearing blindfolds. He swung the sword again, closing his eyes to try to get into the spirit of the exercise. He didn't really have any need for bisecting grapes, he supposed, blindfolded or otherwise. It was far more important to stay in shape, and know how to use the sword for real; just in case, one day, somebody proved willing to take up his challenge and fight him for real. Not that it was likely to happen here. Fighting for show had been a good way of earning money when he had first arrived, but the townsfolk were all wise to his tricks now, and would spar with him no longer - and certainly never for real. It annoyed him. He rather liked the idea of taking a fatal blow from someone, just to see their face when he sank to the ground in his death throes, yet stood again a few moments later to continue the fight.

Keeping his eyes firmly closed, Methos thought back to his days as a warrior, before he had discovered his immortality, and he sung the sword at an imaginary enemy, hearing the man's grunt as he was unhorsed and sent down into the mud covered field of battle. He grinned to himself, feeling the elation once again. It was a pity that it had to be only as a dream, but it was better than nothing. He whirled his sword about, hearing the clash of metal on metal, and hearing the distant cries of fear. The noises grew in his mind and he opened his eyes, suddenly realising that the sounds were for real; real voices were shouting in real terror, and real weapons were clashing together.

"What the-?" Running up the riverbank, Methos dashed back towards the town, pausing only when he came in sight of the small settlement. A building was burning, and the remaining market stalls had been smashed to pieces by horse hooves. He stared in amazement. Six men on horseback, their swords covered with blood, were laying waste to the town, and the ground was already red with the blood of the dead and the dying. A scream cut through the other noises, and Methos saw a young woman fall beneath the hooves of one of the horses. He thought that he recognised her, although he was still too far away to be sure. She looked like the woman who owned the local inn.

"Methos!" He swung around, sword at the ready, but saw only a middle-aged woman whom he knew from Atholes' lectures. She worked on the market, selling cloth at greatly inflated prices to all those who were unfortunate enough to need new clothes. She almost screamed at the sight of his weapon, then calmed herself. "Methos, we have to get out of here."

"Go if you must." He knew that she was hoping for his protection. "What's going on?"

"I don't know. Raiders maybe. Or a war party." Her shoulders shook. "They came out of nowhere."

"Just the six of them?"

"It's enough, isn't it? They just started killing everyone."

He sighed. "Pull yourself together, Marion. Go to hide with Atholes if you're afraid."

"You mean you're not coming with me?" She glanced about in evident fear. "Suppose I can't get through?"

"Then you'll be dead." He realised how cold that had sounded, and shrugged inwardly. What did he care about her feelings anyway? They were all the same around here. One day he was an ogre, and the next they were asking for his help. Marion stared at him for a moment, then turned and hurried away, her sobs still audible even when she was gone from his sight. He stared after her for a second, then began to edge closer to the carnage beneath him, watching the six strangers with something approaching awe. There was an aura about them; something that he could not adequately define, which seemed to make them invincible; untouchable. They believed in their own indestructibility.

When the feeling came, Methos was almost disappointed. He froze, feeling the strange, buzzing sensation rush through his head. Immortals. Coming from six men at once, the sensation was so strong that he almost over balanced, and had to tighten his grip on his sword to stop it falling from his fingers. He clenched his teeth, frustrated. He had almost thought those men to be something special, and now it turned out that they were just Immortals.

Beneath him, one by one the six men lowered their swords and turned around. He saw the six pairs of eyes staring up at him, and watched as the townsfolk fled, grateful for their unexpected deliverance. They vanished into what was left of their houses, or ran from the town altogether, none of them looking back to see what or who had distracted their attackers. Up on the hill Methos sighed, and hefted his sword in one, dry hand. He had been looking for a challenge, and it looked as though he might have found one. He walked down the hill, keeping his pace slow and steady, trying to appear nonchalant. At least the Rules of Immortality clearly stated that battles had to be one on one.

The empty street was silent as Methos reached level ground and approached the six riders. The sobs had ceased; of the townsfolk only the dead were now in evidence. Methos walked up to the nearest rider, his knuckles white on the hilt of his sword. Odd how as a mortal he had never been afraid to die, and yet now, as an Immortal, he found himself suddenly and oddly unwilling to end it all. That was the sort of softness and sentimentality that he could well do without.

"My name is Methos," he said softly, allowing some of his contempt to show in his voice. The rider stared down at him, and laughed.

"When I felt another Immortal, I hoped it was Atholes. I'm not interested in fighting you, boy."

"I'll give you more of a fight than he will." Angry, Methos put his hand on the horse's neck, contemplating sending the rider tumbling into the road. The man knocked his hand away and laughed again.

"Forget it. I came here to take one of the most powerful heads in existence, not toy with a child younger than my horse."

"Why you--" In a sudden burst of fury, Methos caught the man by the leg, using an old throw learnt in his battle training days to cause the older Immortal to fall from his seat and measure his length upon the ground. He grinned, and placed the tip of his sword against the man's neck.

"You were saying?" he asked, his voice once more soft and insulting. He stepped back slightly, intending to allow the man to his feet before challenging him again, but found his way suddenly barred by two of the other Immortals. They stood behind him, swords drawn, and at a signal from the man on the ground they caught the young Immortal by the shoulders and disarmed him.

"Hey!" Struggling furiously, Methos tried to free himself, anger clear on his face and in his voice. "One on one, those are the rules."

"Only if we intend to fight, and I told you that I have more pressing engagements in mind." The leader of the gang stood up, dusting himself off. He smiled at the younger man, still trying to free himself from the grip of the two big men who held him. "I'll tell you what, though; give yourself another few hundred winters, and I might just be prepared to kill you." He laughed shortly. Methos glowered.

"Atholes will never fight you," he growled. The big man shrugged.

"So I had heard. But I'll kill him whether he defends himself or not. I haven't spent half of my life looking for him to be thwarted now."

"You never catch him." Methos allowed himself a smile, finally ceasing his struggles in order to speak properly. "He's too clever. He'll be gone before you can even get close."

"I know." The big man was still smiling, his yellowing teeth catching the light of the reddening sun. "Which is why you're going to deliver a little message for me. Tell him I have his daughter, and that I'll kill her if he doesn't come to meet me in Theles within the next six days."

"You have Rachel?" Methos glanced around, but was unable to see the girl. "Where is she?"

"Safe. We found her wandering outside of town. You just tell Atholes that we have her." He grinned. "The name's Oboron. He's heard of me."

"I haven't." Methos put as much disrespect into the short sentence as he could, but Oboron merely smiled.

"You'll wish you still hadn't, one day."

"I doubt it." The young Immortal felt the grip on his arms relax slightly, and pulled free. His sword was on the ground at his feet, and he knew that he could get to it, if he were just given enough time. Oboron saw the direction of his gaze, and laughed.

"You don't give up, do you." He lifted his own sword, and placed the blade against Methos' neck. "Just deliver the message, boy." He stepped back, and with one, smooth thrust, he ran the younger Immortal through. Methos gasped, staring down at the hilt of the sword sticking out of his own body, right in the middle of his chest. Gasping, painful breaths rattled about inside him, and the world blurred. He thought he heard another mocking laugh before everything went black, and he tumbled to the ground.


Methos awoke feeling tired and stiff. His whole body ached, and he stretched painfully, trying to work the kinks out of the muscles of his back. He felt his chest, and discovered that the sword wound had gone. It still hurt though, and he made a mental note to watch out more in future. It wasn't terribly pleasant to die by the sword, especially twice in one lifetime. He saw some of the townsfolk watching him as he stood in the middle of the road, and he shot an amused look at the ragged, blood-stained tear in his tunic. On the other hand, dying did have its bonuses; namely that it scared the hell out of the spectators. Ignoring the few, braver individuals who stood in the shadows nearby, he retrieved his sword and went quickly to the inn. There was a stable there, and he grabbed the nearest horse, swung up onto its back, and galloped away. Nobody shouted after him, or complained at the theft of the horse; they would all be too busy whispering and worrying amongst themselves. Let them whisper, let them worry. He had been hiding his true self from them since his arrival in the town, and he was sick of having to be afraid that someone might find out.

He rode all night, sticking to the well-ridden trails which made the going easier, and stopped as the sun rose from behind the distant hills. He could see the six riders now, riding across the valley beneath him, heading for the distant city of Theles. He had never been there before, but he knew from hearsay that it was well-guarded, with impenetrable city walls, and formidable armaments. There were rumours that the guards were armed with strange contraptions which could hurl huge stones over the walls. The thought intrigued him, appealing to some distant place inside himself that liked to learn new things.

He dismounted, and settled down on a flat rock to watch the progress of his quarry. There was no sense in giving chase now, for they would be sure to see him. All that it needed would be for one of them to glance around, for any reason, and in the bright daylight they would see him riding down the hill. There was little or no cover for him to use in the descent, and he would stick out. For the first time he wondered if perhaps blue was not the best colour to wear if he wanted to stay alive, but it had always been his favourite. He had always worn blue, and had always streaked his face with blue paint when riding into battle. It made him stand out. He liked to wear white too, as a way of getting noticed; of making sure that people saw him when he rode towards them. Logically, he supposed, he should be wearing brown or green, but they lacked style.

Methos stretched restlessly, and contemplated going to sleep. It would be better to be fresh when the night came again, and at least if he was asleep, the time would pass more quickly. He stood and began to pace, unable to settle. Voices whispered through his mind, telling him to ride after the six now. What did it matter if they saw him? As soon as he came within range they would know that he was there, anyway; it wasn't as though he could possibly hope to sneak up on them unannounced.

"Sit still, Methos. Think." He forced himself to cease his restless pacing, and frowned hard. "You can't take on all six of them, even if they do have to fight one at a time." He sighed. Just why had he come here anyway? It had to be for something more than just his anger at the Immortals for the way in which they had insulted him. Didn't it? Perhaps, if he was truly honest with himself, he did actually care for Rachel. He grinned at that. Yeah, right. Sure he did. She had been driving him crazy since their first meeting, with less than subtle hints that they should settle down together. She wanted a house near her father's, and at least six children, and she was convinced that Methos was the perfect man for her. No, on reflection, he didn't really care one little about what happened to her. He had had more than enough of her whining pleas for his attention, and her constant hints about husbands and peaceful old age. The mere thought was enough to make him shudder.

So why was he here exactly? It seemed a little petty to ride so far, and face the almost certainty of death at the hands of one of the Immortals, just because their leader had treated him with such disrespect. He remembered a similar incident, when he was a boy barely old enough to begin weapons training. He had demanded the right to bear arms like the other boys, and not have to follow his father as a scribe, but the other boys had laughed at him. One in particular, a large, heavy-set boy named Orius, had taken a particular delight in putting down the young Methos, and belittling him whenever possible. Methos smiled as he recalled the pleasure of his revenge; the day when he had challenged Orius on the training field, and had beaten him senseless. Orius had never been the same again.

The sensation of the approach of another Immortal startled Methos out of his reverie, and he spun around, sword at the ready. He was not surprised to see Atholes riding over the crest of the hill, and he relaxed slightly, although he did not put the sword away. The older man dismounted, and approached his student looking less than pleased.

"Methos." His voice was pleasant enough, but the younger Immortal could sense something beneath the greeting. He smiled.

"Atholes." Neither spoke for a moment, each one unsure of the other's mind, and both aware that neither was truly pleased to see the other. "Were you wanting something?"

"You could say that. When I rode into town I found half of the locals dead or wounded, and the other half swearing blind that you were a demon. Seems that somebody killed you today."

"Yeah, well, you know how it is." Methos smiled sweetly. "It's the way it goes."

"Not really." Atholes frowned. "One of the townsfolk told me that he'd overheard a message you were supposed to be delivering, and so now they think I'm in league with you. I can't go back there any more than you can."

"I feel for you." Methos turned away, sticking his sword back into his belt. "The world's a big place, or so you keep telling everybody in your lectures. There should be plenty of other towns to live in."

"Where's Rachel?" Atholes pushed past his young student in order to look down the hill. The six horses were barely large enough to see now, still riding fast towards the distant hills.

"Back at the town, so far as I know." Methos shrugged. "Probably hiding out somewhere. They were all pretty scared." He grinned, but the look which Atholes gave him showed that the older man knew everything.

"They've got her, haven't they. They're taking her with them to Theles. You haven't seen them hiding her anywhere?"

Methos sighed. "No, she's still with them."

"Then I'll take over from here, thankyou. You don't care for her, so this isn't your fight."

"You're going to take on six of them on your own?" Methos laughed shortly, disbelief showing in his voice. "You wouldn't have a chance."

"And you would I suppose?" Atholes shook his head. "I remember when I was you, Methos. Young, just starting out as an Immortal. I wanted a challenge like this too, but it never got me anywhere. You'll take your first Quickening all in good time; but this isn't your fight."

So that was why he was here. Now that he thought about it, Methos knew that it was true. He had gone after the six men because he wanted to take his first Immortal head; to find out what the Quickenings he had heard about were really like. He wanted to feel the power of an older Immortal flooding through him; to have their knowledge, to recall their memories. To take their strength. He wanted to be powerful, and - to do what? Part of him wanted to become stronger and stronger, and to destroy all that stood in his way. That part of him had been wanting to take Atholes' head since the day that they had first met; but there was another part of him as well, and that part was telling him to leave the fighting to Atholes, and to just ride off and forget about all of this.

"It is my fight." He hid that more cautious, more reserved side of himself away, and turned back to face Atholes. "They said things that need avenging. You go home if you want to, old man."

"They'll kill you. You might get one, but you'll never get all six." Atholes shook his head. "I should kill you now, and save them the bother."

"Just try it old man." Methos half drew his sword. Atholes shook his head, exasperated.

"Alright, Methos, we'll go together." He gestured at the younger Immortal's horse. "But we go now. Before they reach Theles."

"Fine by me." He had never much liked the idea of waiting for nightfall anyway. He swung up onto his horse and set off down the hill without waiting for Atholes, keeping his eyes all the time on the six men in the distance. With luck they were too far away to see their pursuers by now, if not - well what did he care. To his mind, it was only Rachel's life that was at risk.

Behind him, Atholes climbed back onto his horse, and hesitated before riding after Methos. A frown crinkled the skin of his forehead as he watched the younger man ride away. Could he really have been wrong about his pupil? He had never been wrong before. When they had first met, he had seen eagerness to learn, and an ability to, one day, teach others. He had seen enthusiasm and gentility behind the ruthlessness of the warrior's exterior. Now he was no longer so sure. Methos was getting to be too good at quelling the quiet side of his nature, and too determined to use his formidable intelligence for his own good rather than anyone else's. Maybe time would change his mind, and make him see sense, but that would only happen if he lived long enough. The old Immortal sighed, and nudged his horse forward. He had other, more pressing concerns right now, and he could not spare the time to worry about what the future might hold for his newest student. He only wished that it was just Methos he had to worry about; and not the rest of the world as well. He had a dreadful feeling that, should Methos be allowed to get much older, the civilised world might just come to regret it; and yet he knew in his heart of hearts that he couldn't take the boy's head himself. He couldn't believe that his first impression had been that wrong. He smiled weakly, and turned his eyes towards the six distant Immortals. Maybe he would get lucky. Maybe one of them would kill Methos for him, and then he would no longer have to make the decision himself. But somehow he didn't think it was going to be quite that simple.


They rode for the rest of the day and into the night. Methos kept his lead, although wary of his speed so as not to tire the horse. The darkness was almost complete, for the moon was hidden behind clouds, and every sound set him on edge. He was no longer as afraid of the night time as he had once been; now that he had discovered that he himself was a creature of magic and superstition, he saw little point in fearing the other demons and spirits which were supposed to fill the darkness. A part of him remained wary though; years of childhood tales, and of retiring indoors at the first sign of the night had to have some lasting effect. He still remembered his mother's panicked cries to him when, as a child, he had tried to stay outside at dusk. Immortal though he may be, he still retained the memories of a mortal's fears.

"Something wrong, Methos?" Atholes asked him, bringing his horse alongside his companion's for the first time. Methos shrugged.

"Just jumpy, I guess."

"Thinking about the witches and the demons?" The older man laughed at the look of scorn on the face of his student. "Don't be so scathing, my friend. We exist. Why shouldn't they?"

"Huh." Methos did not bother returning his companion's smile, and instead he changed the subject for something a little more comfortable. "If I'm judging this right, we're averaging a little faster than they are. We'll be catching them up before much longer."

"Good." All business once again, Atholes gazed out into the night. "Let's hope that the demons are on our side tonight, hey Methos?"

"We don't need their help." Methos shot the older man a sidelong glance. "We're immortal."

"Yes, but so are the men we're after." Atholes slowed his horse to a halt, and leaned forward, listening intently. "Can you hear anything?"

"No." Methos frowned and dismounted, kneeling down in order to listen to the ground. "I can hear horses, but I can't be sure how far away they are. Not far."

"Then it's time to make our plans." Atholes drew his sword, testing the long blade, and held it up so that it caught what little light there was. "I haven't taken a Quickening in... in so many seasons. Not since long before you were born, and probably long before your grandfather was, too."

"Then it's about time you took another one." Methos mounted up again, drawing his own sword. "They're sure to stop sometime before they reach Theles, and if they do they'll post a guard or two. We can take them out first and even up the odds a little."

"Fine by me." Atholes smiled. "The ways of the warrior come back so easily, even after so long as a scholar."

"I wouldn't know."

"One day, Methos. One day you'll take to books instead of swords. A man can't fight forever."

"He can when he's going to be my age for the rest of infinity."

Atholes was silent for a moment.

"And what happens when the world changes, my friend, and all of this has gone?"

"Gone where?"

"To wherever Time goes when we've lived it. My books, Methos, about which you are so scathing, tell me that another civilisation existed here, many eons before the first of us was born. An ancient race which died out to make way for the mortals. What do we do if that happens again? Will there be any point in remaining immortal, and still fighting in the Game, if the world has changed that much?"

"Adopt and adapt." Methos smiled, a thin, scheming smile which Atholes was not entirely sure he liked. "Always go with the winner, Atholes. If the world changes to that extent then so will I, but it won't change what I am inside." He glanced up at the dark sky, and then began to hurry his horse along. "Come on, old man, or they'll be too far ahead."


The night was just beginning to make way to the first light of dawn when the six Immortals finally ceased riding and dismounted. They made a basic camp in a small hollow, where the smoke from a fire would be less visible, and left their horses to graze freely. They had no immediate fears of pursuit, since Atholes' body was not young and they doubted his ability to catch them up. Oboron pulled Rachel from his horse, and laughed shortly when she landed on the ground in a crumpled heap.

"You're not going to get away with this," she told him, her voice somewhat desperate. Oboron laughed again.

"Of course we are. We are six, and your father is one. One old man who is very out of practice. They say he hasn't touched a sword since his second wife died, and that was longer ago than most of my kind can remember."

Rachel frowned, puzzled by his words.

"How do you know my father?" she asked. Oboron pulled her to her feet and began tying her up.

"I've never met him," he told her shortly. "But he is somewhat famous, and there are few of us who don't consider his head to be a true prize."

"His... head?" Rachel's words caught in her throat. "But why would you want to kill him?"

"Because." Oboron pushed her to the ground and then lay down nearby. "Adonus, Pheres, take first watch."

"Right." Adonus, a tall, lithe figure with cascades of wavy, dark hair, pulled his sword from his belt and stalked off. Pheres, a shorter, more powerfully built man with an oddly primitive appearance, followed on. They settled themselves some distance from the camp, where they could no longer feel either each other or their comrades. Adonus stared into the new sun, and Pheres gazed into the departing night, both fiercely conscious of the silence and the great expanses of open territory from which attack could so easily come.

In the distance, hidden by a sparse covering of trees, Methos lay on the ground, his horse flat beside him. He had seen both Adonus and Pheres, although now he had eyes just for one of them. He glanced back at Atholes, who waited nearby.

"There are two of them," he told his companion. "They're some distance from camp, so we have a chance. I'll work round the other side and take the one round there, if you think you can take out the closer one."

"I don't think, Methos, I know." Atholes slid forward, and strained his eyes to see properly. "Are you sure you don't want to take the closer one yourself? It won't be easy sneaking round to get that other one."

"I think I can manage." Methos began to edge away, never once taking his eyes of the distant figure of Adonus.

"Remember to stay out of range," Atholes hissed. Methos clenched his teeth, biting back the retort. He slid along the ground, through the dusty mud badly in need of a touch of rain, and through a dried out river bed. Ruins of some ancient stone building provided him with some temporary cover, and he took the opportunity to glance back and try to check on the progress of his ally. Atholes was no where in sight.

"Remember to stay out of range, old man," he whispered, and grinned, then ducked down behind the broken stone walls and crawled on. A part of his consciousness mulled over what might have been the fate of the people who had lived here once, and Atholes' earlier words, about their civilisation going the same way, came back to him. He shrugged. He couldn't really comprehend some ancient time beyond living memory, and some unimagined future was similarly unreal to him. Right now the only thing which could truly claim his attention was the solitary man standing guard over his comrades' camp just nearby. Smiling grimly, he drew his sword. He had to be ready. Once he was in range, he had to attack immediately, so that there was no time for the sentry to alert his colleagues. He glanced back, hoping to catch a glimpse of Atholes, so as to take his cue from the other Immortal, but there was still no sign of the man. He shrugged.

"Ready when you are, Immortal," he whispered to his intended victim, although the man could not have heard the words. He tensed his muscles, ready, waiting, and then leapt to his feet and hurled himself forwards.

On the brink of sleep, Adonus jerked back awake and stood up, his head buzzing in warning. He looked around, expecting to see Pheles coming towards him, but instead saw a tall, lithe figure with dark hair and a dusty, loose tunic. He recognised the young Immortal from the town just as Methos was upon him, and raised his sword instinctively. There was a loud clash of metal on metal as their weapons clashed, and Adonus felt a shockwave burst through his arms from the force of the blow.

"You're a fool. You can't win."

"No?" Methos lashed out with his blade, sending a lock of his opponent's hair floating away on the breeze. The older Immortal scowled, and his face set hard.

"You should have stayed in town, boy."

"No. You should have stayed in Theles." Methos swung his sword, technique abandoned in his momentary fury. "You people should never have insulted me back there. I don't like people who insult me. It's not friendly."

"You won't live long enough to worry about it." Adonus swung up his sword, an evil grin on his face. "I've been doing this a lot longer than you have."

"Maybe. But I'm a lot angrier than you are." Methos whirled his sword about, ducking to avoid a blow from Adonus, and almost losing his balance.

"Angry never won a sword fight." Encouraged by his opponent's momentary slip, Adonus swung his sword again, and Methos met the blow with one of his own. For a moment they were locked, each straining against the other, struggling to assert their strength and knock the other off balance, then suddenly Methos dodged aside, and Adonus stumbled.

"Tough luck," Methos hissed, and with a heavy downward blow he disarmed the older man.

"You'll never get away. The others will come after you." Staring transfixed at his opponent's sword, Adonus spoke from a dry throat. Methos smiled.

"I'll kill them all," he said, his voice unconcerned, his expression one of harmless innocence. "Your time's over. I'm the new Immortal on the block."

"That's what you think."

"That's what I know." Methos was still smiling when he swung his sword around for the final blow.

Adonus' head toppled to the ground with a sad, wet thud. Methos watched it dispassionately, lowering his sword as he finally allowed his body to admit to its fatigue. On reflection, he thought, riding without sleep for two nights and a day and then doing battle with a man who was, in all honesty, a better swordsman than he was, was probably not such a good idea. It was with tired, uncomprehending eyes that he looked up towards the lightening sky, and saw the clouds begin to move across it with an unnatural speed.

"What the-?" Taking a step back, Methos saw the first tendrils of blue fire begin to flick about from cloud to cloud, felt the darkness sweep back around him, and saw the wind begin to start up. He gasped, fearful of whatever it was that he had unleashed. He glanced down at the dead body, beginning to jerk about as the blue fire flooded through it, and imagined that the severed head had turned to look at him; that it was laughing at him and at his fear. Could this be a Quickening? Was this a taste of whatever dark power had made him what he was? He stared, transfixed, as the blue fire moved towards him. He wanted to run, but he knew that that would be futile. Instead he clenched his fists tightly about the handle of his sword, and stared into the fire. With a rush of fury it consumed him.

The fire burned through him with a touch of heat and ice, choking him and filling his eyes with sights he didn't know. He shuddered, and his sword fell from nerveless fingers, clattering against the rocks on the ground. He gasped, unable to breathe, his whole body alive with pain, and yet comforted by some extraordinary sensation of pleasure. He was aware through it all of the approach of another Immortal, but there was nothing that he could do. He did not seem able to move, or to speak. All that came from his throat was a single, strangled yell.

With a final, disturbing sensation of all the air being sucked from within him, the flames and the fury were over, and Methos sunk to the ground, landing on his knees with a jolt that he felt right through his legs. His shoulders slumped, and he reached feebly for the sword he could not see. He heard footsteps and tried to turn towards the sound, expecting an attack. All that he felt was a pair of strong hand on his shoulders, helping him to his feet.

"You idiot, Methos." Without much gentility, Atholes began to drag him away from the body of the other Immortal, barely giving him time to retrieve his weapon first. "You had to kill him."

"Huh?" Still confused, Methos offered no resistance as he was dragged back to the ruined stone walls. "What happened?"

"You took his head, that's what happened. You couldn't have just knocked him out. Left him tied up out of the way like I did. No. You had to light up the whole of the sky with a Quickening, and tell Oboron and the others what happened."

"That was a Quickening?" Methos sank to the ground, leaning against the stone walls feeling both drained and yet oddly charged. "Wow."

"You didn't know?" Atholes sighed, and sat down beside him. "I suppose you couldn't know what it would be like." He smiled. "Not a good idea to take one that strong your first time out. Are you okay?"

"Yeah." Methos sounded dazed still, but his voice had become stronger. "That was really something." He turned and glanced over the walls. "Do you suppose Oboron and the others will come after us?"

"Maybe. Or they might just mount up and ride off." Atholes took his companion's sword and cleaned the blood from the blade, examining the edge for damage. "Probably the latter. We've lost the element of surprise now."

"Sorry." Methos struggled to his feet. "Come on, old man. Back to the horses."

"You're sure you're up to it?"

"Are you kidding?" Methos flashed him a broad grin, feeling truly fulfilled for the first time in ages. "I've never felt better."


The day slipped by, and the two Immortals pushed their horses to the limit, knowing that their enemy would be doing the same. Methos still felt wildly energetic, the effects of the Quickening clinging to his mind as he rode, and exciting him wildly. Odd that he could get such a tremendous kick out of the death of one of his own people, but the experience had made him hungry for more. So this was why Immortals were so desperate to kill each other. He wondered what could have persuaded Atholes to give it all up.

"I haven't been this far from town in a long time." Atholes finally slowed his horse as the shadows began to lengthen. Both animals were gasping for breath, their shuddering bodies flecked with foam. "I'd forgotten all of these trails."

"I've never been here before." Methos stared out at the unfamiliar scenery. It was colder here than back at the town, and the temperature had nothing to do with the approaching night. There was a strange wind which smelt like nothing he knew, and the hills had acquired an oddly crumbling texture; the colour of the earth beneath the grass changing from black to lighter shades of brown. He dismounted, and crouched to feel the strangeness of the earth. "This stuff is soft. We should be able to follow their tracks much more easily."

"No matter. We'll be able to see them soon anyway. Over this hill there's nowhere to ride but along the beach, and there's no cover there. We'll be able to see them easily."

"Beach?" The word was unfamiliar, but Methos was not in the mood for extending his vocabulary. He caught hold of his horse's mane, leading the exhausted animal onwards. There was no sense in riding it further, or he would risk losing it.

"Methos, if you've never--" Atholes broke off, and stared at his student's departing back. The boy never listened. Let him see for himself. He smiled, and followed the other Immortal up the hill.

At its crest, the rise and fall of the land ceased. Behind this hill there were no others. Instead, the ground fell away sharply, into a steep slope where all the green ended, and only brown and yellow existed instead, stretching out into... Methos stared. Blue. A huge expanse of blue stretching far, far out, further than he could see, filling the horizon. White flecked the blue, leaping, foaming, crashing against rocks and the ground. He gasped, unable to do anything except stare at the blueness, wondering at it, fascinated. Waves hurled themselves forward, roaring and hungry.

"What - what is it?" Amazed by the subdued sound of his own voice, Methos tried to tear his eyes away from the blueness, but was unable to. He heard Atholes laugh.

"That, my young friend, is the sea. It surrounds the land."

"The end of the world," Methos gasped. "What's out there?"

"I don't know." Atholes stood beside him, gazing out to the distant horizon, where they could see the curve of the Earth. "I suspect other lands, like this one. With other mortals and other Immortals; but nobody I've ever met has gone there to find out. It may well be that the world ends out there somewhere."

"It's incredible." Sighing heavily, Methos dragged his mind back to the task at hand, and stared along the beach. He could see four horses riding along beside the sea, and without further words he began to slide down the hill. Atholes followed. Their horses were too tired to give much of a chase, but the horses of their quarry had to be similarly exhausted by now. They mounted up again when they reached level ground, and Methos guided his horse towards the surf, feeling the spray on his face as he raced his horse onwards. His eyes were drawn to the distant horizon, and it was all that he could do to keep a fraction of his attention on the four men up ahead.

"Methos!" With a sudden yell, Atholes grabbed the other horse by the mane and pulled it to a halt. Startled, Methos glanced instinctively towards the other Immortals, and saw that two of them were now heading towards them. He drew his sword and dismounted, sending his horse galloping out of the way. Atholes did likewise. The waves thundered close by, drowning out the sound of the hoofbeats, and Methos felt the water swirl about his ankles. It was cold, but the temperature was welcome.

"I am Dionus." Throwing himself down from his horse one of the two Immortals pointed his sword blade at Atholes. "I'm challenging you, old man."

"Very well. I accept the challenge." Atholes spoke coolly, as though he did not have a care in the world, but Methos felt an unexpected burst of concern for the old Immortal. He was out of practice, and just maybe out of his depth. He had his own battles to think of however, for the second Immortal also dismounted, sword drawn.

"I am Leon," he announced.

"Methos," Methos told him. "Hi."

"I'm going to enjoy taking your head."

"What, no handshake?" Methos smirked, and raised his sword. "Ready when you are, friend."

They circled warily, trying to keep from becoming tangled up in the other fight. Methos tried to keep an eye on Atholes, unsure what would happen if his companion lost. He remembered the sensation of confusion and helplessness which had followed his last Quickening, and wondered if he could take Dionus out, should he be similarly incapacitated. It seemed like a long shot, somehow.

With a sudden howl, Leon threw himself forward, and Methos leapt aside. He felt the swirl of water around his ankles, and struggled to keep his footing. The ground shifted peculiarly beneath his feet as the water moved above it, and he felt the movement quite disorientating. Leon came at him again, and this time Methos led the fight towards the rocks. They were wet and slippery, but he hoped to use that to his advantage. Leon was no tactician, and that might just be his downfall.

Fighting nearby, Atholes saw Methos fighting amongst the rocks, and saw the huge waves swirling closer. Worry touched his soul. Methos had no comprehension of the sea, and of its power, and could not understand how dangerous it might be to stay where he was for too long. The old Immortal took a look towards the onrushing waves, and felt the breeze of his opponent's sword as it came towards him. He dodged at the last second, feeling the sharpness of the blade as it scratched the skin of his neck, and then he swung around, twisting his body about so that he was behind Dionus. He smiled. It had been a long time. Just as he brought his sword about, he saw a huge wave consume the rocks on which Methos and Leon were fighting, and then the Quickening took him over and he could no longer see anything at all.

"Methos..." The Quickening seemed to take an age to pass, and Atholes, on his knees with stars in his eyes, could do nothing except wait for it all to be over. He stumbled to his feet, wavering slightly. He was out of practice. His body had once taken a Quickening the way a mortal took a drink, but that had been a long time ago. He had forgotten the true extent of the agony within the ecstasy; had forgotten the feeling of burning which went with the gentle soothing. Drained, he staggered towards the rocks. The water seethed about them, white and wild, suddenly deep beyond the first few shallow feet. Without hesitation he threw down his sword and waded out into the water, feeling the current tugging at his chest and his legs. It was strong, and he knew that a man could find himself dragged far out almost before he realised it. There were creatures living out there that could behead an Immortal with one bite, as easily as they could kill a small fish.

With a sudden foaming of the water, and a splash which terrified the old Immortal, Methos surfaced, sword still in hand. He was gasping for breath, and struck out wildly as Atholes tried to catch hold of him.

"Methos, take it easy!" Atholes let him go, and backed away, stumbling against the pull of the water. He could barely feel the ground beneath his feet, and it disturbed him to be at the mercy of such a strong current. "We have to get back to the shore."

"He's still out here somewhere." Methos scanned the blue water, unable to see through the choppy surface. "I have to get him."

"He's gone, out there." Atholes gestured vaguely at the horizon. "I've seen men dragged out by quieter waters than these, Methos. He didn't have a chance. And neither will we if we don't get back to the shore."

Methos hesitated. He still recalled the feeling of the Quickening, and he wanted another one. He wanted to feel that power again, but he could see the urgency in Atholes' eyes, and followed him back to the beach. More than once he lost his footing and went under, and he thought about Leon, dragged about under the water, knocked by the water, being taken who knew where, and to what fate. He smiled.

"Here, Methos." Atholes caught hold of the rocks, and reached out for his companion's shoulder. He felt exhausted, and the buzzing in his head was, to him, no more than the confirmation of Methos' presence. It was with surprise that he saw the look of sudden fear in the younger Immortal's eyes.

"Look out!" Pushing Atholes aside, Methos rammed his sword upwards, the force behind the blow carrying him half way out of the water. Above him on the rocks, Leon choked back a cry, staring down at the sword blade embedded in his chest. He stared down at Methos, but there was only anger on his face. Methos smiled and tugged the sword free. There was a second's silence, and then Leon toppled into the water. Atholes breathed a sigh of relief.

"Thankyou." He struggled up onto the rocks, watching with an air of cold detachment as Methos dragged the inert form back up from beneath the waves and leant it against the rocks. He aimed carefully, his eyes never leaving Leon's face. Just as he swung his sword the other Immortal's eyes snapped open, and Methos saw his anger and his fear, and then just nothing. The head spun away and the body slowly disappeared after it, sinking slowly down into the red-tinged sea. Methos grinned and looked up at the sky, welcoming the blue fire and the darkening clouds. Around him the water began to bubble and boil, foaming furiously as the fire danced across its surface. Leon's body rose upwards, bursting out of the water and hovering above the waves, as the Quickening reached a whirling crescendo, and Methos, battered by the water and the wind, could do little but laugh as a huge wave crashed down upon him, burying him beneath the furious water. Finally, choking, he found the surface again, and allowed Atholes to drag him onto the rocks.

"You're mad," The older Immortal told him. Methos laughed, choking on a lungful of seawater.

"Who cares." Gasping for breath he cupped his hands for a drink, and spat the water out in disgust, blinking up at Atholes in hurt confusion as the other man laughed.

"Salt," he offered, by means of explanation.

"Yuck. What's the point of all this water if we can't drink it?"

"What's the point of anything?" Atholes helped him to his feet and they went back to the dry sand of the beach. Their horses, and those of the two dead Immortals, waited patiently nearby, and the duo headed towards them. Of Oboron and his one remaining companion there was no sign.

"Where are they?" Methos stared down the beach in the direction in which the two horses had gone. He could see a long way, but the pair had disappeared.

"They're here somewhere." Atholes gazed about, unable to feel the two Immortals, but knowing that they were close by. "They're through with running."

"Good." Methos swung up onto his horse. "Let's split up. We can search for them better that way."

"No. We have to stick together." Atholes looked about, anxious and on edge. His sixth sense was shouting loudly to him, but he still could not see Oboron anywhere. It disturbed him greatly.

With a whoop that chilled Atholes to the bone, a horse and rider came careering at full speed from out of the shelter of the hillside. Almost immediately the fierce buzzing of an Immortal's approach came to both the waiting men, and they jerked about to face the oncoming enemy. Methos' horse lunged forward, but the oncoming Immortal, with a display of horsemanship that would have done credit to the oldest and most practised of riders, whirled his animal about, lashing out with his sword blade. Both horses reared dramatically, hooves punching the air, and Methos lost his hold on his horse's mane. He crashed to the ground and lay still, stunned. Eyes struggling to focus, he was dimly aware of the mounted man pounding closer to Atholes. He tried to shout a warning, but it was too late. Even with the precious seconds that Methos' intervention had won him, the old Immortal could not move out of the way before the horse was upon him. A sword blade flashed in the sun.

When all was still again, Methos struggled back to his feet. His head hurt, and so did his heart. He hadn't realised just how much he had cared for Atholes. Picking up his sword he stumbled forwards, unsteady but determined. A horse and rider blocked his path, and he frowned, confused, barely recognising Oboron. The Immortal pushed him aside and headed towards his companion.

"Fool. I told you he was mine." The big Immortal hit his companion across the chest with the flat of his sword.

"I got there first." The smaller man tried to push Oboron aside, but to no avail. "Luck of the draw."

"No." Oboron smiled grimly. Methos watched them without really understanding their conversation, but it was with no real surprise that he saw the larger of the two Immortals raise his sword and strike. Oboron had wanted Atholes' Quickening, and now he was going to take it the only way that he could.

As the wind began to whirl about for the fifth time that day, Methos hurried to Oboron's horse and pulled Rachel off its back. Her hands were tied and he cut the ropes quickly, keeping his eyes on the other Immortal. Rachel nearly fell, shock making her weak, and he had to support her. He saw the tears in her eyes and wondered how long it would take her to see past the grief at the loss of her father, and begin to wonder at the way in which he had died.

"Hurry," he whispered. She nodded slowly, mechanically, and followed his lead towards the shelter of the hills. Oboron saw them going, and let out a yell which stopped them both in their tracks.

"Damn." Glancing back, Methos saw the big man charging towards them across the sand, his sword held high. There was no choice but to confront him. "Stay here."

"Methos, no. Please." Grabbing his tunic, Rachel tried to make him stay back. "Don't go."

"Leave it, Rachel." He pushed her aside and walked away, hearing her sobs fade into a curious choking sound. He was almost beginning to feel sympathetic towards her, but he quashed the feeling quickly. This was no time to be getting sentimental.

"Methos." Oboron was smiling as he slowed to a halt before the smaller man. "I was going to let you live for now, but you have been one almighty pain in the neck."

"I try my best." Methos flashed him a cheery grin. "You didn't come here to talk, Oboron. Get on with it."

"So keen to die?" Oboron laughed. "Fine by me." With a sudden yell he swung his sword. Methos raised his own weapon in the nick of time, and felt his whole body shudder under the force of the blow. His fingers felt numb, and it was only through sheer will power that he was able to keep hold of his sword. He gasped and fell back, struggling to stay on his feet, watching for an opening. There didn't seem to be one. Oboron came on, sword slashing like a scythe, and the younger Immortal could do nothing but give way to him, retreating in the face of the assault until he was almost back where he had left Rachel.

"You're dead, boy." Laughing loudly, Oboron whirled his sword again, slashing for his opponent's hands. Methos felt blood trickle down his fingers and realised that one of the blows had caught him on the wrist. His hand slipped on his sword hilt and he hung on grimly, painfully aware that he couldn't keep on deflecting Oboron's attacks.

On they fought, Methos' arms growing more and more tired, and Oboron never seeming to lose pace. Finally, with one almighty swing, the older Immortal knocked his rival's sword flying, and Methos watched, helpless, as it arced away across the sand, clattering against the rocks.

"Now you're mine." Oboron brought his sword about for another blow, but Methos leapt for him, putting all of his strength into one leap, catching Oboron's arm and holding on. The big man struggled to break free, and Methos, with a gasp of triumph, managed to break the other Immortal's grip. Oboron's sword flew after the first, sticking into the ground out of reach.

"You little--" Angry, Oboron raised his fist and struck his opponent across the face. Methos stumbled, losing his footing, and crashed to the ground. Ignoring his lost sword, Oboron came towards him and the younger man rolled away, avoiding a heavy kick just in time. He stumbled to his feet, dodging one large fist only to be struck by the other. It hit him squarely in the chest, knocking the breath from his body. He staggered, and Oboron laughed.

"Methos!" Watching in mounting horror, Rachel realised that her friend was losing badly. Her eyes travelled from the battling duo to the headless body of her father, and she knew, in a moment of clear and cold certainty, that the same fate awaited Methos if she did not do something quickly. She ran for Oboron's sword, caught it up, and darted forward. Oboron paid her no attention, seeing nothing but his victim, aware of nothing but his own enjoyment of the moment. Through a haze of pain Methos was dimly aware of her approach, and part of him wondered if it was a breach of some Rule of Immortality. He didn't care.

"Give it up, Oboron," he gasped through torn lips. The big man laughed again, taking the words as a joke. Methos managed an answering smile, looking up into the face of his attacker. Oboron was still laughing as his own sword beheaded him, and the laugh became a strangled choke as he died.

"Are you alright, Methos?" Sounding shaky, Rachel laid the sword down on the ground, but Methos backed away.

"Keep back," he told her, staring at the headless body. He could already feel it beginning.

"But Methos--"

"I said keep back!" The blue fire was emerging, and Rachel stared into it in dismay.

"What...?" She saw the headless body dance, as if alive; saw the fire race through it and through the dead man's sword; saw it engulf Methos, and watched as he began to rise into the air. Panic-stricken, she tried to catch hold of him, but pain danced its way across her fingertips, and she was forced to let go. Wind whipped around her, and she watched as Methos hung in the air, spread-eagled, his head thrown back and his whole body jerking as the strange fire crackled around him. Lightning burst from his fingertips and crashed into the ground, throwing up plumes of sand where they struck; then, with a suddenness that was almost shocking, everything was silent. Methos fell to the ground.

"Methos." She ran to him, afraid and confused, and he climbed to his feet, catching her by the arms.

"It's okay."

"Okay?!" She stared at him, her fear growing. "You act as though you were expecting that."

"I was." He dusted himself down and retrieved his sword, sticking it back into its place in his belt. "I'm sorry, Rachel, but you weren't exactly supposed to see it."

"My father." Her shoulders slumped, and she stared back towards his body. "The same thing. I saw it." Her eyes widened. "You're possessed!"

"No, not possessed. Just not like you." He felt an unexpected burst of pain at that admission, and felt a moment's longing to be normal. He hadn't been an Immortal very long, and he already felt lonely.

"What then?" Her voice was an accusation, and he sighed.

"I don't know. Don't think about it, Rachel. You should be getting back home."

"Home?" She sounded surprised. "You're not coming?"

"No. It might be a little awkward." He remembered the faces of the locals when they had seen him come back to life, and almost smiled. "I'll see you some of the way if I have to."

"No. I - I know the way. I can make it on my own." She stared at him. "But there's nothing back there for me now, Methos. Couldn't we go somewhere together? The two of us?"

"No." He surprised himself with the vehemence of his reply. "I can't take anybody with me, because I don't know where I'm going, or what I'm going to do."

Her shoulders slumped slightly, then she smiled.

"I was never afraid of you, you know. Even when the others back in the town thought you were terrifying. I just wanted you to know that."

He smiled. "You should have been afraid."

"Should I? I'm not so sure. Neither was father."

"Are you sure you're going to be okay?" he asked, deciding to chage the subject. The sadness of her voice had worried him, although he didn't know why. She smiled.

"I'll be fine. I'll - I'll bury father, and then I'll turn back first thing in the morning. I can build a fire."

"Okay." He turned away, and began to lead his horse away across the beach. "Goodbye then."

"Goodbye." Her voice was quiet and accepting, and for one, extraordinary moment he wanted to run back to her, and agree to take her with him. He quelled the thought. What could he do with a mortal woman? He hadn't even come to terms with his own identity yet, and until he did he couldn't saddle others with his problems. He wandered into the surf and began to walk through it, on along the beach, leaving Rachel far behind. He had no idea where he was going, and he didn't care. Something inside of him thought about Atholes, and he felt a moment of grief. He hated the feeling; it was weak. It made him recall the old Immortal's instincts about him, and his conviction that his young student was not the warrior he liked to think he was. Was he really a scholar at heart? The thought made him cold, and he turned his head to gaze out at the relentless sea, trying to crush the feelings of sorrow and sentimentality beneath the ruthlessness that he was more comfortable with. He wasn't a scholar, he was a warrior, and he always would be. Wouldn't he? Cold, hard, uncaring. Without remorse. People were afraid of him when he was like that, and that was the way that he wanted things to be. He smiled. What did Atholes know? He couldn't see the future. Even Methos himself couldn't tell what lay ahead of him. Whether the world should come to welcome him, or whether it would one day come to regret that he had ever been born, it was too early to know. Time would tell, as always.