He was in Poland. He knew that for a fact, even though he knew nothing else just now. He had heard voices; a cleaner each morning and some guy who delivered food - and they had both been speaking Polish. He didn't understand the language, didn't know what they were saying, but he recognised the tongue. It reminded him of the Russian he had once tried to speak, to help him with some ancient mission for the Watchers. That made him smile. Hell, saying something like that was probably a major insult to a Pole. Probably the last thing they wanted was to be compared to Russia. The two countries did have something of a flammable history together after all. But to his untrained ear the languages sounded the same - and were equally meaningless to him.
With a frustrated sigh, Joe Dawson rolled over on the mattress that was his bed, and stared at the door of his cell. It was a hotel room, he thought, but it hadn't taken much to convert it to a prison. He remembered reading Some Other Rainbow and a couple of the other accounts of life as a Beirut hostage. It was all becoming clear to him now, and he had only been here a few weeks. A bare room, once used for other reasons. No furniture, just a mattress. Plain, boring walls painted a functional, uninspiring colour. They had even kept him blindfolded those first few days. Now it didn't matter that he had long ago used the blindfold to block the rain from coming through a leaky window; nobody came to see him anymore. Nobody save the guy who brought him food that was, and all he did was leave a tray on the floor by the door and then leave. He didn't speak, no matter what Joe said to him, although he talked readily enough to the cleaning woman on the other side of the door. He was obviously under strict instructions not to risk giving anything away.
Finally tiring of the view seen horizontally, Joe clambered to his feet and went over to the window. He had taken to spending long hours watching through the small square of glass. He had actually managed to climb out of it once, at least most of the way through, before the realisation hit him that there was no way down to the ground. No way save to jump, that was, and he didn't feel quite that bad yet. There was a fair view from the window though, largely of a distant town square, where women wandered around doing the shopping, talking together about any number of subjects that Joe himself could only imagine at. There were street entertainers occasionally too; acrobats mostly. He was too far away to watch their routines with any real admiration, but some of the moves were impressive even when he couldn't really see what was going on. He had tried shouting, but nobody in the town square could hear him, and there didn't seem to be anyone closer than that. He had even considered trying to get one of the local birds to deliver a message, but he was no Birdman Of Alcatraz, and he couldn't even persuade the little feathered morons to come anywhere near him. They sat in a row outside the window and said 'chirp', until he felt like throwing his breakfast at them; but then given that that was probably what they wanted anyway, he had so far managed to resist the temptation.
"Where are you, Mac?" He had muttered the question to the grey skies a hundred times since he had been brought here, and he asked it again now. Where was the rescue committee, the band of Immortals coming to his assistance? Did he really mean so little to them, even after all that they had gone through together? Where was Methos, with his irritating sarcasm and his barbed comments about life the universe and all manner of personal things he wasn't supposed to know about? Where were all his Watcher friends and colleagues, who filled Seacouver to brimming with their investigations and reports on all weird and wonderful events that the rest of the world managed blithely to ignore? Why was he here, dammit, all on his own and so completely cut off? He rested his forehead on the window, staring straight down at the moss-lined roof tiles.
"Where are you, Mac?" he asked again. And as always there was no answer at all.
Duncan MacLeod, Immortal, saviour, warrior and all round good guy lifted his head from its place of rest on his grimy shirt sleeves and blinked up at the waitress.
"I beg your pardon?" he asked her, confusing her with his wide dark eyes.
"I said, would you like a refill?" She held up a coffee pot as though to remind him why he was here, but he shook his head.
"Sandwich? The chef does a very good cherry pie. Or there's some stew left from lunch…"
"No. Thankyou." He tried a smile, but his face muscles felt tight and strained. Probably all the yelling he was doing in his sleep. He managed the smile at last, but the waitress almost winced.
"Just the bill then?" she asked, still sounding cheerful. He nodded.
It was two weeks since he had last seen Methos. Two weeks since he had stormed out of his own apartment in a fit of rage. Sometimes, like right now, he thought that he had been overreacting; then at other times - nights mostly - he was convinced that he had done the right thing. Kronos was still there, with him whenever the lights were turned out; and, increasingly, while they were still on. He heard voices, felt the presence of another Immortal, felt fingers touching him as he slept. He shivered, despite the heat of the day, and the waitress cast him a worried glance. She probably thought he was on something, or had escaped from somewhere. She probably wasn't all that far wrong.
He paid the bill from his dwindling supply of cash - why couldn't he have remembered to take his ATM card with him when he had made his dramatic exit? - and headed out into the street. A motorcycle cop stood by the curb, but he was looking the other way, so MacLeod slipped passed him and headed off down the street. The police were after him. He knew that know. He had seen his face on a hundred newspapers, and on TVs in bars and shop windows. He was sure that half of the people he passed in the street knew who he was, but none of them seemed to care. Probably one of the few good points about being at large in a city. Half the population never noticed you at all, and the other half didn't care either way. He remembered a time when… well, when the world had been different, that was all. He smiled, and strolled down an alleyway. Time to find somewhere to sleep for the night. Somewhere where Methos wouldn't be able to find him, and where, hopefully, Kronos wouldn't be able to either. They were working together, he was sure of it. Methos acted the good guy. He helped out when he thought he was needed, and he pretended to be the Highlander's friend, but deep inside he was the same as he had always been. At the first opportunity he had fallen back in with Kronos. He must have. How else could the long-dead Immortal have found his way so easily into Duncan's head, have gained access to so many of his memories? How else could he be trying, now, to make his return to the land of the living? Methos had to have been helping him, with his new mortal friend to assist him. Peter Kerensky, the living image of the Leader of the Horsemen. Peter Kerensky, who might have been an innocent, a freak or a devil, or a mixture of all three. MacLeod didn't know anymore, and he really didn't care much, either. All that he cared about was finding his mind again… remembering where he had left it maybe. Finding his way back to the time before Kronos had started sitting in on his thoughts. Maybe Joe Dawson could answer some of his questions, but Joe had disappeared. Did that mean that he was in league with the enemy too? Duncan wasn't sure.
In all honesty the only thing that Duncan was sure about was that he was going mad. He didn't want to, but he was, and with no way that he could think of to prevent it, he thought that he might just as well welcome it.
If nothing else, it might just chase Kronos away.
He was just about getting the hang of this, he thought. Maybe. Immortals he could accept, especially after the one or two worryingly drastic demonstrations that Methos had given him. Watchers he could understand too; it only seemed natural that people would want to keep an eye on these virtually indestructible warriors who were walking amongst them. He could understand an Immortal pretending to be a Watcher too; that bit made perfect sense, especially when the Immortal in question was somebody as spectacularly enigmatic as Methos. What he wasn't sure about was the rest of it.
"Five thousand years?" he asked, for at least the fifth time in forty-eight hours.
"Five thousand years," Methos confirmed, yet again.
"Are you sure?"
"Well I was there." Methos paused, frowning. "Most of the time, anyway. I confess to having forgotten large portions of the nineteen-sixties, but I'm told that's quite normal."
"But five thousand years?" That was reaching into his territory; into Ancient History. All that he had studied during the years he had spent at university, this tall, gangly individual with the slightly inadvisable dress sense had lived through. Rome, Greece, Babylon, Egypt - some of it anyway… The possibilities were endless. "Have you ever considered sitting down with a historian, and solving a few mysteries?"
"Frequently." Methos spared him a smile. "But to be honest, it never works. They never believe me, even when I do tell them the truth. And I'm not very good at doing that."
"But surely you must have met so many people?"
"One or two." Methos shrugged, apparently considering the question thoughtfully. "Actually I've been quite a few people as well. Some of them were even famous."
"And Kronos was with you, wasn't he."
This time there was a long pause before the rejoinder. "Sometimes he was, sometimes he wasn't. We were forever saying our farewells, setting off along different paths; but somehow we always ended up together again, somewhere along the line. It was rather comforting, knowing that I might be alone for a century or more, but then suddenly I'd round a corner and he'd be there, grinning at me." Another pause. "Usually he'd be standing over the recently decapitated corpse of some unfortunate miscreant who happened to have crossed his path." A smile. "But I always forgave him for his little transgressions, even when they were anything but little. Like when he refused to prevent the Great Plague sweeping through Europe…"
"You saw all of that?"
"I walked through it all." Methos stared into history. "I saw whole streets wiped out; dead bodies filling the houses, the gutters… And of course the more who died, the more the rats bred, and the more the rats bred, the more the plague was spread…" It sounded like a particularly gruesome children's rhyme. "Kronos was a very talented scientist, always tinkering with this that and the other. He could have come up with a cure, prevented the devastation being as bad as it was." He shrugged. "But he didn't. He didn't understand why he should… Seemed to think that even if he saved them all, the mortals would just kill each other anyway, one way or another."
"Maybe he was right."
"Maybe he was. We'll never know." Another smile, this time infinitely more sad. "I was very angry with him at the time, but somehow I couldn't stay that way for long, not ever. I suppose when you've raped and pillaged and slaughtered your way across several continents over about a thousand years worth of mortal history, there isn't a whole lot you can't forgive."
That was another of the things that Kerensky was still finding it hard to accept, but he put it aside for now. "You miss him don't you."
"Yes. Maybe in a few thousand years, when I've been without him as long as I was with him, I'll stop missing him. Right now that prospect is quite a terrifying one." This time Methos' smile was almost apologetic. "I don't want to feel this way for a few thousand years."
"Then bring him back."
"I can't." Methos smiled, toying with the sword that lay unsheathed on his lap. He had taken to carrying it about with him more or less openly, although nobody ever seemed to notice. He had made not being noticed into an art form, and he been so glad of it in the recent past. Now, though, distant pieces of him were starting to rebel against that. Let people on the streets complain about it; just let them try to take his sword away… They'd soon regret it… His eyes flashed as he thought these new thoughts, and his hand tightened on the handle of his sword. "He really is dead, and I really can't bring him back. I know MacLeod thinks I can, and that I plan on doing just that, but I really have no idea how to even begin. I'm not even sure that I want to." Yes you do, a rebel voice was saying inside him. You do know how to do it, and you do want to. You want to have him beside you again, so that you can go back to the old ways… He almost shuddered, and Kerensky frowned at him.
"Are you alright?"
"Yeah, I'm fine." He knew that he didn't sound at all convincing, but then he didn't particularly care. What he care what anybody thought anymore? Was there anything that he cared about? Really, honestly, truly cared about? The sudden realisation that there was an answer to that question was a blessed relief. Anything to get his mind off these new dark awakenings within him. Yes, there is something that you care about. He smiled. Joe. You care about Joe.
"Where are we going?" It was odd to think that Kerensky trusted him enough to be asking that question only now. If he were in the mortal's shoes, Methos didn't think he would have trusted himself. Not one iota.
"Poland," he said, as confidently as he could.
"Poland." He glanced over his shoulder, surprised that the other man had suddenly fallen behind. "Is there something wrong?"
"No." Kerensky caught up again. "I was just wondering how you were planning on getting that sword through airport security."
"So why exactly are we going to Poland?" And, Kerensky's brain filled in, why did I wait until we were flying over Germany before I asked that question?
"It's the last place you were in before you were in Seacouver."
"So you were back home such a short time before you were grabbed, I thought it might have been somebody in Poland who first saw you, and realised what you were." Oops, bad choice of words. "I mean, who you look like."
"Isn't that rather a tenuous theory?"
"Do you have a better one?"
"Well then." Methos settled himself back into his seat. He liked aeroplanes. So much more convenient than six weeks of sea travel followed by a long horse ride. "Besides, we're not wanted by the police in Poland. Well actually there is that business of freeing Caspari, but I'm hoping that the Eastern Europeans still aren't talking to each other very much. Bucharest is a long way from Poland."
"You're just full of reassurances, aren't you." There was enough bitterness in Kerensky's tone to make Methos glance across at him in surprise.
"Once we've landed," he said, changing the subject with his usual skill in avoiding the point, "we'll head for the places you went to, when you were here."
"Isn't that rather like waving a mouse at a cat?"
"I certainly hope so." The Immortal's face was entirely unreadable, which might have been worrying, had Kerensky not been worrying about rather too much already. "They'll come after us ready to pounce, and then we'll know who they are."
"Presumably just before they kill us."
Methos glanced across at him. There were shadows in his eyes, and the faintest echo of a cruel smile on his lips; but only for a second. Almost immediately they were gone.
"I've lived for a long time, Peter. I'm not planning to end it all in some grotty little back street somewhere. Survival is my middle name."
"Well it's not mine. The most dangerous thing I've ever done is edge above the speed limit when there's a policeman watching."
"Lucky you." Methos actually sounded as though he meant it, which was new. It was probably the first time he had sounded at all sincere since they'd met. Spending time with him was starting to make Kerensky think that there were five or six Methoses, all together in the same body, all working to different agendas and facing life from different directions. He couldn't figure any of them out, but the one thing he was sure of were those agendas. They were like a spider's web criss-crossing through everything, and Kerensky was beginning to feel more and more like a fly trapped right in the middle of it. The only thing that kept him along on this ride was the vague certainty that Methos was just as trapped by it all as he was. The Immortal didn't seem to know the truth about his identity any more than Peter himself did.
Which shouldn't have been at all reassuring, but was.
"Do you suppose they know we're coming?" he asked eventually, more as a way of untwisting his mind from all the knots he was tying it in, than through any real wish to know the answer to the question. Methos shrugged.
"Possibly. I hadn't really thought about how deep their spy network might be."
"Then we could be flying right into the middle of our own trap."
"Yep." Methos flashed him a bright grin that belonged to the thirty year-old body he resided in, far more than it belonged to the five thousand year-old man that he was in reality. That might even have been real innocence that flashed in his eyes. "But when I was still only a few hundred years older than you are now, I started to realise there are some things you just can't guard against. It goes against what I am now - who I am now - but I'm trying my best not to worry about it." He turned to stare out of the window, his hands tightening slightly on the armrests of his seat. Kerensky closed his eyes, and tried not to worry about it all either.
And thought instead about what the people sitting behind them were thinking about the conversation that they must have overheard.
"Will that be smoking or non-smoking, sir?" The woman in the crisp white uniform smiled patiently at him whilst he tried to remember what she had just asked. It came to him at last, and he smiled back.
"Certainly sir." She tapped away at her keyboard, made no comment about the fact that the name on his passport was Claude Reynard when he had just handed her a credit card belonging to a Phillippe Marchant, and then smiled again. "Your ticket, sir."
"Thankyou." He took it from her, managed another smile, and then navigated his way through the collection of people anxious to offer to carry his non-existent luggage. All that he had brought with him was his sword, carefully concealed in a suitcase built for him in the seventies by an overly paranoid LSD freak, convinced that the FBI were after his hide. He - Gavin, MacLeod seemed to remember his name had been - had built the suitcase so that the sword would remain more or less undetectable, unless subjected to the most rigorous of security checks. MacLeod had been grateful, although amused by the suggestion that he would ever feel the need to use it. Gavin had muttered something about 'Them', and how 'They' would force him into using it one day. MacLeod had laughed. Now he was on a plane bound for Eastern Europe, holding the very same suitcase, desperately relieved that he had accepted it that cold, wintry morning back in seventy-six. Gavin was long gone of course. The FBI had finally caught up with him, and had shot him dead in his sleep back in eighty-four. Or had that been a dream?
"Please fasten your safety belts, ladies and gentlemen. We will be taking off shortly." The practised tones of the air stewardess made Duncan jump. He fastened his safety belt obediently, although he had no real need for it. It would hardly prevent him from getting his head cut off, after all. There had been that guy, in New York, who had been beheaded during a car crash when his safety belt had caught around his neck… He'd been a pre-Immortal too, thereby earning for himself one of the shortest careers as an Immortal thus far recorded by the Watchers.
"Are we taking a trip?" Kronos, jaunty as ever, was no longer waiting for MacLeod to go to sleep before he hopped into the other Immortal's subconscious. He was standing in the aisle, grinning, his scar livid against his skin. "Somewhere exciting?"
"Go away. You're dead." MacLeod folded his arms, studiously ignoring the people sitting on the other side of the aisle. They thought he was speaking to them. He didn't care.
"You've got me there." Kronos shrugged. "Still, being dead is a good career move, or so I'm told. Look what it did to Beethoven and Van Gogh. Who gave a damn about them when they were alive? I certainly didn't. I met Van Gogh once. Nutty bastard, he was. Mad as a march hare. Just like you." He grinned again. "What's it like being mad?"
"I told you to leave." MacLeod turned away, staring across the empty seat between him and the window. Just his luck to have an empty seat beside him. Somewhere for his dead shadow to surreptitiously sit, and annoy him all the way to Poland.
"Why are we going to Poland?" As though responding to MacLeod's thoughts - which he undoubtedly was - Kronos reappeared in the empty seat. MacLeod ignored him. Since when had Kronos ceased to be an evil genius and instead become so desperately annoying, anyway?
"I don't know why," the Highlander said at length. "I just decided that I wanted to go there."
"Ah." Kronos gave a knowing nod. "Like there was somebody else in your head, giving you ideas and making decisions."
MacLeod cast him a frustrated look. These last few days Kronos seemed to know more about the inner workings of the Highlander's mind than Duncan himself did. The Leader of the Horsemen laughed, and this time there was all of his usual madness and cruelty in his humour. It showed in his face and it shone in his eyes, and MacLeod felt his skin go cold.
"See? You really are going mad."
"I'm not." He spoke the words through his teeth, eyes cast down, desperate this time for the other passengers not to overhear his conversation. He didn't want to arrive in Poland only to be committed immediately upon leaving the aeroplane.
"Oh but you are, MacLeod." Kronos' voice was like ice; soft, insinuating ice, that oozed its way into Duncan's hearing. "Going or already gone, it doesn't matter. Either way you're mine."
"What do mean, I'm yours?" MacLeod turned to look at him, but Kronos was smirking at him. His scar had gone, and his clothes and hair had changed. He was Kronos no longer, and instead was Peter Kerensky - innocent, wide-eyed, friendly - and with the face of the devil. He reached over and touched MacLeod's cheek with a gentle, stroking finger.
"You know what I mean," he said softly, and smiled.
Then he vanished, and the engines burst into life.
Gdansk was… well, Gdansk. It looked much as it always had, in Methos' eyes at least. He couldn't remember the last time he had been there. Some time during the Second World War, he fancied. He remembered columns of armoured cars moving slowly through the streets, and spirited locals with no sense of self-preservation throwing home-made hand grenades at marching soldiers. He saw no soldiers today, only people hurrying to and from places, and cars roaring to each other along the road.
"This was the last place we visited before going on to Seacouver." Kerensky stifled a yawn, trying not to look jetlagged, and pointed along the waterfront. "I remember standing there and watching some birds fly past." He shrugged. "Is this really helping?"
"Do you have any better ideas?" They wandered over to the place in question, and a motley collection of birds dutifully flew by. Snatches of Polish conversation floated to Methos on the breeze. He heard people talking about the news, about the weather, about the latest films to come to the local cinemas… nothing inspiring, nothing that suggested the presence of some mysterious, unidentified enemy. He sighed. This really was getting them nowhere. He thought about his hotel room, a nice long bath, and a drink in the bar. They didn't do that many types of beer at the hotel, but he was happy to sample all of the available ones, so that he'd know which one to order next time. It might be a good way to pass the evening.
"How about heading back?" he asked, turning to look at Peter. The mortal was staring at a group of men who were standing just behind them. He looked pale. Methos turned the rest of the way round.
"Hello," the nearest of the men said, speaking in accented English. He was holding a gun, pointed straight at Kerensky's chest. "Would you like to come with us, please?"
"Do we have any choice?" Methos asked. The man smiled at him, his eyes shining in the light coming over the water.
"Of course. You can die." His smile broadened for a second, then vanished as though somewhere a switch had been pressed. "And you will not think about drawing your sword, or a good deal of passers-by might also end up dead." The smile came back out again. "This way."
"Are we going to see Joe Dawson?" Without thinking, Methos blurted out the question, aware too late that it wasn't always a good idea to show how much you knew. The man glanced back at him as the group began to usher their prisoners towards a large, black van with smoked glass windows.
"Maybe, eventually. It's not up to me."
"Then who is it up to?"
"Somebody else." He was pushed into the van, Peter after him, and then the doors slid shut. Inside the van they were in darkness. Methos couldn't see any of the others sitting around him, but he knew that they were there. He could hear them, sense them, feel them as they moved. The van's engine started up, and a low, steady vibration ran through the floor. They began to move.
"Is this part of the plan?" Kerensky asked. He sounded almost bitter. Methos stared into the darkness. He had been high on adrenalin before; had almost believed that he was his old self again, and that he could handle anything that came their way - that he was unafraid and unbeatable and ready to take on the world. Right now he felt cut off and afraid. He was Methos, the man who hid from trouble; the man who waited in the cupboard under the stairs until anything remotely exciting had passed him by. What the hell had he been thinking of? This was MacLeod's territory. On the other hand…
"Yeah," he said, his voice filled with confidence, brimming with challenges and self-assurance. "This is exactly the plan."
The chatter of voices on the other side of the door sounded louder, almost excited. Joe wished that he could understand them, so that he at least knew what it was that they were excited about. Maybe the local supermarket was doing a half price offer on suspiciously flavoured chicken soup, the staple part of his diet. Maybe today was the day of his execution. Maybe it was the shrill-voiced cleaning woman's birthday. He heard footsteps mingling with the chatter, heard the clatter of dishes, and then the anxious sweep, sweep, sweep of the hard-bristled broom that the cleaner was fond of shaking at him whenever she opened his door. He stood up, moving over to the window, from where he could see a good deal of the room next to his when somebody opened the door of his cell. Not that there was much chance of escape, but he'd take what chance there was.
The scrape of the key in the door lock alerted him, and he edged nonchalantly into the best position. If they were indeed in some kind of an apartment as he suspected, the large blue door just visible to him from here stood the most likely chance of being the beginning of the way out. All that he had to do was run faster than two, possibly armed, two-legged people. He didn't have his stick with him, which cut down his chances even more; but you never knew. Maybe he'd make it.
The door swung open rather more slowly than before. Joe frowned, surprised to find that the room beyond his was in darkness. He could make out nothing at all, save the shadowy shape of what he took to be the cleaning lady, standing someway back. A lone figure stood in the doorway, gun in hand.
"Good morning, Mr Dawson." He didn't recognise the voice. It sounded as though it might have been Polish, but might just as easily have belonged to someone originating from any one of half a dozen Eastern European countries that Joe knew nothing about. The accent was slight, as though the stranger had been speaking English for a long time, and the only hint that it was not his first language came from the slight emphasis on certain vowels. Joe wished that he had taken more notice of the Watcher programme directed at multi-lingualism, instead of hanging about with Duncan MacLeod and having adventures. Maybe then he'd be ready for the next millennium, instead of knowing no more about the country he currently found himself in than he had at the height of the Cold War.
"Who are you?" He took a step forward, trying to make out some details in the bad light, but the gun in the other man's hand jumped up to point straight at him.
"Now now, Mr Dawson. Let's not get excited, shall we. My name is unimportant." He sounded, Joe couldn't help thinking, like some kind of cut-price Bond bad guy.
"Are you in charge of this operation?"
The man laughed, a light, slightly unpleasant laugh that made Joe feel strangely cold. "Why would you ask me that?"
"Because I don't know who you are, pal, but I've had just about enough of being locked up in here on my own, with nobody to talk to but a bunch of pigeons. I want some answers." He hobbled forward a few steps. "Why am I being kept here? Are you people Immortals?" His host laughed again.
"You're right, Mr Dawson." A pause. "You don't know who we are. So don't push it." He seemed to be smiling, although he was far too framed in shadow for Joe to know for sure.
"Then why don't you tell me." He walked forward a few more steps, wishing that he had his cane. He felt stiff after having had so little room to move about in these past weeks. Was it weeks? He certainly thought so.
"We don't have to tell you anything, Mr Dawson. In fact we've already told you a lot more than we need." Another short burst of that cold, unpleasant laughter. The gun jerked in the shadowy hand. "Now get back against the wall."
"No." Joe stared hard at the place where he thought the other man's eyes most likely to be. There was a pause, a laugh, something like a shrug.
"Very well." The gun coughed, a quiet sound not at all like a cough. Something hard and heavy caught Joe in the chest and he fell backwards. The mattress met him, cradling him, and he stared up at the ceiling. Suddenly the room seemed very dark, very out of focus. He struggled to move, but his body no longer seemed prepared to do his bidding. This was crazy. He couldn't die now, could he? Here in some forgotten room in a foreign country, when he still didn't know what the hell was going on, or why? That just wasn't fair. He felt his eyes closing, heard the last echoes of other peoples' voices fading away. He thought of Duncan MacLeod, and wondered where the hell he was.
And then everything went black.
The van jerked to a halt, knocking Methos and most of his guards off balance. The Immortal was treated to the very satisfying sight of one of the enemy rolling head over heels across the floor as the doors slid open, once more flooding the back of the van with light. Everybody blinked. It was quite a shock to suddenly be so lit up, and it took Methos a moment to realise that the light itself was not natural. Wherever they were they were being deliberately blinded by a powerful beam that was being shone into the van. He tried to shield his eyes, but hands grabbed his arms. He felt one hand being dragged forward, twisted to expose the tattoo on his inner wrist. He tried to struggle, but something hard and heavy; a rifle by the feel of it, slammed into his ribs and forced him into a temporary obedience. The pain faded slowly.
"Methos?" Kerensky's voice sounded strong. The mortal never ceased to surprise the old Immortal. One minute he was sounding the voice of reason, the next he was in the thick of the action without seeming to break sweat. There was the sound of footsteps, a shout in some language that Methos translated without even wondering which it had been, and then the hot white beams of light cut out. A very average-sized man dressed in a suit walked over to the van. He had a clipped, precise stride, and when he spoke he had a similarly clipped, precise method of speech. His accent was German, his person somewhat nondescript.
"Good day. I hope that your journey here was not too unpleasant?"
"Yeah, yeah, yeah." Methos' tone of voice told him in no uncertain terms to cut to the chase. "Who the hell are you, and what are we doing here?"
"You're angry." Well that was the understatement of the decade, Methos thought, but he kept his views to himself, instead folding his arms.
"You're not Immortals, and I'm betting that you're not Watchers. So why the interest in my mark?"
"Oh, this and that." An expansive, very vague gesture made Methos fume all the more. "I was merely looking to see if you really are a member of the illustrious Watcher organisation. As for who we are and why we're all here… I should have thought you would have guessed all of that yourselves by now. We sent Mr Kerensky here to meet with you, we orchestrated your little get together. You met rather sooner than expected, but that was no problem for us." He smiled, his whole manner reasonable and ultra-polite. "It would appear that his arrival on the scene has most certainly had the effect that we were hoping for. Wouldn't you say?"
"You killed Anna." There was no malice in the sentence. Methos glanced over at Kerensky. He was standing some yards away, the guards not bothering to hold him. His eyes were fixed intently on this respectably suited stranger, something cold and blue glittering so familiarly from the depths of his gaze.
"Peter…" Methos' tone was filled with warning, but Kerensky ignored him. Instead he stepped forward, the hint of a frown crossing his forehead. He seemed to be trying to understand something, to make something clear in his mind.
"You. Your people. You murdered Anna, didn't you." He shook his head. "Why? What could she possibly have done to you? She never hurt anybody, in her whole life." He took another step forward. So far nobody had moved to stop him. The nondescript German in the perfectly crease-less suit showed not so much as a flicker of emotion. "She harmless. A vegetarian. She never so much as swatted a fly in the whole time that I knew her. Why did you have to kill her?"
"She was unimportant; merely a way of consolidating our hold over you and your immortal acquaintances." The German gave a little shrug. "A step in bringing you here, to us, with Mr Methos."
"Unimportant?" Peter's voice was barely more than a whisper. He cocked his head on one side, apparently trying the word out, almost as though he had never heard it before. "Unimportant?" He stepped forward, reaching out with his right hand, and gripped the lapels of that perfect, flawless suit. His fingers tightened their hold until his knuckles went white.
"Peter!" Methos stepped forward, seeing the other men in the room as they levelled their guns at his companion. "Let go!"
"Why?" Peter's voice was almost flat, the emotion gone from it. Methos gently prised open his fist, letting their host take a step back.
"Because if you don't they'll kill you." The old Immortal spoke so quietly that he knew only Kerensky could hear. "And I don't want that. Understand?"
"Am I a part of your game too?" Peter's pale blue eyes swivelled to look at him, burning at him with all the fire that he knew so well. His heart missed a beat.
"If there's a game being played here, I'm not the one playing it. We have to go along with these people, and see what they're after; who they are, why they're doing this. There's no sense in getting yourself killed just yet." Gently, slowly, he reached out, taking Peter's shoulders in his hands. It still hurt to stare into those eyes, no matter how much time he spent telling himself that this man was not his brother. "Focus. I promise you that I haven't forgotten about Anna. This just isn't the time."
"How touching. A little scene of unity and mutual support." The German pushed them apart with an easy force that he did not look like he possessed. "You like to sound in control, Mr Methos--"
"It's just Methos." The old Immortal did not much care how these people came to know who he was - they seemed to know plenty else besides, so that was of minor concern. All that he cared about right now was Joe Dawson. "And I don't care about your posturing or your dramatic speeches. We're here, you've got us. Now where's Joe?"
"Ah yes. Mr Dawson." The immaculately-suited man gave a small smile and a shrug. "Who can tell? It's a big city. After what happened to Martin Cheng so recently, anything at all could have befallen the good Mr Dawson. These Watchers do get themselves into the most terrible scrapes, you know."
"If you've killed him, I swear I'll kill you myself." Methos was aware that his own threats counted for almost nothing after the speech he had just given Kerensky, but he had to say something. His host laughed, apparently delighted by this outburst. He reached out, his right hand gripping that of Methos, twisting it to bring the Watcher tattoo into clear view. The movement made his own tattoo, on his own right wrist, stand out suddenly against his pale skin. It was blood red, an upside-down Watcher symbol pierced by a sword.
"You're a Watcher?" Methos stared at the tattoo, trying to remember if he had ever seen anything like it before. It rang no bells. His host laughed lightly, his eyes shining with something beyond mere mirth.
"No, Mr--" A smile. "Sorry. Methos. I'm a member of an entirely different organisation as it happens. We have nothing but the smallest link with the Watchers themselves."
"And what do you want with us? Why send Peter to us, why go out of your way to drive Duncan MacLeod mad? What are you getting out of all this?"
"What am I getting out of all this?" The other man laughed at him, clearly amused. "You overestimate my rôle I'm afraid. All that I get out of it is another pat on the head. Another 'job well done'. It's people higher up the chain of command who stand to actually gain something here." He shrugged. "Still, that's not for me to explain." He drew his gun, pressing it against the old man's chest. "Now perhaps you'd agree to come along with me for a little while. There's somebody I'd like you to meet."
"And if I refuse?"
Another laugh answered him. "Do you know?" his host asked him, eyes glinting curiously in the light. "I really couldn't give a damn." And he fired his gun. There was a muffled sound, and Methos felt a sharp, sudden pain in his chest. He looked down, seeing the feathered tip of a tranquilliser dart sticking out of his shirt. His knees buckled. The last thing that he was really aware of before he lost consciousness was a second shot, and the muffled thud of Peter Kerensky hitting the floor.
So Methos and Kerensky were in Poland as well. Standing in the lobby of the grimmest, smallest, cheapest hotel in the whole of Gdansk, MacLeod stared down at the register. Methos had signed in as Adam Pierson, naturally enough, and Kerensky was not using any kind of alias at all. It was as if they had wanted to be found, although not, he assumed, by him. He wondered if they were leaving a trail for Kronos to follow, but that didn't make any sense. Kerensky was Kronos, wasn't he?
"Your key," the desk attendant told him, just in case he wasn't sure what the metal object was. Duncan nodded at him and took it, heading up the stairs to his room. Fifty-eight didn't feel especially lucky, but the only other room available had been thirteen, and in his current frame of mind he hadn't thought much of that. He unlocked the door with hands that threatened to shake too much, then threw his suitcase down on the bed and threw himself after it. The bed creaked alarmingly, but he ignored it.
"What a dump." Kronos was back to full Horseman mode, leather, war paint and all. He was even wearing the old black and silver armour, his heavy sword hanging at his side. There was blood on his hands, and it was splashed on his clothes. "I slept in better places than this when I only had the sand for a bed. Slit a nomad up the middle, makes a great blanket." He grinned at Duncan, and his eyes flashed. "Of course, I have Tessa to keep me warm these days." He whistled appreciatively. "You should see how she-- Oh, but of course you know already, don't you. She used to do it all with you."
"Get lost." MacLeod was too tired even to hallucinate properly. Kronos looked almost put out.
"You know, you're really no fun anymore."
"Tell me about it." The Highlander yawned, closing his eyes. When he opened them again, Kronos was still there, sharpening his sword on a large whetstone. "What do you want?"
"I don't want anything. I'm dead, my needs are minimal." He threw the whetstone aside and it promptly vanished. "You think I'm working with Methos, don't you. That I'm going to come back to life soon."
"I know that's what you're doing." MacLeod closed his eyes again, stifling a yawn. "Don't try to make out that it isn't."
"Why should I want to do anything of the sort?" Kronos wandered closer, his movements casual. He reached out with his sword, and MacLeod felt the cold metal touch of the weapon against his neck. His eyes snapped open. Kronos grinned at him. "Methos is my brother. He belongs to me. Do you think I like seeing you together, laughing, enjoying life; whilst I'm dead and cold and buried underground? Do you think I like seeing him wander around the streets with somebody who appears to be wearing my body? Oh no MacLeod. I don't like it one little bit, and if I can help to drive a wedge - or a sword - between my brother and his little white knight of a highlander, I'll do it gladly." His smile fluttered, the shadows dancing their way through his eyes. "But what do you care? You hate Methos now, don't you. You came here to kill him."
"I did?" MacLeod frowned. His head hurt, and the more he looked at Kronos, the worse the pain became. "I don't remember that."
"Don't be silly." Kronos had changed his tone quite abruptly, and he sat down on the bed beside the Highlander, smiling all the while. He put his sword down, placing a gentle hand on MacLeod's forehead. His hand was cool and soothing, and Duncan closed his eyes, the pain building to a crescendo inside his skull. When Kronos spoke again his voice had changed, and his body with it. Duncan did not need to open his eyes to know that the Horseman had gone, and that his place had been taken by Tessa.
"You came here to kill Methos," she told him, her voice filled with the echo of her wonderful laughter. "You said that you'd do it for me. Don't you remember how he hurt me, Duncan? Don't you remember how he said all of those things, how he insulted me. You remember how you swore that you'd take his head for making me cry?"
"I… remember." Duncan frowned, but she smoothed it away with her gentle touch. "I came to Gdansk to kill Methos. I - I have to find him."
"Not now Duncan. Sleep now. You can find him later." There was a smile in her voice, and Duncan found himself nodding.
"Yeah. I am pretty tired." He let out a deep sigh, feeling the pain in his head fade away. "I think I'll get some sleep now."
"Of course. And when you wake up you'll go to find Methos. And you'll kill him."
"Yeah. When I wake up…" It was hard to speak, and he could feel the delicious arms of sleep opening wide to welcome him. "When I wake up… Methos is a dead man."
Methos awoke feeling stiff. Gongs echoed inside his head, leaving his mind in a confused place somewhere between the dinner gongs of early twentieth century England, and the start of a film by the Rank Organisation. He blinked, managing to convince himself that he was in the middle of neither. A white ceiling stared back at him as he finally managed to coax his eyes into staying open. As ceilings went it was no better or worse than many others he had awoken to find himself staring at, but he rolled over anyway. He preferred to look at the world when he was the right way up.
He was in what seemed to be a very basic, simple building, old in style but very recently built. It had the look of a simplistic country house, and the room in which he now found himself was very much in keeping; decorated in plain colours, with a minimum of furnishings and a single window. There was a mattress on the floor, holding a familiar, bearded man in a crumpled, pale grey suit. He was unconscious. Methos knelt beside him, giving him a good shake.
"Ow. Get off." The sleepy voice of the American made the old Immortal grin.
"Joe? Joe, wake up dammit."
"Urgh." Dawson pronounced the sound with great care. He opened one eye, stared up at Methos, and then groaned again. The eye closed.
"Joe…" Methos shook him and the mortal sighed, finally opening both eyes.
"What do you want?"
"Oh well that's a nice way to greet the rescue party." Sitting back on his heels, Methos looked grumpy. Joe sat up straight.
"Rescue party?" He glanced about in sudden hope, then sighed. "If you're the rescue party, why's the door shut?"
"Even rescue parties have their limits." The old Immortal scowled at him. "I came all the way to Gdansk looking for you, Joe. The least you could do is look grateful."
"I'll look grateful when you find us a way out of here." Joe leaned forward, pulling the small feathered dart out of his companion's chest and waving it meaningfully. "I just hope we're still in Gdansk. They must have shot me with one of these babies to bring me here, so maybe they don't want us to know where we are. This sure isn't the place they've been keeping me in so far."
"Then let's take a look around." Methos went over to the window, peering out carefully in case of guards. It was growing dark, and there was no one in sight. Beyond the window he could see the tips of hills and mountains, and the glint of sun on water. They seemed to be in a mountainous region, with scenery that was almost picturesque, familiar in an odd sort of way. "We're not in the city anymore," he observed. Joe joined him in examining their new surroundings.
"Baltic Heights?" he asked, trying to remember something of basic Geography. His companion nodded.
"And no sign of Mac." Dawson sighed, lowering himself down onto the room's sole chair, a chunky, hand-made wooden affair, with legs of decidedly differing lengths. It wobbled alarmingly, but seemed solid enough. "How'd you get separated?"
"Easy enough. He went nuts back in Seacouver and went off on his own after threatening to take my head." Methos sounded morose. "I haven't seen him since the day we lost you. It's Peter that I'm worried about."
"You brought him with you? A mortal civilian?" Joe shook his head. "Methos, I know it's hard for--"
"It's not that Joe." Methos' tone of voice brooked no argument, and the Watcher fell silent. "I couldn't leave him behind. Because of me… well, and one or two other things… we're wanted by the police in Seacouver, and very likely further afield as well. Our hosts murdered Peter's sister-in-law, and the police think we did it. It wasn't pretty." He shrugged, looking oddly lost and young. "And now goodness knows what's happened to him."
"I'm sure he's alright." The platitude sounded flat, and Joe did not bother trying anything else. "It's us that I'm worried about right now. We don't even begin to know who we're up against here, or what on Earth they think they're going to accomplish by setting all of this up."
"Oh. Yeah." Methos was staring into space, clearly remembering things. "I meant to ask you… one of them had a tattoo." He gestured vaguely to his own. "Like this, but red. Upside down."
"With a sword through it?" Joe sounded incredulous, almost excited, and Methos nodded.
"Yeah. You know them?"
"I've heard of them. That's all." The Watcher whistled under his breath, shaking his head in disbelief. "They call themselves the Involution. Thousands of years ago they were Watchers, part of the main organisation, but they split off at a tangent due to a conflict of beliefs. The Involution believe that our policy of non-intervention is wrong. They want to get involved in the affairs of the Immortals - in fact they go out of their way to get involved. Hence the name. They've always supported the fight of the evil Immortals. From time to time they choose one, and do what they can to set him or her on their way to being the One. They're known for using all manner of unpleasant methods. Brainwashing, hypnosis, all that sort of thing. We - that is the Watchers - tried to wipe them out a few decades back. They hid in Eastern Europe where we couldn't get at them. They killed off most of our organisation on this side of the Iron Curtain, and when the curtain itself went down and we tried to get a line on them again…" He shrugged. "Nada." There was a long pause. "I suppose I should have thought of it when you found Cheng with his tattoo cut out. That used to be a trademark of theirs. I just never gave it a thought…"
"It would have saved a whole lot of trouble if you had." Methos' tone was dark. Joe glared at him.
"You're a Watcher too, Adam. You had access to the same books I did. I read about the Involution, so why didn't you?"
"I had more important things on my mind. Like staying alive." He sat down on the end of the mattress, hugging his knees. "I seem to have let that slip just recently."
"Yeah, well you're forgiven anyway. To be honest I never even believed in the Involution. I always thought it was all a myth."
"You though I was a myth, Joe. Your record there isn't great." The Immortal glanced up and flashed him a small smile. "At least this might explain what's been happening to MacLeod. They could have got hold of him and hypnotised him. He wouldn't remember anything about it, but some kind of concealed programming…"
"True." Joe nodded his agreement. "They could have told him to mistrust you, and to start acting irrationally."
"And it might explain some of the things Peter said too, about suddenly getting a notion to move to Seacouver. He wasn't sure why he took that trip to Poland a few weeks back too, but I'd bet that that was also their doing."
"Makes sense." Joe was warming to their theme. "The Involution is very autocratic, and they'd need the word of their leader before they could initiate an operation like this one." He frowned, clearly struggling to remember something. "Brenner, I think his name is. Jason Brenner. He never leaves his house, or so they say; so he'd never have gone all the way to the States, and he probably wanted to see Kerensky for himself. Rumour has it that the man's a total nut. He practically lives in an oxygen tent, disinfects everything before he touches it. He's determined to live forever - to outlive the Game." He shrugged. "Mad as they come."
"Oh great. So now we have to fight a madman before we can get out of this." Methos shook his head, looking weary. "I should have stayed in Seacouver. Getting arrested for murder would have been the easy way out."
"Of course it would." Joe's tone was deeply sarcastic. "And I'm sure that a highly organised and violence-led secret society would never have been able to get to you in prison. After all, it's not as if they've managed to do much so far, is it? Only drive Duncan MacLeod insane, turn him against one of his best friends… Convince the pair of you that Kronos is on the verge of returning to the land of the living… Kidnap the pair of us and spirit us away to some hidey-hole in the middle of nowhere…"
"Point taken." Methos spoke heavily, forcefully, emphasising the words with an almost unpleasant edge. He stretched, looking about the room apparently with little hope. "I'm too old for this." Joe laughed at him, and he glared. Real venom blazed for a second in his eyes, but it vanished almost instantly. "I mean it Joe. I feel… I don't know. I just don't feel like myself. These past couple of weeks…"
"What?" Concern showed in the mortal's face, but Methos turned away. He rose to his feet and went back to the window, staring morosely at the beautiful scenery.
"Nothing." He spoke as though he did not want to be questioned, but Joe was not in the mood to take no for an answer.
"Adam, is there something wrong?"
Methos didn't answer. He didn't like the tone of Joe's voice; the clear undercurrent of worry. Whenever Joe called him by his alias - at least when they were alone - it was usually because he was playing the rôle of elder statesman, acting up to the illusion cast by the apparent difference in their ages. Sometimes Methos appreciated it. It had, after all, been a long time since he had been in the company of someone older than him, somebody that he could honestly turn to for advice. At this moment though, Joe's presence was almost an irritation. The Immortal stared down at his hands, which were beginning to hurt. He was gripping the edge of the windowsill, and he could see blood beginning to run between his fingers.
"Adam?" Joe was behind him now, reaching out for him, laying a gentle hand on his shoulder. Methos whirled around, almost knocking the other man over. Joe was treated to a mad flash of something in his companion's eyes. "Methos?"
Methos hesitated, breathing hard, then grinned. His eyes glittered. He held up his hands, letting Joe see the blood running down his palms. "It hurts," he said, sounding almost excited. He grinned again, nodding hard. "Yeah. It does. Really hurts. I - I suppose I should curl up in a corner and cry. That's what Adam would do isn't it." Disgust had crept into his voice. "He'd act the coward like he always does, and hide in his corner until the rest of the world went away and left him alone." The grin came back out for an encore as the Immortal took a couple of steps towards Joe. Dawson almost flinched away, but Methos' touch was surprisingly gentle as he reached out with one, bloodstained finger and painted a line in red down the Watcher's cheek. "War paint," he said, and looked pleased.
"Er… Methos? Are you feeling alright?" Joe wanted to reach out to the other man, but he wasn't sure that he dared. Methos laughed, a dark, echoing laugh that made the Watcher's blood run cold.
"Oh I'm just fine Joe. I feel better than I have in years." He stared down at his hands again, and when he looked back up at his friend his face had gone pale. The fire had gone from his eyes and for one tiny second there was fear there instead; real fear, of a very basic kind. "Joe?" he said, his voice showing the slightest sign of a quiver. Dawson instinctively stepped towards him, helping him back to the mattress to sit down.
"Are you okay?" he asked, staring deep into the other man's eyes. What he saw there he didn't like; but this time it had nothing to do with fire and brimstone.
"No." Methos blinked at him, the thousands of years of life and cynicism and hard-won experience fading rapidly away into the distance. "I think they got to me too Joe. I think I'm losing my mind."
From the outside it seemed normal. One house, a little larger than those usually found in the mountains. It had walls of white and a roof of blue slate, and the garden was a mass of trees and plants. All were neat, meticulously trimmed, even the grass itself mown into symmetrical obedience. Almost as if one tiny blade growing askew would be an unforgivable transgression.
Inside, the house was white. The floors were white, the ceilings white, the walls long slashes of unbroken sterile colour. There were few paintings, and those that were allowed to hang were simple splashes of red and blue. No detail, no intricacy, no pastel shades. They hung in simple, square black frames; black to match the furniture. The chairs and tables were simplistic and minimalist, basic to a very real degree. They stood out in stark contrast against the white of their surroundings, harsh both in colour and in design. There was no comfort in the chairs, no chance to relax or recline. They merely stood, neat and straight-backed, in a circle around the centre-point of the whole of the ground floor; a sculpture, neatly fashioned out of smooth, grey concrete. It was an abstract, a swirl of curves and holes, with a simple brass plaque at the base announcing the name of the artist, and the name of the piece; Involution, by Joel Brenner.
"Mr Brenner?" The voice shattered the peace of the room, breaking the simple silence of its vast emptiness. A single, surgically masked figure entered, staring about at the great and bleak space that made up the entire ground floor. "Mr Brenner?"
"There is no need to shout." The voice was quiet, but filled with a firm and unshakeable authority. Immediately the man in the room began brushing at his clothes, trying to straighten himself up. Even as he made these instinctive attempts to tidy himself he heard the soft sound of a descending lift. He drew himself up to attention.
"Ah. It's Yitzak." The concealed doors of the lift slid open, and a wheelchair rolled out into the room. It was a large affair, loaded down with medical monitoring equipment and tanks of oxygen. Its great, almost futuristic bulk dwarfed the man who rode inside. "And what do you have for me today?"
"A report, sir." Yitzak did not act as though the man in the wheelchair was small, even though he himself was a good foot taller than his commander. "Both Methos and Dawson are secure in the lodge, and Kerensky is at large as ordered. He should be with MacLeod at any moment."
"Excellent." The little old man in the chair smiled, nodding his head in obvious pleasure. "I'm pleased with you, Yitzak. You've done good work."
"Thankyou sir." Yitzak did not seem entirely comfortable, as though he were anxious to receive his orders to leave. Instead Brenner came closer, one slight movement of a tattooed wrist ordering the onboard computer to edge the chair a few feet forward.
"You are nervous, Yitzak," he said, his voice hard and clipped. "You wish to be somewhere else?"
"No! No sir, not at all. I just… want to be there when the next step begins. That's all." The man offered his CO a shaky smile. Brenner nodded.
"You should be there, Yitzak. You should. It's a shame that you won't be." Still smiling he reached into the side of his chair and pulled out a small gun. It was black, in perfect keeping with the room's other accessories. Yitzak stared at him, uncomprehending.
"Sir?" he asked. Brenner smiled at him.
"Call it fate, Yitzak. Call it hard luck. I don't really care." He levelled the gun at his underling. "Personally I call it natural selection." The gun fired.
"W-why?" Remaining on his feet only through sheer power of will, Yitzak tried to look Brenner in the eyes. Cold blue steel stared back at him, and even now he could not hold out against such force. He turned his eyes away, and Brenner laughed.
"Because you took too long," he said simply, and turned his chair away, heading back into the lift. Yitzak watched him go, his dying eyes struggling to focus on the departing wheelchair. He saw the lift doors close, felt the silence fall. He collapsed to the ground in a heap.
In the lift, Brenner thumbed a control on the arm of his chair and leant towards a concealed speaker positioned just beside him. "Downstairs," he said, his voice still firmly controlled. "There's a mess. Remove it."
"Yes sir." The voice that came in response to his order showed no emotion, no surprise. "Will you be wanting anything else tonight, sir?"
"No thankyou." The lift came to a halt, and Brenner eased his chair out into the corridor beyond the sliding doors. "I think I'll take an early night."
Duncan MacLeod dreamt.
He was standing in a warehouse, somewhere in Seacouver. He was tired. He had just fought against Caspian and won, and now he was returning for the real prize; Kronos. The old and deadly Immortal stood in the shadows, his short, spiky hair lending his face a look of dangerous insanity. His bright eyes caught the light - flashing, spitting sparks at the Highlander.
Methos was there too. He fought, just as did MacLeod. He beheaded Silas, the big, blond Immortal who had been so faithful to his brother Horsemen. MacLeod remembered his sorrow at having performed such an act. Methos had mourned Silas. He had mourned Kronos too. The Highlander saw it all again in his sleep. He remembered the tendrils of blue lightning coming from Silas, from the suddenly silenced body of Kronos. He remembered seeing them merge, threading their way about the room. He remembered the lights and the noise and the unbelievable, unbearable pain. He remembered the way that the Quickening had split, tunnelling itself through Methos as well, as though worried that it might destroy Duncan alone. He heard again how he had yelled aloud in agony, and how, for that one, brief moment, he had seen inside the mind of the Horsemen.
He had seen Silas, with all his brutal simplicity, and the strange gentility that he so often could display. He saw Kronos, with the mind of a genius, hot with anger and the need always to be utterly free. He had seen the ride to massacre in the old days, had felt the bloodlust and the battle fury; had felt the excitement and longed to feel it again…
And he had seen Methos. For that short, single instant he had seen through the eyes of the oldest man alive. He had heard the voice of ancient chaos, had felt the suppressed echoes of a past not yet buried deeply enough. He had felt the need for blood and for liberty, and he had heard the distant whisperings… the secret yearning for the old ways. It had gone so quickly that he had barely given it a thought. There had been so much to do and to think about at the time. So many loose ends to tie up.
But now he thought of it again. He thought about the feelings that Methos still had to keep in check; the promise of something darker that lay beneath the shy and retiring façade he had lived behind for so long. He thought about the mind of Kronos; the pieces which had been passed on through his Quickening, and which now waited somewhere inside the Immortal who had taken his head; and the other Immortal who had shared in the powers of that night. The pieces of the dead man which were now trying to be resurrected.
"I want to ride…" The voice was his own, and he recognised it. The face that he saw in his mind was his own as well, but he was dressed in the battle armour of the Leader of the Horsemen. His hair hung free, and his face was marked with the complex black war paint that Kronos had worn into battle thousands of years ago.
He felt excitement burning within his body, felt it tear through his mind and pump the blood faster through his veins. He heard shouts and screams echoing about within his skull. He saw blood and flames, and the scattered bodies of mortal dead. He heard the joy of his fellow Horsemen, and he laughed aloud.
"No…" He spoke the word aloud, and he heard it in the midsts of his dream. It sounded like a beacon in the heart of the mire that was dragging him down. He struck out towards it, feeling the madness and the chaos trying to drag him back. A thousand shards of Kronos inside his heart and his mind clung to him, whispering messages of insanity. He ignored them, and focussed on his own voice. Slowly it brought him back.
In his tiny hotel room in the heart of Gdansk, Duncan MacLeod opened his eyes and sat up. He stared into the darkness, listening to the sounds of the city that still moved by outside his window. He let out a long, deep breath.
"You're close, MacLeod." He did not see Kronos this time, but merely heard his voice. It whispered into his ear, impossible to shut out. "So close. I'll take over soon, Highlander. I'll be born again."
"No." He stood up, marching over to the window. It was stiff, but it yielded eventually, opening with a resounding bang. He leaned out, staring out across the city, breathing deep breaths of cold, clear air. It felt good. Slowly he let his eyes drift over the largely empty streets, letting his mind become calm and his heart cease its racing. He let out a deep, controlled breath - which froze abruptly in his lungs. Beneath him, standing in the middle of the road, was Peter Kerensky. His clothes were stained with blood, and he was holding a sword. Methos' sword. Duncan stared at him for a moment, seeing his unwelcome figure stark against the streetlights, then swore loudly and grabbed his own sword from the end of his bed. Without pausing for thought he raced out of his room and down the stairs, unable to shake that one image from his mind. Out in the street, Kronos was waiting, ready to face him again.
And this time Duncan was going to end it for good.
"MacLeod?" Kerensky, confused and disorientated, saw the familiar figure emerge from the hotel before him. "Is that you?"
"It's me." Duncan's voice dripped with unpleasantness. "Were you wanting something?"
"No. I don't think so. I was… I was with Methos."
"Tell me about it." MacLeod was still advancing, and the lights of the streetlamps now illuminated the sword in his grasp. Peter saw its cold gleam, and frowned.
"We were kidnapped, I think. Drugged or something. The next thing I know, I'm here; lying in the middle of the street…"
"And him?" As he came closer Duncan could see a slumped shape lying at the side of the road - the decapitated form of an old man. His arms were flung up, as though he had tried to catch his own head as it had flown through the air. It lay a short distance away, upside down in the roadside drain, muddy water already staining it with traces of leaf mould and slime. Kerensky glanced over at the figure, and then seemed to notice the sword in his hand for the first time. He stared at it, and at its blood-stained blade, then at the similar stains on his hands and clothing.
"I… I don't know." He glanced at MacLeod, at the body, and back to the sword again, his eyes showing a sense of wild confusion. "MacLeod, I swear, I--"
"Save it for somebody who's actually prepared to believe you." MacLeod smiled, taking a few, easy strides towards the other man. "You thought you were so clever, didn't you. Convincing me that I was mad, that you were going to be reborn inside my mind. And all the time you and Methos had it all figured out… rebirth, the escape from death. How did it happen, huh? Was there really a 'Peter Kerensky', or did you just make the name up?" He slapped the flat of his sword against the palm of his hand. "Come on, Kronos. Show me your sword. Let's get this thing over and done with for good."
"I'm not lying to you, MacLeod." The reality of his own danger was beginning to become truly clear to Peter for the first time. He glanced about, trying to look for cover, or maybe for some possible ally. The street was deserted, and although there were sounds of traffic not too far away, there was nothing that suggested any real possibility of assistance. "I'm not Kronos. I hadn't even heard of him before all of this started…"
"Just shut up and fight." Duncan made a wild sweep with his blade, forcing Kerensky to jump backwards to avoid the blow. The Highlander came after him again, and this time his unwilling opponent made a few half-hearted passes of his own, trying to deflect the weapon being brandished in his direction.
"Shut up, dammit!" MacLeod jabbed at him, suddenly and without warning, and Kerensky was forced to leap into the affray. He deflected the blow, parrying easily at first and even trying to take the offensive.
"I don't want to fight you!"
"Then stand still and die." The anger seeping out of his eyes with sudden, cold resolution, the Highlander fell into his usual rhythm. His body moved with the skills honed over centuries, his sword flashing as it darted to-and-fro. Peter stumbled back, trying to retain his footing, trying to work out how to stay alive.
"Dammit, will you listen to me! Methos and I came here to find the people who killed Anna - the people who kidnapped your friend, Dawson. Methos is probably with them now. I don't know what they're going to do to him." His only answer was a sword thrust that very nearly ended the fight once and for all. Hot anger flashed through him. "Don't you care at all?"
"No." Again Duncan whirled his blade. Kerensky had kept up well so far, which only confirmed the Highlander's suspicions. This had to be Kronos. He smiled, his eyes burning with self-righteous indignation, and he spun, bringing his sword around in a blur of motion. The flat of the blade caught his opponent on the arm, knocking the sword from his grasp. He stumbled.
"I'm going to take your head, Kronos. I'm going to burn it this time if I have to. I'll make sure that you stay dead." MacLeod leapt forward, weapon raised and ready. Peter threw himself aside. His hands scrabbled for the sword in the road but Duncan stamped down, crushing his fingers. Kerensky gasped in pain and shock, stumbling and half-falling as he backed away from the weapon. He tried to cradle his injured hand in the crook of his other arm, but it didn't seem to do any good.
"I'm not Kronos!" He sounded almost petulant, he knew; wildly angry, desperately afraid. The sword slashed at him again, and again he managed to throw himself out of the way. He landed hard on the ground, rolling, his weight coming down heavily on the crushed fingers of his right hand. An incoherent groan of pain escaped his lips, but he did not have the time to dwell on the discomfort. Duncan came at him once more, and this time Peter kicked out, knocking his attacker back a few paces. As the Highlander once again came in for the attack, Kerensky feinted to the right, made a sudden mad leap for the left, and then double bluffed in a last, desperate bid to escape. He hurled himself to the right, making a wild grab at the rungs of a fire ladder dangling above his head. His fingertips caught the bottom rung, giving him enough leverage to swing his legs out, catching MacLeod a heavy blow to the forehead. The Highlander stumbled and went down, and Kerensky, with all the agility of his small frame, dragged himself up the ladder. He climbed onto the roof at the top, leaping over to the next building before MacLeod had even recovered enough to make it back to his feet. Duncan watched him as he made his escape, running easily over the rooftops of the city.
"Damn." Tenderly touching the growing bruise on his forehead, MacLeod bent to retrieve both of the fallen swords. Something entangled in the hilt of Methos' weapon caught his eye, and he tugged it free. It seemed to be a photograph. "What have we here…?" Peering at it in the bad light, he tilted it towards a nearby streetlamp. Joe Dawson's face stared back at him, and slowly MacLeod turned the picture over. Written on the back, in a hand that he recognised immediately as that of the oldest Immortal, was a simple message:
'He's alive for now. There's a car parked at the end of the road. Get in, or he doesn't stay alive for much longer.'
"Damn you Methos." Crumpling the note in his fist Duncan looked about, spying the car at the end of the road. It moved towards him as soon as he became aware of it. He considered his options. They weren't inspiring.
"Duncan MacLeod?" The driver of the car was a nondescript little man with a German accent. MacLeod nodded. "Please get into the car."
"Why?" He wanted so much to turn away and walk in the opposite direction, but he didn't see how he could take the risk. The man in the car smiled at him.
"You want to kill Methos don't you?"
MacLeod frowned. "Yes."
"Good." This time the man flashed him a broad grin. "Then get in the car."
"Who are you?"
"Ah. A difficult question." The man shrugged, watching in the rear view mirror as MacLeod settled himself on the back seat. "Just think of me as a death-a-gram. I have the address, the invitation, and even the keys to the front door." He smiled, heading the car off down the road. "Play your cards right and by this time tomorrow you and Dawson can be on a plane heading back home. And Methos will be just a bitter memory."
"Just a bitter memory…" MacLeod smiled a small smile at that, turning his head to stare out of the window. He could live with a bitter memory, no problem. It wasn't as if he didn't already have plenty of experience. One hand ran its way down the blade of his sword, unconscious, unaware. It left a long trail of blood behind it, and his hand dripped a steady stream onto the floor. MacLeod didn't notice; he was too busy with dreams of his immediate future, and with thoughts of Methos' Quickening. His eyes blazed with madness as he licked his lips in eager anticipation.
Time to put the nightmares to rest.
In the immaculate white house with its immaculate, precise black furniture, three men in surgical masks stood in an immaculate, neatly pressed row in front of the hi-tech wheelchair. Its occupant stared up at them, his bright, baleful eyes glittering with all the evil of the Horsemen, and none of the charisma. His yellowed teeth showed, briefly, as he gave an ugly smile, then he reached for his oxygen mask and pressed it to his face. His beady eyes peered over the top of it, and he took his chair back a foot or two; perhaps to get a better look at his guests, or perhaps to put a greater distance between him and them. Guests carried germs, and germs disturbed the delicate balance of the carefully maintained air in the room. Bacteria was positively hopping about on the skin of these three men. He could almost see it. He could sense it, in the deepest, darkest depths of his paranoia.
"What can I do for you gentlemen?" he asked, his sharp, unfriendly tones muffled slightly by the mask. One of the men straightened his shoulders, stiffening his back automatically as he prepared to make his report.
"Everything seems to be going to plan, sir." If Brenner's wizened condition and meticulous habits bothered him, he did not let it show, for he took a step forward. Brenner himself looked as though he might object to that, but instead pulled his thoroughly disinfected silver blanket more tightly around his shoulders. His pale, wrinkled hands clawed the edges of the blanket, and his harsh, sunken eyes stared unblinkingly up at the other man.
"MacLeod is on his way to the lodge, sir. Vierman forged that old Immortal's handwriting just fine, and is now pretending to be on MacLeod's side. They should be arriving in the next hour."
"And then what?" There was an almost pathetic sense of excitement about the question, as though Brenner already knew the answer, and yet wanted to hear all of the gory details anyway.
"And then MacLeod and Methos will fight. They'll have to. By now Methos' own conditioning will have come into effect, and MacLeod's is already working far better than any of us expected. Almost too well, in fact. He nearly killed Kerensky, and that wouldn't have got us anywhere. We couldn't have done a whole lot with a headless body."
"Whatever." A vague gesture showed that Brenner cared nothing for what might have been. "And when MacLeod and Methos fight?" He leaned forward slightly in his chair, his tongue practically hanging out.
"Then one of them will win. It doesn't matter which, since we'll be killing the survivor anyway. All that matters is that the ritual will then be completed. The myths say it must all occur in the place where the original ceremony was performed, hence the subterfuge…"
"I know all that." Brenner waved an impatient hand at him. "It was my scheme you fool. What next? What next?"
"The survivor will carry the full Quickening of Kronos within him, and he'll be more than ready for our purposes." The speaker gestured to another of his colleagues, who stepped neatly up to take his place.
"It all seems to be fairly straightforward sir, according to my research." The second man attempted a smile that had no chance ever of being returned. "There are certain words, certain actions. We need the blood of both MacLeod and Methos - living or dead, it really doesn't matter - and we need a third party. Somebody whose body will become host to the mind of Kronos. I must say that we couldn't have hoped for better than Kerensky. Kronos will be pleased."
"And then he'll do whatever we ask." Brenner laughed, a curiously high-pitched laugh which managed to sound both oddly naïve and coldly calculating. "The Leader of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, alive again and ready to lead our own forces into battle. Imagine it!" His thin voice raised itself to the loudest volume it had attained in years. "The Involution will wipe out our Watcher brethren, and step forward to take control of the Game. We will decide which Immortal is to take the Prize, and we will see that it is won soon; before the end of the century if possible." He giggled to himself. "An all-powerful Immortal, on our side, the Prize in his hands - and therefore in ours. He will have the power to grant us immortality." His cold eyes flicked towards the other three men. "Well what are you waiting for? Get out there, get it done. There's no sense in you being here whilst MacLeod is on his way to the lodge. That's where you should be."
"Yes sir." One by one the three men gave a swift, shallow bow, then turned and strode away to the exit. They could still hear their chief's eager giggling as they reached the main door. Even with it shut safely behind them, it was impossible to feel entirely free of the corrupting presence of Jason Brenner.
"I always feel like I should take a shower after going into that place." The first of the men shuddered noticeably. "It's the cleanest place in the whole damn hemisphere, but it feels like one of the dirtiest."
"Really?" The second man, the researcher, looked surprised. "I've never been invited here before. It feels like an honour. He has some fascinating pieces of art in there."
"Oh sure he does." The third man, an old fellow named Dvorak who had been with the Involution since the days of Brenner's youth, glanced back up at the house. He was a strange and crooked little man, bent through years of hard work for his society, and troubled by decades of doing the dirty work of the paranoid old man he had just left behind. "And the most interesting piece of all is the one smack bang in the middle of the room. His son made it when he was a prisoner in the cellar of this very house. He was awaiting trial for treason against the Society, after being caught trying to save the life of a Watcher we grabbed trailing his Immortal in our territory. Old man Brenner had them both executed together, on the front steps, then buried under the floorboards in the cellar. The smell was horrendous for months, but Brenner wouldn't do anything about it. He said it was a lesson for all of us." He scowled up at the big white house, in all its unobtrusive ignominy. "Joel Brenner was a good friend of mine, of all of us, but there's never been a single man before or since who's dared look for revenge."
"You're joking." The researcher glanced back at the house himself. Clearly he did not want to believe the story, although his voice carried no conviction. Dvorak frowned, his white brows knitting together in a shaggy doormat effect that emphasised his clear, dark eyes.
"Nobody ever jokes about Jason Brenner," he said, with real feeling, then spun on his heel and headed towards their car. "Come on. I want to be out of here before our great leader decides we're not moving quickly enough. I don't want to wind up at the bottom of Lake Mamry alongside Yitzak."
"Yitzak's dead?" It was the turn of the first man to glance back at the house. "When?"
"Earlier. Word is he didn't deliver MacLeod quickly enough." Dvorak opened the car door and gestured inside. "So let's get a move on shall we?"
"Yeah." His colleague slid behind the wheel, a troubled look on his face. He started up the engine even as the others were climbing inside the car, beginning to move away before the researcher had even closed his door. Dvorak clamped on his seatbelt.
"There's no point in escaping the wrath of Brenner just for you to kill us in a car crash, Henri," he said pointedly. Henri did not respond.
"He really killed Yitzak?" he asked instead, staring at the image of the house in the rear view mirror. Dvorak frowned.
"Why. Was he something to you?"
"Me? No, I hardly knew him." Henri switched the direction of his glance, instead staring straight ahead. His face was impassive, but his eyes had changed. Only the researcher seemed oblivious to it.
"Ah well," the latter observed, his tone distant. "I suppose Yitzak deserved it. This is the Involution, after all." Henri flicked his eyes towards his colleague for a second, but he did not bother answering. Neither did Dvorak. Instead the threesome lapsed into an uneasy silence as the miles sped by, and soon the only sound was that of the car.
Joe Dawson awoke from an uneasy sleep with a stiff neck and a throbbing headache. He had been asleep for much of the day thanks to the tranquilliser that still had a hold of his body, but still he seemed to need yet more rest. He rubbed his eyes with his fingers, trying to stifle a persistent yawn.
"I need a coffee," he announced to the room at large. "A big, hot, black coffee. Preferably laced with a little something." He smiled to himself. "Or maybe I need a big something, laced with a little coffee."
"Vodka." Methos was standing by the window, staring out at the scenery beyond the glass. "We're in Poland aren't we?"
"Vodka's Russian," Dawson pointed out. His only answer was a truly poisonous glare.
"You think I care? I just want a drink." Spinning abruptly away from the window, Methos began to pace up and down the room. "It's bad enough being cooped up in here with only a mortal for company. Now I find that I can't get a drink."
"Well pardon me for living." Joe stretched, wishing that he hadn't fallen asleep in the chair. "Just remember that whatever's wrong is probably the result of a little Involution hypnosis, so try and stay on top of it, okay? The last thing I need is an insane cellmate."
Methos turned to look at him, a dark frown lining his forehead. There was real power behind that thundering frown, and for a second Joe almost quailed. Instead he frowned back.
"I realise yours is not the sunniest of dispositions at the best of times - except for at the most annoying of moments - but this really isn't you. Snap out of it."
"There's nothing to snap out of." Methos' voice was soft, and his eyes glittered in tandem with each syllable. "I don't submit to hypnosis."
"No." Joe's tone was dry. "Of course you don't." He let out a long sigh, frustrated by his own sleepiness. It was infuriating still to feel so affected by the tranquilliser, especially with Methos having recovered long ago. The older man - younger? - why was it always so difficult to be sure? - was pacing about the room with the energy and restlessness of a captive tiger.
"Don't try to make fun of me, old man." Methos was beside him in a second, crouched down suddenly before him. The Immortal's eyes were fiercely ablaze, his expression cold. "You don't know who you're dealing with."
"Oh great." Joe glanced away, shaking his head slightly. "Of all the people in all the world, I had to get locked up with Immortality's answer to Charles Manson. Methos, just get a grip okay? You're not public enemy number one, you're Adam Pierson. You sit in corners and pretend you're not there. You vanish into passing shadows. Remember?"
"All that I remember is warning you to take care." Methos reached out, his hand moving slowly at first, then suddenly and without warning gripping Joe about the throat. He pulled the mortal closer to him, staring into his eyes, his head cocked slightly on one side. "I meant it."
"Methos!" Joe tried to pull back, the hold beginning to restrict his breathing. "Get a grip! We're supposed to work together."
"I don't work with mortals." The Immortal's face changed into an ugly sneer. "Especially mortal friends of Duncan MacLeod. I'd like to get a hold of him right now. I'd tear his stupid head off with my bare hands."
"What have you got against Duncan?" Finally managing to extricate himself from the grip of the other man, Joe straightened his shirt and struggled to get his breath back. "I thought he was your friend."
"He killed Kronos." Methos stepped back, spinning around and returning to his pacing with renewed vigour. Joe rubbed his eyes with a weary hand.
"He had no choice. It was Kronos or him."
"That's what you think." Methos turned again to look at him, an arrogant smile on his face. "It's never that simple. Not with the Horsemen. I can bring Kronos back any time I choose. That's the only reason I've let MacLeod live as long as I have. If I thought Kronos was gone forever I'd have killed MacLeod the night he took my brother's head."
"Don't talk rubbish. You're not you, Methos. You're not talking like you. This is the Involution speaking."
"No." Again Methos was before him, again having moved faster than seemed possible. He crouched down before the mortal, his hands on the other man's shoulders. "Before, it was Time speaking. Time and fear and a hundred other things that made me into someone else. For the first time, Joe - for the very first time since I met you - you're really hearing Methos speak. This is me. This. No shrinking violets, no words of peace and learning. Don't confuse the man with the disguise." He leant in closer, his words tiny whispers that Joe could barely catch. "Do you like it? Do you like seeing the real man, the real heart of the person you've been consorting with all this time? Do you like to see the truth beneath the veneer? What you know, what you see, has always been Adam Pierson. But he's dead now." He grinned broadly. "I could cut your throat with the wire springs from that mattress. I could break your neck without breaking a sweat. I could disembowel you so slowly that you could watch it happen." He nodded happily, his grin taking on an oddly boyish enthusiasm. "I used to be good at that. And flaying my victims alive, that was a speciality too. I could show you, but you wouldn't survive long enough to really appreciate the beauty of it all. Maybe I could get your daughter. You could watch me practice on her. That would be a show worth catching, don't you think?" He laughed softly, an almost childish giggle that caused very real chills to run down Dawson's spine. "So don't tell me that this isn't me speaking, Joe, 'cause it is. More than anything else you've ever known, this is me. And it's not pretty." He pushed the mortal away and stood up, heading over towards the door, beginning to beat at it with his feet and his fists. "Dammit, where the hell is everybody? Why isn't there anybody answering?" He beat harder, until Joe could see his hands leaving blood stains on the wood. "Let me out of here!"
"Methos!" Joe stood up, grabbing his friend by the shoulders and pulling him back. "Take it easy, you're hurting yourself."
"Pain is in the eye of the beholder." The Immortal flashed him another crooked grin, and raised his hands in demonstration. The abrasions faded away. "What about you Joe? Is your pain relative, or is it real?" He reached out, closing one cold, hard fist around Dawson's hand. "Is mortal blood the same as mine? You know, it's been so long I almost forget…"
"Joe! Joe, are you in there?" MacLeod's voice, so loud, so sudden, gave Dawson the opportunity to pull free from Methos' grasp. He backed away, keeping a wary eye on the Immortal as he stared in disbelief at the door.
"Joe!" There was triumph in MacLeod's voice, along with something else. Something indefinable. The hammering on the door was renewed, this time from the other side, and Methos took a step back towards it. There was an evil look on his face, and his eyes seemed to be flecked with red. There was a crash, and MacLeod's fist, holding a crowbar, smashed through the door.
"Gotcha!" With a chuckle of pure, mad glee, Methos seized the hand, pulling hard. There was a cry of pain as MacLeod's arm was dragged through the splintered wood, then a sickening thump as the Highlander's head collided with the door. Methos tore the crowbar from his hand, using it with fierce relish to clear away the rest of the wood. MacLeod stood in the doorway, blood running down his face. He held his sword in one hand, with Methos' own stuck into his belt.
"Methos." His voice was full of ice.
"I won't say it's a pleasure, MacLeod." An insulting smile played about on the face of the oldest Immortal. "So you made it to Poland then? I thought you'd be in a straightjacket by now, staring at ink blots in a padded cell back home."
"Shut up." Duncan drew the other man's sword, throwing it at him. "You're scum, Horseman, and I shouldn't even be giving you this chance. But if I don't I'm as bad as you." The sword clattered hard onto the floor. Filled with a sudden sense of horror, Joe tried to get to it first. Methos stiff-armed him, sending him tumbling back across the room to a hard landing on the mattress. Gamely he struggled back upright.
"Mac, you can't do this. I know he's an insufferable pain in the backside most of the time, but for goodness' sakes!"
"Keep out of this Joe." Duncan's voice was soft and level. "This is between me and the jerk here."
"But he's your friend!"
"Was my friend." For a second Duncan shot the mortal a glance, his own eyes nearly as hard as those of Methos. "All that has changed. He was going to help Kronos to be reborn inside me. He wanted to use my body to help his brother live again. I'm supposed to stand back and let him get away with something like that?" He swung his sword in a threatening arc. "You've been alive for way too long, Methos. Your time is up."
"Is it really." Methos was grinning at him, arrogance and merriment showing in equal parts in his face. "Then quit talking and prove it."
"Oh I will." Duncan strode forward, sword making easy passes in the air. Methos didn't have a chance against him, and he knew it. He was Duncan MacLeod, fearless defender of the weak, protector of the innocent, judge and executioner of a thousand fellow Immortals who had trodden the wrong paths. He always won.
When their swords collided there was a shower of sparks. Duncan felt strong resistance behind the other blade, and an unpleasant grin showed on his face. He felt like a good fight to send the cobwebs away. It would be very welcome indeed to grind his enemy into the ground before taking his head.
"Mac, Adam - please." On his feet again, Joe took a few steps towards the fight. There was nothing that he could do in terms of physical interference, he knew that. Stepping into a fight involving two swords was nothing short of insane. "Listen to me!"
"Keep back, Joe." MacLeod's moment of concern for his friend cost him, for Methos took advantage of the second's distraction, whirling his sword and driving it forward. It grazed MacLeod's shoulder, cutting downward into his chest. The Highlander let out a yell of pain and surprise, then pushed onward with an assault of his own. The tip of his blade slashed open the sleeve of his opponent's shirt, slicing the arm beneath. Pain burned its fiery path across the old Immortal's face, but he kept hold of his weapon, eyes blazing horribly.
"You're going to die, old man." MacLeod swung his sword again, ignoring the pain in his shoulder and chest. "You're going to die, and I'm going to bury your pieces across the globe. You'll be gone forever."
"You think I care about death?" Methos laughed at him, his face alive with hatred. "You think I care about your sword, or your vendetta? All that I care about is my brother, the man you killed. I'll bring him back to me from the ruins of your headless body." He slashed wildly with his sword, his apparently random slices belying what was clearly a definite plan. Words in some ancient language that MacLeod could not even begin to identify spat from his mouth.
"Kronos is already back. And once I've dealt with you I'll scatter his ashes to the four winds too." That couldn't be right, could it? Was Kerensky really Kronos, or was he just another hallucination? MacLeod really didn't know anymore, and he couldn't find the means by which to care. He swung his sword again, this time causing Methos to stumble. Again the Highlander's blade flashed towards him, the weapon's flat edge slamming into the old Immortal's shoulders. Driven to his knees by the force of the blow, Methos tried to parry. MacLeod easily knocked the sword aside and used his own in a backhand move that slashed through his opponent's shirt, digging into his side and his back. MacLeod grinned, driving the weapon deeper, taking the time to give it a satisfying twist before he pulled it free. He raised the sword above his head, staring down into Methos' eyes. If he been looking for fear he was disappointed. All that he saw in the eyes of his latest victim was cold, unyielding hate. With all his strength he brought the blade down.
The sword clattered from his lifeless fingers. For a second MacLeod stared at it, confused, then without a sound he toppled over and collapsed. He hit the ground hard, arms stretched out, eyes closed. Joe let out a long breath of abject relief.
"I think that was pretty good timing." With a cheerful grin, Peter Kerensky threw down the broken piece of door that he had used to render MacLeod unconscious, then glanced over at Methos. "Are you okay?"
"Of course I'm okay." The old Immortal rose to his feet, brushing himself down and retrieving his sword. The blood still ran from the gash in his side, but it did not seem to be causing him any undue concern. He gave the weapon a few experimental passes, then turned his newly evil grin onto his saviour. "I'm glad you turned up."
"So am I. I don't see your death helping me to get Anna's killers out of circulation." Kerensky turned to Joe. "Are you okay?"
"Currently my state of health is in fluctuation." Joe flashed him a shaky grin. "Once my blood pressure has got back to normal I'll give you an update."
"Don't bother." Methos reached out with his sword point, tapping peremptorily at Kerensky's shoulder. "Hey, you."
"What's up?" Surprised, Kerensky turned. Methos grinned at him, and transferred the point of the sword from the mortal's shoulder to his neck.
"What's up is a minor change of plan." He smiled unpleasantly. "I was content to use MacLeod, but with you here it's all so much more simple. Why use MacLeod's body when Kronos would so much rather have yours? It's just what he's used to, after all."
"I beg your pardon?" Blanching slightly, Kerensky took a step back. Methos laughed.
"Don't run, mortal. There's nowhere that you can hide. I just want your body, and I promise it won't hurt. I can't afford to break you into little pieces first, so it'll have to be a quick, clean kill. One relatively undamaged body, one loose and roaming mind in need of a host…" His eyes burned with an almost fanatical glow. "Stand still."
"Methos, I don't know what's going on here, but--" Peter broke off in order to dodge a sudden blow. He made a move towards MacLeod's sword, but the fingers of one hand were barely capable of moving thanks to the Highlander's earlier attack, and he would need both hands if he was to have a chance against the Immortal. He threw himself aside once again as Methos pressed on with the attack, catching a glimpse of the sword hanging above his head, reflecting the dawn light from the window in a display that was almost beautiful. He threw himself into a desperate roll, and heard a heavy thud from somewhere behind him. He stumbled to his feet.
Joe was standing beside the slumped form of Methos, the same chunk of wood in his hand that Kerensky had used to lay out MacLeod. The two mortals shared a grin.
"Thankyou," Peter said, with real feeling. Joe shrugged, and threw his makeshift weapon to the floor.
"Don't thank me," he said, as he bent to collect up the two fallen swords. "You're the one who's going to have to carry them out of here."
"Thanks." Kerensky looked from Methos to MacLeod, then sighed and bent to heave the Highlander onto his shoulders. His hand protested and he winced. "Where am I carrying them to exactly?"
"A car?" Dawson clambered out through the hole in the wrecked door, heading without pause for what was clearly the main exit. "How are you with knots?"
"Knots?" Peter staggered slightly as he followed his fellow mortal, heading towards the black car that he had hitched a ride in all the way from Gdansk. Vierman was sprawled on the grass beside it, and Joe rolled him out of the way.
"Yeah, knots. It takes more than a tap on the head to keep a pair of Immortals quiet for long, and I don't fancy being trapped in a car with Mac and Methos when they wake up."
"Oh. Point taken." Kerensky shrugged. "I was a boy scout for a while."
"Good." Dawson opened the car boot and threw a coil of rope at him. "Get knotting. I'm going to find us a map so we can get out of here. I've got a feeling we're going to be having company before very much longer."
"You could be right." Kerensky threw MacLeod to the ground and began to untangle the criss-crossed rope. "Although something tells me we could be in more danger right now from our friends than we are from our enemies."
His only answer was a grim nod.
The car rattled over rocky mountain paths designed for nothing heavier than the occasional horse. Peter Kerensky clung to the steering wheel, trying not to look over his shoulder at the disturbing sight in the back seat. The Involution henchman, Vierman, was sandwiched between Duncan MacLeod and Methos, both of whom were now conscious, and both of whom were very angry indeed. Vierman, similarly bound, was pitching into the growing verbal battle between the two men, adding his own threats and insults to the general melee. Joe Dawson, seated beside Kerensky with a gun to keep the three prisoners in order, looked as though he wanted to shoot the lot of them.
"Joe! Damn you Joe I never thought you'd betray me." Fighting violently against the ropes that bound him, MacLeod roared and bellowed at the Watcher in the front seat. "I always thought you were keeping secrets, but Kronos? And when did you choose Methos over me? Is this some warped Watcher sense of honour?"
"It's not like that, Mac." Joe's attempts at reassurances were swamped by the ongoing verbal assault. "This is for your own good."
"Methos wants to kill me, Joe. He wants to bring Kronos back to life." MacLeod's eyes flicked from Dawson to Kerensky, clearly confused by what they saw. Kerensky was Kronos… but Kronos was still dead… wasn't he? And if he wasn't, how come he kept appearing in shadows and in dreams, throwing insults and cheap threats? It just didn't make any sense. It was as if some inner voice was shouting contradictory orders at his brain, churning everything into turmoil.
"You're damn right I want to kill you." Methos was sitting still, unlike the other two. "I have a right to want to kill you. Brotherhood should mean something to you, Highlander. You should know about oaths of allegiance to fellow warriors."
"All you're talking about is honour among thieves. You weren't warriors, you were murderers!" Duncan tried to get to Methos through Vierman, and the energetic Involution man head-butted him sharply in the chest.
"Keep back," he snarled, the German accent thicker now with rage. "I won't be crushed to death by you and your stupid arguments."
"We were murderers, maybe." An insulting smile slid its way, snakelike, across Methos' face. His eyes were alight with cold malice. "But we were the best at what we did. We reigned supreme for a thousand years. Who else can claim that? Who else can claim to have given nightmares to whole civilisations? I made one man quake with fear, and centuries later I was doing the same thing to his distant descendants. Who else can claim that?"
"Who else would want to?" MacLeod slumped back into his seat, apparently abandoning his attempts to break free for now. "When I get these ropes off, scum, I'm going to feed you your sword, cold inch by cold inch. You'll beg for mercy before I cut off your head."
"I never beg, MacLeod. And certainly not for mercy." The ice in Methos' voice made even the Highlander hesitate. "You couldn't even begin to imagine some of the things that have been done to me, and you certainly don't have the stomach to try them out for yourself. Nothing you say can scare me, and nothing that you do ever will."
"Big words, Horseman." MacLeod turned his head, staring out of his window at the passing scenery. "We'll see how big you talk when my sword is in my hands again."
"And we'll see how confident you are when my sword is in my hands again." Methos' arrogant smirk had not left his face. Vierman was singularly unimpressed.
"It doesn't matter who has the sword. One of you will die, but the other won't live to know anything about it." He chuckled away to himself, clearly enjoying the spectacle of the arguing Immortals. "You might just as well surrender now. The outcome will still be the same."
"You think they're after us?" Kerensky twisted his head to try and get a view back down the dusty track. Vierman laughed.
"Of course they're after you. Why wouldn't they be? There was a group expected to arrive just after me, so they'll have discovered your escape almost immediately. They'll already be coming after us, and soon the whole lot of you will be dead. Unless you surrender first, in which case you might be allowed to die with some dignity."
"You said that if I killed Methos I'd be allowed to return home with Joe." MacLeod's gaze was pure ice as he turned to Vierman. The mortal shrugged.
"Didn't you ever stop to wonder why I wanted Methos dead so much? Some ancient Immortal I care nothing about? You're a fool, MacLeod. You're a dead fool too."
"How could he stop to wonder, with your programming running his brain?" Joe Dawson toyed with the pistol in his hand, pointing it at Vierman. It was hard to keep the aim steady in the rocking car, but he made a fair stab at it. "Supposing you tell us all about that?"
"I think not."
"Then let me ask again." Joe reached around, pressing the gun hard into the soft skin of Vierman's throat. "Tell us. Everything."
Vierman scowled at him, eyes burning with hatred, before he gave a sudden, almost casual shrug. "I suppose it's not going to make any difference now." He relaxed back into his seat, trying to give out an aura of nonchalance despite the ropes and the gun. "Sure, we put ideas into MacLeod's mind. We planted deep-seated hypnotic suggestions. It was easy. We wanted to turn him against Methos, to make him see threats and belligerence in everything. That way we hoped that we could provoke a fight between the two of them. We did the same thing to Methos as well, in order to be sure of ourselves, and I'm rather proud of it even if I do say so myself. So much easier than trying to kill them ourselves, and risk failing like all of the others you've faced."
"I hope you're listening to all this, Mac," Dawson interjected. The Highlander made the sort of disparaging noise that suggested he didn't believe a word of it. Vierman laughed.
"You'll never convince them of it. It's part of the conditioning. The Involution have been experts in all forms of hypnosis since the days when the process didn't even have a name. That's why we will be the power behind the One."
"That's why you're doing this? You want Methos and MacLeod out of your way so that the One can be someone of your own choosing? It's all a little involved, isn't it - even for you?"
"Your imagination is limited, Dawson. But then that's why you're just a Watcher, and not part of the Involution. No, it's not as simple as that. Perhaps your friend Methos would like to explain to us, precisely what significance a battle on Polish soil has, both to him and to his ancient loyalties?"
"Hmph," was all that Methos would add to the discussion. Vierman carried on regardless.
"An ancient rite, a mythical ritual. The sharing of blood between two Immortals. To be honest I didn't believe it when I heard about it and I certainly didn't see its significance. Two legendary warriors, sharing a pledge to try and attain true immortality, beyond even that which was available to their kind. I thought that it was just a story - a drunken joke. We learned that if one of the two - either Methos or Kronos - was ever killed, the other should be sure of being present, and then the ritual would cause the Quickening to be split two ways. All that the surviving Horseman needed to do then was to choose a suitable, recently killed host body; a mortal, obviously, so that the head would still be attached. Then on the exact spot that the ritual was first performed, he would take the head of the Immortal who had killed his brother. The two halves of the Quickening would call to each other, and channel themselves into the prepared body." He smiled a little breathlessly. "All supposition of course. It's never been attempted, it's never been done - at least as far as the Involution can tell. Admittedly we don't know much though; our research team found all of the details in a painting on the wall of a recently excavated building. We discovered the exact place where the ritual was performed - the lodge that we have just left - and so all that we needed to do was bring you together, here. We used extraordinary means, but you came. All that remains to be done is to put the last pieces into place, and carry out the final part of the ritual. To bring Kronos back to life - resurrect him within the body that is so obviously his - and we will have the One, ready and waiting to receive his Prize at the end of the Game. What better contender for the title can there be than the man who held half the known world under the thrall of the terror that he inspired? Who brought whole peoples to their knees? There has never been a man more ruthless, more terrifying. A man more suited to leadership and power."
"I wouldn't go that far." MacLeod was staring out of the windscreen now, his eyes straying to the rear view mirror. He could see a car coming over the horizon behind them, gaining on them with every passing second. Nobody else appeared to have noticed it. "Kronos was insane, and he was a murderer, but he wasn't supreme. He wasn't even as evil as he liked to make out. How could somebody that evil have had such love for his brothers? If you're looking for a supreme Immortal, you won't find it in Kronos. You'd have better luck with half a dozen others."
"We want Kronos. We want a man as old as Europe. A man who was a part of some of the greatest civilisations known to man."
"He'll never work for you."
"You think so?" Vierman raised an eyebrow as he considered Methos' statement. "We'll have saved his life; brought him back from the dead. We'll help him to gain supremacy amongst his people. He'll work for us. After all, we'll be getting him the Prize."
"He still won't work for you. Kronos doesn't owe anybody anything, and he never will. You can't hope to understand." A smile crossed the shadowy immortal eyes. "I look forward to seeing you pay for your mistake."
"You'll be dead. Either beheaded by MacLeod or by us whilst you're still struggling with the Quickening. Or maybe we'll skip the spectacle, and just kill you both ourselves. We have our plan, and we will see it carried through." For a second Vierman looked almost as fanatical as Methos himself, then he allowed himself to relax and to smile. "We are the Involution. We plan to rule Immortality."
"Oh." Methos began to laugh, a dark, powerful laugh that carried nuances of madness. "Fine. Good luck to you."
"He may have reason for his confidence, Horseman." MacLeod nodded at the rear view mirror. Methos saw what he was looking towards, and his laughter stopped.
"We can handle them." He turned his sharp eyes towards Joe. "You did bring our swords, I take it?"
"I brought them, but I'm sure as hell not letting you get your hands on them." Dawson swallowed hard, then looked across at Kerensky. "Think we can outrun them?"
"I doubt we could outrun a child on a scooter in this thing." The gears grated as though in answer, and Kerensky winced. "Dammit. It's like trying to drive through blancmange."
"Surrender. I may be able to persuade them to save the life of Dawson." Vierman looked like the cat which had got the cream. "You've played your part admirably, Peter; bringing them here, leading them right to where we wanted them, helping us to push MacLeod so effectively over the edge. You have the gratitude of the entire Involution. Your sacrifice will be applauded forever."
"Forget it." Kerensky slammed his foot down on the accelerator, but the car barely responded. Behind them they heard the sharp report of a gun. "Oh, just marvellous..."
"Keep us going straight ahead." Joe checked the load in his own gun. It had a full clip, but there was nothing spare. He began checking under the dash, hunting urgently through the glove compartment and beneath his seat.
"If you're looking for my spare ammunition, I never carry any." Something about Vierman's tone suggested that he was telling the truth, and Joe could not help but believe him. He shared a look with Kerensky.
"We've got the swords," his fellow mortal said, with little enthusiasm. Joe grinned. He couldn't help liking the younger man, with his clear determination and courage.
"When we get back to Seacouver, if you ever feel like a change of career, call me."
"Thanks, but if we ever get back home I'm going to emigrate. I'm thinking about joining a Buddhist retreat somewhere; right after I get a new face." A volley of shots sounded behind them, several striking home. A shudder ran through the car's frame.
"We don't have a chance running like this. Stop the car. Untie us. We can at least have a fighting chance." MacLeod's voice was fierce with fury, but Joe ignored him. Kerensky glanced in the mirror. He could see the faces of their pursuers now, set and determined. One was an old man with whitening hair, the other two were younger. They wore plain grey suits, like easily forgettable commuters bound for work in the city.
"Somehow I always thought I'd meet my end at a hundred and six, painting nude models for Miss World 2070." The pale blue eyes which the world had known as those of a madman, now shone with a wry humour. "It's odd, but I never thought that the resurrection of a dead Immortal would feature highly in the reasons for my demise."
"Funny how you can overlook these things." Joe sent a few shots after their pursuers, but he could see that he was merely wasting bullets. On the rough ground he could not get a proper aim. "How come the bad guys get the best car? That's just plain unfair."
"I agree." They reached a twisting, particularly awkward stretch of road, and Kerensky had to concentrate on driving. For a second silence reigned.
"You have to let us fight." Methos' voice startled them all. The belligerence had gone from his tone. "What's the sense in sitting here like this waiting for them to catch us?"
"He might have a point." Kerensky was staring fixedly ahead, but his words were clearly directed at Joe. Dawson frowned.
"And have them kill each other before they turn on the enemy? Those are two of my closest friends back there, Peter. They might not know it right now, but they love each other too. You think I'm going to let some insane plot drive them to hack each other to pieces? You know what will happen, if we free them, and allow them to have weapons." There was no answer to such an outburst, and Kerensky did not bother to give one. Instead he turned his eyes from the road ahead to the dashboard.
"It may not matter much anyway. I think they got our petrol tank."
"We're losing gas?" Joe looked over at the indicator on the dash, and groaned. "Now what?" As if in answer the car engine spluttered, and the whole vehicle shuddered. Somehow it kept going. Another volley of gunshots rattled out behind them, as the pursuing car began to draw alongside. "Try to run them off the road!"
"Right." Kerensky clenched his jaw, eyes narrowed. He spun the wheel, but at the same moment the enemy car did likewise. The two vehicles slammed into each other, their wheels locking for one, brief moment. The rear wheels skidded and there was the sound of protesting metal, screeching and rendering. "Hold on!
With a noise like thunder the two cars rammed into each other again. Thrown off balance the three in the backseat crashed together, half on the floor, jammed in an untidy heap. A second later the glass in the back windshield exploded inward as the roof began to tilt sideways. One of the side windows followed it into oblivion, and a back tyre burst apart with a violent explosion of out-rushing air. The steering wheel tore itself free of Kerensky's hands, and he struggled to regain control. Joe sent a few shots towards the other car, but it was impossible for either side to draw aim now.
"We're losing ground." Dawson could see that they were fighting a losing battle with a much heavier car. He tried to see past Kerensky, to where the ground sloped away beside the road. It looked as though they were going to have a rough landing.
"Give it up!" His voice muffled, Vierman struggled to right himself in the back. "Surrender! It's the only way out of this."
"Shut up." His hands suddenly free, Methos grabbed hold of the mortal, yanking him backwards. They struggled together, one still bound, the other mostly so. Even hampered in such fashion they both fought violently. The top of Vierman's head smashed into Methos' jaw, knocking him backwards. His head slammed into the side of the car. Furious he turned instead to Dawson, grabbing him around the neck and making a wild snatch for the gun. Together the pair of them slid to one side, crashing into Kerensky. The mortal was flung across the car, the steering wheel spun uselessly, and under the remorseless assault of the other vehicle the car ran sideways towards the edge of the road. There was a second's dizzying motion, as though the whole world was tilting, then locked together the two cars crashed over the edge of the road and began to hurtle down the hillside beyond. Still clinging to Joe, Methos managed to wrestle the gun free. He drew bead on Vierman, hate spitting in his eyes.
"Don't fire that gun in the car!" MacLeod, still tangled up on the floor of the car, struggled to get at least partway upright. Methos ignored him. Aiming right between the Involution man's eyes, he pulled the trigger - just as the car swerved wildly, and fell down a short, sheer drop. The bullet went wild, firing instead into the second car. Doused in petrol from the leaking tank of the vehicle it was attached to, the undercarriage caught fire. Inside, the three men scrabbled for the doors. The fire spread, engulfing the roof, leaping across to the first car. It struggled to get in through the broken windows, fed by the rushing air outside. The upholstery in the rear of the car began to smoulder and singe.
"Jump for it!" Kerensky was already scrabbling for the door handle. Even as he opened it, the headrests on the backseat burst into flame. Vierman struggled with the handle of the back door, managing to open it even with his bound hands, before falling over MacLeod and out onto the grass. Kerensky and Dawson followed. Methos made a leap for the door himself, but MacLeod threw himself in the way.
"You're not leaving this car." His eyes were as bright as the flames that were about to engulf them. "I won't let you resurrect Kronos."
"You think I plan to give you a choice?" Methos' hands gripped the Highlander's shoulders. "I can't let you burn. Not with the pieces of my brother that you have inside your mind."
"Then I'll burn in hell with Kronos." MacLeod tried to jam himself into the car, but Methos, the fury in his eyes threatening to burst free, pulled with all of his might. There was a lot of strength packed into his slight frame, and despite MacLeod's superior might, the bound man could not get a suitable hold. Together the Immortals fell from the car, rolling and crashing through the shallow undergrowth, bouncing down the steep incline to a precarious halt at the top of a sheer drop. Behind them there was a loud crash and a screech of metal against metal. The pair looked up. The two flaming cars, still locked together, were racing towards them. Duncan's eyes widened in surprise as he stared up at the on-bound missile. He struggled to move aside, but was still helpless in his ropes. Beside him, Methos, himself still struggling against a tangle of knots and cords, managed to get himself to his knees. He threw himself at the Highlander, crashing into him and sending the pair of them hurtling over the edge of the cliff. The car flew harmlessly past them, out into thin air, then hit the ground below and exploded in a burst of white heat. Methos felt the blast capture him as he fell. He felt the heat envelope him, felt the shock of the blast seem almost to override the effects of gravity. Then consciousness left him and he continued to fall.
Duncan MacLeod dreamt.
He dreamt that he was falling through the air, past memories that he couldn't quite recall. He fell past images of Tessa, and one clear picture in particular; Kronos, with his arms around the woman of Duncan's dreams. As MacLeod fell, so the picture changed. It wasn't Kronos anymore, it was Methos. And then it was Joe Dawson. And then, finally, it was Peter Kerensky, a young student fifteen years ago, who had met up with Tessa in Paris, and had a brief love affair.
He dreamt that he was fighting Kronos, a raging, all-powerful demon from who knew where; a giant, war painted figure of a man, with a sword dripping blood onto the grass. The screams of ten thousand dying women and children echoed in MacLeod's ears. And then it wasn't Kronos anymore. It was MacLeod himself, and the blood dripping from the sword was that of Kronos. And then there was no sword at all, but a delicate piece of white porcelain sculpture, with Tessa's name on the side.
He dreamt that he was standing at the top of a cliff, fighting Methos. They were battling to the death, with a host of spectators. Kronos, Caspian and Silas; Joe Dawson and Richie; Amanda and Darius and Hugh Fitzcairn. All of them were watching the fight, and their faces were blurring in MacLeod's memory. He could no longer remember what Fitz had looked like. Had he had black hair? Short black hair? Or had that been Richie? Was Amanda the one with the false legs? And was it Silas who smoked a pipe, and never had any luck with money? MacLeod felt his sword become leaden in his arms, and saw Methos' smiling face fade before his eyes. It wasn't Methos anymore, it was Vierman. A nondescript, grey-suited man with a blood-red tattoo on his wrist. A man laughing a gleeful laugh filled with deceit. And then they weren't standing on a cliff top anymore, either; they were standing in a room at the top of a huge tower, at the bottom of which the sea beat remorselessly against the rocks. There was a design built into the stones of the floor; a vast mosaic of red painted stone. The Involution symbol. When Duncan closed his eyes, he could still see it. It hurt his mind.
"I'm coming for you…" It was Kronos' voice, but it came from Vierman's lips; or was it Vierman's voice coming from Kronos' lips? It was all too blurred to tell. He could hear Methos' voice too, telling him that he was crazy. Maybe the old Immortal was right. Certainly nothing seemed to make sense anymore. The only thing that he remembered with any real clarity was Seacouver. He had been standing in a street with Methos. There had been another man - an Immortal in a wheelchair. He had gone off to fight another of their kind, and MacLeod and Methos had set off together on a mission; a search for three rings… Why didn't he seem to remember anything else after that? He remembered, vaguely, a trip to Europe - am attempt to trace the rings. He remembered getting a lead, going alone to talk to some old man. An old man, with a blood-red tattoo on his wrist. After that there was nothing at all. Just blackness, interspersed with grey. White clouds rolled through his mind, hiding everything. Everything except…
At the bottom of the cliff, Duncan's eyes snapped open. He felt stiff and uncomfortable, which was partly due to the ropes that bound his arms and wrists, and partly due to the recent eighty-foot fall onto jagged rocks. He took a deep, shaky breath, and looked up into the eyes of Kronos. He smiled. Peter Kerensky smiled back.
"Are you feeling okay?" he asked, his British accent seeming to emphasise his very real concern. Duncan coughed some life back into his lungs, groaning at the new avenues of pain that the movements sent through him.
"I'm an Immortal," he said hoarsely, struggling to sit upright. "Is my head still on my shoulders?" Kerensky grinned at him.
"It looks like it."
"Then I'm okay." He stared deep into the pale blue eyes, seeing for the first time how different they were to those other, equally pale blue eyes. There was no coldness here, no malice and sadistic joy. There was innocence, and mortal fallibility, and an urgent wish to help. "Really okay."
"I'm glad to hear it." Kerensky stood up, hefting MacLeod's sword in one hand. He used it to cut the ropes that bound the Highlander, then offered him a hand rising to his feet. Duncan accepted with a grin. Far above him he could see Joe Dawson, grinning and waving, a slumped shape at his feet that could only have been Vierman. "Dawson says he knows somebody who can probably try and undo a little of the Involution conditioning, if you're willing to try."
"I'm willing." Duncan reached out a hand for his sword. Kerensky hesitated, and the Immortal grinned. "Afraid I'll try for your head?"
"Well…" The mortal flashed him a nervous smile. "Would you be very angry if I said… yes?"
"Not really." Duncan took the mortal man's wrist, and gently pulled the sword from his grasp. "You look like Kronos, Peter. You really do. But you're not him, and I can see that now." He stuck the sword into his belt, and put his hands on the other man's shoulders. "I'm sorry. Because of me you've been through hell. I broke your hand…"
"Oh it's nothing. It doesn't even hurt anymore. Not much." Kerensky held up the aforementioned appendage with a lopsided grin. It was blackened with bruising. "It's good enough to fight with anyway."
"Fight?" Duncan turned away, heading back for the cliff face, to begin the climb up again. "What's to fight about? Listen, we've dealt with our immediate pursuers, right? We get to the airport, and we get back to America. The Involution are nothing there, and they can't get to us past Joe's Watchers. Vierman will tell is everything we need to shut this operation down."
"It's not that simple, MacLeod." Kerensky's eyes strayed across the ground, and MacLeod followed the direction of his gaze. There was a pile of rope near to where he had been lying; but it was not the rope that Kerensky had just removed from him.
"Methos!" He ran forward, searching the ground with desperate eyes. "What-- I mean, where is he? He went over that cliff with me, didn't he?"
"Looks like it. I didn't see it myself." Kerensky shrugged. "It looks as though he revived first, and set off on his own. You're lucky he didn't kill you."
"He wouldn't do that. He wants to bring Kronos back to life, and if he's going to do that he has to kill me in the right place." The Highlander groaned, sitting down on the nearest outcropping of rock. "Damn! Damn it all! He's out there on his own, and his head is still stuck in the Apocalypse."
"We can't leave him." Kerensky was toying with some of the cut pieces of rope. "We can't just turn around and go back to Seacouver."
"I know." Duncan's voice was very quiet. "I guess that only leaves us with one option. We have to go after the Involution, look for a way to get past whatever they've done to his mind. We have to reach Adam Pierson, before Methos - my Methos - is gone forever."
"What if there's no way past his programming?" The tone of Kerensky's voice suggested that he already knew the answer. Duncan turned towards him, holding him in his gaze.
"Methos once rode across these lands, killing everybody who stepped in his path. The only man who could hold him in check - and vice versa - was Kronos. If we can't get break the conditioning, and if we can't get through to the guy I've been hanging out with all this time back in Seacouver… then there's only one option. We have to track Methos down - and kill him." With that the Highlander turned around and began to climb back up the cliff. Left behind, Peter Kerensky stood very still, staring out across the rocky paths before him. Methos had taken one of those paths, heading off alone towards who knew what. He didn't even have his sword.
"Come on, Peter!" At the top of the cliffs, Joe Dawson was waving his arm. Kerensky waved back. Did they really need him? Did a four hundred year-old warrior and his best friend really need some confused mortal artist to help them face the Involution? The answer was clearly no. Kerensky would only get in the way. He had never even fired a gun before, and short of a smattering of martial arts and a clumsy knowledge of fencing his only real talents lay with a paintbrush. He flashed himself a grim smile. There was something else that he should be doing; some other loyalty that came before Duncan MacLeod and Joe Dawson and some bunch of men with tattoos on their wrists. There was a fellow countryman - more or less - who was alone and unarmed and in need of a friend; even if he didn't realise it. With sudden determination Peter Kerensky squared his shoulders and set off, heading through the rocky ground in search of the man who had once called him brother. Maybe, he told himself, this was what Kronos would have done. It was Kronos that Methos was in search of, and in that case, it was Kronos that Kerensky must be.
Far above the mortal, Duncan MacLeod reached the top of the cliff and stared down at the vanishing figure below. He opened his mouth to yell out, but Joe's hand on his shoulder stilled him.
"Leave him," Dawson said simply. Duncan frowned.
"We can't let him go wandering off alone. This country is full of the Involution. They want him."
"But they won't kill him. Not yet."
"But nothing Mac. Methos isn't going to come to either of us. If he's going to trust anybody, it's that kid down there. I think Peter understands that."
"So where does that leave us?"
"With a date." Dawson shouldered Methos' sword. "With Jason Brenner."
"You know where to find him?"
"No." Dawson pulled Vierman to his feet. "But he does."
"Oh yes. I was forgetting him." Duncan drew his sword and placed the tip against the prisoner's Adam's apple. "Do you suppose it was him who killed Martin Cheng? Or Anna Kerensky?"
"I don't think it matters. He's going to pay the price regardless." Dawson put a hard, unfriendly hand on Vierman's shoulder. "And he's going to tell us what we want to know."
"I'll take you to Brenner. But you have to promise me that he won't know it was me that took you to him." For the first time, Vierman had real expression in his eyes, no longer the nondescript, bland little man. "Promise me."
"If you like." Dawson stepped aside. "Lead on." Vierman pushed past him, nodding towards the horizon.
"It's that way."
"Shame we blew up the car." Duncan grinned at Joe, who grinned back.
"We never did do things the easy way."
"True." They fell into step together, wandering along the cliff edge. Joe paused for a second as the others walked on, and if Duncan noticed he gave no sign of it. Alone Dawson stared down the cliff, towards the smouldering remains of the cars. Three men had been inside one of them. Three men that he couldn't even name. He hefted Methos' sword in his hand, thinking back over his association with the Immortal. He remembered the day that he had found out who Adam Pierson really was. He remembered the fights and the frustrations. He remembered the long car journey that had brought them closer together. It was more painful than he would ever have thought possible, to think that he might have to stand by now and watch Duncan MacLeod take Adam Pierson's head. It was even worse to think that the old Immortal was down there somewhere, unarmed in a world as full of Immortals as it was with the Involution.
"You might need this," he muttered to the clouds, and pitched the sword over the edge of the cliff. He heard it strike the bottom, and wondered if anybody would ever find it down there. Part of him wanted Methos to find it, and part of him had to hope that, in his current state of mind, he never would. Would some walker come by one day, and wonder how such a weapon had come to be there? Or would Joe himself get the chance to come here again, with Methos, to recover it? There was little point in such speculation right now. He turned away, and hurried to catch up with the others.
Far below him, a shadowy figure strolled out of the cover of the rocks, making a beeline straight for the sword. He was a tattered figure, marked in blood, his clothes torn. Plant dye gilded his face with a brilliant blue streak down one side. He reached out one hand for the sword, lifting the weapon high up into the air, so that the rays of the sun caught it in a dazzling flash of fire.
"I think," the figure said, as it finally lowered the sword, "that I've been away far too long." A wicked grin crossed his face, and with a gentle chuckle he stuck the sword into his belt, then turned to choose his horizon. It was time for the world to remember his wrath. After three thousand years, the last of the Horsemen was ready to ride.