"ONCE WE RODE OUT OF THE SUN..."
Things were stirring. In the great wide expanse that would one day be known as Europe and Asia, an increasing number of nomads were making a journey which they hoped would lead them to a new life, in some new land. They were also, obligingly, taking their herds of sheep and cattle with them, and the animals were an even bigger temptation for the thieves than were the nomads themselves.
Kronos, one of the most feared of all thieves, crouched low behind a covering of rocks to watch the latest band of nomads as they trekked past. It was their own fault, he reasoned. They could expect to be attacked if they travelled through his territory; although, admittedly, he placed most of the known world in that particular category. They looked so unsuspecting as they wandered past. A sizeable herd of cattle marched off to one side, and he smirked. That would make an attack worthwhile, even if it turned out not to be worth it just for the fun value.
"Kronos!" A sharp whisper made him turn, and the buzzing of his senses told him who it was likely to be. Another man was approaching from behind, and Kronos grinned in welcome. The new arrival was his closest friend and companion, Methos, his co-conspirator in a journey across the continent which had earned them both a reputation as near gods. Methos found that amusing, and a testimony to his genius, whilst Kronos ignored the stories. Gods were, in his view, distant and unnecessary creatures, who stayed out of his way, and did little to assist those who invoked their names so regularly. He and Methos, on the other hand, were by no means just legends. There were a million tortured souls floating about in the Underworld who could testify to that.
"What do you think?" Kronos, keeping his voice suitably low, nodded towards the train of nomads. Methos matched his companion's smile with one of his own.
"It's the best I've ever seen," he said, his eyes bright with enthusiasm. "Look at the size of the herd."
"And the train."
"And the train, yes." With a practised eye, Methos surveyed the nomads. He had seen richer, but there was gold there all the same. "I'd say that they aren't too badly off... There are quite a few of them though."
"Yeah... It'll be about a hundred to one in their favour." Kronos' eyes glittered as he glanced back at his friend. "Nearly even."
"But not quite. Perhaps one of us better stay home." Methos turned to go back to their camp. "Are you staying here?"
"No. There's no need. They aren't going to get far with a herd like that in tow."
"They aren't going to get any further at all come tomorrow." Methos did not stop the smirk from spreading across his face. "Race you back to the camp."
"You're on." Keeping low at first to ensure that they continued to remain unseen, the two men set off across the rough ground. Dodging rocks, and stumbling on loose ground, they raced through a sparse covering of undergrowth, heading for the camp they had set up previously. It was a long run, but neither man was afraid of a tough challenge. They had not become such greatly feared warriors for nothing. As they reached the borders of the camp, their two confederates, Caspian and Silas, sat up to watch the end of the race. It was a dead heat.
"Damn. Next time Kronos." Methos threw himself down by the fire, kicking a few stray sheep bones out of his way.
"Sure brother. Next time." Kronos sat down beside Methos, and began to sharpen his sword. It was a reflexive action that was somewhat unnecessary. The deadly edge was already quite capable of severing limbs with little real effort, but Kronos was not the kind to leave things like that to chance. Methos watched him, already bored. His quick mind needed constant stimulation, and it was a long time before tomorrow's promised entertainment.
"How about something to eat?" he asked.
"Okay." Silas stood up. "Mutton stew?"
Methos growled at him. Just recently their diet had been decidedly uninspiring, and the mere sight of mutton stew was enough to make him consider eating Silas. "Never mind." He leaned back to look up at the darkening sky. "We should talk about tomorrow."
"Fine. Mid morning we ride at them. Kill as many as you can in the first sweep, then scatter the rest. If the cattle stampede we can round them up later." Kronos smiled. "Unless you want to try something different?"
"Not especially. But I do rather fancy taking some prisoners this time. Just a few, to interrogate later."
"Fine by me." Sheathing his sword, Kronos switched his dark gaze to the fire, staring deep into it. The flames already seemed to be flashing with a blood red hue, in anticipation of all that was to come with the next day.
"And me. Interrogating is what I do best." Caspian's eyes caught the firelight, but even that hot glow could inject no warmth into his cold expression. Methos laughed shortly, in answer. He was better at such things, and they all knew it. In the violent world of the four compatriots, Methos reigned supreme. Only Kronos could beat him, and then only in combat. Caspian caught the meaning behind the laugh, but he made no comment. Methos would have other things on his mind tomorrow, and Caspian would not be prevented from having a little fun of his own.
"What are we going to do with the cattle?" Toying absently with a log on the edge of the fire, Silas frowned in concentration as he watched the hairs on his forearm curl up and singe in the heat. "Can we keep some?"
"Of course we're going to keep some." Caspian sounded heavily sarcastic. "There wouldn't be any point otherwise, would there."
"Well I didn't know." Silas' frown deepened. "Do we have to kill lots of them?"
"Well we don't have to." Kronos smiled lightly. "But I'm sick of mutton, so I'm going to kill a few at least. Sorry Silas."
"I know." The big man sounded oddly subdued. He hardly paused for breath when he was killing humans, but with animals it was different. "Can we keep some for milk?"
"Milk?!" Caspian stared at his companion. "What do we want milk for?"
"I like milk." Silas sounded defensive. There was often an air of antagonism between him and Caspian, and it was not helped by the latter's disparaging air. "Kronos..."
"Yes okay. You can keep some for milk." The dark Immortal glanced over at Methos, who was looking amused. "But we're not taking the whole herd with us."
"It's alright. I'll look after them." Silas grinned triumphantly at Caspian, earning a glare in reply. Methos stretched languidly, as if distancing himself from all these petty squabbles, and Caspian glared at him as well. There were times when the older Immortal really annoyed him. They were an odd group, in all honesty, and at times it was hard to see why they got on at all, but for the most part their differences were discarded. They were united in much more than simple comradeship. Already they had been riding together for longer than the oldest of mortal men could remember, and the half garbled tales which were told of their existence were little more than a distant echo of the truth. The people who saw the true power of the Horsemen did not live to tell their tales.
Gazing up at the dusky sky, Methos let a lazy smile drift across his lips, as if sharing Caspian's thoughts. His life had been far, far longer than those of his friends. He had travelled so much further, and for the first time since he had become immortal he felt completely at home. Immortals were the only feasible companions. The only people who didn't die and leave you alone. Here, at last, Methos had three of them, to assist him in his work, to help him with something that he was, genuinely, good at. They made such a good team. Caspian's cold sadism, Silas' brute strength, Kronos' bloodthirsty enthusiasm and Methos' quiet, calculated skill. The ultimate combination.
"I'm bored." Kronos voiced the feeling that had engulfed them all.
"You'll have plenty to do tomorrow." Caspian kicked at the edge of the fire. "We all will."
"That's tomorrow." Kronos stood up, the fire throwing uneven shadows across him, like ghosts of the warpaint he usually wore. "Come on Methos. How about a rehearsal?"
"No. I'm asleep." The older Immortal folded his hands behind his head, and squinted up at his companion. Kronos scowled, and drew his sword, letting the blade catch the fire light in just the right way to appear truly demonic. "I'll go and find a straggler or two to practice on then. Someone who won't be missed from the train."
"I'll fight you Kronos!" Happy as ever to get the chance to please his friend, Silas stood up, and drew his own sword. Like its owner, the weapon was huge, the kind that could be wielded only with force rather than with finesse. Kronos shrugged. Any combatant was better than none, and Silas would put up a better fight than some exhausted nomad.
Their blades crashed together, and Kronos felt the force of the blow shake his arm to the shoulder. Methos and Caspian scrambled aside as their two companions came dangerously close to the fire, their metal blades sending mirror images of the flames flashing out around them. Silas used both hands to command his weapon, each blow powerful enough to shatter the skull of an opponent who was not quick enough. He had never sparred with Kronos before, however, and the other Immortal's speed was unnerving. Methos laughed at the confusion on the bigger man's face. Silas' brain did not function quickly enough to compensate for Kronos' swift skill. The odd pair circled each other warily, one big and fair, the other small and dark, weapons ridiculously unmatched. Despite their friendship, and despite their earlier jokes, there was no shared amusement between them now. Neither wanted to lose.
Silas swung his sword around in a mighty arc, and Kronos barely dodged in time, nearly losing his balance as he twisted to avoid the point of the blade. He grinned to himself, aware of the opening that Silas had left in his defences. The smaller Immortal moved forward, striking for the unprotected right side of his confederate. Silas felt the tip of Kronos' sword against his skin, and brought his elbow round hard, catching the other man squarely in the chest. Kronos fell backwards, crashing to the ground, and narrowly missing the fire. The flames shot upwards suddenly, as if in alarm, and Silas brought his sword down, the blade sending plumes of dust into the air as it crashed into the ground where Kronos had been just a second previously. Rolling away, the other Immortal leapt back up to his feet, and tripped Silas, catching him off guard by his sudden recovery. The bigger man fell heavily, and Kronos was by his side in an instant, his sword at the other's neck. Silas groped for his sword, but it had fallen just beyond his reach, and he grinned sheepishly. Kronos flashed him a grin in response, and sheathed his sword, stepping back to allow Silas to rise. Methos watched as the mismatched pair returned to sit beside the fire.
"You shouldn't have let him win, Silas," he said slyly. "He'll be insufferable for the rest of the night."
"Huh." Kronos threw Methos a scathing look. "Do you want to see if you can do any better?"
"Not really." Methos, who was feeling particularly lazy, lay back once again. "Now, if you've worked all of that out of your system, maybe we can get some sleep?"
"If you like." Kronos glanced over at Silas, as if suddenly gripped by one of his rare attacks of guilt. "No hard feelings Silas?"
"No." Silas sounded sulky, and Kronos rolled his eyes. He wouldn't have felt nearly as bad if he had been fighting Caspian, or Methos. Caspian was a misery who did not inspire much sympathy, and Methos never allowed their sparring matches to get serious. Silas, however, was such an uncomplicated soul that it was hard not to feel sorry for him. But not sorry enough to allow him to win.
"Good." Methos rolled over onto his side. "Now save your energy for tomorrow, both of you. There are more important targets for you to raise your swords to."
"Yeah..." Silas sounded cheerful again. "I wonder if they'll have any calves."
"Oh brother." Caspian's voice sounded faint, but as sarcastic as ever. "We're riding against a couple of hundred nomads, and he wants to adopt a family of cows."
"Leave him Caspian." Kronos allowed a hint of authority to colour his voice. "He's not hurting anybody." He grinned." Yet."
"Yeah, yeah. Fine. But when we end up overrun with cattle, don't say I didn't warn you." Caspian scowled into the growing darkness. He had never been half as successful on his own as he was now that he was a part of a team, but even so it annoyed him that he had to bow to the authority of Kronos and Methos. They were a formidable pair, and it was only right that they should be in charge, but that didn't stop it from irritating Caspian at times. He hated to have to admit to another's superiority, but he knew that he could never come close to equaling Methos' mind, or Kronos' combat skills. Perhaps he would show them. One day.
The morning dawned bright and clear. A proud sun gazed down on the four sleeping Horsemen, the only thing in existence that seemed to look at them without fear. Silas stirred first, turning his huge body over, so that the warmth of the new day touched his face. The sudden memory of what was to come made him smile in anticipation, and he sat up, grinning broadly at his friends.
"Wake up!" He leaned over and shook Caspian. The other Immortal sat up suddenly, and growled at him, pushing him away.
"Leave it out Silas. I'm awake." He stood up and looked over at Methos and Kronos, sure that they were awake, but not altogether prepared to take the risk of finding out. Silas was somewhat less circumspect, and almost bounced over to them, shaking Methos with one hand and Kronos with the other.
"Wakey wakey!" His answer was a pair of swords, smoothly drawn, and placed in tandem against his neck. He smirked merrily, unconcerned by the suggestion of a threat.
"Can I kill him Methos?" Kronos asked, the playful glimmer which he only ever allowed his three companions to see, clearly present in his eyes.
"If you like." Methos stood up. "So long as you do it quickly. I hate long goodbyes."
Kronos grinned, and got to his feet as well, sheathing his sword. "No. I'll let him off this time, provided he finds something other than mutton for breakfast."
"Fine." Silas went to one of their pack horses, and removed a bag from one of the panniers. He dug out a bowl, and emptied the contents of the bag into it, positioning the bowl on the quiet embers of last night's fire.
"What is it?" Caspian leaned closer, a faint and unfamiliar smell lingering in the air around him.
"You probably don't want to know." Silas grinned. "Just don't look at it too closely, because it's more than capable of looking back."
"Oh great, he's experimenting again." Caspian backed off slightly. "Whose eyes are they this time?"
"Don't know. I collect them." Silas could have been joking, but it was not always easy to tell. He added a little water to the contents of the bowl. "Could do with some spices."
"You do surprise me." Methos raised his eyebrows. "Do we dive in, or wait for it to come and get us?"
"Not easy being fearless, is it." Kronos leant over the bowl. The slimy contents were not the worst that he had seen decorating a meal dish. After a lifetime spent scavenging for food there were few sights that could really turn the stomach. All the same, there were times when he felt more than a touch suspicious about some of the oddities which, between them, Silas and Caspian managed to come up with.
They ate quickly, then scattered the ashes of the fire and gathered together all that they had left lying around. The four left as little evidence of their passing as was possible. Mangled bodies and the tortured remains of prisoners were one thing, but the signs of a camp were different. It might suggest that the Horsemen were less than infallible. There were other things to do of course, besides tidy up, and each man sat alone in order to paint his face with the design that had become his own. The sun rose higher as they prepared to leave, and the morning was well advanced before Methos gave the signal. As one they mounted, and swung their horses to face toward the train. They stood in line, with Methos and Kronos at the centre, Caspian and Silas beside them. Their horses were tense and expectant. They knew the men who rode them, and they felt the excitement in the air. Methos raised his sword, and the others followed suit. They were waiting for the right time; the moment when they should ride out, to ensure that they would reach the train when the sun was in just the right place.
Kronos did not need to look at Methos. "Is it time, brother?" he asked. Methos nodded.
"Then we ride."
With a whoop that could have come from any of the men, the horses leapt forward, their movements synchronised to perfection. The scenery rushed past them in a blur, its features lost in speed, and the hooves of the horses barely seemed to touch the ground. Only the rising dust showed that they did.
The nomads were moving again, heading towards the place from which they saw the sun rise. Only a few members of the wandering caravan were looking towards the relevant horizon, and the brightness of the sun made it impossible to see anything at first. Then, quite suddenly, four shapes rose from within the yellow disk. Moving with a speed which seemed somehow ethereal, they charged forwards, downwards from the hills, becoming the recognisable forms of four men on horseback. Their swords were raised so that the sunlight radiated out of them, blinding any who looked too hard. Slowly, far too slowly, the alarm was raised. One by one the family units gathered together to try to raise a defence, their fear almost tangible; but it was already too late. Before anybody was clearly aware of what was happening, the Four Horsemen were among them.
Caspian swooped low, and with a blood curdling yell, sliced wildly with his sword. The carnage was instant, and severed limbs fell useless to the ground. Silas, chopping with his huge blade, used the traditional Immortal's move; decapitated bodies dropped into the dust around his horse's hooves, and sightless faces rolled freely about them.
Methos and Kronos, as always, rode together. They worked almost as mirror images of each other, the joy of one clearly present in the face of the other. Caught between these two formidable foes, the helpless nomads could do nothing except die. A few tried valiantly to defend themselves, but neither Horseman was afraid of pain, and neither had any reason to fear death. Faced with such opposition there were none that could survive. Men and women fell everywhere, disbelieving, even at the point of death, that four men could cause so much destruction in so short a time.
Gradually the numbers thinned. The shouting grew quieter and the wild fury of the Horsemen faded into jubilation. More than two thirds of the train lay dead in the dust, and most of the rest were wounded and had fled. A few might survive, out in the wilderness. A few might make it back to civilisation. They would stumble into some city, half dead from fear and exhaustion, and would gasp out some wild tale of Four Horsemen who had ridden out of the sun; and so the legend would grow some more. For now, though, there were the pieces to clear up. Silas and Caspian dismounted, and hunted around in the wreckage of the wagons for anyone who might be hiding. Several terrified children and a handful of women were all that were left, save for the few men who had been spared for future interrogation.
Slowly, haltingly, the survivors were gathered before Methos and Kronos. The two men stared down from their horses, a fearsome image in their warpaint, with their eyes harsh and unforgiving. Methos used his sword to separate them into two groups. On the one hand were the men that he wanted to talk to, and on the other were the women and children that were surplus to requirements. Had he been in the mood he would have found numerous ways in which to put the women to good use; but right now he was only interested in finding out about any other trains that might be out there, waiting for him. This attack had been too easy, and he wanted something more to tax his brain.
"What do we do with these ones?" Caspian asked. Methos shrugged.
"Whatever you like. I don't care." He scanned the scattered remains of the train. "Don't forget to search their belongings. Anything that we can sell, take. Burn the rest."
"You can't do this." One of the women, a small boy held closely to her side, looked up at Methos in a disbelief born of desperation. "You can't just take everything - just kill us like this."
"Why not?" Methos met her gaze coldly and frankly. "It's there, so we take it. You're here, so we kill you."
"But why?" The woman was close to hysteria, but her voice still sounded steady.
"Because we can." Methos smiled, and kicked at his horse, riding past all of these mortals. He had other things on his mind. Kronos looked after him, wondering what new plans were circling inside that remarkable brain, then he glanced back to Caspian and Silas.
"Kill them," he said. "but not those two." He indicated the woman who had spoken, and her child. "They can go. I feel in that sort of mood."
The woman looked up at him, the fear rapidly giving way to hatred. "We don't need your sympathy," she spat. Kronos raised his eyebrows, and smiled.
"I know," he said. "If you did, I'd have killed you myself." Silas laughed, and stood back to allow Kronos to ride after Methos. Caspian glowered.
"If it was up to me I'd kill you with the rest," he muttered to the woman, who was already backing away. It was almost as if she knew that Caspian was the least trustworthy of the four.
"Then why don't you?" she asked, falteringly.
"Because he wouldn't dare." Silas led up a horse that had belonged to someone in the train, and handed the reins to the woman. "Nobody would dare to disobey Kronos or Methos, and Caspian is no different.."
"Shut up Silas." Caspian watched sulkily as he woman climbed onto the horse, her son still tightly held. She was looking down at her former travelling companions, loath to leave them, and yet too afraid to stay. "You'd better move quickly woman, because Kronos will be gone soon, and he won't know what fate befalls you."
"I'll go." A hint of defiance lit up her eyes. "But I'll tell people what you did. They'll come, and they'll hunt you down. They'll kill you all, like you killed all of these people."
Caspian laughed, an unpleasantly harsh sound. "No they won't. Haven't you heard of the Four Horsemen? We're death itself. No one can kill us."
For a second the woman paled, then she recovered herself. "You're not the Horsemen," she said. "You're just men, and men can be killed." And with that she turned her horse and rode away. Silas stared after her, baffled.
"She didn't believe you," he said, sounding outraged. "After all we did. She thinks we're just men!"
"Can you blame her? Letting her go free like that." Caspian scowled after her departing horse. "I wish Kronos would give me warning before he decides to be charitable. It's not good for my nerves." Silas laughed shortly.
"It's only happened once or twice since we met him," he pointed out. Caspian shrugged.
"Still too often." He looked over to the other two members of their team. "What are they talking about?"
"I don't know." Silas gestured towards the little group of survivors which still stood before them; people who were too scared to move, and too lost in the hopelessness of their situation to bother speaking. "When we finish up here we can go and find out. Right?"
"Right." Caspian smiled. "I suppose I'll have to make up for losing the other two by being a little more... energetic with the remainder." He lifted his sword, and placed the tip against the neck of one of the women. "This one first, I think.," he said quietly, "I don't like the colour of her eyes." And he pushed the sword home.
The first light of morning touched the Horsemens' second camp in as many days. The screams of the victims of their interrogation techniques had faded to tired, anguished whimpers, and the night's strenuous activities were over. Caspian wiped the blood from one of his tools - a long hook - and surveyed one of the men critically.
"You broke too easily," he said reproachfully.
"All the better for our purposes, Caspian." Methos stood up. "You have to remember that practicality is sometimes better than artistic flair."
"I suppose." Caspian smiled suddenly. "To think that that came from the mouth of someone who once cut the skin from a man inch by inch in order to get him to tell what he new."
Methos shrugged. "It depends on my mood," he said vaguely. "And besides, I had more of an audience then. Where are the others?"
"Silas is playing with his new cattle, and Kronos is... out somewhere. You know Kronos. He's either practising killing people, or he's found a band of wanderers to test his skills on. Failing that he's scouting for new victims."
"Good. I'll go and look for him." Methos dusted off his tunic and headed for his horse. He was not even half way there before Kronos came riding up. He was not wearing his war paint, which suggested that he had not been successful in finding somebody to play with. As he saw Methos he dismounted, and let his horse wander off.
"Methos! Any luck?"
Methos made a face. "So so. How about you?"
Kronos scowled. "I found a small train, but somebody had beaten me to it. Everyone was dead and the wagons had been looted."
"Really?" Methos raised an eyebrow. "I thought we'd made it clear that we don't like competition."
"Somebody obviously didn't get the message." They had reached the little group of prisoners. Of the six that had been taken, only two were still alive. One, the man who Caspian had told off for being weak, lay back with his eyes closed, his face - or what was left of it - a mask of blood. The other man sat a little taller than the others had done, and he looked up haughtily as the two approached. He was in his middle age, with silvering hair.
"You've come back to finish the job?" he said to Methos, his voice a hoarse whisper as he fought against his pain.
"Apparently so." There was something inherently innocent about Methos, in looks at least . He seemed to be the kind who would be thoughtful and quiet. Many found it hard to accept what he really was, and this proud prisoner had been one of them, at least at first.
"You've found out what you wanted to know," the man told him. "Horus told you everything. You know where the next train is; where it's heading. Why don't you just let us go?"
"Because charity isn't in our nature." Methos slid his sword around his prisoner's neck, just hard enough to break the skin, but not with enough force to do any real damage. Kronos watched, almost fascinated. He never tired to watch Methos at work. His own nature tended more towards violent displays of wild abandon, but Methos was a true artist. Whilst Kronos inspired fear through strength and fury, Methos chilled the bone with his quiet expertise. They made a good team.
"Why?" His eyes were half closed from the pain. "Why do you do this?"
"Why?" Kronos looked genuinely surprised that the man had had to ask. "Because. Because we can. Because it's what we do." He crouched suddenly, and looked the man in the eyes. "Look at me old man. What do you see? You see someone barely half your age, but I'm older than you can possibly imagine. You can never understand... the power that is in our hands. We live to kill. We live for fear. When death is nothing but a half forgotten memory from some other life... life itself becomes... in need of a little more than we could give it otherwise."
"Well spoken brother." Methos sounded approving. "I couldn't have put it better myself."
"Thankyou." Kronos grinned up at him, his eyes hard again. He stood up. "You're afraid old man, but you shouldn't be. What's to fear? Pain or death? The Horsemen have no worry about either."
"Then perhaps you've never faced either." The man looked up, his eyes flicking from one to the other of his tormentors. "What do you know about anything? What are you except - except worthless thieves who think that they can do what they like to the people they encounter?"
"Why you-" Fury clouded Kronos' face, and he took a step forward, arm raised to strike. Methos caught him to prevent the blow.
"No, wait." He frowned at his friend, and then looked back at the old man. "What do you mean, old man? I told you who we are. We're the Four Horsemen. That should mean something to you."
The old man forced a smile. "Oh, it does. I've heard of the Horsemen. Who hasn't? But you're not them. I spoke, not five days ago, to a man who had survived an encounter with the Horsemen. He described them to me. All four were dark, and big. At least as big as your friend - the one you call Silas. They rode huge black horses, and they carried great curved swords. You're not the Horsemen."
"Impostors." Methos spoke the single word with cold malice. Kronos frowned at him in confusion, and Methos closed his hands into fists. "One of the others spoke of something similar. He didn't believe me either, when I said who we are. Someone s impersonating us, brother. Cashing in on our fame."
"Some one-" Kronos broke off, and stared from Methos to the prisoner and back again. "Taking our name? We can't allow this, brother."
"I know." Methos slammed his sword back into its sheath, and began to pace up and down. "They could destroy our reputation; or at the very least put it at risk. Think of the work it's taken, to build things up the way they are. Impostors could end all of that, if they fail to live up to our standards."
"Are you trying to tell me that somebody else - four men big enough to defeat you easily - would pretend to be the Horsemen? To steal the reputation of four men who look like children n comparison?" The old man laughed scornfully. "You boys have a very high opinion of yourselves. You're not the Horsemen."
"That woman said the same..." Caspian spoke up after his long silence. "The one that you set free, Kronos. She didn't believe us either."
"Dammit!" Kronos was white hot with rage. He turned to the old man, his eyes burning. "Listen to me old man. We are the Horsemen, and if it takes the rest of eternity I'll prove that we're not - not whatever it is that you think we are. You think that these impostors are half the men that we are? You really think that you can call us boys?" He drew closer to the prisoner, his voice barely above a whisper. "We've been wandering this land for longer than you'd care to imagine, and we'll be here long after your people are forgotten. And you think that you can insult us by suggestions that we're anything less than what we claim to be?"
"Kronos, this isn't the time." Methos had obviously come to a decision. "We have work to do. We have to find these impostors."
"No. Not yet. What good is it to find them if people won't believe that we're the real thing?" Kronos drew his sword. "You think that we're weak, old man, is that it? You said that maybe we'd never faced real pain, and that was why we didn't fear it. Remember?" He was holding the man by his tunic, lifting him up. "Do you remember?"
"I remember. And my feelings haven't changed." The old man stared back at him, afraid but determined. "I've known all manner of thieves in my time. Like wolves that hunt in packs. They're all worthless animals. They all run away rather than stand their ground."
"Is that so?" Kronos released the old man, and held his sword up. "So I'm afraid to face pain? I don't think so." He turned the sword to face the ground, and with a slow, precise movement, drove it through his own arm. The old man watched, transfixed, seeing the cold metal glide purposefully through flesh and muscle, and watched the blood run away into the dust. Kronos gritted his teeth, and pulled the blade free, looking for a moment at the mess he had made of his arm. It would heal soon enough, but that didn't stop it from being agony in the meantime. It was worth it though.
"You see old man? I'm not afraid, and neither are the others. They'd do the same in a moment, if there was good enough reason. We're no more ordinary men than you are a god. Now do you understand?"
"I - I think I'm beginning to." The old man stared up at them all. "I don't know who you are, but - but you're insane."
"I think he's finally getting the message." Methos smiled broadly." Now if you've finished cutting yourself to ribbons, brother, I'd rather like to be off. We have some important business to attend to."
"Yeah, okay." Kronos had got his temper under control, and he grinned at Methos. "We can show them the true meaning behind the name they've taken on."
"My feelings exactly." Methos matched the grin. "I vote we watch them for a while; gauge their strength. Then we move in and demonstrate some of our more... imaginative talents. Then we end it."
"That's what I like about you brother." Kronos clapped Methos on the shoulder. "You have true style."
"What about him??" Caspian indicated the old man, who now sat quietly on the ground, as if awaiting his fate. "Can I deal with him?"
"Him?" Kronos weighed his sword in his hand, then spun around, cutting the prisoner's head off in a smooth movement. "No. He's served his purpose."
"Kronos!" Caspian stared at the headless body as it toppled over slowly. "I wanted to have some fun."
"I know. And I was feeling charitable again." Kronos grinned at him cheerfully. "Relax brother. You've had plenty of fun already today."
"You could have done it a little more gently." Methos glanced down at his tunic. He had been standing rather closer to the prisoner than might be considered advisable, and the head had spattered him with blood as it flew through the air.
Kronos laughed. "That's your own fault. You shouldn't insist on wearing white."
"It makes me look distinguished. I stand out more this way." He brushed ineffectually at the bloodstains. "People notice me."
"They notice you anyway when you're riding at them with a sword in your hand." Kronos eyed the stains approvingly. "They look good. Adds colour. It makes you look more like a warrior and less like - less like a scholar."
"Huh." Methos smiled. "I'll get Silas. He'll have to leave his cattle behind."
"They'll be fine here for weeks. There's plenty of water and grass." Kronos began to clean his sword. "Tell him to hurry up. We can go a long way before it gets dark. I have a feeling that we may just have discovered who attacked that train I told you about; and there were plenty of tracks there to follow. This might be easy."
"Good." Methos smiled broadly, his eyes bright. "Think of it brother. A real enemy to pit our wits against. They must be reasonably capable if they've managed to fool people this far. I rather think I might enjoy this. It's still early, but already the day's looking up."
The horses trotted onwards, aware that this was just a journey, and not a wild descent into battle. They acted accordingly, almost casual as they carried the Horsemen across the wild territory. The hills and the trees stretched out in every direction, speaking volumes about the untamed nature of the world. It was all so quiet, so serene, and so unspeakably deadly.
"The tracks are getting faint." Caspian leaned low to see the marks on the ground. "The ground's too hard and dry here."
"It doesn't matter." Methos reined in his horse and surveyed the horizon. All was quiet and still, but it spoke too him nonetheless. "They'll be looking for new victims, just like we would. Maybe they're even looking for us. It would make sense. They must realise that they have to face us sometime."
"Stands to reason." Kronos put on one of his rare thoughtful expressions, staring out at the ground before them. "There's a city not far from here, remember? We went there once, some time ago."
"That's right. Panoplis. It's probably still there." Methos nodded curtly. "They'd go there. They'd want to sell whatever they stole from the people they attacked, and they probably want to relax."
"They won't get much relaxation once we get there," Caspian growled. Methos allowed himself a brief smile.
"True. But we needn't announce ourselves immediately." He frowned in a second's contemplation. "Which means we need to be unobtrusive, at least at first. Do you think we can all manage that this time?" There was a silence, and Methos imagined that a faint hint of embarrassment hung in the air. He decided to play on it to full effect. "Unobtrusive means not trying to ride off with the Headman's wife, Caspian. It also means not destroying half the town when a drunken brawl gets out of hand, Kronos."
The other Immortal grinned at him. "Methos, I swear. I shall be restraint itself. Have you ever known me to be anything less than cautious?" His only answer was a wry lift of those expressive eyebrows.
"Yeah. Well just this once try not to be yourself, okay?" He gestured at Silas and Caspian. "You two had better head off in a slightly different direction. It'll look better if we come at the town separately, rather than as a group. Oh, and Silas?"
"What?" Already turning away, Silas glanced back. Methos waved a hand at his friend's face.
"The paint. It doesn't help to make you look like part of the crowd."
"Oh, right." The big man blushed slightly beneath the war paint. "I'll wash it off. Thanks Methos; I forgot."
"No matter. The other two rode away, and Methos watched them go before he flashed a smile at Kronos. "Shall we be off?"
"You're too kind." They spurred their horses onwards. It was not a long ride to the city, and if they moved fast enough they had every chance of making it by nightfall the following day. Their horses were amongst the fastest available. It was not an altogether unpleasant journey, but neither Immortal was in the mood to enjoy the aesthetic delights of the country that they were passing through. Their usual companionable silence had given way to moody thought, as they both considered their anger at the sudden discovery that four men were impersonating them. The legend of the Four Horsemen, which had been built up over a considerable amount of time, was a source of a great deal of pride, and it meant a lot to the four men who had built their names up from nothing. They had all come from nowhere; wandered out of insignificance to the discovery that they were immortal. They had created the legend of the Horsemen as an escape from obscurity and the threat of tedium. Now, after all that they had worked so hard to obtain, a group of impostors were threatening to steal it all. Both Methos and Kronos had their own plans about how to deal with these pretenders. They had to die of course. They had to serve as an example to anyone else who might take it upon themselves to pretend to be what they were not. The world had already learnt the hard way that the Four Horsemen were a force to be reckoned with, and none of the Four was remotely unwilling to begin the lesson all over again if necessary. After all, if their names weren't worth fighting for, what was?
Panoplis had grown since their last visit, but that was hardly a surprise. None of the inhabitants that Methos and the others had encountered before were likely to even be remembered now. A few people glanced up as the two Immortals rode in. They were a striking pair, dressed as they were, with one in white and the other in black. Kronos growled softly at a pair of children who strayed too close, and they ran away. Word obviously travelled fast, for none of the other children in the town came near them after that.
They dismounted beside an inn, and left their horses in the street. Neither wore a saddle, and they were too well trained to wander far, so there was no reason to pay them further attention. Methos watched his mount drift aimlessly towards a watering hole nearby, and turned to speak to Kronos. He froze.
"Immortals." Kronos spoke the word a little too loud, but Methos' own surprise at this latest development prevented him from making a reproach. He nodded, and gestured at the inn.
"Do you think it's Caspian and Silas?" he asked. Kronos shrugged.
"Could be. They're due in about now. Odd that there's no sign of their horses though."
"Rather what I was thinking." Methos let his hand fall to his sword hilt. "Do we go in, or wait around?"
"Depends on how desperate you are to remain unobtrusive." Kronos toyed with his sword, eager to go in and confront these potential rivals. "If we've sensed them, they've sensed us. Can you tell how many there are?"
"More than one." Methos shook his head. "More than two. I can't tell beyond that, not for sure." He smirked at his friend's impatience. "I suppose we might as well introduce ourselves. I always like to be polite."
"I don't." Kronos grinned back. "I'd rather cut a man's hand off then shake it."
"Yes, well we can't all be like you, Kronos, sad though that is." Methos took a deep breath. "After you this time, I think."
"Why thankyou brother." Kronos crossed to the door, and pulled it open. Inside, the inn was filled with tables, and people talking together. The air was heavy with the scent of many kinds of tobacco, and the banging of tankards on tables showed that plenty of drinking was taking place. Kronos entered, Methos just behind him, and together they strode to the serving counter. From there they could see the rest of the room well, and it was easy to identify the Immortals. Methos nudged Kronos' arm.
"Take a look brother," he whispered. Kronos looked towards their brethren. There were four of them, big and dark, and dressed in loose black clothing. Large curved swords hung at their sides.
"Well well. Looks like we get to kill two victims with one sword thrust," Kronos muttered. "Our impostors are Immortals. Who'd have thought it?"
"Yes. Changes things somewhat, doesn't it." Methos turned to the man behind the counter. "Two mugs of wine."
"Certainly." The man poured a cloudy red liquid into two tankards, filling them until they were almost overflowing. Methos threw a coin at him, and together he and Kronos approached the table next to the other Immortals. In a crowded room it was difficult to know what rules to play by, and they had decided to let events unfold on their own. The four big men watched them as they sat down, and seemed to be talking amongst themselves. Finally, one turned to the new arrivals.
"Why not sit with us?" he asked. "It's been a long time since we met others like ourselves."
"No thanks." Methos favoured the man with one of his most charming smiles. "We prefer to drink alone."
"Do you?" The big Immortal drew himself up in his chair, appearing bigger than ever. "I don't often make an offer twice."
"That's okay." Whilst Methos had sounded almost friendly, Kronos made no attempt at such a pretence. "We don't often refuse twice. Other methods are a little more conclusive."
"Are you challenging me?" The big man shifted in his chair, emphasising his size, and glaring at the two newcomers.
"Not really no. Not yet." Methos smiled again. "It's just that we're waiting for some people. We were told we could meet them here. The Four Horsemen."
"And why would you be looking for the Four Horsemen?" A leering smile had crossed the big man's face, and he glanced back at his three comrades. They seemed to share his amusement. Methos acted innocently, a sure sign that he had some plan in mind.
"They're friends of ours," he said. "We've known each other for a long time. You know that they're Immortals of course?" The big man's smile faded, and he glanced back towards his friends. Kronos smiled slowly, enjoying this immensely. Watching Methos could be a joy at times.
"I had suspected that they might be Immortals, yes." The big man forced a smile suddenly, and gestured at the tankards on the table. "If you won't sit with us, at least let me buy you a drink. I'm sure it pays to remain friendly with acquaintances of the Horsemen."
"Oh it does. Definitely." Kronos smiled at Methos, who was still looking almost implausibly innocent.
"But we don't like to drink much," the older Immortal finished, lying smoothly. He wanted to keep these would be hosts as much on edge as possible. "We have work to do, you see. It seems that our friends have some rivals. Some people are pretending to be them; hiding behind their reputation. I'm sure you can appreciate that it's made our friends very angry."
"I see." The big man smiled. "But what makes your friends so sure that they can defeat these impostors? Sometimes the old must give way to the new, so that things can regenerate and grow stronger."
"Very well put." Methos stood up. "But I wouldn't recommend that you tell our friends all that." He drained his mug, and Kronos followed suit. The wine itself was not strong, but it was enough to strengthen their determination. These men were on edge now. They were likely to want to leave town as quickly as possible, and that would make it easier to attack them. In town it was not so easy to make an effective assault.
"Methos! Kronos!" The voice of Silas, loud and cheerful, filled the room. Both Immortals turned involuntarily at the sound, and Methos frowned. Hadn't they realised that there were other Immortals here? The remaining members of the genuine Horsemen strode closer, and as they did so, Silas noticed the four men on the next table. He frowned, and then looked over at Methos.
"It's the impostors," he said, his voice too loud. "You've found them," and he drew his sword.
"Silas..." exasperated, despite the fact that he tended to sympathise more with Silas' approach than that of Methos, Kronos reached for his friend's arm. "Put the sword away."
"But Kronos!" Silas frowned. "Oh. You had a plan, didn't you."
"We did, yes." Kronos looked up as the lead impostor stood, his eyes now seeming much further away than they had done previously. This man was big. The pretender stared back, then glanced over at Methos, before finally taking in Silas and Caspian.
"You?" he said, his voice heavy with disbelief. "You little pip-squeaks are the Horsemen?"
"You said it." Kronos drew his sword before Methos could do anything, and the older Immortal sighed in exasperation. Damn Kronos' short fuse. He drew his own sword, half considering using it on Kronos first.
"Well then I think the old is about to give way to the new." As the other three impostors stood up, the big man stepped back into line with them, and they all drew their swords together. Caspian drew up level with his three comrades.
"I thought we were being unobtrusive?" he hissed. Methos glared at him.
"Shut up and fight," he said sourly. "And if you get killed, don't bleed all over me."
"Charming." Caspian pulled his sword out, identifying his opponent from the line of four. Each of the Horsemen closed in on a rival, and the air was soon filled with the clang of metal on metal. The other patrons in the inn scattered rapidly, running for cover at either side of the room as the eight Immortals clashed violently. Methos, relying as ever on cunning rather than skill, dodged quickly, confusing his irate opponent with some dazzling footwork. Silas and his foe fought it out directly, their great strength meeting head on. Caspian fought wildly, using his small knife as a secondary weapon, to present a further threat. His opponent dodged quickly, despite his greater size, and the two were clearly deadlocked, neither able to gain a sure advantage.
Kronos, meanwhile, had brought his fight out into a more open area of the room. His opponent was evidently a swordsman of considerable skill; but so was Kronos. In a blinding demonstration of swordplay they faced each other squarely, testing each other, and almost playing. In a deadly ballet they circled, tables and chairs becoming a further part of the stage for their battle, as they negotiated the furniture like acrobats.
"Halt!" The loud voice of authority cut through the inn like an explosion, but none of the Immortals seemed to react to it. By the door, angry that he had been ignored, the leader of the town's militia gestured to his men. In seconds the reserve guard had flooded the room. They moved quickly, dodging the sword blades which could so easily have been fatal, and overpowering Kronos, Methos and Caspian. The five bigger Immortals proved to be a greater challenge, and whilst the other three struggled against the grip of their captors, Silas fought on against his opponent, as the other three impostors pushed back the militiamen trying to overpower them. Finally the soldiers fell back, struggling to bring their prisoners with them. The four impostors, suddenly free from opposition, closed in on Silas. With a violent blow from behind, one of them struck him down, and as he fell, another of the big men stabbed him through the chest.
"Silas!" Kronos strained against the grip of the militiamen, breaking free, but his sword had been taken. One of the bigger Immortals knocked him away with ease, and caught up the body of Silas. Half stunned, Kronos could offer no resistance as the militiamen descended on him once again; and none of them could do anything as the four would-be horsemen dragged their prize away. Silas was unmoving in the grip of his conquerors, and even Methos, usually calm, struggled fiercely as the militiamen pulled him from the inn. There was no opportunity to help Silas right now. He would have to take his chances with his captors.
"So what makes you think that we should let you go?" The head of the militia, a big man, whose size had more to do with a sedentary lifestyle than an active career, stared at the three men lined up in front of him. "It's taken a lot of work to drive the thieves and the wild men out of Panoplis. Now we've succeeded in making it a town fit to honour our gods in. And you ride in, picking fights in the inn, destroying town property, endangering lives..."
"Look, we didn't come here to argue with you." Concern for Silas had put Methos on edge. Whilst the Horsemen cared nothing for others, they were prepared to do anything for each other. "I'm sorry if we made a mess of things, but those men are enemies of ours, and they've taken our friend. While you keep us here talking, they-"
"Your friend's dead. I saw him killed." The officer was unsympathetic. "If I let you go, what assurance do I have that you won't go back to breaking the town up? This is a respectable place."
"Like hell it is." Kronos, his eyes fixed on their antagoniser's face, smiled crookedly. "Now let us go, and we'll try to leave you in one piece. How does that sound?"
"Nice, Kronos. Very diplomatic." Methos rolled his eyes, and turned back to the militia chief. "Look. We can pay you for any damage that we've caused, if that's what you want. We never had an argument with anyone from this town. We're only interested in the four men who took our friend." He moved slightly closer to the chief, intentionally blocking his view of Kronos. "Why not let us leave? It can't hurt."
"No. No, standards have to be maintained. We may be a long way from the other cities, but we have laws here." The headman stood up, and stepped away from the table, preparing to call the guards. He froze. Hidden from his view, Kronos had pulled a long knife from inside his tunic. He grinned at the chief, his eyes glinting curiously.
"We tried to help you," he said reproachfully. "My brother here did everything he could to stop you from throwing your life away, but it just didn't work, did it. You had to have it your way. Game's over soldier."
Before the hapless headman could call out to his guards, Kronos ran him through, leaving him lying on the floor with the knife sticking out if his chest. Methos crossed quickly to the door, and looked out. In the room beyond, a handful of militiamen sat around, the confiscated swords nearby. The old Immortal frowned thoughtfully, then grinned.
"The direct approach I think," he said. "Follow me." Taking a deep breath, he marched out into the next room. The guardsmen looked up, surprised, but did not seem to suspect anything. Methos picked his sword up from the table where it lay, and smiled at the nearest guard.
"Nice weather we're having," he said cheerfully, and ran the guard through. The other two militiamen jumped to their feet, but Kronos and Caspian overpowered them immediately. The sickening crunch of breaking necks told the Immortals that these men would not be causing them any more trouble, then, swords sheathed, the escapees slipped quietly from the building and out into the street.
It was nearly dark, and the streets were all but deserted. Methos whistled shrilly, and their horses appeared like magic. There were four of them of course, and Methos took the reins of Silas' mount. With a bit of luck he would be needing it soon.
"Which way do we go?" Swinging up onto his horse, Kronos looked about in the dark, unable to find any inspiration in the shadows.
"The opposite direction to the one we came in." Methos kicked at his horse, vanishing quickly into the darkness. His comrades followed on. They had no idea how Methos had come to such a conclusion, but they knew enough to trust his judgement. The town slipped by, and soon they were out in the wilderness again. The desolation of their surroundings intensified the silence, and added to the frustration and worries of the riders. One of their brotherhood had been hurt, and they were prepared to do anything to recover him.
"Take it steady." Methos reined in his horse, and the others followed suit.
"What is it?" Caspian asked.
"Nothing exactly. It's just that if we get close enough to feel them, they're going to know that we're coming." He frowned. "We can try splitting up, and advancing carefully, or we can charge straight in."
"I think I prefer the second option." Caspian already had his hand on his sword. "Four of them, four of us."
"Three of us," Methos corrected. "We've no idea what shape Silas is in. We have no idea why they took him. It might just have been because the Quickening would have been a little public back at the inn."
"Silas isn't dead," Caspian said gruffly. "We'd know if he was, wouldn't we? We've been together so long..."
"I don't know. I really don't know." Methos looked over at Kronos. "Your call brother. It's one against one."
"I side with you Methos, as always." Kronos frowned deeply. "They can't be far ahead. They didn't get that much of a head start, and I can't believe that their horses are nearly as fast as ours. Splitting up is our only chance."
"Agreed." Methos slid from his horse. "The we leave the horses here. We can't be The Horsemen tonight."
"I don't like this." Caspian dismounted nonetheless. "I feel as if we're playing right into their hands."
"It's worth it to help Silas," Kronos told him, as he dropped to the ground. "You go that way Caspian, I'll go this way. When we find them... every man does what he can, when he can."
"Fine. I'll concentrate on letting their horses loose," Methos added. "You try to free Silas."
"Sounds good to me." With a last wave of farewell, Kronos disappeared into the night. Soon the darkness had swallowed all three of the Horsemen as they made their separate ways forward, hopefully towards their quarry. Alone in the silence, Methos concentrated, waiting for the slightest hint of the presence of an Immortal. He thought he heard the barest hint of laughter, carried on a breath of wind, but he couldn't be sure. All the same, it was a target to focus on, and he headed towards the noise. He could only hope that it might have been the men that he was looking for.
Kronos moved quickly, running across the uneven ground, paying no heed to the darkness. Such a short time ago he had been angry with Silas for ruining Methos' plan, but right now he was willing to do all that he could to save his friend. The big Immortal could be infuriating at times, with his slow ways and his sometimes childish actions, but he was a Horseman, and the Horsemen were sworn to each other.
The silence stretched out all around, and Kronos listened to it intently, searching for a sound - any sound - that might alert him. So intent was he on listening that he almost failed to react to the buzzing feeling which told him that there were Immortals nearby. He slowed for a second, then smiled into the darkness and pressed on. Caution could go to hell; it wasn't his style. Let Methos worry about plans.
In the makeshift camp that the fake horsemen had set up, the four big men and their prisoner all sensed the approaching Immortal at the same moment. The captors shared a smile. It had been a last minute stroke of genius, acquiring some bait so that their enemies would follow them out of town, to a place where it would be easier to kill them. Sitting and waiting for their prey to arrive was easiest part of the plan. Silas, well aware by now of his captors intentions, groaned into the darkness. After he had returned to life, the impostors had tied him up, and gagged as he was he could not hope to warn his friends. It was odd, though, that he only seemed able to detect one person approaching. If they had split up, where were the others? There might be hope yet.
Kronos moved closer to the camp. He could see Silas now, immobile near a small fire. There was no immediate sign of the four pretenders, which suggested that this was a well-bated trap. He grinned. That didn't necessarily pose a problem. Not if he could free Silas quickly enough.
Stepping out of the undergrowth, Kronos strode purposefully towards the prostrate prisoner. Silas gazed up at him, trying to speak, but Kronos paid him little attention. He was tense, feeling the closeness of the Immortals, but unable to tell where they were. He crouched beside his friend, and began to cut the ropes binding his wrists.
"Nicely caught. The trap seems to have worked." It was the Immortal who had done all of the talking at the inn, and Kronos rose to meet him, glancing about for any sign of the others. The big man smiled down at him. "Ah. It's the tough-talking little one. Where are your friends?"
"I don't know." Kronos spun his sword idly in his hand. "Do you want to wait for them?"
"Not particularly." Drawing his sword with a flourish, the big man closed in. Helpless on the ground, Silas rolled away, trying to avoid being stepped on. It was a big temptation to try to kick the legs of the impostor out from under him, but even the Horsemen were not prepared to break the laws of their kind. Battles between Immortals had to be one-on-one. The rules were clear.
Nearby, Methos heard the sound of swords clashing, and didn't need to be told what was going on. He was willing to bet that it was Kronos doing the fighting, and his suspicion was confirmed when he caught a glimpse of Caspian in the distance. Somewhere there were still three other false horsemen to contend with though. If Kronos had engaged one in battle, the other three were probably out looking for Methos and Caspian.
The old Immortal closed his eyes, concentrating hard. He felt a faint buzz which was probably Caspian, and he could feel the relative closeness of Kronos and his combatant. Then, faintly, he felt something else; something, he thought, which came from his left. He turned, drawing his sword. There was only one way to find out who this was. He hurried on. Up ahead a twig cracked, and he grinned, the buzzing within him getting stronger as he came closer to his quarry. The man would have noticed him by now, but that was hard luck.
"There you are." Stepping forward brusquely, Methos grinned up at his latest opponent. The big man smiled, and drew his sword.
"Hello," he said, his tone almost conversational. "Are you ready to die, little man?"
"Not really. Are you?" They circled for a moment, watching each other carefully as they moved in, their swords brushing at each other as if unwilling to compromise the silence. Methos concentrated hard, aware that this man was a formidable opponent. His size alone made him a force to be reckoned with, but he was also a good swordsman. Not that that was necessarily a concern. Methos was a master of dirty tricks. He parried a couple of blows, and then cut at the man's knees. The big impostor wobbled uncertainly, and Methos struck at his arms, before falling back into a defensive position. It was a routine which had served him well - a selection of unassuming moves, then a few quick strikes at the least expected places. It made for a long fight, but the outcome was almost certain. He settled himself into the rhythm, and prepared to take his latest victim.
Kronos and his huge opponent fought on, unaware that Methos and another of the impostors were also battling it out nearby. Time passed, with neither man able to obtain an advantage. On the ground, Silas struggled. Kronos had cut halfway through the ropes before he had been interrupted, and Silas was sure that he could break free if he tried hard enough. He wriggled his wrists around, rubbing them raw, all the time watching the complicated exchange of sword thrusts going on before him.
"Don't move." The voice came from somewhere beyond the reaches of the light from the fire. Kronos and his companion did not respond, but Silas looked over towards the voice. Out of the gloom came a man, big and hostile looking, his huge arm gripping Caspian around the throat. He held his sword against his prisoner's neck, apparently itching to slice through it. Silas winced. Caspian was going to be very angry about this.
"I said don't move." Heaving his prisoner closer to the fire, the big Immortal raised his voice, stepping into Kronos' line of vision. The smaller Immortal hesitated, and Caspian looked at the ground.
"I'm sorry Kronos," he said, his voice hoarse. Kronos looked from his comrade to his former opponent, and then threw his sword down, angry at this turn of events.
"Well done, Zoser." The big man who had been fighting Kronos nodded his approval. "Where's the other one?"
"I haven't seen him," the other man answered. "But we have two men out there; they'll find him."
Forgotten, Silas made one last, desperate effort to pull free, and the ropes around his wrists came loose. He smiled grimly and reached for the bindings at his ankles. Now that he could get his fingers around the knots, he was able to tug the ropes off quickly, and he stood up. Nobody seemed to have noticed him yet, and he picked up a piece of wood lying near the fire. It would do for a weapon until he could lay his hands on his sword. He weighed it in his hand, a harsh glint in his eyes, and started forward.
"Zoser! Malago!" The voice of warning came from nearby, and Silas spun around, catching the new arrival in the stomach with all the force that he could put behind his chunk of wood. The Immortal's legs buckled, and he fell, dropping his sword. Silas picked it up, and stabbed the man through the back, leaving him to bleed into the mud. Caspian, taking advantage of Zoser's distraction, dragged himself free, knocking the big man off balance with an almighty effort, and dragging the weapon from the ham-like fist which clutched it. It took just a second to run Zoser through, and the big man fell into an ungainly heap beside the fire. Silas and Caspian grinned at each other, and looked back to Kronos. He had made no attempt to overpower his opponent - Malago - but was merely standing still, Malago's huge hand gripping his shoulder. Caspian frowned; something was wrong. Then he saw the blood, barely visible against the black colour of Kronos' tunic. Malago's sword had gone right through the smaller Immortal's body, and was sticking out of his stomach. He looked down at it, confused, and then looked up at his two friends.
"You know," he said, a half smile twisting at his lips, "it really doesn't hurt all that much. If you ask me, death is very over rated." He took an uncertain step forward, and pulled free from the sword, collapsing on the ground in a river of blood. Malago stared down at him, then began to back away.
"Don't follow me," he said, waving his sword about. "I'm not losing my head to a bunch of insignificant little men."
Lying on the floor, and only half conscious, Kronos managed a smile. "Then you'd better not take another step that way," he said, amusement showing in his voice. The big man glared down at him.
"I rather think I'm above that one," he said contemptuously. "Try again little man."
"Fine. Don't look behind you then." Kronos lay back, and gave Malago no further attention. He had his own problems to consider. The big man snorted, and took another step backwards; and impaled himself on Methos' sword. He stared down at it, protruding from his chest, and choked in surprise, blood running down his chin. He tried to speak, but Methos pulled his sword free and gave him a push. Malago wavered uncertainly, and then crashed to the ground. He lay still.
"Nice work Methos!" Silas, retrieving his own sword from Malago's belt, looked up admiringly.
"Huh. At least I'm still thinking." Methos hook his head. "Look at you, like a bunch of amateurs. Call yourselves Horsemen?" He knelt beside Kronos. "Are you alright brother?"
"Of course I am." Kronos struggled to sit up. "I seem to be bleeding on your tunic."
"Don't worry about it too much. I'm planning to get a new one." He grinned. "You look a right mess."
"Thanks. You know-" he winced, and tried to change position to lessen the pain. "This bloody hurts. Remind me next time somebody annoys me that it pays to stab them in the stomach."
"I'll try and remember." Methos gripped his friend's hands. "Now quit lying around like an invalid, and get up. We have some heads to take."
"Oh good." Kronos allowed Methos to pull him to his feet. "Did you get all of them?"
"Of course. There's three here, and the fourth is nearby. They're all desperately anxious to be beheaded." He smiled suddenly. "What do you suppose would happen if we were to cut off all four heads at the same time?"
"I've no idea, but I bet it'd be worth seeing." Kronos frowned, concentrating beyond his pain, and leaning on Methos for support. "Caspian, Silas, set them up - and get the other one as well. Better hurry, they won't stay dead for long."
"Right." Caspian and Silas worked quickly, tying the big Immortals' hands and feet so that they would have no opportunity to escape. Despite their speed, the big men were beginning to awaken by the time that they were arranged, on their knees, in a circle around the little fire.
"What are you doing?" Zoser gasped, his voice somewhere between anger and fear. "You can't execute us! We're supposed to die in combat."
"Hard luck." Methos turned to Kronos. "Are you sure you're up to this?"
"Of course. It's just a scratch." Kronos managed to pick up his sword, and positioned himself by one of the Immortals. "On your mark brother."
"Alright." As one the Four Horsemen raised their swords. "Ready..." Four sets of arms tensed, ready to bring the weapons down. "Now!" The swords descended, as if in one movement, and the four heads dropped together into the embers of the fire. There was a silence, then, suddenly, a hurricane seemed to tear through the camp. Like a wild man in a rage it tore past the Horsemen, ripping at them, and dashing the remnants of the fire about the ground. Four pillars of blue light erupted from the headless Immortals, charging up into the air, far, far up, where they collided with a sound like thunder, shattering into thousands of flashes which descended upon the men on the ground. Racing around through the air, the shards of light wove together, and formed four blue spears which burned through the Horsemen, lifting them up into the air, tossing them about as though they were made of rags, and then hurling them into the ground.
Slowly the noise faded and the raging wind calmed and then ceased. Methos opened his eyes experimentally, and blinked up at the sky. He groaned.
"If I ever suggest anything that stupid again, please hit me. Hard."
"My pleasure." Kronos sat up gingerly. "Is everybody alright?"
"Well I know I am." Methos stood up, and puled Kronos to his feet. "Although I have a headache worse than the last time we drank an inn dry."
"I know what you mean." Kronos stretched his arms, as if checking that he was still in one piece. "Still, it would seem that we've won our names back."
"It would, wouldn't it." Methos looked over at Caspian and Silas, who were stirring, and groaning with the recovery of their senses. "There are still a lot of people out there who think these men were the Horsemen, though."
"Yes. We're going to have to show them otherwise, aren't we." Kronos began to clean off his sword, smiling coldly. "Where do you suppose that train of nomads has got to by now?"
"Goodness knows." Methos matched his friend's smile with one of his own. "But it can't hurt to look, can it."
"Can't hurt us anyway." Kronos slammed his sword into its sheath, and grinned. "And who gives a damn about anybody else?"
"Exactly." Methos laughed, already planning their next assault; in his mind's eye seeing the terrified people who would run from the advance of the Horsemen. "So let's get going. I've been thinking of stepping up our operations. How would you feel about moving a little further afield?"
"Fine. New targets, new challenges. New nightmares to create." A bright light had ignited in Kronos' eyes. "And Caspian and Silas would follow us anywhere."
"Of course they would." Methos smiled happily. "After all, together we can conquer the world."
A few days later, Methos and Kronos stood on a cliff, staring down at the sea which raged beneath them. They had found the train, and it now lay in smoking ruins, the bodies of the nomads shouting out the legend of the Horsemen for all the world to hear. Methos stared out at the horizon, far out to where it met the sea.
"Do you ever want to go there, brother?" he asked. "See what lies beyond?"
"Of course I do. And I'll go there one day." Kronos sighed happily. "But for now I belong here."
"For now, yes. But one day..."
"One day we'll sail out there together, and see what new lands there are to conquer."
"Some say there's nothing there but the end of the world," Methos mused.
"Do you believe that?"
"Then one day we'll find out."
"Yeah. But for now..." Methos grinned. "For now there are still plenty of nightmares that we can put our names to. Out there, beyond the sea, no one knows who we are. I think I'd like to stay where my name is revered. At least for a while." He smiled. "How about you, Kronos? What do you want?"
"Same as you, brother. Adventure, battle, death and glory. To spread our legend across the whole of the world." He smiled. "And to jump off this cliff right now."
"Are you serious?" Methos stared down into the wildly foaming waters beneath them. "You'd get dashed to pieces."
"Yeah, I know. Crazy, isn't it. But it doesn't matter. I can't get hurt. The sea is the most powerful force on the planet, brother, but even it can't kill us. Don't you see? There's nothing that can stop us."
"Yeah, I see." Methos laughed suddenly. "Well why the hell not. After you brother."
Kronos laughed. It was a laugh of pure madness, full of all the glory of freedom. He caught Methos' hand, and together they jumped into space. Later, exhausted and soaking wet, they would stagger out of the surf, laughing at the sheer insanity of it all; then they would ride off again, charged with the knowledge that the whole of the world was theirs to do what they wanted with. For now though, the two Immortals, battered by the waves and the rocks, lay back to enjoy their own indestructibility. How did the world, and all of its feeble mortals, hope to contend with the might of the Horsemen? Civilisation was still so young, and the Immortals were only just getting started.
Er, not a lot... Just that, in about 1500 BC, a lot of nomads began to travel east, on a journey which would have taken them right slap bang through the middle of Horsemen territory. Poor, unsuspecting fools... Serves them right, really. They took herds of sheep and cattle with them, and at about the same time, somebody seems to have invented a horse drawn wagon.