THE WORLD INSIDE
The lone rider dismounted, staring about at the city. His eyes were bright, and his face reflected his enthusiasm, his excitement at being back in civilisation. He was a man who loved to explore, to search out all that he had not yet seen, and he lived for the unknown. Methos was as ancient as any civilisation which existed on Earth, and there was little that was new to him. His life had taken him across the face of the planet many times, teaching him more about it than any other living man could possibly yet hope to know; for this was the ninth century, and knowledge was limited.
Grinning, Methos tied his horse to a post set in the city centre for just that purpose, and turned slowly about, picking a direction at random. He settled for straight ahead and set off, whistling softly. His sword swung at his side, banging gently against his leg, and he incorporated its rhythm into his music.
The city sights passed by as he walked, and he absorbed them all eagerly. Despite his great age, there was a certain childlike quality about Methos. Despite all that he had seen, and all that he had done, he remained eager for more; excited by all that was new, and fascinated by all that he saw around him. There was still much to learn, even when one was fast approaching four thousand. He marvelled at the architecture of the buildings that reached upwards into the sky. Twisting spires and gold clad pillars stared down at him, their silent surfaces impassive and oddly watchful.
One building stood out from the others, rising far above them. Topped with pale blue roof tiles, it was decorated with intricate carvings and impressive murals. Methos stared up at the painted scenes; flowers, dragons and strange birds. He heard footsteps behind him and turned. Three men, dressed in what appeared to be a sort of uniform, stood in a line before him, their faces as impassive as the buildings that towered above them.
"It's forbidden to look at the palace," one of the men said, his tone faintly belligerent. Methos frowned at him.
"You're kidding. A building as beautiful as this one?" He shrugged. "Oh well, it's your city."
"That's right." Another of the men drew his sword, allowing the light to gleam along the edge of the huge, curved blade. "What are you doing in it?"
"Just looking around." Methos frowned. "Look, I don't want any trouble, friend. I'm just passing through. I'm sorry that I'm not familiar with your local customs-"
"So am I." The first man pushed aside his companion's sword. "But whether you're a stranger or not, we have to take you in. That's the law." He offered the Immortal an apologetic smile. "I know it's not much of a welcome..."
"I'm being arrested for looking at a building?" Methos stared at the guard, his face displaying anger and confusion. "I don't believe this."
"Believe it." The third guard, who had not spoken before, stepped forward to gesture towards a door set into the side of the building. "If you can answer the commander's questions we'll let you go before sundown."
"Commander?" Methos allowed himself to be directed through the door, and into a long corridor beyond. It was faintly irritating to be arrested before he had been in the city for even as much as half a day, but it was not as if that had never happened before.
"The head of the Royal Bodyguard." The first guard, who had so far been the most friendly, spoke up readily, his tone conversational. "He was appointed by the king to guard the princess, before the king disappeared a few months ago. Nobody knows where he went." He shrugged philosophically. "We must protect the princess." It sounded like a mantra.
"So who is this commander?" Methos rather suspected that the quality of his immediate future rested with the goodwill of the man he was on his way to meet. His cheerful guard shrugged.
"He's somebody that the king appointed. That's all that's important. He saved the king's life once, and now he rarely leaves the princess's side."
"Does he have a name?"
"Amarac." The guard smiled, and began to lead the way up a long flight of stairs. "But that's not important. He's the commander. The greatest warrior in our army."
"Really." Methos tried not to sound too unimpressed. Great warriors were not rare in this world. All men seemed to live for the next battle, and to Methos, who had done more than his share of fighting and killing, there were other qualities that seemed a little more important than skill with weaponry. He would have preferred an intellectual.
They had reached a door set into the wall, and the guards came to a sudden halt. Methos looked up at the door. It was large, and made from heavy, dark wood. Carvings wound their way about its surface, and gold leafing decorated it further. He made a face. All of this flamboyant decor was a little over powering. One of the guards knocked on the door.
"Come in." The voice was very faint, which suggested that the door was thick. The first guard pushed hard at it, and it swung open. Methos, caught by surprise, took a sudden sharp breath as a familiar feeling rushed through him. The man beyond the door was an Immortal. Dread filled his mind. He had a sudden suspicion that the penalty for being a stranger might now turn out to be death by beheading. He walked into the room, his guards behind him. They had not taken his sword, which was in his favour. He might yet have a chance.
A lone figure stood in the room, his body no more than a featureless silhouette against the bright light streaming through the window. He seemed to have his back to his visitors, and had so far shown no reaction to the presence of another Immortal.
"This man is a stranger, commander. We found him outside, looking at the palace." One of the guards gestured to Methos to walk a few steps forward, and he complied. The man still did not turn around, but stared out of the window at whatever sights lay beyond.
"Looking at the palace?" There was a hint of dry amusement in the commander's voice. "Such presumptuousness. Who does he think he is? Leave us alone, and I'll see that your odd little law is enforced."
"Sir." The three guards saluted the stiff back of their commander, and spun about. The door crashed shut behind them. Relaxing slightly, Methos looked around the room. The simplicity of the furnishings were a welcome relief from the gilded corridor outside, and he looked thoughtfully at the roughly made mosaic on one wall. It looked Roman.
"So. What dreadful things are you going to do to me?" Turning away from the mosaic, Methos directed his attention at the commander's back. There was a second's silence, then a light laugh.
"Behead you of course. What else?"
"Charming." Methos stepped forward, and the other man turned around. Away from the glare of the window his dark face and bright eyes were instantly recognisable. He grinned.
"Well you know me Methos. Charming is my middle name."
"Really?" Methos raised an eyebrow. "I thought that was 'Bloodthirsty Maniac'?"
"That too." The other Immortal looked up at Methos, his expression warm. "It's good to see you brother."
"It's good to see you too Kronos." Methos frowned. "Sorry, I mean Amarac. Where did that one come from?"
"I don't remember. I just liked the sound of it." The younger Immortal, who had been Methos' close friend and co-conspirator for longer than either of them could truly remember, sat down on the corner of his desk and surveyed his friend with watchful, steady eyes. "What brings you to these parts brother?"
"Oh... nothing much." Methos grinned. "Adventure... excitement..."
"Robbery... murder..." Kronos matched his old friend's grin. "I'm the law in this town you know. I'd have to stop you if you turned out to be planning something."
That was too much for Methos. He burst out laughing, and the sounds of his mirth echoed slightly in the largely empty room. Kronos frowned, which did little to lessen his companion's laughter.
"Hey. What's so funny?" Methos shook his head.
"Sorry brother. I was just... amused. Did these people honestly appoint you to defend their city against intruders?!" He laughed again. "The irony of that is quite delightful."
Kronos smiled. "Yeah, I kind of liked that one too. The leader of the Four Horsemen, placed in charge of a city. Still, times have changed."
"So? You haven't." Methos smirked. "When I last saw you brother, it was less than fifty years ago, and you were part of a band of thieves. I seem to recall a game you used to like to play... Throwing eyeballs into the decapitated head?"
Kronos gave him a withering look. "That was throwing knucklebones into a skull, as you very well know. And you taught it to me." He looked rueful. "You were the only person who ever beat me at that game."
"Yeah." Methos grinned. Those had been good days, fifty years ago in the hills around China. Sometimes Methos thought he had been born to lead gangs of thieves. It had hardly compared to his days as a member of the Horsemen of course, but then what could? It was fun, occasionally, to let the old, destructive instincts out. They still burned within him, even though he had more or less become a man of peace.
"I remember many a happy game," Kronos mused, his voice soft with remembrance. "Bringing the captives back to the camp... Challenging them to a game. If they won we'd let them go free, and if they lost..." He grinned and shrugged. "Well that was their fault."
Methos nodded. "And they very thoughtfully contributed towards replacement equipment for the game. Now that's the sign of a good loser." They both grinned. Methos regarded his old friend in silence for a few moments, and then frowned.
"So what are you doing here brother?" he asked. "And don't tell me that you're defending the princess."
"I was looking for some fun." Kronos shrugged slightly. "You know what it's like; riding about looking for a little adventure. I saw a man being attacked by a band of thieves, and I decided that a battle might be just what I was searching for."
"And the man turned out to be the king?"
"That's right. We rode back into the town, and he offered me the job of Commander of the Royal Bodyguard. I figured why not? There's worse ways to spend your life than being paid to fight. And there's more than enough room for both of us here brother. If you'd like to stay..."
"Of course I'd like to stay." Methos grinned. "This is the kind of set-up that could get interesting. Incidentally... the missing king. You didn't help him on his way by any chance?"
"Methos! I'm insulted!" Kronos did not sound too upset however, and he offered his friend a small smile. "As a matter of fact, no I didn't. He assigned me to look after the princess, and said that he was afraid for her. Then he took off in search of something. He never said what. He didn't come back."
"Odd." Methos shrugged. "But essentially unimportant I suppose. What's the princess like?"
Kronos grinned. "Incredible. Just wait till you see her. I'll introduce you now if you like."
"Fine." Methos followed his old friend to the door. " Can I ask you something?"
"When the guards brought me to you, I didn't know it was you until I heard your voice. How did you know it was me? You weren't even looking in my direction."
Kronos smirked at him. "Take a look out of the window brother. I can see most of the city from here. I saw you ride up, and I sent my guards out to bring you here."
"You had me arrested?!" Methos scowled. "That's not friendly brother."
"I know." Kronos grinned, and pulled the door open. "What should I call you by the way? Are you using an alias?"
"Might as well. Since you are." Methos looked thoughtful. "I think I shall be... Caspar." He grinned. "Prince Caspar, from the West. What do you think?"
"I think you've got an ego problem." Kronos smirked. "Come on Caspar. I'll introduce you to real Royalty."
"Oh yeah?" Methos grinned. "You sound enamoured, my friend."
"Me?" Kronos grinned. "I have no use for women, brother. But I will admit that this one is a little special."
"Really?" Methos sounded interested. "That's quite a compliment, coming from you."
Kronos made no answer. He was more than used to the joking and teasing of his friend. He led the way along the corridor, as oblivious as a blind man might be to the carvings and paintings on the walls. It was not that art did not interest Kronos; more that it had to wait its place in line for his attention. They turned a corner and went up a flight of stairs. A wooden door, plain and ordinary looking, stood in a short recess in a very simple and ordinary looking wall. There were no guards.
"This way." Kronos pushed the door open, and gestured inside. Another corridor lay beyond. It was dark and windowless, and a single door stood at the far end. Methos headed towards it, but Kronos called to him.
"Not that way brother. This way." He pointed to a blank, empty wall, and Methos grinned, delighted.
"A secret passage?"
"Of course." Kronos grinned back. "The people who built this place knew their art. I've never seen better architecture." He slid his hands over the wall, pressing at some hidden switch that was invisible to his friend's eyes. The wall slid back, smooth and soundless on an ancient hinge. Methos whistled softly.
"Incredible!" he said. "I'm impressed, brother. This brings back memories of Egypt."
"I thought you'd say that." Kronos shrugged. "For all I know they might well have stemmed from the same culture. Who can tell?" He gestured around. "Anyway. What do you think of the Royal Chambers?"
"Not bad at all." Methos stared around at the tapestries that hung on the walls. He fingered one. "This is old." He stood back slightly to examine the design. Two men were pictured with swords, and one had just beheaded the other. A blue light surrounded them both. Methos raised his eyebrows, and Kronos grinned.
"I was a bit surprised too, the first time I saw it. I have no idea who made it."
Methos turned away from it, a wry smile on his face. "Neither do I. But I'd like to meet him."
"And feed him his own tapestry needle I trust?" Kronos smiled at him. "Forget it brother. Nobody here has ever so much as wondered about what it signifies. They think it's just a picture."
"Good." Methos put the tapestry to the back of his mind. "Is the princess at home?"
"Of course. She never goes anywhere without me." Kronos led the way onwards into the room. "At this time of the day she's probably asleep."
They turned a corner, and came upon a large, open room, draped with lace and woven rugs. A pair of incense sticks burned in a corner, twin plumes of smoke stretching unbroken towards the ceiling. There was a bed in the centre of the room, bordered with curtains, and a figure was visible, sleeping in the midst of her lace wrappings. Methos took a step back, surprised.
"She's asleep. Should we be in here?"
"Why not? I have to check up on her." Kronos sat down on a chair close to a window, which overlooked the palace gardens. "Take a look, brother."
Softly, Methos moved forward. Through the lace, he saw the princess. She lay on her back, and her face was clearly visible. He caught his breath, struck by the sight, and suddenly realising why his old friend had been so willing to remain here as her guard. The princess was beautiful. Her skin was the same rich dark colour as the wooden panelling of the walls, her thick black hair the perfect frame for it. Although her eyes were closed he knew that they could do nothing but enhance her features. He felt that he almost could not wait for them to open. He heard Kronos laugh softly.
"She's quite something, isn't she?" He closed his eyes, and leant back in his chair. "There are worse sights to look on everyday."
"There certainly are." Methos let a wicked smile dance across his lips. "So how do we play this brother? Do we still share everything?"
His eyes closed, Kronos waved vaguely with one hand. "Sure. We always did, we always will. But she is a princess, brother."
"I know." Methos sat down in a chair opposite his companion's. "But it doesn't hurt to look."
"I know. And I've been doing plenty of that." Kronos flicked his gaze over to the bed. "I've promised her that I'll find out whatever happened to her father, but I don't have much to go on as yet."
"Any suspicions? Hunches?"
"Hunches? Plenty of them." Kronos frowned. "Before he left, the king told me that he was afraid for the kingdom. He spoke of some threat, like a shadow in the distance. He said that he was going to get help."
"I don't know really." Kronos let the frown grow deeper as he gazed into the distance. "Things are changing here, brother. The atmosphere is different now. People are quieter. There is less laughing in the streets. Even the birds don't sing as much as they used to. It's all changed since the king disappeared. Almost as if the shadow that he spoke of is coming closer."
"What sort of shadow did he mean?"
"I don't know. It seems that a soothsayer saw darkness falling, and the king took him at his word. That's all I know."
"Interesting." Methos frowned too, wondering at what the soothsayer might have meant. "Does this shadow have a name I wonder?"
"I wonder too. And if it does, then it's called Sarec."
"The king's advisor."
"Ah." Methos nodded. "You think he has his sights set on something better?"
"And he doesn't make it much of a secret." Kronos shook his head slightly. "But the king appointed him, and only the king can sack him. In the meantime he's trying to build up support. He keeps telling the princess that her father is dead, and he tries to persuade her to take the throne instead. I'm not entirely sure what he's up to, but I don't trust him. Not one little bit."
Methos nodded slowly. Kronos was usually a fairly good judge of character, although his reasons for liking people were rarely as straightforward or as logical as whether or not the person seemed trustworthy.
"It sounds as though you've landed yourself in another intriguing situation," he said, a faint smile visible on his face. "Just what is this remarkable ability that you don't have for staying out of trouble?!"
"Huh." Kronos grinned, and closed his eyes again, settling back. "Better swords than silence, brother. Better blood than boredom."
"And better magic than misery. Yes, I know." Methos smiled, and watched his friend. Kronos looked more like a prince than a bodyguard, dressed as he was in black trousers and a simple, sleeveless white tunic. There was silver braiding on the trousers, and intricate embroidery around the neckline of the tunic. His ever present sword rested in a sheath set onto a belt made of soft leather, decoratively embroidered by a craftsman of some considerable talent. Somehow the clothing managed to look as though it had been made for a warrior as well as for a prince; or perhaps that was just the look of the man. It made Methos remember his own attire, which was dusty and in poor repair after the long ride.
"I feel that I should change before I meet the princess."
Kronos opened his eyes, and regarded Methos in amused silence.
"You look okay to me."
"Well thanks, but it's not you I want to impress." Methos stood up. "Look at me brother. I have enough sand in my boots to start my own desert."
"Okay, okay." With a lazy gesture, Kronos indicated another door. "My room is through there. See what you can find. There should be something that will fit."
"Thanks." Methos went through the door and found himself in a large, airy room with big windows. The view was perfect for tactical reasons, and the old Immortal found himself wondering vaguely just how dedicated his old friend was to this new life. If he wanted, he could plan an impressive assault from this vantage point. The old marauder could easily carry away half of the riches of the palace.
Methos dismissed such thoughts for now, and hunted through a clothes chest positioned in front of the window. The tunics were all of a loose style, and it was therefore not hard to find one that would fit. Trousers were the greatest problem. Methos was considerably taller than Kronos, but he eventually managed to find something that looked alright. He fixed his sword belt back around his waist, and stared out of the nearest window. The city was vast, and the architecture was amazing. It seemed that the whole place had been built as a tribute to the skill of its creators. Groups of people milled around in a market square, and he watched them, trying to detect anything about their actions which might hint at the need for concern. He was too far away to see much. If Kronos was worried that the atmosphere was wrong, Methos would have to look harder to notice it himself.
The old man walked back into the outer room. Kronos seemed to have fallen asleep, and Methos sat down opposite him. It felt good to be together again. Sometimes he wondered why they bothered to separate at all, but in truth they were too different to spend all of their time together. They would probably drive each other insane eventually. He grinned, remembering some past adventure, and as if on cue Kronos opened his eyes. He looked Methos up and down.
"Feel better now?" he asked.
"Much." Methos fingered the tunic. "This is nice material brother; silk. Are you going soft?"
"Huh." Kronos stood up and stretched, and Methos saw the hard muscles glide about under his friend's skin. The mere suggestion that Kronos might be getting weak was stupid, but it made it even harder to explain his continuing presence here.
"So what does make a terminal hardcase become a Royal Bodyguard?"
Kronos smiled. "That bothers you, doesn't it? It's nothing. Just a new challenge." He frowned. "The king was afraid. Really afraid. I agreed to help him. I do have a conscience, you know, brother."
"Yeah. Sorry." Methos flashed him a grin. "It's not hard to forget that at times though."
"Just because I prefer not to waste my energies on less constructive feelings, like remorse and pity, doesn't mean that I'm immune to them." Kronos wandered over to the lace curtains surrounding the princess's bed. "She's waking up."
"She is?" Methos stood up and backed away slightly, trying to decide what was a respectful distance. Kronos joined him, grinning at his friend's sudden silence.
"Relax brother. She's a princess, not a goddess."
"Is that you Amarac?" Pushing aside the lace curtains which guarded her sleeping place, the princess stood up, revealing that she was fully dressed. Her loose white tunic was gathered at the waist, and she wore baggy trousers of white silk. The colour of the material contrasted sharply with her dark skin, and the effect was very pleasing, thought Methos, trying not to smile too much.
"It's me." Kronos turned from his old friend, and flashed the princess an easy grin. He had never been one to stand on ceremony. "Did you sleep well?"
"Well enough. I shall never understand how you manage to move about so easily in the middle of the day. It's so hot!" She turned her attention to Methos. "Who is this? Do we have a guest?"
"This?" Kronos glanced back at Methos, as if his attention had been drawn to a clumsy footman. He grinned at his old friend, and for a second Methos wondered what he was going to be introduced as. Kronos was only teasing however. "This is Prince Caspar. He's come from the West, and he's a very old friend of mine."
"Oh good. Well anybody who can help to break up the monotony a little is welcome here." The princess sauntered forward to shake her guest's hand. Methos was struck by her brilliantly green eyes, and he shook her hand mechanically. "Are you any good at breaking up the monotony, Prince Caspar?"
Methos grinned. "It's what I do best, your Highness."
"Good. I'm glad to hear it. Then from now on there'll be three of us to shock the old guard at dinner." She smiled broadly. "You must excuse me whilst I go and wash."
Methos watched her as she left the room, and Kronos grinned at him.
"She's quite something, isn't she?"
"You said it!" The older Immortal whistled softly. "What's her name?"
"Indigo?" Methos grinned. "Well I guess a person's name isn't all that important. Why Indigo?!"
"I've no idea. And it could be worse." Kronos grinned. "They could have called her Purple. Or Maroon." They shared a laugh, and Methos slung an arm around his companion's shoulders.
"You always did have an uncanny ability to land on your feet, brother," he said. "And if you think that the princess is in danger, I would be happy to help you defend her."
"I thought you might." Kronos stared after the princess. "She doesn't worry as much as she should though. Maybe she can't see the danger as well as I can. She hates Sarec, but only because he's so old fashioned. He tries to make her behave."
"Is that what she meant by shocking the old guard at dinner?" Methos asked, feeling his liking of the princess grow. Kronos laughed shortly.
"Yes. The princess is supposed to sit on the high table, and conduct civilised conversation with her closest advisors. She's taken to sitting with the servants. I've been teaching her to fence too. She's not bad."
"So where does Sarec fit in?"
"Sarec? I really don't know." Kronos toyed absently with the hilt of his sword. "I can't explain it really. I just don't trust him. There's no doubt that his powers have increased since the king disappeared, and he's determined to get control of the princess."
"Have her rule as a puppet you mean?"
"Possibly." The younger Immortal shook his head. "The guy is dangerous, brother. I'm sure of it."
"Fine. When do I get to meet him?"
"Now." The voice was harsh, and it came from the doorway. Kronos spun about, his sword half drawn. He froze when he saw the figure by the door, and a frown darkened his face.
"What are you doing here Sarec?" he asked. There was a strong note of hostility in his voice, and Sarec smiled at it, before sauntering further into the room. He was tall and thin, with a clipped black beard streaked with grey. Sharp grey eyes watched Methos from under a dark brow, and the old Immortal felt slightly uneasy. Those eyes seemed to see everything. He could almost feel them stripping away the facade, and looking deep into the heart of a truly ancient Immortal.
"Visiting. I have every right to be here. I am the senior official in the palace." Sarec glanced back to Kronos, smiling lightly.
"The princess is the senior official. And you're supposed to get permission from me before you come here." Kronos was keeping his voice low and even, but Methos could feel his hostility, and he got the impression that these two had clashed on more than one occasion.
"Really? I must have forgotten." Sarec looked over at Methos again. "Who is the stranger?"
"Caspar." Methos strode forward, deciding to present himself before the atmosphere could get any more hostile than it already was. He was suddenly glad that he had decided to call himself a prince. Somehow he felt that such an elevated position would give him some valuable leverage over Sarec. "Prince Caspar. I'm visiting my old friend." He gestured towards Kronos.
"Really. Well old friends are always welcome." Sarec sounded heavily patronising, his smile extremely false. The two men did not shake hands, and Methos stopped a few paces from the Royal Advisor. There was a strange sensation in the air, but he could not name it. It was almost as though his blood had turned abruptly cold when he had drawn near to Sarec. The old Immortal frowned, disturbed by the odd feeling of foreboding which had suddenly filled his mind. Sarec merely smiled at him, seeming to sense his discomfort and enjoying it greatly.
"That's very kind of you." Methos smiled politely, staring into Sarec's eyes, and trying to decide what it was that he saw there. He felt the icy stroke of a shiver forming in his shoulders, and suppressed it, determined that he would not let his feelings show to that extent. Sarec was a very disturbing man.
"Sarec." The princess had come from one of her inner rooms, and she looked her advisor up and down with obvious surprise. "This is supposed to be my private chamber."
The advisor ignored her rebuke. "Yes your Highness," he said. "Very private." He glanced meaningfully at Methos and Kronos, and then smiled. "I had thought that you might like a walk in the gardens. They are quite beautiful at the moment, and we have much to discuss."
"No we don't, Sarec. I have no intention of taking over the throne until I know what has happened to my father." Indigo walked briskly over to her bodyguard and his newly arrived friend. "I've told you many times that I have no desire to take the Crown just yet. Now if you'll excuse me, I promised to show the gardens to Prince Caspar."
Methos smiled, impressed by this smooth adlib. He was beginning to understand his old friend's deep dislike of Sarec, and it was reassuring to know that Indigo seemed to feel the same way.
"Fine." Sarec's voice was suddenly cold. "Have it your way, your Highness." He turned about and stroke briskly away. Indigo watched him go, her expression suddenly showing concern.
"Do you think I should be more polite to him?" she asked.
"No." Kronos went to the door to watch Sarec's departure, making sure that he had gone. He glanced back at Methos. "Well brother? You've met him. What do you think?"
"I don't know." Methos shook his head. "You were right, though. He does... feel strange. Cold somehow, and unpleasant."
"Deeply unpleasant," Kronos agreed. Indigo frowned.
"You think he's dangerous, don't you," she said. "I just don't know, Amarac. He's been my father's advisor for years." She frowned suddenly at Methos. "Did you bring him here to confront Sarec?"
Kronos grinned. "No. He just has a knack of turning up at the right time." He shrugged. "You can think what you like about Sarec, but I don't trust him, and I'm going to find out what he's up to."
"Fine." Indigo strolled out of the door, and the two Immortals followed. "But be careful, please. He has a lot of support, and a lot of allies. He can make life very difficult for all of us."
"We'll be careful, your Highness." Methos frowned at the floor, staring at its cool grey blankness, as if he could find some answer hidden deep within it. He was certain that something was wrong here.
Indigo stopped, and looked back at the two old men. Her bright green eyes stared hard at Methos, and then leapt over towards Kronos.
"You think he has something to do with my father's disappearance," she said, her tone faintly accusing. "Amarac, I know that Sarec is ambitious, and I'll admit that I can't bear the man, but to call him a murderer-"
"I'm not calling him a murderer." Kronos frowned. "Just trust us, okay?"
There was a silence, then Indigo nodded, smiling suddenly. "I trust you. Of course I do. But you must be careful; for political reasons. It's not healthy to make an enemy of a man as powerful as Sarec."
"I'm sure it isn't." Methos had no doubt that Sarec was a powerful man, but he was not thinking of political strength. The advisor was almost frightening. The old Immortal was glad that he had wandered into this city, and he was relieved that chance had led him here at a time when his brother needed his assistance. Sarec was definitely a force to be reckoned with.
Sarec leaned back on a couch, feeling the soft presence of the banks of cushions which supported him. He closed his eyes, and tipped his head back, trying to clear his mind. It had been a disturbing afternoon. The images that would not leave his thoughts crowded his brain, and he frowned. Things were no longer moving smoothly. It had seemed that everything was going his way. Firstly he had been able to work himself into a position as Royal Advisor. Then he had begun to build up a strong following amongst the household, persuading the guardsmen and the various relatives of the king to trust him. He had sent silent tentacles gliding stealthily through the palace, reaching out to fasten themselves everywhere, and allowing him to obtain a stranglehold on palace life. No one had seemed to suspect that he was anything less than sincere in his concern for the welfare of the king, until the new Royal Bodyguard had arrived. Sarec frowned, and the flickering candle flames in his room highlighted the deep furrows in his brow. Now the bodyguard had a new friend, to assist him in his attempts to undermine all of the Royal Advisor's hard work. Sarec forced a smile, and his lips drew back from his teeth in an evil sneer. Perhaps it was time to weaken the opposition. He nodded to himself, suddenly resolute, and stood up. A few paces away from his couch, a wall of tall candlesticks pointed towards the ceiling, and he reached for the twisting metal with eager hands, stroking the candles and feeling the hot wax burn his fingers. His smile became broader, his eyes brighter and more wild, and he watched the coloured liquid wax as it hardened into cooling patterns on his skin.
"Rivers of wax, burning into my soul..." he whispered, and a soft giggle burst from his throat.
"Did you say something my lord?" A man, standing by the door, took a few steps further into the room, anxious to hear his master better.
"Yes." Sarec rocked back on his heels, and held his hands out to his servant. "See this, Isaac?"
His servant stared at the wax marks, and winced.
"Doesn't that hurt, my lord?" he asked. Sarec smiled.
"Pain is only what you allow it to be," he breathed, and turned back towards the candles, caressing the flames with his fingers.
"You're preparing another spell, Lord Sarec?" Isaac seemed suddenly afraid, and Sarec laughed.
"That's right. Bring me my chest." The Royal Advisor frowned into the candlelight, and into the darkness beyond. He heard his servant moving across the room, struggling to pull a heavy wooden chest over the floor. He removed the lid and stood back, waiting for further instructions.
"Pass me the bowl," Sarec whispered, his voice hoarse and excited. Isaac took up a heavy glass bowl, ribbed with metal bands and decorated with elaborate symbols. Sarec put it on the floor, and poured some wax into it. "Sand," he ordered harshly. Isaac picked up a small bag and handed it to his master, who poured some of its contents into the bowl, stirring it into the cooling wax. The sand was white and fine, and it mingled with the blue wax to form a soft substance. Sarec smiled, pleased with this result, and then passed his hands over the bowl, whispering words that Isaac could not catch. He had heard the indistinct mutterings of his master often enough in the past, though, and he knew the meaning of the words, even though he could not hear the words themselves.
"Quickly. Pass me the blue box." Sarec held out one hand, clicking his fingers impatiently. Isaac handed him the small blue box that lay in the chest, and Sarec opened it eagerly. The contents was a strange powder, luminous and colourless. It caught the light from the candles and threw it back, painted with rainbows.
"What is that, my lord?" Isaac whispered the words, not expecting an answer. Sarec did not look at him.
"Many things," the advisor told him, and sprinkled some of the powder into the bowl. He lifted a candle, and brought the flame close to his mixture, watching in gleeful anticipation. There was a flash of light, and Isaac stumbled back, tiny stars dancing before his eyes. He could hardly see Sarec now, as the tall man bent once more over the bowl, and began to chant. These were words that the unfortunate servant knew only too well. The candle flames flickered and died, and a wind started to blow through the room. Isaac felt it ruffling his hair, and his tunic began to move. He tried to brace himself, but the wind grew stronger, and in a sudden burst of fury it picked the servant up and hurled him across the room. He crashed to the floor and lay there, shaking helplessly. Through the gloom he could just see Sarec, bent over the bowl and whispering still. He appeared unaffected by the wind. A small whimper escaped from within Isaac, and he curled up into a ball, gazing at Sarec from resigned and sorrowful eyes.
The chanting stopped. Abruptly the candles relit themselves, and the sudden light made Isaac blink. He stumbled to his feet and watched as Sarec stood up, his bowl in his hands.
"What happens now my lord?" Isaac asked, trying to keep his voice from quavering too noticeably. Sarec smiled.
"Now my enemies regret their existence," he said. without looking at his servant.
"My lord?" Isaac was confused. Sarec turned to face him.
"When the moon turns full," he said, speaking slowly and clearly, as if to a child, "the palace will have two less people in it." He smiled. "Do you understand that, Isaac?"
"Yes, my lord." Isaac looked thoroughly miserable. "Who are you going to kill?"
"Kill? That wasn't a killing spell. You know that." Sarec grinned, his eyes burning with some insane light. "Killing them would be too easy. I'm just sending them away. That man has got in my way once too often."
"You mean Amarac?"
"Very good Isaac. You're not entirely stupid after all." Sarec walked over to the nearest window, and stared out of it. In the distance he could see three shapes, recognisably those of Indigo and her two companions. The advisor set his bowl down on the windowsill, smiling in contempt.
"Be content while you can," he muttered, his eyes still fixed on the wandering figures. "My time is drawing near."
As the day wore on, Indigo left Methos and Kronos to talk together in the gardens, and returned to her chambers. Methos watched her go, sorry to see the last of her for now. She seemed so relaxed and carefree, and he wondered if she was aware of the power that she could so easily exert over men. He turned back to Kronos and let out a deep breath.
"This place is spectacular," he said, his voice full of contentment.
"It's not bad, is it." Kronos looked around at the gardens. They were a work of art, and he had known that Methos would appreciate them. Kronos himself had never had much time for such things in the past, but he was not blind to the well-sculpted landscape. Everywhere was a blaze of colour as the sun shone down on flowers of every imaginable hue. They had been collected from far and wide, and were cared for by an army of gardeners.
"It would be a shame if anything happened to spoil it." Methos frowned. "You mentioned a soothsayer brother. Do you know who it was?"
"Afraid not. When the king vanished I tried to find him, but all I know is that he's called Alexander. He travels a lot."
"Then he could be anywhere." Methos sat down on a bench, and frowned deeply. "Tell me again what he told the king."
"I don't know for sure what he said. Just that a darkness was approaching." Kronos sat down on the arm of the bench. "There was something about dark clouds and shadows. And flames."
"I knew there was a reason why you'd decided to stay." Methos grinned teasingly. "Darkness and flames should make you feel nicely at home." His old friend grinned back.
"Yeah. And if the palace should fall, I can only profit from it." He frowned. "Since the cause of its destruction is likely to be Sarec, though, I would rather defend it."
Methos raised his eyebrows. "You really do hate him, don't you. What did he do?"
"Nothing much." Kronos smiled. "Although he was very impolite. He suggested that my saving the king might have been for... less than heroic reasons."
"He seemed to think that I was part of the gang that had attacked the king in the first place."
"And was he right?"
"Of course he was." Kronos grinned. "The plan was that the others attack him, and then I save him, and later let the others into the city to attack the place. We could have taken it without too much difficulty."
"Then why the change of plan?"
"I don't know really. The king offered me this job. He seemed so worried, and a worried man can be useful. All situations exist to my advantage, brother."
"Naturally." Methos grinned. "So what happened to the rest of your gang?"
"Goodness knows. They're out there somewhere." The old Immortal shrugged and stood up. "They're unimportant. Right now my main concern is to spoil Sarec's plans."
"Okay." Methos leant back. "So what have we got to go on? A soothsayer tells the king that a darkness is approaching. Something that involves shadows and flames. The king goes to find help from somewhere, but he disappears. Do we know where he went?'"
"Not really, no. He went looking for someone or something that he said could help him."
"Okay... And our main suspect is the king's advisor, a man who makes a Siberian winter look warm and welcoming." Methos flashed his old friend a cheerful grin. "That's not a lot, brother."
"True. But you are supposed to be one of the most cunning men in existence." Kronos pulled a long stalked flower from a nearby bush, and began to pull the petals off, rubbing them into a dark red dye that stained his fingers. It looked exactly like blood.
"Don't worry. I wasn't about to give up." Methos closed his eyes, and leant back, enjoying the heat of the sun and the sound of birdsong. "I'm going to think about it for a while."
Kronos watched him, seeing the relaxation on his partner's face, and he scowled. He couldn't exactly complain, since he had asked Methos to give the matter some thought, but this sudden lack of activity bored him immediately. He threw the mangled remains of the flower aside, and wandered off towards the palace. There were dungeons beneath the rich corridors of the Royal House, and prisoners dwelt there, waiting to receive punishments for their crimes. That was another part of Kronos' job, and it was something else that he rather enjoyed.
The shadows lengthened, and Methos opened his eyes. The heat had cooled somewhat, and there was no longer a painful glare affecting his sight. He stood up and looked around, wondering where Kronos had got to. He had not expected the younger Immortal to wait for him, but the prospect of hunting all over the palace grounds for him was not inviting. He began to stroll down the path, heading back towards the main building, and keeping a wary eye out for the guards. He would not be at all surprised if Kronos had neglected to tell the men who patrolled the grounds that the stranger was a friend. Methos did not want to be arrested twice in one day. He ran his hands down the side of a bush, feeling the leaves and the twigs snagging his fingers. The sudden cool touch of the approaching evening had put a new spring in the old Immortal's step, and he smiled to himself as he walked, whistling gently. It seemed a shame that there had to be some threat hanging over this odd little paradise. The sheltered city, with its impressive palace, iridescent gardens and stunning princess, should have been nothing less than a paradise.
"Enjoying our sights?" Methos recognised the oily voice immediately, and turned towards it. Sarec, tall and imposing, stood a few feet away, eyeing Methos with an expression not far from scorn. "Do you like what you see?"
"Very much." Methos offered the other man a polite smile. The old Immortal knew how to play the part of a perfect gentleman, even with men who made his skin crawl.
"Good. I'm glad." Sarec sauntered forward, and began to stroll along the path, continuing to talk to Methos. The Immortal began to follow him, his stride careless but his mind wary. "Tell me, Prince Caspar; where are you from?"
"The West," Methos told him, and received a slight smile in reply.
"The West is a big place. I've travelled a lot, you know." Sarec continued to smile at him. "Most people around here wouldn't know one foreign country from another, but I know much of the world. So tell me; where are you from?"
"Britain." Methos did not like to narrow things down so much, but it was a country he knew well, and he could be fairly sure of fielding any questions about it.
"I see." Sarec frowned. "Then what brings a British prince all of this way?"
"I was..." Methos smiled, "... in the area. I thought I'd drop by."
"To visit your old friend."
"An old friend who happens to be the bodyguard to a particularly rich Royal Family, in a particularly rich city?"
Methos frowned. "What are you suggesting, Sarec?"
"Can't you guess?"
"Oh, I can guess." The old Immortal stopped walking. "You're accusing Amarac and myself of trying to work our way into the Royal Household, so that we can steal something. That's not very friendly."
"It's not, is it." Sarec's eyes narrowed. "But then, neither is accusing me of making the king disappear, or of having some kind of unpleasant fate in mind for this city."
"True. But slander is only slander if it's a lie." Methos gave Sarec a sweet smile. "I think we understand each other, Sarec."
"Yes. I rather think we do." Sarec stared at the Immortal, a frown fading in and out across his face. "You're not like any prince I've ever met before... your Highness."
"Really? Then perhaps you're not as well travelled as you think." Methos smiled again, still uneasy. Sarec's eyes were piercing in their intensity, and the old man found it hard to convince himself that the advisor did not know the truth about him. His eyes seemed to see all; to know all.
"Oh, I think I am." Sarec returned the smile. "Anyway, I don't wish to keep you any longer, Prince Caspar." Methos thought that he detected a slight emphasis on the word 'prince'; a faint hint of sarcasm perhaps. "I just wanted to speak to you for a moment."
"Well I'm glad you did. I'd like to get to know everyone here. I might be staying a while."
"Really?" Sarec seemed amused by this. "Well then, I'll look forward to seeing you around in future. Is there any particular reason why you're staying?"
"Perhaps. My interest has been aroused." Methos did not want to sound too accusing just yet, but he wanted to test the waters all the same. "Amarac and I have every intention of finding the king; or at least finding out what happened to him."
Sarec nodded, his expression serious. "Then I wish you the best of luck. I'm sure that you'll be successful. And if there's anything that I can do for you..." He smiled. "Well, I'm sure I'll be on hand to do what's necessary. "His face was a picture of open innocence, and it made the old Immortal's hackles rise. He forced another smile.
"Thankyou Sarec. I'm very grateful." He began to walk away down the path, leaving Sarec standing behind him. He could feel the advisor's eyes on his back as he headed towards the palace, and the sensation of vulnerability was disturbing. Methos frowned, glancing back as he reached the palace walls. There was no sign of Sarec, and the gardens appeared to be empty.
Night came quickly. Methos joined Kronos on the balcony outside his old friend's room, and they watched the moon rise together, its full whiteness lending a pale glow to the night, at once both beautiful and slightly eery. Dinner had passed without incident, for Indigo had been true to form, and had sat at the other end of the hall to Sarec and his various companions. Methos had detected a slight animosity in the air, but it had been nothing like as powerful as it might have been. Now the two Immortals stood together, basking in the moonlight, and relaxing in the comfort of each other's company. They had been through so much together, seen so much, done so many things. Methos liked to think that they were two halves of the same coin, and he sometimes wondered if there could ever be anything left for one if the other was killed.
"You must have had a long journey today." Leaning on the balcony rail, Kronos cast a sidelong glance back towards Methos. "If you're tired-"
"I'm fine." Methos took a deep breath, drinking in the peace and quiet, the coolness and the incredible tranquillity. All of the unease he had experienced during the day seemed to have dissipated, and vanished with the sun. He glanced up towards the sky, but the moon was too bright for the stars to be very clear. He remembered many a night spent sleeping out of doors, lying under a clear sky beside a roaring campfire, with Kronos pointing out the constellations. They had spent long hours wondering about the stars; what they truly were, and what they meant. Tiny pinpricks of light that seemed to have no purpose, except to decorate the sky.
"Would you like a game?" Kronos turned suddenly, as if he had realised that he was not at all tired, and wanted something to do.
"Sure. Do you have any decapitated heads?"
Kronos shot him a glare. "There's always yours, brother."
"Charming." Methos grinned. "How about dice?"
"Fine by me." The other Immortal disappeared into his room, and reappeared with a small bag of dice. The two old friends sat down together on the balcony. "What shall we play?"
Methos opened his mouth to answer, already looking forward to beating his companion in a game that the older Immortal knew he could always be sure of winning. A sudden gust of wind surprised him, however, and he frowned, turning by instinct to look towards the moon. It had gone. There were no clouds for it to hide behind, and yet it had vanished completely, as if stolen by an unseen hand. A sudden burst of irrational fear shot through the old man's mind, and he tried to stand up. There was no longer anything to stand on. The balcony had gone. Methos glanced over towards Kronos, and the two Immortals looked wildly about, searching for anything, anything at all that might bring an end to the confusion. There was nothing. They were nothing, and they had a sudden sensation of being nowhere. All was black and empty, everywhere was silent and still. Without warning, without explanation, they were falling deeper and deeper into nothing at all.
Methos awoke as if from a bad dream, jerking back to consciousness covered in a cold sweat, and shaking uncontrollably. He sat up, gasping for breath, aware of a terrible fear that had been gripping him for some time. It seemed to have finally let go, and he felt disturbed and uneasy. He had no memory of what he had been afraid of, but the fear still lingered. He glanced about. He was sitting on the ground. Red earth and tattered patches of dry grass stretched as far as he could see, and in the distance huge mountains rose upwards, purple against the horizon, and topped with snow. The sky was streaked with the colours of dawn, but there were no birds to herald the arrival of a new day. Disorientation flooded his mind. Where was the city? Where was the balcony and its view of the gardens, and the world beyond the palace walls? Standing on unsteady legs the Immortal looked about for Kronos, desperate for something at least that would prove his sanity. The other Immortal lay a short distance away, and as Methos drew near he awoke, as suddenly as his companion had done. He glanced about, his eyes wild, and then stumbled to his feet.
"I know brother. Just take it easy." Methos turned in a circle, scanning the horizons. Whatever direction he turned in, all seemed the same. He kicked at the ground, and saw the dice scattered about on the red earth. That at least was a clue. Kronos was looking at them as well.
"We've been...' He searched for a word. "Transported."
"It looks like it." Methos shook his head, still suffering from disorientation. He felt as though he had been drinking, and was beginning to experience lightheadedness and confusion. "I - I can't see how though. I mean - what the hell happened?"
"We were about to play dice." Kronos rubbed at his eyes, frowning hard. There was a gust of wind... the moon vanished...."
"The moon didn't vanish, brother. We did." Methos took a deep breath. "I just wish I knew how."
"Magic. What else?" Kronos clapped his hand to his side. "We still have our swords. That means we can handle anything."
"I hope so." The older Immortal picked up the dice, slipping them back into their bag. He threw it at Kronos. "Here."
"What do I want these for?" Kronos took the bag nonetheless, and stowed it away somewhere. His face was beginning to clear, the confusion obviously leaving him. He seemed to be regaining his determination.
"Might as well have them as leave them lying here." Methos brushed himself off, removing the dust that clung to his clothes. "Any direction that you fancy brother? We can't stay here."
"Sure. Always head towards tomorrow." Kronos turned abruptly and began to walk to the east, heading into the rising sun. Methos smiled, oddly reassured by his friend's hard headed approach. Perhaps they would see something, when they drew closer to the mountains. Perhaps they were not as far away as they looked.
"We are never going to reach these mountains." Coming to a petulant halt, Methos gave a deep sigh, exasperation beginning to interrupt his usual calm veneer. Kronos grinned back at him.
"What's wrong? Are you getting old?"
"Yeah. Far too old to go gallivanting about... about..." He shook his head. "Too old to be wherever it is we are."
"It's nowhere I recognise." Kronos took a long look around. "Those mountains; I don't think I've ever seen them before."
"Me neither. Although to be honest I'm so tired I probably wouldn't recognise my own mother." Methos sat down on the ground, and sighed again. "It's so damn hot."
"Now you sound like a mortal." Kronos grinned. "And do you even remember what your mother looked like?"
"Well then." The younger Immortal began to walk onwards. Methos scowled at his back and climbed to his feet.
"Slave driver!" he muttered. Kronos flashed him a grin.
"That's one of the few things I haven't tried yet." He took a few more steps, and then frowned.
"Methos? Do you hear something?"
"I don't think so." The old man frowned. Vaguely, in the distance, he thought he could hear a flapping sound, like the beating of wings. There was nothing in sight, however, and the noise did not seem to fit in anywhere else.
"Are you sure?"
"No." They both scanned the skies, looking for whatever might be making the strange noise. It was growing louder, and more persistent, then suddenly seemed almost to be on top of them. A mighty shriek filled the air, echoing about in the emptiness of their surroundings.
"There!" Looking upwards, Kronos had caught sight of something, and he pointed towards it, drawing his sword at the same time. Methos looked up. A dark smudge in the sky - a small, unidentifiable shape - had appeared above them, and was growing bigger. It hurtled towards them as the shriek sounded again, and soon its shape was clear. A huge bird, much like an eagle but many times bigger, dropped like a stone towards them, its talons outstretched and gleaming in the sunlight.
"What the-?!" Automatically Methos drew his sword, stumbling backwards a few steps, his brown eyes wide with disbelief. The huge bird lowered its head, making a wild sweep with its beak and causing both Immortals to leap backwards. Methos felt the breeze caused by the bird's sudden attack, and he gasped in shock, lifting his sword to defend himself. A few feathers fluttered to the ground, the bird itself unaffected by the hasty assault.
Leaping forward, Kronos struck low, his sword catching at one of the huge feet. The bird let out a furious scream, and leapt skywards for a brief moment, hovering above them. Methos shook off his confusion, and took a firm, two handed grip on his sword. He gritted his teeth, staring up at the bird as it hovered, and then struck downwards once again. It flashed towards the two old men, screaming harshly, its talons reaching towards them. Methos saw Kronos twist to one side, and realised that his companion had a plan. Desperately the older Immortal tried to keep the bird's attention. He felt its breath hot on his face, and tried to back away, stumbling as his feet caught in a tangle of dry grass. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Kronos, right underneath the bird, and saw his old friend's sword flash upwards. The bird screamed, and blood and feathers spattered about. The wicked beak jabbed down, and Methos threw himself to the ground, rolling out of the way, losing his sword in the process. He searched for it desperately, seeing the bright eyes of the enraged bird as it thrashed about, jabbing first at him and then at Kronos. The younger Immortal hacked with his sword, oblivious to the furiously beating wings, and took a hard blow from one of them. It caught him solidly in the chest, and he crashed to the ground, gasping for breath. Methos leapt forwards, and as the bird turned its attention to Kronos, the other Immortal caught up his sword from the dust and drove it, with all his strength, into the creature's neck. It screamed again, almost deafening him in its dying rage, and then drooped forwards onto the ground. Methos let out a deep breath, and slid down next to it, breathing hard.
"Thanks brother." His voice weak, Kronos stumbled to his feet, staggering around the huge bird, to collapse on the ground beside the other Immortal. "You okay?"
"Fine." They both laughed. Neither of them felt anything close to fine.
"I am definitely getting too old for this." Methos closed his eyes, one hand still gripping his sword, blood soaked and covered in feathers.
"No. It's just your imagination. Let's go and fight a lion next."
"Get lost." Methos gave a weak laugh, which turned into a sigh. Sleep suddenly seemed a delightful proposition. Had he had the energy to suggest it, Kronos would not have objected. As the sun began to sink down towards the mountains, the two Immortals lay silent, leaning against each other, half sitting, half lying against the lifeless body of the giant eagle, swords hanging loosely in their ancient hands.
Kronos awoke, and lay silently for several minutes. Confusion washed over him in waves, and he stared up at the darkening sky. Only the reassuring weight of the sword in his hand prevented him from springing to his feet in alarm. This strange place was still nameless, and its mystery disturbed him. It had to have been magic that had brought him here, and magic was not a good opponent. It could not usually be fought with a sword.
The Immortal stood up and looked around. Nothing had changed; not that he had expected it to. He nudged Methos, and pulled the old man to his feet, then wiped his sword on his tunic and put it away. Methos glanced at his own sword and made a face, then shrugged and wiped it clean on his trousers.
"They're your trousers, brother," he said with a grin. Kronos smirked.
"Thanks." He gestured towards the mountains. "Shall we?"
"We might as well." With a sudden burst of determination, Methos slammed his sword into its sheath and took a step forward. It was a good deal cooler now, and the approaching evening would mean that they could move faster, without being bothered by so much heat. Kronos strode ahead, walking onwards with his customary steadfastness. Methos smiled at his old friend's back, and stretched to work the kinks out of his shoulders. Then he blinked. Kronos had disappeared.
"Kronos?" Methos ran forward. That was impossible, surely. The other Immortal had been only a few paces ahead. He had not had time to move out of sight, and Methos had taken his eyes off him only for the briefest of seconds. He jerked to a halt. In the ground at his feet, a hole gaped, dark and menacing. Ragged patches of grass hung around the edges, showing where some covering of earth had been knocked loose by a sudden weight being placed on it. Methos crouched down beside the hole, trying to see into it. Through the gloom he thought he could make out a tunnel. It seemed to stretch out into the depths of the Earth, twisting and falling into who knew what.
"Kronos?" Methos called again as if, by some miracle, his friend could answer, and reappear out of the hole. There was no answer. "Oh great." The old Immortal sat back on the edge of the hole and sighed deeply. He assessed his options, but they were not terribly inspiring. His hand fell to his sword hilt and he gave a grim smile. What danger could he possibly be going into? After all, he was immortal. With a rueful grin and a good deal of foreboding, Methos lowered himself into the hole and let go.
Deep inside the tunnel, Kronos was moving fast; faster than he had thought it possible to move without the aid of a horse. The sloping passage was smooth and shiny, and he flew down it, hurtling crazily around the corners, thrown from one side to the other as the tunnel twisted and turned. The air seemed to have been snatched from his lungs as a result of the speed, and he gasped for air, flying onwards. His eyes strained ahead, searching for some clue as to where he was going, struggling to see beyond the immediate darkness. There was nothing; only blackness, that looped around, twisting about with the tunnel. He glowered, angry with himself for not seeing the hole, and wondering what Methos had made of his sudden disappearance. If he was feeling at all like Kronos, he would have ceased to be surprised by anything that happened, and would just have accepted this latest setback. Theoretically there was nothing to fear unless somebody threatened to take their heads.
Far behind Kronos, Methos was making his own way down the tunnel, at a considerably more sedate pace. His cautious entrance had allowed him to gain some control over his speed. Even so, he could not se anything, and could not hear anything. The silent darkness was complete. He could not even se his hands when he lifted them up to his face, and the sound of his own breathing was the only noise that reached his ears. It sounded unnaturally loud, and he tried to bring it under control. Methos did not like tunnels, particularly deep and dark ones, and particularly when he had no idea where they were taking him. This tunnel was barely high enough for him to sit upright in, and that worried him further. Enclosed spaces were even worse than tunnels. He clenched his fists and tried not to hold his breath as he glided onwards, trying to convince himself that he was not really being carried deeper and deeper below the ground.
Daylight shone ahead as if from nowhere. The darkness came to a sudden end, and Methos blinked, the bright light hurting his eyes. It surprised him, for he could not believe that he had been falling all night. As the glimmer of light came closer, he tried to bring himself to a quick halt, but his reactions proved not to be fast enough. He flew from the tunnel exit to find himself hurtling through the air, and made a painful crash landing on hard ground. He choked, winded, and lay still for several moments while he waited for the air to return to his lungs.
"Are you okay?" The old Immortal sat up and looked around. Kronos had asked the question. He was sitting a few paces away, looking decidedly battered after his crazy ride.
"Yeah, I'm okay." Methos grinned suddenly. "Hey, we should look on the bright side, brother. There's not a lot else that can go wrong."
"I wish I could believe that." Kronos stood up, and rubbed his head. "Where the hell are we now?"
"I don't have the-" Methos broke off, and Kronos glanced over at him, surprised by the sudden silence. An old man sat on a rock nearby, watching them with eyes that fluttered between amusement and sadness. The younger Immortal's hand flew to his sword, but Methos halted him with a gesture.
"Easy brother," he said softly. "This could be a way to get some answers." Carefully he approached the old man, his eyes suspicious and watchful. The old man smiled up at him, and gave a short laugh.
"I can assure you that I am no danger to you, my friend," he said. "My days of being a fighter passed a long time ago."
"Who are you?" Not changing his expression of distrust, Methos let his hand rest on his sword hilt, just as a warning. The old man sighed deeply.
"My name is Alexander," he said.
""Alexander?" Methos frowned. "Are you a sooth-sayer?"
"Then you're the one who warned the king about Sarec."
"I warned the king, yes." The old man gave him a sad smile. "But not about Sarec. I'm afraid that all I saw was something evil. I couldn't tell who or what it was."
"Do you know what happened to him?" Stepping forward, Kronos asked the question, sounding almost eager.
"He's here. Somewhere." The old man stretched slightly, and blinked up at the two men. "He was brought here, as were we, for presenting a threat to Sarec."
"What's he after? Do you know?" Methos, relaxing somewhat, lowered himself onto a rock opposite the old man, preferring to talk on the same level. The old man waved a dismissive hand.
"What are all men like him after? Power, wealth; world domination perhaps." He smiled. "And to think that I believed I could stop him. I'm afraid I rather underestimated his abilities."
"Well he's underestimated us too." Kronos gave a grim smile, already planning what he was going to do to Sarec, once he got hold of the man. Alexander looked up at him, his eyes sad once again.
"I'm afraid he hasn't. You are no threat to Sarec. He can't be killed."
"Can't be-?" Methos frowned. "What do you mean, he can't be killed. He's not immortal." Alexander blinked at him, an unspoken question flashing across his face.
"He's not..." He regarded them thoughtfully, as if wondering whether or not to speak. "He's not an Immortal, but he is indestructible. All his race are."
"His race?" Kronos, who had been standing a few yards away looking thoughtful, whirled around suddenly, and strode over to Alexander.
"Sarec is one of the Underlords. They were once thought to be related to the Immortals in some way, but their origins will probably always be a mystery. The Underlords are all evil, and they are untouchable. They can't get sick, or be hurt in any way."
Methos and Kronos exchanged glances. This sounded ominous. Somehow they felt that they should have heard of these Underlords earlier.
"But you said they weren't immortal," Kronos prompted. Alexander nodded.
"They live for a thousand years. No more, no less. They possess unlimited magical powers."
"There can't be many of them." Methos frowned, trying to turn back the pages in his phenomenal memory, searching for some previous knowledge of a race called the Underlords. There was nothing that he could recall.
"There are always ten of them in the world, that's all." Alexander smiled. "But that is usually enough." He frowned at each of the new arrivals in turn. "I'm sorry. You were expecting something a little more inspiring, I suppose. I didn't realise how bad things were, either, until I was brought here."
"Speaking of which, where is here?" Whilst Alexander's answers were not exactly good to hear, Methos wanted to find out as much as he could.
"You haven't guessed?" Alexander gave another sad smile. "We're trapped in a place from which there is no escape."
"Huh. There's no such place." Kronos had not lost his look of rigid determination. Alexander looked sadder than ever.
"Oh yes there is; and you're in it. This is no ordinary land, my friend. This is not really a land at all. You're inside Sarec's mind."
"What?!" Methos could say no more at first; just that one word that echoed inside his head. "How can we possibly be inside his mind?"
"I told you; his powers are unlimited. What better place could there be for him to exile his enemies to? We have been banished to his inner consciousness. A world that he has complete control over. All is as he creates it. Once he puts someone here, he need never spare them another thought.
"But that's-" Methos broke off, staring at the ground in confused frustration. "That's just not possible."
"There is much in the world that is not possible, my friend." Alexander smiled again. "And in this world nearly everything comes into that category. There are beasts that I could not begin to name. I've seen plants a hundred paces high that try to catch you with their tentacles. There is at least one sea, filled with monsters bigger than the mountains in my homeland." He shook his head. "None of us will survive long in this place."
"Don't bet on that." Kronos had drawn his sword, and he swung it in his hands. Alexander's tale had been unsettling, but Kronos always felt that he could face anything with his sword. Just the feel of it settled his mind and allowed him to relax, ready to prepare for anything.
Alexander nodded. "There's something about you," he said, as if some suspicion of his had been confirmed, and he was proud of himself for guessing the truth. "You're Immortals."
"Huh?" Methos snapped his head up. "You know about us?"
"I've heard of the Immortals." Alexander smirked. "It wasn't hard to guess that that is what you are. Your eyes... No one but an Immortal could have such eyes as you two possess. They show all the arrogance of the very young, and all the wisdom of the truly old."
Methos and Kronos glanced at each other, vaguely amused by this statement. Methos shrugged.
"Whatever. You can see, though, that we won't die here. We can't. We'll find a way out of here eventually."
"There is only one way out; you have to kill Sarec."
"But you just said that was impossible," Kronos told him, sounding faintly impatient.
"True. But it might be possible for an Underlord to die. Legend tells that their race comes from the fire at the centre of the Earth. And fire can be killed."
"Water?" Methos looked interested. "You mean he can drown?"
"So the legend tells. I've never known it to have happened before." Alexander stood up, stretching his bent back. He looked old and frail. "To be honest, I don't really believe it to be possible. It's just a legend."
"If he can die, we'll kill him." Kronos sheathed his sword and rubbed his hands together. "But how do we drown him when we're in here?"
"Some part of him is in here as well. This is his consciousness after all. You should look for something, a castle, or a palace probably. He'll be in there."
"That shouldn't be too tough. There are two of us, and he can't hurt us." Methos frowned. "Or can he?"
"Perhaps. I did say that his powers are unlimited, remember?" Alexander shrugged. "Who can tell? There is probably only one way to tell for sure."
"Face him?" Kronos grinned. "No problem."
"Maybe." Alexander frowned, his expression suddenly changing to one of faint concern. "Tell me; does Sarec know that you are Immortals?"
"No. He thinks we're just ordinary people. Why?"
"Because in that case you could be in trouble." Alexander shook his head. "This world, my friends; all that you see is created by Sarec. You yourselves have been put here by him, and you have become a part of his mind as well. You are what he perceives you to be."
There was a silence. Methos glanced from Kronos to Alexander. "But - Sarec thinks we're Amarac and Caspar," he said. "Just mortals. He doesn't know who we really are."
Alexander nodded sadly, less happy this time, now that another of his suspicions had been confirmed. "Then you are in trouble, my friends. In here you must be very careful. In here you're mortals, and that means that you can die - at any time."
"Mortals..." Methos heard the voice, but at first he did not fully recognise it as his own. There had been more than one time when he had wished for mortality, but now it was more than he could comprehend. All that he was was built on the self assurance and easy arrogance that indestructibility brought. It was too long ago for him to remember what it felt like to fear mortality.
"There's nothing here that can kill us." Kronos still had his hand resting on his sword hilt, and his eyes showed no sign of losing their confidence.
"I hope you're right." Alexander turned away from them, and pointed towards the mountains in the distance. Methos groaned when he saw them. They never seemed to get any closer, no matter how he tried.
"I met a man who told me that those mountains surround a valley, with a palace in the middle. That must be the place to head for."
"Are you sure you could trust him?" Methos asked. Alexander gave a short laugh.
"I found him minutes from death, lying not far from here. He had no reason to lie."
"Are you coming with us?" Kronos, already taking a few steps towards the mountains, glanced back at Alexander. The old man shook his head.
"No. I'd only slow you down. If you do find Sarec, and you manage to kill him, I'll see you in the real world." He offered them a distant smile, and turned to walk away, off on some journey of his own. Methos looked after him, then glanced towards Kronos, starting to speak to him. His old friend was already heading away, moving fast towards the mountains. Methos hurried to catch up.
"Kronos?" he called. "Wait."
Kronos glanced back, but did not slow, or speak.
"Kronos..." Methos caught up to him, and put a hand on his comrade's shoulder. "Brother, we have to talk."
"No we don't."
"You heard what he said!" Methos shook his head, fighting exasperation. "We're mortals here.!"
"Doesn't that mean anything to you?"
"Mean anything?" Kronos stopped walking and swung round on his old friend. "Of course it means something. I don't remember much of mortality, brother. All I remember is seeing the old men, and being determined to die before that happened to me. Then I found out that it wouldn't. I no longer remember how to be afraid Methos."
"Good." Kronos began to walk again. "Then you can do the worrying for both of us, because if we don't kill Sarec we're going to die here. We might as well die trying."
"True." Methos walked alongside the younger man, eyes fixed on the horizon. " I wonder what it feels like to die."
"Don't be too anxious to try it."
"I wasn't planning to." The old man managed a faint grin. "At least there's one thing to be cheerful about in all of this."
"We were right about Sarec."
"Now what?" Standing at the bottom of a towering mountain face, Methos looked up, feeling an odd twinge of vertigo as he stared upwards.
"Fly?" Kronos shot him a grin, and Methos laughed.
"After you brother." He shook his head. " I can't see a way up."
"Me neither. Do you suppose there's a pass?"
"Could be." The old man shrugged. "Oh, but I don't know. This was all created by Sarec remember. If there's a chance that we can kill him from in here, he's going to have made it as hard as possible to get to him."
"True." Kronos stepped back a few feet, then walked a little way to the left. The going did not seem to get any easier, but to his eyes at least the slope seemed less steep. He rubbed his hands together in a vague attempt at preparation, and began to climb. Methos groaned.
"Kronos, we don't have a chance."
"Fine. You stay there then." Kronos smiled to himself, knowing that Methos' concerns were mostly just for show. Below him the old man scowled upwards, then sighed, and reached for a likely hand hold. It was easier to get a grip than expected, but it took all of his strength to pull himself up to a better position.
"Watch out for this bit," Kronos advised. "It's a little loose." As if to prove his point he moved to one side, and a shower of sand and small stones slid down. Methos ducked, closing his eyes as the deluge bounced around him.
"Kronos..." he called up.
"Sorry." The voice sounded more amused than apologetic. "I did warn you."
"Yeah, I noticed." They resumed their passage upwards, skirting loose boulders, dragging themselves over jutting outcrops that grazed their arms and cut at their fingers. Methos glanced down at his hands. There was a cut on one thumb that dribbled blood onto the ground. It showed no sign of healing, and he realised that Alexander's words had been true. The persistent pain caught at the edge of his consciousness, and he found it hard to ignore. He was not used to such injuries. The cut was a disturbing reminder of their current predicament, and it was one that he could have done without.
"Is it much further?" Glancing upwards at his companion, Methos tried to find a secure hold, so that he could rest for a moment.
"I don't know. Hang on." Kronos laughed shortly. "Sorry. I meant wait a minute." He manoeuvred himself into a new position, the better to look upwards. "I doesn't look far, but the going is pretty rough ahead."
"Oh good." Methos started climbing again. "If you happen to see an inn up there somewhere, give me a yell."
"Okay." The other erstwhile Immortal vanished from his companion's view for a moment, as an outcrop of rock came between them. Methos head the sound of loose earth moving, then Kronos let out a sudden exclamation of pain.
"Are you okay?" Concerned, Methos hurried to catch up, almost losing his balance in the process.
"Yeah, I just banged my head." There was a short silence. "Dammit it hurts. We have got to kill Sarec and get our immortality back, brother."
"Too right." The older man pulled himself alongside his companion. "Much more of this and my hands are going to be cut to ribbons." He clapped his friend on the shoulder. "Come on, we're not accomplishing anything sitting here moaning."
"True." Kronos began to climb on again. "Do you suppose we're ageing brother?"
"I have no idea." Methos smiled lightly. "It might be fun though. People celebrate birthdays these days you know."
"That's only any good if you know what day you were born on." Kronos did not look back, but Methos knew that he was smiling.
"Then I'm going to officially declare today my birthday. As soon as we get out of here our first stop is an inn."
"Fine by me." There was a low laugh. "Can the princess come?"
"Of course." Methos smiled broadly, as a pleasing image came to mind. "Perhaps she could be persuaded to provide a little entertainment."
This time Kronos laughed louder. "Ah yes. The good old days, brother. Rows of young ladies, happily dancing, with costumes that were so... inventive."
"They weren't ladies." Methos laughed. "Come to think of it, they weren't terribly happy either."
"They weren't, were they. Must have been Caspian, threatening to cut their legs off if they didn't dance well enough."
Enjoying their light hearted banter, Methos and Kronos paid less attention to the passing time. They pulled themselves up the last few feet of the mountain face, and collapsed together on the summit, breathing hard.
"Well. " Methos brushed himself off, making a face at the ruined silk of his tunic. "That wasn't too hard, was it."
"Like taking milk from a baby." Kronos stretched, and walked across the oddly flat top of the mountain. "Do you want the good news or the bad news?"
"You can see the palace," Methos guessed, not bothering to stand up.
"That's the good news.. Want to take shot at the bad?"
"If it's got anything to do with it being less than easy to get to, I'm not interested."
"Oh, okay." Kronos wandered back, and threw himself down next to his companion. "We'll be down there in no time."
Methos glanced up, surprised. "Really?"
They lay back and gazed up at the sky. The sun was hot, but not as powerfully so as the previous day. Methos assumed it had been the previous day. Time did not seem to move at the same speed here as in the world outside, and he had no idea how long they had spent in the tunnel. He blinked, and wiped the sweat from his forehead with a grimy arm. No matter how hard he tried to prevent it, his mind kept dreaming hopefully of cool deep lakes, or of the surf on a beach, with inviting blue sea lying beyond.
"Do you hear something?"
"I hope not." Methos remembered the last time that that particular question had arisen. "Why? What do you think you hear?"
"In that case I definitely hope not." The older man sat up, shading his eyes to scan the horizons. There was nothing in the sky. No dark shapes ready to drop down on them, like last time. He could hear the noise too, though; a steady beat of wings.
"Methos..." Kronos spoke quietly, and Methos glanced over to him, immediately alerted by the odd sound in his friend's voice. Something was flying upwards from the other side of the mountain, and as they watched with wide eyes, it reached the top, and landed on the cliff edge.
"Is that what I think it is?" Methos rubbed at his eyes, hoping that he was hallucinating. He had to hand it to Sarec; the man knew how to create a true masterpiece of a nightmare.
"Yes, I think so." Kronos stood up slowly, and Methos followed suit. Wings still flapping, the creature made no attempt to attack at first, and Methos took a moment to try and assess it. He could only assume that it was a dragon; it was, at least, just like the pictures he had seen in the past. Three heads weaved about on the end of long, thickly muscled necks, and a powerful tail moved around, knocking boulders down the mountainside, and flicking dust and earth into the air.
"If you have any suggestions, now would be a good time." Stunned by the size of the creature, Methos gazed at it with eyes that still did not fully believe what they were seeing.
"I have only one suggestion." Kronos drew his sword slowly and began to edge away from Methos, moving to one side to try and get out of the creature's sight. One of the heads followed his every movement, a pair of large black eyes staring at him, unblinking.
"Kronos, don't do anything stupid." Methos drew his own sword, and began to edge off in the opposite direction. He wasn't quite sure what exactly constituted being stupid in this situation. Somehow, when fighting a creature that was not supposed to exist, he could not think of anything that could truly be classed as sensible. He watched as a second head turned to look at him, and wished that there were another couple of swordsmen there to help. Once the third head was distracted it should not be too difficult for the fourth man to slip in and make a quick strike. He frowned, wondering where exactly one should strike a dragon. It didn't look as though it had many weak points.
With a roar that seemed to shake the ground, the dragon lowered its third head, and made a thrust at Methos. It was no more than a warning, but he leaped backwards, slipping on the loose earth, and realising with discomfort just how close he was to the cliff edge. The monster flapped its wings again, and both men felt the breeze pass by. Methos shot a glance towards Kronos, and saw his old friend moving towards the dragon, his sword held firmly in both hands. There was a look of rigid determination on his face, which Methos recognised; his companion was not going to take any nonsense from anyone or anything. As Kronos headed in closer, his movements steady and slow, the dragon turned another of its heads to watch him, assessing him as a more direct threat than the other man. Methos held his breath. Another few paces forward, and Kronos would be well within striking distance of the dragon, but he might just be able to distract its third head as well. The older man tensed, ready to leap forward if this should happen, and use the precious seconds it would give him. He tried to judge where best to hit the creature, focusing on the point on its back where its three necks seemed to intersect. It was as good a place as any.
With a loud yell, Kronos hurled himself forward, taking the initiative in his usual, less than subtle way. The third head whipped around to face him, and he met it head on, whirling his sword around. The blade caught the creature on the side of the head, cutting deep, and a roar of pure rage erupted from the other two heads.
"Look out!" Methos shouted, his voice desperate. Kronos did not look towards him, but instead moved to combat the second head. It struck low, catching him on the shoulder and hurling him to the ground. He hit hard, and Methos watched, horrified, as the dragon raised a huge, clawed foot into the air, striking downwards at the winded man beneath it. Shocked, Methos ran forward, thrusting with his sword at the spot he had seen earlier. It took all of his height and all of the length of his arm to reach his mark, but he felt his blade strike home. The two undamaged heads twisted about to try to reach him, but he dodged aside, rolling under the dragon's body to land next to Kronos. He grabbed his friend by the arms, and dragged him to cover behind some rocks, breathing heavily. The dragon reared up on its hind legs, one head hanging limp on the end of its lifeless neck, the other two apparently losing strength. The creature screamed and roared, its tail crashing about against the rocks. Methos took a deep breath and grabbed his sword, then ran forward. The creature swung its huge bulk around to face him, but he dodged, running low. He rolled beneath it again, struggling to regain his balance as he stood up and made a wild thrust for the nearest twisting neck.
"Stand still damn you," he breathed at the dragon, trying for a blow similar to the one that Kronos had dealt the third head, but the creature seemed to have learnt from that experience. Methos backed off slightly, and the wildly thrashing tail caught at his ankles, knocking him off his feet. He rolled aside as a head struck downwards at him, and he stabbed upwards, his sword going straight through the neck. Immediately that head died, dropping down, and hanging just above him. He stared up at empty black eyes, and staggered to his feet, running back to the rocks where he had left Kronos. He was too tired to make another attack just now.
"Methos...?" The younger man's voice was weak and hoarse, and the old man dropped to the ground beside him. His companion's face was pale, an odd contrast to its usual tan, and his chest was a mass of blood. Every shaky attempt to take a breath caused new rivers of red to trickle from the corners of his mouth.
"Hell, Kronos, lie still." Methos glanced his old friend over, but he could see nothing to allay his fears. The wound was deep. Thoughts of mortality flooded the older man's mind, and he clenched his teeth, anxious that his concern should not become too obvious. He heard a faint, painful laugh.
"Is it really that bad, brother? You look like you've been kicked in the teeth." Kronos did not manage a grin to go with the joke, but the amusement in his voice was clear despite the pain. "Don't worry. It'll heal in no time."
Methos smiled. "Sure it will. Just don't move about too much." He sat down, leaning against the rocks, and dividing his attention between the dragon and Kronos. He had to move fast. The dragon was an obstacle that was preventing him from climbing down the mountain and going in search of Sarec. If he did not get to the King's Advisor soon, Kronos would die. This time there would be no recovery later on, when he had had time to heal. The old man glanced at his hands. The scrapes and cuts he had received whilst climbing up the mountain were still there, unhealed and raw. They hurt, he realised, with a touch of annoyance. Superficial marks such as these should have healed in seconds. He had forgotten how much a shallow cut hurt.
"Methos?" Kronos' voice was getting weaker, and Methos turned towards him.
"What is it?"
"How are we going to get down the mountain? I'm not staying here while you go after Sarec."
"Good point." Methos had no intention of leaving his companion alone. There was no telling whether he would survive. An idea struck him, but he nearly discarded it immediately. It couldn't possibly work. Then he smiled to himself. Why the hell shouldn't it work? After all, everything else in this place was insane. He stood up and pulled Kronos to his feet, as gently as possible.
"Think you can walk, brother?" he asked.
"I've got legs haven't I?" Kronos struggled for balance, and with Methos' assistance managed to walk away from the rocks that had given them shelter. The dragon was no longer giving them any attention, its two limp necks dragging along the ground. Blood poured from its wounds, and it was evidently getting weaker. The two men approached it warily, keeping a close eye on the one remaining head, which was pointed towards the valley beyond the mountains.
"It's going to take off," Kronos said, his voice tense from the effort of walking.
"That's the idea." Methos led his companion closer to the dragon, and helped him up onto the broad back. The skin felt hot and hard, and the creature did not appear to have noticed the intrusion.
"My sword-" With a sudden burst of energy, Kronos sat up, and looked about for his weapon. Methos pushed him down again.
"Stay there. I see it." He ran for the sword, just as the dragon began to make its final preparations for flight, moving along the mountain top and gathering speed. Grabbing the sword, Methos ran after the creature, and hurled himself towards it, just as it soared over the edge of the cliff. The old man grasped empty air, then felt a hand catch hold of his wrist. Kronos dragged him onto the dragon's back, using most of the energy that he had left. Together the two men lay on their unlikely resting place, breathing heavily. Kronos seemed to be regaining some of his strength, now that the initial shock had worn off, and Methos took heart from that. There was still no certainty that either of them would survive this endeavour, though, and he tried to focus only on the matter at hand.
"How do we get off this thing?" Kronos asked. Methos smirked.
"You spotted the hole in my strategy. We'll just have to hope that it's going somewhere near where we want to go."
"We're moving pretty fast." Lying on his back, Kronos blinked up at the clouds. "We're likely to wind up leaving the valley behind."
"I don't think so." Methos tried to manoeuvre himself into a position from which he could look down and see something of where they were going. "I think it's slowing down." He frowned, seeing the hanging heads and the one living one which remained. It was starting to droop.
"It's dying." Methos crawled back to his companion. "This thing is dying. We're going down."
"Nice work brother." Kronos grinned, the hard light in his eyes coming back. His arrogance had taken a bit of a knock, but it had apparently not been buried too deeply.
Gradually the dragon began to circle, moving slower and slower, flying nearer to the ground. It touched down almost gently, as if trying not to dislodge its passengers, and the two men slid from its back. The dragon did not seem to notice them, but with a last, faint attempt at a roar, it slumped into a heap and lay still. Methos gazed at it, wordless, feeling a sudden burst of sadness that he had been responsible for the death of such a magnificent creature. Kronos guessed his thoughts.
"Forget it, brother. It's not real, remember? None of this is."
"Yeah, I know." Methos caught his friend's arm, lending him some much needed support. "Where to now do you suppose?"
"I was thinking about over there." Kronos gestured past the dragon, where the tall stone towers of an imposing building rose upwards into the sky.
"As good a place as any." They began to walk towards the palace. "Do we knock on the front door?"
"We could try to find a window. He's not going to be that worried about security. Not with all the obstacles he's set up."
"We hope." They walked carefully around the large building, looking for some method of entry. Under normal circumstances a locked door or a closed window was no barrier to either of them, particularly to Kronos, but Methos was dubious about letting him do much in the way of climbing. Although he seemed to be fighting the pain, his chest was still bleeding profusely, and his steps were slow and weak.
"There!" His arm felt heavy, but Kronos lifted it to point, and Methos glanced in the indicated direction. A dark hole, built into the side of the palace, was just visible behind a heavy covering of ivy.
"Sarec's secret back door?" Methos wondered aloud.
"Probably." They hurried towards the door, anxious to get under cover, and found themselves in a cool, dark corridor. There was a damp feel to the air, and they felt their way along the rough, oddly slimy walls.
"Yuck." Methos made a face, which was lost in the darkness. "This place is not nice." He heard a faint laugh from beside him.
'"There are times, brother, when I worry about you." Despite the amusement, Methos heard the pain coming to the forefront once again in his partner's voice. It was obvious that they did not have much time left.
"Are you okay?" he asked. The answer was a little too long in coming.
"Of course I'm okay." There was more stubbornness than conviction in his tone, but Kronos managed to keep the hoarse sound from his voice. He still sounded breathless.
Light shone ahead of them, and the two men walked gamely on, stumbling on the rough floor of the corridor. They emerged in a big, rounded space which looked more like a cavern than a room. A curbed ceiling stretched up above them, uneven and rocky, and the walls were covered in phosphorescent growths. The floor was made up of tiles, cracked and broken, but still obviously a mosaic. The picture seemed to be of an elephant, surrounded by birds.
"Look!" Kronos took a step forward, before his legs gave way. Methos caught him as he fell, lowering him to the ground, and looking around for whatever had caught his friend's attention. In a corner a wooden cage stood, sad and alone. Inside was a man, sitting quietly on the floor. There was an air of pride about him, despite his depressed appearance.
"Is that the king?" Methos asked. Kronos nodded, his eyes closed. He leant against the wall, suddenly seeming to have lost his strength. Methos hurried to the cage, and used his sword to break the lock. He pulled the door open.
"Your Majesty?" he asked, his tone polite but urgent. The king stood up, smiling broadly.
"Thankyou," he said. "May I inquire-?"
"My name is Caspar." Methos gestured towards Kronos. "I'm a friend of Amarac's."
"Oh, right." The king walked over to Kronos and crouched beside him. "He's in a bad way."
"I know." Sheathing his sword, Methos looked around. "Do you have any idea where Sarec is?"
"Goodness knows. I hardly see him." The king shook his head. "How could I have been so wrong about that man? He's completely insane."
"Don't worry about that now." Methos glanced down at Kronos, unwilling to leave him. "Your Majesty, could I ask you to stay with Amarac? If I can find Sarec, and kill him, we'll be able to get back where we came from."
Kronos stirred. "Don't think you can sneak off without me, brother. I'm going with you."
"No you're not. You'd never make it." Methos began to head towards a doorway across the room. "Just lie still. Once Sarec is dead you'll be fine, so don't go getting yourself killed now."
"Why not? You're all going to die here anyway." Appearing in the doorway, just as if he had been waiting for them, Sarec pointed at Methos. "Throw down your sword, and I may consider letting you stay here as my prisoner."
"No chance." Methos drew the sword, remembering Alexander's words about Sarec being indestructible. "We're leaving here, and we're going back to the real world, Sarec."
"Impossible." The advisor's voice dripped with contempt. "You have no chance. You might as well give up and die right now. It looks as though your friend already has."
"Don't bet on it." With a sudden effort, Kronos managed to sit up straight and draw his sword. Sarec laughed.
"I'm scared," he said. "An old man, one man who's half dead, and another one who honestly thinks that he can hurt me with a sword."
"I know what I'm doing." Methos tried to sound certain. There had to be some water around here somewhere, surely. The king had been here for days. He must have drunk something.
"I very much doubt that you do."
"Who cares. I can always improvise." Methos stood his ground, thinking fast. "We're leaving here, Sarec."
"It won't do you any good." Sarec nodded at Kronos. "He's going to die anyway. Look at him. He can hardly breathe."
"I think you may be surprised." Methos managed a crooked grin. "So are you going to fight?"
"Fight? I don't need to." Sarec raised a hand, and pointed at Methos. A bolt of lightning erupted from one finger, and the old man felt it strike him in the chest. He was hurled across the room, and slammed into the rocky wall of the cavern, crumpling into a heap on the floor. Shaken, he struggled to his feet, blinking in confusion. Sarec laughed.
"You see? You can't fight me."
"I can try." Methos advanced again, and again was hurled back by Sarec's assault. He climbed to his feet once more, and began to circle Sarec, leading his attention away from the other two. The king reached for Kronos' sword, but the wounded man pushed him away, fighting to get to his feet. On unsteady legs he advanced on Sarec, coming up behind him, his face set in a deep frown of concentration. Sarec did not suspect anything, his attention held entirely by Methos. As the old man raised his sword, Sarec shot it from his hands with another bolt of lightning, and Methos jumped, his hands burning with pain from the heat of the blast. Sarec's eyes burned into his, and to his horror, Methos felt himself sinking to his knees. He could not resist. The hard floor jolted his legs as he landed on it, and he felt the power of Sarec's mind raging in his head. Nausea flooded through him. He caught a glimpse of Kronos, still moving towards Sarec's back, his face set rigid, his sword raised in both hands. Sarec laughed suddenly.
"This is too easy," he said. "I'd hoped for so much more from you. Our talk the other day led me to think that there was more to you than most men, Caspar."
"Sorry to disappoint you." It was almost impossible to get the words out. Methos felt as though an iron press was gripping his head, closing tighter and tighter around it, and he knew that he could not survive much longer. He was too angry to feel afraid, but there was nothing that he could do. None of his limbs seemed to be capable of moving. He heard footsteps, and saw the king standing beside him. He was trying to buy Kronos some time.
"Give up, Sarec." The king fixed his advisor with a fierce stare. "This has gone quite far enough."
Sarec laughed, and for a second Methos felt the grip on his mind weaken.
"Shut up old man." Sarec pointed at the king, knocking him to the ground with barely a suggestion of effort. Behind him Kronos gritted his teeth, and with all the strength he could muster he swung his sword, smashing the blade into Sarec's back. The tall man stumbled, and Methos sprang to his feet, freed. He made a grab for his sword and swung it, driving the point of the blade into the advisor's body. Together he and Kronos stabbed at Sarec, hacking at his body, until they were all covered in blood. Weak from the effort, Kronos fell to the ground, and Methos stood over Sarec's body alone. Angry eyes blinked up at him, and Methos shook off his exhaustion.
"Water!" he blurted out, swinging round on the king. "There has to be some water around here somewhere."
"Through there." The king pointed to the doorway. "I hear it sometimes. A lake, I think."
"Caspar-" Although Kronos' voice was weak, Methos recognised the warning in it. Glancing back, he saw Sarec's wounds healing at an alarming rate. Without hesitation, Methos thrust his sword deep into Sarec's chest, and tore it free, trying to cause as much damage as possible. Even so, he saw the healing begin almost straight away. He caught the tall man up into his arms, running with him towards the doorway. Sarec began to struggle, his weak movements growing stronger as his healing continued. Desperate, Methos almost fell through the doorway, and saw the lake which lay beyond. He grinned. Sarec's world needed water to survive, just like any other world did. It was hardly surprising that he had decided to keep it close to home. The advisor began to struggle harder, his fists striking at Methos' shoulders, and the old man felt the first stirrings of a new assault on his mind. He staggered on, and with every part of him suddenly feeling as though it were alive with pain, he hurled himself forward, and together with Sarec he crashed into the lake.
The water was cool and welcoming, and Methos sunk into it, keeping a tight grip on Sarec. He felt the man struggle, and heard an almighty scream echo about the room. It filled his ears, and the old man choked, getting a mouthful of water as Sarec's struggles increased ten-fold. Then, suddenly, all was still, and even as Methos watched, the King's Advisor vanished into nothingness. Methos stared at his empty hands, blinking in confusion, then he grinned. Sarec was gone, and as he pulled himself to the edge of the lake, he saw the walls around him begin to fade away too. Sarec's world was following its creator into oblivion.
Methos awoke to find himself lying on his back. He blinked up at the sky. It was white, and there were carvings at it edges. He frowned. That couldn't be right. Gingerly he sat up and looked around. It wasn't the sky that he had seen, but the ceiling of some room. Candles were everywhere, and complex symbols were painted onto the walls with something that looked very much like blood. This had to be Sarec's room. Standing up, Methos looked at his hands. The cuts and scratches had gone, and he grinned. Immortality felt good.
"Caspar?" The voice was confused, and the old Immortal turned towards it. Kronos was nearby, the strength clear in his face, and his eyes bright once again.
"Amarac. Are you okay?" Methos hurried to him, but Kronos had climbed to his feet before the older man could reach him.
"Yeah, I feel fine." Kronos grinned and stretched, then winced. "Well, nearly fine. How about you?"
"I'm okay. Bit of a headache, that's all." Methos pointed at a slumped shape at the edge of the room. "The king." They hurried towards the fallen figure.
"Your Majesty?" Methos bent over the shape. "Are you alright?"
"More or less." With a groan, the king rolled over, obviously dazed. "What happened?"
"We defeated Sarec. We're back in your palace now." Methos stood up, helping the king to his feet.
"We are?" The king frowned, and blinked around at the room. "Then remind me to have it redecorated. Where's Sarec?"
"Gone. Dead." Kronos had crossed to the window, and was looking out at the gardens. He could see Indigo walking there, and he wondered what she had made of his disappearance. He had no real awareness of how much time had passed.
"Is everything alright?" The king almost ran to the window. "No flames? No darkness or chaos?"
"No. We defeated Sarec before he was able to take over here." Methos joined them at the window. "I wonder what became of Alexander?"
"No need to worry about him." Kronos drew his sword. The blade was clean and shiny, as if it had not been used at all recently. He frowned. Sarec's strange world was going to take some serious thought to get to grips with. The idea of it intrigued him greatly; a world of his own devising - a true nightmare to any intruder, and a world where anything was possible. Methos joined him as they left Sarec's room, and went in search of the sunshine.
"Thinking about Sarec?" he asked. Kronos grinned.
"Sort of; his powers. Virtually unlimited."
Methos laughed. "That's not for us, brother. They come at too great a price."
"Oh I think I could live with being completely evil." Kronos grinned, and Methos rolled his eyes.
"No doubt. Actually, I meant the lifespan. Imagine only being able to live for a thousand years."
"Yeah." They knew that they were alone, that no one was within earshot, and their conversation was free and easy. "I missed immortality."
"Me too." Methos threw an arm around his friend's shoulders. "Still, I feel a certain affinity for the mortals now."
"I don't." Kronos grinned, cheerfully unsympathetic. "They are what they are, brother. Just as we are. We're the masters of this world."
"True." Methos nodded. "But any good master should spare a thought for his servants, don't you think?"
"No." Kronos grinned again. "I tell you what. You think about the mortals. I'll think about Indigo."
"No deal." They both laughed. Neither man wanted to remember the frailty which had accompanied mortality. It felt good to feel the familiar arrogance flooding through them once again; the determination and the confidence that went with the knowledge that life and its dangers could not touch them.
"I take it that you're staying on here then?" Kronos asked.
"Try and stop me." Methos shrugged. "I don't think I'll stay long. A year or two..."
"Just till the wind changes direction."
"Something like that."
"Yeah, well remember; the princess is royalty. You're just-" Kronos frowned. "Just what are you, brother? I still don't really know."
Methos laughed. "Me?" he said, sounding oddly reflective. "That's a long story."
"Maybe." Kronos smirked. "But we do have all of eternity at our disposal. Just in case you'd forgotten."
"All of eternity..." Methos grinned, a faraway look in his eyes. The thought was almost intoxicating. "Yeah... I guess we do."
This story is set in around 850 AD. I have no idea how many dragons were living inside the heads of Royal Advisors at that time.
Perhaps it is an area for future research.