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Big Finish Adrian Paul

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  • Big Finish Adrian Paul

    It might shock you to know that I was given permission... I think. I could use some help though. When you see *** that's something I couldn't parse.
    1.1. Highlander: The Lesson
    Released April 2009
    Written by Trevor Baxendale
    Cover Artist Martin Stiff
    Director Sharon Gosling
    Executive Producer Jason Haigh-Ellery
    Music Jamie Robertson
    Producer Sharon Gosling
    Sound Design Richard Dolmat
    Written by Trevor Baxendale
    Line Producer David Richardson

    Product Format: 1-disc CD (jewel case)
    Number of Discs: 1
    Duration: 60 minutes
    Physical Retail ISBN: 978-1-84435-358-3
    Production Code: BFPHLCD01

    Adrian Paul (Duncan MacLeod)
    Trevor Cooper (Pieter Gatlan)

    “I first met Pieter Gatlan in 1868. It was a beautiful, warm sunny afternoon when he first tried to kill me.”

    Of all the sword fights Duncan MacLeod has fought over the centuries, the toughest have been against an Immortal named Pieter Gatlan. Every ten years, Gatlan searches Duncan out – and every ten years, Duncan is defeated… but not beheaded. What is Gatlan’s grand plan? And this time, will the Highlander triumph?

    "I am immortal. Born four hundred years ago in the highlands of Scotland. I'm not alone. There are others like me. Some good, some evil. For centuries I've battled the forces of darkness, with holy ground my only refuge. I cannot die... unless you take my head, and with it, my power. I am Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod! The Highlander! In the end, there can be... only one."

    The Year 1868

    I first met Pieter Gatlan in 1868. It was a beautiful, warm sunny afternoon when he first tried to kill me. It was... a close thing. And I've seen a few of those in four hundred years. I can still remember the cool breath of his Toledo steel saber as it slashed past my face, [swish] with barely an inch to spare. Well, I say an inch. In the heat of the fight I didn't realize that the tip had sliced open the skin between my jaw and throat, missing the jugular by, ooh, by a gnat's wing. It was a hot night. And anyway, you really don't feel those things properly until the duel is finished, if you survive it. I was on my knees by the end of it, my sword lying in a roadside ditch, well out of reach. I was panting, exhausted, waiting for the end to come. Gatlan stood over me, already smiling because he knew he'd won, and touched the tip of his blade against my chest.

    "You are bleeding."

    I looked down. The front of my shirt was bright red, soaked through, and in that instance I suddenly felt the hot stinging pain in my neck. With each huge beat of my heart, I felt more blood surge out of the cut, and run down my collar.

    "A close one, hahah, I'll give you that!" I replied. I sounded a little rougher than I intended. It's hard to be 'cool' when you're about to be decapitated.

    "You're not wrong, Highlander. Half a step closer and I would be savoring your death like the taste of a fine wine by now."

    [shaky] "The Quickening," I gasped. I was frightened. I was about to die or so I believed. My heart was racing and I could feel the life pumping out of my neck. What would it be like? Quick, painless? Or long and agonizing... I was beginning to suspect the latter. Gatlan did a strange thing then.

    Still keeping the tip of his sword pressed against the blood-sodden material of my shirt, he squatted down on his haunches and looked me straight in the eye.

    "The Quickening. Yes... That. All your life-force; your energy; your soul... Everything that makes you, you. All pouring out of your severed neck; bursting out of it like a fountain, straight into me. I'd like that!" Then he winked. "But not yet." He stood up, kicked me full in the face, [grunts of pain] so I sprawled backwards like a drunk in the gutter. The pain from my wound felt like someone was trampling bits of broken glass into my throat. He stood over me, still smiling. His blue eyes twinkled. "All that blood, Highlander! You must've lost a pint already, but that's nothing. It won't kill you. You could bleed like that all night. I could hang you up by your feet and drain you like a slaughtered pig, but it still wouldn't matter. You can't die! Not unless you lose your head." [Final line said perhaps in imitation of Sean Connery as Ramirez]

    "Why won't you do it then?"

    "You're not ready yet, Highlander. You need to play the Game a while longer. But one day... One day."

    Duncan's Boat in Paris

    People sometimes say you should "take the long view", or "look at the big picture". They mean you should ignore the trivia; don't get caught up with the detail, or you lose your way. It's easy for an Immortal. The bigger picture and the long view are the things that come simply to someone who can live forever. In fact, the real danger for Immortals is to lose sight of the details; the small things in life that actually give it meaning. You have to be careful not to end up playing the Game as The Long Game. It can happen. And it's a lesson hard-learned.

    [water lapping] I came out of the boat to find an overcast sky which looked more like it belonged over London than Paris at this time of year. It was going to rain, that much was obvious. I pulled on my long coat and then spotted the knife.

    Like I said: you should never lose sight of the details.

    It was sticking out of the side of the cabin, the blade buried deep into the wood. It had a bone handle carved into a grip, the pommel inset with pearls. A pretty little weapon. Probably worth a fortune. And someone had used it to stick a note to the side of my boat.

    It was a piece of stiff paper, flapping slightly in the cold river breeze. I tore it free and held it up to read, as the first raindrops began to hit. [rip noise]

    "Time for your lesson, Highlander," it said.

    I felt the familiar knot form in my gut. Funny how five simple words can be enough to turn your world around in a second.

    A Spanish Bar in 1878

    It'd been the same for one hundred and forty years. Every decade, on the anniversary of our first duel, he had invited me for another lesson.

    The first time we met again, in 1878, had been an accident. I'd been idly whiling away an evening in a rowdy Spanish bar, but as soon as I felt that pull at the end of my senses, that knowledge that another Immortal was near...

    Gatlan! [noise of something hard hitting something]

    I stood up so quickly that the stool crashed to the floor, attracting the attention of everyone around me.

    There was silence.

    Gatlan turned to face me. He'd been standing at the bar, wearing the same long leather coat he'd worn the first time I'd met him. It was a good coat; I'd pick it out of a crowd anywhere. It was made of a soft Chamois, light-colored, but tooled with a swirling pattern in black stitched all over the shoulders and down the lapels. Gatlan's blue eyes saw me and he smiled, a big, wide, welcoming smile.

    "Duncan! Duncan MacLeod as I live and breathe! What a surprise."

    He ordered another drink from the bar and brought it over to me.

    I pushed away the girl I'd been with that night, and whispered that I'd see her again in the morning. She caught the look in my eyes, though. I tried to keep one of grim determination but, in all honesty, it probably had a little fear in it, too.

    Gatlan spun a chair around with his boot and sat. He put the drink on the table before me and raised his glass. "To your good health, Highlander! You know - [lowers voice] I thought I felt something when I came in."

    "What are you doing here?"

    "Passing through. I hear there's trouble brewing in France so that's where I'm headed."


    "There's bound to be a Gathering. Immortals are drawn to conflict like moths to candles, Duncan. You know that. I'm head-hunting."

    [slight shake to voice] "You won't... get mine." I tried to hold his stare. I was deadly serious. It was ten years since he'd best me in that first duel, and I'd learned a lot. I had my sword with me of course; every Immortal keeps his blade close to hand, day and night. He smiled, his eyes glistening like ice in the heat of a dark tavern.

    "Are you scared, Highlander?"

    [childishly] "No!"

    "That's a lie."

    "It's not! You have both hands on the table, Gatlan. My hand is on my sword. I could cut off your head right now and there's not a damned thing you could do!"

    [laughs] "Hah, you'd commit cold-blooded murder in the middle of a busy tavern?"

    I didn't say anything. I kept his gaze. He knew I was right, so why wasn't he worried, damn him?!

    "Leave your sword where 'tis. We'll fight, but not here. We'll do it quietly, and alone. Like lovers."

    I drew the sword an inch from its scabbard, [hiss of steel] letting him see the steel.

    [laughing] "You're really frightened, aren't you Duncan! I can see it in your eyes. [lower] I can see it in the way you touched your neck before you touched your sword. Does it still hurt, that little 'love bite'?"

    I stood up again and then walked out.
    Last edited by dubiousbystander; 12-12-2019, 07:07 AM.

  • #2
    The Lesson post 2

    Behind The Tavern At Night

    I knew he'd follow me. We fought in the dark alleyway behind the inn; two men locked together, [fighting noises] fumbling in the shadows, grunting, heaving... sweating. He jumped me before I was ready! I thought it was gonna be blades, the way it should be, but Gatlan had his arm around my neck before I knew it. He clamped his forearm across my throat, turning his fist so the bone moved inward, crushing my windpipe. I fell, ducking, [Duncan gasps, thud of landing] banging my knee hard into the cobbles as he flew over my head and hit the ground. He skidded through a puddle of filth, swore, rolled to his feet.

    I was on him in an instant, but he was already waiting, knowing what I was about to do before I knew it myself. His boot swung up and for the second time I took his kick right in the teeth! I can still taste the leather, flavored with effluent that ran down the gully between the paving stones.

    Before I knew it I was on my back again, staring up at the dark shape blotting out the light of the moon.

    [breathing hard] "That's another lesson for you Highlander. I pick the fights, not you." He turned, the Chamois tails of his coat flapping behind him like the wings of an owl, and disappeared into the night.

    The girl found me, helped me up, wiped the blood and dirt from my lips and then kissed me hard. That wasn't what I expected.

    "This is a very bad man," she told me breathlessly. "Very bad." She spoke English but with an accent. It turned out that she was a Basque.

    "I-I need to get after him," I said, pushing her away. She wouldn't let go.

    "No. You must not follow him," she insisted. "Bad man. Very bad man."

    "I'm no angel either. Let-let go of me." But he'd already disappeared.

    I searched the surrounding streets and alleyways and the tavern again but there was no sign of Pieter Gatlan anywhere. He had vanished into the darkness, a trick he was to repeat many times over the years.

    The Basque girl had stayed with me the whole time. "Come with me," she said at last. She almost sounded impatient. "You are hurt."

    "I'm fine." I scratched at the dried blood on my face.

    "Let me do that," she said. Her fingers were quick and gentle, wiping more dirt from my chin as she held my face close.

    "Who are you?" I asked. "What d'you want?"

    "I want to help you," Maria told me. "That man, Senior Gatlan, he is very bad man."

    "You keep telling me that. [grunt] Tell me something I don't know."

    "Very well," she said. "Come with me."

    Maria's House

    I followed her to a small villa on the outskirts of the town. Only then did I begin to see how beautiful she was. Dark hair, dark skin, with strong white teeth and a body that - as I found out later - was wonderfully supple. [background noises of walking, of a door opening and closing] She took me inside and kissed me again. When our lips parted I held her face in my hands and looked into her eyes; the color of black coffee.

    "You said you'd tell me about Pieter Gatlan. What's he doing here?"

    "I do not know him personally," she said, "but everyone here knows... about him. He comes here all the time, to see a man. A man who deals in death. The Grandfather of Swords," she said.

    "What kind of name is that?"

    [moment] "Come with me."

    [sound of footsteps] I followed her into another room, a dark room, full of the scent of warm sandalwood. But it wasn't the odor that made my head spin. It was the realization there was another Immortal in the room. But surely it couldn't be this figure that was waiting for me!

    Sitting at the back in a rocking chair was the oldest man I'd ever seen. He was so dried up and shriveled that it would be easy to mistake him for a corpse! His eyes were blind beneath the wrinkled skin; his liver-spotted head was bare, except for the occasional wisp of white hair. He wore an ancient embroidered silk bathrobe, and his bony hands quivered in his lap like spiders.

    The girl knelt down beside the old monster and took one of his skeletal hands in hers. I noticed his fingernails were so long that they had curved into brittle yellow corkskrews.

    "Old One," she said, quietly.

    He stirred, ancient lips parting with an audible hiss. "Maria..." the figure rasped, "is it him?"

    "Yes, Old One," Maria told him softly. "The man from the Highlands, just as you predicted. His name is Duncan MacLeod."

    "Of the Clan MacLeod," I added firmly. "Who're you? What's going on here?"

    The old man made an impatient noise. "Is this the one you think can destroy this Russian?"

    "Yes, Old One," she said. "I am sure of it."

    The old man turned his head towards me. He may have been looking at me, but I couldn't see his eyes. The sockets were hidden in shadow anyway.

    "He'll never do it," came his old voice.

    "Are you the Grandfather of Swords?" I asked.

    "You've heard of me?"

    "Not until a few minutes ago," I told him. "Should I have? What are you?"

    He cackled horribly. Perhaps he was amused. Maybe he was just coughing, I don't know.

    "I might be a number of things. I've forgotten now more than you'll ever learn, Highlander. But, that's ***shoishing the case. I have a certain advantage in years when all is said and done."

    "But... you're so... old... for... an Immortal."

    "Yesssssss. I lived to be a ripe old age, didn't I? Before I was cut down, way past my prime, I was one hundred and three at the time of my first death. So easy meat for someone like you, Highlander. If you want my head... But, I don't think you will. Not if what I've heard is true. For an Immortal you... you have a reasonable sense of honor."

    "But... How do you fight?"

    [groan] "Typical. Dead at thirty, and all you ever do is think like thirty-year old. Everything revolves around fighting, doesn't it. Well, it doesn't for me. I'm content to sit out the Game, to let all you youngsters fight your battles. Who knows? In the end, there may only be me left! [wheezing laughter] Wouldn't that be amusing? [laughter] There can be...[laughter] only One!"

    "But what about Pieter Gatlan?" I insisted. "What do you know about him?"

    "Oh... He's wily one, that one," he said. "Always thinking ahead. If you'll pardon the pun. [laughing] He uses people, Highlander. Mortal, and Immortal. He has only one aim, and that is to win! So, beware of him, down through the years. He may not kill you, now, or next time, but one day he'll... When the time is right he will. He surely will."

    "Well thanks," I muttered. "That's very comforting."

    Paris - Present Day

    So. The Grandfather of Swords. Another riddle in a lifetime of riddles. I never did see him again, or find out what happened to him. For all I know he could still be alive, sitting in his sandalwood attic like an old, crusty spider, waiting... and waiting... until the rest of us have cut each other to ribbons before he emerges from his web.

    Back to the present.

    I jogged up the steps leading from the Seine, still turning the matter over in my mind. Down through the decades, Pieter Gatlan ran like a scar through my life. Sometimes forgotten; sometimes painful; but... always there. Deep inside. Hurting like hell. Pieter Gatlan wanted to see me again. My ten years were up.

    I took the Metro to Notre Dame. The square in front of it was cut in half by a gray shadow as the rainclouds thinned behind its twin spires. Sightseers disappeared into the veil and I followed them until I found the man I wanted, leaning against the cold stone wall by the cathedral entrance.

    His name was Joe Dawson.

    My friend.

    Well, sort of.

    "Long time no see!" he said, with a grin. "I must admit, I had to smile when I got your message. Duncan MacLeod wanting to meet on Bastille Day. No doubt with you around, there'll be even more fireworks than usual here tonight."

    I allowed myself a wry smile. Joe could never resist a small dig. One thing was for certain: I'd missed the banter of having him around. "You know me too well, Joe."

    He shrugged. "Hey. It's my job! Now, what can I do for you, MacLeod?"

    I gave him the piece of paper, and he held it up to the light. [sounds of paper crinkling] He read it carefully. Odd, because it was only five words after all. And then he turned it over and looked at the other side. He smelled the paper, then peered at the slit in the middle.

    "Stuck to the side of the boat this morning... [flick of knife being pulled out] with this."

    He looked at the knife briefly and whistled. I slipped it back into the pocket of my coat before anyone else could see. [sound of knife being returned]

    "Let's take a walk, Mac," he said. "Inside."

    Notre Dame Cathedral - Present Day

    The Cathedral was huge and cool, like a separate world. Everything was different in here: the light, sound, the air. [chuckles] I love churches.

    [creak of door] "Sacred ground," Joe said. "I can tell by the look in your eyes. Peaceful."

    "That's what they call the recently deceased," I said. "Peaceful."

    He jerked his chin towards my pocket. "Let me see that knife again."

    We sat down in the middle of a row of chairs near the center of the nave. I let Dawson examine the knife while I sat back and looked up, letting my gaze wander across the distant, vaulted roof.

    Maria's Bedroom 1878

    I remembered looking up into the dark eyes of a girl. I couldn't see her in the dark. There was a new moon, and that leant everything in the room a silver skin, except... for the girl. She was nothing more than a shadow, with only the faintest glimmer of her eyes and teeth visible.

    "You are strong, Duncan," she whispered, "but are you strong enough?"

    I rolled her over in the bed and stared down at her. Now I could see the line of her jaw, softly parted lips, the night-black hair hanging across the rest of her face. "Strong enough for what?"

    "Gatlan," she said. "You know he wants to kill you."

    "He's had two chances already."

    "One day, he will kill you."

    "I doubt it," I laughed gently. "I don't intend to meet him again."

    She looked away. "What if he intends to meet you?"

    I shrugged, not knowing what to say. I - I really didn't want to talk about Pieter Gatlan. I had other things on my mind. I leant down toward Maria, but she stopped me, resting her finger on my lips.

    "The Old One is never wrong, Duncan. One day, Gatlan means to kill you."

    "Then there's nothing I can do about it, is there? Now stop talking and kiss me again."

    Notre Dame Cathedral - Present Day

    "Mac. Mac! I said do you believe in God?"

    I blinked and focused on Joe. He was looking at me with that sardonic smile of his. He knew my mind had been wandering.

    "It's complicated. I'm immortal, remember?"

    He rolled his eyes. "You know, it completely slipped my mind."

    "What do you make of it?" I asked him.

    "The knife? It's an antique, certainly," he said. "Unusual. Something of a rarity I dare say, but you're the expert. Does it mean anything to you?"

    [moment] "Yeah. It belonged to Maria Gonzales."

    "Ah." Joe scratched his gray beard thoughtfully. "Now that is interesting."


    • #3
      The Lesson post 3

      Riverboat Deck, Tramp Steamer On Zambezi River 1888

      I met Maria Gonzales again ten years later. It was the summer of 1888. I'd got out of San Francisco and was sitting on the deck of a tramp steamer chugging its way down the Zambezi River. I was, to all intents and purposes, taking a consignment of breech-loading rifles and ammunition to the chief of the Matabele people. I found out later that it was all a scam; that Cecile Rhodes Concession was little more than a payoff for mining rights. But that's another story.

      I was really here to see Pieter Gatlan.

      The Zambezi air was full of the sounds of the jungle on either side of us, and heavy with the heat. I was wearing a hat to keep the sun off me, the band was wet with perspiration. I could feel it running down the sides of my face and neck as I sat in the chair with my eyes shut, hardly breathing, when I felt the slightest change in temperature as a shadow fell over me. Opening my eyes, I saw the silhouette of a woman, the straw brim of her hat lit from behind like a glowing halo.

      "I knew it was you," she said. "I'd recognize that profile anywhere. Handsome. And ever so slightly arrogant."

      I recognized that accent immediately. "Maria!"


      I stood up and bowed. With every passing year she seemed to be getting more beautiful. Sometimes age was as kind to women as it was to men. "What are you doing here?" I asked.

      She smiled. "I could ask the same thing about you, but - [inhales] I think I know the answer, don't I."

      I led her into the shade behind the poop deck. "I don't know what you mean, senorita."

      [snort] "You're here for Pieter Gatlan. Aren't you," she said.

      "You're remarkably well-informed, and I have to say it's quite a coincidence that I should find you here as well, after all, the last time we met - Was it really ten years ago? - was the last time I ran into our mutual friend!"

      "It's no coincidence, Duncan, I'm here to watch over you."

      I raised an eyebrow at this one, but before I could think of anything to say, Maria carried on.

      "You received a telegram, didn't you, sent from Nairobi two months ago. Pieter Gatlan's name followed by another."

      I nodded. "***Lasindria."

      She waved her hand at the deck. "The name of this boat."

      "It took me a while to track it down, but I must say it's a disappointment. There's no sign of Gatlan."

      "He's waiting for you at the next staging post," she said. "He's going to fight you. But that, you already know don't you?"

      I nodded again. "Remarkably well-informed."

      "Like I said, Duncan. I'm watching your back."

      Notre Dame Cathedral - Present Day

      "Who'd of thought it. A Watcher. And you never even knew it." [laughter]

      Joe laughed as I paused for a second.

      "Well, when I saw 'Watcher' I don't mean a professional. Lemme guess: The Grandfather of Swords?"

      I let a grin pass over my face. "It's not just you lot who like to keep an eye on things. When you're an Immortal blessed with the body of a hundred-year old, I guess you like knowing what everyone's up to. Besides, he'd been around a long time. If contact ***buds had been invented back then, his would have been as long as his arm. Anyway, the old man or not, all I was interested in was Gatlan."

      "And he was waiting for you?" Joe asked. "At the next staging post?"

      "Yeah. He was."

      Zambezi Staging Post

      He was waiting for me with that damned smile on his face, sword in hand. He was wearing britches, tucked into brown leather knee boots, but he was bare-chested. He looked strong. His skin was burned a deep nut-brown, and his teeth flashed white when he spoke.

      "Welcome to the Zambezi, Highlander! My, but you're a long way from home."

      "We're here, Gatlan. Why drag me halfway across the world into this stinking, fly-ridden heat?"

      "Drag you? I did no such thing! You dragged yourself, Duncan. All I did was give you a couple of names. You did all the rest. Couldn't resist it, could you? You had to come. Had to."

      [sword hisses] "Let's get on with it," I said, drawing my sword. There was no one else around. We were alone in the jungle clearing. The only witnesses were the local insects and a macaw shrieking loudly in the branches behind me. Gatlan made a couple of lazy slashes with his sword, carving up the mid-day heat. [swishing noises]

      "You sound confident! Good, I like that! Been practicing?"

      I answered him with an initial slash that would have taken his head off and solved a lot of problems had it landed. [swoosh] But, my God he was fast. He jerked backwards, the blade passing harmlessly, and within a moment I was wrenching my arm back to parry a sharp, accurate thrust from his saber! [clang] The metal clashed and we exchanged... ten, twenty, thirty blows before he flicked the katana out of my fingers like he was simply getting bored with the whole thing.

      "You're just not good enough yet."

      I looked down at my hand, blood seeped between my knuckles and dripped into the sand at my feet. He was smiling broadly at me.

      "Disappointed? Don't be! I'm the best there is! And one day you will be too. And that's when I'll take your head." [footsteps]

      He walked away, laughing softly to himself. I turned around and found Maria standing there with my sword.

      "You're a lucky man," she told me.

      I was too angry to reply.

      Notre Dame Cathedral - Present Day

      "So... Where did the knife come from?" Joe asked.

      "That came later," I recalled. "Ten years later. Funny enough, the African Uprising was taking place in Rhodesia at the time, but I was in Milan, and Gatlan was there again, waiting for me. I was delivering a package for the British Government."

      "A secret agent!"

      "On Her Majesty's Service!" I smiled. "And by that, I mean Queen Victoria."

      "So... There was another fight?" Joe asked. "With Gatlan, I mean."

      "Yeah. He'd gotten hold of the fact that I was in Milan at the time. It was in a ballroom, that particular fight. It was empty; the party long since over but, we stayed behind in the litter to test each other again."

      Joe raised an eyebrow. "'Each other'."

      "Well, alright Joe! He was testing me again. It's... strange, fighting in a ballroom. The floor was sprung, and it made the duel very energetic. But it was still a one-sided contest. Gatlan was playing with me, constantly probing. Twice he nicked me, once on either cheek and then accused me of crying red tears as the blood ran down my face!"

      "He was teasing you," Joe said.

      "Humiliating me."

      "And, he did this every time he met you? Every ten years? Psh!" [snorts] Joe shook his head.

      "Yeah. Pretty much."

      "And, what was special about the Milan Ballroom fight?"

      "Because... [sighs] well, because this was the closest I ever got to finishing him off."

      "You were getting better?" asked Joe.

      [grumpily] "No. Not so you'd notice," I told him. "It was... Maria. Gatlan had me against the wall; the tip of his sword was at my throat, and he was giving me his usual speech. About how I wasn't up to his standards, that he could have killed me there and then, and I'd have to be a lot better next time, if I wanted to give him any exercise, let alone a decent fight! [moment] I remember those words very well, because he suddenly stopped speaking and just stared at me. And then slowly, very slowly, he - he lowered his sword.

      "I was breathing hard, bleeding. Exhausted again. But Gatlan was just staring. Then blood ran out over his lips, and he staggered backwards. As he turned around, dropping his sword, I saw the knife sticking out of his back. That knife. The one with the bone handle and pearls. Maria's knife. She was standing behind him. She'd stabbed him in the back when he was talking to me. He... [disturbed noise] He knew he was in trouble and he looked across at me, and he knew that... was gonna be my chance! So, I picked up my sword."

      "Well... Highlander."

      "He was bleeding profusely, but he wasn't going to die. Not until his head was parted from his shoulders, and now was my chance to do it."

      "So why didn't you?" asked Joe.

      "Because he just smiled at me, his lips red with his own blood and shrugged his shoulders! Not an easy thing with a knife between them!"

      Zambezi Staging Post

      "Is this how you want it, Highlander? At your mercy, because your girl stabs me in the back when the duel was done? If that's the case, then go ahead. Put your sword to my neck and enjoy the Quickening. [snarl] I hope you choke on it!"

      Notre Dame Cathedral - Present Day

      [Exasperated] "Oh, I shook my head and walked away. That wasn't how I wanted it and Gatlan knew it! He could read me like a book. Still does."

      "Maria hadn't saved your life," said Joe. "Gatlan wasn't gonna kill you that time, but perhaps she thought you needed saving."

      "Whatever she thought, I would never find out. I didn't return to my room in Milan straight away, I went for a drink, angry, confused. Disappointed. I knew the decision not to take Gatlan's head then and there, when I had him, would come back to haunt me."

      Duncan's Room 1888 (Duncan,S)

      "But I didn't realize how quickly. I washed, drank, waited for my wounds to heal and then went back to my room. [door opens] Maria was already there, lying on the bed. Waiting for me. With a knife sticking out of her chest.

      You can guess which knife it was. There was a smear of blood on the bone, where she tried to pull it out before she died. Her hands lay on either side of her body, covered in gore. She must have really struggled, although... [draws shaking breath] she looked peaceful enough, now.

      I touched her face. [fabric brushing noise] It was as white and as cold as marble. I felt an equally cold fury building inside me, settling like a stone in my heart! I hardly knew the girl! She'd been following me, trying to look after me, for twenty years! Maybe she was a Watcher (shaking voice) I don't know! Somehow she knew what was going down between me and Gatlan, though.

      I wish I did, Joe! I - I wish I did!"

      Joe confirmed my opinion about the knife. It was a clear message from Pieter Gatlan, evoking the memory of those edgy moments in the Milan ballroom. The moments when I... had my chance to kill him all those years ago.

      "Do you think he's trying to tell you something?" Joe asked.

      "Yeah. He's telling me it's time."

      "Another lesson."

      "The final lesson."

      Without another word I stood, and walked out of the church, [footsteps] leaving Joe behind.

      Churchyard On Outskirts Of Havana 1908

      Maria was buried at the church of her name, on the outskirts of Havana. It was a typical Cuban church, with a red-tiled roof and white stucco walls that glared brightly in the afternoon sun. Her grave was marked with a single cross and her name.

      By sheer coincidence, I was in the region when the Americans lost the election and Gomez took over. There was a lot of partying going on but, I wasn't in the mood.

      I stood for a long while in the tiny cemetery with the sun on my back, listening to the chatter of the cicadas in the long grass, and the sound of children playing in the nearby school.

      It's a strange life when you don't die. All those graves... Lives lived; some short, some long. All of them fleeting. I've known so many people, good and bad, and indifferent. Friends, and enemies. Lovers. Teachers. Students... Families, even. They all go eventually. They're all cut down. Only we remain. The Immortals. Those who can never visit the Undiscovered Country. Who will never know what it's like to die of old age or illness, or... a broken heart. We each know that our end will only ever be a violent one. It will only come with the stroke of a blade, at the hand of an enemy. It will be painful, and undignified, and no matter how long we have lived before that moment... it will have come all too soon.

      Worse, our deaths only serve to benefit our enemies. The Quickening is the prize. The ultimate ***rite of conquest! When I die, as... one day I must... my killer will receive all the power and energy and knowledge that I've collected over the centuries.

      It doesn't do to stand in mortal graveyards thinking these thoughts.

      I knelt down and, kissing my knuckle, pressed my fist into the grass which covered Maria. For a long moment I stayed like that, closing my eyes, feeling the heat of the sun on my neck, the sweat in my hair, on my back, under my arms. The grass was cool, bursting with life. The insects were singing and in the distance the joyful shrieks of children were being carried away on the warm breeze.

      The Children Are Called In

      Silence. They had all been called in. Siesta time. [bells ring] The graveyard was mine alone. Connor MacLeod had once taught me something about the Quickening. Something that he said had been taught to him by an Egyptian Immortal, a master who went by the name of Ramirez. Connor had described him as a showoff. A peacock! But the wisest and the funniest man he'd ever known.

      He'd taught him how to taste the Quickening without having to kill. How an Immortal can train himself to sense the life around him; in the grass, in the trees, the animals, everything. It took patience, and understanding, and many, many years of practice. But it was worth the effort. It was worth it because then, and only then, did you really appreciate what a life was. That it wasn't something that simply belonged to you; that began and ended with your time on Earth, separate from everything and anything else. It was part of the Earth, part of the wider life, the life that never stopped, like a baton passed from flower to flower; animal to animal; person to person... across the planet, and through time in a never-ending race to survive. You were part of that. A tiny part. But, an important part. You had your place in the world, your rightful place, and there was nothing anyone or anything could do to stop that or take it away from you. The life you lived belonged to the universe.

      It was, Connor always told me with that faint, strange laugh of his, a kind of magic.

      I had killed Connor. He forced me to do it because he needed to survive within me via the Quickening. I only really truly understood the Quickening when Connor died. Everything that he'd learnt and knew and experienced and hoped for, and lived for, came to me - through me - part of me. It was... the truest Quickening of all. Just as Ramirez had tried to explain to him all those years before. That we were all part of this world: mortal and Immortal; man and animal.

      Connor was dead. But he lived on in me and... in everything around me.

      I left Maria's grave and walked down the hillside toward the mirage of Havana, shimmering in the afternoon heat. It was quiet, as if all of Cuba was asleep.

      Out Of The Shadows

      Pieter Gatlan stepped out of the shade of a bank as I approached. I sensed him before I recognized him, and without thinking I swept the material of my poncho aside so that I could draw my sword more easily. [whisk]

      "Think you're ready for me, Highlander? Heh heh heh heh."

      Of course I wasn't. [clack clack clack] I tried to kill him. I fought with passion and fury, fueled by the memory of Maria lying in a red sheet on the bed in Milan. But it was useless. Gatlan was quicksilver and steel all rolled into one. He danced and laughed and struck me down without even raising a sweat. I was better, Gatlan admitted as much. I came within a whisker of slicing off an ear but, he wheeled out of that thrust. He laughed heartily as the tip of my blade got stuck in the trunk of a tree and then... let me go again. [frustrated]

      "Close! But no cigar. [laughs] And that's a pity, seeing as we're in Havana!"

      "Damn you Gatlan! What is this all for? What do you want?!"

      "Think of it as a bit of sport, on my part. For you... it's simply a chance to learn. Like it or not, you probably picked up a trick or two today. Your sword skills are definitely improving. Keep practicing! I'll see you again in 1918."

      Night - Petrograd - 1918

      [trudging feet on icy surface, wind blowing]

      And of course he did. And this time I went looking for him because... I knew where he'd be. Back in Mother Russia. The Bolshevik Revolution had taken place the year before and Russia was full of death and blood. Gatlan was right in the thick of it, helping the Cheka murder the Romanovs in Yekaterinburg. The entire family was shot and bayonetted to death in the cellar, and then, to make sure there were no witnesses, the family doctor, the valet, cook, maid and dog were all killed too. The bodies were burnt and thrown into a pit.

      Gatlan supervised this.

      I caught up with him in Saint Petersburg, or Petrograd as they called it then. He seemed surprised to see me.

      "MacLeod! Of all the places! [laughs] Why, you have the advantage of me this time, Highlander. In all honesty I had forgotten about you. I've been a little distracted after all."

      We stood beneath Saint Peter's Cathedral, Holy Ground.

      "I knew you'd be here," I told him.

      "Well I've been busy. There's been some trouble in these parts recently and I'm lending a hand. It is my mother county after all. I was born here in 1507, the son of a whore and who knows what else. Some say a devil! And then, forty years later, I was born again. Ivan the Terrible was being crowned the first tsar of Russia in Moscow, while I achieved immortality here, after a grubby backstreet fight left me for dead. Who do you think got the better deal, eh? The Tsar and all his ghastly progeny are gone, but we are still here. Isn't it the greatest feeling, Duncan? Knowing that you cannot die by ordinary means. Knowing that you have the advantage on every one of these spawning idiots that surround us! Rich of poor, ruler or ruled, it doesn't matter. We can live forever!"

      We moved away from the cathedral, and fought again. [clashing blades] I suppose he wasn't really prepared and so it was a long fight. There was snow on the cobbles beneath our feet and we both lost our swords. [grunting] We continued hand to hand, until we tumbled down the embankment onto the frozen river. [feet sounds slipping] For several seconds we each tried to scramble to our feet on the ice, slipping and sliding like a pair of music hall fools. Eventually, the ice gave up, split like thunder and we both [long cracking noise] dropped through the freezing crust into the water beneath. [water sloshing] I've never felt colder than I did that night as we disappeared beneath the freezing river. But I still wouldn't give up.

      In a very short while I couldn't feel my hands or feet any longer. The next thing I knew, I was being pulled out of the water, blue and shaking like a rattle. [snort] A group of Cossacks dumped me on the pavement where I coughed up about a pint of freezing mud. I could barely speak, but when I opened my eyes, the first thing I saw was Pieter Gatlan, standing on the opposite bank, waving across the river at me.

      Ext - Paris - Present Day

      I'd had enough of fighting by this time. I don't mean just fighting Gatlan. I mean fighting full-stop. I'd seen more than my fair share of death by the time the Great War tore the world into pieces. But that was something else. I was literally exhausted by it, and... I was sick of the Game. It's not like you can retire from it. Not properly. But I tried to put some distance between me and my kind. I wasn't always successful and Gatlan always found me, no matter where I was. I had become his special project. Every ten years he would come, sometimes luring me out of hiding with a series of puzzles, or temptations that he knew I wouldn't be able to resist.

      Every time I would be given my next lesson: a lesson in swordsmanship, and humiliation. I don't remember the dates so much as the times: Gatlan lecturing me about the menace of Hitler, as we fought our way through a Gypsy camp in Romania, our blades whirling through the dying campfires, and sending golden sparks up into the night air.

      World At War

      [air raid sirens and drumming in background] I remember his face, full of fury. Not with me, but at the prospect of the Nazi Anschluss spreading beyond Austria, as he knew it would. He was painfully upset when Stalin's secret talks with Hitler became known. This was one little bit of history that he wasn't enjoying, and he let me know about it. He beat me quickly with a cut that laid my forearm open to the bone.

      And that's how it was. We met every ten years, we fought, I did my damnedest to kill him and he laughed it off. Taught me his lesson and let me live to fight another day. And like old friends who met only occasionally throughout their lives, we picked up exactly where we left off. And gradually, came to know each other very well.

      We'd fought here in Paris once before. Hidden in the riots during the month of the barricades. We kept having to stop whenever the gendarmes arrived, hiding our swords in our coats and walking quickly in the opposite direction as the authorities drove the students this way and that, batons rising and falling like pistons. Eventually Gatlan disarmed me. Although I always like to think I gave him a real fight on that occasion.

      He was certainly breathing hard and somehow, lord knows how, because I don't remember doing it, he was bleeding profusely from a flesh wound in his shoulder. I felt absurdly proud about that one.

      As was often the case, having defeated me and refusing to take my head, Gatlan would talk. He was always keen to tell me about another Immortal he'd fought and killed some months before.


      • #4
        The Lesson Post 4

        Ext - Paris 1968 - Night

        "Do you remember that storm? The summer storm that came out of nowhere one night, lighting up the sky above Paris like a bomb blast, sending lightning down the length of the Eiffel Tower?"

        I did remember it. The huge sparks had wrapped themselves around the ironwork like fairy lights on a Christmas tree, making an incredible display for all in Paris who were still awake. And... in Paris, that's quite a lot of people.

        "That was me. [moment] Or at least, I caused it. A Quickening like you wouldn't believe, Duncan. I took the head of Nathan ***Brumlik, the American. He was a reborn Immortal during the War of Independence and was an incredible warrior. A huge man, hard and fast and bloodthirsty! He gave the British a hard time two hundred years ago, and he gave me a hard time at the top of the Eiffel Tower. Two hours we fought! I've never been so close to death. I don't mind admitting I was lucky. Brumlik's sword snapped against a girder and I took his head a moment later."

        He turned to look at me, his voice almost wistful as he recalled the experience. "God, but what a powerful Immortal. The Quickening nearly blew me off the tower! You must have been able to see it for miles around! I swear Duncan that I'm still full of static electricity now!" As if to demonstrate he held his hand above the pommel of his sword and, sure enough, there was a crack as a bright spark discharged from one to the other. He laughed loudly, thrilled.

        "I don't understand you, Gatlan," I said. "Why do you do it? If it's the Quickening you love so much, why don't you kill me? Why play with me like this?"

        "Play with you? I'm not playing, Duncan. They might call this the Game, but you and I both know it's a matter of life and death and more besides. We are Immortals, and we can only die when we slay one another. One day, there will only be two of us left standing. And then..."

        "There will be only one."

        Night - New Monte Carlo Waterfront 1978

        In 1978 we were sitting together, exhausted, on the Monte Carlo Marina, and he told me how he had nearly given up the Game himself.

        "There are no challenges out there any longer, Duncan. There's nothing to test me! What's the point of carrying on?"

        I sat up stiffly, my face bruised and swollen where it had hit the concrete after falling twenty feet from a pleasure cruiser. My sword was lost somewhere in the maze of packing crates behind us. It would take me hours to find it. Gatlan sat with his sword on his knee, gently polishing the Toledo steel before returning it to its scabbard beneath his trenchcoat.

        "Why don't you retire from the Game?" I asked.

        "Hah hah. What, like you? Don't be absurd. You can't retire from the Game, Duncan. Sooner or later you'll play it again, and you'll play it to the full! There's a storm coming Highlander, and it's heading your way. It's called 'The Gathering'. Every Immortal knows about it, and each one of us knows the result. There can be only one."

        "Yeah. But plenty of others have said just that, Gatlan."

        "Then where are they? Where are the warriors? Where are the contenders?"

        "What about the guy on the Eiffel Tower?"

        "There are many more where he came from, Duncan. Have you ever heard of Jacob Kell? Or the Kurgan? They are feared by everyone. Rumor has it the Kurgan's got a grudge against your family, MacLeod. He's coming. He's playing the Game. And you'd need to be a hundred times better than you are now if you want to defeat someone like him or Kell."

        "Is that why you're doing this? Teaching me these lessons to make me better? Stronger? Faster? It's been done before. I'm still here. I've made a few kills myself you know!"

        "Possibly. But I'd like to see the Kurgan and his kind defeated. I'd like it to be you. Imagine the Quickening of a warrior who had defeated the Kurgan! Imagine the power that would give you!"

        "I don't want power, Gatlan! I want peace."

        "Ahhh. And that, my dear Highlander, is something we will never have."

        Paris - Present Day

        He was right. The Gathering started and very quickly became impossible to avoid. I fought many Immortals and won, I experienced countless Quickenings and through them I grew stronger. In my more reflective moments I wondered what it would be like to fight Pieter Gatlan now. I knew the time was coming when we would have our last battle.

        I took the Metro and then walked the rest of the way through the crowds, through the 18th arrondissement, until I found him waiting for me in the-by the ***bouillon.

        He was smiling that smile of his. He greeted me like an old friend.

        "God, Dunca, but it's good to see you again! Hah hah hah! And you don't look a day older."

        I smiled back at him, and then feigned concern. "Gatlan! Are they gray hairs I can see?" He touched his head nervously and I actually laughed.

        "You're sounding very confident. That's good."

        "Not confident. Heh. Just tired."

        "Not too tired, I trust, to learn."

        He spread his hands so that his coat fell open and the hilt of the saber glimmered in the evening light.

        "I think I've learned enough."

        "You can never learn enough. There's always someone who knows more. Someone who is better. Your superior."

        It was then that I realized Gatlan was standing over a small sack on the pavement at his feet. With a smile he pushed the sack toward me. It rolled to a stop and I bent down to pick it up without ever taking my eyes off the Russian.

        The sack was heavy and bloodstained. I opened it and looked inside. An ancient face looked up at me, the skin creased and gray. The features piled on each other like lumps of half-formed clay. But I recognized it easily enough, even though I hadn't seen him for, well... well over two hundred years. It was the Grandfather of Swords.

        "Surpriiiiise! Heh heh."

        "You did this? Why?!"

        "It's the Gathering, Duncan! He was an Immortal! Old as the hills and twice as useless. An easy kill, but a decent Quickening."

        "He wasn't playing the Game! He never played it! He opted out! Right out of it!"

        "Yes, quaint notion! Sit back and let everyone else kill each other! Step in right at the end and claim the Prize. I don't think so!"

        [voice shaking] "You know, you're a psychopath! You really do believe the Game is a game, don't you?!"

        "When you have lived as long as I have, as long as we both have, then that kind of label becomes meaningless. You've been spending too much time in mortal company, Highlander. You're starting to think like them. Trying to compartmentalize everything and everyone so that it fits in with your fleeting burst of life. But we're not like that. Think of all the labels you've had over the centuries, MacLeod. Foundling. Outcast. Revolutionary. Soldier, warrior, bodyguard, teacher, pupil, antiquarian... the list goes on and on! Do any of the really tell the full story of Duncan MacLeod?"

        I stood and watched him closely for a second longer. There was a familiar glint in his eye. Amusement, certainly. And perhaps... comradeship. Immortals of every creed share something, obviously, but I could see another light in those gray eyes. Something not too dissimilar to the glint on his sword hilt.

        The Final Lesson

        He smiled at me and then continuing with his train of thought said:

        "But every story must have an ending. And here is the end of yours, Highlander. The final lesson. That there is always someone capable of beating you!"

        [irony] "Yes. I think you're right."

        I drew my sword slowly, [swish] enjoying the soft hiss of the metal passing through the material that bound it to my back. Gatlan presented his own blade, raising it in the time-honored salute that I knew so well, extending it towards me so that the evening sunlight ran along the steel crescent like liquid fire.

        "Think you're ready, Highlander?"

        [dramatic music]

        I let my sword reply. [clang] A lightning stroke that became nothing more than a silver blur heading towards his throat! But was stopping dead with a ringing crash against his saber. The swords bounced back, each of us reversing the direction of the thrust with all the power in our wrists. Sending sparks flying into the air as the metal clashed again, and again.

        He actually retreated. Pieter Gatlan took two steps backwards under the ferocity of my attack before finding a weakness to exploit: the over-extension of a sweeping parry that left my left flank exposed for half a second.

        I saw his reaction. Sensed his body flexing as he sent his blade towards the target at the speed of thought. I twisted, protecting my ribs and in doing so allowed myself to step closer. Just one step... which was all that Gatlan needed.

        His free hand was already clenched into a fist. I felt it thud into my left arm like a, like a hammer blow. [thunk] Felt the nerves jangling all the way down to my fingertips. I leapt back, a desperate and ugly move, flailing the katana before me in a wide, defensive circle. Anything to keep him at bay for a moment longer! It was enough. Just. [clash clash] I regained my balance and fought my way through a barrage of thrusts and slices that took every ounce of strength and guile to withstand.

        "Good work, Highlander! [breathing hard] You are getting better! Playing the Game with such conviction has clearly sharpened your reflexes. Well done!"

        I didn't want to be drawn into conversation. It was an old trick, and I knew Gatlan well. He would chat as he fenced, giving me a running commentary on my swordsmanship. Complimenting me on a good move or a feint, criticizing a lapse in concentration here or predictable ploy there. But I wasn't going to be drawn into that. Not tonight. The swords spoke for us, their voices ringing out through the night air as we dueled.

        Our dance of death led us out of the dark alleyways and through the drunken revelers getting ready for the Bastille Day fireworks. They ignored us or pretended not to notice. No one wanted any trouble, especially not this kind.

        The fight took us into a side street, in the parking lot outside a car dealership. The sword struck sparks from the metalwork around us, carving gray strips in the gleaming paint. Eventually one particularly powerful thrust from my katana took the main window right out in a shower of broken glass.

        The Car Showroom

        I leapt through the jagged gap and Gatlan followed. We fought our way across the deserted showroom, in and around the luxury sport cars on sale. There was gonna be a lot of damage and one hell of an insurance claim in the morning. We paused to enjoy one of those natural breaks that occur in any fight to the death. We were both breathing hard.

        "Ah. You're getting old." [Gatlan spoke pant pant]

        "That'll be the day!" [Duncan spoke pant pant]

        Gatlan moved forward, raising his sword. It was the first time he'd ever tried to take the fight to me. Ordinarily he would wait for me to attack. I parried the initial thrust. Exchanged a few more blows, but there was little in it. He was testing; probing.

        [panting] "Ah! You've learned some new tricks!"

        "You're not the only teacher I've had!"

        "Clearly! But I'll always be the best!"

        And with that Gatlan inserted his blade into the back of my left hand with such clinical precision that I didn't even realize he'd broken my defenses down until my sword was clattering on the showroom floor amid the broken glass at my feet. [clatter]

        On previous occasions I would have stopped right there and waited for the inevitable. Gatlan would have spared me as he had before. But this time I flipped my katana up into his face with the toe of my boot - [clang] forcing him to lash it aside with his saber. [clatter] Then I threw myself at him, ramming my shoulder hard into his chest, ***carrying him back beneath me with so much force that he had to let go of his own weapon. [clang]

        We fought hand-to-hand. Gatlan was ***choose to be a swordsman, but he knew how to fight as well. But then so did I. For several minutes the sound of fist on flesh and the heavy crunch of bone beneath kicks replaced the clang of our swords. I slipped on a piece of glass, fell painfully to one knee. Instantly Gatlan reacted, stretched out with a roundhouse sidekick that sent me and my sense spinning.

        I ended up against the wheel arch of a Porsche. I heard distantly the sound of Gatlan moving across the showroom, his feet crunching on the glass. [crunching noises] He was breathing with difficulty. As I lay bleeding against the car I felt a warm satisfaction. [amused snort] Some of those body blows had hurt! Maybe even cracked ribs! He was wounded. And so was I.

        [scraping noise] There was a loud scrape of metal on concrete. Dimly I recognized the sound of a sword, Gatlan's sword being picked up. I crawled towards the next car and hauled myself up, just in time to feel Gatlan's saber close on my neck. The metal was ice cold.

        You Learned Nothing

        [pained breath] "You learned nothing. Nothing at all. You have the skills, MacLeod, you have the training, but when it comes down to it, when you're really pushed, you're nothing but a brawler. A savage. A jumped-up basher from the Highlands with no more thought in his head than to cleave everything in sight with his old Claymore! And if that fails, knock heads together until you fall down drunk in a ditch!"

        He spun me around, smashing me bodily into the car again. I glared at him, but it was difficult to focus. He could see I was dazed and his lips parted in an angry grin. "What is it with you, MacLeod? You've stumbled through centuries, fought with hundreds of men and loved hundreds of women and yet here you are alone, unloved, unwanted, forgotten, hacking your way through the Gathering and for what?! You don't even want to win the Game! You're not interested in the Prize! I've fought you for over a dozen decades, trying to bring you on, improve you, increase your chances of making it as far as you have, but still! There's no ambition! No resolve! You're still just a dumb Highlander with a good sword, thinking with your fists."

        "You said it!" [grunt] I brought my knee up between his legs, hard! He doubled up, the breath coming out of him in a sharp hiss through clenched teeth. I grabbed his head in both hands and twisted it with all my might. [cracking noises] Heard the reward of bones parting in his neck. He convulsed, reared back, out of my grip... He collapsed on the floor [crash] thrashing around like a fish on the riverbank.

        I picked up his saber, walked slowly over to him. "What is it with you, Gatlan?" I asked.

        He looked up at me, eyes bloodshot with pain. I hardly recognized him. I'd never before seen him so defenseless, so much at my mercy! Not even when Maria had stabbed him in the back all those years ago in Milan. Now his head flopped around on his broken neck. In a few minutes it would heal, but before then, I wanted to have my say.

        "Every ten years, you sought me out, and forced me to fight! You beat me every single time, but you've never killed me. You made me stronger, faster, wiser! But for what? Your own entertainment?"

        "Don't be such a fool!" The vertebrae clicked back into position in his neck. [clicking] "MacLeod, can't you see what I've been trying to do?"

        "You haven't been training me to fight you. You've fought and killed many Immortals, Gatlan. You understand the power of the Quickening! So why haven't you taken my head?"

        I let him stand up. He was remarkably calm. There was pain in his eyes but it was diminishing with every second.

        "You said it yourself, MacLeod. I understand the power of the Quickening. I know what it means, what it's worth. Every time you kill another Immortal, the Quickening brings us the power that is lost, the life, the energy, the wisdom. Some might call it the soul. Those who believe in that kind of thing. Me, I've been around for too long to fall in with the spiritualists. I just recognize the Quickening for what it truly is. Power." He held out his hand. "My sword, please, Duncan."

        I handed it to him. He let it hang by his side, making no attempt to use it. He smiled at me and said, "You know it's true, don't you? You know what it's like, the power of the Quickening, the way you absorb that feeling. All the knowledge and the skill and even sometimes the memories! You become more than the person you were born in those moments, don't you? Isn't it exhilarating, Duncan? Isn't it... important?"

        "So... That's what you've been doing with me, isn't it?"

        I realized the truth slowly, awfully. A cold dread sweeped through my veins. "You've not been training me to fight you, you've been training me to fight others! Other Immortals! So that I kill them, I take their Quickenings."

        "That's it! Absolutely. Over the decades you have killed many of our kind, Duncan. And you have benefitted from that, richly."

        "You've been fattening me up!"

        "That is right." He raised his sword. "So that when I do kill you, the victory will be all the sweeter. And! More powerful."

        "You're using me as a shortcut?!"

        "At last! The slow-witted pupil realized the answer to the question that has vexed him for all these years, and many lessons. At last you stumble upon the truth."

        "When you kill me, you will enjoy all the benefits of those Quickenings. All the kills I have made!"

        "It's not been an easy task! On many occasions I have been forced to arrange things to my advantage, and at great personal risk! Manipulating people and events so that you meet and fight other Immortals. It was especially tiresome during those times when you purported to retire from the Game. [sighs] But these last few years have more than made up for those quiet times, Duncan. The riches you have enjoyed. The Quickenings! And some fine victories. And sacrifices."

        I knew immediately what he meant.

        Jacob Kell

        A red haze settled in my vision. "Jacob Kell," I whispered. "I fought and killed Jacob Kell and you stood by and watched that."

        "There's more to it than that, Duncan. What about your clansman? What about the late, lamented Connor MacLeod? A much-loved friend and master, a brother even, slain by your own hand."

        "I had to do it."

        "I know! Connor had defeated the infamous Kurgan, one of the greatest and most powerful Immortal to have ever walked the Earth. And, through Connor, you took that Quickening. What was it like, Duncan? Were you giving off sparks for the rest of the week? I bet you were."

        "Go to Hell."

        Gatlan lowered his sword, flicked up my katana for me to catch. "Time for your last lesson, Highlander. There will be no more."

        The battle was rejoined. We exchanged sword strokes with a speed and ferocity that I've seldom endured before. We fought with super-human ability, parrying and thrusting, defending and attacking, sometimes switching between the two with the barest of thought. Steel on steel, sparks flying, blood spraying where the metal caught exposed flesh in a microsecond of contact.

        And here is where Gatlan found that he'd made a fatal miscalculation. Because he was right. Those Quickenings had made me stronger; much stronger. He'd left it too late. Suddenly, he found that I was a match for him. More than a match. I swatted his last sword stroke aside and kicked out, [crunch grunt] catching him full in the chest and sending him sprawling back over the hood of the nearest car. [crash]

        He looked up at me with fear in his eyes. For the very first time in all of our duels. For a split second we were frozen: Gatlan on his back, defenseless. Me, standing over him, sword in hand. Each of us knew what was gonna happen next. [moment] Or did we.

        The Killing Stroke

        My sword was raised above my head for the killing stroke, but... as I brought the blade down, I swept it sideways and severed Gatlan's right arm at the elbow. [Gatlan screams] He howled in pain as the blood jetted across the showroom and his saber landed with a useless rattle on the floor, still gripped by his dead hand. [moment] He looked up at me, bewildered.

        "What... [gasp] What are you doing?!"

        "You think you understand the Quickening, don't you? Well you're wrong, Gatlan. You understand the power of the Quickening, but that's not what it's about. Not really! You understand the power of the Quickening, but not what it really is. Because you don't need death to experience it properly. It's actually... about life! All life! Mortal and Immortal! The life of the Earth! And everything around us! [moment] It's there for everyone, any time. All the time. If you think it's about nothing but death, then you've missed the point, and lost everything."

        "So... [panting] take mine now. Take my head. Take my life. However you think of it, Highlander, you've won. Take your prize."

        [amused huff] "No."


        [drawn out quiet] "No... I'm gonna let you live, Gatlan. [amused] Consider it... consider it a lesson."

        And with that I turned my back on him.

        He was lying on the car, nursing his arm, the breath rattling between his teeth. Scarcely able to believe what was happening.

        I turned away, and walked toward the exit. [footsteps on crunching glass] I guess I was flush with victory. Overconfident that I'd finally gotten one over on Gatlan. Without his sword hand, I thought, there was no way he'd be fighting anyone. The matter was now closed.

        The Quickening

        [scream of rage from Gatlan] "NOOOOOOOOOOOO!" [swish]

        So I thought. Even though I heard his attack I didn't turn fast enough. Well, that was sort of deliberate. I wasn't going to kill him. I told him the truth. I wanted him to live. But life is seldom governed by intention.

        We crashed through the remains of the plate glass window, and I hit the floor with him on top of me. The loosened glass slipped out of the frame above us and a single sheet fell like a blade of a guillotine. [sliding hiss] It sliced clean through Gatlan's neck, and would have gone through mine as well, if it had fallen from a greater height. As it was, I had to throw Gatlan's headless corpse off me. The Quickening struck me before I had time to get on my feet.

        I squirmed under the onslaught as I lay on my bed of broken glass. [crackling of electricity etc] I looked up into the night, as the lightning came and the cars in the showroom began to shake and erupt with sparks, galvanized by the death throes of Pieter Gatlan's immortal spirit. And dimly, beyond the Quickening, I could hear the fireworks going off. [whistling] Paris was celebrating I could see the flashes against the night sky, as brilliant, colorful, and fleeting as mortals.

        I've lost count of the number of fireworks I've seen.

        End Theme
        Last edited by dubiousbystander; 12-19-2019, 12:28 AM.


        • #5
          1.2. Highlander: Love and Hate post 1
          Released May 2009
          Written by Colin Harvey
          Cover Artist Martin Stiff
          Director Sharon Gosling
          Executive Producer Jason Haigh-Ellery
          Music Jamie Robertson
          Producer Sharon Gosling
          Sound Design Richard Dolmat
          Written by Colin Harvey
          Line Producer David Richardson

          Product Format: 1-disc CD (jewel case)
          Number of Discs: 1
          Duration: 60 minutes
          Physical Retail ISBN: 978-1-84435-359-0
          Production Code: BFPHLCD02
          Recorded on: 1 February 2009
          Recorded at: The Moat Studios

          Adrian Paul (Duncan MacLeod)
          Beth Chalmers (Maria Rostov)


          This story takes place between the films Highlander: Endgame and Highlander: The Source.

          “Immortals didn’t die. Not like this. You cut an Immortal, they got up. You shot them, they got up. You burnt them, they got up. They always got up.”

          A roof-top duel between sword-wielding combatants becomes the talk of Seacouver – but Duncan is perplexed when both bodies are found with their heads intact. No Quickening has taken place, and instead, the pair seemed to have burned to death. And who is Maria Rostov, the beautiful young Russian claiming that her life is in danger?

          Highlander Main Theme

          "I am immortal. Born four hundred years ago in the highlands of Scotland. I'm not alone. There are others like me. Some good, some evil. For centuries I've battled the forces of darkness, with holy ground my only refuge. I cannot die... unless you take my head, and with it, my power. I am Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod! The Highlander! In the end, there can be... only one."

          Seacouver in July Presentday

          I could see the couple now. Their bodies entwined, her face turned skyward, his face buried in her breast. I took out the binoculars and adjusted the focus. The man's jaw was clenched, his eyes tightly shut. The woman's stared, amazed, mouth caught wide in a cry. In another context, it might have been a scream of ecstasy. [sirens] The weather that was hot, sweltering. Uncomfortable. ***Not a/Another typical July morning in Seacouver.

          I took a cooling swig from my bottle of water. [sound of water in bottle] The police had taped off the area with an efficiency I recognized from previous encounters with Seacouver flatfoots. The cops must have seen us on our rooftop creche but, that didn't seem to bother them. Maybe there were too many people watching. Workers had emerged from the comfort of their air-conditioned offices so they could see what was happening. A coachload of Finnish tourists had poured onto the sidewalk, camera phones extended. Buzzing television news choppers supplied vicarious thrills. Me and Antoine? Nah. We were just another pair of ghouls.

          Ghouls with a good view.

          We'd fooled our way past an elderly doorman and found ourselves on the roof of an adjacent brownstone. A pigeon landed on top of an airvent and gazed at me curiously. [flapping wings] So I returned to the binoculars.

          I scanned both corpses, searching for clues. The bodies had been blackened by the extreme heat, it also looked like their viscous membranes, eyes, lips, had been burned clean away. The pair laid naked, their clothes incinerated by the force of the flames. His hair had gone completely. What remained of her blonde locks was singed and matted to her exposed skull.

          A haze of brown cut across my view and I lowered the binoculars. A detective had emerged from behind a tree, clutching a length of silver that glinted in the harsh sunlight.

          "A zweihänder," said a voice at my side.

          I was impressed with Antoine's eyesight. "Sixteenth Century German," I said, lifting the binoculars back to my eyes. "That's a fine blade."

          "What about the guy's sword?" Antoine asked. "Can you see?"

          "Not from this angle. No no no, wait wait wait! I can see the hilt, th - Over there, beside that bush. Looks Roman to me."

          Antoine nodded. "I thought as much. A gladius?"

          I lowered the binoculars. "I can't tell. Not from this distance. Be good to look at those bodies close up. If it's okay with you, I'll get Lauren on the case."

          I turned to go, but Antoine placed a tentative hand on my arm. "Ah, Duncan, um... tchk, don't you think we're being a little ah... premature? These guys um... tchk... might just uh, get up and walk away. It's not like their uh... 'eads have been removed." [amused] [sinister music]

          "This is different," I told him.

          Macleods Porsche

          I headed for the fire escape.

          The snarled traffic meant we had a long time to wonder why this was different. We sat in silence. I nudged the Porsche back downtown. Immortals didn't die. Not like this. You cut an Immortal, they got up. You shot them, they got up. You burnt them, they got up. They always got up. The only way to stop us is to lop off our heads, let our life force flood out.

          It isn't what you'd call a subtle occurrence. Lightning arcs, electrical items go crazy it's uh... It's quite an event. We call it the Quickening. The life force of the defeated individual is taken by the victor of the battle. So even when we properly die, Immortals last forever. But as... a trapped soul, vying for space with all the other trapped souls trying, in vain, to get out again. But this... This was different. These two. This... man and this woman, they weren't decapitated, but they had been destroyed. That much I knew for certain.

          We can sense when another Immortal is close by, but these two... whatever ***they were, their essence, their soul, had gone forever.

          I stole a glance at Antoine. He was just sitting and staring into the shimmering heat. Preoccupied. It wasn't like him at all.

          Antoine Germaine was just a kid of twenty-two when he experienced his first death. And here he was over three hundred years later. He told me he was trying to get away from all this; that he wanted a quiet life, a normal life. I tried to tell him that's impossible for people in our um... position.

          I tried it myself for a while. Fell in love, ran a business... But in the end, you couldn't escape the Game.

          He'd rung me as soon as the TV pictures started coming in. I came to the shop and watched the images with him in silent shock. Then without a word, we both got into the Porsche and headed uptown.

          Antoine was born in Paris, 1696, to good, aristocratic parents. He told me... He used to hang out with Voltaire and Rousseau and... all their friends. Antoine even claimed to have died in a street brawl protecting Voltaire from a bunch of heavies [French accent] "who disagreed with something the philosopher had said." [snort-laugh] Antoine couldn't remember what, but, that was like him. At first I couldn't imagine the normally exuberant young man in the passenger seat mixing it up with Enlightenment's greatest figures. But now I believed the bit about the street brawl.

          We were edging our way through the uptown traffic. I reached over and turned on the radio as a way of filling the silence. [click static]

          [radio voice] "Johnny, I have to say to you without a shadow of an exaggeration, that this has been an extra-ordinary day in Seacouver," the man in the newschopper crackled. "As we speak, the authorities seem to be extending their cordon. They're taking no chances."

          "But, for those people only joining us now, can you remind us of the situation uptown?"

          "Sure, Johnny. At around 10:30 local time, we started getting reports of a man and woman sword-fighting on Fullbright Avenue."

          "Just to confirm, but... That's 'sword-fighting'?"

          "That's right, Johnny! Except, they weren't fighting as such."

          "You'll need to explain that one, bud."

          "Sure Johnny. They were hm... sorta kinda... Well, they were about to fight. It was like they were sizing one another up."

          "And when they did engage each other in combat... What happened then?"

          [Duncan MacLeod] What happened then... [click] I switched off the radio and recalled the television images. The man and the woman seen from above in a grainy aerial shot, had made their way down Fullbright like a couple of tigers stalking one another. And all the while, an overexcited newscaster gabbled in the corner of the screen.

          The woman, well, she was tall. Blonde. Scandinavian-looking. Dressed in leather. The guy was squat, Caucasian, well-built. A businessman. After what seemed like a - an aeon - and believe me, I know what an aeon feels like - the two of them locked in battle. She went to strike, and he went to parry. And then... In an instant there was this... tremendous flash of white light that was [clapping sound] like nothing I'd ever seen! [sound like flames] The two figures were consumed writhing in agony! Burned before our eyes!

          We watched, Antoine and myself. Everyone else in Seacouver and for all I know, around the globe. We watched as the man and the woman twisted and turned in the depths of fire, before their charred corpses collapsed to the ground. Their bodies lay there, still smoking, while the news choppers hovered above them, and the anchorwoman burbled incomprehensibly back in the studio.

          I was suddenly aware of smoke. Antoine had lit a cigarette. Lung cancer's not a concern for people whose bodies constantly mend themselves, but it's damned annoying nonetheless.

          "Do you mind?" I said, gesturing at the upholstery. "This car's my cousin's. It's a classic." Antoine shrugged, and for the first time since we saw the bodies, gave me that familiar grin. [window humming down] He flicked the cigarette out of the window. [humming up]

          Antique Shop

          [Closing car door. Ticking clocks. Door creaking open.]
          It always felt weird crossing over the threshold. This place held so many memories. The shop that Tessa and I bought together all those years ago. The shop I sold when... Well when she wasn't around any longer. That's how I got to know Antoine. He rang me up, out of the blow, said he'd bought the shop, that he didn't know the first thing about antiques, that he needed my help.

          Of course over the phone I couldn't sense that he was immortal but... Sometimes you just trust your gut. But it wasn't a trap I was walking into, not this time. Like a lot of Immortals, Antoine had gotten tired of the Game. The ongoing battle to decide who is the One, the ultimate Immortal. I guess even twenty-two year-olds get tired eventually. But, whatever. All he wanted was a normal life. Why the shop, though? Why my shop? Imitation's the sincerest form of flattery, so... Maybe it was that. Maybe he just wanted to belong somewhere.

          Antoine had watched his family wither and crumble away while he stayed the same. At least he'd inherited the family loot. Maybe... [amused] Maybe he saw me as some sort of replacement, some sort of role model. A father figure. Who knows. Maybe... I just wanted him to see me as that.

          One thing was for sure, Antoine was right. He needed help. [amused laughing tone] Putting it politely, business wasn't his forte! The first thing I did was call up one of my contacts in the antiques market. He had a daughter, Lauren, who I knew would make a good assistant. She was twenty-five, mortal, with enough business sense to pretty much run the place for him. It also meant I had someone on site that could do me the occasional favor, even if that favor was a little... out of the ordinary.

          I told Lauren to call up my old friend Lenny at the morgue, so he could pull some strings and arrange for me to see the bodies. Not a usual task for an antiques assistant I grant you but, Lauren was game. It was also obvious to anyone with eyes that she was sweet on Antoine. Well, anyone other than Antoine, that is.

          In other circumstances the two of them would probably have ended up walking down the aisle together, probably ended up having a brood of beautiful children... But these weren't ordinary circumstances.

          I kept trying to tell Antoine there is no normal life. Not for us. There are no happy endings for Immortals. No picket fences and diapers and ballgames. We can't have children. Immortality renders us all, man and woman alike, infertile.

          Lauren made a note of Lenny's number at the morgue, then she thrusted a letter opener pointedly in the direction of the porcelain section. As I approached, I watched the figure on the CCTV.

          I was aware of a familiar sensation, like a series of sparks racing through my veins. An Immortal was here. I clenched and unclenched my hands as I got closer. "Can I help you?" I said to the back of the figure.

          The woman turned a face toward me, as blanched as the vase she was examining. I relaxed. If she'd come to fight us, she wasn't very well prepared. She certainly didn't have a sword.

          "This is a Wellington Blue, isn't it? I didn't think any of these still existed."

          "You're an expert?" Antoine had appeared behind me. Unlike me, he didn't seem suspicious. In fact, the woman seemed to have restored his characteristic bon ami.

          She smiled. Yes, she was beautiful. But those eyes were full of pain. "Never understood why anyone collects these things. Oh why would you risk owning something so fragile?"

          "Some people like fragile things," I said, gently taking the vase from her and returning it to its stand. [sound of vase being set down] "Can we help you?"

          The woman fixed me with an arrogant stare. "You're the owner of this establishment?"

          "Used to be, years back. My friend here owns it now. I'm his... advisor."

          [note of relief] "Good. Then I think you can help me, Mr. MacLeod. Someone is trying to kill me."

          Mitch Irish Restaurant

          [restaurant background noise] We ended up at Mitch's place, a couple of blocks over east. It was an Irish-theme restaurant, authentically old-country, or so Mitch would like to think. Little did Mitch know I'd spent the early 1700s travelling the Emerald Isle, and that in my opinion, inflatable shamrocks don't really capture the essence of the place. But the Guinness was good, and that's what Antoine supped as we got to know our new acquaintance.

          Her name was Maria Rostov, and she was two-hundred and twenty-three years old. Most Immortals are attuned to the year in which they find themselves, but Maria... was different.

          It was as though she'd stepped straight out of Saint Petersburg around 1820. I half-expected her to coquettishly fan herself with Mitch's burger menu. Antoine seemed to have forgotten all about the two Immortals he watched burn that morning. [amused] He gazed at Maria like, well, like a puppy dog. But then, that was his curse. To be forever twenty-two.

          Maria was hardly what you call talkative. We managed to glean some limited biographical information from her but, that was about it. Maybe her curse, shyness.

          "You know," I said with a grin, "someone's trying to kill me too."

          "And me," added Antoine with another grin.

          "In fact, that's kind of what being an Immortal means."

          Maria gazed at me levelly. "Mr. MacLeod, I understand you once tried to reject the Game."

          "Yes... Well, that wasn't such an easy thing to do. Believe me."

          "We Immortals have a right to our lives, Mr. MacLeod. Or do you now feel we should just give in to our baser instincts."

          Antoine couldn't help himself. "Definitely give in to our bases instincts!" He smirked in a way he clearly thought was endearing, but she didn't respond.

          Beneath the table I ground his boot under my heel. "Over the years I've learned that the Game, Miss Rostov, is more complex than any of us might have suspected."

          "The Game is barbaric!"

          The force of her words took both Antoine and myself by surprise. We exchanged glances. "Many Immortals believe the Game to be honorable. If it's played by the Rules, of course."

          "What's honorable about death, Mr. MacLeod?" She gazed at me impenetrably.

          "Look, Miss Rostov, I'm not sure we're the people to help you. I mean, who exactly do you want protection from?"

          "Gentlemen. I am a woman of high birth. The Rostovs were an important influential family in Moscow in the 1820s. My father was a clergyman, and owned a great deal of land. We were... rich. And we were respected. As was the custom at the time, it was arranged that I should marry a man of equally high birth, enabling the joining together of two very powerful families. [inhales] The man in question was... undoubtedly a handsome individual, destined to inherit a fortune. But Dimitri was not a good man. He was given to Vodka... and its brutal excesses. [moment] To cement the marriage, it was... expected I should bear Dimitri a child. [long moment, brittle] We tried and... tried. But I could not give him the heir he so desperately needed to prove he was a man. The family physician was a religious man as well as a man of medicine. Doctor Belloq examined me repeatedly. But declared he could find no reason as to my infertility, either spiritual or physical."

          Maria's Pain

          "Mmhm. It's because no Immortal can bear children."

          Maria cast her eyes downward. [shaky] "Dimitri was a strong man. Night after night... he forced himself upon me. As though his aggression could somehow force a life into being!"

          I went to put out a reassuring hand, but she seemed so brittle, I couldn't quite bring myself to do it. "You don't... have to tell us any of this."

          "Dimitri was a bear of a man, but his heart was like any other mortal's. [inhales] One night, [exhales] when he grabbed me from behind, I was ready for him. I plunged a pair of scissors into his chest. Again, and again. [echoes of puncturing noises and thud] I watched him fall back, his chest oozing blood, his face contorted and surprised. I watched him crash to the bedroom floor like a great tree. He flailed for a long time, [noises of motion] and eventually... the flailing became little more than a sporadic twitch. And then... then nothing."

          "I'm sorry. I'm so very sorry."

          [angry] "I'm not sorry. He was a monster. But I was worse. I was a murderer."

          "What did you do?"

          [inhales] "In the early hours of the thirteenth of December 1823, I climbed to the top of my father's house, and threw myself from the roof. They found my broken body in the snow the following morning. [inhales] And I survived until mid-day. Neither my father, nor mother came to see me in my death throes." She finally looked up. "Not a very honorable death I'm afraid."

          "But then you came back from the dead."

          "I had dishonored my family in every way imaginable. I had killed a man, and then... Oh, the ultimate sin! I had taken my own life. And the minister's daughter, too! I cannot blame my family for turning their back on me in death. [moment] I woke on the slab amidst the corpses of peasants who died of cold and hunger. Not a fitting end for somebody of my rank. [inhales] But I wasn't alone. Doctor Belloq was there in the morgue. He helped me through those [deep inhale] early torturous moments of uh... uh... rebirth." [hostile]

          [uneasily] "He helped you? He wasn't shocked when you popped up from the slab?"

          "Oh, he was! But Doctor Belloq... Frederick... was a... oh unique man. A visionary. I was an un-natural thing. A, a monster, risen from the dead. Oh not... just that. I was unstable. Unhinged from the trauma of what I had done! But he wasn't horrified. No, Frederick was fascinated in me, and what I could mean for his work! He smuggled me from the morgue and hid me. Took me to his dacha in Petersburg, far away from everyone I'd known."

          "What you could mean for his work... What did he want from you?"

          [sighs] "Well Frederick's wife had died from a terrible wasting disease years earlier. But... not before she had given him a daughter. A beautiful green-eyed creature with flaxen hair."

          "So he wanted you to be... mother to his daughter?"

          "More than that, Mr. MacLeod! He wanted me to save his daughter."

          [moment. Uncertain laugh] "Oh sorry um... I don't understand."

          "Frederick's daughter was only fifteen, but she was exhibiting the same symptoms as her mother."

          "It's terrible, but I - I - I really don't see how-"

          "Well Frederick was a biologist. A brilliant man! He thought he could best understand God's creations by seeing inside them."

          [moment] "Dissection?"

          "Frederick had watched me rise from the grave and, believed me to have been saved for God's divine purpose. He thought if he could understand my immortality, that he could save his daughter's life."

          [low] "He cut you open."

          [urging understanding] "He was trying to save his daughter, Mr. MacLeod!"

          "And did it work?"

          [laughs] "Of course not. He was a clever man, ***though, a man of science and religion but, he was not clever enough. [sad] His daughter died, the same way her mother did. Frederick himself died of grief some five years later. But not before he swore revenge on me!"

          "The people trying to kill you."

          "Belloq's assassins. Mortal men and women, sworn to rid the world of... well, what would you call me? When Belloq found me, he called me his daughter's savior. By the end he said I was little more than a she-devil."

          [phone rings]

          [sighs] "You had best answer your telephone, Mr. MacLeod."

          As I took Lauren's call, I watched Maria Rostov and Antoine Germaine exchange pensive smiles.


          • #6
            Love and Hate Post 2

            The Morgue

            [low buzzing] Trust me on this. A morgue is the last place you wanna spend a hot summer's day. It'd be bad enough if the corpses under inspection died even in a half-respectable fashion. If their heads had been removed, for instance. The charred, twisted bodies before me were about as mangled as you could imagine. But I wasn't so bothered by their appearance. The amount of killing I've seen over the years has given me a pretty strong constitution. The humidity, though, even with the air conditioning at full whack, made the stench rising from the cadavers virtually overwhelming. Like raw meat left to fester for weeks.

            Lenny was his usual cheery self, apparently unfazed by the stench. I guess you don't survive half a century as a mortician if you can't put up with the occasional bad smell, let alone the endless parade of death that passes through a morgue.

            I knew Lenny from way back when. But... [laughs] I seem to know everybody from way back when. In fact, I knew his grandfather, and his great-grandfather. All of them had been morticians. Funny choice for a family business, but who am I to judge? I trusted Lenny as much as I ever trusted any mortal. Well, with maybe one or two exceptions.

            "Ever seen anything like this?" I asked him.

            "Uh-uh," said Lenny, and shook his wizened head. "Not in fifty years of dealing with uh, your people."

            "How can they be dead if they haven't been decapitated?"

            Lenny shrugged. "Beats me, Duncan! If these guys are gonna get up again, they sure taking their time about it, I'll give 'em that!" [laughs]

            I watched him prod the female cadaver with a fearsome-looking scalpel. "What about the weapons?"

            "The zweihänder and the gladius? Mm-mm. Mighty fine blades, both of them," he said. "Would've been a real good scrap, if they'd gotten that far. They got 'em locked upstairs in the armory."

            "Lenny, I need to know. If it's possible for an Immortal to die this way, why has it never happened before?"

            Lenny shook his head. "Beats me! Maybe it has. Did ya think of that? Maybe the great Duncan MacLeod just hasn't heard about it!"

            "No, that's not it! We'd've all heard about it! On TV it looked like they were about to start fighting when-"

            "I saw it, Duncan. The whole stationhouse saw it. Nothing happens in Seacouver without everyone seeing it, not these days. [moment] Kaboom!"

            "Exactly!" I winced at the old man's honesty. "It's like the fighting triggered it."

            Lenny grunted. "Hmm!"

            "What's with the DNA?"

            Lenny peered through his dirty black-rimmed spectacles at me. [amused] "Mmhmm! That's the thing, young Duncan! The guys in the white coats, they've been down here again and again, prodding and poking, and taking tissue samples. Always the same! The same result! Nada!"

            "What d'you mean, 'nada'?" I asked. "Even Immortals have DNA!"

            He shook his head. "Scrambled, they reckon. Like nothing they've ever encountered."

            "That can't be."

            "My family's been dealing with your kind for a long time, Duncan. Lots that can't be just... is, if you take my meaning."

            "No DNA. No evidence. Nothing."

            "Not nothing. Something!"

            [moment] "Well, what?"

            Without a word, Lenny went to a nearby desk and picked up a plastic box, which he held out toward me. Gingerly I picked up a polythene bag marked 'EVIDENCE', held it up to the fluorescent light and examined the blackened contents.

            "What is it?" I asked.

            "The only other things to survive the fire. That one, that's a cufflink, I think. Pricey, too. Can you make out the stone?"

            I turned the bag over. It seemed to be full of nothing but ash, so I shook it. [shaking noises] There was something there glistening amidst the soot. A diamond.

            "Take a look at the other bag," said Lenny.

            [sound of bag being in motion] I pulled another evidence bag out of the box. The contents of this were easier to see. It contained a blackened chain, culminating in another diamond. A necklace.

            "What d'you notice?"

            "They look expensive."

            "Expensive, yeah! They look flawless."

            I looked more closely. Lenny was right. Even in the harsh fluorescent light of the morgue, it was possible to see.

            "Flawless diamonds gotta be hard to lay your hands on," Lenny pointed out, "even for an Immortal."

            Seacouver Public Park

            The best part of a week passed. The days continued to blister with heat. During the nights the sky burst with torrential rain. A typical Seacouver summer. By now Antoine and Maria were evidently exchanging more than pensive smiles. She was staying at his apartment. For her protection, of course. I was fine with that. I didn't ask the nature of their arrangement, although I could guess. My mind was elsewhere, preoccupied with finding out where those diamonds came from.

            Each day Lauren made phone calls on my behalf. Each day she drew a blank. The horizon shimmered in heat haze. I passed elderly joggers, parents with young children devouring ice creams, street performers, couples holding hands, a hot dog stand. The park was brimming with life. As I ran to the corner, the familiar gigantic construction hoved into view, above the tall trees. The legendary Seacouver rollercoaster, its garish seventy-year old paintwork peeling beneath the hot sun.

            I stared up at the gargantuan rollercoaster. Children milled around me, shouting, laughing, devouring candyfloss. People clambered enthusiastically aboard the rollercoaster train. Straining, I was able to spot a familiar couple being locked into one of the carriages. Antoine and Maria.

            I couldn't resist a sardonic smile when Antoine, the eternal kid, had arranged to meet me here, of all places, slap in the middle of the Seacouver Fun Fair. The train started to make its way sedately skyward, the occupants chattering excitedly to one another. And then it plunged down the other side, and the passengers screamed for all their worth. I watched Antoine and Maria laughing and shrieking alongside everyone else. Eventually the ride came to a halt, and I saw them disembark. They were still laughing, gazing at each other, holding hands.

            I stood and watched them kiss, tenderly, against the backdrop of the rollercoaster like something out of a, an old movie. Young lovers. Then they saw me. I steeled myself. With my mind on other things, I'd forgotten I'd be spending this encounter as the proverbial gooseberry!

            They disengaged from one another and turned toward me,

            In seemingly direct relationship to the intensity of her blossoming relationship with Antoine, my interactions with Maria had become... if anything even frostier. As a consequence I asked questions only when it seemed appropriate. Antoine, meanwhile, lapsed into ruminative silence. Sulking perhaps. Who knew. He hid his eyes behind shades and lit a cigarette. The three of us parted to let a horse and tramp pass by.

            We watched the honeymooning couple vanish into their idyllic future. We carried on, back the way I'd come, pausing to watch street performers. There was a juggler, woman on a unicycle, and a mime artist. The guy had sprayed himself from top to toe in gold paint, and was pretending to be a statue, but his sweat was making the paint run. We sat down by a nearby duck pond.

            "Tell me... more about Belloq," I asked.

            [long sigh] "Oh, he wasn't a cruel man. Not at first. Compared to my dead husband, he was compassionate. Caring. But the longer it went on..."

            "The operations..."

            "He said I could save myself. Redeem myself in the eyes of God. He said the pain... The pain... was worth it."

            "Because it would save his daughter." I was suddenly aware peripherally of something odd. Something off-kilter. Not that familiar tingle that told me that Immortals were near. Something different. Call it 'intuition'. I looked at Antoine, but he was staring into the distance, his emotions hidden by the sunglasses.

            "Frederick thought that if he could find the root of my immortality, that he could replicate it! He was so certain!"

            "How many times... did he operate on you?" I asked as delicately as I could.

            Not All It Seems

            [scrape of metal] "I-" [gasps]

            She had no time to answer. I turned to see the gold living statue lunging towards us, [pounding feet, people screaming] wielding a gigantic saber which flashed in the hot sun. I grabbed Maria and pushed her to one side as Antoine barreled into the statue, attempting to grab his blade arm. There'd been no warning. Whoever this guy was, he was mortal.

            I pivoted on the spot, in time to see the screaming crowd of onlookers separate to allow three saber-wielding figures through. The unicyclist, the juggler, and the mime artist.

            The lead figure sliced through the air with his blade, forcing me to let go of Maria. I backed away, unable to prevent the other two figures from dragging her off into the crowd! [sounds of struggle and blows] Antoine grappled with the first attacker.

            "***What can we do, Duncan?" shouted Antoine.


            I ducked a lunge from my opponent. There was a sudden crash behind me, and I saw Antoine flipping his assailant over his shoulder and into the middle of the coconut ***shop. [crash] The distraction was enough for me to grab the hot dog stand and send it careering into my opponent. As Antoine and myself headed after Maria, we could hear his angry shout in the distance.

            Maria was struggling in the arms of one of the assailants, but they were a good way ahead of us.

            "Duncan!" Antoine yelled. "We're [pant] We're never [pant] going to catch him like this!"

            "There!" I shouted, pointing. We'd reached the horse and tram that had passed by earlier on. We clambered aboard, and the terrified man and woman in the back didn't take much persuading that this was their stop. [horse neighs] The driver was more reluctant, so I was forced to tip him off the seat. I took his place and cracked the reins with a tremendous cry of "Giddyup!"

            Suddenly the pony and tram were flying through the park. [laughs] I was aware that there was a great big cheezy grin on my face, and I realized that this was like old times! For a split second I could see Connor's grinning face!

            We bored down on the figures as they headed for the park exit. I was able to pull just ahead of them, barring their escape. I leapt down and advanced on them.

            "You don't know what you're doing!" shouted one of the men, rattling his saber.

            I watched Antoine come up behind him, and ferociously wrench the blade from his hand. "Oof!"

            Antoine swung the saber in the air, and for a split second, I thought he was so blinded with fury that he would decapitate the stranger as though he was an Immortal. Thankfully the madness passed. Realization of what he'd been about to do flickered across Antoine's face and he threw the saber to one side. [clatter] This was the opportunity the man needed. In an instant he was up and running. Antoine went to throw himself after him, but a sharp kick to the head sent my friend sprawling, [crash] and his assailant was away, joining his associate who had already fled.

            Maria, dazed but otherwise unhurt, ran to Antoine's side helping him up, and for a minute we stood there in silence, taking in what had happened. And I noticed in his hand was a pair of silver handcuffs, which Antoine had snatched from his attacker.

            Antoines Apartment

            [ticking clock] "They're called The Order of Lachesis." Maria was huddled on a chair in the corner of Antoine's apartment. Antoine had draped a blanket over her shoulders. I watched as he handed her a cup of cocoa. She smiled, weakly.

            I was staring out of the window, watching Seacouver swelter in the heat. The glass was grimy and needed cleaning. "What do they want, Maria?"

            "I told you when we met, Duncan. They want to kill me."

            "To act out Belloq's revenge."

            "Yes! Belloq was a wealthy man, with massive influence. The vow the original order took all those years ago has been passed from generation to generation."

            "Mmhm. Well that's quite a grudge but, kill you? Eh. Not so sure. Why were they carrying these?" [jangle] I held aloft the silver handcuffs. Out of the corner of my eye, I watched Maria wince. "I think, if they wanted to kill you, they would've done."

            [phone rings, picks up] "It's MacLeod. ... Hey Lauren. ... Cool." [flick of paper] As I scribbled on a notepad, [scribble sound] I watched Antoine clasp Maria's hand reassuringly. She smiled, uncertainly.

            "I have to go," I said. I saw Maria staring at me as I hung the silver handcuffs from a coat hook. [jingling] I pulled on my leather jacket. [sound of leather crinkling] ""You guy's better stay put. Don't answer the door."

            I wrenched open the heavy door of the shop and walked across the pressure mat. I was immediately aware of multiple CCTV cameras swiveling toward me. [hum of machinery] "Hello!" There was no response. But I knew that someone was there. I was aware too that the security cameras were following my progress. [hum hum] As I walked, I passed cabinet after cabinet of extraordinary jewels; diamonds, rubies, sapphires, emeralds, pearls! Which glistened and twinkled in the soft artificial light. You know, someone should actually make a study of the careers Immortals finish up in. Both myself and my cousin Connor ended up in the antiques trade, so... [laughs] I guess you might call that the MacLeod family business. But I can think of numerous other Immortals who tried to play it straight by going into Archaeology or running museums. I guess it's no surprise we should all wind up dealing in old things.

            I stopped in front of a huge cabinet displaying a particularly impressive diamond, and bent to look. [rustling] In the reflection in the cabinet, I saw something metallic flash. I heard breathing. I slowly turned around.

            I'd heard of the woman who rant the place. If anything, her descriptions didn't do her justice. Her name was Priya Pather, [note: Pather means Jeweler in Tamil]. A towering woman of Indian descent. Beautiful. Statuesque. She wielded a formidable-looking sword in the offensive position. A Khanda, as used by the Rajput kings. And from the imperfections on the blade, I could see that this particular Khanda had been well-used.

            "You're Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod," she said. I nodded. She lowered the sword. "I have been expecting you."

            We walked through into an antechamber. I know a little about jewels, but the ones she had on display were remarkable. She wore a purple stone around her neck which I correctly identified as an amethyst. But many of the other stones remained a mystery to me. Priya named them each as we passed. Andalusite. Aconite. Cassiterite. Clinohumite. Bixbite. To me, all I knew was each one of them sparkled.

            "Why gems?" I found myself asking.

            She looked surprised at this. "Because they are beautiful and they last forever," she said.

            "You're right," I started, choosing my moment. "In fact, I reckon they'd probably survive anything. Even intense heat."

            Priya sighed and turned to face me. "Why are you here, Mr. MacLeod?"

            "I think you know," I replied. "I'm guessing you, and the majority of Seacouver, watched that little duel on the news the other night. You know, it's the strangest thing. Nothing survived. No clothing, no fingernails, teeth, nothing. The police can't even do a DNA trace. All they have are two pieces of jewelry: her necklace, and his cufflinks, each studded with a diamond. And the really weird thing is, those diamonds they were expensive. Flawless. Miss Pather, can you tell me where those individuals could have acquired such flawless diamonds?"

            She arched an eyebrow. "I don't play games, Mr. MacLeod," Priya said. "Not those kinds of games, at any rate." I noticed her brush the heels of her Khanda with her long fingers. "If you didn't know who cut those stones, you wouldn't be here."

            "But who commissioned them, Miss Pather?"

            "I looked it up after I spoke with your assistant," she told me. "The commission was anonymous." She viewed my expression of disappointment with mild amusement. "But," Priya added...

            Jewelers Shop

            "I can tell you where they were delivered."

            [ticking of a clock, beep beep beep beep beep beep]

            "This must be a very difficult time for you." The words seemed like such a cliché but, for all that they had some impact. She evidently found in them some small consolation and managed a weak smile. Her name was Sarah. Wife - Sorry. Widow of David Ross. I guess she was what you'd call a soccer-mom. The house was pristine, domestic, suburban. The mantlepiece was lined with photographs that ought not to be. A picture of their wedding. David posing with a gigantic bass he'd caught out at Silverlake. The three of them: Sarah, David, and their son, Elijah. The happy family. Their son... I hadn't expected that. The son of an Immortal. He had answered the door, eight years old and dressed like a Washington Redskin, complete with facepaint. [chuckle] He played on a video game in the corner of the room, blasting away the marauding zombies. For a moment I thought everything I'd ever known about Immortals was wrong, or that somehow David Ross was different. That somehow, impossible though it was, he'd fathered a child.

            Then I realized: there was no miracle. Just a heart-felt dream. Sarah told me in hushed tones that they'd adopted Elijah when he was only two. They'd tried for years to have kids but to no avail. It was David who suggested adopting. They'd been so happy.

            She started to cry, and I reached out a tentative, comforting hand and thought better of it. Once again I found myself failing to comfort a grieving woman. She went into the kitchen to make some tea and I went with her. As we moved through the house, I started to notice the cracks in the suburban façade. The hallway was bedecked with ceremonial swords. Sarah saw me inspecting them and asked me if I knew what had happened.

            Her parents were saying it must have been the strain of the job and this damned heat had sent him over the edge. Why else would he have been fighting that woman up on Fullbright?! I shrugged my shoulders and tried to offer comforting platitudes, but I knew just how hollow they sounded. I asked her about the diamond cufflinks.

            Her attitude toward me changed instantaneously. She stared at me, angry. She told me they were gifts from a client, and that was all. He only wore them on special occasions, when he had business meetings.

            Silence dominated. I apologized for intruding upon her grief, made my excuses and headed for the front door. The kid was still playing, apparently oblivious, concentrating instead on killing bad things, so I took the picture of David Ross capturing that bass, and hid it under my jacket. [door opening/closing]


            • #7
              Love and Hate Post 3

              High Speed Driving

              [gunning engine] I floored the Porsche and headed north. The sky had begun to darken, another Seacouver rainstorm moving in. Maybe it would break the cloying heat. Or maybe not. As I drove, I thought about David Ross. I thought about the cozy life he'd constructed around himself. I thought about his wife and his son. Not that David Ross was unusual. Look at Antione. Look at me. Look at my cousin Connor. The world of the Immortal is one of excitement, of danger. Terror. Hardly surprising we should crave normality. The certitude of suburban life, the children's parties, the nine-to-five, the funfairs... The fishing trips, the family vacations, and routine. Picket fences, but there's no escaping the Game.

              David Ross would've known that eventually his lies would be found out. That eventually, he'd be forced to play. That's what had happened to me. And with each Immortal I consume, I feel myself diminished, diluted. I can feel them all inside of me; every second of every minute of every day, struggling for awareness; to be heard. Not just the ones I'd killed, but the ones they killed, and the ones they in turn killed. They never go away.

              And the loudest voice of all was Connor. My own dear cousin, who I'd killed the same as the rest.

              The grim truth was David Ross was lucky. He and the woman who died with him. To burn out of existence, to simply cease to be, runs counter to what it is to be ***an Immortal, and counter to the rules of the Game. But I couldn't help envy him.

              [engine roars] I pushed my foot hard on the accelerator.

              Seacouver Brownstone

              I trudged up the steps to the brownstone, but I didn't get as far as ringing the doorbell. I was forced to leap out of the way as something heavy and metallic was dropped from the first floor window. It clanged onto the steps and bounced into the nearby hedgerow. I had to crane my neck to see that the object was actually a barbell. Something else heavy dropped out of the window and crashed spectacularly on the steps of the building. A 1940s gramophone. In a moment, assorted clothes started to rain down, followed by cardboard boxes of belongings which bounced and spilled down the steps and onto the sidewalk. The door was ajar so I quickly darted in.

              The hallway was dank, the walls covered in moss and unidentifiable dark red stains. I stepped over piles of unopened mail and headed up the stairs. [foosteps clicking] I pushed open the door of the first floor apartment. A muscular bald-headed man, tattooed and clad in a vest and ill-fitting jeans, was moving around the room, frantically gathering up belongings and throwing them out of the window. A cigar hung from his mouth. Pieces of broken furniture were scattered around the room, and as I watched, he launched another suitcase of clothes through the open window.

              I ventured up to the man as though I were approaching an angry bear. "Whoa..!" I said, palms raised.

              "She's gone!" yelled the man. "Finally, she's out of my hair!"

              "Uh... Who's gone?"

              "Her! Mad Bridgett!" He thrust his cigar in the direction of a framed photograph lying amidst the debris. The glass was broken, and there was a footprint on the face of a severe-looking blonde woman.

              "You're a... a relative?" I ventured.

              "Do I look like a relative?" he spat. "I'm her landlord!"

              "I see!"

              "Bridgett comes here three years ago, wanting somewhere to stay, and I say fine! You pay, you stay!" He went on, "Does she pay?! No, she does not. Does she stay? Oh yeah, you betcha!"

              "Tough call. What did you do?"

              "What did I do? I'm a big man. I try and move her! But she's crazy, man! You know what? She... she keeps weapons! She works out! She's not like any ordinary woman! You take my meaning?" He gestured around the room. Mounted on the walls I could see assorted knives and swords, and in the corner, a pair of manacles and a whip. "But I watch TV. I see her attack that businessman and I know it's Bridgett!" He nodded to himself. "I see her burst into flames, and I think 'Yes! She is an evil woman, and that is God's final reckoning, to make her burn!'"

              "Look I - I just need to find out about her. The way she died is... perplexing, I think you'll agree."

              "It's the will of God, man! That's what it is!"

              "I just need to know... what she was like; the sort of places she went to."

              His eyes narrowed. "You a cop?" he asked.

              "I'm... helping them," I lied.

              He crossed his arms. "Listen to me. I'll tell you about Bridgett Ingverssen or Ingvarsson or whatever her name is. She's not like any other woman."

              I knelt down and picked up the broken photograph, shaking the glass off. The woman's face was haunted, sad. Her clothes doughty, torn. But there it was, hanging incongruously. The exquisite diamond necklace. I gestured with the photograph. "Can I uh... Can I take this?"

              "Sure. Take it all. What'do I care? None of this is worth anything, anyway."

              "Thanks for your time." I turned to go, but the landlord grabbed my arm.

              "There's a bar," he said. "She used to pick up her men - Hell, her women there. Who's to know, huh? Maybe you go there, maybe you find her ghost!"

              Passions Bar

              [background noisy people] The bar was nowhere near as sordid as I was expecting. Certainly the subdued lighting helped ensure everyone's modesty. If I peered real hard, I could see couples and groups engaged in joking conversation just like you'd find in any other bar. The only difference being that these people wore rubber, latex, or leather.

              I was served by a dark-haired girl called Tina, dressed entirely in leather, her face a complex network of studs and chains. She repeatedly curled a lock of her hair, unable or, unwilling to gaze directly at me.

              [low voice] "Interesting place you got here," I said, casually reaching next*** past my booth.

              "Sure thing," she said with an appealing crooked smile. "More of the same?"

              I raised my glass appreciatively. A sudden full-throated male scream emerged from somewhere in the shadows [scream]. [amused] "And they say that romance is dead."

              "Don't you believe it," she smiled. "We've actually had people get hitched in here before. Can you believe that? The owner had the place blessed and everything.

              "You don't say."

              She gazed at me properly for the first time, intrigued. "I haven't seen you here before. [gum-chewing noise?] Heh. Your first time somewhere like this, huh?"

              "Uh, no. Not really my bag. "

              "Yeah, well, they all say that. Hahah. Why are you here then? Just curious?"

              "No, well I'm... looking for someone."

              "Someone?" she repeated, "or something?"

              [moment] "A woman. ... And a man."

              [amused noise] She grinned again. "You've come to the right place!"

              I put the photograph of Bridgett on the table. Her forehead corrugated into a frown.

              "You a cop?"

              "No, I'm not a cop. Can you look at the picture for me?"

              "Mmhm. Hmm. People who come here value their privacy, if you get my meaning. People uh... I mean ordinary people well, you know what they're like. [sighs] Anything well uh, we're weirdos, for liking this kind of stuff. It's just pleasure, you know."

              "And pain."

              She flashed her lop-sided grin at me again. "Same difference."

              "Listen to me, I'm not a cop. I need to find out who this woman is."

              [moment] "I know her. That's Bridgett. She comes here a lot."

              I placed the photograph of David Ross on the table. "Did you ever see her with this guy?"

              [moment] "Hmm." She shook her head again. "Nah. Never with that guy. Well... wait! Sorta!"

              I leant forwards, eager. "Sort of? What'd you mean?"

              "Well... It's not like they came in together or anything. He was already here with some other woman. A Swedish woman. Yeah! Bridgett, well, she arrived and... started to scream at the guy, I mean really scream, like she wanted to kill him. In fact, I think they would've started fighting there and then if they could've."

              "Why not? ... Of course, the place is blessed. It's technically Holy Ground, that's why they couldn't fight here."

              "I'm sorry?"

              "Ah, it doesn't matter," I told her. "What were they arguing over?"

              "The woman? [giggle] Yeah the woman!"

              [surprised] "Really? You sure?"

              [drawn out] "Yeah. I've seen her here loads of times, with both of them."

              [startled] "Dating both of them? You - you sure?!"

              "Uh-huh!" said Tina. "Sure looked that way! Oh, that's just the scene, though. Nobody pays it any mind normally."

              "So, that night when you saw them arguing, that's when they both realized the woman had been cheating on them."

              [pensive noise] "Mm. I guess so."

              "And the woman, what was she like?"

              Tina thought. "Real beautiful. But austere. You know what I mean? Had some kind of foreign accent, like one of those girls in the James Bond movies. You know, a Russkie or something?" [dramatic music]


              • #8
                Love and Hate Post 4


                Antoine's apartment was empty when I arrived. I racked my brains as to where the lovers might have gone. And then I remembered that kiss.

                I searched the fairground for them. It was different at this time of night: an older crowd, a drunker crowd; adults letting off steam, playing grownup games and definitely no children. [background laughter] I scanned the people, desperate to find my friend and his lover. And then I saw her, sitting alone by the fountain.

                "Duncan! What are you doing here?"

                [slightly hard] "Where is he?"

                "Antoine? He went to get us some candyfloss. What's the problem, Duncan?"

                "The problem...? You set them up, didn't you, Maria? Led them on! Gave them expensive jewelry, then arranged for them to meet! [moment] Am I right?!"

                [shocked] "Who?" [moment] "Okay you mean Bridgett and David." [moment] "The Game comes to us all, Duncan."

                "Even you, huh Maria?"

                "I abhor it, you know that. But I never said I didn't play it."

                "But they didn't get to play, did they?! What did you do to them?!"

                [coolly] "They were playing the Game, Duncan. They brought their destiny upon themselves. All I did was give them a spark." [last in an odd tone]

                "Jealosy! But they couldn't fight in the nightclub because it had been blessed!"

                "They arranged their time and place! Don't worry, it was all... [disgustedly] very honorable."

                "Tell me, do you think they deserved to die like that, to burn to death?!"

                "I think they're lucky! For them it's over! You've killed a lot of people haven't you? Haven't you ever wanted it to stop, Duncan? All those souls, babbling away, locked inside you? It must be agonizing!"

                I grabbed her by the wrist, exposing the lesions on her arm. "What did Belloq really do to you?!"

                "I told you, Duncan! Belloq was trying to save his daughter! To redeem me!"

                [rage] "Tell me what he did to you!"

                [breathing painful] "He... He... triggered something."

                "What? [moment] Tell me!"

                "A... virus!" [silence]

                I released her from my grip and watched her back away from me, rubbing her arm in discomfort.

                "Immortal biology is more complex than even Frederick could have guessed. When we play the Game... When we fight, energy courses through our veins. That is what he was trying to tap. However, in trying to control the nature of my immortality, [sighs] Frederick inadvertently activated something that is dormant in all of us. Some kind of... defense mechanism."

                [low] "You're the carrier."

                "The virus - if that's what you want to call it - this 'mutation' can't be stopped! Try to repress it and it comes back stronger! Try to eradicate it and it repairs itself within seconds! It acts in exactly the same way as our own bodies. Once we are reborn that first time, our bodies are frozen in one instant, ah like a bug in amber. And barring a severed head will heal to that exact state! It's the same with the virus! Once you have it that's it! End of story! It's just the way you are. A part of you, buried deep inside."

                "But once you've contracted it, what then? Why doesn't the mutation cause you to go up in flames straight away? Why lay dormant until you fight?"

                "Frederick asked the same question. The nearest answer he could reach was that the combustion is caused by a massive rush of adrenaline. It ignites our Immortal energy. The power that is within us all. Usually, it's released in a Quickening, but when you're infected..."

                "It rips you apart."

                "Exactly! It consumes us!"

                "Like it consumed Bridgett Ingvarsson, and David Ross at Fullbright Avenue."

                [ladedah] "They were victims of their own aggression."

                [angry] "No. They were victims of you!" I was aware of a figure behind me. Antoine.

                "Duncan?" he asked. "What's happening?"

                "Tell him, Maria. Tell Antoine."

                I watched her turn to Antoine, and take both his hands in hers. [devotedly] "I love you, Antoine!"

                [hostile] "Like you love Bridgett! Like you love David!"

                [startled] "Da -! You cannot begrudge me love, Duncan!"

                It was then that I saw the diamond ring glinting on Antoine's finger.

                "Antoine, take that ring off!"

                "Duncan?" Antoine said. "Maybe... Maybe you should go home."

                "Antoine, you need to take the ring off."

                "It's okay, Antoine. I'll go it for you."

                "I watched Maria Rostov remove the ring from Antoine's finger and kiss him, lingeringly, on the lips.

                [resignedly] "Happy now?"

                I glared at her. "The diamonds!!"

                [laughs] "You think they're some kind of 'conduit' for my 'evil' power! No, Duncan. [sinister music] Antoine's ring is a gift freely given, nothing more, nothing less." She held the ring up to show me.

                [snidely] "Because they're beautiful and they last forever."

                "They always... survive. It's true."

                "Those people, The Order of Lachesis. Who are they, really?"

                The Penny Drops

                "Haven't you guessed? Hasn't the great 'Duncan MacLeod' worked it all out?! Haven't you pieced together all the clues?! [moment] How I've spent three centuries shut away in a stinking hole, locked away, safe and sound like some kind or [rage] rabid animal?!"

                The penny finally dropped. "They're your jailers." I saw Antoine shift uneasily.

                "Uh, what..? What do you mean?" he asked. "I - I don't understand."

                "I think you owe Antoine an explanation, Maria!"

                [tearfully] "Antoine, I'm so sorry it had to end this way!"

                Antoine sounded panicked as he asked, "What does she mean, Duncan?!"

                "Maria is carrying a virus, Antoine! A virus that's activated by hate!"

                [tearfully] "And transmitted... through love!"

                I remembered watching them against the backdrop of the rollercoaster, and the realization came to me in a sudden rush. A virus transmitted through a simple, but lethal kiss. Young lovers! "Saliva! It's passed through saliva, isn't it?!"

                [hiss of drawn blade] In a flash, Antoine had unsheathed his sword, and thrust it towards Maria's neck.

                "I'm sorry, Antoine! I really am!"

                "Antoine? Listen to me. Maria infected the Immortals who died on Fullbright Avenue. She set them up. You cannot kill her! If you strike, you'll destroy yourself. Not her! You'll trigger the virus that she's infected you with! This is how Maria Rostov plays the Game!"

                [irritated] "I have no other way of playing the Game, Duncan! If I were to attack another, I too would be consumed in fire! I would cease to be! Who wants to be dead forever?"

                "A cure!" Antoine muttered. "There... must be a cure!"

                [sadly] "There is no cure! I'm sorry."

                "Put the sword down, Antoine."

                The tip of the blade quivered millimeters from Maria's milky white neck. "You heard her, Duncan," he said hopelessly. "There is no cure."

                "Listen to me, Antoine! We'll look, we'll find a cure, trust me!"

                He looked at me for a moment. "I trusted you to give me a normal life, Duncan."

                "I told you, Antoine! It's not... possible. Not for people like us."

                He shrugged slightly. "Then the time has come."

                I watched him lift his sword majestically above his head.

                "Don't do this! A-Antoine!"

                "There can be only one! And it isn't me!"

                And the moment he went to strike, his skin began to smolder. [sizzling sound] He smiled at me, weakly, as his entire body erupted into yellow and blue flame. [sound of ignition] I tried to grab him, I tried to save him, but the heat was too intense, the fire... too rapid. [crackling flames] In a moment more his burned body collapsed to the ground. [thud, clatter of blade] As the haze cleared, I looked around.

                Maria Rostov was gone. [crackling dies down]

                The Hunt For Maria

                I hunted Maria Rostov through the crowds of people, turning this way, turning that, until eventually I stopped and stood, gasping for breath, desperate.

                "She cannot escape," a deep voice came from behind me.

                [pant] "The Order of Lachesis. [gets breath back] Yeah, well, what kept you." I was aware of cloaked figures surrounding me.

                "This time there are many of us," said the leader. "She cannot escape this place."

                [slight snide] "'Trapped like a rabid animal'."

                "You will not help her," he said. "We found your friend's body, so now you understand."

                "Maria carries a virus that killed David Ross and Bridgett Ingversson."

                "The unfortunate side effect of Doctor Belloq's research." The figure nodded. "The pathogen is passed through saliva and activated by a massive surge in the adrenaline."

                "Yesss. I understand. [moment] And you? What of your cult?"

                "Belloq was a great man," he answered. "A hero, no less. He charged us with preventing Maria from dying."

                [grimly] "She cannot die. Whoever takes her head will become the carrier."

                The leader looked at me steadily. "If we thought we could end her suffering, one of us would stand forth and take her head. Alas, it is not so simple."

                [moment] "The virus."

                "In the year before he died, Frederick Belloq made one final discovery," he explained. "Despite the differences between Immortal and mortal biology, there are sufficient similarities for the virus to be capable of transmission to humans."

                "So if Maria is beheaded..."

                "The virus will jump to humanity."

                "It would wipe you out. All of you!"

                "Indeed. Belloq realized that. You need only to look at human history. We are as aggressive as you. That is... the greatest irony. Belloq's work was meant to save his daughter; instead he could destroy us all... mortal, and Immortal alike."

                "So Belloq established your order to prevent that from happening."

                "Quite so."

                [sympathy triggered] "Maria... She's ill."

                "We understand, Duncan MacLeod. We want to help her."

                My eyes played on the silver handcuffs hanging from his belt. "By imprisoning her again?"

                The man nodded. "Until we find cure, yes. It is the only way. The alternative is... cataclysm. She must be found."

                The Order of Lachesis

                [Gasps and cries of shock] In that moment I saw the crowds milling beneath the ancient rollercoaster. People were pointing and exclaiming. I followed the crowd's gaze to see a figure of a woman atop the tracks, high above. She'd placed her head upon a rail, waiting. Just then the ratchet clank of a car beginning its ascent spurred me into action. [ratchet clank noises]

                [background sounds of Duncan climbing] I scaled the rollercoaster frame as quickly as I could, grabbing the peeling paintwork and hoisting myself ever upward. There was no way of stopping the train. I figured I had about two minutes before it got to her. I could see Maria, her head placed on the track. She must have grabbed the handcuffs I'd taken from the assailant in the park. She'd used them to chain herself to the rail.

                "Is this what you really want? Another suicide?!"

                "This time I'll make certain. The train will take my head clean off."

                "And then what?!"

                [pained] "You're the nearest Immortal, Duncan! I guess you'll swallow me up. Of course, you could always run away."

                "You know that's not true. Belloq thought the virus will spread to the humans. That's why he created the Order. To stop this happening!"

                [anger] "Why should I care about mortals, Duncan? Whoever cared about me?!"

                "The Order of Lachesis! They wanna help you!"

                [sneer] "Is that what they told you?!"

                "They're looking for a cure! When they've found it-"

                [rage sneer] "There is no cure, Duncan! The Order have tried their very best to find it, trust me! Belloq would have been proud!"

                [voice shaking] "The Order... They experimented on you."

                "For more than three hundred years, I have been injected, cut, burned, scraped, all in the name of a cure! I have died more times than any other Immortal!" [pained breath]

                "I am sorry!"

                [sobbing] "I only ever wanted meaning to my life! That's what Belloq promised me! A way to make a difference! As I lay in that stinking cell, in that crumbling dacha, I decided that if I ever escaped, I would make my life have meaning!"

                [quietly] "By winning the Game."

                "How long do you imagine I would last in a sword fight, Duncan MacLeod? Minutes? Seconds? I was using the only weapon at my disposal! But now...! If the Order captured me once again, I will be condemned to an eternity of experimentation! [clatter of approaching car being tugged up incline] [agonized] Let me be free!!"

                I had no time to spare. [metal swish] I hefted my katana high into the air and saw Maria smile, closing her eyes. And then I brought the blade down. [clang] The handcuffs cracked in half. I wrenched her out of the path of the oncoming rollercoaster. [sound of it passing] We clung to each other, high above the funfair.

                The Promised Storm

                She didn't struggle as we clambered down. As soon as we stepped onto terra firma, we were surrounded by The Order of Lachesis. They grabbed her, pulled her arms behind her back, snapping handcuffs in place. [click and tightening noise]

                [quietly] "Maria, they'll help you."

                She didn't speak. She gazed at me wryly, then shut her eyes and turned away.

                [thunder cracks rain starts] The promised storm finally broke. As the rain began to pour down and the crowds began to disperse, I watched the Order of Lachesis drag Maria Rostov into the night. [choking voice] Into the darkness.

                In all my time living in Paris, this was the second time I'd ever taken a tour boat down the River Seine. I watched as tourists rushed from side to side, trying to catch glimpses of the landmarks, snapping away with their digital cameras and mobile phones. Nobody noticed me pull the vase from my bag. There was a slight crack in it, but, otherwise it was fine. It turned out Wellington Blue was a lot less fragile than it might have seemed.

                Lifting the lid, I peered at Antoine's ashes. After three hundred years, I thought it was time this callow youth be allowed to grow old. I dropped the vase overboard. I watched it bob lazily on the sun-dappled surface, turning and turning as it let on water, gradually sinking.

                And in a moment more, it had vanished.

                Highlander End Theme
                Last edited by dubiousbystander; 12-16-2019, 04:03 AM.


                • #9
                  1.3. Highlander: The Secret of the Sword Post 1
                  Released June 2009
                  Written by Jonathan Clements
                  Cover Artist Martin Stiff
                  Director Sharon Gosling
                  Executive Producer Jason Haigh-Ellery
                  Music Jamie Robertson
                  Producer Sharon Gosling
                  Sound Design Richard Dolmat
                  Written by Jonathan Clements
                  Line Producer David Richardson

                  Product Format: 1-disc CD (jewel case)
                  Number of Discs: 1
                  Duration: 60 minutes
                  Physical Retail ISBN: 978-1-84435-360-6
                  Production Code: BFPHLCD03
                  Recorded on: 31 January 2009
                  Recorded at: The Moat Studios

                  Adrian Paul (Duncan MacLeod)
                  Toby Longworth (Saito Goemon)


                  This story takes place between the films Highlander: Endgame and Highlander: The Source.
                  “This sword is at least four hundred years old.”

                  Duncan MacLeod knows a lot about swords. Everyone knows that. So, when he’s called in to help Seacouver police value an antique blade found hidden away in a museum basement, he thinks nothing of it. But then, when he sees the sword – as amazing, beautiful and ancient as it is – Duncan realises there might be more to his involvement than he originally thought...

                  Highlander Main Theme

                  "I am immortal. Born four hundred years ago in the highlands of Scotland. I'm not alone. There are others like me. Some good, some evil. For centuries I've battled the forces of darkness, with holy ground my only refuge. I cannot die... unless you take my head, and with it, my power. I am Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod! The Highlander! In the end, there can be... only one."

                  A Road in The Forest 1778

                  [thunder rolls a distant voice] "Come out, Dutchman! I know you're close by!" [splashing footsteps] "Don't make this worse for yourself, Dutchman! The Samurai have surrounded this grove! The valley is a dead end!"

                  [Scottish brogue] "For you, maybe!"

                  "Ah! It talks!"

                  "I'm harder to kill than you think!"

                  "I don't want to kill you, Dutchman."

                  "I'm not Dutch. I'm a Highlander!"

                  [close now] "See how you are educating me? Even in a battle! [grunts feet hit ground] Perhaps, Dutchman, this is a matter of honor!" [horse snorts] "So! I leave my horse behind. I am all afoot! I am alone."

                  "Are you unarmed?"

                  [swish] "Heheh. A Samurai is never unarmed. Now! Will you show yourself, and fight like a warrior? Or will you hide in the forest like a monkey?"

                  "And how does a warrior fight?"

                  "He states his lineage! He names his house! [intensely] And he stands his ground."

                  "So be it."

                  "I am Saito Goemon, of House Tokugawa. Inquisitor of Nagasaki. Hunter of Dutch! I will not be defeated."

                  [swish] "I am Duncan MacLeod, of the Clan MacLeod. And I cannot die."

                  "We cannot both be the victor."

                  "True. There can be... only one!" [clash clash grunt]

                  Interrogation 2005

                  It was almost too loud to think. [phones ringing] I stood in what I think was the typing pool, surrounded by cops doing their paperwork. [clackity clack] Some were still using typewriters, [amused] which... I just don't get. Something to do with protecting information, one of them said.

                  There were two secretaries practically screaming at each other over a jammed printer. There were these glum kids in the corner been brought in for something. Graffiti or vandalism by the looks of them. They were steering clear of guys who'd been arrested for something much more serious, who kept their heads high, and dared anyone to meet their gaze. And then there were the hookers. Always the hookers. Brassy and loud, and practically touting for business, even in the police station.

                  And me. But I was just visiting. I wasn't under arrest, I was here to help. I was here to help uh... what was his name?

                  "Duncan MacLeod!" yelled a voice. And I found my man. Or, he found me.

                  "Detective James O'hara."

                  "Call me Jim," he said. His handshake was firm, resolute. I tensed, half expecting a manly slap on the back as well. He was like a big friendly puppy.

                  I got an evil stare from some of the suspects on the other side of the bullpen.

                  That's right, I thought, I'm a friend of the cops, I'm not one of you. There were these crumbs on Detective O'hara's shirt, and what looked like mayonnaise on his cheek. [amused] I'd caught a man in sandwich interruptus! His shirt was creaseless, charmless. Wrinkle-free nylon for the single guy on a budget. The tie was... Well it was... black with a little yellow star on it. Some kind of cop-thing, like a sheriff's badge, I guess. He tried to talk to me then and there, but the phones and the shouting and the sirens outside all made it too difficult to think.

                  So he says, "Look. Let's go somewhere quieter. This, won't take long. I booked Interview Room One."

                  [heavy door latches closed a clock ticks] And suddenly it was much quieter. [chair pulled out] He told me to take a seat, [chair pushed in] and I k - I felt kind of uneasy because this was where they interview... well, you know, suspects. He said not to worry about that because I was, just here to help him. He had some questions about antiques because "You're the man," he says. "You're the man for the antique swords." And I suppose if you wanna put it like that... I suppose I am.

                  I caught myself in the mirror and I tried to sit up straighter, like I wasn't worried, then... I tried to slouch a bit like "I'm not trying to sit up straighter." [puffs air] Oh, this was silly. I guess that's how these rooms are designed, though. To make you feel like you're guilty, even if you're not.

                  So he said, "Here's the thing. [Adrian loses some of the accent he chose for this guy] I got something in the station that needs some expert assistance. Something that's turned up in cold cases, in the old cases that everyone's forgotten about." [slightly alarming music] "Well, I guessed, if this was about antique, it's bound to be old."

                  And he said to me that he wanted me to appraise something for its value. Just that. Kind of weird for the police to be on this. But then it all clicked. This was an insurance thing, and I've done those plenty of times. He needed me to tell him how much something was worth, so he could report it to the insurance people, so they knew they were being scammed on a claim... or something.

                  He said, "I wanna know everything there is to know. I want you to take a look, and give it your best shot. Just talk. Say everything that's in your head and, we'll see where that takes us."

                  Fine by me.

                  So he turned around and grabbed this big lump of bubble wrap from the filing cabinet, and threw it on the table.

                  I stood up in protest. "Hey hey hey! Careful, this is an antique! You shouldn't just throw it around!"

                  He said, "Yeah, but it's a sword! You smash it with other swords, it's gotta be designed to take some punishment."

                  Life Of A Sword
                  "Yesss," I said, sitting again, my point made. "Maybe, or maybe it's fragile. Maybe it's been badly kept and has blood-rust. Maybe there's a flaw in the fuller, or..."

                  Spend enough time around swords, and you get to see the signs of true craftsmanship. And the Japanese do craftmanship better than anyone else. That shimmering on the blade? The waving patterns within the steel? You get that by hammering it. [hammering sounds] And folding the red-hot steel. Hammering and folding, hammering, and folding. Not once, not a hundred times, but thousands of times. Always along the grain of the blade, until the atoms themselves are all in line. Until everything about the sword is concentrated on steel, and edge... and cutting. And then you plunge the hot metal into liquid. [plunging noise] Sometimes spring water. Sometimes, rice wine. Maybe even human blood, [sound of the bucket knocking] if some of the old legends are to be believed. It hisses and cools and then... you do it all again. And at the end of it all, after weeks and weeks... [pounding on metal] You have a thing of beauty. A sword that will cut through almost anything. [swish] Through anyone. Light, and strong, and sharper than you can imagine. The perfect weapon.

                  And Detective O'Hara had just pulled one such sword out of an ordinary filing cabinet!

                  So there we were. Me... And this beautiful sword!

                  And suddenly I remembered that there was Detective O'Hara, too, waiting for answers, drumming his fingers on the table and... just waiting.

                  So, I looked harder. And I saw something on the handguard. Nothing really. Just... little crosses. But that means a lot more in Japan.

                  "Well," I said. "This is... This is... [awed] just amazing! This sword is at least four hundred years old!"

                  Nagasaki Prison 1778

                  [slamming of door] "Hello, Dutchman." [dropping liquid]

                  [stubborn] "I'm a Highlander."

                  "I trust your prison cell is to your liking. Sorry about the chains." [iron amused] You will wear them until we dispose of your corpse."

                  "You said you didna wanna kill me."

                  [low, amused] "I lied."

                  "Like you lied about being alone in the forest. What kind of warrior brings a dozen men with nets and ropes."

                  "The winner!" [laughs] "Obviously. The one who wants to take his enemy alive. I want to ask you some questions."

                  [laughs] "You can rot in Hell!"

                  "Oh, I am sent to Hell! So, are you... a Christian? Uh, the Christians are not welcome here."

                  "I donna e'en want to be here! Unchain me and let me go!" [jerks against chains]

                  "Go where? Foreigners are not permitted in Japan."

                  "I know that! I was shipwrecked, far to the north."

                  "And yet... you are here. In Nagasaki. You have come a long way. In secret."

                  "There's one place in Japan where foreigners are permitted."

                  "Indeed there is."

                  "A wee island in Nagasaki Harbor. A place called Dejima. There's a community there of foreign merchants."

                  "Dutchmen, in fact."

                  "I was heading there! I didna e'en wanna cause any trouble! I was going to cross the bridge to Dejima and get out o' Japan."

                  "So... Dejima is your... especial destination."

                  "Aye. It's the only way I can get a ship home."

                  "It is like your... what is it that Dutchmen say? Your 'Holy Ground'."

                  [wryly] "Something like that."

                  "Hm. I know the ways of the Dutch. I know their tongue. [snorting] I must know their sick beliefs and strange ways if I am to hunt them. I know of their... Christian superstitions. Heh! You even count the years from the birth of your prophet, do you not?"

                  "I suppose we do."

                  "You dishonor the divine ruler of Japan by not using his calendar! Instead, you count the days and years in a... [breaths] barbaric way. What is it now, from the birth of your uh-Jesus Christ?"

                  [angry] "The Year of The Lord Seventeen-hundred and seventy-eight."

                  "So clumsy! Who needs to count that high?! So! Where did you get this sword, huh? This sword is a-Japanese! You have a-taken it from a Samurai! Huh?! Where did you get it?!"

                  [mocks] "I'll not tell you."

                  "Did he give it to you? [moment] It is a crime to harbor Dutchmen in Japan! He will be punished! Or did you kill him for it! In which case, you are a murderer, and you will be punished!"

                  [annoyed] "It's an honorable man's sword. Keep it. But let me go."

                  "Oh... I do not want it. It is a work of art, but... mine is far, far better."

                  [contemptuous snort low voice] "As if you would know."

                  [swish] "This... isa my sword. It is one of the finest swords a-Japan has ever seen. Made by a master craftsman many generations ago! It has had many honors! But I am honored to be its wielder now!"

                  [light mockery] "But once, long ago, it was the property of a Christian Samurai. [moment] You hold a Christian sword in your hand."

                  [shock whisper] "How did you know that?!"


                  • #10
                    Secret of the Sword Post 2

                    Interview Room 2005

                    O'Hara was all expectant; eager. He stared at me like this was some sort of conjuring trick. But I know how cops think. They don't want the trick, they want to know how its done. That's their job. So I pointed him at the cruciform pattern on the handguard. A dozen little crosses, interlaced. He wouldn't think twice about it. You see that kind of design all over on carpets, on bus tickets, on wallpaper. But in feudal Japan, there's a very limited window for Christian-influenced design. Just one hundred years between the late Sixteenth and early Seventeenth Centuries.

                    I realized that still didn't help him. Because that just led to another question: Why, then? Because that was the period where missionaries arrive from Portugal, Italy, and Spain.

                    "The first of them, they were almost there by accident," I said. "A bunch of Portuguese sailors shipwrecked on a little island called Tanegashima. And as far as the Japanese were concerned, these foreigners turn up on the south shore and they've got... strange clothes, and blue eyes like the sea, and red hair.

                    "Brown, brunette. They were all just red to the Japanese. They said we had red hair like demons, or white hair like old men. [amused] They said we had hooked noses like eagles, and long fingers like claws. The Japanese were... [huff] well I guess they were scared of the strange things that we foreigners brought with us. Clock and spyglasses were magical to them. And so were the guns. The Japanese had never seen a musket before. They called them Tanegashima, because that was the island where they first saw them. Guns turned the tide of the Japanese civil war. They initiated... Well, I suppose you could call it 'regime change'. The foreign guns led to the last great battle and there, ... Well, thousands and thousands of people died. And at the end of a few more years of fighting, one family seized control of Japan.

                    They were called the 'The Tokugawa". And Tokugawa men were the rulers of Japan for at least two-hundred and fifty years."

                    I checked to see if O'Hara's eyes were glazing over. For a lot of people, that's all ancient history. I guess it is for almost anyone, if you haven't lived it. If it hasn't reached out and touched you. Then, what difference does it make on a cold day in the Twenty-First Century?

                    But O'Hara was really digging it. That's what he did. [amused by own punning] I guess he 'dug' for answers. He wanted the secrets behind something. How it got somewhere; why it got there; what it was worth. He was really pushing for what it was worth.

                    [amused] I've seen the Antiques Roadshow on PBS, I knew what he wanted to hear.

                    "The tsuba - the handguard," I said, translating it into layman's terms, "something like this, well... If I was selling a Sixteenth Century tsuba on its own - forget the sword! - If it was selling on its own, I'd want five hundred dollars for it. [moment] But this one, with the Christian associations, that takes you into a whole other realm of collectors. Church museums; historical museums. Suddenly this opens up the potential market to anyone, not just with an interest in Japanese history, but also in Church history. So... [laugh] people who wouldn't necessarily buy a Japanese sword might still buy this particular guard for its associations. So that puts up the price. Doubles it, easily. At auction, probably more."

                    So now O'Hara was wondering: If it's that much for the handguard, what about the blade? Any idiot could tell we were looking at a nice piece of work. But that was no help.

                    For real value, you need to look at the tang. The bit under the hilt. That's where the sword maker signs his name. Without thinking, I took a paper knife and started working away at the binding.

                    He was like, "Hey! This is an antique!"

                    [laughs] I'd realized that the binding wasn't. The binding on the hilt was generic hardware store. You could pick it up from any martial arts shop. Heheh, you could get it from a haberdasher if you wanted to! Just past the knitting needles, near the cotton reels. Suddenly, I was kinda worried.

                    I mean, I was happy to help the police with their inquiries, but whoever was the last owner of this sword... he was carrying it for use. This was not a display item with authentic period fittings. Someone was carrying it, expecting to get into a swordfight. And where I come from, that narrowed the list of suspects down big time.

                    O'Hara didn't know about Immortals, but even he could see that this sword, antique or not, was not a decoration. It was a tool. Whoever owned it was looking for trouble.

                    So I babbled. I talked instead about swords like this one; the kind of modern blades I see all the time. "So," I said, "uh, the last time a sword like this saw real action was probably in World War Two." That was a lie. A big one. But I really didn't want to think about the truth.

                    "There were a lot of Japanese soldiers who thought they were Samurai. And a katana - sorry - a Samurai sword like this, was a symbol of rank. They were carried by officers. And some of the really high-ranking officers were running around with family heirlooms. But, most of the officers' swords were trash. They were machine-made. Crappy things. Nothing like this. Fast-forward a generation or two, you get an American soldier who serves in the war - not just in World War Two, maybe Korea or Vietnam, when Japan was used as a place for R&R. You get one of those guys, and he wants a souvenir to show off to his family in Nebraska, or Wisconsin, or... Seacouver. And he buys something from a junk store, you know? And it'll be one of those factory-made swords. If you deal in antiques, you're seeing it every week. The old Second World War generation is dying off, and their widows are getting old, maybe living a little longer but, they're dying too. And the family's selling off the possessions. Every week or so you get some old woman in black, coming into your store. Some sad old lady... or a couple of yuppies with no more room in their duplex for Granny's junk. And they'll ask, 'How much is this sword worth?' And you have to tell them, 'Not much.'" But I kind of tailed off, because I... I found the signature on the blade.

                    I knew what I was looking at. Stick around long enough and these things come back to haunt you. It's the law of averages.

                    O'Hara was checking himself out in the mirror. He was looking at his coffee cup. Somewhere in the swirls, he saw a gray, boring day in Seacouver. I guess maybe he was thinking about lunch.

                    But looking at this sword, I was thinking of something else.

                    Weeks On The Run

                    I remembered weeks on the run. Hiding out in the forests and on hillsides. Unable to show my face in a foreign land. Hunted like an animal. A long, desperate journey to a refuge I'd never seen. An island called Dejima. My only hope of getting out of Japan alive. [seagulls' calls] I got so close! So close I could taste the sea air, I could hear the seagulls! I knew that Nagasaki and with it the chance to escape Japan.

                    But that wasn't the story I could tell O'Hara. He'd lock me up for sure for being insane [laughingly]. No. That was a secret that had to stay with the sword. But I had to tell him something. I had to tell as much of the truth as I could afford because, if I didn't, a second opinion somewhere down the line was gonna get me into deep trouble [ironic amusement].

                    O'Hara was asking, "So, this is just a cheap knockoff?"

                    And I had to concede. "No. It isn't. No way. Here on the tang," I said, "this is where a disappointed antiques dealer would see a stamp saying 'Mitsubishi Steel Factory' or something like that. And that's when I'd know for sure I was looking at something that was... only worth... a few dollars as scrap metal. But, those two little characters there, they say something else. They say 'Muramasa'."

                    Nagasaki Prison Again 1778

                    "You are an ignorant Dutchman, so you cannot understand. This sword is a genuine Muramasa. It can cut through five bodies at once."

                    "Only if the bearer is strong enough, Saito. In your hands, it'd barely cut your dinner!"

                    "A barbarian like you could not be expected to comprehend!"

                    "I am no' as barbaric as you think."

                    [scoffs] "Hah!"

                    "I know who Muramasa was. The mad sword maker whose blades were said to trap demons in their metal! Aye. We 'Dutchmen' are full of surprises aren't we? I have'na been in Japan for long, but I've heard about the mad smith and his cursed blades."

                    [snicker] "The stories of the curse are just superstition. It's how I could pick up this blade so cheaply."

                    [mocking] "So you're not afraid that it will turn on you?"

                    [amused snort] "It is but a piece of metal."

                    [insinuating] "You don't believe then what they say. That a Muramasa blade, once taken from its sheath, must draw blood."

                    "Perhaps. It is kind of you to remind me, Dutchman." [swish of blade, Duncan cries out in pain]

                    ================================================== ===================

                    I didn't realize that I'd stopped talking. My mind was somewhere else again. I was remembering damp forests of cedar, and hillsides as far as the eye can see. I was remembering dappled sunlight through the trees, and catching fish in clear mountain streams. I remember... how hot it got in summer, and then the awful biting cold as winter crept in.

                    But O'Hara was still there, all wide-eyed with excitement, waiting for me to go on. He was happy. He was happy because he was getting the facts. Glancing down, I saw that he'd written something in his notebook, along with all the doodles. Muramasa. A name. [laughingly] A name whose owner had been dead for four centuries, but O'Hara was lovin' it! A name is a fact. Not a secret, not a mystery... A name is a fact. And cops love facts. Just the facts.

                    But when you're looking at a Muramasa blade, it's never just facts... There are always stories. So I told him one.

                    "In the Tokugawa Period," I said, "Martial Arts got a lot less practical. Samurai are still the ruling class, and they're still walking around with swords, but there aren't going to be any actual wars, so everything becomes a lot more symbolic. Not so... Military. It's theory, not practice. Instead of cutting off people's heads and fighting for your life, you're fighting for points, and honor, and rewards. It's non-fatal."

                    "Like a sport," he asked.

                    And yeah, he got it. Martial Arts kind of turned into a sport. Like Kendo is supposed to be 'The Way of The Sword'; it's a means of sword-training, but actually you're pretty much just hitting each other with sticks.

                    "So the Samurai had these various clubs and activities to keep them doing Samurai-type things without actually killing each other. And one of them is appraising works of art. Sword collectors who collect swords that are just beautiful. Like this one. And this guy turns up one day with a Muramasa sword to show it off to the boys, you know? And his best friend takes one look at it and says, 'Sure it's priceless. It's one of the best swords I've ever seen. But get rid of it. Don't sell it, don't try to destroy it. Just lose it. Throw it in a river. Throw it in a volcano. But get rid of it! Because it's a Muramasa. Muramasa swords are cursed.'"

                    Nagasaki Hill 1778

                    "I thought you would like the view from here, Dutchman." [sound of waves rolling]

                    "I'd like it a lot more if I wasn't chained to a post, Saito." [sound of chains shifting like yanked]

                    "We can not be too careful! I thought you would like to see Nagasaki Harbor."

                    [snort] "No you didn't."

                    "What did you say?"

                    "You brought me here because you wanted to torture me some more."

                    "Ha. Other methods have failed."

                    [snide] "Well I'm sorry to disappoint you. But I know what you're doing, now. You're showing me the harbor so I can gaze upon Dejima."

                    "Yeh, very good, Dutchman! Yes! There is Dejima! Within sight! I don't know how long you hid in Japan. You refuse to tell me who helped you get this far to the south. But there it is! Right before you! A short ***wooden bridge out to the island of your... fellow foreigners. And from there, a ship home to your beloved Dutchland!"

                    [stubbornly] "I've not committed any crime. It'd be so easy just to untie me, and let me walk across the bridge."

                    "You signed your death warrant when you stepped ashore! To let you go would shame the Tokugawa!"

                    "They would never know!"

                    [outraged] "I am Tokugawa! I serve the Shogun!"

                    [lightly] "Really? Then why is your name... Saito?"

                    [disgruntled] "True enough. I am from a minor branch of the family, but I have prospects!"

                    [laughing] "I bet you do! Catch enough foreigners, hunt down enough Christians, you might even get promoted out of a godforsaken place like... Nagasaki!"

                    [moment] "You understand my predicament. [deep breath] Yes. It would be... nice to see the capital. The women there are... legendary. They would love a Samurai like me!"

                    [low anger] "You shame the Samurai."

                    [low outrage] "What did you say?"

                    [loudly] "I said, 'You shame the Samurai!' [moment] Where is your honor? You lie to your opponents. You run from a fight. You can only wound me when I'm chained before you!"

                    "And yet, I am still the victor!"

                    [mockery] "Is that so, Saito. Of course! Why am I even asking. You're gonna kill me on this hill."

                    "Yes! I am tired of your refusal to cooperate!"

                    [teasing] "But I've not told you who sheltered me. I've traveled hundreds of miles to get to Nagasaki. D'ya think I did no' have any help? D'ya think it was easy being this tall, and this 'Dutch', in a land like yours? I traveled at night. I hid in the wilderness but, [drops voice] along the way, I had help from Japanese people."

                    "They will be found out soon enough!"

                    "Not by my words! There are people in this country who hate the Tokugawa! There are people in this country who defy you in thousand li'le ways, every day of every year! They helped me cross your country, even though you think you have every li'le village terrified of your Shogun!"

                    "Words! Just words!"

                    [slyly] "But who's the victor, now? If I die with my secrets untold, the Tokugawa are afraid! They're afraid that one day they'll lose their grip on the Japanese, and then... the Shogun... will fall."

                    [low rage] "You know nothing!"

                    "I know nothing. I know the Tokugawa superstitions. Why, your first Shogun, the great Ieyasu, he was even afraid of a mere sword! [laughs mockingly] He was afraid of a sword!" [long moment]


                    • #11
                      Secret of the Sword Post 3

                      Interview Room 2005

                      O'Hara had done this before. I could tell. He just waited, and let the silence fill the air until the interviewee kept talking. He nodded, and smiled. And waited. And so I told him another story. About the Shogun.

                      "Ieyasu had this idea in his head that the Muramasa swords were evil. His clan, the Tokugawa, was the family that provided the Shoguns for two centuries. They were the rulers of Japan right up until the Nineteenth Century, and they hated the Muramasa. Because Ieyasu, the first Shogun, had heard that his grandfather had been killed by a Muramasa blade. And then someone remembered that Ieyasu's father had been stabbed in a fight by a drunken servant, and the servant had been holding a Muramasa blade at the time. And, when Ieyasu was just a kid three-years old, he cut himself on a sword."

                      "A Muramasa."

                      I nodded at O'Hara's reply.

                      "So if it happens once or twice, it's just coincidence. But over time, people start to think: Is there something going on here? If you've got a superstitious mind, you start to think to yourself, 'Why is it that every time something bad happens in my life, I see one of these swords?' And one day, the Shogun says, 'When my wife was found committing adultery, and I ordered her execution, can anyone remember what sword we used?' And he gets a reply he doesn't wanna hear. That his wife wanted a quick death, which meant she wanted the best and the sharpest sword. Which meant she asked for it. She begged the executioner to use the best sword he could find, and he used... a Muramasa.

                      "A few years later we get Ieyasu's son, the boy he loved more than anything else in the world. At some point in his life he betrays his father, and Ieyasu orders the son to commit suicide. So the boy cuts open his stomach with... Well, actually, he used just a regular knife for that. But when you commit Seppuku, when you cut open your belly, that's just the gesture. You don't die with your intestines all over the place. That would take days. You get your best friend in the world to stand behind you with a sword, and when it looks like you're hesitating, he comes in there, and cuts your head clean off. Ends it for you, as an act of mercy.

                      "And when Ieyasu's son committed suicide, and his head was cut off, it was cut off with a Muramasa. So by now, Ieyasu's thinking to himself: What is it with these Muramasa blades? Am I going paranoid? So he asks if other people can remember who was using the Muramasa swords. Not now, not in peacetime, but back in the day when everyone was trying to kill each other. And he finds out that when he was a general in the civil war, every single one of the generals who opposed him was using a Muramasa.

                      "Every single one. I mean, where do you think all these valuable swords came from in the first place? They'd been taken from dead enemies. And Ieyasu starts to think this can't possibly be a coincidence. So he gets this idea in his head that the Muramasa blades are all cursed against his own family. They're like, the ultimate weapon designed to bring down the Tokugawa family. They are like sentient malicious creatures just waiting to get close to a Tokugawa so that they can cut him up.

                      "So, over the decades, over the centuries, stories like that started to build up on him, and these things... you know, they take on a momentum of their own. There were periods in Japanese history where people tried to destroy Muramasa swords. But when the tried, if they had an accident or something, that was the story that got remembered. Like a guy would hurt himself, and maybe it was a coincidence, but those are the weird stories that people remember. And over time, they build and build and build.

                      "Because the Muramasa blades are high quality and well-known, and also because so many of them were destroyed, that also builds up over time. And you get a sword that is incredibly... unbelievably rare."

                      A World Of Secrets

                      Which brought us back here. To me, and a detective in a little white room, with a bit of metal on the table between us. A piece of metal that had seen a lot of action. And had a world of secrets.

                      "Yes," I said. "This is worth more than a few bucks for scrap metal. This isn't a hundred; not five hundred; not a grand! This is worth... two million, easy. O'Hara stared at me like I'd just grown an extra head. So I said, "Aye, if you're happy for me to give you five grand for it, wrap it back up and I'll take it to go!"

                      And suddenly, O'Hara wasn't smiling. "It's not for sale," he said. Like I didn't know that. And he asked me if I'd seen this sword before.

                      Of course I had! But I wasn't gonna tell him that, was I? I wasn't gonna say I was staring down the business end of it two centuries before he was even born. So I did the only thing I could. I said, "No. Well, maybe. Uh well, I - I don't recall! I see a lot of swords; I can't remember them all!" So I tried to turn it back to the antiques trade; safe ground. "In order to correctly assess an antique, taking refuge in knowledge, you need something called a provenance. The provenance... well, you'd call it the evidence. The story that goes along with an antique.

                      "I mean, for instance, let's take this pen. It's just a pen to a member of the public, but the provenance might say, 'This is the pen that Benjamin Franklin used to sign the Declaration Of Independence'. And suddenly, it's a pen that's worth a hell of a lot more. But right now, the provenance for this sword is 'Here's a sword that Jim O'Hara pulled out of a filing cabinet in Seacouver Third Precinct.' [light tone] So how can I know if I've seen it before?

                      "But I don't need to have seen it before to come up with a valuation. The owner of this sword is a millionaire."

                      O'Hara looked me straight in the eye and replied, "The owner of this sword is dead."

                      "I guess so," I said. "I mean, nobody lives for four hundred years! Who wants to live forever anyway? Hahah."

                      Okay, bad joke. But he wasn't laughing.

                      Instead he said the words I didn't wanna hear.

                      "The previous owner of this sword died in Nineteen Ninety-Four." And he started to reel off the story of Michael Kent.

                      Now I know the story of Michael Kent. I'm what you might call a silent partner in it. But I had to sit there and nod like an idiot while he told me all about it.

                      This very rich, powerful industrialist whose operation was into all sorts of things: holding companies, real estate, real long-term things... And then he died suddenly and suspiciously, way back in Nineteen Ninety-four. And the late Mister Kent's corporate lawyers had been puzzling for more than ten years over a sword that was listed as a company asset. This sword.

                      But right. I kept forgetting: I wasn't being interrogated here, I was being consulted about an antique. All O'Hara wanted to know was the secret of the sword. It's not like he was gonna... link me to a ten-year old murder case. Right?

                      Right. Except O'Hara wasn't finished.

                      Because now he had a new mystery to solve. How Michael Kent's sword ended up among the archives at the Seacouver Museum of Art.

                      "Beats me!" What was I supposed to say? That I put it there? As if! So I shrugged and I said, [drawn out I] "I don't know, I'm an antiques dealer. You're the detective."

                      So Michael Kent gets stabbed near a lake in Japan in Nineteen Ninety-four, his head is cut off, and his sword, a priceless Muramasa blade, disappears for over a decade. But then it turns up in the basement of a Seacouver museum, and I suppose people are wondering how it got there.

                      O'Hara had something else to show me. He came back with a big stack of fax paper. The old-fashioned kind, like one long toilet roll dragging on the floor, catching the side of the table. He said, "This sword is so old that it has its own uh... passport. Where it's been; who owned it. All that kind of stuff."

                      And I forgot myself. [amused] Because the antiques dealer in me took over. "Hey!" I said, "That's the provenance! You have no idea how difficult these things are to get hold of! They're written on paper, and that means they're flammable! Y-you remember the Tokyo earthquake in Nineteen Twenty-three? Well... probably you don't, but, it happened at lunchtime. [background sound of fire roaring] All the housewives were cooking on their stoves. Town shakes up a bit, but the real damage was from the fires that broke out when the stove fires spilled out. This was Japan, the walls were made of wood and paper! So one earthquake and a few incendiary raids during the war, and that means that so many Japanese records are gone forever." [sound fades]

                      [happy] But here it was! Somehow. I don't know how, the record of this sword's previous owners had survived, all this time! Written on silk paper, lovingly preserved, transferred from vault to bank, to lawyer's office no doubt! And eventually shoved on a photocopier and fired across the Pacific as a stream of electrons! Some pen-pusher in Tokyo had faxed O'Hara everything. A painstakingly assembled record of every owner this sword had, going back - Oh! - all the way to the time it was made!

                      I was beside myself with excitement. I got to look down the names, and dates, famous battles... not so famous battles, little fights forgotten by everyone who wasn't there... For a sword expert, it was like Christmas!

                      "Every warrior who carried it in battle," I babbled, "who he killed, who killed him. Look at this! It did twenty years in a shrine! Nobody held it! It was just a sword in a shrine, like an object of worship!" [paper being moved and sound continues as he hits each point] "And here, it was in a temple manifest! Oh, and here, heh, oh this is wonderful! This is a thing of beauty! I want - I wanna revise my estimate! Forget two million. Go way higher! Because you can name the historical figures who carried this! You can say who it killed! This isn't just a sword! This is a piece of living history! Every one of these lines, these are the bearers of it, 'n, [awed laugh] I guess you'd call these ones 'victims'. Executions, battles, little skirmishes, I m... [noise of awe] I wonder, I d... I wonder..."

                      I shouldn't have been doing this, but what the hell. Like O'Hara was gonna care if I just... checked on one little thing. Just one little thing.

                      "Here it is! Oh..! I-It's here!"

                      "The era named An'ei. That's like the name of the reign of a particular emperor. The year number... Eight. Um, I think in our terms that's something like Seventeen Seventy-eight, Seventeen Seventy-nine. Somewhere around there. Um... It's here. It says uh... 'A Dutch criminal, killed in sword-testing by Saito Goemon.'"

                      The Nagasaki Hill Top 1778

                      "Saito. Just kill me an' ge' it o'er with."

                      [silky] "In time, Dutchman. In time. How would you like to die?"

                      "I am a warrior. So I expect you to accord me the necessary protocols."

                      "What do you mean?"

                      "I will kneel before you with a knife, and slice open my stomach. And you will stand behind me and cu' off my head."

                      [laughs] "Seppuku! [laughs] A warrior's death. For that I would need to unchain you!"

                      [light mockery] "Wha', are you afraid?"

                      "You would try to escape. You would try to overpower me. It is... too much like hard work!"

                      [lightly] "Suit yerself."

                      "You will die where you are, tied to that post."

                      "Ah you'll have trouble cu'ing off my head with a post in the way."

                      "I'm not going to cut off your head!"

                      "What, am I not worthy?"

                      [chuckles] "Dutchman. Beheading would end your suffering, but... I shall not accord that honor... to a foreign criminal."

                      "Like I said, suit yerself."

                      "Instead, you shall die by ***iki-tameshi."

                      "Whatever that is."

                      "It is Sword-testing. I shall take my Muramasa, and see how sharp it really is. I shall hack into your shoulder, and see if I can reach your belly, in a single stroke!"

                      [quiet but calm] "Sounds painful."

                      "Your attitude is shameful!"

                      "I'm just laughing in the face of death."

                      [indignant] "Soon you will not be laughing! I will split you almost in two! And then, my men shall unchain your still-breathing, still bleeding body! And throw you onto the trash heap, with the dead dogs and the rotting fruit! And then... You will die in the sun."

                      "Great. Can't wait."

                      [indignant] "PshhYou will not say so when I kill you!"

                      [annoyed] "No, I expect it will hurt quite a lot!"

                      "Oh, you have no idea!"

                      "Oh, bu' I do. It'll hurt like Hell itself. I'll scream, it'll be agony for me and my life will ebb away like a sea of a thousand knives."

                      "That's more like it!"

                      "I only ask one thing."

                      "Ohhh. A final request?"

                      "Aye. The bridge between Nagasaki and Dejima Island."

                      "I know it."

                      "At midnight, you'll bring my sword and leave it at the Nagasaki end. Then you will stand in the middle of the bridge."

                      "Why would I want to do that?"

                      [low mischief] "Because I will be there. Living. Breathing. And I will fight you, man to man, and show you what honor really is."

                      [laughing] "You'll come back from the dead?"

                      "Swear it!"

                      [laughs] "Don't be stupid!"

                      [mocking] "Are you not Samurai? [moment] I swear to you, strike me down here and tonight, I shall fight you on that bridge. I shall test my sword. I'll cut your head off and throw your precious Muramasa into the harbor! And then I shall walk onto Dejima Island, and be free of Japan!"

                      "As you wish. I swear it!"

                      "Swear on the honor of the Tokugawa that you will be there at midnight."

                      "I swear it! But you... will already be in [screams] Hell!" [swish, meaty slash]



                      • #12
                        Secret of the Sword Post 4

                        The Sword Has No Owner

                        "And then here, just a day later, suddenly the sword has no owner, and it's just left in a temple for a generation before... [turning pages] somebody else gets it, and another, and another, and... and then here we are, a World War Two officer. And then suddenly it's not in ***con brush, suddenly we're writing in ballpoint pen, in katakana. Katakana's a special writing system that the Japanese only use for two things. One is the noises made by animals, and the other is foreign words. And here we have 'Maikuru Kento'. Michael Kent. U.S. Marine Corps, retired. Oh, I guess I would imagine that, [amused] he is the Michael Kent Senior, and that the last owner is Michael Kent Junior. Or, Michael Kent the Third. Because otherwise the murder victim would have to be more than a hundred years old."

                        And I guess that's where I should've shut up. I'd given O'Hara what he'd asked for. That's as sword assessments go, well, that's the bee's knees. Somewhere in the world, there would be a happy insurance broker, because whatever they paid out on the sword, they were bound to make a lot more of it back with what I'd just told them about its history. And so I stared at the little gold rosette on O'Hara's tie, and waited for him to say thanks.

                        The rosette was kinda familiar. I'd seen it somewhere before. But now O'Hara was talking to me, and I started to wonder again whether I should be sitting up straight, or slouching. Suddenly I remembered where I'd seen the rosette.

                        Tokyo Metropolitan Police.

                        Like O'Hara'd ever been anywhere further than Las Vegas.

                        So, Michael Kent turns up dead by a lakeside, and his priceless sword is missing. So the Japanese police figure it's theft. Theft of a murder weapon, in fact. No real evidence, case closed.

                        Except that now the murder weapon has turned up a decade later, and they get to check the wound pattern from the photographs and it's not the sword that killed him. He already had an analysis on the blade, and on the old photographs of Michael Kent's wounds. Kent's body was long gone, cremated. But the Japanese insist on taking photographs of literally everything, means the Japanese crime scene photography is always a few years ahead of ours. They had digital before us. They had high resolution pictures. They had a lot of them. They're what you call snap-happy.

                        There's enough old evidence assembled in Nineteen Ninety-four for Seacouver Forensics to run a pretty decent appraisal on what killed Michael Kent. He was stabbed with his sword, but he was beheaded with another. By a man standing above him. Even I knew what that meant. It meant that the blade entered the neck at an angle. And the angle gives you a clue about other things. How high the arm was held. Where the murderer's shoulder was. How high it was held off the ground.

                        So now O'Hara was giving me this funny look. The murderer was never caught. And whoever he was, he was special. Because he was taller than your average Japanese.

                        O'Hara was loving it. He started telling me, like I was some kind of child, how much detectives can learn from crime scene investigation. The way a body lies, the angle of the cut, the disposition of the crime scene. That kind of thing.

                        I nodded, and looked at his necktie and wondered when it would be polite to make my excuses and leave.

                        But O'Hara couldn't believe the evidence that was in front of him. I mean, there was enough evidence at the crime scene, enough scuffed footprints, and the like, to suggest that Michael Kent actually had a swordfight with someone. Can you imagine that. Two guys in Nineteen Ninety-Four just going at it with swords! What kind of crazy world do we live in? I blame television!

                        O'Hara had been there, quiet as you like, the whole time. I'd hardly heard a peep out of him while I rambled on about old swords, but suddenly, he was off. And so help me, he was putting the pieces together in a way I really didn't like.

                        "I looked at these swords that we found, which was the sword that Michael Kent was using on that day. And you know what? He didn't just take it off the wall when he was attacked! He had that sword ready for action. This ain't something that was just hanging on this guy's wall. This Kent guy was carrying it around with him, like it's a cellphone, or his car keys."

                        I didn't know what I was supposed to say to him. What he was expecting from me. A confession? I wasn't on trial here. I was just helping the police with their inquiries, right?

                        But O'Hara asked me where I was in October Nineteen Ninety-four.

                        "I don't know. [uncomfortably] I uh - pfft. It was a long time ago, I don't know. Where were you?"

                        He asked me if I'd seen the sword before.

                        And I gave him the same story as before. I don't have to have seen a particular Muramasa blade to know the stories about them. They're pretty common knowledge in the sword-collecting community.

                        Then... He got all Homeland Security on me and picked up on the fact that I'm clearly not an American national. He asked me if I had more than one passport. He asked me where I'm from, so I stared him right in the eye and I said, "Lots of different place," and I got to my feet.

                        Because I'd had enough. He didn't have any evidence, or else he would've charged me! He knew the sword had secrets, but that didn't mean I had to help him. So I said, "I came here in good faith to help you with your inquiries. You're right! I know a lot about swords. But I have better things to do than sit here while you insinuate I got something to do with this one. So, I'm gonna leave right now."

                        "What was that guy's name?" he said. "Tokugawa."

                        Like he was gonna interrogate a dead Shogun. But he didn't mean that. He meant that the case of this sword was kinda like the first Shogun's superstitions. That circumstantial evidence builds and builds and builds. Like that story I told about the Muramasa blades having a curse.

                        At the start, it's just random coincidence. But how many coincidences did it need, before it becomes something else.

                        The Bridge in 1778

                        [drunken warbling] "Well, Dutchman! Here I am! [footsteps on planks, sounds of surf] On the bridge! Saito is here! True to his word! Hah, and where are you? Heh, nothing but me! And the sea! And a flask of sake! Oop! [shattering sounds] [laughs] A broken flask of sake! That last drink was for flask of sake! That last drink was for you, Dutchman! And your sad faith in revenge from beyond the grave! [wheezing laugh] Where is your god now, Dutchman? [shouts] Where is your god now?!" [laughs]

                        "He is probably asleep, like everyone else."

                        [gasp of shock] "It cannot be!" [swish of blade being drawn, clang]

                        ================================================== ===================

                        O'Hara had already checked the museum records. I didn't need to ask him. Because I happened to know that the records of who donated what had been destroyed in a freak fire a couple of years back. So nobody knew who donated the sword. Freak fire. You know. People are so careless. And what a shame! What can I say? Maybe it was... the curse of the Muramasa! Maybe he should arrest the sword!

                        He didn't think that was funny.

                        But O'Hara was on to something, and he knew it. Whoever killed Michael Kent could have killed him for his sword, but then... How did it end up in the museum? Well they could have wanted to dispose of the murder weapon, but then... we were back to the same question of how it ended up in the museum.

                        O'Hara was way too close to the truth. Smart money says hide the evidence, dump the body, throw the sword in the lake. That's what I... What they should have done. But... Someone who loves swords... someone who thought they were works of art. Maybe that guy couldn't bring himself to destroy such a valuable antique. Maybe that guy decided to keep the sword anyway, because... It was a Muramasa. Not because he wanted it for himself, because... I don't know. Maybe there's a bit of Old Country superstition in him. Maybe he does believe the swords are cursed. He doesn't wanna keep it. He doesn't wanna sell it. And he can't bring himself to destroy it, so he ends up taking it away with him and somehow hiding it in a museum, where... I don't know. Maybe it'll turn up a few years later. After the Statute of Limitations has run out.

                        Great plan, unless someone finds it a few years too early.

                        O'Hara thought Michael Kent's murderer was an art lover, who wanted to preserve a valuable antique.

                        So, I guess... I couldn't be surprised if when he found himself a tall, athletic sword expert, who knew the history of Muramasa backwards, he started asking him where he was in October Nineteen Ninety-four.


                        I didn't have to be there, and I didn't like the way this was going. So, I wished him luck with the cold case business, and said my goodbyes. That's a goodbye to him, and a sayonara to the mirror.

                        O'Hara looked kind of shocked, so I explained.

                        "I said goodbye to your friends in the next room, behind the one-way glass. [pounds on glass, projects voice] Hi there! Enjoying the show? My name is Duncan MacLeod! And you are?"

                        O'Hara tried to stop me banging on the glass, like I'd do damage to the bullet-proof window. So, I let him have it.

                        [sarcastically] "Let me guess!" I said. "It's a slow day at Cold Cases. Oh, no. Perhaps it's a slow week! It's a slow year! Because nothing ever happens at Cold Cases, that's why they're cold! You know what the Japanese call people like you, O'Hara? [snide laugh] Why don't we ask them? Why don't we ask the two Japanese detectives behind the glass! I don't need to see them. It'll be an old guy stinking of cigarettes, wearing a long trench-coat because he thinks he's Columbo. And some preppy young twenty-something who does all the talking. Because he's the one who did a year at Seacouver Tech, and that's where he learned English. I can work it out. They turned up two days ago. Three days ago? Two days ago! And someone said 'You'd better handle it, O'Hara, because there are people out there with real crimes to investigate.' The Japanese don't care who killed Michael Kent! It's practically past the Statute of Limitations anyway! And they probably figure he was into some dangerous business, and some gangster killed him, who they've already got locked up for something else!"

                        O'Hara reminded me that we were talking about a very tall gangster.

                        "Even better," I said. "White-on-White crime, some foreigner killed by another foreigner! It wouldn't even make it to page six in the Japanese news! All they care about is the sword! You wanna know what's really sad, O'Hara? They're not even here on police business. Ask them yourself! As them who paid for their tickets. Oh, sure. They're real police officers, but Tokyo Metro isn't gonna front them ten thousand dollars to chase a case from Nineteen Ninety-four! They're doing this as a favor for the insurance people!

                        "I know my way around a sword! I know what a Muramasa's worth, but so do they! And ever since the insurance company paid Kent's corpoation for the lost Muramasa, they own it. I bet they've been wondering where it ended up. I don't know what they paid out on it but, that's the great thing about antiques! They're not liabilities. They're assets. Whatever you pay for them, they go up in value over time. If they paid out maybe two million in Nineteen Ninety-four, that's ten million today.

                        "That's more than enough to offer a freebee trip for a couple of detectives, to pick up something from a dumb hick cop who's been passed over for promotion. [laughs] You get a priceless antique in an unlocked filing cabinet, in an interview room! You forgot to tell me that tape was running, and you haven't realized yet, that makes everything I've said for the last hour inadmissible as evidence! You let two Japanese cops on a busman's holiday buy you a drink, and give you a nylon necktie, and you think that makes you some kind of interpol expert?

                        "So! What the Japanese call people like you, O'Hara, the Window Tribe! The one who gets shunted out into the typing pool, and left to fly a desk for the last few years of their career. You're out by the window! You're the one who gets the old ladies looking for their cats, and the nutjobs who think that aliens are listening to their thoughts. You're so outside the loop, that when you call up and ask for coffee, the duty officer asks you 'Who the hell are you?' You're the first desk by the bathrooms! You're the closest to the drafty corridor! [stronger mockery] You're the furthest one away from the Captain's office, and you're not gonna see the inside until the day he gives you your carriage clock, and a goodbye handshake. [pounds on glass again] Are you getting all of this, you guys behind the glass?! You pickin' this up? The cops here dumped you on the office jerkoff because they had you figured for a couple of tourists! [chuckles] You know, O'Hara, I did know someone like you in Japan, in fact! Long before Nineteen Ninety-four! Way, way, way before that! He looked like you! He thought like you! Actually, [snort] he even talked like you!

                        "In his way. He thought he had me all figured out. He wanted me for a crime that only existed in his head. He hated me for reasons I never quite worked out and he had it in me for ways I won't even begin to describe. And you know what happened to him?" [long indrawn hiss of breath, footsteps] "Well, he lost his head. Goodbye, detective! And goodbye to anyone listening in." [door opens]

                        Dejima Bridge Of 1778

                        [panicked] "I do not believe in you!"

                        [sarcastic] "That's a shame. [moment, teasing] Because here I am."

                        [creaking] "No! You are... a Christian apparition! You are... a Dutch phantom!"

                        "You mean a Scotch mist!"

                        "I saw you die!"

                        "Ohhh, I was there, Saito, I remember it well!" [moment] "Ready for a lesson?"

                        [voice shakes] "No! No I - I'm not! I d-"

                        [blade drawn] [cheerful] "Shame."

                        [wetting self] "I... have never used a Muramasa in battle! I have... never fought for real!"

                        "Then tonight is your lucky night."

                        "No man can have two deaths. [terrified, bewildered] There can... be only one!"

                        "True. And I am Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod! By the way, I am immortal."

                        [scream of attack]
                        End Theme
                        [clashing blades]


                        • #13
                          1.4. Highlander: Kurgan Rising
                          Released July 2009
                          Written by Cavan Scott, Mark Wright
                          Cover Artist Martin Stiff
                          Director Sharon Gosling
                          Executive Producer Jason Haigh-Ellery
                          Music Jamie Robertson
                          Producer Sharon Gosling
                          Sound Design Richard Dolmat
                          Written by Cavan Scott, Mark Wright
                          Line Producer David Richardson

                          Product Format: 1-disc CD (jewel case)
                          Number of Discs: 1
                          Duration: 60 minutes
                          Physical Retail ISBN: 978-1-84435-361-3
                          Production Code: BFPHLCD04
                          Recorded on: 31 January 2009
                          Recorded at: The Moat Studios

                          Adrian Paul (Duncan MacLeod)
                          Toby Longworth (Augustus Mason)

                          CHRONOLOGICAL PLACEMENT:

                          This story takes place between the films Highlander: Endgame and Highlander: The Source.
                          “Everyone has a bogeyman… A name whispered with fear and dread…”

                          With an increasing number of Immortals disappearing, Duncan and Watcher Joe Dawson decide to investigate. The trail leads to an imposing Parisian office building owned by business magnate Augustus Mason, but nothing can prepare the Highlander for what he will find within. An old friend, a new foe – and an ancient terror reborn!

                          Highlander Main Theme

                          "I am immortal. Born four hundred years ago in the highlands of Scotland. I'm not alone. There are others like me. Some good, some evil. For centuries I've battled the forces of darkness, with holy ground my only refuge. I cannot die... unless you take my head, and with it, my power. I am Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod! The Highlander! In the end, there can be... only one."

                          Mexican Civil war

                          As Immortals, we thrive on our stories. Legends passed down the years as currency, or... a way to get through the long nights, under the stars. One has haunted my dreams for centuries.

                          [crickets chirruping] We were hiding in a rundown hacienda, sheltering from Maximillian's men when I first heard it. I can still see the face of Paul Karros smirking in the flickering candlelight as he told the story of La Llorona. She was a prostitute who aborted her many unwanted children, throwing their remains into the river of ***Tuxpan. After years of terrible abominations, she died. And on arriving at the Gates of Heaven, La Llorona was turned away by the Almighty himself. He told her that Paradise could only be hers if she rescued the souls of her lost offspring. To this day, the sad, tragic figure is said to wander the rivers of the Earth, searching for her drowned children.

                          For us, Karros' story was a tale told to him by Tequila-soaked Mexican Revolutionaries. A distraction from the terror of meeting Maximillian. For the children of Mexico, the legend of the Wailing Woman of the River kept them in their beds at night, petrified but... safe. They wouldn't dare explore the dangerous banks of the Tuxpan, in case they felt her clammy dead fingers grab them, mistaking them for one of her own.

                          La Llorona was just a demon. A boogeyman to terrify children. Everyone has a boogeyman.

                          In the years since my first Quickening, I learned of the Immortals'... own boogeyman. A name whispered with fear, and dread. A name that kept you on your guard, pushing you to hone your skills, lest you crossed his path one fateful day.

                          That name, was the Kurgan. A walking night-terror for Immortal and human alike. Until, of course, he fell to the sword of my cousin, Connor MacLeod.

                          The boogeyman had been vanquished, and the children could sleep soundly again. Or could they...

                          He will rise again

                          [electricity buzzing] "You can't win, MacLeod! He will rise again!"

                          I lay retching blood onto the cold stone floor, the chamber around me a storm of noise and light. I tried to focus, but... the pain was too great. Through the creeping darkness at the edge of my vision, I saw a blurred figure writhing in unnatural light. As I began to lose consciousness, the specter before me roared an unearthly scream of triumph. I wondered if I, too, would be turned away from the Gates of Paradise to track down the souls I had taken in my long, long life.

                          ================================================== ===================

                          [voice over radiowaves] "Mac, you there?" Joe Dawson's voice buzzed in my ear.

                          "Loud and clear, Joe!" I hissed. "Your Watcher buddies know you're letting an Immortal play with their toys?"

                          [cheerful] "What the eyes don't see, the heart doesn't grieve over!" he told me. "Besides, I'm not letting you go in there on your own. That three-hundred dollar communication device in your ear will let me monitor your progress every step of the way."

                          [whisper] "Nice to see you're doing some watching for a change!" I said.

                          We might have joked, but as I moved along yet another dingy service corridor, it felt good to have Joe with me. He was unusual for a Watcher; had the habit of getting involved. [long breath] Ah, but that helped me out of some tight corners, so... I wasn't gonna start complaining now. Getting into the Barrow Building had been too easy. For a state-of-the-art skyscraper that had sent both the architectural glitterazzi and the people of Paris into an uproar, security was light.

                          Some were amazed at the architect's audacity. Others, railing against another invasion of this historic city by more American Imperialism.

                          I had to admit I was impressed. It was a weird mix of mock-Gothic and Art-Deco, threatening even the Eiffel Tower's place as the most dramatic construction on the Parisian skyline. Even more impressive was how Augustus Mason, owner and architect, had sweet-talked the authorities into letting him build the thing in the first place!

                          But I wasn't breaking into the Barrow Building for its architecture. The Watchers' Tribunal was worried about a growing number of Immortals flooding into Paris. There was even talk of another Gathering, but when Joe gave me the heads-up, I'd laughed. If that many Immortals were walking the streets, I'd've felt them.
                          "That's the thing, Mac," Joe had explained. "They're not walking the streets. We tracked them here, monitored their activities, and then they vanish. There's no sign of any skirmishes, no heads missing bodies. They're here one day and gone the next."

                          So we began looking into it. Calling in every favor, hacking into police files and security systems. Listening in bars to any drunk who had a story to tell. Even Joe was starting to doubt things, but... it was in one of those dives that I set eyes on an old face. [wistful] A very old face.

                          18th century spanish church

                          I first met Father Justino Alvarez in a Spanish church in Seventeen Forty-eight.

                          There was always a girl, and I was on the run from a nobleman whose daughter had shown me some Spanish hospitality. [splashing footsteps] Running into a church, I figured the last place an angry father with a knife and a grudge would expect to find me was in the confessional! So... that's exactly where I hid.

                          Sitting there in the dark, the lingering taste of the last kiss on my lips, I felt the familiar pull at the edge of my senses. Another Immortal was present. And on Holy Ground, too. Of course, I knew that a blade wasn't likely to come smashing through the Confessional, but [breath] I just wasn't in the mood for a fight. Not that day.

                          So I sat, and waited, my heart hammering in my chest. The last thing I expected was for the Immortal to be the priest sitting in the cubicle next to me. Nor did I expect a man of God to protect me from the aggrieved father!

                          I watched through the grill of the Confessional as Alvarez told the man he'd not seen one soul in three days and to leave his church immediately. My pursuer didn't believe a word of it but, wouldn't dare cross a Holy Man. It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship between me and this great bear of a priest, who was more comfortable with his hand around a goblet of Communion wine than the hilt of a sword.

                          Paris bar

                          [clinking glasses] But the man I met in that ***big gaul dive was not my friend of over two centuries. His strength was gone. His... once huge frame shrunken inside the shabby gray coat he always wore. His eyes darted fearfully to every shadow, and sweat glistened on his stubble that spread across his saggy cheeks.

                          He couldn't wait to get away from me, mumbling an apology after one drink and stumbling out of the bar. This wasn't right! Like so many of our kind, Justino had all but turned his back on the Game! But here he was in Paris, when the Watchers were worried about missing Immortals!

                          So I tried my own hand at Watching, and followed Alvarez through the streets. [sounds of traffic] He looked like a man with a purpose, twitching and muttering to himself as he went. And soon he was standing in the shadow of the Barrow Building. I watched as he ducked into a loading bay at the back of the building, and disappeared through a door. Of course, it was locked when I tried it a minute later. Too much of a coincidence.

                          I waited until ***dawn, but he never came out.

                          Over the years since our first meeting, Justino had risen to the rank of Bishop before having to retire gracefully from the Church before his flock had realized that their spiritual leader wasn't aging. He'd settled in ***Ablueras, leading a quiet life, hardly ever leaving the village, let alone the country. I doubt he even owned a passport. But... here he was in Paris, and it didn't take a genius to work out where the answer to Joe's mystery lay.

                          Justino had been drawn to the Barrow building. Perhaps the Watchers were right. Maybe... we were on the verge of another Gathering. But whatever. My friend was in trouble. I could help.

                          The Barrow Building Corridors

                          With... typical Watcher speed, Joe had produced the blueprints to the building from city hall. It wasn't long before I bluffed my way in as a delivery courier and hidden away for a few hours until the building had gone dark for the night. If anybody had bothered to check the package I was delivering, they would have... well, they would have found an ancient katana that was now gripped in my hands as I crept along the darkened service corridor.

                          [whispers] "Any idea what we're looking for?"

                          "Not until you find it," came back Joe's unhelpful response. "These plans are something else, Mac. Keep heading down that corridor. I wanna check something out."

                          Joe guided me down endless corridors, through doors, and across intersections... The building... felt dead. If there were Immortals here I had no sense of them, but... I kept going. Eventually, Joe's directions brought me to a corridor that ended in an elevator.

                          "End of the line," Joe crackled in my ear.

                          "What do you mean?"

                          "Just that. According to the plans, this elevator goes nowhere."

                          "Elevators have to go somewhere, Joe!"

                          "Tell that to the architect."

                          I stood back and examined the doors. That's all they were: a set of innocent elevator doors. Hmm. Oh well, I thought, and stabbed the call button, bringing my katana up as the door slid open. [ding, door opening] I stepped quickly into the elevator, and there was only one button.

                          Subterranean tunnel

                          "Mac, what's going on?"

                          I pressed it. [dramatic music] "Going down, Joe."

                          I found myself in a different world. The corporate blandness above had been replaced by a dark tunnel that looks... carved out of rock. Just how far below that Barrow Building were we? I ran my hand across the ice-cold stone. It was... slick with moisture. I advanced slowly down the tunnel toward the soft glow of light I saw ahead, my sword always raised, always ready.

                          "Mac! What d'you see?"

                          That's all I got.

                          [urgent hiss] "Joe! You're breaking up! I can barely hear you! [water drips] [forlornly] Joe!" [static, a blip]

                          My link to Joe was gone. I was on my own. I kept going, the tunnel widening until it opened out into a cavernous, echoing amphitheater. I circled 'round as I moved into the breath-taking chamber, sweeping my sword before me as my eyes adjusted to the change in light. There were two entrances I could make out. And... in front of me, giant bars sectioned off another area, possible another chamber. In the middle of the expanse sat a large stone table, complete with two flickering candles. [faint electrical noise]

                          The walls themselves were hewn from a cold, cream-colored stone, uh, raising maybe ten stories above me. The ceiling, lost in the darkness. Stone buttresses jutted out at weird angles all over the walls, adorned with ornate carvings and hieroglyphics that I just couldn't place. They were joined by a network of deep, even grooves cut into the stone zigzagging from one buttress to another.

                          It looked like this had been designed with a purpose in mind. It might have been beautiful if it wasn't for the more macabre choice of interior design.

                          Between the buttresses, at regular intervals, were alcoves set into the wall. As I moved to examine the nearest one to me, I realized... each one held a person... Naked, and unconscious, but alive. More alarming was the arm jutting from the wall of each alcove that ended in a vicious-looking blade, suspended over the occupant's throat! One wrong move and... they would lose their heads.

                          I didn't recognize the faces before me, but, these had to be the missing Immortals. Something was wrong, though. Something was... very wrong here. [ironic amusement] If these were Immortals, why couldn't I sense them? It was fair to say my head was pounding, but that had nothing to do with being in such close proximity to so many Immortals! It'd been building as I walked into the amphitheater: a slight buzzing at first, so subtle that I'd hardly noticed it, [a sound as though someone is breathing on a respirator is recurring about every three seconds in the background] but... with every passing minute it grew. A sick feeling in my stomach; a growing sense that something wasn't right.

                          Looking above and around, I estimated there were at least fifty alcoves, maybe more, studded around the walls of this strange, hellish-looking place. I wondered... Is Justino in here somewhere? A blade inches from his neck... I had to get these guys out of here. This was not the Immortal way.

                          I turned, suddenly fighting a wave of dizziness that flowed over me, and sprinted for the opposite side of the chamber, but stopped as a metal bar slammed down across the entrance to the tunnel, [noise of that] and the safety of the elevator.

                          [a voice over speaker] "I don't think so."

                          [swish] I whipped around, my sword up and ready to fight.

                          The voice echoed around me as I was caught in a circle of bright light in the center of the chamber.

                          "Who are you? What is this place?"

                          "So many questions, Mister MacLeod. All will become clear."

                          "Come out here and face me. [moment, shouts] Show yourself!"

                          "As you wish." [electric noises, crackling]

                          High up in the walls, large screens flared on, one after the other, each showing the same face smirking down at me. I recognized those tanned, healthy features framed by long brown hair. That face had been staring out of magazines and French news broadcasts for the last year. Augustus Mason, architect of the building I was now deep below, leered down at me.

                          I circled slowly, never quite taking my eyes off the screens, never quite letting my sword fall, even an inch.

                          "Ah, I see you recognize me. Good. Time is money. And yes! I know all about you. You are Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod. Found as a baby in Fifteen Ninety-two near the shore of Loch Shiel, only to die and be reborn, thirty years later. Your Watcher files make for fascinating reading. Although I did find the ***Eighteen nineties a bit on the dull side. Other than that, it's one long adventure, isn't it?"

                          "I'm glad I've entertained you."

                          "Oh, it's a real page-turner! But my interest in you goes far beyond your tedious exploits. You may be wondering why I've constructed the rather impressive room you're standing in, and imprisoned my various guests, quite against their will, I might add."

                          "It had crossed my mind!"

                          "Well, it's quite simple. It's all about you."

                          [snide] "Me? I am flattered. But I don't understand."

                          "Ah, well now strictly speaking, it's not so much about you, it's more... You know, it's more something you possess. Something that's... very important to me." [moment]

                          "Enough with the games, Mason."

                          [laughter] "Oh but isn't it always about games? I mean, that's what you people do, right? Play the Game! Win the Prize!"

                          "'You people'... So you're not immortal?"

                          [laughter] "Oh, I'm not greedy! You know, one lifetime is enough for me? But, hey! If it's an Immortal you want, you only had to ask! You know, I'm sure I have one around here somewhere!" [creak]
                          Last edited by dubiousbystander; 12-26-2019, 09:24 AM.


                          • #14
                            Kurgan Rising Post 2

                            An Immortal

                            "Ah yessss. Here he is. I do believe you're old friends!"

                            [noises of movement] [lost, sad tone] A shambling figure had entered the chamber. His shoulders hunched. Head down. I glanced quickly to the broadsword hanging loosely from his hand. But the figure didn't acknowledge me. Did he even know I was there?

                            [raised voice] "So! What is this all about, Mason? Is this how you get your kicks? Pitting Immortals against each other? In your own private coliseum?"

                            "It's about much more than that, MacLeod! Oh hoh hoh, so much more!"

                            The figure before me stumbled forward, sword scraping across the floor. My eyes flicked between the expectantly smirking face of Mason and the man he wanted me to fight. This wasn't how the Game was played! This guy was in no state for a duel! He staggered drunkenly to a halt and raised his head. I found myself staring into the blank eyes of Bishop Justino Alvarez! His slack mouth fell open, those... lifeless eyes desperately trying to focus on me. Dry blood clung to his sagging skin, the telltale signs of cuts that would have healed instantly, no matter how deep. So much blood...

                            "What've you done to him?!"

                            "Oh, just a little conditioning. A little suggestion, MacLeod. The Father didn't want to fight! I mean, what is the point of an Immortal who doesn't wanna fight? [laughs] All he wanted to do was protect you! He must be a good friend to take all that punishment. A real, [amused] a real saint, to lay down his life for you. But you know a bit of torture, some state-of-the-art psychotropic drugs go a long way!"

                            [bitter] "You're inhuman."

                            [amused] "Oh well, coming from an Immortal, that's a compliment." [snickers]

                            A flash of recognition passed Justino's battered face. A look of pure sorrow. Then... it was gone... replaced by pure unadulterated hate. With an unhinged scream, my friend raised his sword and charged at me!

                            "It took a while to break him! But the strong-willed ones are always the most fun!"

                            I blocked all thought of Mason from my mind as I focused on Justino. His sword slashed down through the air and met steel as I drew my katana to defend myself. [clash] Alvarez had never been the world's finest swordsman. He'd survived by avoiding the Game, not meeting it head-on. But this attack was clumsy beyond belief. ***He had Driven insane in the grip of whatever Mason had pumped into him, there was an animal strength inside him. [clash clash] He hacked at me from all angles, froth bubbling from his mouth.

                            "I see the Father's pacifism isn't what it used to be!" [Mason laughing]

                            "Justino! We don't have to do this! It's me, MacLeod! Your friend!"

                            My attempt to calm him only seemed to anger him more.

                            "MacLeod!" he roared, eyes flashing with hatred as he gripped his blade with both hands, his knuckles white against the hilt. "Kill!"

                            [Mason mocks] "Oh! What a touching reunion!" [chuckles]

                            I had to finish this before I was forced to hurt Alvarez. The sheer force of his attack was bearing down on me. There was no rhyme or reason to his swordplay, making it difficult to judge his next move! My fear of harming him was letting him get the better of me.

                            "Enough!" As Justino's blade swept down I blocked, and thrust the palm of my left hand forward, slamming hard into his chin. His jaw cracked, and he crashed to the floor, the breath knocked out from him.

                            [Mason claps slowly, amused] "Bravo, bravo."

                            [breathing hard] "Okay, Mason. Show's over! For what you've just made me do, I'm gonna hunt you down and kill you myself."

                            "Well it isn't over till the fat priest sings, MacLeod!"

                            [swish] [Mac screams in agony] Suddenly pain shot up my body. I screamed out, my vision blurring. The shock setting in as I stared down at Justino's blade buried deep in my thigh. Blood was oozing around the wound."

                            [Mason mocks] "The Father appears to have lost the Christian spirit!" [laughs]

                            Goaded by Mason, Justino giggled insanely and shoved his blade further into my leg. [squelching noise] It was instinct mixed with shock but what happened next... will haunt me until my dying day. I spun away from the reach of the blade, yanking it from my leg, and before I could stop myself, I whipped my sword forward. [bang swish] Justino just stared at me. The fog of the drugs cleared and for a second, I saw my friend as he'd always been. And then the skin of his neck burst apart like a pupae, a brilliant light shining from the wound as his head fell.

                            [squelch, slide, meaty thud]

                            I collapsed to the ground clutching my leg and saw Justino's body slump to the side.

                            [Mason mocks] "And I thought you MacLeods were honorable! Turns out you're just like every other filthy Immortal. Striking down your friends."


                            I couldn't speak. My breath coming in ragged bursts as I stared at the body of my friend. I crawled forward and lifted his sword from where it had fallen. Staggering to my feet, I glared up at Mason and I raised my blade above my head, screaming in rage and guilt at what I'd done. I swore to myself that I would used ***his blade to kill Mason.

                            As I ranted, the air crackled with the oncoming Quickening. Justino's body jerked. Bursts of energy played along his limbs, animating the corpse in that macabre final dance of the Immortal. [loud electric discharges] But... something was wrong!

                            The ground began to shake beneath my feet as the Quickening built! A soft tremor at first but, growing! Shifting!

                            [Mason insinuating] "Is there a problem, MacLeod?"

                            "What've you done, Mason?!"

                            [Amused] "Me? Oh this has nothing to do with me!"

                            The tremors became more intense as electricity began to rage around the walls of the chamber. The air around me felt as if... I was being torn asunder, as energy poured from Alvarez's body!

                            [Mason smugly] "But it has everything to do with your late friend Father Alvarez. What an accommodating man. So eager to help!"

                            The screen flitted and Mason's face was replaced by a series of images, flashing one after the other. Justino, standing in this very chamber with Mason behind him, a guiding hand on the Bishop's shoulder. A closeup of his praying face. Then... his fingers tracing the sign of a cross, then flicking something down onto the stone table. What was that? Oil? And all the time the ***chaos of the Quickening intensified as I struggled to drag my attention from the screen. Why was Mason showing me this? What had Justino been doing? [note of alarm] Why was he acting as if we were in... church?!

                            Suddenly, terribly, it all made sense.

                            "No! That isn't possible!"

                            [Mason smug] "Before I persuaded Alvarez to act as bait, he agreed to do one more favor for me. It was a simple task for a man of God! Blessing my work here in the Barrow Building! Consecrating the land!"

                            [shocked horror] "Do you realize what you've done?!"

                            "Of course I do. Holy Ground, Highlander! Holy... Ground!"

                            The energy that'd been building all around blasted out in a shockwave, knocking me off my feet. Tendrils of energy danced along the carvings, running like hot metal through the channels cut into the wall. This was... like no other Quickening I'd ever witnessed and, I watched, fascinated, as the entire chamber began to glow. Light criss-crossed over the walls, flashing through the network of grooves, stone buttresses beginning to glow with the buildup of energy. The air was... was thick with cloying, oppressive heat and I - and I saw a jagged point of stone, high in the ceiling where the energy of the Quickening had been focused. An angry buzz filled the air as it continued to build, rising to a crescendo.

                            Every fiber of my being screamed at me to get out of that unnatural place.

                            So I ran.

                            The atmosphere around me burned white for a split second. I looked up to see a bolt of blue-red lightning lancing down toward me, and I knew I couldn't avoid it. [scream sounds like "no"] I cried out in agony as the energy wave blasted into me, lifting me off my feet and slamming me into the wall. [thud thump] I crashed to the floor. It felt as if my soul was being ripped apart. I staggered to my feet but, a second wave slashed through me, bringing with it that feeling of being torn in two.

                            I could feel myself growing weaker as wave after wave of burning energy tore through my body, and over it all I could hear Augustus Mason laughing.

                            [Happy evil laughter] "You can't win, MacLeod! [laughing] He will rise again! [laughing] "


                            I was everywhere at once. Past and present crashed together. A thousand faces standing side-by-side. Kate, in her wedding dress. Richie, all fresh-faced and curls before we knew his fate. Tess, excitedly unpacking stock for the new store! All of us together, drinking at Joe's bar! [um...] Laughing, happy times! And then Tess, blood pouring from the gunshot wound. [shot fired] Richie's severed head. Kate, the gash from my knife still fresh between her breasts. [screams] The screams were deafening. All of them, blaming me, hating me. And all the time, laughter. [Mason laughing getting louder] That twisted, mocking laughter drowning out everything else, as one by one the people I loved pulled out blunt, rusty swords and started hacking at my neck.

                            [sounds of rain outside]

                            I awoke with a start, gasping for breath, my - my hand instinctively going to my throat. The room spun and I crashed back to the sweat-soaked sheets.


                            At first I didn't recognize the voice. I - I didn't know where I was or even who I was. My head felt like it was gonna explode. Slowly, my vision started to clear and I... I - I could make out a neatly trimmed beard and that damn floppy hair framing a pair of concerned eyes. [happy relief]


                            "Welcome back, Mac," he said. "You had me worried."

                            "Where am I?" I croaked, swallowing the bile that had risen in my throat.

                            "You're at home, on the barge," Joe told me. "You've been unconscious for two days, Mac."

                            Two days... Th-That wasn't possible. [weak interior laugh] I'd never been out that long!

                            Joe was getting up from beside the bed, making his way across the barge to the galley. "I'm gonna get you some water," he said.

                            I grabbed his arm. "I don't want water, Joe. I want answers. How can I have been out for two days?! That's impossible!"

                            Joe released his arm calmly and settled me gently back into the pillows, looking down at me with concerned eyes. "If I had answers, I'd give them to you."

                            I swallowed painfully and realized that actually, water would be good. What was wrong with me? In four hundred years I hadn't even had a case of the sniffles, and now I felt as if my throat was on fire! My legs, my arms, weren't much better! It was as if someone had attached lead weights to them!

                            "What's the last thing you remember, Duncan?" Joe asked, returning to my side with a glass of water.

                            "I... don't know." I took the glass, but... [shaky breath] could barely hold it. When I'd taken a sip, Joe took it from me. I closed my eyes.

                            [thin voice] "I was fighting... Justino. Oh, God." Realization hit me. "Joe! I took his head and then, and then..." I trailed off. It was as if something was sapping my energy. It was coming in waves like something was being dragged out of me. Being... Dragged out of me, yeah. That's exactly what it felt like.

                            "And then," Joe continued for me, "all Hell broke loose."

                            "What are you talking about?" I asked.

                            [urgently] "I lost contact with you!" he said, with a sigh. "So, I did what I do best. Waited, and watched. And then the world went crazy. An earthquake. Right in the middle of Paris! Never seen anything like it. The road was bucking like a bronco, and then, the storm moved in. Rain. Hailstones the size of walnuts, thunder and lightning. Some... might call it... apocalyptic!"

                            As Joe talked, I became aware of rain hammering against the roof of the barge.

                            "And it hasn't stopped since," he told me. "When I finally got a signal on my cell, I, I talked to this meteorologist buddy of mine and, he's stumped. There was no warning, no signs of a stormfront, but... that's only the half of it. He told me that this storm wasn't behaving the way it should. His exact words were that it was breaking all the rules." Joe fixed me with a steely glare. "Do you know anything about breaking rules, Mac?"

                            I looked away.

                            Joe continued anyway. "You see, rule-breaking is something I've heard a lot about in the last couple of days, Mac. [breaths] It's not just the weather. It's not just the fact that I've sat here, tending to an Immortal who's been unconscious for forty-eight hours, even though he should've been up and at them in just a few minutes! It's bigger than that. The Watchers Network is on red alert. All over the world, there are fights breaking out. Immortal against Immortal."

                            "Huh? That's what we do," I replied quietly.

                            "This isn't one-on-one," Joe continued. "We're talking packs of Immortals fighting together side-by-side."

                            I met Joe's gaze. We both knew that wasn't right. Duels were solitary. No other Immortals should join someone else's battle!

                            "And that's not all!" he went on. "Yesterday, there were reports of a decapitated body found in London, England. St. Paul's Cathedral. It seems all bets are off."

                            The TV report

                            Joe got to his feet and picked up the TV remote. "Mac," he said, and I've never heard him sound more serious, "you need to see this."

                            He jabbed a button, and the TV flared on, showing a video, image frozen in place. It was the Barrow Building, cowering under the massive boiling cloud that spiraled angrily above its tower.

                            [voice from TV] "--There's still no explanation for the amazing phenomenon that rages above the newly opened Barrow Building as these pictures live from Paris show."

                            I listened to the reporter and watched as bolts of lightning licked against the structure of the building.

                            "CNN has learned that experts have not as yet been able to access the building due to major structural damage brought about by the earthquake. We spoke exclusively to the designer of the Barrow Building, Augustus Mason."

                            [Mason's grim voice distance doubled] "It is a tragedy. Uh, my life's work has been ruined by this, this cruel act of God. The site is regrettably out of bounds until I can personally guarantee its safety. But, but the earthquake seems to have shifted the very foundations and uh, well if, in all conscience I, I cannot allow anyone to enter before tests have been carried out. While I am devastated by this disaster, I am eternally grateful that no one was in the building at the time of the quake."

                            Joe paused the tape and turned to look at me. "But we know someone was in that building at the time of the quake, don't we, Mac." Joe pointed the remote straight at me. "You."

                            I tried to look away, but couldn't break his gaze.

                            "You were in the building currently at the center of the most bizarre natural disaster to hit Europe in centuries," said Joe. "You were the one I saw charging out of the smashed front doors covered in blood and screaming like a maniac. You're the one who's been thrashing around in a fever for the last two days, while the world has been going to shit! And do you know what the most worrying thing is, Mac?"

                            He paused but, uh, I couldn't answer. "The most worrying thing, is that you were also the man who, when I finally got you to stop running, were ranting about Holy Ground under your breath before you passed out. So right now, you're gonna tell me what the Hell happened in that damn building."

                            Joe finally finished, crossed his arms and glared at me.

                            So I did. I told Joe about Mason and about... Justino Alvarez, about not knowing... the ground was consecrated. About the Quickening. About feeling that something had been ripped out of my very soul; something dark, something twisted!

                            Joe sat and listened until I finished, and... then he sat in silence, looking for answers in my eyes.

                            "You say you didn't know," he asked.

                            [indignant] "Of course I didn't! I've been playing the Game long enough, Joe! I'd never fight on Holy Ground!"

                            [gently] "No, Mac. I know you wouldn't," Joe said sadly. "I hoped I'd never see this day. The last time a head was taken on Holy Ground was A.D. Seventy-Nine."

                            "Pompeii," I murmured. "I know the legend. We all do. But the thing I don't understand is why I didn't realize that Justino had consecrated the building! Why didn't I sense I was standing on Hold Ground?! I should - I - I should have known, instinctively!"

                            "You're right, you should. But you didn't. Another thing to add to my ever-growing list of things that I don't get about this damn mess!"

                            "Is there anything you do know?" I asked, frustration taking over.

                            Joe just fixed me with a steely gaze. "Sure, Mac," he said. "I know the police reckon that over two hundred people died in the earthquake. I know riots are raging across the city, and above all, I know the Game has gone crazy."

                            [shaken] "Well if... this is somehow my fault," I - I started, struggling to take responsibility for the nightmare I'd woken up to, "there must be something we can do! Some way of..."

                            "Putting it right?" Joe looked at me questioningly. "There are some Watcher Chronicles that claim -" [footsteps on the barge] Joe looked up. "Who the Hell?!"

                            The room began to spin as I felt the presence of another Immortal. It burned through me. Joe was up and moving. "What was that about you feeling something was ripped from you?"

                            I could barely concentrate on his words!

                            "Perhaps it's come home," he said, before ordering, "Wait here!"

                            I didn't have the strength to stop him. I tried getting up, but pain surged through every muscle and I collapsed back onto the bed, the world spiraling around me. I could only watch as Joe disappeared cautiously up the steps and out into the driving rain. I wanted to shout out to him but, ah, I couldn't! I lay there, waiting for the...
                            Last edited by dubiousbystander; 12-26-2019, 07:22 AM.


                            • #15
                              Kurgan Rising Post 3

                              Unexpected Reunion

                              ... vertigo to pass and for Joe to return. Minutes passed. Nothing. Just the rain beating against the roof of the barge. Ignoring the pounding in my head, I heaved myself up from the bed and staggered toward the open hatchway, pausing only to sweep up my katana.

                              The rain and the wind hit me as soon as I stepped out. It - It stung my face, my hair immediately slick against my skin. I called out, blinded for a second by the downpour. I lurched around to see a figure standing on top of the barge, silhouetted against the gray sky.

                              "What've you done with Joe?" I yelled, struggling to be heard against the storm.

                              The man remained silent. As I repeated my question, [swish] the stranger drew a sword from within the rags that clothed him. I raised my own blade, ready to fight. The figure stepped forward and I tensed, until a flash of lightning illuminated the stranger's face. A face... I thought I'd never see again.

                              Connor MacLeod.

                              It'd been five years since I took the head of my cousin. He had claimed it was the only way. Individually we were no match for Jacob Kell but together we could beat him. All that time, I'd felt Connor's calm presence like a guardian angel standing at the back of my mind, pushing me forward, guiding my way. And now that angel stood before me, made flesh and blood, staring at me with those same sad eyes I'd known all my life. He didn't say a word. Shocked, I staggered backwards into the boat. He followed, while Joe came out of the shadows looking worried as he clambered down after us. I couldn't blame him.

                              [breathed] "Connor," I asked, breaking the deathly silence. "You... you can't be here! You're..."

                              "Dead, Duncan?" said Connor. "Is that what I am?"

                              [soft laugh] That voice. There was no accent quite like Connor MacLeod's. A trace of the Scots' buzz remained, but centuries of traveling had molded it, dialects melting together. [soft snort] He liked it when people had no idea where he was from. We returned to silence, the only sound rain hammering on the roof.

                              And then Connor began to tell his story.

                              "I have no idea what I am," he said. "but I know where I was. I was in Paradise, Duncan. I was back home with Heather, living out my days in Glenfinnan, surrounded by our children. I named our first after you. He was a strong lad, always leading his brother, Juan, into trouble! [moment] You'd have liked him. And Heather was as beautiful as the day I met her. We were happy and, and then... Then I was... facedown on wet tarmac, freezing cold, naked and confused. The sky was boiling, and my sword was in my hand. My sword, Duncan! The sword of the MacLeods!

                              "I haven't seen this sword since the day I plunged it into the soil next to Heather's grave, and left Scotland forever!" he said. "But there it was in my palm, and I didn't know what to do. [bitter amusement] I barely knew who I was. I stole clothes from a beggar and fled. Are you proud to see your cousin like this, Duncan?"

                              [bewildered quiet] "What do you want me to say, Connor? What do you want... from me?"

                              "Answers," Connor hissed. "I want you to tell me what I'm doing here. "I want you to tell me why... I awoke in the back alley with the taste of dirt in my mouth! I want you to tell me why I'm alive."

                              "Because the rules don't seem to matter anymore," came Joe's voice.

                              We turned to look at him. He'd been listening carefully to Connor's tale.

                              "This storm," he said, "Duncan's being incapacitated, the fights across the world, Connor... it's you, Duncan. You and that damned building."

                              "Building?" Connor asked. "What building?"

                              Without answering, Joe hefted a black tube from his side, flipped up the lid, and drew a number of rolled up papers from inside. [sound of shuffling papers] "While Duncan was out for the count," he explained, unfurling the papers on the table, "I decided to have a closer look at the blueprints to the Barrow Building. They're amazing. Mason is a genius."

                              "He's a madman," I added.

                              "Maybe," Joe shrugged. "But, he's a genius all the same. And a genius with a sense of history. The principles behind the design are as old as the hills. Using a mishmash of architectural styles dating as far back as ***Scythian***sic Siberian monuments in Three B.C. There's little sense to it aesthetically... or practically, but... when you cross-reference some of those glyphs with other ancient texts -" [typing noises] Joe flipped the screen of his laptop and turned it to face myself and Connor. [sliding noise] "You start seeing some worrying similarities." He pointed at the screen. "This symbol here means power. This, dominion. And finally, this sequence translates as resurrection."

                              I glanced at Connor and he raised an eyebrow as Joe continued.

                              "I'm no architect, but even I can see some of the stuff in this building makes no sense. And when you take in the configuration of these glyphs, and throw in a Quickening that should never have happened..." Joe finished, leaving that thought hanging.

                              I knew what he was getting at. Connor standing beside me was evidence enough. "I've never experienced a Quickening like this," I told Connor. "The energy was channeled through the chamber before coming to me. And then it hit. It felt like it was cutting right inside me."

                              Connor finally broke his silence. "You fought on Holy Ground, Duncan," he said. "The release of the energy from such an unnatural act should have ripped the city apart. But instead, the building absorbed the energy and controlled it. Before throwing it back to you."

                              Joe cut in. "You may be... on to something, Connor. Who knows. It may even be the architecture that was blocking your senses, Mac. That could have been the reason you didn't realize the land was consecrated."

                              [exasperated] "Wait wait wait wait wait wait!" I said, remembering how I'd felt when I'd first stepped into the chamber. "It was more than that. I couldn't even sense the Immortals Mason had imprisoned! My head was killing me, and it was as if something was... shielding them from me!"

                              Joe sucked air through his teeth. [phtt] "There's no doubt about it. There's a method somewhere in this madness."

                              I remember what Mason had said back in the chamber. "Well now strictly speaking, it's not so much about you, it's more... You know, it's more something you possess. Something that's... very important to me."

                              "It's you, Connor! I told Joe that I felt something being ripped from me! Someone! That must have been you! All this must have been done to resurrect you!"

                              A smile played over Connor's lips for the first time. [laughs] "I don't think I'm that important, Duncan," he said. "This Mason, is he immortal?"

                              I shook my head.

                              Connor raised his hands. "Then why do all this to bring me back?"

                              "There has to be a reason," I said. "You can't tell me that... he would plan all of this just for kicks."

                              [gravely] "Oh... there's a reason," Connor said, running a hand firmly over the plans of the Barrow Building, "I may not understand how he did it, but this Mason has uncovered the way to resurrect Immortals! We all know the legends, but they had been dismissed for centuries, even by the Watchers. Mortals create myths of afterlife to allay fear of death. For Immortals, it's the same, perhaps moreso! Death removes us from the Game, but there is still so much that is unknown about our very nature. What if Mason, within these designs and markings, has discovered -" [laughs softly] "- that Holy Grail?"

                              Joe snorted in derision as I stepped up close to my cousin. "You think the entire building is a conduit to bringing you back to life, Connor?"

                              "Not me, Duncan," said Connor. "I was an accident."

                              Joe stepped between us, obviously trying to bring some sanity back to the proceedings. "So who else has Mason brought back from the dead?"

                              I looked from my Watcher to my cousin and smiled grimly. "There's only one place we'll find the answer to that."

                              The one place for Answers

                              I was still weak. And as we approached the Barrow Building, Connor half-carrying me, I felt myself growing weaker. The city was in chaos, rain hammering down, wind roaring through the deserted streets. The weather-beaten roads were filled with the scum of Paris. Shops had been looted, and gangs huddled in porches glared out at us as we passed. Every now and then we came across old men standing with bibles outstretched, proclaiming that this was Judgement Day. They had no idea how close they were.

                              Every step was agony, although Connor, now dressed in my clothes, supported me. My legs kept buckling under new waves of nausea and pain swept over me. The nearer we got to that place, the worse it became.

                              "Perhaps," Connor said through gritted teeth, as he half-pulled me the few final feet to the cordoned-off site, "I shouldn't have persuaded your friend Joe to stay behind. I could have let him take the strain."

                              I wasn't in the mood to joke. [breathing hard] "This is my battle, Connor, not Joe's. He's a Watcher, not a warrior."

                              Connor grinned. "Our battle, cousin. One we can fight together."

                              There was no one around, so we slipped beneath the safety cordon. The Emergency doors soon buckled beneath Connor's boot. [door creaks open] Inside the corridors were lite by emergency power, but despite the gloom, I knew the way. Once again, something was pulling me forward. An angry buzzing deep in my skull, driving me on, urging me to face whatever lurked in that subterranean chamber. Something that had been part of me, like Connor. I knew, in my churning gut, what we would find down there. And with every step, I felt my remaining strength ebb away.

                              [footsteps, sound of something rolling] As the elevator delivered us deep underground, my stomach lurched, catching me unawares. I threw up against the wall. Connor looked at me, concern shining in his eyes. "You're in no condition to face whatever is in there, Duncan," Connor told me. "You should stay here."

                              [echoing] "No way!" I said. "I started this, and I'm going to end it."

                              We staggered on, down the stone corridor, approaching the amphitheater where this had all begun. Where it would end.

                              Connor looked on in horror and wonder as the chamber opened out around us. He didn't need to say what he was thinking. Movement from the other side of the amphitheater sent us half-running, half-stumbling, into the shadows of an empty alcove. We peered around to see the suited figure of Augustus Mason striding into the chamber, a broadsword in his hand. It was then I realized how many of the alcoves were... empty. The last time I'd been here, they were all full of sleeping Immortals. Now... nearly half of them were free. Mason came to a halt in the middle of the chamber, spinning on his heels slowly to take in the remaining prisoners, raising a remote control unit. He turned in a slow circle, pointing the unit at each of the occupied alcoves.

                              "Isn't this exciting. Who wants to be next? Who... craves the honor? [beep] Eeny. [beep] Meeny. [beep] Miney. [moment] Moe." [beep]

                              The remote unit bleeped, as Mason made his choice. In one of the alcoves a slumbering Immortal was woken with a start as the tubes flowing from her nose and throat were savagely ripped away. [swish swoosh] The blade that rested against her neck retracted and the manacles that held her in place snapped open. [clacking noises] Gasping for breath she pitched forward, blinking in the bright light that shone from high above.

                              [Mason whispering] "I know, shhhh, I know. I know. Confusing, isn't it? This isn't what you imagined. Not how you thought the end would come. But... believe me... This is the end."

                              The woman glared up at her abductor, but was too disoriented to drag herself to her feet, or even hide her nakedness.

                              "No, no. Please don't get up. Not on my account. You need to save your energy for the main event. Oh! Oh, by the way, I uh, [metallic noises] I think you'll need this. [grunts, a clatter] A broadsword clattered to the ground before the terrified Immortal. A look of puzzlement crossed the woman's face. Why was he giving her that weapon?

                              "I would just like to apologize for the way you've been... [smugly] left hanging around for the last few weeks, my dear, but, you know, [showman's tones] when you see who's behind those big old steel bars over there, I'm sure you'll agree with me that it has been worth the wait! Do you love celebrities as much as I do? I hope so!" [footsteps]

                              With that, Mason turned and walked calmly back to the corridor, pausing only to point the remote at the barred doors in the far wall. With a hiss of hydraulics, they began to part and almost immediately we became aware of the figure lurking in the shadows. [wet footsteps] My stomach flipped over, my head throbbed, as it shuffled forward into the light. I felt Connor stiffen next to me.

                              "No..." he whispered, as a legend, a monster from the nightmares of every Immortal stepped into the amphitheater.

                              Connor gripped my arm tightly. "No!" he said again. "Not him!" [inhales sharply]

                              Not him

                              "Not... him."

                              But it was. The boogeyman of all our yesterdays. The enemy of the Clan MacLeod. The psychopath that had finally fallen to Connor's sword, nearly twenty years before. The Kurgan.

                              This giant, hulking wall of a figure stood still, as if dazzled by floodlights. He slowly raised a hand and wiped the sheen of saliva from his mouth. In the other hand, his sword hung down, his guard blades caked in dried blood. Then... finally, those cold eyes focused on the prostrate form of the woman cowering before him. The cruel mouth twitched into something resembling a smile. Then, with what seemed a great effort, he half-slurred half-growled at the Immortal: [gravelly grating] "Hello, pretty. [labored inhale] Pretty."

                              All at once, he was on her, swinging down his mighty sword for the kill. [swish clang] The adrenaline in her veins saved the woman. She rolled over, dodged the blade, snatching up Mason's sword as she finally found her feet. [clang clang clang] The chamber echoed with clashing steel, but it was soon obvious that the battle was one-sided. The Kurgan bore down upon her, hacking left and right until he bit flesh. [screams] Her scream, her scream as the blade bore into her side was cut short as the giant twisted the hilt of his sword. He wrenched it out with a sharp jerk, [swish] bringing with it a spattering of dark red. Kurgan didn't even wait for her to fall to her knees before he dispatched her with a clumsy strike to her neck. The head as still bouncing along the stone floor when the Quickening began to rage around the chamber, as ferocious as the one I'd received from Alvarez. Energy snaked and crisscrossed over the walls, channeled through the grooves and markings carved into the stone, before blasting down onto the Kurgan.

                              This time, however, no one rose from the dead.

                              As I stood there, I realized that would never happen again. The building had served its purpose. What had Joe said? This place had been built along the lines of ancient Scythian ***saka Siberian architecture? Siberia, the homeland of the Kurgan and his entire Godforsaken tribe... Connor had been right. This hadn't been about resurrecting my cousin.

                              [all the crackling sound effects of their concept of the channeled Quickening going on in the background noise]

                              The building, the trap I'd blundered into, the Holy Ground... It'd all been planned, designed, to bring the Kurgan back from the dead. But why?

                              The Kurgan didn't flinch as power coursed and crackled around him. He stood there, taking the onslaught, like a puppet with slack strings.

                              "Something's wrong!" said Connor.

                              "No kidding!"

                              Connor shook his head. "You've never met the Kurgan, Duncan. He would have been embarrassed by that poor excuse for a duel."

                              "Well she'd just been strung up in one of those alcoves, she would've been exhausted."

                              [moment] "I'm not talking about her," Connor said. "The Kurgan was an evil bastard, but he was one of the best swordsmen I ever faced. That fight was a charade. And then the kill! The Kurgan wanted the Prize more than anyone I ever met! But he always played by the rules. He would never take a head on Holy Ground."

                              Neither would I, I thought. But Mason had changed the rules. Mason had changed everything.


                              • #16
                                Kurgan Rising Post 4


                                [Mason clapping slowly] "Bravo, my Lord! Bravo! Another fine kill!"

                                "What's he doing?" hissed Connor.

                                The Kurgan roared in - what? Anger? Frustration? I - I couldn't tell. He swept around to face Mason who walked calmly towards the giant. As the sword came up, I almost felt jealous that the man behind all of this wouldn't die at my hand. But then, to our amazement, the Kurgan's arm flopped harmlessly to his side.

                                [condescending syrupy] "That's right, yes. Good boy. This is no way to behave in front of our guests."

                                Their guests? Then he knew we were there. Of course he did! So far this entire nightmare had gone exactly to plan! Mason's plan!

                                [Mason speaks up] "Yes, you can come out now, MacLeod! Bring your accomplice with ya! I hope you enjoyed the show! Our friend here is uh, quite the showman, is he not."

                                "No, he's a maniac, that's what he is. He'll kill you as soon as look at you."

                                "Oh, you think? Would a maniac kneel before me on my command?"

                                The Kurgan didn't move as I stepped forward out of the shadows. I wanted to keep Connor behind me, to protect him. Mason simply stared down at the Kurgan like a disappointed owner scolding a disobedient dog.

                                [firmly] "Kneel!"

                                Slowly, the lumbering figure sank to his knees, [thud] bowing his head in front of his master! B - This didn't make sense! The Kurgan, the bane of the Immortals, a born killer, unfettered by conscience or morals, with the Prize his only goal, prostrating himself in front of a mere mortal?! The Rules had truly been broken.

                                "What've you done to him?!" Connor asked.

                                Mason's head snapped up a the sound of Connor's voice.

                                At first, there was genuine shock on his face, quickly followed by recognition, and that superior smile. He wasn't the only one to show surprise at Connor's presence. Behind him, the Kurgan's head lifted slightly, drugged eyes struggling to focus.

                                "Connor MacLeod. My, my. This is a surprise. I never thought I'd come face-to-face with you. The man... who almost ruined all of our plans."

                                [Duncan?] "Our plans? Whose plans are those exactly?"

                                "Mine. [inhales] And the Sons of the Kurgan."

                                Connor and I exchanged a confused glance.

                                "Oh come on now! Highlanders! Do you honestly believe the Watchers are the only organization to know of your 'beloved Game'? Our society has been following the Kurgan for centuries, watching, worshipping, as he hacked his way to the Prize!"

                                [Duncan] "Why do you care? [moment] What does it mean to you?"

                                [sneering] "Immortals. You lack so much imagination. You never pause to question just what the Prize is! What it could mean, for the one who wields it! It was in the Eighteen Hundreds, when all this began, that our founder saw the potential in this... this monster. Ah, it was clear that the Prize would one day belong to this brute... So, we watched, waiting to step from the shadows and pledge our allegiance when he became... Oh, what d'you call it? The... Yes. The One. Simple, really. Until you, Connor MacLeod, shattered our aims by executing him."

                                "I'm sorry to have disappointed you," Connor mocked, ignoring the curiosity that seemed to be creeping into the Kurgan's eyes. Was that a flash of recognition breaking through the fog of conditioning?

                                [blithely Mason] "Well, it was a bit of a blow. I'll give you that. There we were, ready to serve our lord and master, and he ends up losing his head! Very messy. But! We knew we could never follow a dullard like you. [sneering] The Sons of Connor. Iiiiit really doesn't flow, does it? I mean, no offense!

                                Connor raised an eyebrow. "None taken."

                                [Duncan] "And so you set about finding a way to bring him back, and put your little plan on track." I watched as Mason nodded at me.

                                "And it wasn't easy. Years of studying every Immortal myth and legend, monitoring Quickenings, duels across the world, formulating our plan! Refining it. It was... rather... inconvenient when you took your cousin's head, Duncan. But you probably did us a favor! Mm Connor was always cautious! But you, Duncan! You are positively reckless! Ooh that made it easy to bate our trap! With your dear friend, Bishop Alvarez. And uh, here we are. Isn't this nice? Two Highlanders, all your experiences and strengths, combined within the Kurgan!"

                                Connor sneered at Mason, incredulous. "And you really think you can control the Kurgan? The same way you controlled Alvarez. The Kurgan was... is... many things! Depraved, evil, immoral. He's no lap dog! The Kurgan I faced was a true force of nature! This... is a... drug-addled husk, an empty vessel."

                                As Connor spoke, the Kurgan stared at him as if trying to place the face, his head cocked to one side in puzzlement.

                                "An empty vessel to fill with power!"

                                Times have changed

                                "Times change, MacLeod! The old Sons of the Kurgan would have been happy pledging everything to the victor but... times... have changed. We are... a much more... [hmm] proactive organization these days. Very uh... ***modern."

                                [Duncan laughs] "You want him to serve you, like some dog on a leash?"

                                "Dog on a leash! Exactly! I'm no fool! What do you think will happen when one of your Immortals finally receives the Prize? No one on Earth will be able to stand in their way! [pleased] I... I may not be able to take the Prize myself, but... if I can control that power..."

                                [mildly] "Then the world is yours."

                                [considering] "Perhaps I've done you a disservice, Duncan. You're not as stupid as you look."

                                "But you must be, Mason," Connor shouted, "if you think you can control him!"

                                "Oh you think I'm not in control?! Well perhaps I should demonstrate my mastery of this creature you are so afraid of! I was gonna feed him another of my pets, but, watching him taking down the 'legendary' MacLeod cousins well, that'll be... far sweeter! Kurgan!! Destroy them!"

                                The Kurgan didn't move. Instead, he stayed on his knees, a smile slowly etching its way across his granite face.

                                [low angry] "Did you hear me? I said: Destroy them! Now!!"

                                The Kurgan wasn't listening. Instead, he was staring intently at Connor, the smile spreading into a leering grin. Something of his old self returned as he growled at Connor, "Highlander." The voice rumbled from deep within his gut, scraping past damaged vocal cords. [high pitched whine for no particular reason, perhaps to add tension or annoy the listener]

                                As he spoke, the Kurgan drew himself to his feet, repeating the word over and over again, as if he'd been... waking from a dream. "High.lan.der. [dramatic noise] High.lan.der. [dramatic noise] [starts chuckling] High.lan.derrrr!" [doubled dramatic noise]

                                [angry Mason shouts] "What're you waiting for?! Kill them!"

                                "Stand back, Mason," I said, raising my own sword. [contempt] "You don't know what you've done."

                                But Mason wasn't listening. [annoying whine noise again] "Do you hear me?! I am your master!! When I say kill, you kill!"

                                His wish, was the Kurgan's command.

                                An Ancient Foe

                                In one fluid movement, the giant's arm shot out, his hand clamping on Mason's neck. [crunch creak] This wasn't the drugged excuse for a man we'd seen slaughter the woman. The sight of Connor had brought an ancient foe out of his stupor. Mason struggled and choked [gagging noises] and with the sound of a sickening crunch, died, [crunch] [smugly] as the Kurgan snapped his scrawny neck with one hand. [Thud] As Mason's body crumpled to the floor, the Kurgan turned his attention to us, his eyes alive with hatred.

                                [sounds like Kane rather than Kurgan] "Nice to see you again, Highlander," he breathed. With a bellow of rage, the Kurgan leapt forward, [swish] sword raised high above his head. I crouched into a defensive stance, but Connor stepped forward to meet the attack head on.

                                "This isn't your fight, Duncan!" Connor shouted.

                                "But you said we'd fight this one together!"

                                "Not yet!" he said. "There can be only one!" [swish clang clang]

                                Time seemed to slow as the fight unfolded before my eyes. It was almost beautiful to watch! Almost balletic! Perfect dance of flashing swords, sparks danced from their blades as they clashed again and again. I'd already lost my cousin once, I couldn't bear to live through that again. But it seemed, as the duel played out, that I shouldn't have worried. Despite the Kurgan's size and power, Connor seemed to have the upper hand. Of course, that made sense. Twenty years ago, Connor had beaten him, and since then, had only grown in skill with every new Quickening. As the Kurgan roared in frustration, it became obvious who would win this battle. Connor MacLeod would be victorious once again.

                                Connor almost knocked the Kurgan's sword from his grasp, and followed up by immediately ramming his own hilt into his opponent's face. [crunch] The Kurgan stumbled back, blood bursting from a gash above his eye. [footsteps] I waited for Connor to end it. [sound of someone falling?]

                                But instead of taking the Kurgan's head, my cousin turned to face me and knelt, his sword held before him, eyes closed.

                                Behind him, the Kurgan, blinking through his own blood, saw his chance and swung his sword up for the final blow.

                                I screamed his name. Connor opened his eyes, looked straight into mine and smiled! The Kurgan's blade sliced through his neck.

                                "Connor!!!" [swish wet slice]

                                The Quickening raging around us, I leapt forward. [crackle crackle] My katana swept through the air. I knew that in my current condition I was no match for the Kurgan, but my rage was greater than my pain. I swung! But my blow was easily blocked. [clang]

                                "One down," the Kurgan hissed, "one to go!"

                                Fighting the Kurgan was like fighting a hurricane. I'd never felt such strength behind a blow. Every time my sword met his, shockwaves ripped through my already weakened body. Fire burnt in his eyes and I knew, almost as soon as the battle began, that I'd lost. So this... was how it would end.

                                After all the centuries, all the fights, all the heartache, the last MacLeod would fall to a man that, by all the laws of our kind, had no right to be walking the Earth!

                                My body was so wracked with agony that I hardly felt it when the Kurgan's blade bit ***directly into my stomach. [clashing sounds stop]

                                I couldn't hear his cry of triumph as my knees buckled beneath me. [annoying whine-noise] My only thought, as I waited for the inevitable, was that I would soon be standing alongside Connor once again.

                                But the blow never came.

                                Head swimming, I looked up. "Finish it! Finish it!"

                                He didn't answer me. He stumbled backwards, clenched fists pressed against his temples, a look of agony and amazement flashing through his features. His entire body heaved with violent spasms as he collapsed in a heap, crying out in strangled screams.

                                And then the screams made way for a voice.

                                "Now, we fight together Duncan."

                                Connor. It was Connor's voice. I wasn't sure if it was really coming from the Kurgan or if it was just in my head, but it was there, all the same.

                                "Joe was right," Connor said. "The rules have been broken! Fights on Holy Ground, the dead returning from the grave, battles should never have been fought!"

                                All the time the Kurgan's body jerked, flecks of spittle livid against his lips.

                                "I took the Kurgan's Quickening in the past. And now he's taken mine," came Connor's voice. "That's impossible. It should never have happened. But I've known him for twenty years, raging inside my head. And now I'm in his, fighting alongside you, from within."

                                I knew what I must do. Whatever control Connor's spirit was managing to have on the Kurgan's body, there was no guarantee that it would last long. On my own, I couldn't defeat the Kurgan. But together with my cousin - with my brother - we could. I needed to take the Kurgan's Quickening back into myself. With the circle complete once more, this madness might end. With Connor's words ringing in my ears, I dragged myself up, raised my katana above my head, and brought it down in a great, slashing blow. [scrunch]

                                [each word rough] "There will... be only one!"

                                The end

                                The breeze ruffled my hair as I sat on top of the barge. The sun warmed my face; the sound of birds dancing through the air above me. (seagulls?) I didn't open my eyes at first, as I heard Joe heave himself up beside me.

                                "I guess... you could do with one of these," he said, thrusting a cold bottle of beer into my hand. "I know I could."

                                I forced my eyes open, [can being popped] taking in my surroundings. The Seine looked so peaceful. So... ordinary. No storm. No lightning. No ghosts of the past.

                                "So! The Watchers Council is crying out for a full inquiry!" said Joe. "They want info from anyone who knows why every Immortal alive seemed to go crazy this weekend."

                                "And what've you said?" I asked, taking a sip of the beer.

                                "Nothing," he shrugged. "I'm not sure what to say to be honest. All I know is, they'll be too busy writing their reports now that everything's returned to normal. The same goes for the Emergency Services going through the rubble of the Barrow Building. That must've been some Quickening that brought it down..."

                                I didn't rise to the bait. "At least they won't find the bodies of the Immortals Mason didn't feed to the Kurgan," I told him.

                                "You sure you got 'em all out?" Joe asked after a moment.

                                "I think so. Good job Mason had an escape route just in case everything went wrong. [inhales] He planned for every eventuality. I'll give him that." [moment]

                                "Sounds like he hadn't reckoned on the Kurgan's hatred for the MacLeods," said Joe.

                                [bleakly] "Well, everyone has their off days."

                                "And what of our tall, dark and gruesome friend?" he asked.

                                [empty] "Buried. This time, for good." [contemplative music]

                                We sat in silence for a minute, drinking our beer and watching the world go by. ***I was unaware of how lucky it was.

                                "You wanna talk about Connor?" Joe asked.

                                [soft snort] I didn't answer. I didn't have to. And Joe didn't push it.

                                "Welp, when you do," he said, "I'll be listening."

                                I looked at him with a wry smile. [affectionately] "Of course you will be, Joe. Those are the rules. And we always live by the rules."

                                End Theme Plays. Same track.