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Return of the Immortal

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  • #26
    Here are the blurbs. They are at least short! Will this work as I intend it to...

    Back Jacket
    Outside, lightning lit the heavy clouds, and rain pounded down on the car in torrents. MacLeod stared at his hands, holding the blade of his katana like an offering.
    He had not escaped the vicious circle of the eternal battle. He knew it, and it almost drove him to the brink of madness, fueling that nameless rage, but also the despair deep inside him. That was the true reason he had come here, though he had persisted in persuading himself that he was just driving around aimlessly.
    Inner Jackets
    Ever since one of the battles fought between Scottish clans hundreds of years ago in the Highlands, Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod cannot die. Like his ancestor[1] Connor, he is cursed to be immortal. Since that day, he has been forced to wander restlessly through time and space, sometimes even walking on the shadowy border between life and death, only to return to the world of the living.
    But even his time is limited: There can be only one, and so he must face battles to the death again and again with his peers. The katana, his magic sword, is one of the weapons that he can use to defeat other immortals and finally beat Slan Quince, one of his greatest enemies. But the blade, in whose steel comes to life again and again figures and images of bygone eras, is also the symbol of his curse.
    In order to free himself from the curse and be able to live a life of love with Tessa like a normal mortal man, he hurls his sword into the Pacific...


    [1] Though by the show Connor is not supposed to be Duncan's ancestor, the word used in German is Vorfahre: pronounced very like to my ear forefather, it means ancestor.

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    • #27
      A thousand years in your sight
      are like a day that has just gone by,
      or like a watch in the night.

      Psalm 90:4
      *found on the Internet
      1
      The Curse of The Katana

      It was worse than ever before: The voices of the night whispered behind walls of dark noise, and Duncan MacLeod vaguely grasped that, after hours of aimless driving, he now leaned forward, hunched over behind the wheel of his black '68 Thunderbird, eyes staring straight down. What he had been looking at for a very long time was perhaps part of one of his confused, feverish nightmares of eternal flight and damnation, of madness and death. The holy sword ... the deadly sword ... the heart and soul of the samurai.
      The blade flashed dully in the faint light of the dashboard. Faceless figures, who seemed to have risen from all epochs and regions of world history, danced wildly on the silvery steel, beating each other with murderous rage, uttering inaudible triumphant shouts, dying with silent groans - victors and defeated, offenders and victims.
      But it was not a dream - of course not. This was reality, his reality, and he had lived through it for four hundred years with ever increasing horror; since that day, a truly magical day in the Scottish Highlands, when he was killed in one of those ridiculously pointless clan skirmishes, but after a few days he had come back to life, and not been able to die since.
      Too much blood, he thought numbly, and yet he could not avert his gaze from what he thought he saw in the slightly curved, slightly more than yard-long, razor-sharp blade of the katana. It was dangerous to waste time on such trivialities in this situation. Nevertheless, he was unable to break their spell.
      For too long he had been on the run, and there was too much of everything; especially too many memories.
      And too many fights, he thought. Too many names. Too many faces of too many dead.
      And of the living dead.
      Slan. Kiem Sun. Felicia Martins. Walter Reinhardt. Caleb Cole. And Crowley and Pilar Vasquez and...
      And Tessa and Richie.
      MacLeod did not want to think about them, not just now, because he wanted to bring his old life to a close and begin anew. But such thoughts were dangerous opponents. They ruthlessly scratched old, still festering wounds, and underneath, the painful truth inevitably came to light.
      What also came to light was that this time it had begun again after a ridiculously short few years of peace. And that in the deepest depths of his consciousness, he knew exactly why.
      Too many questions are asked about the purpose of this life.
      His consciousness, his memories and the horror - everything returned in a whirling turmoil, like shards and splinters of an old smashed mirror, a kaleidoscope of distorted glittering IMAGES. The death of Pilar Vasquez, his raging aimless crisscrossing of Vancouver. Then up to Whistler, Pemberton, Lillooet and on towards Prince George. Finally, quite suddenly, he had turned around. And now he was here, at the northern tip of Vancouver Island; barely fifty yards above the cliffs of Port Hardy. From the fishing port, every other day in the summer, the large, majestic car ferries of the B.C. Ferry Corporation cruised the islands of the Inside Passage northward, up to Prince Rupert. If he closed his eyes, he thought he could feel the loneliness and power of the place, as well as the surf beyond the steep cliffs. And the flocks of seagulls which, in spite of night, storm, wind, and rain, circled about in breakneck maneuvers and braved the forces of nature with a boundless life energy of their own.
      And suddenly it was easy to switch to that other, alien perspective. The Laterna Magica turned at restless speed. Somewhere hollow thunder trembled. The mirror - this smashed mirror. More shards, more pictures, all in his head - furious and of compelling power.

      The great forests of the north, the hunt for Tessa's kidnappers. The fall into that gorge, then the impact. Blood in his mouth. That shadowy border he had once again crossed, as so often before, in one direction and the other. The fight man-to-man... Reflections of sunlight on the jagged edge of the war ax... Caleb's screams. The smell of sweat, expectation and fear.
      And then, all of a sudden, Walter Reinhardt appeared, and MacLeod thought: He doesn't belong here, doesn't belong in these picture galleries. It was New Year's Eve 1989. Mighty sword strokes clashed, steel on steel.
      The dark-skinned face of a beautiful woman. He remembered her name the way he always remembered too well: Rebecca Lord. He heard Reinhardt say, "Women are interchangeable."
      He saw her die in the incredibly luxurious and expensive gym she had created for the day of her revenge. But that was far from the end. Reinhardt... Reinhardt's damn sword...
      And his own death. Again and again his own death. Then a darkness like the shadow of a dead sun.
      Unspeakable pain, screams.
      And more pictures: a storm, the flood of the century, which rushed hundreds of yards high, raging and roaring and...
      Brian Slade and the others at the Vancouver Courthouse. The thunderous echo of shots. The pervasive howl of alarm sirens. Screams of dying or panicking people. So many hostages.
      Tessa and Richie. The little girl, Belinda, in her own little hideaway: the janitor's room. MacLeod heard himself saying to her, "I want you to hide in here." And she shook her head, as determined and yet vulnerable as only children can be: "First you must tell me a story. No ghost stories. I like fairy stories." So he told her about beings who could never die, who were good and protected little children, while at the same time thinking of killing Brian Slade, and then...
      Images of Connor MacLeod, himself a member of the Clan MacLeod. Connor's laugh. That incomparable laugh. And his memories keep racing... faster... faster.
      The Holy Island. Connor walking down a wide slope to his canoe. And Tessa's anxious smile: "You didn't say goodbye?" And himself, laconic: "We never do."
      Then China, 1792. Kiem Sun's Temple. And Alexei Voshin, 1947. The dissidents. The Sea Witch. Steel that strikes steel and produces flashing sparks. Felicia and Sheriff Crowley. Steel that strikes steel and kills people.

      And finally, Pilar Vasquez.
      She had tracked him down, stalked and pursued him like a tigress who is sure of her prey, but wants to play with her victim for a while before she kills it. He had felt her, again and again, with short, bursting flashes that flared like sparks of a vague realization and already burned out before they let themselves be caught. Oh yes, she had been clever, had managed to submerge herself in the shadows of this world and the world beyond, and to avoid him when he was about to find her.
      And then suddenly, as unexpectedly as a meteor that flares up in the night sky like an omen of coming doom, she jumped him in the parking lot - truly a tigress but with murder and bloodthirst in her eyes far beyond the animal drives of a predatory big cat. He had been forced to defend himself, to muster up all of his strength and wits in order to withstand her hellish attacks and to ultimately defeat her.
      And then, when she lay there on the dusty asphalt without a soul inhabiting her body, and after her power had torturously passed into him, he really saw her for the first time. She was a child. Going by her looks, she might have been sixteen years old. Sweet Little Sixteen - the melody of the rock song passed through his mind and brought tears to his eyes. He was fully aware of the fact that her youthful appearance was deceptive, that she could easily be two hundred or three hundred years old. Maybe even older than he was. But this was a realization of the mind. His heart, his emotions as the human being he still considered himself to be, told him that she was a child. And he had killed her.

      Death. Again and again, death. But this time... one death too many.
      Maybe he just tried to gain time with this procedure of self-torture. Or the sword wanted it. Conscious of the danger emanating from his own sword, it appeared that he was sitting perfectly motionless while the weather was storming outside and the rain was pouring down on the car in torrents. He stared at his hands, which held the katana's blade like an offering, and now tightened their grip.
      Honed steel cut deeply into the sinewy flesh of his palms and fingers.
      More blood flowed. But he did not feel the pain. At least not this pain. No muscle twitched in his sharply cut face. The all-consuming vortex in his skull was like glowing lava, and he lost more intensity with every passing second.
      Do not forget why you are here.
      MacLeod shook his head to finally drive off the images. He felt sick, nauseous. The blood on the blade - his blood - seemed to be dark and malignant.
      No warrior ever touches the polished and sacred steel of his blade. It is a crime. It is like inviting the beast inside to devour him.
      And suddenly he knew that he, himself, was his most dangerous opponent.
      He had not escaped the vicious circle of the Eternal Struggle. He knew it, and it almost drove him to the brink of madness, fueling that nameless anger, but also the despair deep inside him. In the end, he had come here for that reason alone, though he had persisted in persuading himself that he was driving haphazardly.
      Find silence. Peace.
      What a ridiculous undertaking for a man, a creature, like him.
      Death had been part of his life for centuries. This death, though, was not a bony grim reaper but a network of magical dependencies and traditions, of umbilical cords made of pure cosmic blackness, and like a giddy abyss beyond time. It was omnipresent and stifling, just as a pervasive, never-ending battle of evil against good might dictate.
      Such ghosts could not be driven away.
      Nevertheless, it had to end someday.
      He still hated killing. He hated being subject to the ritual.
      There were days like today when he despaired of the weight of centuries, of his eternally unchanging face, and of the fact that all those he loved who were human and mortal could for him be nothing but comets: a flash of brightness and warmth in his life - and then there would inevitably be nothing but emptiness and darkness.
      A century in his sanctuary on that nameless holy island had not been enough to make the others forget that he existed. And it certainly was not enough to make him one of them, or to have fun with, or even feel pleasure in, this perverted way of being.
      The eternal battle, the blood, the sweat, the tears, and the hurricane and pestilence of death, remained iron law and the curse of all his kind, no matter how far the day of the Great Gathering - or even how near.
      It was not over.
      It would never be over. Not so long as he or one of the others kept his head.
      And yet! It had to end, for Tessa and Richie. It had to end - for their sake. He thought that over and over again, at first with only a faint hint of horror: It was little more than a fleeting touch, something with many hairy legs that scurried over his soul and disappeared again, but finally it trembled with hate and turned into something much, much worse.
      Do not forget why you -
      A thunderous rumble drove closer with unnatural speed and rushed over him like a mountain of rock. He had not noticed the lightning in the thunderstorm, but it must have burned even the last bit of blackness out of the car's interior for a tiny blink of the eye.
      He blinked. It was as if he were awakening from a completely unnatural sleepless sleep. But with the blackness, this paralyzing spell was also torn: He felt himself abused and miserable - it was as if he had given away a thousand good dreams to remember the bad ones. But there was also determination. Power. He would do what he had come here to do.
      A blue-and-white wisp flickered like a bizarre, ghostly image of lightning over the razor-sharp blade of the katana, making the blood glow and sparkle as if to mock him.
      Do it. NOW.
      Maybe it was the voice of his unforgiving God he had heard. He did not know. He had pushed open the car door and got out with a single powerful gliding motion before the paralyzing spell could regain its grip.
      He plunged into the raging, wind-swept inferno. The storm nearly threw him off his feet, hitting him in the face with an icy chill that made him gasp, billowing his long coat and flapping it in the wind. The rain now fell in long, silvery cascades and soaked him to the skin. The air seemed to be rife with sulfur and electricity, and the flash of lightning, the crash and reverberation of thunderbolts shaking the earth, turning his strides into disoriented staggering.
      After a few split seconds, the car seemed to be swallowed up behind him as though by a giant beast. The headlamp beams that had initially shown him the way were nothing more than meaningless pale cones that crumbled as though under black acid. And the sky itself, under the cover of the storm-wind and the rain, changed into a terrible maelstrom, in the center of which something attempted to materialize that hopefully would never materialize: something big, black, dreadful, with moist, glittering tentacles, possibly able to span the whole world. MacLeod clenched his hands on the long ivory hilt of the katana, still slippery with his blood. He finally banished all distracting thoughts from his brain and focused entirely on the silhouette of the cliffs, where sky and earth met, in front of a chasm of nearly thirty yards of seething depth.
      Making headway got easier with every step he took, as if some kind of mystical agreement between the mighty blows of the forces of nature and himself had formed. Furthermore, he actually felt that something of the impetuous wildness and joy of the seagulls was awakening within him. The darkness was no longer around him, but penetrated him through each of his pores, spreading and probing throughout him, recognizing him as an ally: a son of the night, a shadow warrior; a being of its own kind.
      Later, he could not remember how he had traversed the last few yards over the wet, slippery rocks and clifts. But as his thoughts and perceptions returned to his consciousness, he stood tall, a few inches away from the steep slope - an easy sacrifice for any sudden squalls. He did not even try to protect himself from the tremendous thrusts and spurts, and it almost seemed as if respect was being paid. He was not hurled into the abyss. Rain lashed his face, and out of the depths before him rose a roaring as of primeval births. For a moment, he thought he saw the pale rage of the Pacific, infinitely far below. In the glaring, almost white twitching of ever new lightning flashes, the surf threw itself against the rocks, alienated from slow motion, and an ever-increasing vibration continued to spread down his body to the soles of his feet.
      He smiled, blinking raindrops from his eyelids and brushing back his long, tangled hair with the back of his left hand.
      He had made his decision, and at the same time felt an overwhelming sense of... maybe freedom. Behind the electricity and the smell of sulfur, he now tasted the salty breath of the sea with every fiber of his body, and no more fear or anxiety. The lightning bolts flashed in an ever-increasing sequence around him, just a few feet away, surrounding him like a vast dome of icy light. He knew they would not hurt him, any more than energy storms could affect him during a return to life. The power of this place, of this night, and of his resolve, flowed through him in wild, pulsating thrusts. They fullfilled and protected him. He had become part of this night and storm.
      He did not want to delay it any longer. With a jerk of his right hand, he lifted the samurai sword high above his head, offered the katana as a sacrifice to the maelstrom in the heart of the night sky, and felt for a timeless moment behind visible reality the flaring of an outraged anger.
      You dare -
      "Looks that way," he whispered ironically against the screech of the storm, still smiling. In the meantime, he was already moving with the speed of an attacking snake: his left hand rose and closed around the grip of the katana. It was as if he were parrying one last attack: his left shoulder slightly forward, his muscles taut, his lips parted slightly, he exhaled with the same breath that Musashi once described in Go Rin No Sho as a death breath for the enemy.
      Then he finally hurled the katana into a riot of sheer blackness over the Pacific. He thought of the victims - only guilty victims - and watched the blade as it whirled away and cut the darkness. In the glare of the flashes, within a moment the blade itself had become a kind of crescent-shaped lightning. Then it was gone and, as if by chance, at the same time the intensity of the lightning seemed to fade.
      Even so, he did not feel like he was awakening from a nightmare. For the duration of several heartbeats he remained in absolute darkness. He felt relief and found that the wounds on his hands had healed again. The new flesh, the new skin, was tingling. Outrageous.
      It was as always. But that should be different now, very different. Shivering, he buried his hands in his coat pockets, turned away from the steep slope and, with exactly the same dreamlike assurance with which he had come here, made his way back over the rocks and clefts and the broad, rock-strewn slope.
      The flickering flashes of lightning went away. The thunder was just normal thunder. Even the storm seemed to subside, and the torrential downpour eased into a calm, serene, silvery streaming rainshower.
      Time was back to normal: as fast as a millipede. He still felt no pain - not even a sense of loss. At least he did not admit to it, not yet.
      But the pain would come. Oh yes, it would.
      His car was still in place, like a bulwark against the eerie magic of the night.
      He felt the last remnants of dizziness fade away and tried to keep his mind moving with trivialities. He wondered if it made sense to formulate a meaningful scientific commentary. But immediately afterwards, as he opened the car door, got in and turned the ignition key, he found this thought quite ridiculous. Better, he took it with one of those banal proverbs of mortals: food keeps body and soul together.
      It was as good - or bad - as anything else that night. But he had a quite normal goal before he would return home as usual to Tessa and Richie. He would buy a whole lot of Italian delicacies. And then he would ask Tessa to cook them with him - just like that, to celebrate the day, because he was back on track in every way after two days of wandering a great deal.
      A small, very private feast. How a normal couple did it now and then. For example, Fettucine with fresh salmon.
      He thought Tessa would be completely taken aback, but he wanted to risk it.
      "To Antonio's Gourmet Italian Market, then." He said it softly, then shook his head. He could not trust this evocation of normality, as much as he wanted to.
      The Thunderbird's engine came to life with a lush rumble. MacLeod let out the clutch, hit the accelerator, and wheeled the car around so violently that the tail swung back and forth like a giant had kicked it.
      He reached Highway 17 A, accelerated and drove quickly south. He felt justified in his belief that he needed to make up for lost time. It was about four hundred miles from the northern tip of Vancouver Island to the Swartz Bay Ferry Terminal. Then the crossing to Tsawwassen - another one and a half hours. His pretty little feast would be a breakfast. But it was a good feeling to be on the road and to hear the singing of the tires on the wet asphalt.
      Night birds flew up from the roadside, like silent shadows.
      For the next eighty miles, he met not a single other vehicle. The rain died away to a half-hearted dribble. The windshield wipers shuffled back and forth with ugly scraping noises. The horizon, far behind him, lit up occasionally with lightning. Blue-black thunderheads and gigantic evergreens and Douglas firs moved into his field of vision like raised fists and fingers - symbols of a distant, vague threat.
      If he closed his eyes for even a second, he would see the katana again, spinning and turning in a wide arc through explosively pouring rain and squalls, finally falling into the boiling sea. Like Voshin's sword, back then, when it sank; a silver reflex in the bill of exchange of green and blue water, from light and dark. How it was taken up by the current and whirled around and pushed into the depths. And how it finally came to rest between skull-shaped boulders.
      The message was clear: You'll find me anytime, Highlander. Anytime. And you will come back to me. Soon.
      His eyes widened, and he concentrated determinedly on the Thunderbird's steering wheel, the spray of raindrops, and the slippery roadway - the real now of the moment. He did not want to hear the whisperings that came from the world he intended to leave behind. But even if he had his ears locked in desperate defense, he would not have been able to keep them away from him. The mysterious power of the katana, connected to him as though it was an umbilical cord of pure cosmic blackness, proved stronger.
      There is no normality for you, Highlander. Your attempt to flee from yourself is doomed to failure. Give up! Turn around and come back to me!
      With a heavy, jerky kick MacLeod put his right foot on the gas pedal. The car, already going faster than was appropriate, made a noticeable leap forward, lurching. And while he was whipped up by adrenaline rushes, focusing all of his concentration to avoid crashing into the road embankment, the chimerical contours of the sword faded before his eyes, and the simultaneously enticing and threatening voice faded away.

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      • #28
        It was worse than ever before: The voices of the night whispered behind walls of dark noise, and Duncan MacLeod vaguely grasped that, after hours of aimless driving, he now leaned forward, hunched over behind the wheel of his black '68 Thunderbird, eyes staring straight down. What he had been looking at for a very long time was perhaps part of one of his confused, feverish nightmares of eternal flight and damnation, of madness and death.
        The holy sword . . . the deadly sword . . . the heart and soul of the samurai.
        The blade glistened softly in the weak light of the dashboard. Faceless figures, who seemed to have risen from all epochs and regions of world history, danced wildly on the silvery steel, beating each other with murderous rage, uttering inaudible triumphant shouts, dying with silent groans - victors and defeated, villains and victims.
        But it was not a dream - of course not. This was reality, his reality, and he had lived through it for four hundred years with ever increasing horror; since that day, a truly magical day in the Scottish Highlands, when he was killed in one of those absurd clan skirmishes, but after a few days he had come back to life and not been able to die since.
        Too much blood, he thought numbly, still unable to take his eyes off what he thought he saw in the slightly curved, slightly more than yard-long, razor-sharp blade of the katana. It was dangerous to waste time on these trivialities in such a situation; yet he failed to break their spell.
        For too long he had been on the run, and there was too much of everything; especially too many memories.
        And too many fights, he thought. Too many names. Too many faces of too many dead. And of the living dead.
        Slan. Kiem Sun. Felicia Martins. Walter Reinhardt. Caleb Cole. And Crowley and Pilar Vasquez and . . .
        And Tessa and Richie.
        He did not want to think about them, not just now, because he wanted to bring his old life to a close and begin anew. But such thoughts were dangerous opponents. They ruthlessly scratched old, still festering wounds, and underneath, the painful truth inevitably came to light.
        What also came to light was that this time it had started again after an absurdly few years of peace. And that in the deepest depths of his consciousness, he knew full well why.
        Too many questions were raised about the purpose of this life.
        His consciousness, his memories and the horror - everything returned in a whirling turmoil, like shards and splinters of an old smashed mirror, a kaleidoscope of distorted glittering IMAGES. The death of Pilar Vasquez, his raging aimless crisscrossing of Vancouver. Then up to Whistler, Pemberton, Lillooet and on towards Prince George. Finally, quite suddenly, he had turned around. And now he was here, on the northern tip of Vancouver Island, just about fifty yards upslope of the cliffs of Port Hardy, from whose fishing port the large, majestic car ferries of the B.C. Ferry Corporation embarked every other day in the summer, and cruised the islands of the Inside Passage northward, up to Prince Rupert. If he closed his eyes, he thought he could feel the loneliness and power of the place, as well as the surf beyond the steep cliffs. And the flocks of seagulls which, despite night, storm, wind, and rain, circled about in daredevil maneuvers and braved the forces of nature with a boundless life energy of their own.
        And suddenly it was easy to cross over into that other, alien perspective. The Laterna Magica turned at breakneck speed. Somewhere, hollow thunder trembled. The mirror - this shattered mirror. More shards, more pictures, all in his head - frenzied and of compelling power.

        The great forests of the north, the hunt for Tessa's kidnappers. The fall into that gorge, then the impact. Blood in his mouth. That shadowy border he had once again crossed, as so often before, in one direction and the other. The fight man-to-man . . . Reflections of sunlight on the jagged edge of the war ax . . . Caleb's screams. The smell of sweat, expectation and fear.
        And then, suddenly, Walter Reinhardt appeared, and MacLeod thought: He doesn't belong here, doesn't belong in these picture galleries. It was New Year's Eve 1989. Mighty sword strokes clashed, steel on steel.
        The dark-skinned face of a beautiful woman. He remembered her name the way he always remembered too well: Rebecca Lord. He heard Reinhardt say, "Women are interchangeable."
        He saw her die in the incredibly luxurious and expensive training room she had created for the day of her revenge. But that was far from the end. Reinhardt . . . Reinhardt's damned sword . . .
        And his own death. Again and again his own death. Then a darkness like the shadow of a dead sun.
        Unspeakable pain, screams.
        And more pictures: a storm, the flood of the century, rushing hundreds of yards high, raging and roaring and . . .
        Brian Slade and the others in the Vancouver Courthouse. The thunderous echo of shots. The pervasive howl of alarm sirens. Screams of dying or panicking people. So many hostages.
        Tessa and Richie. The little girl, Belinda, in her own little hideaway: the janitor's room. MacLeod heard himself saying to her, "You have to hide." And she shook her head, as determined and yet vulnerable as only children can be: "First you must tell me a story. Not a scary one, I like fairy stories." So he told her about beings who could never die, who were good and protected little children, while at the same time thinking of killing Brian Slade, and then . . .
        Images of Connor MacLeod, like himself a member of the Clan MacLeod. Connor's laugh. That incomparable laugh. And his memories keep racing . . . faster . . . faster.
        The Holy Island. Connor walking down the long slope to his canoe. And Tessa's anxious smile: "You didn't say goodbye?" And he himself, laconic: "We never do."

        Then China, 1792. Kiem Sun's temple. And Alexei Voshin, 1947. The dissidents. The Sea Witch. Steel that strikes steel and produces flashing sparks. Felicia and Sheriff Crowley. Steel that strikes steel and kills people.
        And finally, Pilar Vasquez.
        She had tracked him down, stalked and pursued him like a tigress who is sure of her prey, but wants to play with her victim for a while before she kills it. He had felt her, again and again, with short, bursting flashes that flared like sparks of a vague realization and already burned out before they let themselves be caught. Oh yes, she had been clever, had managed to dive into the shadows of this world and those of the world beyond, and to elude him when he was about to find her.
        And then suddenly, as unexpectedly as a meteor that flares up in the night sky like a shining beacon of coming doom, she had attacked him in the dark parking lot - truly a tigress but endowed with bloodlust and bloodthirst far beyond the animal drives of a predatory big cat. He had been forced to defend himself, to muster up all his strength and wits in order to withstand her hellish attacks and to ultimately defeat her.
        And then, when she lay soulless and lifeless on the dusty asphalt, and after her power had torturously passed into him, he saw her properly for the first time. She was a child. To all outward appearances, perhaps sixteen years old. Sweet Little Sixteen - the melody of the rock song shot through his mind and brought tears to his eyes. He was fully aware of the fact that her youthful appearance was deceptive, that she could easily be two or three hundred years old. Perhaps even older than he was. But this was a realization of the rational mind. His heart, his emotions as the human being he still considered himself to be, told him even so that she was a child. And he had killed her.

        Death. Again and again, death. But this time . . . one death too many.
        Maybe he was trying to gain time with this procedure of self-torture. Or the sword wanted it. Conscious of the danger emanating from his own sword, he remained in his seat, apparently perfectly calm, while there was sheet lightning outside and the rain was pouring down on the car in torrents. He stared at his hands, which held the katana's blade like a ritual offering, and now tightened their grip.
        Honed steel cut deep into the sinewy flesh of his palms and fingers.
        More blood flowed. But he did not feel the pain. At least not this pain. No muscle twitched in his chiseled features. The all-consuming maelstrom in his skull was like red-hot lava, and it lost more and more intensity with every passing second.
        Do not forget why you are here.
        MacLeod shook his head to finally drive off the images. He felt sick, nauseated. The blood on the blade - his blood - seemed to be dark and malignant.
        No warrior ever touches the polished and sacred steel of his blade. It is a crime. It is like inviting the beast inside to devour him.
        And suddenly he knew that he, himself, was his most dangerous opponent.
        He had not escaped the vicious circle of the Eternal Struggle. He knew it, and it almost drove him to the brink of madness, fueling that nameless anger, but also the despair deep inside him. In the end, he had come here for that reason alone, though he had persisted in persuading himself that he was just driving around aimlessly.
        Find silence. Peace.
        What an absurd undertaking for a man, a creature, like him.
        Death had been part of his life for centuries. This death, though, was not a bony grim reaper but a network of magical dependencies and traditions, of umbilical cords made of pure cosmic blackness, and like a dizzying abyss beyond time. It was omnipresent and stifling, just as a pervasive, never-ending battle of good against evil might dictate.
        Such ghosts could not be driven away.
        Nevertheless, it had to end someday.
        He still hated killing. He hated being subject to the ritual.
        There were days like today when he despaired of the weight of centuries, of his eternally unchanging face, and of the fact that all those he loved who were human and mortal could be for him nothing but comets: a flash of brightness and warmth in his life - and then there would inevitably be nothing but darkness and emptiness.
        A century in his sanctuary on that nameless holy island had not been enough to make the others forget that he existed. And it certainly was not enough to make him one of them, or to make him enjoy, or even delight in this perverted way of being.
        The eternal battle, the blood, the sweat, the tears, and the hurricane and pestilence of death, remained iron law and the curse of all his kind, no matter how far the day of the Great Gathering - or even how near.
        It was not over.
        It would never be over. Not so long as he or one of the others kept his or her head.
        And yet! It had to end, for Tessa and Richie. It had to end - for their sake. He thought that, over and over again, at first with only a faint hint of horror: It was little more than a fleeting touch, something with many hairy legs that scurried over his soul and disappeared again, but finally it trembled with hate and turned into something much, much worse.
        Do not forget why you -
        Thunder drifted closer with unnatural speed and rushed over him like a mountain of rock. He had not noticed the lightning of the thunderstorm, but it must have burned even the last bit of blackness out of the car's interior for a tiny blink of the eye.
        He blinked. It was as if he were awakening from a completely unnatural sleepless sleep. But with the tearing of the blackness, the paralyzing spell was torn as well: he felt abused and miserable - it was as if he had given away a thousand good dreams to remember the bad ones. But there was also determination. Power. He would do what he had come here to do.
        A blue-and-white wisp flickered like a bizarre, ghostly image of lightning over the razor-sharp blade of the katana, making the blood glow and sparkle as if to mock him.
        Do it. NOW.
        Maybe it was the voice of his implacable God he had heard. He did not know. He pushed open the car door and got out with a single powerful gliding motion before the paralyzing spell could regain its grip.
        He plunged into the raging, whining pandemonium. The storm nearly threw him off his feet, hitting him in the face with an icy chill that made him gasp, making his long coat billow and flap in the wind. The rain now fell in long, silvery cascades and soaked him to the skin. The air seemed to be rife with sulfur and electricity, and the flashes of lightning, the crash and reverberation of thunderbolts shaking the earth, turned his strides into disoriented staggering.
        After a few split seconds, the car seemed to be swallowed up behind him as though by a giant beast. The headlamp beams that had initially shown him the way were nothing more than meaningless pale cones that crumbled as though under black acid. And the sky itself, under the cover of the tempest and the rain, changed into a terrible maelstrom, in the center of which something attempted to materialize that hopefully never would: something big, black, dreadful, with moist, glittering tentacles, possibly able to span the whole world. MacLeod clenched his hands on the long ivory hilt of the katana, still slippery with his blood. He finally banished all distracting thoughts from his brain and focused entirely on the silhouette of the cliffs, where sky and earth met, in front of a nearly thirty-yard abyss to the seething sea.
        Making headway got easier with every step he took, as if some kind of mystical agreement had formed between himself and the mighty blows of the forces of nature. He also actually felt that something of the impetuous wildness and joy of the seagulls was awakening within him. The darkness was no longer around him, but penetrated him through each of his pores, spreading and probing throughout him, recognizing him as an ally: a son of the night, a shadow warrior; a being of its own kind.
        Later, he could not remember how he had traversed the last few yards over the wet, slippery rocks and clefts. But when he again became conscious of thought and perception, he stood tall, a few inches away from the steep slope - an easy victim for any further squalls. He did not even try to protect himself from the tremendous thrusts and spurts, and it almost seemed as if respect was being paid him. He was not hurled into the abyss. Rain lashed his face, and out of the depths before him rose a roaring as of primeval births. For a moment, he thought he saw the sea spray of the churning Pacific, infinitely far below. In the harsh, almost white flickering of continuing flashes of lightning, the surf threw itself against the rocks, in surreal slow motion, and an ever-increasing vibration spread down his body to the soles of his feet.
        He smiled, blinking raindrops from his eyelids and brushing back his long, tangled hair with the back of his left hand.
        He had made his decision, and at the same time felt an overwhelming sense of . . . maybe freedom. Behind the electricity and the smell of sulfur, he now tasted the salty breath of the sea with every fiber of his being, feeling no more fear or anxiety. The lightning bolts flashed faster and faster around him, just a few arm lengths away, and surrounded him like a vast dome of icy light. He knew they would not harm him, just as the energy storms of a Quickening could not. The power of this place, of this night, and of his resolve, flowed through him in wild, pulsing bursts. It fulfilled and protected him. He had become part of this night and storm.
        He did not want to delay it any longer. With a jerk of his right hand, he lifted the samurai sword high above his head, offered the katana as a sacrifice to the maelstrom in the heart of the night sky, and felt for a timeless moment behind visible reality the flaring of an outraged anger.
        You dare -
        "Looks that way," he whispered ironically against the screech of the storm, still smiling. He was already moving with the speed of an attacking snake: his left hand rose and closed around the grip of the katana. It was as if he were parrying one last attack: his left shoulder slightly forward, his muscles taut, his lips parted slightly, he exhaled with the same breath that Musashi once described in Go Rin No Sho as a death breath for the enemy.
        Then he finally hurled the katana into a riot of sheer blackness over the Pacific. He thought of the victims - only guilty victims - and watched the blade as it whirled away and cut the darkness. In the glare of the flashes, within a moment the blade itself had become a kind of crescent-shaped lightning. Then it was gone and, as if by chance, at the same moment the intensity of the lightning seemed to fade.
        Even so, he did not feel like he was awakening from a nightmare. He remained in absolute darkness for several heartbeats. He felt relief and found that the wounds on his hands had healed again. The new flesh, the new skin, was tingling. Outrageous.
        It was the same as ever. But that should be different now, very different. Shivering, he buried his hands in his coat pockets, turned away from the steep slope and, with precisely the same dreamlike assurance with which he had come here, made his way back over the rocks and clefts of the broad, rock-strewn slope.
        The flickering flashes of lightning went away. The thunder was just normal thunder. Even the storm seemed to subside, and the torrential downpour eased into a calm, serene, silvery, streaming rain shower.
        Time was running normally again: the blazing speed of a centipede. He still felt no pain - not even a sense of loss. At least he did not admit to it, not yet.
        But the pain would come. Oh yes, it would.
        His car was still in place, like a bulwark against the eerie magic of the night.
        He felt the last remnants of dizziness fade away and tried to keep his mind moving with trivialities. He wondered if it would be useful to formulate a meaningful scientific commentary. But immediately afterwards, as he opened the car door, got in and turned the ignition key, he found this thought quite absurd. Better, he filed it with one of those banal proverbs of mortals: food keeps body and soul together.
        It was as good - or bad - as anything else that night. But he had a quite normal goal before he would return home as usual to Tessa and Richie. He would buy a whole lot of Italian delicacies. And then he would ask Tessa to cook them with him - just like that, to celebrate the day, because he was back on track in every way after two days of wandering a great deal.
        A small, very private feast. How a normal couple did it now and then. Say, for example, Fettucine with fresh salmon.
        Tessa would think that he had gone crazy, but he would risk it.
        "To Antonio's Gourmet Italian Market, then." He said it softly, then shook his head. He could not trust this evocation of normality, as much as he wanted to.
        The Thunderbird's engine came to life with a lush rumble. He let out the clutch, hit the accelerator, and wheeled the car around so violently that the tail swung back and forth like a giant had kicked it.
        He reached Highway 17 A, accelerated and drove quickly south. He felt justified in his belief that he needed to make up for lost time. It was about four hundred miles from the northern tip of Vancouver Island to the Swartz Bay Ferry Terminal. Then the crossing to Tsawwassen - another one and a half hours. His pretty little feast would be a breakfast. But it was a good feeling to be on the road and to hear the singing of the tires on the wet asphalt.
        Night birds flew up from the roadside like silent shadows.
        For the next eighty miles, he met not a single other vehicle. The rain died away to a half-hearted dribble. The windshield wipers shuffled back and forth with ugly scraping noises. The horizon, far behind him, lit up occasionally with lightning. Blue-black thunderheads and gigantic Western Redcedars and Douglas firs moved into his field of vision like raised fists and fingers - symbols of a vague, distant threat.
        If he closed his eyes for even a second, he would see the katana again, spinning and turning in a wide arc through explosively pouring rain and squalls, finally falling into the boiling sea. Like Voshin's sword back then, as it sank lower; a silver reflection in the ever-shifting patterns of shimmering green and blue water, of light and dark. How it was taken up by the current and whirled around and pushed into the depths. And how it finally came to rest between skull-shaped boulders.
        The message came to him clearly: You'll find me anytime, Highlander. Anytime. And you will come back to me. Soon.
        His eyes widened, and he concentrated determinedly on controlling the Thunderbird, the spray of raindrops, and the slippery roadway - the immediate needs of the moment. He did not want to hear the whisperings that came from the world he intended to leave behind. But even if he had his ears locked in desperate defense, he would not have been able to keep them away from him. It had a mysterious power, the katana to which he was connected as though by an umbilical cord of pure cosmic blackness, and that power proved stronger.
        There is no normality for you, Highlander. Your attempt to flee from yourself is doomed to failure. Give up! Turn around and get me back!
        With a violent, jerky kick MacLeod put his right foot on the gas pedal. The car, already going faster than was appropriate, made a noticeable leap forward, lurching. And while he was whipped up by adrenaline rushes, focusing all of his concentration to avoid crashing into the road embankment, the chimerical contours of the sword faded before his eyes, and the simultaneously enticing and threatening voice faded away.

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        • #29
          Hmm. It loses all of the paragraph indents in the paste process. I feel pretty good about chapter 1.

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          • #30
            Why not post a word document then?
            May flights of Demons guide you to your final rest...

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            • dubiousbystander
              dubiousbystander commented
              Editing a comment
              Oh! We can do that!! Ought I to post the German as well?

          • #31
            Chapter 2 The Shadowy Border

            The skyline of the big city received MacLeod with cascades of neon light behind veils of fog - St. Elmo's fire after glaring slow-motion fireworks. He knew it was a false splendor that was visible only from a distance - a façade for the people. Already the abyss gaped a few inches wide behind this facade, and in it a demon heart of pure darkness struck time with a murderous beat.

            Vancouver was a young city, three hundred years his junior, but its pulse rate was only slightly different from that of other urban cancers - New York City, Chicago, Miami, whatever their names might have been. He felt the rhythm and adapted to it as if he had never been away. He was a shadow under shadow. With no apparent haste, he drove downtown and made a few laps to make sure no other shadows were on his heels.

            For the time being it was the same as always: he had to follow his instincts, be vigilant, stay alive, keep his head. As he rolled down the side window and smelled the rushing airstream that flowed in, the feeling grew stronger: he felt a pressure in the atmosphere, almost like the odor of decay, something that caused the hairs on his neck to rise. Danger.

            He thought of Tessa in their loft over the antique shop, over there, in North Vancouver Heights, and slowed down: it was too soon.

            He had to know for certain. So he drove right into the heart of the city - and into downtown.

            It had rained here as well: shimmering reflections winked brightly through the darkness. The dark Plymouth that had caught his eye on Granville Bridge maintained a distance of about three or four car lengths behind in the thin stream of traffic. He kept an eye on it in the rearview mirror until it turned a corner without using its turn signal.

            That's what they call paranoia, Mac, he scolded himself - and yet he remained vigilant.

            On the south side of Robson Square, which stretched from Nelson to Georgia Street, the seven-story glass palace of the Vancouver Courthouse glittered under seeking floodlights. Thick, lethargic fog drifted across the city from English Bay to the west and Burrard Inlet to the east. As MacLeod plunged deeper into urban canyons never pictured on postcards, toward the harbor, Burrard Inlet, and Fraser River, there was barely any excess beam of brightness left. It was not really night and not quite morning, yet it seemed obvious that the city had not come to rest for a second. The dark side of night life: Dockworkers who came from shift work in small groups and walked the few hundred yards home on foot. The traffic became thicker now. Factory sirens howled. A few homeless people stared dreary-eyed and passed a bottle around, trying to warm their hands over the meager flames leaping out of a rusty barrel: a zombie-gathering to greet the new day. Prostitutes and hustlers, years too young in body and too old in experience, scuttled home from their night's work. A metallic gray Lincoln Continental passed one prostitute for the second time. Its driver had apparently been sent out alone to hunt humans. Or maybe just to collect money for his boss.

            From a distance, the sounds of the huge docks wafted up. Departing and arriving trucks, ships that were loaded and unloaded around the clock in shifts: mainly wheat, but also ores, sulfur, cellulose for the Asian market; in return, cars from Japan, clothes from Hong Kong. Vancouver was the largest port on the entire North American Pacific coast.

            MacLeod had seen enough. There were no pursuers - no flash that betrayed the proximity of another immortal shadow warrior.

            He spent another fifteen minutes making a detour via Chinatown to Antonio's Gourmet Italian Market. He thought of Kiem Sun, again, and, to free himself from that shadow of the past, the calm of the Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden on Carrall Street.

            It was time to go back there again. Despite Kiem Sun.

            Antonio's Gourmet Italian Market stood in the midst of a forgotten intersection; an ugly decrepit Bodega-style building that had to repel any uninitiated. There were still lights on in both the store and in Antonio's back room.

            Across from each other, on each corner of the intersection, there stood a long-abandoned barber shop with shop windows broken by vandals throwing things through them, and as a contrast, a billiard hall with a pink façade, a liquor store that was supposed to be open around the clock but was currently dark and deserted, and a similarly dark Chinese laundromat, even though Chinatown was rather far away.

            In the billiard hall, all the lights were being extinguished.

            MacLeod turned off the low beams. Then he let the T-Bird roll along silently, and parked it in front of the liquor store. He clocked his surroundings and waited. Too long both hunter and hunted. It was ingrained in his flesh and blood.

            Street lamps rocked in the morning wind. Most of them had been shot to pieces with small-caliber rifles. Stray cats searched silently in the trashcans of the side streets.

            MacLeod got out and started to cross the street.

            From somewhere to the right of him, where the cats had disappeared into the side alley next to the billiard hall, came excited noises and finally cries that had absolutely nothing to do with cats. Then a dull thud, and another. Steel pipe. The sound of a skull being crushed and spurting blood. The rustling of clothes. A body fell heavily to the ground, and someone kicked or beat it, as if insane with rage. MacLeod was already on the way, with long, almost silent strides. He wished he were faster, had more animalistic instincts, were able to see in the dark, and had even better, sharper hearing. He heard nervous, hissing voices. A tin can clattered over cement. Hasty steps, then the howl of an engine. Everything went very quickly. But perhaps he could overtake time.

            The car was coming at him like a steam engine. The high beams flared on. The open driver's door scraped screaming and sparking along the wall of the building.

            It was impossible to avoid it in the narrow alley. He tried anyway and leaped high to reduce the scope of the inevitable impact. His movements were reliable as always, blazing fast and flowing, barely perceptible. For a second he still believed he could make it.

            But the car was already there, and with it unbearable white fire. A nuclear fire that seized him and whirled him up like a leaf. Frantic pain broke out in him, in three or four places at once: hip, left arm and skull. At the same time, he registered the sounds of splintering bones and tearing muscles that were only audible to him. He crashed heavily onto the hood of the car, was smashed, careened higher, hit the windshield hard. Another impact and his skull was torn open. He saw the faces of the two freaks inside the car drift like pale balloons in the universe, then his forehead shattered the safety glass of the windshield.

            The screaming of the freaks penetrated him.

            "Gerry . . . Gerry, for God's sake - don't-"

            "Shut up, you-"

            Suddenly slow motion. Nothing fit together anymore: a dream in which everything happened at the same time, and there was blood everywhere. A red spiderweb pattern stretched over the glass directly in front of him. He grabbed one of the windshield wipers and tore it off. Then the picture was gone. And he was gone. His hands slid along the roof of the car, desperately groping for purchase. Endless screaming accompanied him, and the shrill howl of the engine, the shriek of tires as the car spun out of the alley.

            MacLeod still thought he was sliding over the roof of the car. Rolling, he thought apathetically, because the pain had become unbearable so quickly and the darkness that was still in him was falling over his conscious thoughts and perceptions like a ton weight. The shadow of a dead sun. He had thought that thought before - once, maybe one, two lives ago. Still falling, he hunched, bounced sideways on the wet asphalt, and was pushed by invisible fists, always around his own axis. And only now, he felt dimly in his stupor, did his skull crash on the tarmac.

            A car stopped. He heard the smooth hiss of shock absorbers.

            Voices floated down to him. The inevitable gawkers moved in, a shadowy front.

            "Did you see what happened?"

            "No, not exactly, it all happened so fast, there was suddenly this car and this man. I think they deliberately ran him over-"

            "Someone has to call an ambulance! Fast! God - all the blood! Look at his head!"

            "He'll never survive."

            Then, almost devoutly, the whisper of a young woman: "He looks like a young Sean Connery . . ."

            "Do not touch him, do not move him. It's up to the doctors!"

            He knew what that meant. Doctors could be very dangerous to a being like him. Too many questions:

            "You were as good as dead, and now you live again. Could you please tell me how you did it?"

            The voices became a droning roar. They're escaping, MacLeod thought, already far away. The freaks are escaping. And: Someone has to help their victim.

            Dark echoes reverberated within him. He tried to push himself up and move his mouth. But his muscles did not obey him. The shock and a tremendous stab of pain paralyzed his heart, and he knew he was going to die.

            It was not the first time, and it would not be the last. It was not pleasant, not a gentle, peaceful dive into an unknown dimension called by one religion Heaven, by another, Nirvana. It was agonizing, physically and mentally.

            He remembered all too well the last time and the time before that: the feeling of absolute loneliness and desolation. About what it was like to find yourself inescapably locked up in the container that the mortals called a body, in a dungeon of flesh and bone. To feel the dying of cells, and be unable to feel the beat of your own heart. To have no more breath. The sensation of being devoured by this abysmal darkness as though by a greedy beast . . .

            And then the suspension of his present consciousness, the blurring of realities, the transition from now to yesterday or the day before yesterday. It is said that a person who faces death directly sees his entire life flashing before his eyes in a time-lapse, as though projected onto a holographic canvas by his subconscious. MacLeod doubted it was true - there had never been a dead man who came back to life to talk about it.

            Well, no normal dead man, no member of humanity whose earthly existence had a beginning and an end.

            The immortals like him, however, reborn again and again, were able to tell what it was like when the spark of life was - apparently - extinguished. If the mind, the soul, the ego entered an incomprehensible something that Einstein's theory of relativity did not grasp or encompass, but perhaps hinted at. A thousand years like a day, a minute, a second, an unmeasurable moment? Time did not exist in this something, could not exist. But it did indeed leave the memories free. They did not appear condensed or abridged nor like a torrent of splinters and fragments of everything that had happened, but episodically limited to those events and experiences that had been particularly strongly engraved in the psyche. The events took place again, amplified many times over, since they had already been experienced, and with the terrible knowledge that they were unchangeable, that free will played no part, that everything went as it was meant to be. The consciousness of absolute helplessness, of being completely exposed, was more than an individual could actually bear.

            But MacLeod knew that he would have to bear it. As the voices around him grew quieter and duller, as the figures shifting dimly on the periphery of his perceptive faculty became more and more contorted, as the processes of his thinking drifted toward confusion, he realized with his last clear thought that he had to bear it once again.

            Now . . .


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            • #32
              Will you share the entire translation? Or are you giving it to the podcast guys first?
              May flights of Demons guide you to your final rest...

              Comment


              • #33
                Originally posted by Nicholas Ward View Post
                Will you share the entire translation? Or are you giving it to the podcast guys first?
                The entire. Speaking of which, I think Chapter 3 is pretty much as ready as it's going to be.

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                • #34
                  Chapter 3 Insurmountable Yesterday

                  Dandelion seeds drifted down like ashes from a distant firestorm.

                  Tessa laughed with delight and clapped her hands, thrilled like a child. Naked as she was, she wriggled out of his arms, carefully plucking a second dandelion from the vase by the bedside and blowing on the gray downy fluff that the blossom had become. In the midst of a new swirl of gossamer spores - each of them a tiny parachutist - she dropped back and snuggled up against him, her head in the crook of his arm. Her long, tousled blonde hair reflected individual rays of light.

                  "Look at them, Mac," she whispered breathlessly, nodding at the dandelion parachutists, "aren't they beautiful? Like magical beings. And I love magical beings."

                  Because he - as she - felt a perfect feeling of bliss, he could and would only nod. Certain moments were more than fleeting, a single word might already be too much and enough to destroy it.

                  So they lay side by side, still hot, exhausted and out of breath, watching the dandelion-fluff settle all over them and on the bed all around. Evening had come, but the atmosphere in the large, airy bedroom of the loft above the antique shop was still filled, as if with mist, almost silvery. A tender little betrayal of what had happened here: that they had loved each other, tenderly at first, with teasing and caressing and kissing and laughing together, then with greater intensity and ferocity - a showdown to demonstrate the breadth of mutual giving and taking. He had held her, wanted to feel and taste her until she was out of her senses. And she had cheered him on, small sighs right in his ear, broken off in a gasped "yes - yes!" She had withdrawn from him, had kissed him more violently than ever before, and then she had been there again, above him, her body a bright silhouette in the expanse of the room, something sliding, hovering, demanding, her skin and hair a golden cascade above him, so that he would adapt to the pulse of her frenzy, again and again, while they were still kissing and their moans caught each other's mouths. Wordless, panting trance. A kind of bujutsu: one with oneself, your partner and the common environment. Concentration, sympathy and purity. Power and reflexes, and the shadow of death - the knowledge of Tessa's mortality - so far away.

                  MacLeod turned to Tessa. He smiled. Perhaps she had, in this moment, the same thoughts, the same yearning for more. She kissed his neck, slid onto him once more, her emerald-green eyes were those of a predator: grace and wildness gleamed in them as though competing.

                  The shock of suddenly feeling - to sense - that they were no longer alone with each other, that someone . . . somewhere . . . lurking somewhere, divided all sensations like the slash of a Damascus blade. It was like he was breaking up. It was as if he were no longer alone in his mind: The Flash. Another shadow warrior. After more than a hundred years and countless tricks to cover his tracks and lead a "normal" life, they had finally tracked him down. He knew it, and hatred and despair almost threatened to overwhelm him. While the emotional part of his self was rejecting this very knowledge, his warrior's reflexes were already acting on him. He fumbled out with senses to which nothing human attached, senses belonging to the dark deep within him, and spoke, without wanting to speak:

                  "I - feel something."

                  "Hey, I hope so!"

                  "No . . . I mean, it's . . . Someone's here. Outside. Near. Dangerous."

                  MacLeod saw Tessa's eyes darken: a shadow over the moon. He did not try to explain. She would not even be able to understand this kind of predatory animal-like perception. Everything in him cooled, turned to stone.

                  With a jerk he came up, listened, and pushed her gently aside, suddenly wanted distance, because he could protect her only like that. Sweat cooled on his bare skin and made him shiver. The last fight was years back, he was rusty in this game of madness.

                  He left the bed, put on his pants, and put out the Art Nouveau lamp. He was a phantom in the lavender twilight of the room, completely silent. It was as if he had suddenly been sucked into an undertow. His right hand found the intricately carved two-handed ivory grip of his katana, enclosing it almost tenderly: the heart and soul of the samurai. Extension of his arm, his breath and familiar. Even in the long interim of fleeing and hiding, he had never failed to keep this companion always within reach.

                  He glided from the room and walked down the corridor, surrounded by a darkness that was deeper and more complete than any earthly darkness could have been. He had his torso turned slightly to the side, and balanced his entire body weight in hara, the center of all human energy. He held his katana at chest level, ready to thrust or defend: a silvery shimmer.

                  The presence of the other shadow warrior seemed to increase from everywhere, a hailstorm of horrific alienness. In between superficial, crippled sensations: animal fear covered up with a zest amounting to obsession, feverish anticipation and hatred. He walked on, following his own shadow along the gallery and down the stairs to the expansive storeroom. It was as if he could feel the imperceptible distortions in the worm hole pocked railing, normally completely impossible. No movements in the darkness, only a sense of lurking. Of baited breath. He felt it. His senses stretched to their limit.

                  Then he heard a screech from the amphitheater-like room at the back. A diamond cutting through glass.

                  He's already in the house.

                  Steps. Noises, rumbling, like something heavy, unwieldy in a sack.

                  A whisper: "Surprise, surprise! This is your lucky day, man!"

                  The flash became stronger, accompanied by raging pain, and exploded inside his skull every second, over and over again, forcing him out of his inner balance, making him stagger the last three or four steps, disoriented and only half-conscious. He gasped for air, conquered the other's madness that was raining into his mind. For seconds, maybe for minutes, he was stronger than the crazed thoughts. But an invisible power whipped him forwards, towards the milky white ray of a stranger's flashlight wavering through the darkness.

                  "Face me, you coward!"

                  MacLeod's left hand punched the light switch. Brightness flared, shredded the call and enveloped himself and the other person who turned towards him. Time accelerated, it was as if a mirage dissolved into millions of tiny individual dots:

                  A creature of his kind could be deceptively inconspicuous. His exterior was young, apparently much too young, surprised and insecure: leather clothes, black and green. A pale, harmless face, reddish brown hair tethered under a bandana. They all camouflage themselves, MacLeod thought, but he caught himself: We all camouflage ourselves. And his counterpart threateningly raised the replica of the sword wielded by Richard Lionheart - ready for the ritual.

                  MacLeod nodded, taking another step closer, trying to ignore the explosion of foreign thought impulses and isolate himself from their influence.

                  "I am," he said, as the rules dictated, "Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod, and I'm ready."

                  "Hey, man, what is this?!" The shadowed form retreated. Icy sparks danced on the broad, outstretched blade of the Lionheart sword. "Well, I mean, I stole some of your silver junk, but - hey, it won't happen again, okay? You can have the stuff back. Everything's in the bag there. And I'll pay for the window too . . . and get out, okay?"

                  Perfect gestures of fear and panic. So clever.

                  More thoughts, irritations in MacLeod's skull: A mirage . . . Only bait . . . but why then this pain, this sensation - he must be - he-

                  NO.

                  He shook off the spell, smiled to disguise his comprehension, an icy smile, saying, "You talk too much, and you'll lose your head, my friend."

                  "Lose my head? Hey, just because I got in here?" The boy was in a kind of incredulous panic. He dropped the blade as if it were suddenly alive and raised both hands. His eyes fluttered to the window through which he had entered - it was too far away - and he talked, babbling half madly. "Listen, we can settle things peacefully . . . er . . . What’s insurance for? You know what? Just call the cops. I'm still a kid, not even eighteen, man, they'll tell you that. You have a telephone? Stop, I think I have a much better idea: I'll call the cops myself. Okay?"

                  Then Tessa's unnaturally calm voice, coming from the stairs: "Mac, he's harmless."

                  No time to react and make the bluff transparent to her and the boy.

                  There was someone else present.

                  Time for the dance.

                  MacLeod was where he had planned to be and sensed the renewed seething in his mind. It felt like an eruption of viscous mud. This time it was a warning. He threw himself forward - a movement like heat haze- and shoved the boy in the chest with his empty left hand, which silenced the babbling and made him stagger out of range and tumble to the ground. Then MacLeod whirled around, as if shoved by an unseen force, and his right hand drew a flashing semicircle with his katana, faster than light itself. He was not a second too soon. The shadow of his enemy had appeared directly over him - at the skylight in the ceiling, two stories up. And it kept moving.



                  The frosted glass pane shattered. The noise tore through the unnatural silence like an explosion. Shards and splinters sailed down in a sparkling hurricane, and in their midst the darkness of the night seemed to have taken shape. A roaring black mountain of flesh bounced gracefully on the balls of its feet, ducking, ready to fight, surrounded by the patter and splash of the glass. He was only two arm lengths away - much too close. MacLeod backed away, careful to protect Tessa and the boy, who blabbered stupid comments and still did not understand that he had gone on a breaking and entering spree at the worst possible time and in the worst possible place in the world.

                  "Highlander . . ." the word roared from the colossus' throat, and even before MacLeod could react, a scorching brightness rushed toward him, like liquified light that immediately clotted again. He parried the blow of the inch-wide blade with his katana, as well as the next one and the one after that. The force of impact almost shattered his wrist and made a thousand new kinds of pain roar within him.

                  The steel of the enemy's sword scraped along the daintier but thousandfold-hardened blade of the katana. Sparks whirled and glimmered, dying out on their way to the ground. In one fluid motion MacLeod transformed into a shadow; turned on his own axis and delivered a kick to the fleshy mass that sent it reeling into one of the glass showcases where Tessa protected her most valuable antiques from dust and overly curious fingers. Glass shattered again.

                  MacLeod had a good stance and therefore the power to strike the next blow himself. But he waited and showed his side to the colossus: his left shoulder to the fore, left hand extended, ready, if necessary, to wield the nameless sword. Not yet.

                  He hesitated just as much as the enemy.

                  It had been nothing but a test, an attempt at intimidation . . . and, as MacLeod admitted, a damned impressive one.

                  He motioned for Tessa to make herself scarce - she did not react but stood as though dazed. And then there was no time left.

                  "How beautiful you are, lady," moaned the mountain of muscle. "Oh, we haven't been introduced yet. But that will have to be rectified, I swear it, and then . . ."

                  MacLeod interrupted him. "Do you call this fighting, masked man?"

                  The monstrous thing opposite him straightened up. Even now, without the shock of the first moment, it seemed only remotely akin to human: a huge body wrapped in an iron-studded leather coat. A distorted iron visage with a monster's eyes. Arms, legs, huge fangs of steel. It was only at the second disbelieving glance that MacLeod realized that the thing was wearing a steel mask. Behind tight vents, eyes blazed with an insane fire such as he had never before seen in any of his kind - and they were all insane. He realized his palms were getting damp with sweat.

                  But in the end, the mountain still adhered to the ritual that had to precede every challenge:

                  "MacLeod," he growled. "I'm Slan Quince, I've been on your trail for over fourteen years. Now I've finally tracked you down, and I'm coming for your head!"

                  MacLeod answered with a nod. He smiled and changed his katana from right hand to left - a playful gesture. Another bluff that would not stop Slan Quince.

                  But the boy disrupted the ritual: "Hey, guys, cool show, really cool, really! You're doing a thing like, like kind of like 'Candid Camera', am I right?" No one answered him.

                  Quince attacked, with an agility that no normal-thinking creature would suspect of such a monstrous body. A shadow appeared - the sword. MacLeod dodged, heard the steel fly by only a hair's breadth away with an ugly whistle. Immediately after that, he felt the edge of a hand slam into his chest with monstrous force, flew back and balanced again. The following sword swing he caught with the katana and turned: a classic slash to the body, exactly following the "Go Rin No Sho". Slan Quince's leather coat gaped suddenly, but no blood flowed - not yet.

                  A sensation like a careening nosedive. Tessa screamed something, maybe a warning. Suddenly a breeze behind him.

                  "You're crazy, you're totally crazy!" the boy shouted.

                  MacLeod just shook his head, ignoring the words and staying ready for the challenge. No more escape, he thought, and power flooded his body now, like a monstrous explosion from the darkness deep inside him. It was stronger than the sun, taking possession of him, sharpening his instincts and making him a hundred times faster than he already was.

                  The challenge.

                  It was as if he were feeling a new, brutal kind of anger, an anger that took possession of his whole body. Then he suddenly understood that it was something quite different: a defense mechanism to keep him from falling into utter fear and despair.

                  His skull threatened to burst. Quince's laughter was suddenly everywhere within him, too, and then the colossus himself was back, faster than ever. It was like magic, like a dream that transferred itself from the dreamer's brain into reality, took shape and acted, now profoundly evil and violent. Quince rammed his elbow into MacLeod's body, flinging him back like an insect, and heaved his blade up two-handed to swing it down at him like a hammer.

                  Impossible to evade. Any reaction was too cumbersome, must inevitably be too late.

                  He tried anyway, propelling himself out of the way backwards and . . .

                  There was a hand with fingers as powerful as steel claws. A battle cry rang out. He was yanked back, a kick swept him completely out of the deadly reach of Quince's sword. The steel gnawed into the ground, was swept back by a long katana blade that was not his own, and only now, far too late, he understood. There was only one besides himself who carried such a sword . . .

                  Connor MacLeod bounded in front of him and planted himself resolutely in Slan Quince's path. With three of four strokes he drove Slan back into the misty expanse of the room; Unassuming, relaxed and agile as always, a lanky, ageless man in jeans and trench coat, his hair short. Nothing left that pointed to his affiliation with the barbaric Scottish Highland clan that had banished him as the devil's spawn four hundred and fifty years ago, after his resurrection.

                  Duncan was already on his feet again, the katana in a parrying hold in front of his chest. In the corners of his eyes were flickering snapshots: Tessa was still there, or there again. Only the boy stole away from them, step by step. With the bag. He obviously had a sense of practicality. Time stood still . . . raced by . . . stood still again.

                  Connor shook his head. "I just can't leave you alone, Duncan," he reprimanded his junior softly, without so much as glancing at him. Slan Quince might have been irritated - but he was still dangerous, no matter how irritated he was. The tip of his broadsword swayed back and forth like the head of a snake.

                  Duncan slid away to the side, blocking the path to Tessa and giving Connor plenty of room to move. Only now did he respond with some snark and surprise in his voice: "Connor? What are you doing here? Damn, I had everything under control."

                  Connor did not even acknowledge that statement.

                  "A little headhunting," he whispered. "The Hunter's Hunter. Someone has to watch out for you."

                  A little harmless meeting among equals. It was their way of dealing with the horrors of immortality.

                  Quince grew increasingly nervous - exactly the point of Connor's actions.

                  "Whoever you are, man, you're disrupting the ritual. It's against the rules of combat. One warrior against the other."

                  "You wanted to fight, Slan?" Connor mocked and then continued speaking half over his shoulder to Duncan, "Don't believe a word of it, Duncan. He's not gonna fight you, not really. Not yet. Not as long as he can still toy with you . . ."

                  Something changed, as if an invisible border had been crossed. Slan Quince and Connor started moving at the same time, circling each other, their blades raised: a ghost dance, as mystical as the waves of the sea.

                  "It's my fight, Connor," Duncan whispered admonishingly. He was ready. The impetuous hammering of his heartbeat calmed down. It was time. It had been too long.

                  Connor continued, unblinking, monotonous and contemptuous. Every single word was a provocation of the enemy, but also a clarification that he had prior claim in this matter. "He will destroy everything you love in this world. He's going to try to break you, and when he's done that, he'll still go on and on, until you don't know whether you want to live or die. Only then will he fight you."

                  The blaze in the monster's eyes exploded into complete animal hatred, his voice just a dull breath. "I wanted Duncan MacLeod's head, not yours - whoever you are, but-"

                  "Connor MacLeod! The same clan, just a slightly different vintage."

                  A wicked, toothy smile appeared behind the steel catches of the face mask.

                  "Ah yes. So it's you."

                  "I'm ready, Slan. Just the two of us. Now."

                  Connor did not give the colossus any time to grasp it all. He attacked, and Duncan sensed the tremendous output of mental energy, like the unpredictable crashing of a winter thunderstorm. He was struck by a blizzard of unbridled savagery. He was permanently locked out of the dance, but still ready to fight: upper body bent forward, all muscles relaxed, yet tense, like the steel spring of a mighty clockwork. It might be the right of his elder clan brother to die first, but it was still eons too early for an absolution.

                  Connor's blow came without warning - fast, lightning fast. Something burned a silver vertical semicircle into the air. The great katana scraped Quince's iron mask and made him stagger backwards. Connor doubled after him, parried a thrust that seemed ridiculously weak for a monster of Quince's size, and attacked again. He made his opponent take one more step back, but then was attacked with a flurry of strikes by both sword and fists, and realized too late that it had all been part of a feint.

                  With a grunt, Quince recovered completely, shook off pain and shock, and responded with a thunderstorm of blind, powerful strokes. He reached the next glass showcase, a massive, steel-framed thing the height of a man, that he threw at Connor as if it were just a cardboard box. The world within the room shattered into individual images.

                  An inferno of glass and porcelain buried Connor at Quince's feet. Quince kicked him in the face, pushed the katana aside - and fled.

                  Cat and mouse. Duncan felt flashes of fiery heat followed by icy cold go through him. He hesitated for one decisive fraction of a second. Then the lights went out. Connor's scream of pain, begun when Slan kicked him, ended in a gurgling choke, but Duncan saw him already rising from the mess of shards and dust and wiping the blood from his face. Somewhere out there, in the streets, sirens were approaching quickly. Tessa had disappeared, so he could assume that she had called the cops. That did not make it much better.

                  The monster had a lead of four, maybe five strides. He rushed up the steps, smashed statues and exhibits indiscriminately, and left the amphitheater behind. His humongous shadow flitted towards the display windows, like condensed blackness on an oily blue backdrop. Cursing, Duncan gave chase, following his trail of destruction. Half senseless with rage, he barely noticed that someone, perhaps Tessa, had turned the lights on again.

                  Slan Quince turned into a kind of mirage, something big and fluttering that seemed to be getting faster, stomping through the displays of the larger shop window, finally shoving off and - his sword held outstretched with both hands - springing.

                  Something like an earthquake smashed the pane of safety glass. Electric discharges licked Quince's blade. Even as the glass collapsed like a frozen waterfall, the monster was already out and gone like a haunt.

                  Duncan followed him out with a powerful leap. He oriented himself briefly and relied entirely on his instincts. Then he ran down the completely deserted arcades until he hit Sunset Avenue. As he swept around the corner, he heard only the echo of pounding, fast-paced steps. Cars slowed down, and curious faces turned towards him behind their windshields. Lights flickered on in neighboring buildings. Windows began opening up. He was wearing only black trousers, and he still held his katana in his right hand, his skull throbbing, rushing and roaring, an animal rage, hatred, and bloodlust. And through all this, the imperious message pulsed in him: Run. Damnit, you're attracting attention.

                  He needed another moment to think straight again, and just as he was about to follow Quince against all reason, Connor dragged him back into the shadows of the arcades.

                  "Don't!" Connor's voice was only a hoarse whisper, but his touch was of compelling strength.

                  "Not you. That's exactly what he wants. He's only playing with us. At least for the time being. He wants Tessa. He always goes after the women first . . ."

                  Duncan returned the gaze of his clan brother and sensei - still breathing heavily and not saying a word. He was still numb to all sensations. A cold night wind kicked up, and he hardly felt it either.

                  Connor said, now more emphatically, "I'll follow him. You keep the cops out of this, and Tessa out as well. It's our fight, our dying." He thought for a moment, then hesitated, then a smile as only he could. It was full of irony and so immeasurably deeply painful that Duncan shuddered with reaction.

                  "And most of all," Connor finished with his own brand of humor, "it's our game."

                  The sirens were coming very close. The howling broke over the two from three or four sides, a frightening, adrenaline-whipping uproar. Revolving blue lights colored the night.

                  Connor doesn't have much time.

                  Duncan lowered his katana and closed his eyes. He took a deep breath, felt the blood pounding in his temples. He saw the collapsing glass of the shop window as a metaphor for his entire life which, upon Slan Quince's whirlwind appearance, had also collapsed in shattered pieces. And he could sense Connor's presence - his clan brother's unflinching gaze still locked on his own face.

                  That was the deciding factor: it was a lightning-quick exchange of dark energy and loneliness, a mutual understanding without words - like every time they met. A renewal of the covenant, a brotherhood of immortal warriors.

                  "Our game," he muttered, exhaling wearily. And then, finally, he nodded, while beyond the arcades the first police vehicles stopped and the shadows of officers drifted around like ghosts.

                  Somebody shouted urgently: "Police, police!"

                  "You'd better get out of here, too," Duncan advised laconically, as they had never been ones to waste time on sentiment.

                  "The Hunter's Hunter," Connor repeated, his smile widening. The obsession and determination in his eyes vanished for a barely measurable moment, giving way to a flash of merriment, affection and even more irony. Duncan was already turning away to go back to Tessa, to the rubble of his life with her.

                  "I warned you a long time ago, Duncan," Connor reminded him, now serious again. "It will never be over, no matter how long you try to hide, or where."

                  "That was more than a lifetime ago."

                  "Sometimes," Connor called after him without mockery, "it takes more than one lifetime to understand."



                  Sixteen hours later, during which Duncan had been on his feet nonstop, obsessed with mastering the devastation and making everything appear normal again, he still felt locked in a centrifuge. And it accelerated and accelerated.

                  The cops had questioned first Tessa and then him while it was still night. Although they had both consistently told the same untruths, talked their way out of trouble, and left false trails to keep the secret in the shadows, it was obvious that the cops were buying the story of a madman running amok only to a limited extent, despite a confirmation from the forensics specialists.

                  But in the end, it was easier to handle than he thought. Keeping the cops unaware was just one subordinate aspect of the actual threat: beings of his own kind, shadow warriors following his tracks.

                  Slan Quince was out there somewhere, a beast in human form, a monster, immortal and profoundly weary, and therefore all the more eager to play the Game, kill, taste blood, and gain renewed vitality through the eternal power. He was there, like a stink of plague - not far, but always just outside a conscious, purposeful perceptibility. He was there, despite Connor, and he was watching and lurking, and he wanted Tessa and then Duncan. He would never give up. Now that he had tracked Duncan down, he had all the time in the world, and he would use it in his own perverted way.

                  Duncan desperately jerked his thoughts out of the abyss, banishing visions of Tessa's death and mutilation into a corner of his subconscious, where nightmares were waiting to be released, and forced his mind to pursue another train of thought. Not Tessa. But this thought alone was enough to conjure up a whole pack of other well-known ghosts.

                  Memories of the last moments of the life of his Native American lover Aylea unfolded: A burning sky over a prairie lashed by a firestorm. The thunder of guns, the galloping hoofbeats of countless horses and, in between, strangely arrhythmic, pistol shots and shrill human cries of pain and death.

                  America, 1892, an absurdly short century ago. Although he did not close his eyes, he saw everything again and again, as if in slow motion: the relentless pincer attack of the mounted soldiers, rolling over women, children, and dogs in a wave, driving them down and firing wherever there was still movement; how they roared and set fire to the tepees in their victory rush; like a second wave, which was met by the warriors to whom he also belonged, with nothing but arrows and spears - but too late. It was a hopeless, utterly meaningless struggle, just as killing and violent death were always meaningless. Aylea had heard the pitiful crying of a small child somewhere under the wreckage of one of the tents. She had run - right into the end of the world, when the guns of the white soldiers imposed it on the small village. MacLeod heard himself scream, endless, a cry of bitterness and horror that he had to outlast the ages. He had rushed down to her, to what was left of Aylea - a shredded, bloody bundle that no longer looked human at first glance or second.

                  Yet somewhere in that shattered, twitching, bleeding... thing, there was still life. That sudden conviction burned through him like a locust plague, birthing an entirely new kind of horror. No, please. NO. Oh God! He had pulled her close to him, gently so as not to unnecessarily increase her pain. He had leaned over her and brought his face to where her face had been before those madmen had erased it. He had whispered senseless endearments to her, comforting her as her blood flowed down all over him, while her brothers fought and died, and more and more cannon-thunder had drummed over them, tearing the world to pieces.

                  Aylea could not speak anymore. She could not see anymore, and she probably could not understand what he was whispering to her in his helplessness. But there was her hand, her right hand - covered in blood, but completely intact. Maybe she felt his nearness. She stroked his arm, somehow managing to raise her hand, touch his face and say goodbye.

                  Finally, he managed to free himself from his torpor and return from memory. He forced his mind, finally, onto less dangerous paths. The cops, he thought. Think of the cops. They suspect something. Your cover. If they investigate doggedly enough . . .

                  Slan knows, he knows, this is what his strategy is based on.

                  Not Tessa, he thought again. He would be ready and fight. It would be different than it was then, with Aylea.

                  And suddenly, at that moment, he realized that he loved Tessa, that he really loved her.

                  But that made it impossibly difficult: he had to talk to her. He had so much to tell her, to try to explain.

                  The Gathering - the ritual, and how it degraded them all to slaves.

                  She already knew enough about him to suspect - at least to some extent. She had avoided him since last night, asked no unnecessary questions, and been willing to tell the cops a harmless tale. He was grateful for all of that, but the necessary questions would come. It was only fair to give her answers. But he hesitated, avoiding her in turn, forcing her to give him time. We'll talk about it. Later. A pretty little birthday present.

                  The fear of losing her, whether because of Slan Quince or the curse of eternal life, cut razor-sharp through everything he did in his manic efforts to distract himself from it: cleanup, conversations with artisans, a security agent, and the insurance broker.

                  In the afternoon, the new skylight and shop window were put in, the alarm system installed, and the cops had called one more time: Sergeant Powell sent a message that he should come to the Vancouver Police Department for an interview.

                  He knew right away: They have the boy, but not Quince. That meant even more complications. Still, it was like salvation: good to do something. To be in motion.
                  Tessa refused to come along, and since he knew that, besides the monster, Connor also lurked nearby, he drove off somewhat at ease and carried away the darkness and turmoil within him. During the drive, he listened to music by Nat King Cole on the radio, then Muddy Waters - the live recording of a club gig in Chicago, sometime in the fifties. And after that, a nameless saxophone player was on, who expressed melancholy and power perfectly.

                  Melancholy and power . . .

                  He was fully aware that he could not allow himself to be overcome by melancholy. Sadness, grief and melancholy were not good companions in times of danger. When calamity threatened, when death and ruin lurked, strength, dedication and absolute vigilance were what was required. He would desperately need those qualities in the near future, and perhaps in the distant as well.

                  If only to protect Tessa.

                  Comment


                  • #35
                    Chapter 4 Vancouver Docklands Hospital

                    Strangely irritated and hesitant, like an insect probing unknown terrain with trembling antennae, MacLeod returned to the reality of the present. The feeling of irritation was not so much the mild shock of reawakening. He knew this, had experienced it before, so that with the arrogance of the Immortal he could almost consider it routine. What really disturbed him was the memory of the memory.

                    Why these powerful pictures of Slan Quince right now?

                    The mere thought of the human-shaped monster at this moment made him need to put his hand on his katana's hilt, so he would be ready to defend himself and the woman he loved. But the sword lay at the bottom of the Pacific, deliberately flung there by his own hand. Was his memory of the monster a message telling him that it had been a mistake to want to buy freedom and peace in this way?

                    He could not deny with complete certainty that a deeper meaning might lie in the dreams of the death phase, but he refused to believe it. He might as well have believed that there was some hidden power that had pulled on invisible threads to bring about his death and purposely let him dive into that very memory.

                    Angry at himself, he banished the gnawing thoughts of Slan Quince and the katana. It was time to focus on the real moment, on what was going on around him.

                    Wake up, Highlander, you're back in business!

                    The sound of rapid steps, then the smell of aseptic cleanliness; Hospital atmosphere.

                    A jet of flame, in which fire and ice mated, blazed up inside him. Hospital, doctors, in-depth examinations - for anyone like him, all of this was not help but the exact opposite.

                    Obviously, they had not noticed at the scene of the accident or during transport to the hospital that he had actually died long before they got there. The biology of an Immortal inevitably had to leave conventional medicine confounded. And arouse curiosity - drilling, inquisitive scientific curiosity, which all too quickly would degenerate into an untamable, Mengelian thirst for knowledge.

                    He tried to open his eyes, but the effort failed, because the muscles in his eyelids were not responding yet. He was at the very beginning of the autonomic recovery phase, which the doctors would misinterpret. What was actually the slow flare of returning life would have to look to them like the last convulsions of an unconscious man tumbling towards death.

                    Initial insights spread in his brain: The unnaturally clean smell came from an oxygen mask over his mouth and nose. He could feel the irregular hammering of his heart, pulse, breathing. The pressure in his veins - an infusion needle.

                    They were taking him in a wheelchair to the operating room. He knew they would try to operate on him and suffer the shock of their lives. And discover your secret, Immortal, whispered a wicked, know-it-all voice in his head.

                    New, different voices surrounded him, following him down a long linoleum hospital corridor.

                    Professional voices circled in professional objectivity.

                    "An emergency . . . must go to the . . ."

                    "I'm Dr. Wilder - what happened?"

                    "He was run over by two lunatics twenty minutes ago. Resuscitation has been partially successful. Breathing still unstable. Suspect serious head injuries."

                    "I need x-rays, and an ECG - Nurse Barbara!"

                    "Already done, I've arranged for the records to be brought to you immediately, Dr. Wilder."

                    "That's not fast enough, damn it. The man's dying!"

                    "I'm dialing!"

                    Even more voices.

                    "Here, the infusion."

                    Helpful hands raised him, moved him to another surface, and spread a cloth over him. He felt a draft as it fluttered down on him like something alive.

                    "Careful, Jeff!"

                    An announcement in a callous robotic voice: "Dr. Forster, please contact us immediately in Surgery! Dr. Forster, please."

                    Dr. Wilder had returned: "Did he have any identification on him?"

                    "I already took it to Admitting."

                    "Okay, Barbara, okay." He spoke gently now, soothingly.

                    The part of MacLeod that still - or again – stayed with his thoughts, believed he was shaking like an animal before an approaching blizzard. Icy cold unexpectedly spread inside him. His eyes were still closed, and he thought he could discern bloodied shapes on the insides of his eyelids.

                    Outside, around him, more and more people were gathering together - he could feel them, smell them. Paramedics and nurses. That dark, magical part of his ego that he constantly refused to think about was always meticulous about giving him a complete overview.

                    He knew that time was running against him. It ran away from him.

                    Something happened to him, in him. They connected him to devices. He felt cool touches on his chest, on his head. Measuring instruments started to work. The ticking sounded again - seconds passed quickly. A steel clamp tightened around his chest, new tearing pains opened, as clawed hands raked his body again.

                    Barbara's voice, full of concern: "Cardiac arrhythmia. Breathing still destabilized."

                    A hurricane of other messages surged around him:

                    "Prepare oxygen!"

                    "Condition critical, Doctor."

                    "Reflexes?"

                    "Negative! No, dear God . . . there! Pupils are still reacting."

                    "Irregular pulse . . ."

                    "Prepare the defibrillator, hurry!"

                    Duncan thought only one thing, over and over again: I have to get out of here, I have to get out of here, I have to . . .

                    He no longer felt his body. Only more darkness. It was as though he was floating away.

                    "We've lost the pulse!"

                    "Oxygen - what about the breathing mask!"

                    "No pulse. No respiration, Dr. Wilder!"

                    "I'll get him back!"

                    An explosion of fire in his chest shook him, roused him, and flung him back onto the operating table.

                    Dr. Wilder's voice became a demonic scream: "Come on, man, come on!"

                    Various series of events unfolded in Duncan's skull: fragmentary sensations. Then a second electrical surge, even worse than the first. He jerked up, fancying he could feel all his muscles tearing, struggling desperately for breath, but there was no breath, nothing - just a void; no reactions. The fire faded, stopped glowing, went out.

                    Why is it so different this time, why? I was already back, I was . . .

                    He knew the answer in the next moment: too many drugs. Too many chemicals. The mortals had meant too well by him.

                    For the first time, he noticed the pulsation of faint fear that he would not be able to do it this time, or, worse, that he would have to stay in that intermediate state forever. It was like a furious compulsion: he wanted to scream, he wanted to rear up, shout out the horror and . . .

                    "Flatline!"

                    Not that. Not like that. His thoughts were as heavy as millstones.

                    "Respiration!"

                    Oxygen hissed into him, filling his lungs and inflating his chest. Fists hit his chest, rhythmic, desperate, yet determined to win this fight.

                    "The defibrillator, Doctor!"

                    "No heartbeat, no respiration . . ."

                    Blackness. Ticking. Time that passed. A lot of time. Sparks in the infinite, teeny-tiny, pinheads. Something that shows the way. The way back.

                    The next step: transition.

                    No memories. Not yet.

                    Then: His environment had changed. Less agitation. Not so many people anymore. The know-it-all voice in his head said urgently: You are unobserved. For the next two, three minutes. For whatever reason.

                    His eyes were wide open as if in shock, yet it took him a few seconds to perceive distorted details: it seemed that Dali had repainted reality - there were only runny, distorted shapes. There was not much time. He forced himself to rest, closing his eyes, imagining a single red spot painted on a mirror. He saw himself, in lotus posture, collecting his thoughts and centering them on that one red dot to recognize the center of his self within.

                    Not much time . . .

                    "Three hours! God, we got him out of it, but it looks like he’s not going to make it. Not with those injuries."

                    Voices, far away.

                    MacLeod opened his eyes jerkily, ignoring the pain that stalked his head like fire along his optic nerves, leaving only weakness and despair behind. But this time he could see some details. He named them in his mind, animating his memory: surgical lights, a flashing and gleaming set of instruments on the stainless steel tables, computers, buzzing, ticking devices, countless tubes, like a spider's web. The light was too bright. The pain in his hip and arm was reduced to a tingle. But there was an inferno in his mind, a maelstrom like in the sky over Vancouver Island . . . when? A lifetime ago?

                    The ticking that made his heartbeat audible outside of his body came from the right.

                    On the left was a glass wall.

                    He tore the oxygen mask off his face, blinking with disorientation, then full of hate: he anticipated a new shockwave of pain and braced himself against it.

                    Get out of here, before -

                    On the other side of the glass wall, in a smaller adjoining room, were people: A man in a white coat. Dr. Wilder. He was of medium-height, slender, with short-cropped, brunette hair; a pale average face behind oversized glasses. But MacLeod remembered the authority in the doctor's voice, the obsession with which he had fought to bring Duncan back from the brink of death. He thought involuntarily: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

                    Next to Wilder stood a woman in a nurses' uniform: slim, pretty, her hair tied back. Barbara.

                    Her body language was clear: she admired and loved Wilder, she would do anything for him, over and over again, and she wanted to be loved back for it - at any cost.

                    It was their voices - earlier. Remember, remember . . . and hurry!

                    Wilder stood half-turned away from him, head and torso outstretched, looking tensely at two x-rays mounted on the light board. When he spoke, it was as though he had completely forgotten about the woman's presence. "Massive bleeding in the frontal brain lobes. Hemorrhage, a complete edema of the whole brain. How the hell is he still alive?"

                    MacLeod ignored the pain that was now coming in large, wild pulses. And he ignored his reflection in the glass wall: his long hair disheveled, the shadow of his beard a 3-day stubble. In his eyes a blazing fire that had never seemed so intense to him before - icy cold and volcanic heat, like a predator.

                    The touch of a very personal madness, he finally corrected himself.

                    They had unbuttoned his shirt. His stomach muscles protruded, hard and knotted, as now, suppressing a groan, he heaved himself up to sit, bent forward, ready to fight a wave of pain and react, if they should notice him.

                    He placed the oxygen mask very carefully onto the stainless-steel table, pulled the infusion needles attached to his skin with adhesive tape from his arms, and rolled off of the gurney.

                    It was as if, with each new step, he sank a little deeper into ground that should normally have been made of pure concrete. The strain of forcing himself to walk brought sweat out on his forehead. Numbing pain became tearing nausea, he felt on the verge of vomiting, he believed he had caught his foot on something, he had to fall and to scream . . . and then realized incredulously that he had already reached the door.

                    He remembered the trivialities that were suddenly important if he did not want to attract attention: he buttoned his shirt, grabbed his jacket from somewhere, and slipped it over his shoulders. Dali's surreal hospital reality broke over him again in garish color cascades, threatening to bury him beneath them. There was a ring of steel on steel in his head, circling thoughts, as though they were thought by someone else: The Eternal Battle . . . The worst enemy of all . . . Please . . . The katana. You should not have done it.

                    And at the same moment: Yes!

                    Must get out. Quickly.

                    He managed several steps more. Still unnoticed. Still no shouted orders for someone to stop him and bring him back.

                    It was as if the hospital were being tipped over by demons, as if he was creeping along the walls and ceilings like some kind of awkward, monstrous spider.

                    But he was still on his feet, still on the move. Almost outside.

                    He thought he could hear the regeneration of his flesh, how the wounds healed under tongues of lightning, and . . . Keep walking, keep walking.

                    Wilder's and Barbara's startled voices sounded a long way off. Behind him. Unimportant.

                    He did not look back. He banished all thought of them, banished all thought of himself, and went on as a matter of course, despite all adversity. A reflection of light in the sterile brightness. He felt his way along the wall, focused on feeling the essence of the wall, encouraged himself to take further steps and defy the sinking . . .

                    . . . and sensed new activity steaming up geyser-like in the room he had left minutes, or just seconds ago.

                    People came towards him, drove up like a big, colorful flood and parted before him. Still no one stopped him.

                    He thought he heard Wilder's excited voice, "Where is he? Who ordered him moved? I am the attending physician, I have . . ."

                    "But that's impossible! He can't just have vanished! None of the other doctors were here. See, the infusion is still dripping . . ."

                    He could not say with certainty if he only imagined their voices, but he was determined not to look back even now. He picked up his pace, reached the elevators, mingled with the patients, nurses, doctors, and visitors gathering there. He allowed himself to be camouflaged by them as he, like all of them, waited to be able to step into the next elevator, ignoring the flickering, indifferent keep-your-distance touch of their eyes. Perhaps some of them sensed that dark aura of death that undoubtedly still clung to him. But if they did, they shied forcefully away from it - and from him - intent on minding their own business. They did not want to cause any trouble, let alone provoke anyone by appearing too nosy. Twice, nurses passed without sparing a glance at the group - entangled in daily schedules and appointments, with the firm determination not to capitulate in the face of the incredible amount of human suffering.
                    Wilder still was not charging from the operating room at the end of the corridor yelling for assistance. On the contrary, the silence that prevailed there had the quality of a perfect nightmare. MacLeod caught himself staring back at the operating room more and more often, with burning eyes, eyes like cameras. For long seconds he was caught up in this impression of completely one-dimensional surreal vision. The pain inside him blazed higher, ate its way along the hair-thin neural pathways into his brain, enveloping him with a fire unlike any that had ever existed in the real world.

                    He could still hear Wilder's stunned voice ringing in his mind, echoing the roaring flames: "Massive bleeding in the frontal brain lobes. A complete edema of the whole brain. How the hell is he still alive?"

                    When the elevator finally arrived with a bright chime, MacLeod responded at the last second. The crowd around him rolled into the confines of the elevator like a creature animated by a single collective mind, shoving and pushing him along. The doors closed, locking him in. The elevator carried them all down - very quickly, but too slow for a normal escape. Only now did the light seem unnaturally glaring to him. His eyes began to ache in exactly the same rhythm as his brain. On-off-on. Light-dark-light. It was still hard for him to think clearly.

                    How should he react downstairs if they tried forcibly to stop him? Fight? He had never killed any of them, he protected them, at least those of goodwill. The lambs, commented Alexei Voshin's voice disparagingly in his thoughts.

                    The closeness of the many other people, their body odors, their transpirations, even the tiniest of movements almost overwhelmed him. Then they were down. It occurred to him that they had taken his identification from him. He thought: Something else to do.

                    Keep moving. Do not attract attention. Leave no traces, no evidence of identity.

                    He drifted along in the stream of people, through a tall, dome-like, venerable hall, forcing himself to move in well-controlled movements that were more than a wobble. He had to think of winter landscapes, trees dusted with snow and birds in the wind.

                    It took some time before he knew where they had taken him. He was in the Vancouver Docklands Hospital, the Trauma Center. Half a year ago he had come here with Richie to check on Gary, a friend of Richie's; the boy, a sports and health fanatic, had raided a diamond dealer, taken a woman hostage, run amok, and finally collapsed. There had been strange, bruise-like marks on his temples. Cerebral hemorrhage; a quick, cruel death. The only clue that pointed to Kiem Sun and his centuries-long research, back then. The past.

                    He shook off the memory, walking through strips of bright sunshine and darkest shadow. The raging pain within him subsided hesitantly. It was still very bad, a hurricane, but more controllable than before. He became aware of the pulse of his surroundings as with new senses. His field of vision seemed to increase, the surreal merged with reality, his vision gained dimension.

                    Admissions was, under the overwhelming impression of the hall, a surprisingly small glass box directly opposite the huge double-winged portal. There was only a beautiful, dark-skinned young woman in a nurse's uniform holding the fort, visibly at peace with herself despite the continuous ringing of the telephones.

                    He walked over to her as he had mustered his white lies. He caught her gaze and returned her smile like a friendly fellow with no evil intentions. But he was still prepared for if that Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde had sounded the alarm and ordered Security to be especially watchful at the exits. He gave himself two minutes and told her that he was perfectly alright, that his brother was there to pick him up and bring him home.

                    "They had me," he told her, leaning over the counter a little, "brought in for nothing, and kept all night for observation. And one night here is really enough."

                    She gave him an understanding smile, and he smiled even wider, enjoying her smile: the tiny stars in her coal-black eyes.

                    "Well, in that case, sir . . ."

                    She compared his photo to his face, finally handed him his ID and had him sign the form confirming he had left the hospital at his own request and risk.

                    Then she was distracted by another phone call.

                    The distance to the impressive double portal seemed to him greater than the distance between the Earth and the moon. He sensed that she was gazing after him, having turned skeptical at the last second, and he struggled to maintain a carefree walk. The bustling hum of a busy hospital all around gained a new, irritating intensity, but outwardly he remained completely composed. He wrapped the raging pain of regeneration terrorizing him behind a mask of equanimity and seemingly perfect absence of concern. They were precious to him: pain meant life, meant that he had returned from that shadowy realm mortals called death and equated with an eternal peace that did not exist, anywhere, and least of all there.

                    Then the oak-framed glass portals opened in front of him. A gust of wind hissed at him, and with it the howl of the siren of a passing EMS responder heading out on an emergency run. It was already evening again. His sense of time was once more completely out of sync.

                    Nervousness made his eyes water as he walked over to the long line of waiting taxis, mumbling, "I'm out, I'm out." But he still felt no sense of relief.
                    Instead, there were once again confused pictures: far too many seemingly senselessly confused people. When he closed his eyes, he saw a hospital labyrinth in which he wandered nightmarishly long. It's not over yet. Visitors came and went in tides. In between them, there was an old woman in a wheelchair sadly looking for someone who might never come.

                    Deep in the east, the moon stood as a pale, rapidly brightening sickle in the darkening blue of the evening. Clouds flitted across the sky like hunted prey. It almost seemed to him as though they were fleeing because they knew what was going to happen.

                    It's not over yet.
                    Mengel is a shortcut for this adjective, but I get "no stopping desire" for the phrase "vor nichts haltmachendem".
                    My friend says: FOR FUCK'S SAKE, ORIGINAL AUTHOR
                    we call that a massive hemorrhagic stroke in the Real World

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                    • #36

                      Chapter 5 Futile Escape

                      The night clouds had swallowed the moon, and with the new darkness the rain had come back and forced the taxi driver to keep to the speed limit.

                      MacLeod had merely replied to the scruffy round-faced man's apologetic explanation with a nod and continued to stare out into the darkness that flew past them in strips. He missed the lights of the city, but at some point he realized it was his eyes. There was still something wrong with them. He still was not truly back in his head, his body. Then he thought of Tessa and Richie. They would be worried. Three days was a long time for mortals.

                      He had the taxi driver drop him off a quarter of a mile from Antonio's Gourmet Italian Market and his parked Thunderbird, paid him, and walked the rest of the way. As his muscles were eaten away as though by rust, it took him half an hour. But he felt the rain and the cold as refreshing. The colors of the city returned. He was grateful for that, and the feeling still dominated as he looked for the other victim of the two freaks, in the alley beside the billiard hall. But he discovered nothing aside from two large bloodstains and yellow police tape hanging in tatters. So they had found the man or woman and taken them away.

                      Taking a deep breath, he walked to his car, got in, and drove it over to North Vancouver Heights.

                      It stopped raining just as he parked the Thunderbird in front of the angled house that gave the impression of being an old Renaissance fortress. All of the windows were already dark. The debilitating weakness had returned, and it cost him untold effort to get out of the car and keep his feet under him for the few steps to the front entrance.

                      He was home.

                      He assumed that, after all these years, the word had come to have meaning for him. However, he did not dare to estimate how long it would keep that meaning. Eternity, he thought, is damned long.

                      He finally found the keys after several minutes of rummaging around in his left trouser pocket, though he was convinced that he had not pocketed them after leaving the car. With an irritated grumble, he leaned forward to unlock the door. His silhouette shimmered in the glass door with the gold letters: TESSA NOEL & DUNCAN MACLEOD - ANTIQUES.

                      Suddenly, the darkness came to life: A taut cocoon burst as if torn apart by claws and spat out an oncoming something. It was already there, fast as black light, when he finally noticed it. Then a second shadow was reflected in the door. He whirled halfway around to ward off a possible sword strike with his right arm and his coat hanging over it, but he was too slow. His reaction, his defense, was a hundred years too late and he knew it, even as he carried out the cumbersome movement, remembering the last thoughts with which he had left Vancouver Docklands Hospital: It's not over yet.

                      The first blow hit him at kidney level and flung him against the glass door. He was dragged around. He felt an iron grip on his wrist, his arm yanked back and forth. He dropped to his knees. Panting breath brushed his throat. MacLeod believed he recognized the essence. It had human contours - slender and almost petite - not a serious adversary for him, at least not normally.

                      More flashing movements followed. A pale face appeared briefly above him, distorted reflections shone on thick lenses. The glint of teeth that had been licked in an iceberg smile.

                      He sensed the next frantic movement more than saw it. He tried to curl up, duck underneath it. An injection. A gleam of steel, and the needle of the syringe went into his throat. The contents emptied into him with murderous pressure. Even more chemistry.

                      "It has to be, monster man," was panted in breaths very close over his face. "It has to be, the word is sacrifice, it's your and my salvation."

                      Suddenly he flew, suddenly the world was under him, and the anger in him exploded in fiery spirals. He was fighting. Whatever had been injected into him, it was already working, so he was easily dragged along, put on his feet, dragged away. He saw only jumbled puzzle pieces. His thoughts pelted him bit by bit. He could not think anymore, nothing was right anymore. He had been dead and returned to life, but now came a completely different night.

                      There was his car, the Thunderbird. A strange hand unlocked it, opened the door and pushed him inside.

                      MacLeod screamed and plunged through this terrifying darkness for an eternity. This time he did not completely lose consciousness. It was not a dying, much, much worse: a delirium following endless nights of fear and horror. He thought he was wallowing from side to side in damp bedding, over and over again - regardless of the burning pains he felt at the time - and at the same time he continued to fall, gaining speed and power. And now he screamed, as he had never screamed before.

                      Even more acceleration.

                      "What . . . what . . .?"

                      Desperate instinctive attempts to remember, to think, overcame his animal fear: Someone - something - had taken him. He did not know from where. Taken. Tied up. Chained. A tiny part of his consciousness realized that with every movement the chain links dug deeper into his skin, his flesh, tearing up scarring and releasing horrible feverish dreams.

                      Even more acceleration.

                      And then, without transition: a sudden halt.

                      The echoes of his screams died away as if in a ghostly storm, and this sudden silence finally dragged him back to the other side. It was like a pull, a swirling transition from one shadow world to the next, far more terrifying and dangerous.

                      MacLeod was wide awake even before the old warrior reflexes tightened his muscles and betrayed him. But he knew at the same time that it would not change anything, that this waking state would last only a split second anyway.

                      Terrible pain ate through his body, permeated with visions of a hospital labyrinth. Half out of his senses, he realized that he was still more dead than alive, chained on this catafalque.

                      As if from afar, he heard the dripping of his own blood, but at the same time he knew that he would not die, not even from the injuries he had inflicted on himself in his frenzy.

                      And then, all of a sudden, he heard breathing.

                      There was someone else in the darkness besides him. His sinister enemy was there. Very close. He smelled like an animal. Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde?

                      MacLeod's eyes were wide open. An angry vein on his forehead swelled - he threw himself against his chains, felt them on forehead, neck, hands and legs. The stretcher lurched lazily under this onslaught of aggression. Somewhere, metal objects clinked together.

                      "I'm sorry about the morphine, Mr. MacLeod," the Shadow Man said with businesslike friendliness, and under the influence of the drugs he thought he saw the words pile down like moss-coated boulders.

                      "But over the years," the man continued, "I've realized that my in-house patients require comprehensive restraint. I lead a secluded, contemplative life, and I approve of the same right for my neighbors."

                      Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde?

                      A flood of momentary impressions that he could not process right now, pattered down on him. A basement room, a laboratory. In it, a wooden staircase, tightly twisted and wedged in on itself and seemingly without beginning or end, as from an Escher painting. A human insect crawled across the ceiling, reached the stairs, and climbed over them without difficulty.

                      What . . .? he thought. Why . . .? And again and again:

                      The Shadow Man. Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde?

                      Maybe he should have known the man's real name. But it was almost irrelevant, now that he did not seem to know anything about anything anymore. He remembered dreams and perceptions. It could not be true. Impossible. Not again. This was how a rat had to feel on a wheel - hurrying faster and faster to reach that one still-meaningful goal: death.

                      MacLeod shook his head as if trying to shed weakness and dizziness. With those other, dark senses, he reached for the blackness deep within, reached for the Eternal Power: So many Shadow Warriors killed, source of new life for the one who had taken their lives. But there was only abysmal emptiness. And shadows, creeping, moist, shining shadows. He noticed the Shadow Man's hand, which gave him another shot. The sting was planted in echoes, deeper and deeper, to the very center of his being.

                      "Why?" he gasped. "Why?"

                      The Shadow Man smiled down on him. Behind thick, reflective glass lenses, that made his eyes look as if they were marbles, there was the grin of a child-like, precocious smartass.

                      "I've had so many patients, Mr. MacLeod. But none of them have ever held your promise. It’s a God-given sign."

                      It seemed as if the wings of a giant eagle were dabbing MacLeod's face, caressed his eyes and forced them to close. The injection began inexorably to have its effect again. The embers of a thousand exploding bombs flared up. Distant music, probably Wagner.

                      The figure of the creepy doctor became as tall as a mountain. It seemed threatening, like something that shattered all life. Then he was manipulating things on a long laboratory table. His movements were jerky and unnatural, like he was not of this world.

                      "This will be quick, Mr. MacLeod. You will sleep and not feel a thing, totally painless."

                      "Why?" It was just a strangled breath. His lungs did not have enough air left. The fire burned it all away. Images surfaced, rolled in on themselves from the corners, turned black and disappeared. Ashes were raging in a firestorm against a blue sky. The stainless steel equipment of the basement laboratory: metal trays, electrosurgical probes and scalpels. In addition to countless syringes already full of something, there was a Huntington electric bone drill. Also, wound cloths, some bloodstained.

                      He himself in lotus posture. Hara. The center so far away.

                      He clung to that last impression. He heard the lecturing of the Shadow Man - almost incomprehensible, nothing but demonic vibrations in the air, much like the rumble of thunder.

                      "Modern medicine, Mr. MacLeod, makes such a tiny contribution to the healing of the body. It is no more than a way of mitigating damage. That's why we need to stimulate the body to heal itself completely. The divine art will be to deliver the unique impulse that will let the miracle begin."

                      The Shadow Man leaned over him and began undressing his upper body without breaking stride in the lecture. He applied an antiseptic.

                      Cold seeped into MacLeod's pores. More cold penetrated him. His eyelids fluttered. The voice of the Shadow Man sounded more like that robot voice in . . . in . . .

                      " . . . and in the midst of all these considerations and research, a man is admitted to Emergency. Cranial bone fractured, brain trauma, smashed jaw, palate shredded, both clavicles fractured several times, four ribs crushed into fragments, lungs literally perforated, backbone sprained, pelvis split, and left leg broken. Not to mention all the internal injuries to the kidneys, liver, and so on. Not human anymore, just a bundle of smashed bones and shredded muscle . . . And in a moment when no one is watching, after a resuscitation that should not have been possible to begin with, this man simply gets up - and disappears. He just walks away, leaves the hospital and drives home. You understand, I must know more about you, I must. It's my destiny. And yours."

                      MacLeod groaned and tried again to sit up. But he felt like an insect on its back - without a chance. His exhaled breath blew away as a wisp of fog in the cold laboratory.

                      The other shook his head disapprovingly and set the wafer-thin blade of his scalpel on MacLeod's skin. Then he drew it through the flesh in an experienced motion.

                      "Calm down, Mr. MacLeod! I am beginning my first examination now. It may be a bit unpleasant, but the rewards will compensate for all of this, I swear. It is for us to go down in medical history . . ."

                      MacLeod did not fight anymore. It would have just been a senseless waste of energy.

                      Instead, he withdrew into himself. Hara, the middle, the place in the deep still lapped by waves of morphine.

                      "Our first approach will be a cell pathology exam. For this I will need this tissue sample. I'll have to cut a bit."

                      And he did.

                      MacLeod felt it distantly. It was a feeling of bubbling wetness, accompanied by the metallic odor of blood. Then he screamed.

                      His tormentor started, and MacLeod returned from the deep one last time. Forcing himself to open his eyelids, he saw the dancing of tiny sparks over the bleeding wound in his left arm.

                      The absurdly small wound closed again under the glaring breath of energy discharges. Severed tissue and skin fused together, leaving no trace of a scar.

                      Definitely lost, MacLeod thought. He saw it. He knows he's on the right track, he . . .

                      The Shadow Man wiped spittle from his lips. Then he hurled the scalpel away and dropped the tissue sample he had just taken carelessly into a kidney dish he had kept ready. He rubbed his hand over his mouth, stunned, and stared at MacLeod. As he stumbled closer, he wrestled for the right words.

                      "Mr. MacLeod, I think that this was the beginning of a wonderful friendship."

                      He truly meant what he said: he was indeed grateful to him, and he certainly felt a great, pure love for him, the research subject sent from heaven. His eyes were bigger than ever and shone like giant moons in a face distorted by bliss.

                      And then, too, that face was just part of another image in MacLeod's mind: an old photograph, yellowed and wavy, as if it had been wetted a long time ago. The firestorm, which a detached part of his mind still vaguely recognized as an emblem evoked by morphine, now spread across the entire sky. He could still see that sky, a wonderful, completely blue sky. Isolated spiraling tongues of flame now also captured the photograph and twirled it up playfully. They drove it in front of them, until at its center a dark dot appeared, growing rapidly, glowing at the edges in scorching orange and yellow, exploding into a glowing vortex. Parts of the sky itself seemed to break out of the whole to also burn up in boiling heat.

                      The firestorm spread with primeval force and grew seemingly immeasurable: a supernova whose terrible energies outshone the light of an entire galaxy - its galaxy - and bombarded everything in its ever-widening radius with deadly particles. And if a supernova has a relatively short lifespan, its power is enough to destroy it forever.

                      The Shadow Man, intoxicated and inspired to the point of obsession, kept doing things to him over and over again. He mauled MacLeod's body, head and limbs with hypodermic syringes, scalpels and bone saws. He had long since stopped using antiseptic. He only wanted one thing: to cut his way into, drill into the secret that had to be unveiled.

                      MacLeod felt the pain, the singeing, tearing and breaking, but it meant little to him. As for pain, only the gods are truly inventive. My life is burning up, he thought, and was perhaps surprised at the fact that one death followed another so quickly this time. He knew he would not physically die. This fire burned only the present, and the past and the future would remain.

                      The dissolution process was imminent. He felt as if he was floating away.

                      You've cut too deep, Shadow Man, he thought with his last conscious thought. You were too eager to get to the heart of the mystery, and you did not have enough patience . . .

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