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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

                    Comment


                    • #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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                      • #37
                        Chapter 6 The Power Of Memory

                        The Vancouver Police Department rose on the north side of Nelson Park. It was a time-honored, powerful six-story brick block that MacLeod would have expected to find in a military dictatorship.

                        He parked the T-Bird in the parking lot behind the building and went inside. He reported to a rather infirm sergeant and was immediately sent to the fourth floor of the building. An ancient Paternoster elevator carried him, rumbling and jerking, up past floors of hectic activity. Above, the linoleum flooring smelled less intensely of floor wax - whatever significance that might have.

                        Sergeant Powell was already waiting for him in front of the elevator and received him with a handshake, a measuring look from watery eyes, and a terse "Come along." He was an overweight, dark-skinned man of about fifty, dressed in too shabby clothes and moving in an oddly weary way. It almost seemed as if the decades he had spent in the service of the so-called good cause on the street had made him shrink by an unnatural amount. His hair had thinned over his forehead, and at the temples it was already gray. But the mustache reminded MacLeod of hedgehog spines erected and ready for defense, and perhaps it was a message: The fight is far from over, and even if it is, I'll never give up.


                        They walked silently along the long corridor until Powell realized he needed to take the initiative.

                        "Our people picked up the little bastard just a few blocks from your store. He had a lot of silverware with him. There was even a label attached to a candlestick: MacLeod & Tessa Noel - Antiques. Well, is any of this ringing a bell?"

                        MacLeod smiled slightly. "Little bastard?"

                        "The boy. Richie Ryan."

                        "The guy who wreaked the havoc you saw yesterday was more like a big bastard, sergeant."

                        The policeman did not seem to hear him but continued to speak half to himself. "We've dealt with him often enough. He's a real little punk, but now we caught him and he had your valuables on him. And that's why we can finally nail him."

                        "I'm going to drop the charges, Sergeant."

                        Powell stopped abruptly and fixed MacLeod with his bright eyes. "What?"

                        "No charges. Maybe the boy needs a chance."

                        "The boy thinks we're idiots, MacLeod. Everything is a game to him. He even claims that he didn't rob you, but was only passing by. Supposedly he just looked in the shop through the window and saw three men attacking each other with huge swords."


                        "Oh?" MacLeod returned Powell's stare with an amused look. "Did any of these three men happen to have a costume like Batman?"

                        Powell's lips twisted into something that he probably thought was an approving smile. "Okay, I see it like you. Still . . ." They went on and turned into a narrow corridor to the right. The walls, painted green, were lined with old, battered benches. "The punk," Powell went on, half amused and half outraged, "is a nuisance: One of my people tells him seriously and bleakly how they're dealing with guys like him at the FBI, and he's asking how to spell that."

                        "FBI?"

                        "FBI," Powell confirmed. "He's young, MacLeod, and all alone. He has nothing but his smart mouth, yet he still thinks he's something. And he is on his way to the very bottom. He isn't the type to become a successful gangster. Only the other kind, if you understand."

                        "Let him go. But if possible, I'd like to talk to him first."

                        Powell shrugged resignedly. "You're one of those do-gooder types. A modern day Good Samaritan. Am I right?"


                        MacLeod held up both hands defensively. He supposed he could calm Powell with the air of being a harmless citizen, without an agenda.

                        When they arrived at a door labeled Interrogation Room III/West, the policeman said, "MacLeod, I'll tell you what happens when you talk to him. He listens to everything. Then he disappears. Because he does not want to intrude, as he calls it. He hasn't learned a thing. But a few weeks in juvie could bring him to his senses."

                        "A few weeks in juvie," MacLeod said, now also very serious, "could ruin him completely. A small welcome change in the daily menu of those felons who've been in there a long time. A piece of fresh meat. Just give me back what was stolen from me. The price for the boy would be too high. My answer is no, Powell."

                        The sergeant stared until his left eyelid began to twitch. "All right." His voice was completely flat, professionally polite. He had allowed himself to hope for another answer, and he was contemptuous of MacLeod for not giving it.

                        He opened the door and let MacLeod go in first.

                        The boy was slouching on one of the three uncomfortable chairs at the other end of the small, square room. He held his cherubic face in the sunlight coming through a tall, barred window, doing his best to look like a harmless kid. The air in the room was stiflingly hot. He pretended not to notice their entrance. His self-assurance was so phony and so easy to see through. MacLeod smiled. He smelled the boy's sweat and registered the subliminal aura of fear and desperation and a feverish search for a way out taking place in his mind. In the meantime, he was very aware of Powell's accurately registering camera eyes.

                        Then Powell swept past him. He dragged Richie into a proper sitting position, glared at him, and controlling himself with an effort, said, "This gentleman here wants to talk to you. Only talk. But if anything pisses me off, then I'll see to it that you'll never forget the next ten days in here. Is that clear?"

                        The boy blinked at him. "Oh . . . Yes, sir. Of course, sir, that is clear, sir," he replied, unimpressed.

                        Powell's right hand smoothed over his mustache. As he walked out, he said tightly over his shoulder, "He's all yours, MacLeod."

                        MacLeod nodded and waited for Powell to close the door behind him. Then he started moving almost silently, like a shadow, despite the hazy brightness in the room. He seemed to absorb all brightness and turn it into dangerous blackness. The hate, the anger, and the surge of dark energy - all of which had penetrated him almost completely last night and were still part of him - and wide awake, in spite of the masquerade he had performed for Powell.

                        The boy turned up his nose and avoided Macleod's eyes. Then he cleared his throat and tried, "Honestly, sir, I'm grateful that I still have a chance to become a useful member of society."

                        End the games. MacLeod was close now. He leaned over the boy, forcing him to look up and return his gaze.

                        "If," he said softly, and his breath was a blaze of fire, "if I let you out of here, friend, it's only because I do not want you peddling your little fantasies. That is the deal."

                        The boy tried to tear his eyes away to come free. He began to sweat when he did not make it with great effort of will. His eyes widened as if in delirium. A vein on his forehead turned dark blue and his pulse beat. The boy's blond, curly hair seemed to crackle with sudden electricity.

                        His next words he choked out like a dying man: "I . . . Oh . . . you . . . you mean the scene with you and the other two . . . Knights of the Round Table . . ."

                        MacLeod pushed deeper into him. His senses and means comprised no human element, were tentacles of darkness. A single, almost admiring thought crossed his mind: He's strong. Then: He just puts on a good show.


                        Richie gave a bleating laugh, but it did not sound liberating. The room itself seemed to be filled with invisible brackish water; or with just as invisible vapor. "I . . . never saw a thing. I just made it all up."

                        He understood. "I'm a faster learner, Mister MacLeod, at least when it really matters. All my teachers already said so: a quick-witted kid, but unfortunately too lazy."

                        Richie looked at him triumphantly. But when he remained silent and just fixed the boy more and more penetratingly, Richie went on talking and spilling out his part of the deal, without any mocking or mini-gangster irony: "I'm silent like the grave. My word of honor. Also: Who'd I tell something like that? And who'd believe me, anyway?"

                        MacLeod accepted with a nod, thus sealing the deal. Then he straightened up, still feeling controlled by dark emotions. Now everything had been said. He went to the door. Just before reaching it, he turned back and warned Richie, "I know your nightmares."



                        He drove home, put the Thunderbird in a shaded courtyard entrance, and waited. For what? He did not know, himself. Quince would not be so foolish as to look for a confrontation here a second time. He felt that. His instincts told him. And after all that had happened, they were alert enough.


                        For a while he watched a fly crawl on the windshield. Then he thought about the meaning of this word: home. What an anachronism for a being of his kind! This eternal life forcing him for centuries to feel at home everywhere: in Scotland, America, China, Russia, all of Europe, and again America and Canada. He had to be able to set himself up and find his way quickly. Just do not attract attention, do not waste too much thought. What were ten, twenty, or thirty years?

                        Never stay in one place too long, or with one person; they might quite suddenly notice that you, unlike them, do not age.

                        He reflected on this principle once again, more laconically now, and, being reminded of Tessa, more affectionately. He had not thought about it for more than twelve years. It was not necessary. And now, today? Twelve years were . . . insignificant. For him. But not for Tessa. Perhaps it was pure despair not to think too hard about it, so as not to admit that the wandering and the struggle were not over and would not end for all eternity. Maybe that was how he protected himself from slipping into madness.

                        "So much is dying inside a man while he's still alive," his friend Mark Twain once told him on one of their long walks along the dusty roads beside the Mississippi River. MacLeod was surprised to learn that only now did he truly understand what the great man had meant by that. Perhaps it also explained his preference for antiques - it was more than a camouflage: he loved things that had permanence and enduring character.

                        As the dusk announced itself in the sky with huge purple veils of clouds, he got out of the car. After a moment's hesitation, he threw on his lightweight, dark trench coat to camouflage his katana, flipped open the convertible top, and closely examined Tessa's and his immediate surroundings. He roamed the empty streets and lanes, past shops, modern house fronts, bungalows and older buildings. He looked into backyards and empty buildings and finally realized that he would not gain any new information about Quince's whereabouts.

                        He felt nothing, no flash and not Connor's presence either. He grimaced. He would not find Quince, but Quince would find him. And until that happened, he had to wage a solitary war of nerves, the hallmark of any psychological thriller.

                        The twilight above the low-hanging clouds darkened. In front of a Korean ginseng shop, a group of aging members of the '68 revolution discussed genetically modified foods. A guy with a neon-blue Iroquois mohawk swept past on a skateboard painted the same color and distributed ads for some newly opened sensational disco. None of those present wore a suspiciously long coat. No one seemed unduly interested in the building that had been Tessa's and his home for the past twelve years.


                        As he pushed open the glass door to the antique shop, he noticed that his hand was shaking.

                        Cumulative stress response. You played hide and seek too long.

                        He locked the door behind him, went upstairs, and waited until Tessa came up as well.

                        She avoided him and showered in silence. They were both still putting it off.

                        When she came into the living room after a little eternity, her body wrapped in a fluffy white towel, and sat down on the leather couch opposite him, with a finger on her lips she motioned him to say nothing, just to listen.

                        "He will come back."

                        MacLeod nodded.

                        "Will we stick this out together, you and I?"

                        He looked at her more intensely and hesitated to nod.

                        She poured herself a glass of wine. Then she changed the subject, as if there was nothing left to say. "Could it be that you, personally, saved this wine from Napoleon's own cellar so it could make it to today?"

                        He shook his head sedately and decided to play her game - tonight, at least. "It's the same age as you are. A good year. Happy Birthday!" He handed her a lovingly wrapped box. While she unpacked it spiritedly, he laughed at the return of her usual childlike enthusiasm. She admired the necklace he had given her, and embraced him joyfully, seeming all of a sudden to be happy, as if Quince had never existed.

                        "Mac - you're crazy!"

                        "I am," he corrected her with a smile, "a thief. I found it while storming the Bastille."

                        "As of today, I will not celebrate any more birthdays."

                        "You're beautiful."

                        "And a whole year older!"

                        "And still beautiful. And smart and courageous."

                        "When we met, you were older than me."

                        "Much older," he confirmed with a wry grin.

                        "I mean, now you cannot see the age difference. And in the future . . ."

                        He pulled her into his arms. He was alarmed and guessed what was coming. Perhaps she had read his thoughts earlier, when he was thinking of the twelve years behind them.

                        "You're the most wonderful woman I've met in my entire life."

                        "Hey, you're talking about four hundred years!"

                        "I'm not four hundred yet. I'll be four hundred in . . . um . . . four months."

                        She did not respond to the joke. The game slipped away in earnest. "The problem is, even if you are four hundred, or, let's say, four hundred and twenty, you'll still look thirty-five."

                        "Everyone in my family looks young. I can't help it."

                        He kissed her and felt her stiffen. She wanted to talk about it. She was strong enough.

                        "From now on," she whispered, "it will be different. You'll notice that I'm getting older every year. Older and older. And you won't be. At some point you're going . . ."

                        He shook his head and stroked her face tenderly, comfortingly.

                        "I want to grow old with you, Tessa."

                        As he spoke, every single word seemed awkward and banal to him. For him, his words were unimportant because she felt the truth.

                        Tiny shards of ice danced in her eyes. Maybe they would melt and turn to tears. "Mac . . . I'm not your first love. There were others, before me. Sometimes, at night, when you have these nightmares, you say names. Aylea . . ."

                        "Tessa . . ."

                        She did not let him interrupt her, and now her voice was stronger again. "In all these centuries, haven't you learned how to cope?"

                        "With the loss?" MacLeod felt a surge of bitter nausea rising in him, and then, immediately, calm. "No matter how many years pass, or how many times you have to say goodbye to those you love, it's as if you yourself die when they leave you . . . If they . . ."


                        "If they die," she said it out loud.

                        Comets. A flash of brightness and warmth, and immediately afterwards nothing but the blackness and cold of space.

                        "Yes," he muttered. "If they die."



                        That night, he knew he was dreaming - and yet felt as if he were fully awake. He noted an exaggerated, absolutely unnatural clarity of all perception: everything around him seemed to be bathed in blood - Tessa's blood. On the walls, floor, and ceiling - everywhere there was shining, shimmering and dripping. The bedroom had been turned into a sacrificial site. It was scalding hot, flies humming around in busy diligence. And he heard his own irregular heartbeat, a hard, very dull roar of constant noise that steadily louder, filling him up to the last corner of his being. His blood flowed through his veins with constant noise, from his head to his feet and from his feet to his head. A bizarre variation of tidal ebb and flow.

                        Mouth open in a silent scream, he woke up some time before sunrise, sweat-drenched and shivering as if seized by a chill that raged below the physical surface. Tessa lay on her side, curled up in a fetal position, holding a hand over her mouth to suppress a yawn - or a scream. He got up without waking her, picked up his katana and haunted the stifling heat of the big house. No intruders to be seen. All of the windows and doors were locked. The alarm system was functioning. Every step, every movement tired him and at the same time forced him to keep going, to be vigilant and ready. Outside, everything was quiet, the morning came peacefully over the big city.


                        No flash. Quince took his time. Apparently he enjoyed it.

                        An hour or two later, he found himself standing by the window, entangled in thought, full of questions. He thought of Aylea. She had known the souls of grasses and wild flowers. She sang the old songs; that told where her people came from, how they lived and what they believed in.

                        Do you think we ever lived like this? Together, as a tribe? With a common language, and a name for each being? And that there is a place for us somewhere -- any place, and any time, however briefly?

                        No new questions, no. He would never forget Connor's helplessness, the sadness in his eyes as he asked those questions back then. Just as little as Connor's silence. There could be no answer. Abruptly, he tore himself away from this train of thought.

                        Later, Tessa woke up too. After a quick breakfast, which they both spent in comfortable silence, he had it all sufficiently well under control. Including the animal fear for Tessa. She herself made it easy for him: in the morning, before turning to her work as an artist in her studio, she always withdrew into herself to focus on that one point beyond reality. She was already turning her thoughts and feelings on the intense artistic vision that needed to be translated into reality.

                        Suddenly the Quickening.

                        Abruptly he saw the red from his nightmare again in front of him. It was like a kick in the face. A shockwave front like an explosion in his skull raced across his spine.

                        The flash. One of his kind was here, was close.

                        This time he bore it well enough - and quickly enough: He held his katana in his right hand and was already on his way. Into the kitchen, down the stairs, into Tessa's studio. Her voice sounded like a mere breath behind him. "Mac, is someone here?"

                        "Someone with a long lifeline," he said, already at the back door.

                        A shadow in the upper third glass of the door sent a splash of ice water into his veins as he tore the door open and stepped forward, katana in a defensive position.

                        Connor grinned at him and cried, "Surprise!"

                        Duncan exhaled audibly. Then he invited him in and introduced him to Tessa.

                        Connor said ambiguously, "I'm a friend of Duncan's. We've known each other for ages."

                        Tessa raised an eyebrow - just as ambiguously - and disappeared into her studio.

                        "She's not making a fuss."

                        "Never does when people in long coats stand at the back door, claiming they've known me for ages."



                        The elongated ruin of the factory building on the outskirts of the city was reminiscent of the shattered, halfheartedly gutted carcass of an enormous dinosaur. The wind carried a warm, unpleasantly sweetish stench of burning tires and dead, rotting things from the nearby landfill. It let dust spirals rise and drove tattered newspaper pages rustling here and there. It whimpered as if dying in the window caves.

                        Duncan MacLeod it, rather than consciously perceived it - the struggle they had been repeating here for days strained him beyond measure. There was no time for him to be distracted, or to accomplish this in turn himself. They were both caught in a frenzied dance, a murderous will-o-the-wisping of steel, a circling and whirling around the opponent. Lightning lunges, attacks and parries alternated. The air between them was thick enough to cut, filled with their gasping breaths and with suppressed sounds of anger or exertion. The legs were relaxed, contrasting tightened arm and chest muscles which, taut and elastic met the steel. Each hammering clash of blades transferred to the grasp of his hands, echied in his arms and shoulders, and turned into sparkling energy, savagery, and joie de vivre. In this fight he was free, completely free, and a sense of unbridled fulfillment whipped all despondency and doubt out of him.

                        The energy was enough for ten Quinces, he thought vaguely, and slammed Connor effortlessly into a staggering retreat. He followed, found himself confronted with an unexpected feint, and heard Connor's steel brush past the tip of his nose. The next moment his friend slammed a shoulder against his chest and hit the blade of his katana upwards with a seemingly playful jerk of his underarm. Then Connor threw himself against Duncan in return and knocked him back. With that, he dampened Duncan's enthusiasm, his sense of invincibility.

                        "Like a bloody beginner!" Connor mocked him with good-natured ridicule. Duncan just shook it off. He ignored the painful burning in his muscles, which made it clear to him, not for the first time during these exercises, that he had not trained properly in too long. "Watch out, oh ancestor," he hissed, "that you don't lose your head!"

                        Laughing, he let Connor's new onslaught go past him ineffectually, and with a wild kick swept his legs out from under his body. Connor fell, and turned it into a roll away like something boneless, and Duncan raced after him, poking, thrusting, and hitting - without even getting in a scratch.

                        Now they both laughed and the fight was finally over. Reality embraced and sobered them. He reached out to Connor and pulled him up with a jerk. Then he looked into his eyes before telling him, "Slan's head is mine. He challenged me."

                        Connor was barely sweating. He was a fully trained fighting machine. "No more running away? No hiding?"

                        Duncan MacLeod shook his head and tried to ignore Connor's barely perceptible smile.

                        "I have to protect Tessa."

                        Connor turned away. He lowered his head as if trying to decipher runes on the rubble-strewn floor. It was as though the hazy interior of the factory building, still apparently resounding with sword-clanking, was filling with invisible life, as if there were eyes in the shadows high under the rusting steel girders of the ceiling and in the cracked masonry.

                        Even the pigeons seemed to feel it. Up until now, despite the fighting, they had been calm, serene spectators. But now they were rising in a huge swarm and circling with a loud, panicked beating of their wings in the twilight below the ceiling.

                        Connor did not pay attention to them. He turned and took his younger kinsman in a friendly hug. "Nice to see you," he said.

                        Duncan could only nod in silence.

                        The feeling of being watched grew stronger.


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                        • #38
                          Chapter 7 Under the Spell of the Past

                          As they drove back to North Vancouver in silence, they were enveloped in the overwhelming sounds of the city, the heat, and the smoggy clouds of approaching summer. The thermometer showed twenty-eight[1] degrees in the shade. They had folded back the convertible top of the T-Bird, but neither that nor the normally reliable sea breeze cooled them down. The feeling of being watched and persecuted gradually grew into certainty and became even more oppressive than the heat. But as much as Duncan kept an eye on the car's rear and interior mirrors, and took notice of every slight irregularity in the flow of traffic behind him, everything seemed to be normal. It was the rush hour before the actual end-of-the-workday rush-hour: Too many cars on the road, kids outfitted with bizarre motorcycle helmets here and there on off-road machines, a terrible mess of stop and go on the city highways, motorcycle cops and sirens. There were reflections of light gleaming on windscreens and in the panoramic windows of the skyscrapers. The longer he focused on it all, the more viscous everything seemed to move. In the simmering heat of the air, the world looked as if he was seeing it in a distorting mirror.
                          MacLeod wanted a club to smash his nightmares. But there were no good fairies left to fulfill such desires. He would have to come to terms with reality. It had been the same yesterday, and the day before and the day before: impossible to escape the fear and anxiety about Tessa while Slan Quince was there. And he was there. He lurked for his opportunity to inflict pain and sow misery.
                          Yesterday, they had found Tessa in the kitchen. She was sitting motionless in the half-light of the coming evening. As they entered, sweat-drenched and exhausted from hours of intense combat training, she looked up. Her eyes cleared seconds later, like she had been daydreaming too long, and Duncan's skin began to tingle icily. It had not been a dream and certainly not pleasant, he knew it at once.
                          "He's out there," she said. "I saw him for a moment. He is like smoke, despite his huge body. Just there, and the next moment already blown away like a gust of wind. He smiled when he realized I had noticed him."
                          Connor's mask of harmless lightheartedness and friendliness splintered as if under blows. His consolation sounded weak:
                          "He wanted you to see him. It's one of his tactics."
                          "I know. Nevertheless, it's frightening. He's so sure of himself."
                          "It's new to you, Tessa, but-"
                          Fuming with rage, she contradicted him. "So far I have had to deal with a different brand of opponents. The tax office, banks and petty art critics. Hard opponents, all of them. But they do not jump through the window at night, poking around with huge swords. At least not that."
                          Duncan pulled her up and took her in his arms. "Connor is on our side."
                          "All right, all right, I wanted to stay home alone - and I want to do that in the future. Damn it! I thought, I can take care of myself. No, I know that I can do it, I'm not a kid anymore. But . . . crap!" She clenched her fists and pounded him on the back. "Helplessness is so humiliating! And that's what it's all about for this Quince . . ."
                          She did not finish her statement, having long since realized its futility herself. She broke away from him softly and yet resolutely, went over to the window and spoke only after a shy sideways glance at Connor. "Okay. All right. I got it. We are bait. His bait for this maniac."
                          It took until after dinner for her to apologize. "I did not mean that, Connor. I'm sorry. Let's talk about something else, okay?" She let a sheepish little smile flit across her face. "I have never dealt with three Immortals at the same time. So, you two, are you related?"
                          Duncan sighed. He felt his vision change, veiled, as if his eyes could only look back to ancient times with great effort. "When I was a child, there was a legend about a mysterious ancestor in the MacLeod clan. He died in battle, and suddenly he lived again."
                          "They thought it was witchcraft," Connor added with an ironic smile. "That's why they cast me out. It was just a kind of magic. There was nothing anyone could do about it. Least of all me."
                          His younger clansman let out the long-held breath. He wanted to put it completely behind him. "It was an old wives' tale to me. But one day . . ."
                          " . . .you too were killed. And you returned. Like him." Tessa watched him attentively. He felt her gaze on him, felt that she understood: perhaps it would never be the same between them as it had been before. They had never talked about it, and suddenly he knew: that was the biggest mistake of all. He had lacked the trust that was now replaced by the fear that she could no longer see anything but the monster in him.
                          Duncan searched her gaze for it. He fought against this fear, while Connor continued in his stead, "They drove him away like me, chased him away like a rabid dog. He lived in the mountains and kept trying to talk to them. He stood in their way, even blocking his father, Ian MacLeod, and was ridden down. But he still lived on and on and on. And then I found him, just as somebody had found me before: Ramirez."
                          "Connor was the one who taught me everything I needed to exist and win as an Immortal."
                          "Win?" Tessa asked hotly. "Mac, win what?"
                          He knew what Connor's response would be, even protested his answer, and wiped both aside with a wave of his hand. He had known how far he had gone, and it was a good thing. The decision was imminent. He owed Tessa honesty and full faith, and with that decision he was filled with a great inner peace.
                          "There can be only one," he said almost tonelessly, raising his head so that he could no longer avoid Tessa's gaze. "That's the most important rule of all."
                          "Only one?" she breathed. "One of you? Only one Immortal survives all this madness? And what does the winner get?"
                          "The last one will unite the powers of all of the Immortals. He will have enough power to rule this planet for all eternity."
                          "A god, then?" Tessa whispered.
                          "For better or for worse." Connor let out a short laugh. "If a Slan Quince wins our little game, people here will have to endure a kingdom of darkness that will make Dante's Inferno seem pleasant, to put it lightly."
                          "To put it lightly," Tessa said breathlessly, shaking her head.
                          "Nobody can stay out of this game. Duncan has tried before, but . . ."
                          It sounded like an apology, and it tore Duncan back to reality, into the Thunderbird amidst the traffic congestion and the cacophony of car horns. He felt Connor's worried look and knew that he had been watching him all this time and guessing the train of his thoughts without any trouble.
                          "She's very nice, but she knows too much," Connor said. "Why did you do this to yourself, and to her?"
                          Duncan started laughing so wildly that he thought his chest would burst. "Out of pure selfishness. An attempt to live. To live, Connor, do you understand?"
                          But he did not wait for an answer. Ahead of them, the traffic jam broke up as surprisingly as it had arisen. He stepped on the accelerator and overtook two pick-ups that were lurching along ahead of him, emitting huge clouds of exhaust. Then he continued to accelerate until the airstream swirled as a barrier between them and they reached the Heights. But this time, the formula "acceleration equals release" did not work.
                          He found a parking lot across from the arcades, and he had the crazy feeling that temperatures were rising faster by the second. Slan Quince's presence was palpable instantly: a beacon that tore the cobwebs from his head for good.
                          He had already crossed the road halfway, without knowing how, but unmistakably surrounded by a chorus of horns, when his conscious mind began to work again with its accustomed precision. Connor had also felt the flash. Duncan saw him under the arcades diving into one of the back alleys. He went to the back of the house. The hunt had begun. The question remained, who was the prey, who was the hunter.
                          Three steps from the shop door he knew it would be locked. Quince was already with Tessa - was in her studio on the top floor. The whole thing was a carefully prepared trap - bait and trap were ready. Without slowing his momentum, both arms raised protectively in front of his face, he threw himself through the glass door, bounced to his feet, and hurried on. He crossed the vast sales rooms, shot up the stairs, his katana now no longer wrapped in his coat and camouflaged, but drawn bare in his right hand.
                          The alarm system worked reliably. A shrill, deafening whine began. At the same time, Slan Quince's thoughts poured into his mind: hate and triumph, breathless tension. Amusement and astonishment - a flood of oily, seemingly half-developed images . . .
                          Duncan gave a wild cry; without transition it was as though he had changed bodies. Now he saw everything from Quince's perspective, out of his eyes, accompanied by his sensations.
                          A brutal blow with his open hand hurls Tessa backwards, she falls, is easily intercepted by his monstrous paw[2] and yanked up, pushed into a chair and tied up. He slaps her, mocks her. "Maybe we should make a little use of the time until MacLeod's arrival? Perhaps I should beautify your pretty face a little . . .?" And he draws his sword, this huge sword, and -
                          "Quince . . . I'm here . . .!"
                          The vision shattered. He had reached the top of the stairs. He saw everything in glaring white, then blazing red, and that terrible scream of anger and agony still continued to fill his skull and body and grow louder and louder as he hurried down the hall to his destination.
                          The lock splintered under his onslaught. The whole door was torn from its hinges and pushed inwards. That saved his life. Quince had anticipated him and already struck at him, sword thrust splitting the entire upper third of the door plummeting into the studio, and Duncan somehow managed at the last second to roll aside in a controlled fall and to escape the next blow.
                          He pitted his speed against the speed of the monster, and it was as if mutual hatred increased every movement to a barely perceptible frenzy.
                          The sweep of his roll carried him past Quince and into the light-flooded room nearly ten yards away, and there was Tessa, who truly was tied to a chair and gagged, her eyes wide with terror.
                          He came up. He kept moving, acutely aware of Quince's lightning-like rush at him, and acted without hesitation. His blade swept through the air in a shimmering semicircle, cutting Tessa's bonds with dreamlike precision. A scream beyond all normal sensation vibrated in the air.
                          He could not take care of her, could not comfort her, there was no time left. Quince laughed sardonically. He slowed his forward momentum and tore his leather coat apart to allow for greater freedom of movement. Then he followed MacLeod with massive but not overly hurried steps; a butcher who is sure of his victim. He had bridged the distance before MacLeod could even twitch his eyelashes. The movements of the giant were so jerky and yet rapidly coordinated and precise, just as you see with very large spiders.
                          "You'll lose your head, Highlander. You will die. And you will not be resurrected this time."
                          In a firework of neon-blue lightning, Quince's blade buried itself in the window frame, turning wood and the masonry behind it into a cloud of crimson splinters, before the monster freed his sword with a curse.
                          MacLeod also parried this slash and the subsequent barrage of punches and was flung back. He bounced off the wall, saw Tessa get up and stagger away like a ghost.
                          A karate kick smashed his right hand aside and turned it into a numb lump. The katana whirled off, flashing, before it rattled to the ground. Quince's eyes glittered with triumphant madness behind the slits of the iron mask. As he circled, waiting for one decisive weakness, MacLeod had the impression that everything was behind blood-red veils.
                          It was as if he had been given a new quality of perception just to be able to perceive his own annihilation in detail. Suddenly all of the breaths within the room were as loud as the raging of a waterfall. He followed Quince's movements like a shadow and thought: the deciding moment. As the colossus threw himself against him in an ape-like leap, MacLeod slipped underneath the blow and swept away the sword blade by raising his elbow, as Connor had taught him. Then he slammed into Quince's body and was in turn hit like a hammer in the back of his neck, and then immediately grabbed by the hair and yanked up.
                          "Too slow," Slan Quince commented, sounding almost regretful. "And too weak. And too boring."
                          This time the impact was murderous. In a whirl of arms and legs, he flew over a workbench, cleared Tessa's easel and smashed into one of the large shelves. Sharp pain rushed through his body. It was as if he were breathing fire, as if every single bone in his body splintered after a tiny delay. More fists and kicks followed. A series of infernal sounds, almost like electronically amplified laughter, filled the room. Darkness and fast-moving pictures alternated. MacLeod pushed himself away, came halfway up, and moved to one side. He felt for his katana with both hands and did not find it. Instead, he heard Quince's blade penetrate the rubble behind him, thinking, Not now, not now . . . Damn, where's Connor?
                          The last, annihilating blow did not happen this time, either. When, after an eternity, he seemed able to think clearly again, the monster still did not attack. He had thrown himself into Tessa's path and prevented her escape. Colliding bodies formed a shapeless lump, then Quince whirled around with a shriek. His left paw clamped around Tessa's throat, pushing her up like she was a mannequin, as if demonstrating his power over her breathing, her life.
                          "One move, and I finish her, MacLeod!"
                          He straightened up, shook his head and wiped sweaty hair from his face. "You came for me, Slan - for me!" he breathed.
                          "I came to have some fun," Quince said, and began to choke Tessa without taking his eyes off MacLeod for a second. One last challenge before the end. Tessa's body was twitching as she struggled for air. Adrenaline whipped her into a madness between wakefulness and unconsciousness, making her gasp something MacLeod did not understand. She hoiked her fists up like they were on invisible strings and struggled to hit her tormentor with them.
                          As MacLeod snapped, the monster threw his hostage at him. MacLeod responded like a machine programmed for it. He caught Tessa with precision and absorbed the massive impact. Then, with a soft twist, he swung her around and set her down. At the same moment he threw himself at his katana, grabbed the hilt in both hands and was on his feet again to . . .
                          But Quince was gone.
                          He heard him rumble down the stairs, heard his thundering voice, "See you soon, children!"
                          Still no sign of Connor.
                          MacLeod registered everything faster than he could handle it. Accompanied by the frenzied ticking of seconds in his head, he ran to the stairs, heard a powerful HP engine starting in front of the house and revving to howling heights. Tires squealed crazily as the alarm continued ringing and under it could be heard the howling siren of a rapidly approaching Vancouver patrol car. He shook his head again and again to make up his mind, circling the house in search of Connor or Quince. But he found neither of them and hurried back to Tessa. Slow-motion sequences alternated with breakneck fast-paced perceptions, while the early evening light seemed to darken ominously.
                          Tessa said, barely audibly, "I do not want them here. I do not want them here."
                          He realized that she meant the cops. He stepped out and sent the patrol away with the first flimsy explanation he could think of. Then he turned off the alarm and dragged down the steel security grille, installed just yesterday, in front of the smashed shop door. As though still trapped in a movie madly flickering through the projector, he hurried back to Tessa.
                          And the script for the final scene of the film was not written yet . . .


                          [1] 82.4 degrees Fahrenheit
                          [2] Not originally italicized: "hurls Tessa backwards, she falls, is easily intercepted by his monstrous paw" probably to some complications as the page-break was before "schleudert" (hurls).

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                          • #39
                            Chapter 8 The Laboratory

                            At first he felt only the pain - a sea of pain, the lashing waves of which penetrated him on all sides, streaming into every fiber of his body and filling him with such agony that the dawning of his consciousness was lost again in complete blackness. But the magical powers of his genetic code initiated self-healing processes, bathing the nerves in soothing balm and shielding the protesting, screaming pain center of his brain. The dawn of the new life groped forward again, hesitantly prepared first and for repeated shockwaves, but in the end unflustered and single-mindedly programmed to leave the night behind.
                            At first his eyelids trembled like leaves fluttered by a mild breath of air. Then they jumped up abruptly.
                            Blurred light patterns danced before his eyes, mere splashes of color as if painted in the air. He was unable to perceive anything concrete - the speckled, ragged points of light were everywhere, camouflaging everything that lay behind them.
                            He moved his lips, which seemed strangely heavy and swollen, as if shattered by the blows of a huge fist.
                            "Tessa . . . Tessa . . . Where . . . are you?"
                            He could not make out his own words. His voice was nothing more than a dull, inarticulate murmur.
                            There was no response.
                            "Tessa!"
                            Her name as he spoke it was still indistinct and strangely strangled, but clearly louder and also reasonably understandable. Yet again there was no answer - only grim, frightening silence all around, as in a sanctified place where the presence of a strict God makes even the smallest noise sacrilegious.
                            His barely awakened and infinitely lethargic consciousness shifted into acute alarm. His thought processes came up to speed, like the engine of a souped-up sports car whose gas pedal is floored. The limp muscles tensed and wanted to pull the body into action. But they met with resistance that he could not overcome with this sudden, but still much too weak, energy discharge. He felt something wrapped about his legs, his arms, and below his chest that held him like the tentacles of a monstrous octopus, seemingly pliant and elastic, and equally relentless.
                            He was flat on his back and tied up, strapped down, immobile and helpless.
                            This realization struck his consciousness with the force of a bomb blast.
                            Quince! He has me . . . has Tessa . . .
                            MacLeod fought the savage panic and forced his thoughts into order. He had to act logically, recognize cause and effect . . .
                            He recognized his mistake. These were not the revived memories of the death phase. They could not be. He knew these feelings very well, knew that Quince and Tessa had not met again after that interlude in the loft. She was not in danger. Quince could never hurt her again . . .
                            The relief that came with this realization suddenly filled his heart with deeply felt calm. He was living in the now again, and in this now it was not about Tessa or anyone else he was responsible for, just about him alone. There was no cause for alarm, let alone panic, and no reason to rush anything. He tried to focus on the present, the circumstances that had led to the situation he was in now. And he quickly realized that he did not really want to succeed. The images of the past, the images of Tessa, Connor, and Slan Quince, stood before his mind's eye in garish, screaming colors, so vivid and close to him that he believed he could reach them, while the present appeared represented in different shades of black and shrank back from his grasp. He always saw only this one figure, blacker than black, which stood out from anything else, the shadow of a shadow.
                            Shadow Man . . .
                            He could not remember the identity of the Shadow Man, and he really was not interested in knowing it. Not at the moment. He just wanted to surrender to that peace, the inner peace he felt. Hear nothing, see nothing, think nothing. From centuries of experience he knew that the present was never more desirable than the past. It consisted of uncertainties, of vague, threatening intuitions, of demands which he scarcely could face in the weakness of awakening. Just forget them - both present and past!
                            He closed his eyes, letting the dancing specks of light from the outside world become one with the black tones of his inner world. He wished that both would dissipate and give way to the pure nothing in which he wanted to dive and lose himself.
                            But of course this was just wishful thinking. The reality was not easy to ignore, but pressed with an urgency in physique and psyche, from which there was no escape. The agony again poured painfully over the dams of his body's defense system and began to rage with renewed, even crueler intensity in his cells. He had to concentrate on it, to reduce it to a bearable level with the power of his will. And his nature, his very nature, prevented him from retreating fully into unconsciousness.
                            Shadow Man . . .
                            The dark figure was the fixed point in the as yet formless and meaningless mire of repressed or stunned memories. He applied all of his mental power to the Shadow Man. He tried to give the design of the stencil fixed form and substance, to extract it from the blackness and to fill it with light. And he succeeded: Slowly, very slowly, the shadow brightened, took shape, and formed a face. It was a face that could hardly be more average and commonplace. But the impression it made was anything but commonplace. It was distorted into a grimace that was far from anything human, eaten away by ambition and obsession. And naked fanaticism sparkled in its eyes.
                            MacLeod startled back. This man was insane, as insane as Slan Quince. But the madness expressed here was different from that of the dead Immortal. It was a madness that he had met many times during his endlessly long life - the frightful madness of the fanatical idealist and visionary who did not hesitate at doing anything to accomplish his goals. Real madness with method.
                            The vivid image of the Shadow Man awakened more associations and memories, though sketchy and rather incoherent, but sufficient enough to assemble, piece by piece, the puzzle of the present.
                            The madman was Dr. Jekyll. Or was he Mr. Hyde? No, Frankenstein fit better. A modern Frankenstein who was obsessed with creating a monster after his, Duncan MacLeod's, likeness. He could clearly see him now: the scalpel like a butcher's knife in his raised fist, blood on his hands, and his white medical smock, which he wore like the robe of a sacrificial priest. His name was . . .
                            MacLeod could not remember it. Maybe he had never known it. And he could not remember how he had fallen into the hands of this man. He saw himself standing in front of the antique shop, right at home, at home with Tessa. Then the accident happened. A car raced toward him. No, it had been a robbery: Freaks, with their fists and feet . . . Then the hospital, a bare white hallway full of excited people and noises. He, already dead, lying on a stretcher, en route to the operating room . . .
                            But this, the place he was in now, was not the operating room of a hospital. He opened his eyes abruptly, forcing the still-dancing points of light to form a grid and blend into an image of his surroundings.
                            It was an operating room, at least a smaller equivalent of one. Medical equipment and appliances stood in front of bare, aseptic walls, and in the middle of the room there was an actual operating table. On this table he lay, his head slightly raised so that he could look down. He was strapped down with bandages. One cannula was in his throat, another in his left arm vein, without being connected to an aggregate or a bottle - obviously he was no longer being cared for, he was abandoned and checked off as moribund or already "deceased".
                            He raised his head to get a better look. The effort produced a dizzy spell that instantly drove him back into disorientation. It took him more than a minute to regain control of his senses. What he saw filled him with bitterness. Although the self-healing process was already more advanced than he had initially thought, the traces of Frankenstein's work were still evident all over his naked body. He had always detested vivisections on animals in the so-called service of science. However, vivisection on humans easily stood up to dreadful comparisons to the tortures of the Inquisition that he had endured.
                            He squinted up at the bright neon tube in the ceiling, whose light seemed as piercing and merciless as the torturer's tools, then listened, head tilted slightly, with strained concentration. He heard only his own heavy breathing and somewhere in the background the monotonous plop-plop of falling drops of water recurring at regular intervals. They made him think about the ticking of a clock - and the fact that the time of his being alone in this room would inevitably come to an end. The butcher would come back, and if he saw that his victim was still alive, alive again, then he would . . .
                            Only one thought still dominated: he had to get out of this torture chamber, out of this house of horror, somewhere he could crawl, hide, get to safety.
                            He let himself sink back down for a few moments, struggling to breathe evenly and stay in control, gathering his strength. Then he braced himself with all the energy he could muster against the bandages on his arms and legs. The sudden release of force exhausted his body like a battery that was overstressed. But it did do something. He felt the bandages give way and his hands and feet got a little room to move. He rested for a few seconds to regain his strength, then threw himself against the bandages again. They loosened up, almost to the point where he could turn a hand back and forth. Another strong jerk, applied only to the right wrist, and his hand was free. He could pull it almost effortlessly out of the elastic loop now.
                            Within a short time, he had shed all of his shackles and removed the adhesive tape that sealed his mouth. When he sat up, the dizziness returned with a vengeance. Everything around him became formless again. The room tipped and seemed to throw him into a chasm whose bottom lay in the infinite. He let the attack pass. He did not fight it, but waited for the wild frenzy to stop itself. Finally, the storm wore off, and the environment took firm shape again. A staircase on the left side of the front wall attracted his eyes like a magnet. The way to freedom . . .
                            He rose from the operating table, slowly and gingerly, so that the blood would not rush again to his head and trigger new dizziness. As his feet touched the concrete floor, he felt that he had climbed out of a spaceship and gone out onto the surface of an alien planet, a planet whose gravity exceeded that of Earth many times over. His legs buckled beneath him, and he had to hold on to the table so as not to collapse. It took him more than a minute to finally be able to stand properly, still wavering, but without the need to cling to something. Like a drunk who tries hard not to stray from the white line during the alcohol test, he steered his steps toward the stairs.
                            Halfway there, he realized that he was completely naked and could not pass unnoticed among people. The idea was absurd in a situation like this, of course, but had not it been documented that even those people who were surprised by a fire in their sleep put on some clothes before they ran out of a burning house?
                            He looked around. Against the wall of the staircase stood a man-sized metal cupboard. Maybe there . . .? But he could save himself the trouble of looking for something to put on. His clothes hung in the right-hand corner of the room, carelessly thrown over a chair like things he would never get to use again. He slipped into them, but struggled to keep his balance - the gravity of the alien planet continued to pull and drag on his weakened body.
                            Suddenly he heard noises. They came from above, from the landing.
                            He froze. He held his breath.
                            The sound of a door opening . . . footsteps . . . someone coming down the stairs.
                            The adrenaline rush knocked him out of his stupor. He was two or three meters from the steps, still in the blind spot. But not for long.
                            He moved forward, toward the stairs, and knelt beside them, clinging tightly to the cold concrete. In this moment, he wished he was not an Immortal, but an invisible man.
                            The footsteps sounded immediately above and beside him. Then they stopped abruptly. The producer of the footsteps had come to a halt on one of the lower steps. Now his eyes must have dropped to the empty stretcher and the bandages that lay like white snakes on the floor.
                            A second, that to MacLeod seemed to last longer than his whole life passed; the cessation of a frozen slow motion. Then, just as if a bored observer had hit the fast-forward button, the scenery woke to madness.
                            The man on the stairs jumped down the last steps, stormed toward a small closet, opened a drawer, reached in, and spun around.
                            The eyes of butcher and victim intersected.
                            MacLeod got only a fleeting impression of his counterpart - a medium-sized, almost slender man in a business suit, whose facial features he perceived only as the harsh outlines of a caricature. Bright and clear - crystal clear - he saw the revolver in his right hand. The gun lifted, aimed at him.
                            Ignoring the weakness of his body, he scrambled up from his crouched position beside the stairs, took a few quick, staggering steps toward the other man, and threw himself against him.
                            A shot rang out. In the not too large and low room, the detonation was like the discharge of rolling thunder. It ate into his ear canals and nearly made his head burst. But the bullet missed him, impacted instead somewhere on the ceiling or in a wall.
                            MacLeod dragged his tormentor with him to the ground. The revolver slipped out of the man's hand and clattered along the concrete. A tangle of entwined arms, legs and bodies rolled across the room. It bounced against the stretcher and then against the small instrument table, raining shimmering silver scissors and scalpels down. His opponent's hand reached out for a scalpel, grabbed it and struck.
                            Piercing, stabbing pain that outshone all other pain exploded just above his right hipbone. At the same moment, anger bubbled up in him like the boiling water of a geyser. Again the monster had raised his murderous hand against him. Stop this, once and for all!
                            He loosed one hand from their tangle and clenched it into a fist. Close up, he saw the other's face in front of him, set in a grimace of panic. Frankenstein's nightmare had come true: his monster had turned against him. He was no longer the great master, the unqualified master of life and death of his creature.
                            MacLeod struck, right in the middle of that grimace, which seemed to him more hateful than Slan Quince and all the other lunatics of his kind who had ever been on his mind.
                            That one blow was enough. Frankenstein was only strong when his victims lay defenseless before him, when they were at his mercy. Now he was weak, pathetic and without any resistance. MacLeod saw how his eyes rolled, heard an almost submissive groan come out of his mouth, and felt his frail body go limp and motionless.
                            He pushed him away. His anger had evaporated as quickly as it had come up. At the moment he felt only disgust, disgust at the touch of this human, disgust at this now devastated but still sterile space, which was bloodier than any slaughterhouse. He just wanted to get out of here, out, out, out . . .
                            He staggered to his feet and turned back to the stairs. The fresh wound in his side still hurt like fire, but he did not care about that. It would heal, as all the other wounds that the monster had inflicted on him were healing. And he did not feel more disabled than he had been before. The general leaden fatigue in his limbs could hardly be increased anyway.
                            The steps writhed upwards in the form of a spiral staircase. And though there was a narrow iron railing to help, he was overcome with the feeling that he was climbing a mountain whose summit was so high in the clouds that it seemed inaccessible. But he reached the summit anyway. The staircase led to a spacious hall, which was obviously on the ground floor of a normal residential building. That fit: Torture chambers were traditionally in basements.
                            Immediately he saw a door, the upper part consisting of ornamented frosted glass. Pale light shimmered through the glass. No question: this door led outside - to freedom . . . finally.
                            He groped for the latch and pushed it down. The door did not open, it was locked. And although the key was clearly visible in the lock, he took several seconds to realize it. Now that the immediate danger had been overcome and his body had largely stopped the production of cortisol, diffuse veils were again spreading over his consciousness, making it difficult for him to think clearly and purposefully. Finally, he managed to turn the key, open the door, and cross the threshold. Only with difficulty was he able to avoid a fall: three steps led down from the entrance of the house, and he only noticed them at the last moment.
                            A nocturnal street lay ahead of him, filled with the light of oddly slanted lamps and the roar of distant traffic. Smells, which he would normally hardly have noticed in any case as something remarkable, penetrated him after the aseptic mortuary atmosphere of the laboratory cellar, with the intensity of an oriental bazaar. The green of flowering front yard bushes, the urine tracks of dogs wandering around, the fleeting particles of exhaust fumes . . . It all smelled of life. His perception seemed to have increased in an unnatural way, as if inspired by the intoxicating aftereffects of a drug that fogged consciousness on the one hand, but on the other, made it permeable to the impressions of a higher reality.
                            He stepped onto the sidewalk and began to steer his steps toward the traffic noise. There he would find a taxi that could get him out of here, home to Tessa . . .
                            Walking was exhausting, because the street had a strange slope, led oddly steeply upwards, sometimes abruptly downhill. Not only were the street lamps slanted, they also swayed like thin tree trunks trembling in the wind. The houses on the roadside looked as if they were being reflected and bizarrely deformed by a huge distorting mirror. He seemed to be wandering through an enchanted fairytale landscape. But his mind was clear enough to grasp quickly that there was nothing strange about the street and the houses, and it was his ability to perceive that made it seem that things had a completely distorted perspective. Obviously, the remnants of any drugs that Frankenstein had pumped into his body were still ghosting through his brain. This circumstance, and the fact that his physical weakness was beginning to take an increasing toll, made it impossible for him to place one foot evenly in front of the other. He lurched from left to right and had to stop again and again to find his bearings in this landscape of crooked lanes and off-kilter façades.
                            Finally, the street led to a wider avenue. And with that he really had come back to life. Passers-by crossed his path, cars flickered on the multi-lane road, and neon signs hurled light arrows in his eyes. A gust of noise struck him like an engulfing ocean wave breaking over him.
                            It was too much for him - too bright, too loud, too sudden. He had only the desire to escape this chaos, to seek peace and to find safety. A taxi . . .
                            MacLeod stepped, or rather staggered, to the curb, bumping into a man.
                            "Dirty bum, can't you . . ."
                            The man's voice rang like a siren in his ears. He wanted to apologize, but the other had already gone on, and was no longer interested in the wretched figure who stood at the curb and was now waving an unsteady hand as a yellow cab passed by. It accelerated at the sight of him, turning and did not even bother to stop - as did the following taxi and the ones after.
                            MacLeod could not bear it anymore. Too much . . . too much . . .
                            On the other side of the street beyond the lights was darkness again, comforting darkness and tranquility that lured him, almost like a magnet. He started across the road, stumbling over to the other side, surrounded by the sounds of outraged honking, the screeching of maltreated tires, the curses and insults.
                            Then he was on the other side, plunging into the darkness.

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                            • #40
                              Chapter 9 Under Suspicion of Murder

                              When MacLeod woke up, he felt as healthy and well-rested as after a weeks-long stay at a sanitorium. The self-healing powers of his body had done a great deal of work, eliminating all mutilation, all wounds, all the pain, so thoroughly it was as if they had never existed. His mind, too, was clear and unclouded - the swaths of chemical substances that had fogged his consciousness had vanished. It was only with his memories of the last few days that he had great difficulties. No doubt this was because of the drugs that made it possible for recent events to burn into memory only superficially or not at all. He still remembered his wild ride to the north of Vancouver Island . . . the katana as it plunged between the cliffs of Port Hardy into the Pacific. Then the return to the city and the brawl, no, the accident . . . after his dying and stay in the hospital . . . his flight home . . .
                              Of what came afterwards he retained only vague impressions, no clear images that would make recognition possible. Again and again the Shadow Man appeared, his distorted demon's face and his torture chamber . . . again death and awakening . . . a nightmarish walk through a chaos of light and noise. Then the protective cloak of darkness spread over it, under which he had finally found peace.
                              Slanting light brightened the darkness. He did not take long to get his bearings. He was in some storage room, a shed that was completely empty except for a few crumpled cardboard boxes. Between these cartons he had created his own private sanctuary and found himself again in a deathlike deep sleep.
                              He stood up slowly and pushed the small cardboard mountains on his left and right to the sides. The light he had seen was murky, sunless daylight and penetrated inward through the open gap of the shingled door. Slightly hesitant, he headed for the door - he sensed that deep in his psyche there were still certain delusions, but he fought vigorously against them. He jerked open the wooden plank door.
                              Fresh, slightly brackish ocean air hit him. He was in the harbor area. Nearby, the superstructure of a loading crane towered like the skeleton of a prehistoric brontosaurus. There was a Liberian freighter at the quay wall nearby. Dockers performed their duties leisurely.
                              Leaving the shed, MacLeod walked swiftly between other warehouses and reached the embankment. If he was not mistaken, this had to be the area around Silver Strand. No problem getting a taxi here. Or . . .?
                              He looked down at himself. In fact, he looked anything but reassuring: his leather jacket was dirt-smeared and there was a tear on the left sleeve, and on the pants a large red-black spot spread from his belt to below the knee: blood. The Shadow Man's face materialized in front of him as a blurry snapshot, a claw-like hand clasping a scalpel . . .
                              He shook his head impatiently, trying to dispel the horror in his mind. Not here, not now! At the moment, it was all about finally making it home. However, if he ventured among people in his current state, there was a good chance he would end up at the nearest police station in no time.
                              He saw a telephone booth not far away. He waited in the protection of a corrugated iron shed for a favorable moment in which there were hardly any passers-by in the vicinity, then darted quickly across the road and squeezed into the booth.
                              Only now did he realize that his wallet was not in his jacket - either it had been lost somewhere or someone had taken it. And not even the smallest coin in any of his pockets. The only possibility was a collect call. He dialed a zero and the number of the antique shop, and told the operator that Mr. Noel wanted to speak to Mrs. Noel.
                              Seconds later he heard Tessa's excited voice. "Duncan! Is it really you?"
                              "Yes, yes, it's me."
                              He registered her taking deep breaths, followed by seconds of silence. Then her voice came again: "Are you alright? Where in heaven's name have you been?"
                              "I . . ." Again he saw the Shadow Man with the blood-red scalpel in his raised fist. "I'm not sure."
                              "Where are you now?"
                              "At the harbor . . . Silver Strand."
                              "Okay. Go back down to the shore, I'll be right there. And hide!"
                              MacLeod frowned. Tessa knew him well, as well as a mortal could ever know an Immortal. But the fact that she knew now . . .
                              "Why?" he asked.
                              "You're wanted - for murder!"
                              "What?"
                              "You heard right: murder!"
                              As if to confirm her words and emphasize their threat, he saw, about a hundred yards away, a patrol car coming slowly down the street in his direction. Now the car stopped. One of the cops got out and disappeared from view for a few moments. But he appeared again and came back to his colleague at the wheel.
                              "I’d better go now," he said quickly to Tessa, and before she could answer, he hung up the phone and left the booth. He resisted the urgent instinct to cross the lane at a run. Instead, he sauntered leisurely, as if he had all the time in the world, over to the dock side.
                              Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed that the patrol car had started moving again. The cops had to have seen him, there was little doubt about that. But obviously he had not aroused their suspicions. The car did not accelerate but continued its journey at an almost provocative crawl. By the time they reached his vicinity, he had already disappeared behind the corrugated iron shed.
                              The police car passed and eventually lost itself somewhere in the sparse traffic.
                              MacLeod crouched behind the shed on the rough stones of the pier. He had to keep his eye on the road, but also be somewhere he could hardly be seen from it. The dockers took no notice of him. He became aware of the irony of the situation and this provoked a tight smile on his face. He himself had been killed - twice even - and yet he was under suspicion of having killed someone. The victim as perpetrator, the main plot of a grotesque or especially enigmatic film.
                              Suddenly he wished he had his sword with him. He had never used the weapon against a person who did not belong to the circle of Immortals, but he could not deny that it had always given him a very special sense of security and invincibility.
                              No, no, that was over. He had parted ways with the katana to lead the life of a normal person, an average citizen who did his daily work, loved his wife and . . .
                              He was still battling his nagging doubts when he saw Tessa's Mercedes approach. She drove slowly, eyes scanning the docks. When he stepped out from behind the corrugated iron shed and waved his arm, she stopped so suddenly that the vehicle behind her almost rear-ended her. The driver rolled down his side window and began swearing a furious tirade, which Tessa put an end to by getting out, giving him the finger, and causing him to drive on his way with an indignant "bitch."
                              Then she was with him.
                              "Duncan!"
                              "Tessa!"
                              Their lips met in a consuming kiss - Rodin, not carved in marble, but of flesh and blood. They embraced each other as if drowning, clinging to sink together in a raging sea of emotion, never to re-emerge into a world where separation and loss were omnipresent. Finally, however, she pulled away, pushed him to arm's length and looked at him.
                              "You're alive . . ."
                              MacLeod smiled. "Don't judge a book by its cover."[1]
                              "It's been over a month. Where on earth have you been?"
                              Her words hit him like the shock waves from a terrible explosion in his immediate vicinity. Time was a relative term, especially for members of his kind, yet it always went by in measurable ways. Now, however, the measuring tape seemed to have been lost or to operate with units that were beyond his comprehension.
                              "A month? That's impossible!"
                              Tessa shook her head so violently that her blonde hair seemed to fly away, like ears of wheat snatched from the stalk by the wind. She reached hastily into the inside pocket of her jacket and pulled out a newspaper.
                              "Here, look at today's date."
                              He took the newspaper. There it was in black-and-white, removing all doubts and pushing his world that was just restoring itself back to the brink of chaos.
                              "Unbelievable!"
                              "Where have you been? You must tell me!" She looked him in the eye, urging, demanding, unwilling to accept any excuses or evasions.
                              But he could only shrug. "I don't know. And maybe I don't want to know, exactly. It's over."
                              Again her blonde hair flew. Her face simultaneously reflected concern, fear, and a hint of indignation.
                              "No, it's not over. It's in full swing. Wait . . ." She reached for the paper, tore it out of his hand, flipped through it, and opened to a particular page. "Look at it! Read it! And then tell me again that it's over." She held the newspaper to his face, giving him no opportunity to look away and negate reality.
                              He read in disbelief and growing incomprehension, slowly coming to realize that the yawning gaps in his memory were even greater than he had imagined.
                              "The police believe that I killed this woman?"
                              "Did you?"
                              "No, damn it! How could you think . . ." He bit his lip, stopped talking. She had already seen that he had killed people, knew that to kill others was almost his calling. He had to separate their heads from their necks to rob them of their souls and power and to incorporate them into himself. Just like a gruesome horror story of the escaped vampire, who could only live by nourishing himself on the blood of innocents.
                              "Of course I don't believe it," she said quickly. She could feel how hard her words had hit him. "It's just . . . they found your wallet near her body."
                              "Really."
                              "Yes. And they have witnesses who swear they saw your car at the scene. Later, it was found in a nearby parking lot."
                              He looked back at the newspaper and again scanned the lines of the article, which seemed to have been branded into the paper by some evil spirit.
                              "She was a nurse at the Vancouver Docklands Hospital," he muttered.
                              She nodded vigorously. "That's the hospital you were in."
                              "I was?"
                              "Don't you remember?"
                              There was a photo next to the article, showing the face of a young, fairly pretty woman. The image suddenly doubled before his eyes, gained plasticity, took shape and form. He heard a distant voice that rang out simultaneously in the harbor and in another place, some fleeting memory snatched from the past.
                              Breathing still unstable. Suspect serious head injuries . . .
                              "Duncan, what is it? Your face suddenly looks like you're . . . Was she an Immortal?"
                              Tessa's voice pulled him from memory. "What . . . what did you say?"
                              "Was she an-"
                              "No, no, she wasn't one of us. And even if she had been, I would not have-" He broke off. This was neither the time nor the place to tell Tessa that he had sunk his sword in the Pacific and would no longer be a slave to the ritual of the Immortals. "Yes, I've seen her before," he finished.
                              "In the hospital?"
                              "If it was a hospital . . . yes." He looked at her. "You seem to know more than I do. Tell me about the hospital - the Docklands, right?"
                              "There's really not much to tell. You had an accident about four weeks ago. A car ran you over, two crazy guys, witnesses testified. You were injured, and you were taken to Docklands and released the same evening. Since then, there hasn't been a trace of you."
                              "What did they do to me in the hospital?"
                              "Not much, apparently. At least, there are no examination and treatment records, not even x-rays . . ." She paused, suddenly thoughtful. "Could you have brought the documents with you? To prevent anything about . . . your particular physical condition from being on record?"
                              "I can't remember doing that."
                              "It was just a thought. And besides - the attending physician would also have known if any reports had been made. He could only vaguely remember you. You were just a simple routine case for him - one of those patients taken to the hospital after an accident as a precaution, even though it wasn't really necessary. Your self-healing process was probably already over when he saw you."
                              He nodded. "Then I don't see a connection between the hospital and my vanishing without a trace. There would only be the matter of the nurse. It says here that she was murdered at the harbor."
                              "Exactly. In the parking lot behind Clancy's Restaurant. Right on the pier."
                              MacLeod let his gaze wander over the docks. "Not far from here, eh?"
                              "No, not far." She smiled at him. "Still, it wasn't you. I'm sure."
                              He returned her smile. "Don't be too sure. Here," he pointed to the dark red stain on his pants, "that could be her blood. She was stabbed to death, the paper says."
                              New fright flickered over her face, but he immediately soothed it away. "Don't worry," he said, "it's my own blood." And after a brief pause, "I should change clothes and polish myself up a bit. I must look terrible."
                              "That's hardly the right word. If you stand in front of a mirror, it'll shatter into a thousand pieces."
                              He reached for her arm. "Come on, let's go home."
                              They went to the car and got in. MacLeod took the passenger seat, Tessa got behind the wheel. But she made no move to start the engine.
                              "What is it? Should I drive?"
                              She shook her head. A deep, thoughtful crease appeared under her blonde hairline. "Duncan, we can't go home now."
                              "Why? Oh, I see. The police are waiting for me to walk into their trap." He looked at her sharply, then threw quick, harried glances in all directions, like a hare who suddenly imagines himself surrounded by a pack of hunting hounds. "And if they . . ."
                              "They're not," she reassured him. "Richie put some lovely nails under their tires. I can still see the look on Sergeant Herrald's face."
                              "Very prudent," he said admiringly. Then he thought hard. The soap bubble of normal life seemed to have burst as soon as it had left the mouth of the straw. Whether hunted down by an Immortal who lusted after his head, or by the state authorities who suspected him in a mysterious murder, made little difference. But he did not want to give up so quickly. There was a way to shed the role of the hunted animal: in order to prove his innocence, he just had to find the real killer of this Vancouver Docklands Hospital nurse.
                              "Please give me the newspaper again," he said to Tessa.
                              She handed it to him, and he flipped to the page he was looking for. With his full concentration, he studied the photo of the murdered woman and everything that was written in front of his eyes. Finally, he dropped the paper onto his knees and looked up.
                              "It says here that only her camera was stolen."
                              "So what?"
                              "Who would steal her camera and leave her wallet in her purse?"
                              Tessa lifted her shoulders in a shrug, then dropped them down as if carrying a hundredweight on them. "The police are not calling it a robbery-homicide. That wouldn't be a plausible motive for a well-to-do antique dealer like you."
                              "Let's put the police's thoughts aside. Law enforcement tends to adapt clues and motives to their theories. Besides, there's something else I want to focus on. If, it seems, it wasn't a robbery, where did her camera end up? The police didn't find it at the scene."
                              "The murderer must have taken it."
                              "Yes, perhaps. But that's unlikely. The murder happened right on the shore, right?"
                              "Right."
                              "Then the camera might well have fallen into the water."
                              Tessa nodded slowly. "That would be possible."
                              "Or better yet," he went on, "the killer deliberately threw the camera into the water. Maybe because he was on film. Yeah?"
                              "A theory," sighed Tessa, "an unprovable theory. We'll never get the police to send a diver to look for the camera."
                              "I don't think so either, but . . ." He pointed to the ignition key. "Let's go."
                              "Where?"
                              "To the nearest sports shop. We need to buy diving equipment."

                              A few hours later, when the dark gray clouds of late afternoon almost merged with the even grayer waters of the harbor bay, they were back on Silver Strand Beach. The timing seemed ideal. The dockworkers had ended their day's labor, but it was too early for the evening crowd. The large parking lot behind Clancy's Restaurant lay largely deserted in the dim light, and the few who had already arrived paid no attention to the far end of the compound. Too cutting was the southeast wind, which stretched out its frosty hand to the land from the water; too unfriendly the web of fog that crept to the quay wall.
                              Tessa's discomfort was written in large letters on her face. "Do you really have to do this, Duncan? I mean, maybe we can convince the police . . ."
                              MacLeod double-checked the tightness of the hose attached to the scuba tank strapped on his back like a backpack. "We already tried that, Tessa. We both know that Sergeant Herrald and the others won't do a damn thing."
                              "The water is freezing and this diving suit is so ridiculously thin. The equipment is suitable for tropical waters, but not for Canada. You will surely catch your death."
                              MacLeod smiled. "I will?"
                              "Do not grin like that," she said angrily. "If not death, then . . . Even people like you are not immune to severe pneumonia."
                              Her concern caused him to put his hand soothingly on her shoulder. "Never mind, Tessa. The water isn't deep here. If I'm lucky, I'll find the damned thing in a few minutes."
                              "Well then . . ." She sighed, knowing that there was little alternative.
                              He pulled the goggles down his forehead to cover his eyes and slipped the snorkel into his mouth. Then he waddled in the wide flippers to the edge of the pier. The narrow beam of the scuba mask light danced silvery on the repellent reflecting surface of the water.
                              "Well, then," he repeated, his voice muffled and unintelligible, swinging himself over the waist-high protective wall and sliding resolutely into the water.
                              No cold shock - the plastic skin of the scuba suit insulated him better than he had expected. And the water was really icy, as he clearly felt in the unprotected areas of his face.
                              He swam down, toward the floor of the harbor. In spirit, however, he was somewhere else, submerged between the cliffs of Port Hardy, washed over by foaming breakers. Every moment, he imagined, the shimmering blade of the katana would appear before him, a shining beacon of mutual rediscovery that could be perceived by him alone and that showed him the way through the darkness.
                              In reality, of course, there was no beacon, just the milky beam of the diving mask's headlamp, barely able to penetrate the murky, dirty gray of the harbor water. But this reality now did not find its way into his consciousness. It remained locked out, as if behind a magical wall, in whose inner circle events of other realities began to run. It was as if imagining the sword had had the effect of a bugle whose shrill call could not be escaped by any of those who were able to hear it. And so they were suddenly all there - Pilar Vasquez, the youthful Diana and her generational counterpart Darius, the eldest of them all[2], the merciless Crowley in his masquerade as sheriff and Alexei Voshin, whose greatest pleasure was the betrayal . . .
                              . . . and of course Slan Quince.



                              [1] "Don’t praise the day before the evening." »Man soll den Tag nicht vor dem Abend loben.« Show's was "Don't judge a book by its cover."
                              [2] Episodes aired in a different order in Germany. 1, 5, 3, 7, 2, 10, 4, 6, 8, 9, 12, 11, 13. Author knowledge seems to stop at "The Sea Witch", still odd as that aired after Deadly Medicine, but included the fact that a very old Immortal named Darius existed.

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                              • #41
                                Chapter 10 Déjà-vu

                                Tessa had fallen asleep in his arms, startled awake again and fallen asleep again, comforted only by the muffled, wet sounds that her mouth formed incessantly. Minutes later she woke again with a start and finally woke fully, and began to sob tearlessly against his chest. He held her and leaned down to kiss her softly until her tears did flow and rendered her lips wet and salty. He hardly noticed: in his mind he was on his way, under the stars, in the shadows of the city, his katana drawn in his grasp. On the hunt for Quince's head.
                                It was like a compulsion, a demonic obsession; something that took possession of him at ever decreasing intervals and crushed all normal thought and feeling and all resistance from his sense of responsibility for Tessa. It was pure hatred and lust for the blood of the enemy: the rabid instinct to destroy this enemy and thereby to be able to continue living himself. It was the dark, animal heritage of his blood and his ancient race.
                                Time to accept the truth.
                                Maybe they both already knew that it would be goodbye forever, and so it was easy for them to accept the riddle of Connor's disappearance and not dwell on it.
                                Headlights danced outside across the street, sending reflections to join them in the dark room and then went out. But in the last possible split second of the light, he had caught Tessa's gaze.
                                "Shall we talk?"
                                She shook her head defiantly. Then she sat cross-legged, tugged the blanket around her shoulders in an angry gesture, stared at him and took a deep breath. Almost abashedly, and with her voice still too hoarse, she whispered, "I think I need to clean my nose." She slipped out of bed and hurried into the bathroom.
                                When she came back, she just sat on the edge of the bed, ready to jump.
                                "Mac, I want to get away from here."
                                "That would be best for you." It seemed to him that the words stuck in his throat.
                                "Four hundred years of life experience, and you still have not learned to listen properly, damn it!"
                                "You . . ."
                                "I want to get away from here - but not without you. Mac, let's go. We could be in Paris tomorrow morning. Everything could be just like it was back then - twelve years ago. Paris is our city!"
                                "And you think we'll be safe there?" He wanted to hold her, to make her understand the truth by way of his closeness, his presence. But she avoided his touch and just stared at him.
                                "Tessa, Slan will never give up . . ."
                                "And you can't defeat him. Not yet. So we have to go. It's that simple."
                                "It's that simple," he repeated almost soundlessly. But then he spoke at the risk of hurting her further, louder, and with a certain sharpness. "No, Tessa, it's not that simple. What you're suggesting is totally pointless. We could go to Paris, to Rio, or to Lhasa, the Forbidden City. Quince would track us where ever we go. Now that he has tasted blood, he can't be shaken off. There is only one solution: a head has to roll."
                                "Your head?"
                                "Maybe, yes. You heard me and Connor: There can be only one. And to spare you that, we have to part. You have to go without me. It would mean nothing if I left. Before he goes after me, he would take revenge on you, and that's why . . ."
                                "No!" One word, one single syllable that said more than a whole book.
                                "Tessa, be reasonable. You have no idea . . ."
                                She glared at him. "Of course I have no idea! How should I? I'm a blonde, and it's well known that blondes are sexy and stupid. Okay, you always liked the sex. That leaves the stupidity. Am I too stupid? Does that get on your nerves? Are you trying to get rid of me?"
                                "Tessa, please."
                                She did not stop, but continued to blurt out accusations that she probably knew herself to be unjust, which perhaps was why she put them all the more drastically: "I have no idea? Oh, my darling, I have. How have these twelve past years been for you? Like a little summer vacation? Rest and recreation? And now, I'm sorry, darling, but I've got to go back to the war, you know . . ." She pointed the index finger of her right hand at him, pushing it against his chest, right over where his heart was, again and again and again. "Damn you! Damn your Gathering! Damn your whole race!"
                                He took and held her hand, looked into her eyes, saw tears gathering in them, spilling like tiny beads onto her cheeks.
                                "I'm not your enemy, Tessa," he said softly. "You know that."
                                "Yes, I know," she answered, and began to sob. "No enemy could hurt me like this."
                                He wanted to wrap his arm around her shoulders, hug her and indulge in the impossible dream of never having to let her go again. But she pulled away from him, jumped out of bed, and rushed to the door. She stopped on the threshold and turned to him.
                                "But I'm still not leaving, so you know!"
                                Then she was out and he was left alone on the bed.

                                The next day Connor reappeared, as unexpectedly and ostensibly nonchalant as he had disappeared before.
                                "Hi, Clan brother," he said as he entered the antique shop and pulled the door closed behind him.
                                Duncan glanced up only briefly from the small statue of the Shinto deity he was busy repairing. It had been damaged in the devastation Quince had wrought - a small corner of its mouth was broken out, leaving its benevolent smile transformed into a demonic grin. Everything that the monster with the iron mask touched seemed to become perverted into evil.
                                "As a bodyguard, I'd recommend you only with reservations," he said as if casually.
                                Connor bit back an ancient curse from the Scottish Highlands. "He was here again?"
                                "Yesterday. I do not want to ask you where you've been. No one should be the guardian of his brother."
                                "Sorry, but there are not only brothers, there are cousins too."
                                Duncan set the Shinto god almost with a jerk on a display case and looked at Connor, who came over to him emphatically unruffled. "Are you saying that . . .?"
                                Connor stopped in front of him, nodded. "Do you remember Francois Vanadin?"
                                "Naturally. One of my most lasting memories of the French Revolution. He nearly killed me then."
                                "Well, maybe he would have succeeded here. The shape you're in right now . . ." Connor laughed briefly, but there was no real humor in it. "So I preferred to do the work for you."
                                Duncan chewed on his lower lip. "You think he was looking for me? Why now - after more than a decade? Quince and Vanadin . . ."
                                "He probably was not after you, but after Quince, who's leaving a wide trail of blood throughout the world. Or after me."
                                "Insanity," Duncan murmured softly. The Hunter Hunter's Hunter - a chain that would last until the day of the final Gathering. "I don't want this anymore," he went on wearily. "To hell with the day of the final Gathering. I want out of the Game."
                                Connor shrugged. "Who cares what you want?" he asked roughly. "As long as you live, you're part of the Game and can't get out of it. Nobody can get out, logically, otherwise it could never come to the end of the Gathering. You should finally accept it, Duncan."
                                A sense of déjà vu came over him. He recalled almost verbatim a conversation with Connor on "his" island, after the death of the Native American love of his life.

                                Connor's voice: "I know that you loved her. But you cannot stop them from dying. Everyone dies. People kill people, we kill each other."
                                And he: "I don't care who kills whom. I'm tired, I'm tired of endless, pointless fighting. I'm tired of death."
                                "You can't get out of it."
                                "I didn't ask you for permission."
                                Connor pushed away the moss on the front of the big rock, revealing the ancient, long weathered hieroglyphics. "I know why you chose this place - it's holy ground."
                                "That's right. But I asked the old people for permission to build my hut here."
                                They both smiled and Connor said, "No immortal can ever fight here. You will always be safe."
                                "I'm glad you agree with me. The battle between good and evil can last for a while without me."
                                "Maybe, but you can't stay out of it forever."
                                "No, not forever, but for a while."
                                "They will find you."
                                "Eventually."

                                And now they had found him again. The Game went on, and he had no choice but to accept it, whether he liked it or not.
                                "Okay, Connor," he said, trying not to let his clan brother feel his resignation too clearly, "I accept it. Satisfied?"
                                Connor nodded slowly. "Yes, satisfied. But not for my sake, for your sake."
                                The deep, depressing seriousness that weighed down the moment between them clouded the otherwise serene atmosphere of the antique shop and seemed to place a uniform gray haze over the exotic, colorful exhibits. The impression of being suddenly transported to a burial chamber took him hostage. The antique chests, showcases, and cupboards suddenly looked like coffins, and the little figure of the Shinto god had taken on the role of the death watcher at a wake.
                                It grinned more craftily than ever.

                                Once again they returned from their sword training, hot, exhausted, but with a feeling of accomplishment. Duncan was well on his way back to his former physical peak after his long voluntary retirement. Unwilling to have more distance between himself and Tessa than the radius within which he could detect approaching Immortals, they had moved their practice ground to a vacant warehouse right beside the loft. And there they were not alone.
                                "Did you see him, the boy, Duncan?" Connor asked as they entered Tessa's studio.
                                "Yes, I saw him," he confirmed. "He seems to be a fan of medieval tournaments. And he chose a really good window seat."
                                "It doesn't bother you that he watches us? Sooner or later he'll set the flics after you again."
                                "Cops," Duncan said, "here in America they're called cops. You haven't been here in a long time, have you?"
                                "Don't change the subject. So this boy . . ."
                                "Don't worry about him. He can't give anyone in a uniform a wide enough berth. He's just a little curious. I'll take care of him if . . ."
                                He stopped himself when he noticed Tessa coming down the stairs from the living quarters. He knew her expressions intimately enough to realize immediately that something was amiss.
                                "Is something wrong?" he called to her. The quiet joy at his progress in fighting with the sword had evaporated and given way to discomfiting concern.
                                She reached the bottom of the stairs, looked first at him, then at Connor, finally at him again. There was an expression in her eyes that even he could not interpret correctly.
                                "He called," she said softly.
                                "Who, Quince?"
                                "Slan Quince."
                                Relief swept through him. If Quince had called, he had not been here, had not terrified Tessa with his unbearable presence.
                                "What did he say?"
                                She did not respond immediately, letting the seconds become eternities. Then, haltingly: "He will . . . he will be at Soldier's Bridge tonight."
                                "Tonight?"
                                "At the fall of dusk."
                                Duncan glanced automatically at his watch. "Not that long. In half an hour . . ."
                                He felt like he was freed from a heavy burden. The waiting, the tormenting certainty of being stalked by a relentless enemy without being able to see or feel him, the constant concern for Tessa's well-being - all of this was now over. The hour of the Gathering, not the last, all-important, but a significant route to it, was finally imminent.
                                "He said something else," Tessa spoke again. "Once he has 'finished' you, then . . ."
                                "Then?"
                                "Then he'll come back for me."
                                He ground his teeth but was not really surprised. It fit a beast like Slan Quince, that he would not be content with Duncan's head. His sadistic nature called for an extra kick, a finale that inflicted a final humiliation and punishment to his victim even after death. But he would not let it come to that. He would defeat Quince and condemn him to the final headless shadow existence. Confident, he put his right hand on the hilt of his katana.
                                Tessa registered his movement and looked at his sword hand for a few seconds without saying a word. Her face was frozen into a mask that did not reveal what was going on inside her. Then she turned on her heel and returned to the stairs.
                                "Surely you still have a lot to discuss," she said, already on the first steps. "I do not want to disturb you." And before he could reply, she hurried up the rest of the steps and disappeared into their living quarters.
                                Connor, who had been standing in silence the whole time, almost like a neutral observer who had no stake in any of this, cleared his throat.
                                "I've been thinking, you know," he said finally. "As long as I've known you . . ."
                                "Oh, no, not this again," Duncan interrupted, waving a hand in a gesture that had been used in earlier centuries when it was time to cast the devil out.
                                "What?"
                                "You heard what I said."
                                "You do not know what I wanted to say," Connor went on. "As long as I've known you, you've always had the fun - and the most amazing women."
                                "Recently?"
                                "Recently. I can remember that girl in London. The redhead . . ."
                                MacLeod laughed. "Get to the point, Connor. That was a hundred and sixty years ago."
                                "I said yes: in recent times. Do you know what your problem is? You live in the past."
                                "I don't see that problem," MacLeod said emphatically.
                                "Nevertheless."
                                "No."
                                The exchange of words became loud, still friendly, but also with a certain seriousness. Alarmed, Tessa appeared again at the top of the landing. Neither Duncan nor Connor paid any attention to her - they were too deeply involved in their dispute.
                                "Stop arguing with me," Duncan said.
                                "I'm not arguing."
                                "Yes, you are."
                                "No, this is a conversation."
                                "Ah, a conversation?" repeated his younger kinsman. "Well, if so, it's over."
                                Connor smiled wolfishly. "Oh, of course, the easiest way out. We'll do it the usual way, okay, Duncan?"
                                "What?"
                                Before he had a chance to react, before he even realized what was happening, the edge of Connor's right hand jerked forward, hitting him in the side of his neck with the force of a club. He collapsed, conscious, but paralyzed and unable to move a muscle.
                                "That's the end of the conversation," Connor said, looking up at the landing. "Don't worry about him, Tessa. He's perfectly fine - it isn't called the Gentle Art of Fighting in China for nothing. He'll be back on his feet soon."
                                Tessa looked down at him, her face still unreadable as though coated by a mask of whitewash. "You do not have to go either, Connor," she said flatly, almost monotonously. "Neither of you has to go."
                                Connor checked the position of his sword, which he still wore on his belt from their training session. Then he looked around the studio, found his coat hanging over the back of a chair and took it up and slipped it on. He carefully hid his sword inside its folds and fastened the buttons. He looked up at Tessa one last time.
                                "We have no choice," he said soberly. "I hope I'll see you again."
                                Then he went to the door.

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