"The Road to Hell". Paula Stiles thesnowleopard@hotmail.com

Rating: R

Characters: Kronos, Methos, Joe, Amy, Stephen Keane, Dr. Galbon, various OCs.

Summary: Following the events of Revelations 6:8, Kronos recalls his first meeting with Death.

Disclaimer: Don't own the universe. Not making any money off of it. Davis/Panzer Productions do that. Don't bother to sue me. I'm poor.

This, and my other stories, can be found at:

http://www.geocities.com/RainForest/Andes/3071/arch.html

The rest of the series can be found at:

http://www.geocities.com/RainForest/Andes/3071/arch2.html

Archive: Sure. Just ask first.

Note: This is part eleven of the Armed Intervention series.

Many thanks to Judith Hill for betareading this for me.



THE ROAD TO HELL

'Death is when the monsters get you.' Stephen King

Kristin isn't herself, today. I remember when she was a fireball, spitting unheard rage in your ear. That was only seven years ago. Look at her now, a grey, sinister smudge the diameter of a severed head hovering just above and behind your left shoulder. One would think you'd bound her to you, the way she hangs around you. You did kill her, after all. Pity that the truth is so much simpler and more terrible. Only her rage keeps her here, and it is her rage that will destroy her.

By rights, I should haunt Duncan MacLeod. But we all know who really killed me, Brother. MacLeod may have taken my head, but he was just your tool. No. That's not quite fair. That is another truth about this hell in which I have been trapped: I can't lie to myself anymore. Now, I know all your secrets. Now, I know how much you loved me, Brother. Now, I know how much you truly wanted all of us--MacLeod, me, Cassandra, Silas, even Caspian--to come out alive, how much you wanted to be left alone. Now, I know, beyond doubt, that you're not Death, anymore. How very unfortunate for me.

Don't laugh, Brother, but I must confess to being jealous of this Joe Dawson you have found. How artful you were, keeping me away from him in Seacouver by never speaking of him at all. You never told me about the truly important things to you, once Silas and Caspian came along. Only now do I see how little I knew about you when I caught you at the end. I had never changed, any more than our brothers did; why should you? Ah, but change...change was always your greatest skill. More than survival. More than seduction. More than murder.

Joe minds the store tonight. You would think he'd be home raising a toast to the New Year with his daughter, but what for? His daughter is an orphan, her mother is dead. His best friend is lying in a hospital bed, crying to the wall. It has been quite the Christmas season. So, here he is, manning a table, while his daughter and that repellently upbeat boy Keane work his bar and try to cheer him up. "It wasn't your fault. It's the best thing. He'll be right as rain when he gets out in a month or five." I'm sure that you can supply all of the necessary dialogue yourself.

Early in the evening, Keane asks him if he is all right; does he want to mind the bar for a while? Joe shakes his head. He says that he is still tired and would like to stick to his wheelchair for a few days more. And you can't man a bar from a wheelchair. Keane tries to have a drink with him, but then the bar gets busy and he has to go help Amy and Le Blues' perpetually put-upon barmaid, Marie.

I've tried to get to you, but visiting hours, it seems, are always over for ghosts at L'Hôpital Ste. Agnès. Whatever drugs they are giving you, they certainly keep the spirits away, if not your own bad dreams. You lie in bed most of the day. Sometimes you get up and watch TV. They don't disturb you, not yet. That doctor of yours, Galbon, is very puzzled at how the medication isn't helping. Why should it? You spent hundreds of years eating, drinking, rubbing on and bathing in every conceivable drug or poison in the Ancient World, and never found relief. But I suppose that Death is supposed to be stronger than a small matter of stress-related psychosis.

One thing Galbon doesn't let you do is starve yourself. You used to do that after an especially bloody raid. I remember riding into camp one morning to see you staggering past me to go relieve yourself. You wandered back into your tent, eyes glazed, looking like a walking skeleton. If I let you continue on your usual path, you would have worked yourself into one of your rages by the end of the day, ranting at the skulls on your tentpoles in front of a bloody sunset.

I dismounted and grabbed one of the slaves as he tried to sidle past my horse. "What in Hell's name do you think you are doing? Why aren't you feeding Him?" I never spoke your name in front of the slaves, and they never dared to do it themselves.

The slave shivered in my grip, like a dying snake, then slipped out of my grasp to fall on his face at my feet. "Lord, he would not let us near him. He killed one of the slaves who tried to cook him some of her best delicacies. He has told us not to bother him until he calls for us."

I kicked him in the face then walked away, disgusted. I sometimes wonder if, when our slaves occasionally escaped, they were the ones who spread the stories of Death as a living skeleton. Certainly, you were the one that they taught their children to fear. I confess, I always felt jealous of your reputation. Famine they would forget with a few good harvests in their bellies. Pestilence they might beat back with medicines and incantations; and they could always learn to love War. Not Death. Death they fought and fled and feared. And that is more true now than ever.

That day, I lost my patience with your eccentric ways and followed you into your tent. You were lying down on your bed of skins, pulling a fur around your shoulders. Your hands were shaking like those of an old man, which is exactly what you have been my entire life. There were scrolls piled haphazardly next to the blanket, as if you had been reading to pass the time while you faded away.

"Methos!" I grabbed the fur, yanking it from your shoulders. "Stop this. Look at you! You can barely stand, let alone fight. What will you do if someone raids the camp?"

One side of your mouth turned up and you cocked your head to one side. "Die, I suppose." Your voice was parched, scarcely audible.

I crouched in front of you and put a hand on your head. "Brother, Brother. Stop doing this to yourself. It's not necessary."

You nodded. "It is. It is the only way to make the dead go away."

"Don't take your own legend so seriously," I said, gentling my voice. "You are no more 'Death' than I am 'Pestilence'. The dead aren't real; they are only in your mind."

You picked my hand off your head and handed it back to me. "The dead are real, Brother. I can see them. It doesn't matter if you believe me or not. What matters is that after I die, when I come back I will leave them on the other side." You smiled. When I remembered it centuries later, after you abandoned me, I thought it was the smile of a saint going to the lions. You couldn't wait.

I stood up. "Well, at least make it faster by not drinking any water," I told you as I retreated back out of the tent.

"Thank you, Brother, for the suggestion," you called after me.

It took you four more days to die. The last two, when I came to see you, you were too weak to sit up or speak. The last day, you didn't even open your eyes. I felt your quickening fade at dusk. It flared up again in the middle of the night, right before I heard your hoarse roar for the servants to bring you food and water.

I like Galbon's style. Today, he comes in the morning and sits down across from your bed. He is dressed like a physician, in a white coat. I like his sense of theatre. I wonder if his head still hurts from his adventures last month. But you don't know about them, do you, Brother? Or that he is taking the same medication that he is giving you.

"They tell me that you aren't eating," he says. You don't answer, staring past him. I think you can see me. Perhaps you were right all those years ago. Perhaps you can see the dead.

"You have to eat," he says.

You look at him. "I can't," you say. "Just let me die. When I come back, it will be all right."

He shakes his head. "No. That is not acceptable. You must eat." You close your eyes and turn your face to the wall. His face hardens. I don't think you have seen this side of him yet, not really. There are things that you do not want to know about your dear friend René Galbon. "If you will not do it yourself," he says calmly, "I will get three orderlies, have you sedated, and put a tube down your throat myself. And I will continue to do it until you begin to eat on your own again." You don't move. "Did you hear me?"

You sigh and turn over. He must be a very good friend. It seems that while you outgrew the Horsemen, you have not outgrown your need for brothers. "Why is this so important to you, René?" You pull the blanket around your shoulders in a familiar gesture.

"Why is it so important to you? What benefit do you get from starving yourself?"

You blink. You are surprised. The Mortals always did surprise you. "What do you mean?"

Galbon leans forward. "Adam, I am not angry with you, but I am very worried. I do not think you are doing this just to be stubborn. This is some ritual that you do, but I must know why you are doing it." Ahh. You would have cut his throat if he had said that when you were Death.

You chew your lip. You look embarrassed, as any savage trying to explain his favourite magic spell to a scientist would be. "Don't laugh."

He looks solemn. He looks sincere. He is a very good psychiatrist, I must admit. "I won't. Just tell me."

"After I have killed...." You pause; this is hard, I'm sure. "After I've killed sometimes, when it is a bad kill, it gets...stuck in my head. I can see them, the dead, the ones I've killed, the ones I couldn't save. If I kill myself, I seem to take them over to the other side, and when I come back, I leave them there. And then it is all better."

Galbon looks stunned. "A reset button," he says. "Like shock therapy."

"Something like that." I smile at your confusion. I don't think you ever saw it that way before. No, you saw it as a cleansing ritual, something that every shaman from Odin backwards has done. We learn new things every day. I am surprised at what I have learned since I died.

Galbon hangs his head, trying to process this perhaps. He's not used to seeing you as anything but civilised. When he looks up, his face is gentle but his eyes are hard. "Mon ami, you cannot keep doing this. It will not work."

You shrug. "Why not? It has worked hundreds of times so far."

Galbon looks ill. You must admit, Brother, it is quite an unpleasant image. "If it truly worked, you would only have had to do it once."

You scowl. "Well, I seem to keep killing people, you see. That doesn't help."

"No, but if the dead continue to come back to haunt you, then what you are doing is a panacea only. This is an extreme form of self-harm. Like cutting your arms or punching a wall, non? It feels good, but only for a little while because the real problem, ça reste encore."

You chuckle, almost soundlessly. "What does it matter? You think I'm crazy, anyway."

Galbon shakes his head. "Non. I do not think you are crazy. You know that what you see may not be real. I am not going to judge this for you and I am not going to argue theology or juju with you. I believe in miracles, I believe in Heaven and Hell, I believe in the Holy Spirit. I may even believe that the dead come back to this world and speak to us. Ça ne fait rien. These ghosts of yours may be real and they may only be the demons of your own mind, but you still need to face them. What I am saying is that you should not run from them anymore. They have something to tell you, je crois. You must confront them and discover why they are here."

You sit up, staring at Galbon. "You want me to...what? Talk to them. Yell at them? Pretend they're real?"

Galbon smiles at you. I would call it insincere, but you know, I do believe he cares. Now, there is a man who worries far too much about sin and redemption. "Why don't we start with something simpler? Why don't you tell me about the dead, who they are, what they look like, when they come to you, your past experiences with them?" You nod, rather wearily. He is making sense to you. "But first, I want you to eat something." Your head comes up, your eyes sparking with anger. Oh, Doctor, be careful. Death is not as far gone as that.

"Why?" Your voice, your eyes, are hard and suspicious.

"Because you need your strength. And because as long as you continue to starve yourself, the option is like an open door at your back. If the demons are too much, you can flee through it back into your prison. If you close the door, you can brace yourself against it and overcome your fear."

You laugh, your voice rasping. "You've got to be kidding. That has got to be the cheesiest image you have ever tried to feed me."

Galbon shakes his head. "I do what I must to help you, Adam. That is all. Two weeks ago, you said that you wanted to become well enough to go see my Mathilde. I know that she would love to see her Uncle Adam again. Were you lying?"

You look at the floor. Once again, you have grown too close to a Mortal and his family. Now, you pay. You really do want to see this lying witchdoctor's daughter.

"Do you really think it would it help?" Your voice is small. I have heard you speak like this only a handful of times in my life, at your lowest points. You used to rely on me then. But as you regained your sanity, you began to see me as dangerous to you, not someone you could trust. And it is my hell to know finally that you were right.

Galbon puts a hand on your shoulder. I recognise that gesture. "Let us go down to the kitchen and see what they can make up for you, mon ami. Nothing challenging, I assure you. Only a little soup for now, something like that. For Mathilde, yes?" And he smiles at you encouragingly.

You smile back, though it looks forced. "All right," you agree. "For Mathilde."



*********



Since you remain obstinately unhearing, for the moment, I entertain myself by haunting Joe. Followed by a she-wolf, I stroll into Le Blues Bar behind a couple who should have stopped their drinking hours ago. If they are not careful, they will be in my company by the end of the night. I take a stool at the end of the bar. The wolf lies at my feet, her head on her paws. No one can see us, of course, but no one sits here, either, even though the place is crowded. Even the least sensitive Mortal looks at that stool and feels that it is just too dark a place to sit. So nice to know that I can still frighten them, even if I am only a shadow of my former self.

Joe Dawson has a TV on, set to some kind of sport. Today's sports do not interest me. They are far too tame. If the lives of men are not at stake, what is the point of watching? A great deal of modern life seems pointless. Even the poorest, most violent African village has a TV now, and television-inspired pseudodreams, or so it feels. Perhaps I died at the right time, after all.

Joe still sits at his table, alone, watching the crowd. He is playing with a small package, wrapped in Christmas paper, in his hand. He has had his wheelchair placed next to him. Some of the bar patrons, not regulars I trust, stare at him as they pass by. He glares back. They hurry on. I believe that he can just see me, at the end of the bar, but I don't think that he is very certain of what I might be. To test my theory, I abandon the stool and come over to sit in the chair pulled out across from him. He stares through me. I lean forward, concentrating on him. Sometimes, it works and the Mortals see me. I have scared more than one spoiled brat in a Mall that way; it passes the time at Halloween. Joe frowns as the she-wolf circles his chair, sniffing at him. His daughter comes over.

"Joe?" she says. I can see why you lust after her. You always liked them with a little fire, even after you broke them. And she certainly has fire. Why, just a week ago she murdered four men in your defense. It is a wonder you haven't fucked her yet. I do believe that she would be up for it.

"Joe, what's wrong?" she asks, glancing at my chair.

Joe doesn't take his eyes off the space that I do not occupy. "Go get a pint and set it down on the table across from me, would you, honey?"

She raises her eyebrows. "Uh, what kind of beer?"

"Get that new microbrew we're trying out this month. That should do it," he says. She gives him a strange look. We used to look at you the same way, when you talked to the ghosts, but then Silas, Caspian and I, we all still had our heads then. I wonder where they are now, Silas and Caspian. Silas has moved on, I think, but Caspian evaporated more quickly than Kristin.

Amy does not argue with her father. Instead she goes back to the bar, which is still busy. The turning of old year into new, and everyone in the Western World wants to spend it drunk and in a bar. No wonder we are on the brink of yet another pointless war.

Though I don't know about that. I never met a pointless war that I didn't like when I was alive. Any process that reduces the number of Mortals in this world is a good thing.

I wasn't certain, at first, that Joe could see me, but now I am. He scowls at my chair and says, "I can see you--just about. I'm not too sure who you might be, but I can take a big guess that you're Kronos. He talks about you in his sleep sometimes." Joe does not need to explain to me whom he means by "he".

Amy returns with the pint and smacks it down on the table in front of me. She also brings a refill of Joe's scotch. "Do you want the bottle?" she says.

He shakes his head. "No, honey. I'm fine. You don't have to worry; I don't have any intention of getting drunk tonight."

She eyes the Christmas present in his hands. "What is that?"

Joe smiles sheepishly. "Ben's present."

"Do you know what it is?" Curious as a monkey, this one, like one of Bluebeard's wives.

"Ah, who knows." He slumps in his chair. "Hard to believe, but 30 years ago, if you'd told me I'd be holding a present from the world's oldest Immortal...." He shakes his head. She folds her arms and leans against the table, obviously settling in for a long story. "Did I ever tell you about Roy Ferrer, my first assignment?" Joe asks her.

She shakes her head. "Who was he?"

"A ghost, I guess. If an Immortal can be a ghost." He looks straight at me. "I never found him. Thought I'd tracked him down once. Thought I'd even traced him to Methos...." He sighs. "But that was a long time ago, when I was young and stupid. Before I found out about being sent out on wild goose chases."

She leans over and pats him on the head. "Are you going to open it, or not?"

He shakes his head. "I can't. I wanted to wait until he got out of the hospital."

She looks puzzled. "But he told you not to wait."

He waves her away. "I know. I know, honey. I just--I'll do it later."

She sighs and leaves him to it, glancing over her shoulder as she goes back to the bar. He turns the package over and over in his hands, then sighs to himself and lays it carefully on the table. He sips his scotch.

I turn my attention to my own drink. I circle the pint with my hands, loath to pass them straight through and remind myself of my perpetual condition. I cannot drink the pint, alas, but I can smell it, see it, touch its essence. I never loved beer very much. Now, I miss it, like all the other things that I can no longer have. Underneath the table, the she-wolf growls and settles at my feet. She has been dead much longer than I have. I wonder if she has grown weary of this sad half-life, as well?

Do you know what the most terrible thing about being dead is? It is having nothing left to do. I want to talk to you, to touch you, make an end between us, and I can't. I can't. I can't get at MacLeod, either; he's too mired in Life to notice the dead. I can't even torment Cassandra; she's moved on. You still haunt her, but not as much as before. She doesn't think about me anymore at all. I have been left behind--with the dust.

Alexa, that sad, little Mortal girl you took pity on a few years back visits you sometimes. I don't know where she comes from, or how she can travel back and forth between Here and There so easily, though she is very free with her advice. She tells me that I'll understand it all when I'm able to move on myself. She says that I won't get there until I forgive you, until I stop waiting for you to rescue me from the consequences of my sins. Smug little bitch. Whenever I get to you, really get to you, she shows up to stop me.

"He could have seen us, once," I say. "Don't you want him to see you?"

"No," she says firmly. So she knows then, that you were Death. She knows what that meant. "It's too high a price," she adds. "And if you truly loved him as a brother, you wouldn't ask him to pay it again."

I can't be sure that Alexa is the only one of your wives who visits you, but she is the only one who will speak to me. There is the tall, gawky, Celtic redhead who leans over your shoulder when you are writing, ruffling your hair and making unheard comments. There is the medieval, Eastern beauty who likes to watch TV with you and Joe. She dislikes my laughing at her unsuccessful attempts to sample your popcorn. Then, there is the small, dark one dressed in skins, with bone carvings woven into her hair. She sat beside you in that hellhole in Seacouver. The first week, when you recognised no one, she held your hand, stroked your hair and sang to you. From the way she glared at me, I felt fortunate that the dead cannot be castrated.

Bitch, bitch. Bitch. You would have made short work of them in the old days. How can they forgive you when I can't? Don't they see that I have your best interests at heart? I always have. But women always did have a soft spot for you, Brother. Don't you remember how our slave women back in the Camp fawned on you? You could be worse than Caspian whenever you were in a rage--more creative, more cruel. That didn't stop them pitying you when you sheathed your sword and put on your gentle mask. *We* were brutal savages; *you* were tormented. Hah. You really had those girls under your thumb, quite often literally. As I have said before, survival was not your only skill.

But Alexa is not here tonight. Perhaps she is with you, instead. Joe is still staring at me. I am impressed that he recognises me, since I am dressed as I was when I was a Horseman, not as I was when I died. I prefer it that way. On the other hand, I have no idea what he actually sees. I never saw a ghost when I was alive. Joe raises his glass to me and downs half of it. I pass my hand through my beer, enjoying the bubbles. For some reason, I can still grasp their effervescence. Perhaps I will tell Joe a story. Yes, that's what I'll do. I will sit here and speak to the empty air and he will hear me. I am certain of it. It is a night of shadows, of passages. We ghosts are restless. And what better thing for a New Year's Eve in this millennium novum et horribile than a small tale of horror, of two men who came to a sticky end, except that they wouldn't stay dead....



*********



I was raised by wolves. If I ever knew human company when I was a babe, I do not remember it. Alexa claims that I do not want to remember it, that I can remember anything I want to, if I choose. But why would I choose? I suppose I must have had a mother, since I knew how to use human speech and walk upright by the time I remember living with the wolves. Perhaps I was orphaned or abandoned, or I may have run away.

My first memory is of fire. I was running through grass, away from the flames. I was crying for someone to help me. That must have been when the wolves first found me. I remember being picked up and carried into a hole, then deposited in a heap of warm, squirming bodies. The mother wolf growled to herself as she cleaned me. After a time, I left the den and trotted with my brothers and sisters everywhere. This is a big world to a wolf. And they are very loyal. They took care of me, and I took care of them. I couldn't run as fast as they could, but I could pick things up. I could climb rocks that they couldn't, and trees, when we got into the forest. I was useful, and as loyal as they were.

But then, one day, men found us. They killed several of the pack, including my old wolf mother, the one who now lies at my feet, when she defended me. They took me back to their village. I fought them at first, having forgotten what little human language and customs I had ever learned. They tried to teach me things. I was clever and quick, in my small way. But some things did not sink in. I didn't like my new pack, and when I learned enough words of their tongue, I told them so. They were sad and grubby, and they stank. The huts in the village seemed to float perennially on a lake of mud. The women quarreled and the men drank. And the children...well. They were children, weren't they?

One day, when I was ten summers old or so, the other boys decided to drive me out. They had had enough of the wolf's bastard whom no woman in the village would claim. Village...hah. Not even that, just a group of three or four families. I don't remember how many they were. They had spent so many years interbreeding like the pigs they were and were all mixed up. The oldest boy Orun, the natural leader of the other children, had tormented me for years. I worked hard, so they didn't let him kill me. They merely let him beat me half to death every month or so. I already had one scar on my face from him, from a time he had attacked me with a flint. I had not moved quickly enough to save him a beating for some neglected chore he had thrown on my back at the last moment, and he was angry at me for it. I had no intention of giving him any more of my blood.

I saw him coming over the hill while I was fishing in a stream. I was good at hunting and fishing, and supplied the camp with much small game. As I said before, I was useful. The other children, perhaps twelve in all, straggled after him. Children will always queue up for a show. I thought about running, but that day I simply sat where I was. As he came down the hill, I felt in the stream for a rock. I held it in my hand, waiting on his approach. He did not disappoint me.

"Fishing, Thing?" he said as he came up behind me (I had no name). "Good. I'll have something to bring back for dinner." He splashed into the shallow stream and stood before me, hands on his hips, enjoying what should have been my humiliation. I ignored him. The only other life I had known was the wolf pack. When they brought me back to the village, I had sworn to myself that as soon as I was big enough, I would escape. When Orun beat me every day, I stood it, but only until I could destroy him. It was certainly not the way the village had meant to raise me, but I suppose you could say that I was a bad seed even then.

Orun was not the son of the headman, but all the children knew that as the biggest boy, he would grow up to be the leader of our village, such as it was. Might made right back then, and so did size. I was still quite small. No one saw me being the leader of anything.

"I asked you a question, Thing," he said. He reached down and grabbed my hair. It was then that I rocked forward on my heels and sank my teeth into his knee, under his tunic. It was summer and he wasn't wearing trousers. Why wear clothing out when it was so warm? He shrieked and fell backwards in the shallows, landing on his arse in the shallow stream. I went after him, snarling, and struck him with the rock in my hand. I hit him over and over as the other children stood around the stream, jumping up and down, howling in excitement. None of them tried to stop me when I pushed his head under the water, but I wasn't heavy enough to hold him there for long. He thrashed around and knocked me off. I scrambled back, going for another rock, but he did not press his advantage. Instead, he rolled around in the shallow stream, turning it to mud, groaning and flailing about. I stood up and watched him as the children shrieked for me to finish him. But why should I finish him? He was already finished. And even I, at ten years old, recognised a fate worse than death.

Dropping my rock, I turned and retrieved my fishing gear. I headed upstream. The line of children parted before me, as two of their number splashed out into the stream to rescue their fallen leader. I left them all behind, went up a good distance to another pool where I thought the fish might not have been frightened off, and went back to fishing. A little while later, I watched incuriously as my opponent's supporters half-carried him back towards the village. The other children followed him, glancing at me furtively. I ignored them.

I had thought there would be some sort of reprisal. Orun's father was angry, of course. I stayed away from the village for several days to avoid his wrath. He chased after me when I showed my face again--to thrash me, no doubt, or worse. But, to his and my surprise, the other men prevented him.

"Your boy should have picked a weaker opponent," one man told him, "the way he always has."

What surprised me the most, however, was the reaction of the other children. They began to follow me around, staring at me. At first, I thought they meant to ambush me, and chased off any approach with rocks. When they began to bring me little presents, leaving them a few feet from me, then scuttling away, I began to understand what had happened. I had beaten their old leader and become their new one.

I almost laughed in their faces, but I was too cunning to do that, even then. Instead, I accepted these small gifts with more grace than before. I began to share a small portion of them with those followers that I chose, at random, to notice. They fought each other for my favour. When I had them thoroughly under my control, I led them on small hunts, taking down bigger and bigger game and bringing it back for the village. As my diet improved, I filled out and grew in height. The adults began to notice me, but I did not forget my fellow children. They were my supporters, you see, growing alongside me.

Orun never recovered, either in mind or body. After a month or two, he came back out of his family's hut, but he could only shamble, not walk. He could barely speak, and it took him a long time to understand anything that one said to him. Before, he had been willfully stupid. Now, he was stupid for real. Eventually, he wandered too far away from the village one day and disappeared. I couldn't say for certain what happened, but there were many wolves about. Or perhaps someone finally took pity on him and put him out of his misery. Not even his mother, who had born another healthy son by then, missed him very much.

By the time I had seen twenty summers, I had become the headman of my village. It happened so matter-of-factly that I cannot say now who made the decision or when. It simply happened. As I said, we were a poor village. I decided to change that, leading my hunting parties on raids against other villages. We were successful, in our small way, and soon became the village that others in our area feared.

But there was one thing which I had not considered, knowing nothing outside of my small area. This is not surprising to me now, but it proved fatal for my village, my pack, and brought about my first death. As we expanded, others became aware of us. One day, a large rival village attacked us. We beat them off, and as they fled, they left behind things I had never seen before--swords. I picked up one of them and chased after our fleeing attackers. One of them took me by surprise when he turned and threw a spear at me. I took it in the chest and went down. I was in agony as my men carried me back to the village, but it did not last long. I died as they carried me into one of our huts.

When I woke, I found out the other thing that the raiders had left behind. I was surprised to find myself alive, even more surprised to feel my chest and find no pain and no wound. There was no one in the hut with me. Outside, there were no human sounds at all. Perhaps I had died after all. I was dressed in my finest clothing, as one dressed a body for a funeral. I stood up and went outside. At first, I saw no one. Then, as I proceeded to the hut of one of my lieutenants, I saw his wife's rotting body, lying face-down on the fire. There were other bodies lying about, bloated, covered with swellings. I went into the huts; everyone inside them was dead as well. The raiders had brought a pestilence. My entire village had died.

I took what I thought might be useful, before firing all the huts and the bodies outside. Then, I went down to the stream and washed, trying to rid myself of the stink and the fleas and the mud. How I had always hated the mud. I left without looking back.

As I wandered, I found other villages who had suffered the same fate. At first, I raided the huts for anything useful, but after the first few, I shied away. The weather grew cold. When I heard wolves howling to the north, I followed the noise. The pack I found was not the one I had grown up with, but when I called to them, they stopped running and came up to sniff me. Once they had accepted me, I went with them, and with them I stayed for many years.

The people of the villages I visited, those who were living, never liked me. I think it may have been because I came from the south, and that was where the sickness had come from, as well. Or it may have been because I looked very much like a wolf, myself, in my skins. It entertains me that men today long to go back to being cavemen. It has been long enough now that they have forgotten what the world was like. Or how the farmers and the hunters fought, as only cousins who are ashamed of each other can do. Cain who murdered his brother was a farmer, after all, and poor Abel an innocent hunter. After some years, I realised that I was not aging, as everything else, wolf and man, did. That was when I understood that I could not stay in one place for long anyway. I discovered that I was happier when I stayed away from men and went hunting. I was a good hunter; I could sneak up on small animals and even face down larger ones with the pack. And so, for a long time, I was happy.



*********



Do you remember the first time we met, Brother, or have you erased it from your dreams? I remember it as if it were yesterday. It helps that I'm dead. With no future, I have little else to think about, save the past. Long before the Horsemen, I was mounting a hill one cold, cloudy day in spring, leading a stubborn, bay pony so short that his withers came not much above my waist. Ah, he was a good pony, bad-tempered but faithful. 'Mar' was his name. Funny that I can still recall that. I don't think his previous owner had been kind to him, as Mar didn't seem to mind a bit that I had cut the man's throat in front of him. It was neither here nor there to him. I, on the other hand, quite took to Mar. I found good grazing for him and kept him well-watered. Mar, in his grumpy way, loved me, I think. He didn't even seem to mind the wolves, who circled us from time to time. My old pack, fortunately, was willing to let me play with my food for awhile. And they found Mar such a curious creature that they never did get around to eating him.

I was thinking about sex that day. It had been some time since my last woman and I had no means of paying for another one in the foreseeable future. As I reached the top, I sensed another Immortal. I had met a few of our kind by then, had even been chased by one, but the Buzz I got from this one was remarkably strong and complex. I saw a figure on the crest of the next hill, not too far away. I stopped to take stock of it. It was a man, tall and pale as one from the north, dressed in white and brown, walking briskly towards me over the flattened, dead grass. It was you, Brother.

Odd enough to see a man walking the grasslands by himself with no others, no pack or wagon. As you drew near, I saw how strange you really looked. Your brown hair was long and shaggy, swinging in witch braids around your head. Someone had painted a blue stripe down the right side of your face. You were barefoot, and all you wore was a white, woolen shift that barely covered your shoulders and flapped around your knees. If you were cold, you didn't show it. The brown...well, that was blood, Brother. The wind was at your back and the smell of death blew in my face, heralding your approach. I knew immediately that the blood wasn't all yours. It stained the entire front of your robe, and there were holes where someone had stabbed through. You clutched your only other possession in one hand, a large and bloody flint knife.

I don't recall what I said in greeting or challenge. Whatever it was, it made little impression on you. You granted me one impatient glance as you stomped by, then continued down the hill that I'd just climbed. I should have hesitated before I turned Mar around to follow, fingering my new bronze sword, but I didn't. I feared little, particularly once I grew old enough to realise how special was a child raised by wolves. My tribe believed that I held strong magic because of it, and so did I. Hadn't I returned from the dead? Didn't I still draw breath when those who had been children in my comrades' dotage had grandchildren? I had never met another with magic as strong as my own, let alone stronger.

It wasn't difficult to catch up with you. The difficulty was in getting you to notice me--the same difficulty that I have now. You strode along as if I were no threat to you, as if I didn't exist. Of course that intrigued me. I knew then, even as your presence thrummed in my head, that you were older than anyone I had ever met.

"Greetings," I said in the trader tongue. "I am Kronos. Who are you?" You ignored me. I tried again in my own dialect, a generation old by then. You ignored me. I tried in two or three other languages from the mountains to the south. You ignored me. Finally, I tried the speech of the first Immortal I had ever met. We had tolerated each other for a few months, before he came at me with a sword. Lacking my own, I had fled. You slowed, then stopped, head down, staring at the ground.

"Is this a Challenge?" Those were your first words to me. They came out slowly, as from a voice in long disuse.

"No," I replied, surprising myself. Of course I wanted whatever you had, but as you had nothing....

"Good," you said, and marched off again.

"What are you running from?" I called after you.

"Running?!" you snorted, without hesitating or looking back. Clearly, I didn't amuse you enough for further investigation. I let Mar go and ran until I passed you. Then, I turned and waited for you, sword unsheathed. When you approached me, I blocked your way, pointing my sword at your throat.

You glared at me, looking me in the eye for the first time. "Get out of my way," you said.

"First, tell me your name," I replied, refusing to move aside or lower my sword. I knew you'd have to stop. If you came any further, you would spit yourself on my blade. No sane man--Mortal or Immortal--would be stupid enough to do that.

What happened next haunted my dreams and stayed my sword from your neck for a good thousand years. Without pausing in your stride, you sidestepped my sword, smashing it to one side with your knife. When I tried to bring my blade back around, you clapped it to your side with your arm, though it cut you badly. Your blank expression did not change as you rammed your knife into my chest. Then, of course, I died.

When I revived, I was lying on my back in the long grass, staring at the dull grey sky. You knelt on my chest, holding my own blade against my throat. I felt the weight of so many centuries (though I didn't know your true age until much later) press me into the ground, suffocating me, and for the first time, I was afraid.

"I am Methos," you said, your eyes the colour of dead grass. "You live because I wish it. Never forget that."

"What are you?" I gasped, unable to keep the fear out of my voice.

"Death," you breathed in my ear, as though speaking the name of a lover. After a pause, you let me up and backed away. I sat up, rubbing my chest. The knife wound, though healed, still hurt.

You jerked your chin in the direction from which you'd come. "Were they your kin?"

I coughed. "Who? The people you killed back there?" You nodded. "No. Never met them."

"Good." You smiled.

"Did you kill them all?" I asked.

"Yes." You stood up, your knife in one hand, my sword in the other. Ignoring Mar, who grazed nearby, you stepped past me and continued walking. Despite the lingering ache in my chest, I pushed myself to my feet and stumbled after you.

"Why?" I asked, wary but too curious to leave it. "Why did you kill them?"

"They killed me. Every spring. This spring, I killed them." You shivered, but your smile didn't waver, nor did your stride.

"You were a sacrifice," I said, feeling ill.

"Yes." I'd heard of brutalities meted out to our kind by Mortals curious about our natures. But to take advantage of that, to kill one of us, over and over, like slaughtering a calf to one's god...small wonder that it left you mad.

"Oh, Brother," I said gently, putting a hand on your shoulder. "I am sorry."

"I am not your brother." You shrugged me off.

"You need rest," I said, confused by my own concern. "And food. I'll make camp--"

"GO AWAY." You chopped me in the face with the hilt of your knife without breaking stride. I fell. As I clambered back to my feet, I watched your receding back.

"And how long will you walk?" I shouted after you.

"Until I drop!" you shouted back without turning. "Then, I will get up and walk some more!"

I decided to take you at your word, so I ran back to Mar and led him at a trot after you. When I was certain of keeping you in sight, I slowed to a comfortable walk. I followed you at a distance, to avoid further hostility. Fortunately, you continued to ignore me. You surprised me again, Brother. You walked the rest of the day. It was well past dark before you began to stagger. You dropped at the top of a small river valley near midnight. When I rolled you over, you had stopped breathing. So, I stuck my sword back in its harness and your knife in my belt, put you over Mar's back (oh, how he complained!), led him down to the river, and built a fire.

I had seen both death from exhaustion and death from cold. I had only one blanket, but I knew it would do you little good without something to warm you. I laid you down beside the fire and covered us both. I rubbed your raw, chilled feet and hands until, in the hour before dawn, you gasped, living once more. Then, I poured a broth of herbs down your throat until you choked and spat it back in my face. When you opened your eyes, and wept in bewilderment at my unlooked for kindness, I held you until you slept.

I don't know why I saved you. I should have taken your head, but I didn't know how to kill an Immortal back then. Even if I had, I doubt that I would have killed you. Perhaps I was lonely. Perhaps I thought I could learn something from one so old. Perhaps it's the same thing that draws your precious Alexa back from whatever good place she's found. Perhaps I was merely afraid that you would chase me down and kill me in your madness-- and you were quite mad, Brother. I never did save you from that. Whatever cure you eventually found, you did it in spite of me.

After two days by the river, you recovered a little strength. I rather enjoyed having another Immortal around, even though you spoke so little. You were too weak to be an immediate threat, and your obvious age intrigued me. But I think what endeared me to you the most was that you immediately befriended the rest of my pack. I hunted, bringing back small game. You devoured everything I found, although it often overtaxed your shrunken belly. But sometimes, when you thought I wasn't looking, I think, you would coax one of the bolder wolves over and feed it titbits. All the wolves quickly learned what a soft touch you were. After the first day or so, I didn't have to worry about leaving you alone with them at all. They recognised, better than a pack of humans would, that you had shared meat with them even though you were hungry, yourself. They appreciated that. I appreciated it. I had never known a human that generous before, to starve himself for a wolf. As I looked at your gaunt frame, I realized that you had been starved for a very long time. Perhaps you no longer saw wolves as the enemy.

"How long has it been since you've eaten?" I asked one morning, as you vomited your breakfast onto the river bank. You leaned over the bank, drinking water and spitting it back out. As you sat back on your heels, you wiped off your mouth with one hand. Then, you went back to the small fowl that you had been gnawing.

"There was a large town to the south of here, four days walk," you said around a mouthful of meat. "Is it still there?"

"No." I was puzzled. "There's nothing to the south but some ruins. There hasn't been anything there since my grandfather's time, and I could be a grandfather myself, now." This was a lie, of course. But I knew enough about how old men looked (and how I should have looked) to take a guess at what a grandfather would be like.

You grunted. "More than a century, then. I did wonder."

I stared at him. "You haven't eaten in a century?" That was longer than I had been alive.

"They didn't need to feed me," you explained. "They only kept me alive for a day or so each year. They would give me some drink or other that made me sick and have visions. But other than that...no. Why waste food on a sacrifice?"

I was horrified. Perhaps I hadn't understood you properly. The dialect that you spoke was archaic, and I often had trouble understanding your meaning. However, you seemed clear enough, this time. These Mortals, this "they" of yours, had tortured and starved you and left you for dead for over a century, had used you as a perpetual sacrifice to the gods. All things considered, I was impressed that you could still speak a coherent sentence.

Ah, but that was where you were so deceptive, brother. You could be most articulate, most sympathetic, in the midst of your worst madness. It was then that I made my second great mistake with you.

"What will you do now?" I asked. You didn't answer, not right then, but you had a plan. It was forming in your head even as I spoke, and my question had just included me in it. In the meantime, I watched in fascination as you created a pair of boots for your feet. You took the down from the birds I had killed, cut your feet and smeared it all over them, then stuck the down on top. After that, you wove grass over the down, right onto your feet. I watched you, bemused. Your magic was subtle but disturbing.

"That is impressive," I told you. "How long does it last?"

You shrugged. "A month or two. Leather is better."

"Hmm. You're a traveller?"

You finished tying up the last strands of your shoes. "Would I have ended up in a bog if I had been a villager?"

"If they were like they are now, yes," I admitted. "They love it, the death. They like to kill their own, even a brother. And if they say, 'We did it for our god', that makes it good." These Mortals loved the strangest things, though I have never seen them use an Immortal the way they used you before. You growled to yourself, but I did not miss it. "Perhaps we should try to get a wagon."

You smiled, the first time I saw it, I think. "Good idea. I ride when I can, but only walk when I must."

"Well," I said, "we will have to get a wagon, then." This was nonsense, of course, but you didn't know that. Only the rich owned wagons, and only warriors rode in chariots. I was lucky to have a packhorse.

"The wolves like you," I said, smiling.

You smiled back, but your eyes were clouded, as if you were not quite in the present. You kept glancing over my shoulder. "I raised a pride of lion cubs, once. They were with me for years. Lovely beasts--white, not tawny like the ones down south. Very large." Your face fell. "But that was long ago."

"How long ago?" I said, curious.

You shook your head. "I don't know. These plains were half-desert. To the north it was all ice."

"You came here in winter?" I frowned. That was stupid, and you didn't seem stupid.

"No," you said impatiently. "Not snow, *ice*." You said another word, but I didn't recognise it. I think now that you meant "glacier". "It doesn't matter," you said finally. "It is all gone now. They are all gone now, long before I was thrown into that bog." And then you sat down and covered your face with your hands. You wouldn't speak to me anymore that day, or the next. At night, I heard you talking out loud in another language. Towards dawn, you moved away from the fire, though I could still hear you. Your tone became more intimate, as if you were with a woman. I started to get up, to tell you to come back to the fire where it was safer, then stopped at the noises you were making. There are times when one man interrupts another man at his peril. Towards dawn, you snuck back to the fire and curled up with your back to me. Neither of us spoke about it.

When the weather turned a few days later and I told you it was time to move on, you said nothing. You simply stood up and strode ahead of Mar, ignoring me again. My blanket, which I gave you to wear over your robe, flapped on your shoulders. We were heading south to a village, where I thought we might trade for clothing for you and some bread and tools. That was assuming that they would not chase us away or try to murder us. One had to be careful in those days. The plains were never a safe place, and the forest less so even then.

What we found first was not a village, but a group of nomadic herdsmen, moving with their cattle and wagons. The trees were increasing on the plain where we came across them. I had some skins in my pack, a brace of fowl and a small block of salt. I traded them for some clothing for the both of us to a broad-shouldered patriarch with greying hair tied back in an elaborate braid. You stayed out of sight with the wolves, but when I came back with Mar you became very excited and asked me all sorts of questions about the wagons. I thought it a bit strange that you didn't go see for yourself. You must have still been too frightened of strange humans. That never occurred to me then, because I couldn't believe that one such as you could feel fear. You put on the two robes that I had got you with hesitation, as if you were afraid to let go of your last bit of past. You kept your blood boots on, since the caravan leader had had none to trade, and slashed and tied the second robe you had around your legs, like trousers. I have to say, you were very resourceful about keeping warm.

We burned your old shift that night. It gave off a fetid smell. You sat and watched it, your arms wrapped around your drawn-up legs, finally cozy under your two robes and cloak.You kept your knife, stuck in a belt you had made out of twisted grass. We had found a stone house, with a circular hole in one wall, facing a semicircular courtyard of paving stones. It sat in the middle of a small copse of woods. I had run across such structures before, though none quite this elaborate. It seemed to be some ritual place. You agreed with me, insisting that it was holy ground, and you wouldn't leave it. I indulged you and we camped there for the night.

"Where do you go at night?" I asked you, once we had finished cooking and eating for the evening and settled down, staring at the fire. You didn't answer. Instead you pulled your knees tighter against your chest, sniffed and raised your head to stare at the rising moon.

"There's no one out there."

You glanced at me, slyly, eyes half closed. "No one alive."

I shifted to a more comfortable position. "Who do you see?"

You reached into the neck of your tunic and scratched, considering. "My wife," you admitted.

"What wife?"

"My wife." You smiled, staring off towards the moon again. "I said I would come back with game, for her and the children. Two days after that, they captured me. I hope they never found her."

"But she's dead. Must have been for years. You said you were captured over a century ago." I appraised you, wondering about the best way to shock you out of your delusion. "What you see out there isn't real."

You looked at me sharply. "I told you--I see the dead."

"It's a ghost, or a demon. Not your wife. Your wife is dead."

You stared off at the moon, your chin on your knees, eyes clouding again. "I don't care. She comes to me, my wife, in the night. And I..." You paused, as if unable to find the right word. "...we lie down together. And the dead leave us in peace." You turned your strange, hard eyes on me. "Is that a problem?"

"No," I said, a little afraid.

"Then, you don't need to talk about it anymore." With that, you stood up, went a little way out from the fire into the darkness, and lay down. As the moon rose, I heard you muttering to yourself. Your laugh rattled out two or three times. I lay down and waited. You came back and lay down, pulling the blanket over you.

"Perhaps we can find you a woman," I said, "to replace your wife."

"There are no women out here," you said, and that was the end of the discussion, as far as you were concerned.



*********



"Kronos," you said a long time later, after the fire had died down and we were lying back to back under the first glow of dawn.

"What?" I was sleepy. You had woken me up.

"You won't ever betray me, will you?" Your voice sounded melancholy and murderous at the same time.

I chuckled, like a wolf. "Why would I do that?"

"I can pay you for the blanket and the robes. I have skills...I can get you things you couldn't get yourself. Just don't...don't betray me."

"Oh, is that all?" I purred, amused at your childish worry. "Don't worry. It won't happen. We are brothers." And as I said that, I knew it to be true. What other human had I ever met who understood me as you did? Though it was a pity that you were not in your right mind.

"Brothers." You seemed to mull that over. "If we are brothers, then we share *everything*," you insisted fiercely. "Or it doesn't work."

I nodded, even though you couldn't see it, and were too bundled up in your new clothing to feel it. "Of course." I thought you were mad. You were.

You laughed cynically. "Don't lie to me, Kronos. I can speak with the dead. They will tell me all your lies."

"I won't betray you," I assured you. Now, you were frightening me. I struggled to keep my voice even, not to show it. My biggest fear, for centuries, was showing you that I was afraid of you.

"No, you won't." You giggled. "Because if you do, it will be your death."

I shivered then, and I shiver now. You spoke the truth, but whether it was a curse or a prophecy I never knew, and probably will never know. Even death has not taught me everything. You cannot imagine my disappointment when I discovered that. I can see now why you found Cassandra so attractive. You never had to explain to her why you chatted with the skulls adorning your tent. It made perfect sense to her.

"I won't betray you," I insisted. In a way, I spoke the truth, and in a way I lied. And on the last day that I lied to you and frightened you, nearly four thousand years later, I did betray you. And you were right. It was my death.

The extra clothing improved your mood. It was as though you had grown remote before to ignore the cold and hunger. Now that you were warmer and fed, you became more talkative, though perhaps only a man used to living with wolves would have noticed as I did. Your knowledge of our mutual language improved, though you seemed unable to grasp the simple trade language I had first tried on you. I became more aware of your age. It was not simply because of the things you spoke about--kings and empires and man- made mountains of stone--but your frustration that you could not express these concepts to me, even as your vocabulary grew. I remember my disbelief when you first tried to explain equatorial savanna to me, or rainforest, or the sea. I laughed outright at you when you tried to describe these fantastic landscapes to me. So much water in one place that you couldn't see land on the other side? Impossible! Even though such a body of water lay a hundred miles to our west, I had never seen or heard of it. You might has well have told me you had come down from the moon. I thought you were making fun of me until you stalked off in a fury. You didn't speak to me for days after that. For the nights, you preferred to sleep in the darkness, with your ghostly wife, rather than near the fire with me. You never could bear to be treated as if you were a fool.

Eventually, I coaxed you back out of your mood, and you began sleeping next to the fire again. You were like some bad-tempered old wolf. You never could hold a grudge for long, Brother, not even against me. And I could never nurse one against you except in your absence. When we first met again, after so many centuries, I wanted to torture you to death. But even as you lay there, dead on that platform before I pulled the knife out, I felt myself softening. I did miss you, Brother, so much. I never lied to you about that. Does Joseph know how fortunate he is and how terribly unlucky? Yes, I think he does.

The weather turned warmer and we wandered north. The trees grew more numerous. One day, as we lay next to a stream, enjoying the sun and watching Mar graze, you sat up, staring at Mar.

"Kronos." Your voice was sharp with curiosity.

I sighed to myself. You had some question, one I likely couldn't answer. "What?"

"Why don't you ever ride Mar?"

I didn't recognise the word. "'Ride'?"

You stared at me incredulously. The armspan between us might as well have been from horizon to horizon. "You don't ride that horse? How did you tame him?"

I sat up. "Mar was carrying a pack when I killed the man who had him. I took him for my own. Now, he carries my pack. That's all I care about."

You scoffed and stood up, brushing yourself off. "You don't know what I'm saying, do you?" You went over to Mar. Engrossed in his grazing and obviously happy to have his back bare, he ignored you.

"What are you doing?" I said sharply, also standing up as you pulled up the stake to his lead rope.

"I am going to ride a horse." You grinned, and then you gave a little leap on top of him. Mar flung up his head and snorted, eyes wide. You clamped your knees to his sides, your feet meeting under his belly, and pulled in the rope before he could get his head down to buck. He took off, clearing the stream and galloping up the little hill. I had to jump to one side to avoid being knocked down. As you and Mar disappeared over the top, I got up and ran after you. When I reached the highest point of the hill, I saw Mar racing south across the plain at top speed. You were clinging to him, one hand in his mane, the other pulling the rope in tight. I thought that was the last I would see of either of you as you approached the horizon. Gradually, though, Mar began to turn in a circle and came round back my way. It took some time, but you got him headed towards me. Mar's gallop slowed to a trot and then a walk. He was panting when he came back up the hill. You looked pleased, though breathless yourself, as you leaned forward and patted him. Your mouth was moving, but I could not hear what you said to him.

"What in the name of the all the stone hells did you just do to my horse?!" I yelled at you. "He will drop dead if you keep doing that!"

You shook your head. "No, he won't. I'll walk him out before I let him near water. Once he is cool, he will be fine. You'll see." When you reached the top of the hill and drew level with me, you slid off, wincing. I grabbed the rope from you before you could get your footing.

"Give me back my horse! That is the last time you'll do that!" I stomped back down the hill.

"Don't let him drink," you called after me urgently. "He has to cool down."

I muttered to myself, but pulled Mar away from the stream and walked him until his sides stopped heaving and the sweat had cooled and dried on his flanks. As my anger subsided, I knew that you were right and wouldn't wish real ill on Mar. You needed him as much as I did. When both Mar and I had cooled down, I let him drink, then brought him back to our camp. You were lying on the ground, looking as exhausted as Mar.

"Why did you do that?" I demanded as I tethered Mar again and stomped back to my blanket. I flung myself down beside you.

You turned your head to look at me. "Did you see how far we got?"

"I don't know what you mean," I said sullenly, but an image of you and Mar disappearing over the horizon came to me. If you could do that with my horse....

You rolled over and pushed yourself up on one elbow. "Horses can *run*, Kronos! Faster than any man. And they can carry men as well as they can carry packs. Better, even, once the man knows what to do."

Yes, I did see that, now that I thought about it. Oh, the raids one could make on villages. We could be in, take what we wanted and be gone before they could get to their spears and bows. This latest magic of yours was the subtlest and most powerful yet, far beyond any I knew. "It doesn't work if you kill the horse," I said, still unwilling to concede you the field.

"Oh, you won't once you tame them." You laughed. "You can control them, make them do whatever pace you want. And they *like* it. They like to run. You just have to teach them not to mind you riding them while they run."

"You're mad," I said, but now I was seeing you in a different way, a useful way. Men can be controlled as well as horses, especially a man unaware of his own gifts. But I would have to be careful. You might have had one foot in the spirit world, but you weren't stupid.

You smiled. "Of course I'm mad. Why do you think those farmers sacrificed me?" You seemed innocent of my thoughts' new turn, but that could change. It wasn't long after this that I found keeping one step ahead of you a full-time job. Still, I fooled you to the bitter end. Not that it did me any good.

"You were...'riding' a horse when they captured you?" I asked. I was beginning to think that the world was well rid of those who had sacrificed you. What a stupid waste of your talents. What other unique tactics and skills had been entombed with you for generations in that bog?

"Yes, I was riding a horse." You lay back down. "I was riding through a forest. I must have frightened them. Or maybe they were out hunting men for their god. I never saw them. They shot me off Ganis' back. But I revived while they were looting my body. After they killed me again, and I revived--again--I think they began to see other uses for me." Your voice was flat, your eyes blank. You didn't have to tell me the details. A man astride a horse? It must be a sign from the gods! Yes, I knew that type all too well. "They sacrificed us both, my horse and I together. Only I came back."

"How did you learn how to ride?" I was growing used to this strange concept. I thought I even liked it.

"The same way I showed you." You smiled, your humour reviving. "One day, I wondered why it always had to be the pack on the horse and not me. So, I tried it. The horse threw me. I tried again, and again until I got it right. Ganis was the fifth horse I've tamed." One corner of your mouth turned up. "I can be stubborn."

"So I've noticed." The question was, could I still control you, or were you too far gone to be used safely? I leaned towards you. "Can you teach me how to do it?"

Your smile broadened. "Yes." You nodded at Mar. "But first, I'll have to teach him." That image made us both laugh.



*********



Further north, the plains bled out into forest. As the snow receded, you relaxed, as if you could finally allow yourself to believe that you no longer had to fear becoming a sacrifice again. It was close to midsummer when we approached a village from the east, and I decided to risk going in to trade. You had just spent two days splashing around a stream, muttering to yourself, and you found several thumb-sized pieces of amber. I thought we might get some metal tools and bread for the smallest piece. We might even get a woman. We were both tall, and not bad-looking. And we had all of our teeth. We could probably pay a woman to take us both on, or get two of them to go off with us together. Anything that would draw you away from your visions, tie you to this world--and me--was worth a few pieces of amber.

I hadn't tried to visit a village recently, because it disturbed you too much. Even the herders, who had interested you, had also repelled you. It didn't help that you had sensed one of us a few days earlier, or so you had claimed. I had expressed my skepticism a bit too openly. Now, you were sulking. You only shrugged sullenly when I proposed the idea of going into the village to you. And so we went in. It was a bad mistake, Brother. Possibly the worst one we have ever made together, and we never made it again.

The villagers seemed friendly enough as we trudged in, you leading Mar. Several women, who had gathered in a group to gossip no doubt, came over to observe us. One woman strode right up to us, shoulders thrown back like a man. Her shape, under her long tunic, however, was very womanly, with broad hips and large breasts, heavy but still firm. She tossed back her blonde hair and gave us both an appraising smile.

"What do you want?" she asked you in the trader tongue. You being the taller one, she must have assumed you were the leader. She barely came up to your shoulder. You ignored her, standing there, stroking Mar's neck.

"We want to trade," I said. She gave you a disgusted look and turned to me, hands on her hips.

"Trade for what?" She spat. It landed to one side of my boot. "What could you have that we would want?"

"Amber," I offered, my hand straying to my sword as the other women ambled over. The first woman's eyes widened. She turned her attention full on me for the first time, losing all interest in you.

"Do you, now? Then, maybe we can make a deal after all." She jerked her chin at you. "What about him?"

"What about him?" I replied.

"Is he dumb?" Her lip curled. I was thankful that you still didn't know this language, though I had no doubt you understood the gist of her meaning, no matter how blandly you stared over her head at the horizon.

"He can talk. He just doesn't want to. And he doesn't speak your tongue, anyway." All the women regarded you with more interest. They always did like a challenge. That would explain your perpetual success with them.

"Maybe he hasn't found a good enough reason to talk...yet." The first woman stirred her hips at you. You looked at her feet, then let your gaze move upward, lingering on her hips and breasts. Last, you stared into her eyes, your face blank, as if she were a block of wood. Her look of lust soured. Served her right, the slutty cow. "You'll have to wait until the chief comes back," she half-snarled. "He doesn't like it when we trade with strangers before he's said it's all right."

"And you let him tell you what to do?" I said. Her lip curled even more.

"He's the chief. He does what he likes." She turned away. "You can stay and water your horse while you wait, if you like." She didn't offer us any food or other hospitality, which I thought was rude. Not that it surprised me. Life out here was hard. People were not apt to be charitable to strangers, even when custom demanded it. They were farmers, after all, not hunters or herders. No doubt she thought we were animals, and wished to treat us as animals.

We followed her towards the river. It was broader than the streams we had camped near that spring. I noticed some baskets suspended in the water as we walked along the ridge. I nudged you and pointed to them. "To catch fish?" I asked, in your tongue. They wouldn't know it here.

You nodded, looking bored. But you stiffened and grew agitated as we passed through the village on the way to the river. "What is that?" you whispered to me, staring at one of the larger huts. There were four poles in front of it, and on each of them, as I glanced over, was a rotting head.

I shrugged. "Trophies from a raid, perhaps? Who knows and who cares? They've offered us hospitality, poor as it is. They won't cut off *our* heads."

Your eyes narrowed and you glowered at me, as if to say, "Don't be so sure." But you said nothing.

"What is wrong with you?" I said, exasperated. "You're not some weak woman to faint at a few severed heads."

You glanced around. When you spoke next, you leaned close to my ear. "No one has ever told you how our kind meet our deaths, I see." You drew away before I could answer. I was stunned. It was the first time that either of us had ever spoken of our difference from others so clearly.

"Are you saying we can be killed if we lose our heads? Forever?" It made sense, now that I thought about it, but I had never thought it would be such a specific death. Was that why you had become so hostile after you thought you sensed one of our kind?

You shook your head, clearly unwilling to speak in front of the woman, even in a tongue that they should not understand. "Later. After dark. Be alert. They may try something." You went ahead of me toward the river. "I don't like this, Ana," you muttered. I don't think you were speaking to me.

"You! Trader!" It was the blonde woman, calling to me (or so I assumed, since she knew you couldn't understand the trader tongue). I glanced over my shoulder at her.

"What do you want?" I called back, annoyed. I didn't want to stop this conversation with you. I could see your madness growing. I had to calm you before you worked yourself up to getting us both in trouble.

"You said you had things to trade. So, come up and trade them," she said.

Disgusted, I turned to you. "Water Mar. Unpack him. I'll be back."

You grabbed my arm as I turned away. "We shouldn't split up."

I yanked my arm loose, my irritation growing. "Don't do this now. I can't indulge your madness here." You went very still. Your eyes narrowed and your lips thinned. Later, I would learn to fear that look. "I'll be back. If I'm not back by dark, come and get me." I knew exactly what I meant when I told you that, even if I didn't see any danger of it happening.

I trudged up the hill without looking back. You could sit and stew by the river until dark all you liked, for all I cared. When I reached the top, the woman beckoned me towards a hut, smiling invitingly. Perhaps she wanted to make her own trade for the amber now, after all. Suspicious, but not very surprised, I followed her. It was an old trick, and while I certainly would not have minded a tumble with her, I did not trust her for a moment. Your paranoia was rubbing off on me. My wolf instincts told me that maybe you weren't crazy at all, but I let my man's lust rule me enough to follow my curiosity with the woman. As she went to the entrance of the hut, though, I stopped, then backed away, shaking my head.

"Not in there. Out here."

She shrugged. "As you wish."

As she ducked inside, I sensed you coming from behind. I spun around, angry. "Methos, I told you--" But the man approaching from across the compound, surrounded by warriors, was not you. A trap! It was a damned trap! As I went for my sword a sharp pain pierced my back. I gagged in agony. When I looked down, I saw a spear point coming out under my ribs. Behind me, the woman laughed. The bitch twisted the spear, making the pain increase a hundredfold. The day turned to blood. My knees gave under me. I fell forward, my face striking the ground before I could stop myself. The last thing I saw before death took me was the other Immortal's approach. I have never turned my back on a woman since.



*********



I woke, coughing in pain. When I opened my eyes, I saw a face-- blurred, but familiar. I blinked and then I recognised you. You lay across from me, on your side. You were dead, a broken-off arrow shaft protruding from your throat. Blood ran out of your slack, open mouth and down your tunic from the wound, soaking the dirt under your body. Your clouded eyes stared into mine. I thought I could still read the frantic terror of your last moments in them, as you must have clawed at the arrow point, trying to get it out so you could fight back and escape. It would have been easy to take you down, once they had killed me. I had left you in a open, exposed position by the river, near trees. They could have shot you from hiding without risking themselves against your rage.

"Methos, I'm sorry," I said. I have never meant anything so fervently in my life. What a fool I had been. You had tried to warn me and I had ignored you. I had failed you. Now, I had probably got us both killed. I tried to move, only to find myself tied like game, feet bound up tightly behind my back to my hands. "I will get us out of this, Brother," I promised your corpse. "I swear it." After that, I fell silent, not wanting to alert anyone. I couldn't feel any of our kind nearby. Hopefully, the other Immortal would stay away until I could at least take stock of where we were. If I judged it right, he led this village just as I had led mine. If he knew how to kill us, we could expect no mercy from him.

Where we seemed to be was inside one of the huts. It was empty of everything save us as far as I could tell. The light was very dim. The thatching on the poles tied together overhead kept out most of any light. Either it was dusk or just before sunrise. I could not tell, though the chill in my limbs and the dried blood on your face indicated the latter. I pulled against the ropes, testing them. I was not getting out of them without help. The bonds were too tight. You seemed to be trussed in a similar fashion, though the fact that they had left the arrow in you but pulled the spear out of me indicated that they feared you more. Perhaps you had fought them after all, before you died. I could see your knife nowhere on your body, which did not surprise me. Obviously, they knew our nature.

I heard footsteps approaching the hut, four men from the sounds of it. I went still. They came in and pulled me up. I hung limp in their hands, holding my breath.

"Can he really be alive?" One of them said, puzzled. I smiled to myself. Then, I felt the signature of another Immortal as a fifth man entered the hut.

"He is alive," he said. "He is pretending to be dead. Open your eyes," he told me, "or I will cut them out." Slowly, I obeyed.

I glared at him. "What do you mean, doing this to us? Why did you kill my companion? Is this your idea of hospitality?" I spat on his boots. He stepped back and one of the men holding me grabbed my hair and yanked my head back while the other punched me in the side. I doubled over.

"Stop," the Immortal said. "He is to be sacrificed, not abused."

"What about the other one?" asked the man who had grabbed my hair. "He killed Cas before we got him. Do we throw him in the garbage pit?"

"Oh, no." The Immortal bent over and pulled the arrow out of the back of your neck. The wet screeing as it rubbed against your spine set my teeth on edge. I wouldn't realise until a very long time later how old you must have been already to heal fully from a scar to the throat. "He is as alive as this one. He is very strong. He will make a fine sacrifice."

I had hoped he would leave you alone to revive, but no such luck. Insects chittered outside as the men stood and waited, holding me between them. Then, one of them gasped as the wound in your throat closed in a small shower of blue sparks. It took a fair amount of time. A moment later, you gagged and blinked, gargling blood. You moved blindly, obviously confused. As you lifted your head and tried to move your feet you discovered your position and panicked. You kicked out, writhing on the ground, and began to shriek in a hoarse, half-healed voice. We all watched, astonished. What was wrong with you? You were screaming incoherently...no. It was a language I had heard you mutter in your sleep. You were shouting something about being blind. You must have thought you had been caught again to be sacrificed, and you were not far wrong.

"Brother!" I called in your tongue, not wanting to give your name to strangers. "It's all right. I'm here. Brother, calm down!" The man who had struck me before did it again, but the Immortal spoke sharply to him. Then, the Immortal leaned over you and pulled you up by your hair. By this time, your eyes were clearing. You gazed up at him, panting, wide-eyed with horror.

"Ana?" you babbled, still in your old speech. "Don't leave me here. I'm sorry, Ana. I was lonely. Come back."

"Who are you?" the Immortal said, shaking you. "What is your name?" You glared up at him and twisted in his grip. You were grinding your teeth, foam dribbling out of the corner of your mouth. He had to jump away when you yowled and kicked him in the ankle. I bit down a laugh. You always got your own back, Brother. The Immortal let you drop back to the ground. Released, you tried to roll away to the wall, squirming like a snake. The Immortal spoke to the other two guards, who grabbed you and lifted you up. They could barely hold you.

"Take them out to the place of sacrifice," the Immortal said. "Make them walk." He turned and left the hut. His presence receded.

The men cut the bonds to our legs and forced us to walk out to a clearing behind the huts. That is to say, they forced me to walk. You, they more or less carried, especially after you tried to bite off the ear of one of your guards and they had to call in two more men to hold you. For myself, I decided to conserve my strength. It was beginning to look as though only one of us, at best, would survive this place. There was a garbage pit near the path to the clearing. The underbrush had been cut away here, the ground smoothed and beaten down. The rest of the villagers followed us, not just the warriors, with the women cat-calling and the children hooting at us and pelting us with mud. They found your demented howling and struggles especially entertaining.

At the edge of the clearing, they forced us to kneel. They held you still by the expedient of one man standing behind you, hand clamped over your chin, while another held a bronze knife to your throat and a third stood on your legs. The villagers gathered around us, jumping up and down and fairly singing in their excitement. They had set up torches all around, lighting up the clearing nearly as bright as day.

"Calm down!" I snapped at you. "This is not helping us. Stop fighting them and think!"

You glanced sideways at me, your eyes rolling white with fear. "Kronos," you whimpered. "Don't let them throw me back in the bog. Don't-- I'd rather die. I'd rather...."

"Shut up! Stop panicking! We can get out of this!" But my heart sank when I felt the Immortal's presence return. He came into the clearing, wearing an elaborately-sewn fur tunic, and carrying two bronze swords. I recognised one of them as my own. The other one must have been his. The shouting from the crowd increased. When he raised his hands, they quieted.

"My people, hear me. I have ruled as your god for many years, since my father before me departed from this place in fire and thunder. You have seen me dispatch enemies from beyond the forest before. Now, come two demons to destroy you. They have gifts like me. Like me, they can return from walking the roads of the dead. But I can overcome their evil and treachery, and I will." He stuck one of the swords in the ground and pointed the other at me. "Bring him first."

I thought sourly that we were not the ones who had been treacherous as they pulled me up. I glanced over at you. You made a strangled noise beside me. You were straining against the knife, a line of blood trickling down your neck. You turned your head towards me.

"Wolf-bastard!" You swore at me in the trader tongue, which I had thought for certain you had not been learning these past few months. "You always get the best things! Look! You even get to fight first! Is that fair? Is that right?" You glared at the Immortal. "*I* am the elder! *I* have first right to battle!" I gaped at you. Had you lost your mind?

The man let fall his sword-hand. "As you wish." He gestured at your guards. "Cut him loose. Let the madman fight first."

You turned to me. "Be ready," you said in your tongue, as they shoved me back down. Two of the men held you down, while a third cut you loose. You stopped struggling, which puzzled me as they dragged you out to the clearing and dropped you. When they stepped away, I saw you writhe in the dust, grimacing. I remembered the ache in my own limbs. Of course! You were stiff from having been bound and dead for hours. The other Immortal laughed at you as you stumbled to the sword stuck in the ground and grasped the handle. You straightened slowly, wincing. It seemed odd, this stiffness in contrast to your earlier struggles. My arms were stiff, too, but you seemed crippled. Surely, your squirming would have loosened you up somewhat at least. I began to tighten and loosen my own muscles, in anticipation of my own fight. It did not look as though you would win.

The other Immortal backed up to give you space. I imagine he wanted the illusion of a fair fight, if not the real thing. You stood panting, and then, painfully, you pulled the sword out of the ground. You turned in place as the other stalked around you. He lunged at you, and you parried, just getting out of the way. He struck again; you parried. He went for your ankle, you parried it in a circle and came back at his head. He leapt back, looking frustrated as the villagers laughed and booed. This was not the godlike fight he had been looking for. Perhaps he had hoped to either dispatch you quickly, or face a more agile opponent. He lunged again, aiming for your chest, his face red with anger. You parried his sword down and punched him in the face. He stumbled backwards. The villagers screamed even louder.

Suddenly, you grinned, showing all of your teeth. You crouched, your clumsiness vanishing like mist in sunlight, and leapt at him with a yell that I could hear even above the villagers. You struck, at his shoulder, at his hip, wild blows. He parried them, but not well. He caught you in your left shoulder as you drove in again. You yelled. Your face was contorted with rage not pain. You spun with the blow, lashing out and slashing the other Immortal deep in the thigh. You yelled again when he hacked you in the ribs, throwing you to one side. You stumbled, then pushed yourself up on your sword, even as the other sank to one knee. With your left arm clamped to your side, you yanked your sword out of the ground and brought it down on the other's head before he could bring his own sword up. The blow glanced off his head, dazing but not killing him. You struck again and again, screaming in a frenzy, even as he fell and lay there on the ground. I thought that the villagers would intervene at that point, but instead, they fell silent, watching with shocked looks on their faces. You sank to your knees beside the body, then you reached out with your left hand, crying in agony from your own wounds, grasped the other Immortal's hair, stretched out his neck and hacked at it until his head came free. You dropped the head and crawled away. An armslength or two away, you collapsed onto your face and lay still.

The villagers surged forward, but stopped dead as a mist rose out of the body of their fallen leader and drifted over to you. Overhead, the night sky roiled. Thunder growled and the villagers muttered, milling about. The men holding me let go and backed away. Falling over, I started to wriggle over to a likely-looking sharp rock, to cut my bonds. Before I got anywhere, however, lightning hissed out of the sky and into you. Your prone body jerked. Another lightning bolt cracked down, this time striking one of the torches, making it flare up and fall over backwards. It struck some of the villagers, who caught fire and fled, shrieking, back through the trees. Where it fell, sparks scattered and caught the underbrush. People panicked, running about as the lightning continued. The largest bolts struck you, but many of them struck the torches, trees, people. Reviving, you pushed yourself up onto your knees and raised your sword to the heavens. You howled in pain when the bolts struck you, but neither lowered nor released your sword, even as it melted in your hand. The storm passed its peak, the lightning died. You fell on your face.

I counted at least eight bodies lying on the ground. The shrieks of the panicking villagers rang through the trees and still others huddled dead nearby. I looked back at you. If I could get to the other Immortal's sword.... Then, I thought of something better, easier.

"Methos!" I called. "Brother, cut me loose!" I had to call you several times before you lifted your head and stared at me, your eyes dazed. "Methos, come here and cut me loose!" I felt sick when you sank back down again, without acknowledging me, and called louder. You lifted your head again and crawled towards me slowly, across the bare earth.

"Turn over," you said, when you reached me. I did so. I heard you panting for breath as you fumbled at my bonds. When the sword slipped and sliced into my arm, I sucked back a hiss of pain. The still-hot blade burned my skin as you sawed at the ropes. They came loose. I gasped in relief as I found myself able to move again, but very stiffly. I lay there, rubbing my wrists as you crawled away. When I rolled over to face you, you were on your feet. You had retrieved the other Immortal's sword.

"What was that?" I asked, sitting up.

"The Quickening?" you replied, smiling wolfishly. "Tell you later, Brother."

"The what? Where are you going?" I yelped.

"I'll be back." You grinned. "I have...a plan." You stumbled out of the now-deserted clearing, back down the path to the village. When I could move enough, I stood up. I took a spear from one of the bodies and got a torch. When I found two children huddled at the edge of the clearing I killed them. Then, I set off down the path, setting fire to the brush as I went. I had an idea what you wanted to do, but the odds were still great enough that you might get killed doing it.

By the time I reached the village, it was in chaos. The wind had come up with the sudden storm and driven the fire ahead of me. Some of the huts were on fire. I had expected opposition, but the men and women were too busy trying to douse the flames with water from the river. You were nowhere to be found. Nor could I sense you. What were you doing? I had thought you would be up among the huts, creating havoc. I worked my way around the edge of the village to the river, picking off four unwary men as I did. I enjoyed myself, but I did wonder where you had got to. Mar was downriver from the frantic line of watercarriers, huddled together with two sheep, six goats and another horse. He seemed glad to see me, but didn't want to leave the others. I decided to herd the animals further downriver. As I chivvied them towards the copse of woods, I sensed you. I left the herd behind. Mar was important, but you were the greater ally.

As I ventured into the underbrush, I heard whispering and muttering. I followed it, recognising your peculiar manner of speech. The moon was up and I could see fairly well in the trees. I saw movement right on the river bank and went to it. There was a clear spot there. The first thing I noticed was a woman's feet. Drawing near, I saw the rest of the body lying face down. Her head was in the water and her hair floated on the current. You lay beside her, face up, staring blankly at the sky, your sword held across your belly. At first, I thought you were dead, but you sat up as I approached. You looked down, tugging the woman's tunic over her hips and licking your lips. She had blonde hair. I wondered if she was the bitch who had lured me up to the hut and stabbed me.

I knelt beside you, putting a hand on your shoulder. You wouldn't look at me. "Methos?"

"She won't come to me anymore," you said, which was the last thing I expected you to say.

"Who won't come?" I grasped you by both your shoulders and shook you. "Brother, look at me. What did you do?"

"My wife." You rubbed your hands over your face and hair, smearing them black with blood. "She won't come anymore. She is angry. She said I lay with another woman." You shivered. "I only wanted--I was lonely. She wanted me before in the daylight, that one." You glanced down at the body and stroked its back. "She came down after you left. We went into the trees. It was good. She seemed happy afterwards. Then, she laughed at me...."

So, it was the same woman who had stabbed me. "It was an ambush," I said. "I know. She set me up, too."

"She drove my wife away." You scowled. "Ana said she wouldn't stay if I slept with such sluts. And when I tried to follow her, talk to her," you glanced down at the body, "this one said I was mad." You picked at your hair. "Mad. Just because I was lonely."

"I'm sure your wife will come back now," I said.

If you heard me, you didn't show it. "I thought now, when nobody could see--but she didn't want me in the dark." You ground your teeth together. "If I let her scream, they'd come again, throw me back in that bog." You looked at me. "I had to do it, Brother, do you understand?"

"Of course I do," I said, steering you away from this pointless guilt over betraying your long-dead wife. "I see you had your way in the end."

You smiled and nodded, your eyes half-closed. "Oh, yes."

"Good." I let go of you, stepped over the body, crouched down and lifted the head out of the water by its hair. The bloated, distorted features looked familiar, even in the moonlight. I was reasonably certain it was her. "Well, I would have preferred to serve her this way myself."

"Oh...." You grunted in distress and smacked yourself in the head, rocking. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry, Brother. I wanted to keep her for you but she started screaming before I could finish, and they shot me, and....my wife...I shouldn't have....I'm sorry, Ana." You stared off into the trees, eyes unfocused. "Ana, wait for me. Come back."

So, that was how they caught you. She lured you into the trees, fucked you and then called for the ambush. Why not, when you would be dead by sunrise? The little slut had had a busy afternoon. You must have been an easy target, confused and 'lonely' as you were. At least you got some today, not once but twice. Still, it was no wonder you had been angry enough to track her down and stick her head in the river when you finished with her. But enough of this. You were fading on me, rocking and mumbling to yourself in your old tongue. Soon, you would find your wife again and be no more use to anyone. I dropped the head back in the water, jumped back over the body and sat down behind you, pinning your arms so that you couldn't hurt yourself further.

"Stop it, Brother. It's all right." I shook you, trying to get your attention out of the distant past and back to the present. I was going to have to watch this tendency to monogamy and moral self-flagellation. I shook you again. You shivered. "I'm not angry with you. She died hard; that's enough for me. I can wait for next time." And as I said it, I believed it. There would be a next time, and it would be worth the wait. I leaned close to your ear. "But the others, the ones who shot you, they're still up there in the village. Lying in wait, laughing at us. We still have work to do--or should I say, 'fun'."

You stopped rocking. For a long moment, I heard no noise from you--no breath, no voice. Then, you relaxed in my grip, and I knew I had won. "You didn't kill them all yet?"

"I was saving the rest for you. You are Death, remember? Death on a horse." From so close, I couldn't miss your smile.



*********



"Kronos!" you called to me. I looked up as I came out of the brush. The girl I had found was a little young for my usual tastes, but she lasted just long enough. Absently, I brushed at the bloodstains on my tunic from when I had cut her throat and scanned the village for another woman we might take and keep for later. Unfortunately, you had been a bit too thorough in my absence. No one alive was in sight, except for you.

You stood near a burning hut, holding a screaming child of no more than six months or so. You cocked your head to one side. "Watch this," you said. Cradling the child in one arm, you grabbed its head with your other hand and twisted. There was a meaty crack, and the screaming stopped in a raspy gurgle as if cut off by a sword. You turned toward the burning hut, took aim, and lobbed the dead body directly into the center of the fire.

"Wouldn't it be more fun if you just threw them in alive?" I asked, as you joined me in a prowl round the village for the stragglers. Very few were left, none of them adults. It had been easy, working as a team, to pick off the villagers one by one. The biggest problem with the children had been finding their hiding places.

You shook your head. "Doesn't work," you explained cheerfully. "Their heads are too big for their bodies. So, when you throw them, their necks snap anyway. You might as well do it yourself. Maybe a larger child...."

"I don't think there are any left," I said, detouring to one side to cut down a screaming two-year-old in chubby-bellied mid-flight from a burning hut. "Except for him," I realised belatedly.

"Too bad. I would have liked to try it. This village was much too small. No fun." You stopped in the middle of the village, surrounded by a ring of burning huts, flung out your arms and laughed. "I think we're done," you said. Behind you, I saw the first light of dawn. As I looked around, I saw that you were right; we had killed everyone. I shouldn't have been surprised. There had been perhaps thirty people in the village, at most, and many of them had died in the initial lightning and fire. Weaponless, we had been easy targets, but being Immortal, and aided by fire and swords, we had been invincible. It felt good not to be a victim anymore, an outcast. It was then that I decided not to kill you after all. Not then, and perhaps not ever.

"We work well together," I said, clapping you on the back. "That was an excellent plan." For once, you didn't shove me away, or snarl at me. Instead, you lowered your head modestly, with a sweet, almost smug, smile.

"Thank you," you said. Then, you added, "I have many more." For a brief moment, I saw a flash of desperate loneliness in your eyes, and I saw how you had lapped up my praise with a gnawing hunger. Your heart, it seemed, was even emptier than your stomach. For once, I found myself responding to your need with one of my own.

"Brother, let me see your sword," I said. Looking puzzled, and a little suspicious, you handed it over. I slashed my hand very deep, so that it wouldn't close immediately. Then, I handed you back the sword and indicated that you do the same. Still looking bemused, you complied. I clasped our hands together, feeling our blood mingle even as our flesh healed. I needed no words to explain my action then. I know you understood because you smiled again, a real smile of gratitude and sly complicity, and clasped my hand back.

After a moment, I opened my hand, and we stepped away from each other. "Let's see what we can salvage," I said, and began to poke around the less charred areas. In the end, we recovered a tent that could shelter us both, some clothing, five blankets, a water skin, two more swords and four knives (including your flint blade), some dried meat and bread, our amber, a few gold trinkets and the animals in addition to Mar. It wasn't much, but it was more than we had had before.

"Next time," you announced, surveying our meager haul, "I'll come up with something that doesn't destroy everything useful."

"Next time...." I savoured the word. I had a bright vision of the two us riding across the plains like living vengeance, cutting a swath through larger and larger villages, maybe even a town, burning and leveling everything in our path. No one would ever stone us or spit on us again. "This will do until then," I assured you. Oh, but next time....

In the end, there were many more villages. Not just villages, either, but also towns, cities, even empires. Do you remember the day we made Rome burn, Brother? We, the Horsemen! No wonder those Mortal fools put us in their holy books! We weren't just the embodiment of their nightmares, we were the root.

And now it is all gone. You are the last one, as somehow, I always knew you would be. You can't hear me now, Brother, but I know you. That will change. Sanity is just one more mask for you. One day, it will slip. It will slip, and you will see the shadows once more, the dead swirling and darting around you like smoke, Kristin in her tattered glory, Alexa your sweet fool--and me. On that day, Brother, you will hear the sound of me sharpening my sword.



*********



Amy comes back to the table. "You haven't opened it yet," she says in an accusing tone, pointing at your gift. Dr. Davani looks amused. She came in shortly before midnight and has been "comforting" Joe. She would be far less comfortable, I am sure, if she could see Amy's mother glaring needles at her from my vacated stool at the bar since she appeared at midnight. Then, there is the sad, pensive ghost who sits in the corner, fading in and out, and watches Joe wistfully. Joe and your academic advisor; you and Joe's daughter--you always did like to keep it in the family. I am not certain how much he has heard, or if he has heard me at all. New love is so distracting--or so I've heard. I have never loved a woman. Used, yes. Loved, never. It seems a bit late for regrets on that subject.

Joe scowls at Amy. "I know that, honey."

"Look, it is almost closing time. It is past midnight. It is a brand- new year. Just open it."

He glares at her, but it seems that he is finally out of excuses. He pushes his unfinished champagne from the midnight toast aside and picks up the little package. Dr. Davani leans forward in her chair. Keane drifts over from the bar. Marie comes over from the table she is polishing. They stand in a little semi-circle, on either side of me, watching him pick the wrapping off. His hands are shaking; he is very nervous. You do have that effect on your friends, Brother. I consider telling him what it is, but if he won't listen to me in front of the others, why spoil the fun?

Inside the wrapping is a small box, closed loosely with no seal. The wolf at my feet lifts her head as Joe lifts the lid and takes out the tissue. Looking very puzzled, he takes out the small card within. His mouth drops open, and then he chuckles. And then he weeps. Looking worried, Amy goes over the him and pats him anxiously on the shoulder.

"What is it?" she asks, though I doubt he will ever be able to explain it fully to her. He only shakes his head. The card is an old picture license, the expiration date, August 15, 1975. The picture is yours, of course, though you are wearing dark glasses and your hair is longer than it is now. Why else would you have given it to him, unless it represented one of your old identities? But this is a special one, one that you have kept secret and to yourself for decades. It represents a dark time in your life. Oh, if only I had found you in Uganda in the '60s, wouldn't we have had so much fun. But Joe recognises it; only he didn't know until this moment that you are the second Immortal he ever knew, after Cord, who saved his life in Vietnam, that the phantom he chased so long ago was very real, and special.

The name on the license, of course, is Roy Ferrer.

END