I don't usually do dedications and such, but this one was started at Christmas when we were in the middle of moving 600 miles away from or to our home (depending on your point of view). To Siobhan - who got our bunch started on Highlander and Sean -- who has been eternally patient with all of this.
As we all know, Highlander and everything associated with it in word thought or deed is the property of Rysher etc. No money, no credit, etc. etc. etc.
As with all who write here--our payment is your response! All comments appreciated!
Children of Pride
(2nd of 4 Tom Karrow stories)
This takes place about four months after "Final Word."
The wind blew in off the harbor, swirling through the streets, catching the last of the dead leaves of autumn. It scattered them skyward where the they danced between the brick fronted buildings before the approaching winter storm. Even the clouds themselves were cold and pale, speaking of snow to come. The first flakes were just starting as Duncan MacLeod slipped the key into the lock of the outside door to the dojo and entered. The air inside was surprisingly cool. He checked the thermostat, but there was no resounding rumble from the furnace in the basement. He sighed. Even immortals faced the same everyday problems like the pilot light blowing out on a furnace on the coldest day of the year. He went outside and around to the back alley. He opened the steel storm cellar door and descended into the dark basement. The ugly old gas furnace was in the back left corner. He flipped on a flashlight and shone the beam across its steel exterior. He shuffled across the dirty floor, realizing he'd never been into the basement here before. Maybe it was for a good reason. He opened the panel, and in just a moment, had the little blue flame again burning. Snapping the cover back on, he wanted to escape the underground room, but his eyes and memory betrayed him.
He stopped for a moment before one of the crates stenciled with his name and touched its outside. The planks of wood felt rough under his fingers as he brushed across them. There was something wrapped in canvas cloth sitting on top of the box. He reached for it, hesitated, then took the object that was about twelve inches high and weighed about eight pounds down from the box. Against his own best judgment, his hands took off the cloth and he was staring at one of Tessa's last pieces of metalwork. It was roughly egg-shaped, hollowed in the center where two small spheres interlocked each other. He frowned quietly, remembering Tessa. Even now it was still painful to think of her. Although almost everything from the antique shop Richie had sold as instructed, this one crate had been saved; some things that were uniquely Tessa. Richie had told him he'd be glad someday. Duncan was not glad. He remembered why he'd always had Charlie or Richie make these trips to the cellar.
There was a sudden sneeze and Mac jumped visibly. "Who's there?" he demanded. He'd not sensed anther immortal and he still did not.
Silence answered him.
"Show yourself!" he ordered, setting down the sculpture. He carefully looked around the semi-lit cellar with the practiced eye of the warrior. He moved slowly through the several wooden crates, keeping the door to his back. He rounded a corner suddenly and there came a gasp of fear from the small person who threw an arm up defensively from where it crouched in the shadow.
"I didn't steal nothing!" the young boy shouted quickly.
"Come over here," Mac ordered, relieved that this seemed to be a controllable situation.
He meekly rose to his feet and slid out of his corner, keeping his back pressed to the wood crate.
"I won't hurt you," Mac assured him.
The young black boy seemed to be about nine or ten. In the poor light, all his features except his frightened eyes seem the blend in with the dark wall. "I was just tryin' ta get warm," he said quietly. "I'm not a thief."
"Didn't say you were--but you don't belong in my cellar."
"Then I'll get outta here." He started past Mac for the door.
"Wait a minute," Duncan grabbed his elbow. "Not so fast. You have parents?"
"What business is it of yours?" he fired back.
Mac's grip on the boy's arm tightened. "You made it my business by trespassing in my cellar. Now we can talk to your parents, or to the juvenile court."
"I got no mom."
Mac gave a knowing look.
"Got a Dad." The boy shivered. "But I think he's in the tank right now. Didn't come home for a few days."
"Home? You do have a home?"
"Well, sort of. We didn't pay the rent so my brother and me, we got thrown out."
Mac wondered how much of this yarn was true. It was difficult to conceive of a landlord throwing two children out into the cold snow a few days before Christmas. "MacLeod." He extended a hand.
The boy, eyes still wide, gave a suspicious look. "Rafe Anderson." He slipped his hand into Mac's and they shook.
"Well, Rafe, are you hungry? I was about to make up some spaghetti," Mac offered.
He scowled. "I don't wanna go to no juvenile home," he announced. "Don't you go callin' somebody behind my back."
"Cross my heart," Mac promised making an 'x' on his chest. He glanced back at the sculpture, and taking it up in one hand, led Rafe out of the cellar.
"Louie gets in trouble a lot," Rafe told Mac between mouthfuls. The strands of spaghetti ran down his chin onto the plate. "He steals a lot I think. I don't know where his money comes from. He was supposed to come with the rent three days ago, but he didn't."
"You haven't seen him in three days?" Mac asked, pouring Rafe some more milk.
He shook his head. "So I've just been hiding out."
Mac did not reply to him, but knew it would be easy enough to find out if Louie had been arrested. But what then? Maybe just through Christmas. He glanced out of the window. A steady snow was drifting by. Christmas had always been Tessa's favorite time of year.
They'd gone skating at the rink near the mall. Festive Christmas lights had been strung liberally through the bare trees and the speakers were blaring tinny sounding Christmas carols. It was bitterly cold, but he hadn't noticed it. Tessa was happy. That was enough. It had been their third year together and she had been so young and home sick for France. She had hidden it well, but it still showed in her eyes.
He was an excellent skater, but he slipped and fell on his backside.
She giggled with laughter. "Are you all right?"
"Fine," he replied, dusting off wet snow. He placed an arm lovingly around her and imagined it being like this forever--or almost so.
"Have you bought my Christmas present?" she asked.
"What? No," he lied. "You don't need one really, do you?"
"Am I?" he laughed. "What makes you so sure?"
There was a glow on her face that was more than the cold. "I just know. Duncan," she nestled close to his chest. "I've never been as happy as I am now."
He had smiled. "Me, too," he answered as he gazed into the black night sky. He had decided that night that he would tell her the truth about himself.
By morning, the snow had stopped, leaving several inches of white on the city. With Rafe downstairs playing in the gym, Mac did some checking. At last, he hung up the phone and stood in thought. It was easy to feel sorry for the child even though it was obvious he had lied. It was not too surprising and it didn't offend Mac. He went down to the dojo to open up and was surprised to see Rafe there with a can of shaving cream he was smearing across the bottom of one window to the office.
"Well, hello," Mac said quietly.
He turned, hands full of white foam. "Hi."
"What are you doing?"
"I wanted to make your place look a little like Christmas. I thought I'd put a little snow on the windows. You know, decorate."
"Snow? Decorate?" He looked at the shaving cream on the sill that was starting to run over the ledge. "I think your snow is melting." He picked up a towel. "Let's leave the snow outside. Clean it up, okay?"
Rafe sighed. "I though you could use some spirit around here."
"Look, Rafe," he said a little more seriously, but with kindness, "I checked around last night. Your brother wasn't picked up by the police."
"Yeah?" He did not seem surprised.
"Is there anywhere else he might be?"
He shrugged. "He never went off and left me before." He walked over to the corner near the office. "You don't have a Christmas tree."
Mac was not going to accept the subject change. "I couldn't find a history on your father either."
"I told you he's in jail."
"If he was, there'd be a police record, Rafe. You need to come clean with me." He crouched down face to face with the boy, staring him in the eye.
Rafe glanced away. "I don't know."
"You don't know what? What your next story will be?"
He backed away. "Forget it, okay." He started for the door. "This place was a mistake."
Mac was after him, grabbing hold of his arm. "I want to help you, Rafe, but you've got to tell the truth!"
He yanked his arm free. "Just maybe I don't want your help." He turned and ran for the door. It opened just as he got there and he ran into the person entering.
"Well, hello." Richie Ryan, duffel over one arm looked down at the child.
Rafe stared back a moment, then darted out the door.
He turned to snatch him back.
"Let him go," Mac called, momentary disgust evident. Then he smiled. "Long time no see, Rich! How are you?"
"Just fine," he answered.
"Is Karrow with you?"
"Huh, no, Mac. That's kind of why I'm here."
Mac's joy faded a little. "Did something happen to him?"
Upstairs in the apartment, Richie accepted a cup of coffee and gave the explanation. "We were at Cape Town, South Africa. We'd been there a couple of days and Tom was laying on provisions. I never sensed anybody, but he suddenly went below decks and came back with his sword and the title to the boat."
Mac scowled. "The title?"
"Yeah. He signed it over to me on the spot. Said if he didn't come back, I should sell the sailor and get the hell back here. Said that it was a guy called Jador. I guess another Immortal, but I never sensed anything."
"And he just left?" Mac asked.
He nodded and took a sip of coffee. "I tried to follow him, but the streets were real crowded. I lost him. He just disappeared. I waited a day, I looked for him." He shrugged. "I finally did what he said. Who's this Jador?"
"I don't know," Mac replied.
Dawson stopped wiping the bar counter. "Jador?" He shook his head. "I've never heard of him. That doesn't mean much, though. You say he was in South Africa? I can check my sources there and see who he is. Karrow's watcher would know something, too." He paused. "Say, I'm sorry about Karrow, he was quite a guy."
"Well, we don't really know that he's dead," Richie commented.
"Richie, when an Immortal doesn't come back-" Dawson started.
"Richie's right," Mac interrupted. "We don't know."
Joe shook his head, but decided not to argue. "I'll see what I can do."
Mac felt sorrow at the possibility that Tom Karrow, the great storyteller, was gone. He offered Richie the couch at the dojo, but Richie said he'd find a place. That meant he'd probably stay in town awhile. Returning home, Mac took the back way to the apartment, but just outside, sensed an immortal. He paused at the door, knowing the person was in his home and knew he was just outside. He drew his sword, readied himself then burst through the door.
Amanda turned from the sink. "What an entrance!" She giggled.
He lowered the sword. "Amanda. What are you doing here?"
"Now, isn't that a pleasant hello. Whatever happened to 'I've miss you, so happy to see you.'?" She commented. She turned to the stove and stirred a pot. "I've got this great new recipe for shrimp."
"You were in Paris," he remarked flatly.
"Yes, I was," she agreed. "Now I'm here."
She put a hand on one hip. "Mac! Tell me I'm interrupting some romantic-"
"No," he answered. "It's just sometimes I'd just like to know-"
"What I'm doing?" she finished for him and laughed. "You are getting to be an old fuddy-duddy. What about your sense of adventure? The spontaneous?"
He sighed and noticed her bags on the floor.
She planted a quick kiss on his cheek. "I've missed you, too."
Richie paused at his favorite vendor to pick up a hot-dog. He had missed the street food of the States that he'd grown up on. Paying for the wiener, he set it down and began to squirt a thin stream of mustard across the frank.
A quick hand reached over the napkin.
"Hey!" he shouted, dropping his duffel. The small boy dashed away, food in hand, down the alley. "Watch my bag!" Richie shouted at the vender and chased the child. He reached the alley moments later, knowing the boy could not have exited the other end that quickly, but no one was in sight. He had to be hiding here somewhere. He examined the tracks in the snow that led to the dumpster. With a smirk, he reached behind it, his hand closing precisely on the boy's shirt and yanked him out of hiding. He was surprised to be faced with Rafe.
"I know you. You ran away from Mac this morning!" he stated.
"I didn't do it!" he shouted, cowering against the brick wall, mustard still smeared on both cheeks...
...Eight year old Richie Ryan's plea had been no less emphatic. "I didn't do it! He's lying!"
It had not stopped the whistling leather belt from striking his back and shoulders again. "I'll teach you, you little bastard! You stole money right out of my wife's purse! Luke saw you!" The large man towered over him and struck him several more times with the strap. Grabbing Richie by the hair, he dragged him to the back door. "You think you need to steal? You want to live on the street? Fine." He opened the back door and threw him out into the snow of the fenced yard. "You stay out there for an hour or two."
Richie looked back at the window and saw Luke's grinning face leering back, his breath steaming the glass. He shivered as the snow fell on his thread bare shirt. He was afraid of the dark. He kept imagining eyes glowing at him--something ferocious watching him, waiting to devour him. He knew it was stories the priest at mass had told him to make him behave, but now it seemed real. Terror overwhelmed him and he pounded on the door to the house. No one answered. He looked back and the eyes seemed closer. His heart thundered in his ears. In panic, he dashed to the six foot high fence that surrounded the yard. He scaled it and ran for blocks. It was only the second time he'd run away. Still too young to really know the streets, he had not known the tricks of using old newspaper and plastic bags for insulation. Freezing and tired, he hid amongst some wooden crates behind a liquor store. He might have become an immortal that night except the police had found him. They sent him to Juvenile Hall where he spent Christmas. It consisted of a gift of a comb and candy cane that some church carolers had given each child. That night a fourteen year old beat him up, blackening both his eyes and took the comb and candy.
Mac felt Richie coming at the same time the elevator activated. "Hey, Mac," Richie called, stepping off it into the apartment, Rafe still gripped by the collar. "Look who I found."
Duncan gave a nod. "Hello, Rafe."
He did not reply, but stood there sullenly
"Want some of Amanda's shrimp casserole?" Duncan asked.
Richie had already moved to the stove and checked the pot. "Smells great, Amanda."
"Thanks," she answered. "Who's he?"
"Oh, him? A kid Mac found in the cellar last night. He ate my lunch." He picked up a plate and spooned some of the shrimp onto it.
Amanda cocked an eyebrow. "Just make yourself at home, Richard," she said flatly.
"Thanks, I will," he answered ignoring her intent.
Rafe looked carefully at Amanda and gave Mac a grin. "She your old lady?"
"Well, she is old," he remarked.
"Hey!" Amanda turned, hands on hips.
"She's a cute chick," Rafe whispered loudly. "You done all right." He winked.
Mac gave a smirk. "Well, I'm glad you approve. Now, why did you run away?"
Amanda handed Rafe a plate of shrimp. He sniffed it suspiciously and set it aside. "Things to do."
Richie cleaned off his plate. "Amanda, this stuff is great."
"Thanks," she said with a forced grin and fired a hostile look at Mac.
Mac sighed and picked up a shrimp off Rafe's plate. He blinked, the Cajun spices were surprisingly hot. He gave a grunt of an approval, but did not eat any more.
Amanda snorted and looked at Rafe. "So, you live around here?"
"Kind of," he replied. "I didn't plan to come back and cause no trouble here." He gestured towards Richie. "He made me come."
"You stole my food," Richie commented.
"Just a stupid greasy hot dog," Rafe scoffed. "Not much to you."
Mac intervened. "Rafe, I want you to sit down." He pointed to the couch. Rafe slowly obeyed, an angry look on his face. "I want to know the truth."
He pouted, glaring at the floor. "I just wanted to have something special for Christmas," he murmured through tight lips.
"What?" Mac asked.
"You know. Christmas, Santa, the whole fake deal." His hand gripped the couch seat...
"...Not true, Robert!" Young Duncan, not over seven, clutched the wooden bench that his older cousin Robert kept tipping up on end.
"Of course it is. You're too little to know better!"
"Father Christmas will come!"
"Can't come 'cause 'e's dead. Fell into the moors last summer he did. Ask Angus, he told me!" Robert shouted back.
"Father says Old Angus is blind and deaf as a board. 'E wouldn't know anything. Father Christmas can't die, 'e's a spirit. Mum says so! He'll be here!"
"He's not real, I tell you. The truth, make 'em tell you the truth."
Duncan stormed away from Robert in righteous fury. It was cold and some of the men were huddling around blazing fires near the animal pens. One chuckled as the boy stomped by. "Young Duncan is off again."
He passed them without a word, but even at his tender age knew what they meant. It seemed he was always in a fury about some latest infraction committed by Cousin Robert. He saw his father approaching the clearing with two other men, all three with armloads of evergreen boughs. The festival of Winter Solstice would be tomorrow. Duncan knew there would be feasting to commemorate the beginning of the eighth year of the his life. He tingled with anticipation. Any child completing any year of life was a celebration, so many died young, but that of the Chieftain's son was always of great importance.
"Father!" He ran through the long grass to greet them.
His father smiled with love and pride. "Ah, Young Duncan!"
"Father, Robert said Father Christmas is dead."
There was a flash of disappointment and impatience about Ian MacLeod. "That is for women. Men speak of the hunt and of great plans! Look, Sheldon has bagged a buck!" He gestured back to two figures just appearing through the trees. A heavy animal carcass was strung on poles between them. "We shall have a great feast!"
Duncan stood there, more concerned with his unanswered question. "But Robert-"
"Off with ya," Ian brushed him aside.
Head lowered in dejection, Duncan turned away and slowly walked away to the skin covered hovel. Inside, his mother was preparing an enormous pot of lamb stew.
She smiled in loving joy as he entered. "Aye, and what brings you in so early for dinner, Duncan? The cold gettin' to your bones?"
"Robert," he said regaining some of his determination. "He says I should demand the truth."
"Then it's the truth ye shall have," she assured him, wiping her hands and stepping away from the caldron to give him her full attention.
"Father Christmas--Robert says he's not real, that he's dead. Is he?"
There was the soft sadness that comes to all mothers on seeing that their young children are growing up and knowing that all childhood fantasies fade away in the hard light of reality. She took his young face between her soft hands and looked deeply into his brown eyes. "Father Christmas is real, not flesh and blood as we, but he is real in the hearts of each God fearing man and woman who would honor the generosity of St. Nicholas, God be praised." She genuflected.
He blinked once and pulled away. "Robert is right," he said bluntly...
"Something's just not right," Richie grunted between single arm pull-ups.
"Really?" Amanda sat perched on the step watching him. She took great pleasure in watching him exercise. "He's just a boy."
"Yeah," he gave a one word answer.
She stretched, her slender form complemented by the tight body suit. "You hang around MacLeod too much. You sound more like him every day. After all, what harm can a child be? MacLeod must know what he's doing."
He puffed as he continued the pull-ups a few more times, then released the bar. He bent down and picked up a terry towel that he wiped across his face. "He's not a street kid."
Mac appeared in the office doorway. "What makes you say that?"
"Well, for one thing, he didn't eat Amanda's shrimp."
Mac gave one explosive laugh. "Neither did I."
"Hey!" Amanda rose from the step, indignation plain.
"Yeah, but you're not a starving kid," Richie pointed out.
"Neither was he," Mac countered. "He ate here last night, this morning, and he ate your hot-dog."
"And he's too clean."
"I made him bathe last night," Mac retorted.
Richie shook his head. "You didn't find his brother or dad, right?"
"So?" Mac asked. "I didn't find anybody who'd lost a nine year old kid either."
Richie wrapped the towel around his neck. "It just doesn't feel right. He doesn't know the things a street kid would need to know to survive. Hey, I'm right about this. I've been there."
Amanda glanced from Richie to Mac and back. "So?" she interjected.
"So, I think you shouldn't just take him in."
"Yeah?" Mac crossed his arms. "What do you think I should do? I don't suppose you think I should turn him in to Juvenile Hall."
Richie looked shocked. "No way."
"Well? What then?"
"I'll take care of him."
"You?" Mac gave a chuckle of disbelief. "Take care of him? Richie, no offense, but I can't see you in a fathering role. Know what I mean?"
He frowned. "I'll bet I could find out more about him."
The door opened to the dojo and Joe Dawson entered. The discussion about Rafe was dropped as he slowly made his way across the room, a look of concern about him.
"Hi, Joe," Mac greeted him, noting Joe's look of deep thought.
He nodded and gestured towards Amanda. "Good to see you again." But it was plain he was uncomfortable about her presence.
"What is it, Joe?" Mac asked.
"Jador. You asked me to check him out."
Joe glanced at Richie and Amanda. "There isn't much. No one I could contact seems to know anything. Karrow's Watcher has not been heard from since the day Richie saw Karrow leave the boat."
MacLeod scowled. "Is that it?"
"One of our contacts in South Asia said there was a legend about some kind of entity. It's a real old legend but--"he shrugged. "It's all I've got."
"So what is it?" Mac urged, impatiently. Both Amanda and Richie had stepped a little closer.
"There's a--thing--called a Yakwur in an ancient chronicle. It comes from a time before recorded history. At least before Watchers. Nobody's ever seen it. And apparently until Karrow mentioned it to Richie, no one in modern times had even talked about it. But you know Tom. If anybody was going to know about an ancient legend, it would have been him."
"So what is this Yakwur? Is he immortal?" Mac asked.
Dawson shook his head. "I don't know. I don't think so. The chronicle spoke of him, or it, or whatever, drawing immortals together and to him. It is always very specific immortals and always in groups of four."
Richie shook his head. "This has got to be something else. Tom was alone."
"When he left you," Dawson added. "The last entry we have from the Watcher's chronicle was that Karrow had met with Richfield, Yamura, and Hall."
"They're all Immortals," Mac said quietly. "How does this thing knows who's immortal?"
Dawson shrugged. "I don't know. And I don't know if it can be sensed. I told you, I don't know much."
Mac, Amanda, and Richie turned as one, as they felt the approach of another immortal.
Methos came through the open door into the room. "Hello, there," he said with a small grin.
The other three exchanged looks with Dawson.
"Was it something I said?" Methos smirked.
Methos reclined back on Mac's couch, nursing on a half finished beer, his feet propped up on the coffee table. "I must say, it's been a long time," he muttered when Joe finished the explanation.
"You know something about this?" Joe asked.
"Well, not exactly," he mused. "As I said: it's been a long time."
"What's been a long time?" Mac remarked.
Methos gave him a quizzical glance. "When you're five thousand years old, everything's been a long time."
"That's not very helpful," Amanda snapped.
"Hum," he shrugged. "Amanda, tell me. Remember tales about dragons and sea monsters?"
She shrugged. "Certainly."
"Ever see one?"
"Did you?" he pushed.
She ran a finger across her necklace. "Well," she seemed a little nervous. "Maybe."
"Maybe," he repeated with a nod. "And you--" he pointed at Mac. "Ever see a banshee?"
"Now don't start with that!" he grumbled. He threw up his hands. "As a child--maybe."
"Maybe," he repeated. "We see all sorts of things. From the time we are born, we see things mortals don't." He glanced at Joe who was listening closely. Keeping notes, no doubt, Methos thought, but shrugged it off. "There are things that are real to us that mortals don't see."
"And is this Jador one of them?" Richie asked.
Methos glanced at him. "I don't know."
"Have you ever--you know--seen it?"
"Him," Methos corrected. "The Yakwur is masculine."
Mac looked at him intently. "Is he immortal?"
"Not like we are, no. He hibernates for a time, a century or two, then becomes active again for awhile." Methos set down the empty bottle. "Supposedly, he hunts down immortals and consumes their life energy somehow. I have never seen him. Supposedly, no one who sees him every lives to tell of it. I have not even heard about him in nearly a thousand years. Anyway," he placed his hands behind his neck and smiled. "He's in Africa, we're here."
Mac shook his head in disbelief. "Sounds like Old Angus trying to scare little children, if you ask me."
Richie, wondering if Methos was pulling everyone's leg, picked up his jacket. "It's getting dark, Mac. I'll go look for Rafe."
Richie looked for Rafe in all the simple places first. Street kids frequently hung around in the lobbies of post offices that remained unlocked, or bus stations, or all night supermarkets. Rafe was in none of these. It didn't surprise Richie very much. He doubted Rafe was a homeless kid. He could not put a finger on exactly what it was, but something was there that shouldn't be, or wasn't there that should. He didn't know which. It began snowing again, a simple, light flurry that drifted lazily past Christmas lights that decked store fronts and homes. Richie paused before a church where a lighted creche adorned the small lawn out front He sat on a park bench facing it. "I hate Christmas," he muttered to himself. He had known only one joyous Christmas he could recall. He'd be with Mac and Tessa just three months.
The tree was artificial, but that didn't matter. Some of the ornaments were antiques, which added to the decor of the shop. Tessa had pulled out all the stops in decorating. She played Christmas carols. Not the modern tunes like Jingle Bell Rock, but the old things like Handel's Messiah.
"This atmosphere is suffocating," Richie remarked, dusting a vase.
"You think so?" Tessa giggled from where she was running the month's statements.
"Maybe you need a more well rounded education," Mac added as he finished replacing a light in the tree's chain.
"Well rounded?" Richie muttered. In truth, he didn't mind the symphonic sounds, he sort of liked them, but he felt he had an image to maintain. It was almost painful to be here in warmth, joy, and all the things he'd always just dreamed about for so long about Christmas. Tessa had made it happen. It was her fullness of life, her nature, her love of Duncan and, yes, also of him. He never quite understood it. By the following December, she was dead and he and MacLeod were estranged over the death of Mako--his first quickening.
Richie slowly exhaled and watched the snowflakes melt as they landed on the back of his ungloved hand.We don't know what we've got till it's gone, he thought.
An elderly gentleman toddled up the walk past him, shuffling snow between the feet he barely lifted from the ground as he moved. He sank wearily on the other end of the bench. He lifted his gaze to Richie. "Why..." his aged, gray eyes lightened, "...I know you. It's you, isn't it?"
"Me?" he replied, his eyebrows knitting. "Me who? Yeah, I'm me."
"It is you," he whispered in awe.
"Yeah?" Richie cleared his throat. He did not really want to walk down some memory lane with this old geezer. "Who'm I supposed to be?"
"You don't remember me, do you, Richie?"
He hesitated. This guy knew him. "Uh, well, I guess--Ah, no."
He opened his coat a little in spite of the cold, and lifted his hat.
Richie noticed the clerical collar and gasped. "Father John."
"Aye," the old man laughed in joy. "You remember now?"
"Wow, I can't believe it. I never thought..."
"You never thought I'd still be alive, huh?" He laughed again. "Look at you. You've come a long way from shooting lifesavers off the balcony at the alter boys."
He grinned. "Guess so. You're the one who used to tell those stories to shut me up."
"Do you remember any of them?" The old Father's eyes shone with joy.
Richie found himself thinking of the monster stories and how they had scared his childish imagination. He grinned, then suddenly recalled the discussion of Yakwur and his smile slipped. "I remember them, Father," he said with a little more reservation. "I always knew you could be more than you were."
"That was for sure," he remarked more to himself.
He nodded. "I never gave up hoping you'd show up again some day and here you are."
Richie glanced at his watch. "I'd like to stay, Father. I'm supposed to be looking for someone."
Father John caught his right hand. "I know what you are."
"Yeah, we all have untapped gifts, right? Like you always said." Richie tried to brush him off.
"You have a lot more than gifts."
Richie tried to pull his hand away, but Father John held on, looking him in the eye face to face. "Father John?" he whispered closely.
"I know what you are," he repeated.
"You know...what exactly?" he murmured, no expression on his face.
"About you--about Immortals."
Silence was deafening. Richie sat there speechless.
"I knew of you from the first moment I saw you. You were two years old. I tried to keep track of you as long as I could, but," there were tears in the old man's eyes. "..it got harder. As long as you came to confession I could see you, but that last time you ran away, I never found you."
"That isn't important, is it?" Father John buried himself deeper into his wool coat. "You are looking for someone?"
"Yeah," he murmured. "Oh, yeah!" He suddenly remembered Rafe. "Look, I got to go, Father."
He smiled with a nod. "Perhaps we shall meet again."
As Richie left the church yard he wondered how odd it was to have found Father John after all these years. He decided to ask Mac or Joe about how an old priest would come to know about immortals even before their first death. The air had gotten colder, but the snow had stopped, and there was a beautiful crescent moon hanging between the buildings. He had gone several blocks when he noticed a small figure standing under a street light two blocks away. It could be Rafe. He started walking in that direction, resisting the urge to run. With less than a block to go, he was certain it was Rafe and hastened his pace. The boy suddenly turned towards him, saw him, and broke into a dash towards the alley.
"Hey!" Richie called, racing after him. He turned into the alley and could see Rafe standing at the far end. It was a blind alley and the boy had no where to go. Richie, still about fifteen feet away, slowed to catch his breath. "Been looking all over for you. What is your problem anyway?"
Rafe just stared at him, or rather past him.
Richie stopped, noticing the smell. "What is that?" he muttered in disgust. It was putrid, smelling something like sulfur and rotting flesh. A vile belch of luminescent bile green smoke billowed from behind him. "What the hell-" he started to turn. Something huge and of enormous power crashed down against his shoulders, knocking him to his knees. Before he could react, the tremendous, crushing grasp closed around his chest, lifted him, and slammed him into a dumpster with such force that it dented the steel side of the receptacle. He tried to breathe, but the gas burned his lungs sending him into a fit of coughing. Each hacking cough drove the burning fumes deeper into his chest and he could get no air. His eyes were burning, searing, but even blind he found and drew his sword from where he lay on his back. The caustic gas was worse. His nose, mouth, the flesh of his face felt aflame and when he brought his hand to his head, he felt the skin peel away. He heard something move, sliding across the concrete. It brushed against the dumpster, making a faint rattle sound. Something alive was here, he could feel it, hear it's breathing. His body was desperate for the oxygen that his lungs could not breathe in and the corroding gas was now leeching through and burning the skin beneath his clothing.
"Listen to me," came a deep, hissing voice that seemed to rise from the depths of hell itself. "You will all come to me."
Richie had no breath to answer. The shake of his head managed to convey he had no intention on doing whatever this evil wanted.
"You will," the voice repeated quietly. To emphasize, the being drove a six inch talon deeply into Richie's stomach. The voice chuckled. "You do not have to experience death to appreciate the motivation of pain. You will bring the others and come. You will know where."
Richie could feel that something large had moved within inches of his ear.
"Tell them it is Yakwur."
He tried desperately to open his eyes and see this monster, but they were burned shut. He could hear Yakwur still chortling to himself as he left.
"So, there is this Jador, or Yakwur, or whatever, that comes out to snack on immortals every thousand years or so." Amanda shook her head. "Sounds like X-Files if you ask me."
"I still don't know if I believe it," Mac replied as he threw out Methos' trash. "Sounds like boogie men. Amanda, you've been alive for eleven hundred years. Have you ever heard anything so bizarre?"
"No," she admitted, "but Methos has."
"He's telling ghost stories. Just trying to get us going."
She gave a smile. "Camp fire stuff, huh?" She sat down on the bed. "Well, if we're too scared to sleep we can always occupy ourselves in some other way."
He gave a quick grin, but his mind was on the former issue. "Well, something did happen to Karrow. He was a good friend and I want to know what it was."
"Oh, does that mean you're going off to Africa or something to right the wrongs and make the world a safer place?" she asked, mocking him.
He frowned. "Is that so wrong?"
"MacLeod," she said with a shake of her head. "Someday you'll have to learn to just let things be. Enough trouble finds us without going out and looking for more"
He didn't answer her; she reminded him of Methos. And there were times he detested Methos' selfish attitude.
As if reading his mind she added: "You may not like it that way, but let's face it--Methos has been looking after himself a lot longer than you. Maybe it's because he doesn't ask too many questions."
There was a sudden loud pounding at the door to the back steps. It repeated itself frantically in the few moments it took Mac to reach the door. He opened it to see a panic filled Rafe before him.
"Come quick!" The child babbled. "Please!"
Mac was already snatching up his long coat. "What is it, Rafe?"
"Come," the boy repeated, seeming incapable of anything more.
Richie heard, then felt, the cool dripping water as someone replaced the cloth on his face. The burning was almost gone. He slowly opened his healed eyes and saw Duncan sitting beside him holding the washcloth. "Where am I?"
"My place," Mac answered. "What happened?"
Richie looked around quickly from Mac to Amanda. He noticed Methos slumped on the couch looking at a book. "Something. It was big. It emitted this poisonous gas of some kind that burned. He said he was Yakwur. He wanted us all to come."
"Where?" Mac asked.
"I don't know," he whispered. Aside from the dull ache in his stomach, he was feeling better by the minute. "Mac this thing isn't like anything I've ever seen."
Amanda crossed her arms. "Let me get this straight. This invisible monster who munches on immortals wants us for dinner, so to speak. You can't be serious. And I'm sure not going." She paced the room, then added. "I still think this is some elaborate hoax."
"A hoax?" Richie muttered, anger flaring.
"Easy, Rich," Mac muttered. "She's just talking."
"There isn't any choice, Amanda," Richie stated hotly. "He said we would come. It wasn't exactly open to discussion."
She slapped her hands on her hips in frustration. "I thought you said this Jador or Yakwur or whatever was in Africa. How did he get here?" she demanded of Methos.
Methos looked up from the book as if he had not been listening. "That part seems pretty simple to me. Karrow told Richie to get out of Cape Town immediately." He turned to him. "How long did you look for Karrow?"
"Two days," he answered.
Mac frowned. "I don't."
"Yakwur followed him," Methos explained patiently.
"Thanks a lot, Richard," Amanda snapped hotly.
"It's not my fault!" he retorted.
"Stop it," Mac shouted at Amanda.
Methos spoke softly. "Job."
"What?" Mac gave him his attention.
"Job. Remember him? The guy in the Bible?" Methos asked.
"The book in the Bible that teaches us the virtue of suffering?" Mac asked.
"One old dude. Abraham's next door neighbor, so to speak. Lived about three thousand years ago, give or take a little," Methos added.
"You knew him?" Amanda remarked.
Methos blinked, then ignored her. "Chapter 41. 'Shall not one be cast down even at the sight of him? None is so fierce that dares stir him up. Who can open the doors of his face? His teeth are terrible round about. His scales are his pride, shut up together as with a closed seal. One is so near to another that no air can come between them... By his sneezings a light doth shine, and his eyes are like the eyelids of the morning. Out of his mouth go burning lamps, and sparks of fire leap out. Out of his nostrils goeth smoke, as out of a boiling pot or caldron. His breath kindleth coals, and a flame goeth out of his mouth...When he raiseth up himself, the mighty are afraid...The sword of him that layeth at him cannot hold... He beholdeth all high things; he is a king over the children of pride.'"
Total silence enveloped the room for a moment. "I thought you said mortals couldn't see this thing," Mac remarked. "Rafe saw only thick smoke."
"That wasn't Job's description," Methos said quietly. "Actually, it was God's."
She was a little girl again, living under the wooden bridge that crossed the Thames at a narrow spot outside the small hamlet that would one day be known as London. It was dusk and she was satisfied for her small tummy had been filled by the day old loaf of bread the baker's wife had given to her. She was too young to know pride. She accepted the food from where'er it came. A hand or a dog's dish, it made no difference. The baker's wife had been kind and told her mysterious stories. She lay on her stomach next to the deep river watching the dragon flies and the sunset. They seemed so beautiful. Life was so beautiful. For a moment she was transformed from her rags and tatters to the flowing lace of a princess. She giggled.
The river before her suddenly bubbled, then was still.
Amanda sat upright, staring in wonder at the water. A last ripple slapped the bank. What was there? She waited and watched, but it was silent. Just as her attention waned, there was a sudden frothing of bubbles again, only this time longer. By now, she was standing, open-mouthed. Never had the river done something like this. It must be a very large fish indeed! A sudden cloud of green steam hissed from the Thames and amongst it, glowed two red eyes set in the half hidden shape of an immense dragon-like head. She screamed...
...Amanda sat bolt straight up in the bed, bathed in sweat and gasping.
Mac rolled over. "Amanda, what is it?"
She stared at him, then around the apartment. "A dream," she whispered, catching her breath, "just a dream."
He gave her his attention, awake now. "What sort of dream?"
She glanced around the dark apartment. Methos was stretched out on the couch and Richie and Rafe were curled up on the mat they had brought up from the dojo. All were asleep. "I haven't thought about it since I was a little girl," she mumbled. "A dragon in the river."
He nodded. "I used to dream about the monster Robert told me lived in the Loc."
"Loch Shild had a monster like Loch Ness?" she asked.
"To Robert it did."
"You ever see it?"
He shook his head. "No. I wanted to though." He omitted that what he had seen caused any monster Robert had imagined to pale by comparison...
...He had been in his early teens, too old for imaginings. He'd still be trying to find Cassandra, the Witch in the Woods, again. He knew he had strayed farther than father would want and if he didn't head home soon, he would be in for it for sure. Darkness was approaching. He knew if he took the shortcut over the hill, he'd be back double quick. But Old Angus told tales about the banshee of the hill. He snorted at his own cowardice and bounded up the slope. Near the top, a sudden fog gathered. Odd, since fog usually crept in off the moors, not the heights. In a matter of moments, he had become lost in the dense mist. Fear began to give way to panic as he heard an odd wind whistle through the bare tree branches.
"The wind," he chided himself.
The howl seemed to rise in pitch.
Panic won as he stumbled over briars and stones to find any way that led down off this terrible hillside. Before him suddenly loomed an unearthly shape, hidden in the mist. A sudden foul stench washed over him. He yanked out the short dagger he kept in his belt, but knew he could not stand against the gigantic form in the smoke. Two red eyes suddenly gleamed through the deepening fog.
With a scream of terror, he turned and ran off the hillside, dropping straight down nearly twenty feet. He had twisted his ankle, but the banshee was gone. He sat there, trying to control his shaking for a long while. The townsmen found him still there by the light of their torches when they came to hunt for him...
"I don't believe it," Joe Dawson muttered as he entered the dojo gym. He leaned on his cane for a moment before approaching Mac who was deep into concentrating on his Tai chi moves. "Why are you still here?" Mac didn't answer him. It didn't surprise Joe. When he was working out, Mac frequently ignored others. Joe glanced at Amanda who was practicing gymnastic floor exercises on another mat. As he walked to her, she bent backwards, gripping the backs of her ankles with her hands, forehead nearly touching the mat. "That's got to hurt," Joe muttered. "Why are you people still in town?" he asked bending down towards her upside down face. She made eye contact with him for a moment, then looked away. Straightening up, she did a forward flip away from him. With a raised eyebrow since Amanda was always a talker, he looked towards Methos who sat in meditation style cross-legged on the floor in a corner, humming a mono-tone chant. He knew better than to try to talk to him.
With a sigh, he spotted Richie who sat on a bench by the stairway doing nothing but staring into nothing. A large red metal can of popcorn was between his feet. From the small pile on his lap, he placed one kernel of popcorn into his mouth precisely every fifteen seconds. Rafe sat on the steps above him, peering through the rungs of the railing. Not sure whether Richie would say anything to him or not, Joe eased himself down on the bench beside him. "Hi, Richie."
He did not answer. He raised a piece of popcorn to his mouth.
With a shrug, Joe added: "Sorry about last night. Really something, huh?"
Richie turned his stare towards him without moving. "You have no idea," he said flatly.
"I can imagine," Joe said trying to sound sympathetic.
Joe moved closer to him. "What did you see?" he whispered intently.
He straightened a bit, his look hard and cold. He's trying to get Author of the Month in the Watcher's Club. 'Can you top this?' The little pile of popcorn tumbled from his lap and scattered across the wooden floor. "See? I didn't see a damned thing. My eyes were burned out of their sockets. That was just before the flesh melted off my face. Can you imagine how that feels now? Huh Joe?"
He licked his lips and looked away. "Ah, no," he said quietly, regretting his questioning.
Richie's hand moved mechanically from his empty lap to his mouth. If Richie was aware of the action, or that there'd been no popcorn in his hand, it didn't show.
Joe glanced up at Rafe on the steps and his eyes met the somber stare of the child. "Want me to take the kid for awhile?"
"Leave him alone," Richie answered defensively. The hand started another trip.
Joe grabbed hold of his wrist. "What the hell's the matter with you?"
Richie did not resist. He and Joe just stared at each other.
Rafe jumped to his feet and ran upstairs.
"What happened to you?" Joe repeated, genuine concern in his voice.
"Hey, Joe, you're the great Watcher, right? You see all, know all, tell all? Right?" he said hotly.
"Look, Rich, I'm--" he tried to apologize.
"Tell me why my stomach hurts."
"What?" Joe said, stunned.
"I'm an Immortal, right? We don't get sick, right? We heal when we get hurt, right? This Yakwur thing stabbed me with a claw or something. It still hurts. Why is that, Joe?" he implored anxiously.
He stared at him a moment. "I don't know. Is the wound still there?" He reached a hand towards him.
"No, nothing," He withdrew from Joe's hand. "It just hurts."
"I've never heard of anything like that," Joe replied, his face twisted in question.
"Maybe we're all going though a lot of things we've never heard of," Richie remarked back.
"Then why stay?" Joe asked loudly, returning to his reason for coming. "Just get in the car, a plane, the damned bus and get the hell out of here! Why stay?"
Methos got to his feet and came towards them. "Maybe a man can only avoid his fate so long. You can't run forever."
"That's the most un-Methos-like thing I've ever heard. What's with you people!" Joe demanded. He glared at Methos. "You knew about this thing, didn't you?" he accused. "You knew it would come."
Hands on hips, he looked away, a sardonic half grin curling his lips. So predictable. They always have to find someone to blame."I knew of a myth, Dawson."
"You've run from this thing before."
"No," he said quietly. "No one runs. We couldn't if we wanted to."
"Why?" Dawson implored. "If you could all die, at least I want to know why."
"Maybe it's like the lemmings running to the sea," he said, frustration plain. "I don't know how to explain it. Don't you think I want to run? We all do, but we can't. I just know we have to do this."
Joe shook his head and remarked, "A little problem with your analogy--the lemmings all die."
The sun was putting on a rare display for this part of the world as it slowly sank in golden glory into the Pacific. Sea birds glided effortlessly through the breeze, tilting this way and that riding the invisible currents of air.
The black Thunderbird slowed to a halt on the empty stretch of beach. Large tumbled boulders had formed a natural sea wall here that sheltered the cove from the slamming damage of ocean waves. The doors of the car opened and the four immortals got out.
"Pretty here," Amanda noted in near surprise.
"You sure this is the right place?" Methos mumbled.
Mac glanced at Richie who merely nodded. Mac shrugged.
"So now what?" Amanda asked. "No door bell to ring." She had meant it to lighten their grim expressions, but it failed.
"I don't really favor waiting around here like sitting ducks," Methos remarked. "Maybe we could have a look around--develop some kind of strategy."
Mac wondered just what kind of strategy there could be against this monster, but he didn't argue. He and Methos started off down the beach. "Coming?" he called back to Amanda and Richie.
He just shook his head and leaned back against the car.
Amanda glanced at him, then MacLeod. "I'll stay here," she decided. "You okay?" she asked Richie.
"I wish I knew," he muttered. "I feel awful." His stomach pain had been gradually worsening. It seemed to twist and turn sending waves of nausea and stabbing twinges. "Maybe I ate something bad," he muttered.
"Enough comments about the shrimp," she snapped, then was silent as she watched him. There was something curious about a sick Immortal. In all her eleven hundred years, she'd never seen one.
The water's edge before them suddenly drew back unnaturally from the sand, seeming to hover about fifty yards off shore before suddenly exploding upward into steaming foam. Amanda gasped in shock, vividly recalling her childhood nightmares. Clouds of green steam shot upward into the deepening twilight sky . From the center of the churning froth suddenly gleamed two red eyes surrounded by a huge single horned, lizard-like head. It stood about thirty feet tall, moving easily forward on two massive hind legs. Still mostly hidden from view by the steaming smoke, it issued an earth renting roar.
Amanda felt her knees shaking and tightened her grip on her sword.
Richie stood next to her, sword ready also, bathed in a cold sweat.
"Amanda," the voice hissed in almost a deep loving coo. "It has been so long."
"Hope you're ready to be a suitcase, air bag," she muttered, sounding braver than she felt.
Mac and Methos appeared over the rocky ridge at the far end of the beach. "Dear God!" Methos uttered.
"Come on!" Mac shouted leaping down the slippery rocks. He had to get to the beach and protect them. The sight of the monstrous form clouded in the mist sent terrors of childhood memories flashing back through his mind.
Yakwur turned his massive head to the side and saw them. He issued another roar that sounded like a deep laugh. "I shall be satisfied for a long, long time tonight!" He puffed out another huge cloud of green gas that billowed towards the beach.
"Watch out, Amanda!" Richie shouted, recalling the previous night.
They both ducked over to the upwind side of the fumes, taking them farther away from Mac and Methos who would need to dodge the opposite direction.
"Come give me a real fight!" Amanda shouted, splashing out into the calf deep surf. "What's the sport in gassing us? Afraid of a real match?!"
Light was fading fast, but for the first time, she could really see Yakwur. Although dragonlike, he did have some odd human features. His massive upper torso was manlike, covered with large, leathery scales that appear impenetrable. There were four long talons on each hand-like foot. The front legs he easily swung about like arms. His seventeen foot pointed tail lashed angrily back and forth through the water behind him.
He cocked his head in a birdlike fashion to see her better and she hoped she could have the advantage if she moved in too quickly. She darted in closer to him, striking her sword towards his left hide leg. It had no effect.
Richie held back watching, compelled by the rules of immortals that deemed they should always fight one on one. With sudden revelation, he realized those rules might not apply here and plunged ahead to assist.
Yakwur swept a long forearm down towards Amanda. It took all of her quick skill to dodge it. Her sword made a hollow, harmless clank against a talon as it passed. He issued another puff of green acrid smoke that she ducked behind him to avoid. He turned to follow her.
With the beast's attention on Amanda, Richie drove his sword deeply into what seemed a tender underbelly. It was like trying to pierce rawhide with a butter knife as the razor-sharp sword merely bounced off. Surprised, he repeated his lunge several times. Seeming only mildly interested in Richie, Yakwur kept his concentration on Amanda. Much as someone would kick a small annoying dog, Yakwur lifted his right rear leg and gently booted Richie back. The power behind it, lifted him airborne and he landed, face first, twenty yards back on the edge of the beach with a mouth full of sand.
Methos and MacLeod ran past him into the surging waves to assist Amanda.
In her attempts to avoid the quick grasps of Yakwur, Amanda was moving into deeper water that hampered her actions. She knew she was in real trouble. In desperation, she tried to drive her sword between the talons of one front foot. Just as she realized she failed, she felt an agonizing sharp pain along her neck. she gave a gasp as Yakwur drove a long talon through the back of her neck downward into her spinal column. The sword dropped from her hand as she let out a long scream of terrorized pain.
Yakwur lifted her upward, examining her closely much as one would an hors d'oeuvre on a toothpick.
"NO!" Mac shrieked in fury, plunging towards the animal, cutting with all the swordsman's skill he possessed. It was as futile as Richie's attempts had been.
"Mac!" Amanda managed to call out. My God, this is really, really it! So little time. I love you, Mac.
There was a sudden blinding light and heat. Mac threw up his hands as heat bathed over him. His shirt, though soaking wet, hissed as the water was instantly evaporated off, then burst into flame. He plunged into the water to extinguish it as flames rushed overhead. He remained below for as long as he could hold his breath. At last, he broke the surface and all was total darkness of night. "Methos?" he called. "Richie?"
The water seemed to suddenly explode upwards under him.
"Mac, get back!" he heard Methos call.
He spun around as Yakwur's finned back appeared through the darkness, throwing a foaming wake to either side as it sped towards him with the power of an express train. The water here was almost five feet deep, and with sword in hand, Mac knew he would never escape in time. With a sickening whoosh, Yakwur's head came up directly beneath him and he was lifted thirty feet into the air as he clung to the single horn that grew just behind the eye. Yakwur had not expected this either and for a moment's satisfaction, Mac realized this was really still just an intelligent beast capable of error. Yakwur issued a raging roar and shook his head violently from side to side to dislodge him, but Mac held on for dear life. The katana fell spiraling into the surf.
Methos sought quickly for any spot of seeming weakness, particularly where he thought the private parts might be. If there was any such thing, he realized quickly, it must be well protected. He dodged in between the lower legs and rammed his sword upward with all his might. Too late, he realized it was a mistake. The mighty dragon lifted a lower leg with amazing speed and agility, planted a clawed foot directly on him, forcing him below the water surface, pinning him to the sand beneath. Impaled by two talons, one in the abdomen, one in the chest, and with several tons of creature atop of him, Methos knew he could not die permanently from drowning, but that he was completely helpless to escape.
Mac saw what was happening below and was desperate to do anything to get Yakwur's attention away from Methos so he could free himself.
"I have waited too long for him, MacLeod," Yakwur hissed. "I have sought him over three thousand years. With his power I will be renewed for a long time."
Mac had only his bare hands. He tried to estimate where Yakwur's eyes might be. There did not exist any living creature whose eyes were not sensitive spots. Still clutching the horn with his left hand he swung his body around the right. Yakwur began to lean down at the same moment to retrieve Methos from beneath his foot, unwittingly assisting Mac. With all his rage and strength, Mac kicked both feet square into Yakwur's glowing right eye.
The dragon reared back for a shriek of pain. He grabbed hold of Mac in wrath and hurled him away. Mac slammed off the side of the Thunderbird almost a hundred yards up the beach. The experience that would have killed any mortal, he would revive in several precious minutes. It took Yakwur a moment to recover from the shock. Completely unaccustomed to injury, his frenzy of pain caused him to spew great clouds of caustic steam. Then he remembered Methos. He reached beneath the water, and lifted him high in his claws.
"At last," he murmured, eyeing him closely. "I will cherish this moment like you would a vintage wine, dear Methos."
Methos found himself wondering how a lizard-like mouth could form human words. It seemed an odd thing to think about at such a moment. I always knew this would come. I was never intended to be the last of us. But the loss, after five thousand years to die without a quickening! He helplessly watched as the huge mouth opened, the jaw hinge disjointing like some immense snake. The vile, rank smell enveloped him as there was another sudden explosion of light and heat.
At the water's edge, Richie crawled towards his sword, but the agony in his stomach was so severe he could barely move. Overcome by the horror of Amanda and Methos both gone, he knew he stood no chance. He could hear the heavy breathing of Yakwur as he came towards the shore. Just as Richie's hand closed over the sword, a huge taloned foot, stepped atop of the blade. Sinking down onto the cold, wet sand, Richie looked upward behind him at the beast that towered above him.
Yakwur huffed softly once.
"So, I'm next," he muttered helplessly.
Yakwur lifted his mighty head and gazed around the dark beach head as if searching.
For what? MacLeod? Richie wondered.
"Later." He unfurled a pair of large leathery wings which until now had not been visible. He ruffled them, shaking off water much like a bird. He flapped them, revealing a wingspan of over seventy feet, then with a mighty leap, was in the night sky and gone.
Mac gave a gasp and his first sensation was a severe headache.
"You're still alive," Richie told him from where he sat on the ground next to him leaning back on the tire of the car.
"So it seems," he remarked, taking a few deep breaths. "What happened?"
He shook his head. "It got Amanda and Methos, Mac. They're gone."
Mac was quiet, giving time to the pain of sorrow. Is it really that simple? Gone? Like to the store? Gone forever. No coming back. Amanda..."How did you get away?" he finally asked.
"I didn't. The thing just left. He said 'Later' and flew away."
He nodded. "Towards the mountains."
Mac got to his feet. "Come on. Let's go after it."
Richie rose, but as he did, the paroxysmal spasm in his stomach caused him to gasp and double up. He staggered and Mac helped him to the car. "God, Mac," he muttered through clenched teeth, "what the hell is this?"
"I don't know," he replied in open concern. "Nothing's as it should be, Rich. I can't explain it." Mac left him in the car and spent the next thirty minutes searching for his sword in the incoming tide. At last, with the katana in hand, he returned to the car having at least come to the one decision he felt he could make for the time being.
"We going to the mountains?" Richie asked as they drove away from the beach.
Mac glanced at him and could tell he was in constant agony. "Not first."
It was almost three a.m. and Mac felt a momentary pang of guilt for pounding on the door of Ann Lindsay's house at that hour. It took several minutes, but at last a light came on the front porch. The porch he'd rebuilt. The house he'd labored over. The home he'd given to Ann.
"Who is it?" came her cautious, sleepy voice.
"It's Duncan," he called. "Ann, I need your help."
The door opened. She took one look at him, dried blood caking one side of his face, clothing torn, partially burned. "Good God, Duncan, what's happened to you?"
"That's not important. I want you to see Richie."
"Richie?" she repeated in surprise. "I thought you Immortals-"
"Please, Ann," he implored.
Richie waited, slumped in the front seat of the car, watching Mac talk with Ann, unable to hear their conversation. He suddenly realized there was someone else in the car. He glanced back over the seat. "What are you doing here?" he demanded of Rafe.
"I had to see," Rafe replied. He did not seem very concerned that he'd been found out. "I wanted to see what happened."
"And what did you see?" he murmured, trying to focus past a spasm of pain.
"Nothin'," he grumbled. "I was too late."
Richie stared at him again trying to analyze what it was about Rafe he couldn't place. His stomach felt like it was twisting up inside of itself and the pain was all consuming. He bit his lower lip till it bled to keep from crying. He looked back at Rafe again and knew what it was. The boy's skin was so smooth, flawless. There were no sweat pores. He wanted to reach out and touch him to be certain, but as he did, Rafe seemed to sense something. He drew back.
The passenger car door opened, turning on the light and drawing Richie's attention away. He glanced back. The opposite door stood open. "He's gone," he said.
"Who's gone?" Mac asked.
"Rafe. He was here," Richie replied.
Mac glanced around seeing nothing, then motioned to Ann.
"Hi, Richie," she said sounding friendly, but there was a professional quality to her voice. The stethoscope thrown over a bathrobe seemed a little comical, but none of them were laughing. At a glance, she understood Mac's anxiety. Richie's agony was obvious. Her trained eye noticed right away his pallor, sweating, and terror. "Diaphoretic, tachypnea, cyanosis," she half-whispered to herself. "Richie, what happened?" she asked. "You're in some kind of shock."
"Just fix it, Doc," he begged.
She opened his shirt and gasped. "Oh, my God." She and Mac stared at the swollen mass about the size and shape of a softball. "Some kind of tumor," Ann whispered, but her medical curiosity was peaked. The mass suddenly moved as Richie moaned in heightened pain and both Mac and Ann jumped.
For the first time, Richie opened his eyes and saw his swollen chest. "What is that?" he gasped in horror.
With trembling hands, Ann placed the stethoscope over the lump. She flinched, dropping the instrument. "It's alive."
"Dear God, Mac!" Richie shouted in blind panic. "Do something! I saw Alien! There's this guy and that alien explodes out with guts and stuff! God, I'm gonna die! Ann, get that thing out."
"Richie!" Mac gripped Richie's face with both hands, trying to calm him. "You're not going to die."
He stared back, frightened past words.
"Mac, we've got to operate now," Ann declared.
"Ann, just wait a minute," Mac snapped, trying to think. His head was swimming. Scenes from Alien weren't far from his thoughts either. "We don't know what we're dealing with."
"Duncan, I don't care what you say, we've got to remove that, it'll kill him," Ann replied.
"It can't," Mac retorted, "he's an Immortal."
"Because of that set of rules?" Ann countered. He nodded. "The same ones that say you guys heal and don't have stuff like what's happening to him right now?"
He was silent. He didn't have an answer; there had to be an answer. "Maybe," he muttered. "But I think it's that thing that kept him alive. Richie, think. Yakwur didn't attack you again. This is why."
"Who?" Ann asked.
"Yakwur won't go far right now, that's for sure. Maybe we can use this."
"Mac, I can't do this," Richie answered. It took everything he had just to follow their conversation and keep from breaking down in screams.
Ann took Mac's elbow. "You asked for my help, now let me do my job."
"You don't even know if you can remove it," he argued.
"Well, it's not your choice; it's Richie's," she replied, curtly.
He bent into the car, face to face with his suffering student. "Richie, you've got to see that this is the one thing we can use against Yakwur."
"I know what you want," he uttered through clenched teeth. "But the pain..."
"Ann, what can you give him for the pain?" Mac asked, turning back to her.
She frowned, confusion overwhelming her. "Wait a minute, Duncan, I don't even know what's going on here."
"All we need is something to handle the pain."
She stared, wide-eyed at Mac, then Richie. "I've got some morphine in my bag."
"Perfect," Mac replied.
It was dawn, Christmas eve. The streets were empty of all human life as the Thunderbird pulled up and stopped outside Joe's. He was inside waiting for them, breakfast ready. Mac gave Richie another morphine shot.
"Damned thing," Joe muttered. "This is one for the books." He handed them each a plate of scrambled eggs.
Mac moved the plate away, sat down at a table and opened a Bible to Job chapter 41.
Richie poured hot sauce onto the eggs and began gobble them down. When the pain was relieved, he was surprised as how hungry he was. When had he eaten last anyway?
"What do you expect to find, anyway?" Joe asked, pointing to the Bible.
"When we find Yakwur, I've got to know how to kill him," Mac mumbled.
"Look, MacLeod, what if there is no killing this thing?" Joe replied.
"Everything dies, Joe. Even us."
Richie had finished his plate of eggs. "Gonna eat that?" he asked Mac who shook his head and Richie traded plates.
"Eating for two?" Joe asked, unable to resist.
Richie looked at him, mouth full of food. He suddenly realized why he was so hungry.
"Sorry," Joe whispered.
With a sudden display of anger, he shoved the plate away. It slid off the edge of the table and smashed to the floor scattering china and bits of egg everywhere. "Mac, if we can't kill this thing, there's gonna be two of them."
Mac glanced at him. "We're going to kill him," he answered evenly.
"I don't know why this is happening to me," Richie continued. "I know it's not retribution for getting some girl pregnant." He shook his head, realizing he was off his point. "But if you take my head, this one'll die. We can guarantee that."
"Don't start," Mac said coldly. He concentrated on the passage, but nothing was coming to him. He was tired, he could not think straight. Joe poured another cup of coffee.
Joe shook his head. "I don't know, Mac. Maybe Richie's right. Destroy the unborn one. If Yakwur lives off the energy of Immortals he got a big enough punch between Methos and Amanda to recharge him quite awhile. Maybe he'll just give up on you and go off to sleep for another thousand years or so."
"And then what?" Mac demanded hotly. "No, I'm going to find a way. For Karrow, for Amanda, for Methos. I'm going to do this. And not your way, Richie."
"And if he takes you, MacLeod, what then?" Joe argued.
"Then he does. I'm not going to turn tail and run."
"You have too much damned pride, all of you!" Joe shouted. "Why didn't you all get out yesterday? Ego. It got Amanda and Methos killed. It'll get you killed. Where does common sense win out over pride?"
"'King of the children of pride,'" Mac muttered.
"What?" Joe snapped.
"Here. It refers to the dragon as king of the children of pride." Mac sat in silence for several minutes tapping the table lightly with a finger. Whose pride? My pride? Or Yakwur's?
"Maybe the answer isn't in there," Joe remarked.
"Maybe Yakwur can be goaded into making a fatal error by sticking him in the old pride," Mac said quietly, his mind running rapidly to form a plan.
"Maybe?" Joe's exasperation was clear. "Maybe not. In thousands of years, don't you think that's been tired before?"
Mac looked up at him, no emotion displayed and replied, "I don't know. Do you? Anyway, it's all we'd got."
"Well, it ain't much."
Richie suddenly looked sharply at Mac. "It's time to go."
Mac rose. It was what he'd counted on, what he'd waited for. He'd hoped Yakwur would summon again through Richie and he had. So far, so good.
They traveled deep into the Cascade Mountains. There were several inches of snow on the ground, and bending down the evergreen boughs. They left the car and continued on foot.
"Rafe is back there, somewhere," Richie muttered as they hurried
"Yeah, I thought so," Mac replied.
"What are we gonna do, Mac?"
"I don't know. Something will come to me." He didn't like not having a solid plan for what he would do. He knew that the katana, close at his side, was going to be useless and that made him vulnerable.
Richie stopped to rest, leaning on a tree for a moment. The morphine didn't hold very long anymore.
"All right?" Mac asked. It was disquieting to watch Richie growing weaker all the time.
"Do you think this is what it must be like for mortals to die?" he asked suddenly.
Mac hid his emotions. He'd seen plenty of morals die--too many. "I don't know," he answered through tight lips. "You're not going to die. I've got enough morphine left for one more shot. You want it?"
He shook his head. "Maybe I'd be better off if I did die. You've seen how human Yakwur is in some ways. What if I'm just going to turn into this thing or something?"
Mac did not reply.
"Promise me, if we're gonna lose you'll kill me first," he implored.
He nodded slowly. "A promise." He hoped he couldn't have to find out if he could keep it.
It was almost noon when they reached a meadow. It was silent except for the light breeze whispering through the pines. A bright cardinal flew off chirping a protest. To the left, the snow had crested the mountainside in a lovely sculpture of glistening beauty. They waited. An hour passed.
Mac silently gave Richie a hand signal to stay put and circled slowly back the way they had come. In just moments, he spotted Rafe looking around a tree watching Richie. Rafe gave a yelp of shock as Mac's hand closed vice-like around his arm. Mac dragged him kicking and hollering back to the open.
"Make all the noise you want," Mac told him. "Yakwur! I've got something of yours here! Show yourself!"
"Let me go! Let me go!" Rafe continued to shout and scream.
"What are you?" Mac demanded of him. "You are no human!"
His struggling slowed some. "Let me go or else!"
"Or what?" Mac laughed. "Why are you here?" He shook him harder than he ever would have a real child.
"I bring them--just as I brought you. I seek you out and follow you all of your lives. When the time was right for my master to awaken, I brought you. I assume shapes." He laughed a laugh too old for a boy. "I am Old Angus. The woman who summons the young girl with bread. Father John." As he said the names, his face shifted to resemble those he mentioned. "I plant the seeds for my master to harvest." There was a sudden rumbling and now familiar steaming green fog began rolling towards them from the tree line. "He comes!" Rafe shouted. "Time to face your destiny, Highlander!"
Mac did not release him. "Come for me, Yakwur!" he shouted. He suddenly pushed Rafe ahead of him and with one clean stroke, cut him down with the blade of the katana. The boy fell to the ground and as he contacted with the snow, the body began to melt into a bubbling green ooze. The clothing around it, burst into a smoldering flame with a stenching smoke.
With a fierce bellow, Yakwur, clouded in mist, shattered through the trees into the clearing. Partially hidden in green thick haze he screamed: "My servant! You have slain my servant!"
Mac forced a smile. "And now I've come for you."
"You for me!" Yakwur shrieked. "You impudent, sniveling child! A mere four hundred years to me is barely worth my time!" Yakwur emitted an explosive blast of green gas and flame.
Mac and Richie ducked behind a outcropping of boulders for protection as the snow in the path hissed into vapor and the grass beneath burst into flame. "Doesn't take much to get his pride up," Mac muttered.
"So I noticed," Richie replied.
"I will have you, MacLeod. Nothing escapes me, I am invincible!" Yakwur shouted.
"How many Immortals have you destroyed, their quickenings lost forever?" Mac called back.
There was a rumble of a laugh in Yakwur's deep throat. "Countless. More than eight."
"I know your weakness!" Mac shouted back.
"There is no weakness," Yakwur sneered.
"Ah, but there is!" Mac countered. It was a bluff. He wondered if the dragon could sense that.
"You lie!" it roared.
Mac jumped from behind the protection and raced full speed for the snow laden mountain. It was five hundred feet of steep ascent and it would take a few precious minutes of time even in Mac's top physical shape. "Catch me if you can, Yakwur!" he shouted back, panting from his haste. "Come find your weakness!"
Yakwur turned to watch him. "There is no weakness. And I shall count you amongst my Immortals today!"
Mac was depending on the dragon to chase him up the hillside where he hoped being on the higher ground might create some kind of advantage for him. If Yakwur felt he had to prove his strength to him, Mac might find a way to overcome him. There was a rustling behind him, and he turned to see that Yakwur had opened his wings, preparing to take flight. An unexpected disappointment.
Yakwur bent low to leap into the air, and just as he did, Richie jumped up on top of the boulder outcropping, sword drawn at his side. "Yakwur!" he shouted, distracting him.
The dragon turned to face him as Mac continued his mad climb towards the top of the snowy crest. Mac knew Richie was trying to buy him time. The knowledge that Yakwur wouldn't hurt Richie reassured him.
"Don't listen to MacLeod, he doesn't really know a weakness," Richie advised, keeping an eye on Mac's progress.
"I thought not," Yakwur purred quietly, almost affectionately.
"But I do," he announced, raising his sword.
Mac had just reached the top. He looked back.
Richie brought up his sword, pointed towards the twisting mass in his chest. In a quick motion he drove the blade home.
"Richie!" Mac shouted, but it was drowned out by the fearsome howl of outrage from Yakwur.
Richie stumbled, still clutching the sword's hilt as green goo oozed down the blade. He managed a pained smile. "Screw you, Yakwur."
Yakwur snatched him up in his talons crushing him with his strength and fury. There was an explosion of light, brilliant even by the noon sun.
Mac, his rage past measuring, tried to duck the blast of heat at it struck the mountainside. There was a rumbling beneath his feet as the carefully balanced shale and snow gave way. Rocks began to tumble and moments later, he was plunging five hundred feet off the mountainside along with the debris. Yakwur's explosive rage toppled huge trees like straw flattened before the wind. Large clouds of green and black smoke pouring into the blue sky from a cataclysmic, however brief, firestorm...
...Steam and smoke still hissed off the logs of fallen timber and hung in the repugnant air as Mac came to himself. Three trees had fallen in a criss-crossing pattern over him, but he was remarkably untouched except for cuts and bruises. That would heal, he told himself. The pain of loss would not. He looked around quickly for Yakwur, but in the field full of broken trees could see nothing.
In shock, he wandered amongst the boulders and trees for a time. Suddenly, as he climbed over a rock, he was staring at the closed eye of Yakwur before him. He jumped back in pure fear and gathered his wits. Using his sword, he gingerly poked the scaly skin near the dragon's nose. It didn't move. He came a little closer and touched it again. Still no response. With a slight sigh, he acknowledged that nature had accomplished what immortals could not and Yakwur had claimed his last soul. For a moment, he stood perched on the fallen log, wondering what to do with the body. He bent over and heaved one log off the head. He turned back to move another and was staring into the glowing red eye. Mac was so shocked, he fell backwards off the log.
Yakwur began to struggle to free himself. "I am invincible," he sneered pridefully at MacLeod.
Mac jumped up, katana ready. "Not hardly," he uttered and plunged his blade into the eye.
Yakwur shrieked and writhed, pinned fast by the heavy lumber.
Mac drove the blade again and again into the eye, feeling it strike the back of the bone behind the orbit each time. Stinking black goo bubbled from the eye amongst Yakwur's screams. The dragon spewed great clouds of caustic steam, but Mac kept stabbing. The corroding fumes were burning his flesh, the cotton shirt smoldered. With all his power, Mac slammed the blade in one more time and felt the bone give. The point penetrated deep into the brain. There was a rush of flame, white hot, scorching. Mac was thrown back as he covered his face with his arm and rolled over face-down. The wall of heat and fire passed over him. He could smell the stench of gas mingled with the scent of singed hair. The blast was past him. He turned back to his side in time to catch a glimpse of a white and yellow fire ball flaming into a mushroom cloud as it expanded across the sky. It slowly dissipated into the atmosphere.
Mac just lay there, staring into the depths of blue long after the smoke had cleared. feeling the warmth of the winter sun baking his sore body as it healed. He thought of Amanda, of her devious ways of getting him to do almost anything, her charming laughter. She'd asked him once if he loved her. It had been so hard to say yes, but he did. Everything I love, dies. And Methos. There were times he really hated him, but he would have died for him-- if he could have. And Richie. Tessa had never understood why he brought him to live with them. He'd never told her. All the secrets he'd shared and he'd never told her. He knew that Richie's sacrifice today had been directly responsible in the defeat of Yakwur. Tessa would have been proud of him. A tear slid out of one eye. He did not move to stop it.
"MacLeod, what the devil are you doing here?"
He sat up in shock, staring into the face of Tom Karrow.
"And while we're at it," Karrow looked around, "where in blazes are we?"
"Tom?" he whispered in disbelief. He looked past Tom and beheld Amanda picking her way over a boulder a short distance away.
"Made quite a mess here, Duncan," she muttered.
"Amanda?" He could not believe his eyes. He could identify Hall, Yamura, and Richfield climbing out from under tree limbs. "I don't understand," he muttered, afraid to believe his eyes.
Methos' laugh caused him to spin behind him. "I guess it's not that hard to explain. The Yakwur apparently swallows it's food whole."
Karrow nodded. "It is a long slow death from inside. The Yakwur picks immortals and it saps the longevity from them. We die over and over for hundreds of years until the life essence itself is sapped away. An eventual death."
Mac looked around expectantly. "Where's Richie?"
The others turned and glanced around. For a moment, the only sounds were those of the breeze and the birds. "Maybe Yakwur stopped to chew," Amanda whispered.
Mac gave her a white hot glare. His momentary joy had been transformed into dread. He opened his mouth to speak when Methos tapped his shoulder and pointed. Mac turned and beheld Richie just appearing above a twisted pile of trunks, the limp body of a young woman in his arms. A drape of white linen was wrapped loosely around her and her long flaxen tresses fell away from her face revealing the ghostly pale skin that had not seen sun's light in more than a thousand years.
"I think she's dead," Richie murmured as the others gathered around him.
"She's one of us, boy," Tom assured him. "She will live again."
The solemn, frightened girl sat on the couch at the apartment. For the moment, her shy eyes were lowered at the carpet, but they'd been as wide as sky blue saucers upon her reviving.
"Well?" Mac murmured quietly to Methos who had been the only one who could communicate with her.
He checked out the refrigerator and found a beer that he took. "Her name is Oena. She is from an area where Poland is now--I think. She was with Yakwur a lot longer than a thousand years."
"Impossible to know, but I think it is safe to say we're talking about thousands of years." He popped the top off a beer. "Our friend Yakwur seemed to be able to selectively digest his victims one by one."
"And he chose to keep her alive," Mac concluded.
"She thinks he was in love with her. Says he could touch her mind," Methos explained. "Anyway, she needs one hell of a culture adjustment. I'll take her with me when I go."
Richie commented from where he was cutting up an apple. "Imagine. Thousands of years as part of that monster. It must have been a living hell for her." He shuddered.
They all turned as they sensed an immortal and a loud rhythmic pound came at the back door.
"That'll be Tom," Mac stated and ran to get the door.
"Speaking of living hell," Methos muttered.
Tom burst past MacLeod. "Richard!" he announced. "Are you ready to complete our journey?"
He raised his eyebrows. "Um-"
"Where's the ship?"
"Yes, my ship." Karrow sounded impatient.
"You told me to sell it," he said, puzzled.
"You sold it?"
"You told me to."
"Yes, but, that was when I thought I was going to die," Tom stated.
"Well, I'm sorry," he sputtered.
"Sorry? That I didn't die?" Tom accused.
He took two steps back. "No! But I sold it! You said to sell it!"
He burst into a quick grin. "Fetch a good price?"
"Well," he nodded, defensive. "Yeah, I think so."
"Come on, then." He grabbed Richie by the shoulder.
"Where are we going?" he asked, completely confused.
"To find that bloke you sold my ship to!"
"That's in Africa!"
Tom stopped and glared at him. "Yes, I know. So long, MacLeod!" He exited the apartment, dragging Richie after him.
"Thank goodness he's gone," Methos remarked.
"Richie?" Mac asked.
"No, that wind bag Karrow." He picked up the sliced apple Richie had left behind, put the pieces in a bowl and carried it back to Oena.
Mac watched him and vividly remembered Alexa. It's time for you to live again, too, Methos.
He walked over to where Amanda reclined on the other couch.
"You bought a Christmas Tree," she commented, looking at the tree through her glass of red wine.
"Yeah," Mac nodded. "It was cheap on Christmas Eve."
"I didn't think you bothered with such things."
He shrugged and looked at it then moved next to her. Reclining back on the couch, he draped an arm around her. "I guess I had to swallow my pride." He gave her a gentle kiss. "Merry Christmas."
"Know a good club open on Christmas? I'm dying to tell our new dragon story for the first time," Tom announced as he and Richie pulled away from the dojo.
"New dragon--oh." He made a face. "I thought we'd all like to forget it."
Tom burst into a laugh. "It's right there on the edge of my mind waiting to be born. I have to tell it." He glanced at Richie, looking for understanding.
But Richie didn't share the excitement. "One thing about Yakwur."
Tom noticed his solemn tone. "Out with it, boy."
"How do we know there was only one? I mean, you've been around, right. There really was only one," he said, seeking reassurance.
"What?" Tom took his eye off his driving to look at Richie.
"You know," he mumbled "Was there only one?"
Tom turned the corner, using it as an excuse not to answer right away. His exuberance aside for the moment he replied: "I certainly hope so."
"Then you're not sure."
With more conviction he said: "There was only one."
Richie frowned. "How do you know?"
"Because, to borrow an overused cliche of your friend Adam, the alternative is unthinkable."
Story #3 Values