As usual, nothing but enjoyment here. This story follows Absolution and probably won't make sense if you do not read that one first. What I would have done instead of EndGame. P/D own the referances to Connor, Duncan, Richie, Methos, Ramirez, Darius, Kronos, etc. The musical group Mighty Thunder is totally fictional. This story contains suggestions regarding the supernatural.

Atonement
By Peg Keeley

The air outside was dry and cold. Bitterly cold. Just drawing a breath could cause a coughing spell amongst the stoutest of New Yorkers. It hopefully would not affect the turnout for the rally tonight. Richie Ryan sat quietly in the semi darkness on the step of the large platform gazing across the rows and rows of chairs that had been placed across the floor of Madison Square Garden. Mentally he could place the teenagers in the chairs, see them cheering, singing, clapping, as the band played. But at some point in the performance, the band's lead singer, Brian, would start talking about his purpose in life and some of those kids would change their lives.

Richie slowly rose and stretched. In mid-yawn, he unexpectedly sensed the approach of another Immortal and his position froze. He glanced through the dim light and spotted the figure slowly approaching down the center isle. "Who are you?" Richie called out, taking a step upward onto the platform.

"You don't need to fear me," uttered the calm voice as the gray-haired man came to stand before him.

"I know you," Richie murmured, squinting as he tried to place him.

He grinned. "Yes, you do. I am John Kirin."

"Of course!" Richie remembered, but did not take a step closer. "Why are you here?"

"I run a teen half-way house in the Bronx. I'm bringing a group to the concert tonight."

He nodded. "So, what do you want with me?"

"I heard you were here. I wanted to see you. I haven't forgotten who spoke up for me with MacLeod," John explained.

Richie scowled. "Who told you I was here?"

John smiled. "MacLeod."

"That's a lie," he snapped back.

Kirin blinked in surprise. "It is the truth."

"He gave his word to tell no one," Richie replied, hotly. "Mac wouldn't break his word."

Instead of arguing, Kirin strolled slowly the length of the platform and back. "Ingenious plan you have here. Can't say I've known anyone else to do something quite like this. Keep moving and take your Holy Ground with you."

"Glad you like it," he remarked flatly.

"Well, the vacation's over. You have to come with me tomorrow."

"I'm not going anywhere with you," he answered.

"Oh no?" For the first time, John Kirin drew his sword and, resting it on his shoulder, shrugged. "Where
is your sword, Ryan?"

"When I last saw you, you weren't carrying a sword," Richie commented.

He nodded a bit wistfully. "Times change. Where's your sword?"

Richie glanced, uncomfortably at the podium where Brian's open Bible lay. The Sword of the Lord was the closest thing to any sword he'd been near in three years. "This is Holy Ground, Kirin."

"Yes, but two nights ago, there were prize fights in here. Next week Marilyn Manson is booked. Hardly holy then, huh? Things change, Richie, everything changes--even our Immortal universe is changing. You have to leave with me."

"Why? Because MacLeod said so?"

"For starters--yes."

"I stopped taking orders from MacLeod years ago. He's not my teacher anymore."

John gave a placid nod of the head. "The other MacLeod. Besides, this is not a matter of teacher and student, but of good verses evil. Time is running out. I will meet you at six in the morning. And bring your sword."
-----------------------------------
(Miami)

Duncan MacLeod did not like the transient life. Although his Immortality required he relocate every decade or so, he liked to so do quickly, then settle down to a normal life. He liked people, he liked making friends, and enjoyed company. Rare traits for an Immortal. His kinsman, Connor, in contrast never spoke an unnecessary word except when drunk. His relationships with mortals were nearly nonexistent. He kept to himself, and his sullen moods caused others to give him wide berth. These two opposites stood in silence staring at the runway as plane after plane roared off into the night, wing lights quickly blending into the star flecked sky.

Since his encounter with Ahriman, Duncan's life had not been the same. For a year he had mourned. For another year he had attempted to ignore the past. Having failed to find peace, he had sought self-destruction to be rescued by Conner and Methos. Six months ago, upon finding Richie alive he had thought that, at last, things could be normal again. But they were not normal; they were changed -- forever. He felt a keen sense of the urgent, as if something was waiting to happen. Although Connor's appearance at the barge with the announcement that they needed go to the States and meet Methos in Miami was a bit strange, Duncan had the peculiar mental sense that this was the right thing. He'd pondered some on how Connor came to know about Methos' plans. Methos could have called me. He didn't. He called Connor. And Connor came all the way from Geneva to tell me then dragged us here.

"Connor, what is going on?" Mac ventured to ask as they watched the air traffic.

He did not reply.

"Why did Methos call you?"

Connor gave a slight grin. "Did I say that? My mistake. I called him." He lapsed back into silence.

"Okay, so why did you call him?" Mac's voice was edged with impatience. So Conner lied to me and now he flaunts it: Why?

A woman's voice over the speaker announced the arrival of Methos' flight from Rome. Connor moved away towards the gate and Mac knew he'd get no answers right now.
-------------------------------------------------------

It was just before five a.m., which could hardly be called morning when it was still pitch black outside. The sounds in the street were already gearing up for another day. Inside the large customized tour bus, by the little corner cubby bed that was his, Richie stuffed the last of his clothing into the duffel. My whole life in a canvas bag, he thought. He was not happy about the prospect of running, but if Kirin had found him, others would. He didn't understand why Mac had told Connor, or Connor Kirin, but it didn't matter. He gazed at the sword that lay on the blanket, only picking it up after some reservation. I vowed never to take a head again. I left the game forever. Now it has found me.

There was a movement behind him and he turned to face Brian. "Going somewhere, Richie?"

His cheeks flushed. "Uh, yeah. I, um...I've got something I need to do."

Mild disappointment, but no condemnation, flashed across the tall, blonde man's green eyes. "I knew this day would come for you, but I didn't think you'd vanish into the night. I'd thought your running days were over."

(Berlin, three years before)
Richie's finances were nearly depleted when he arrived in Berlin. He'd criss-crossed Europe for the better part of five months always looking over his shoulder. With good reason. Ahriman never seemed to be far behind. This cat and mouse game was exhausting and perhaps that was the whole point, to wear him down until he made a mistake, until he was too tired to run. Run. I have spent my entire life running. Whether from foster homes, orphanages, the law, school, Immortals, or MacLeod, what does it matter? Where does it end?

"Hi."

He jumped and drew his arms around himself defensively. The tall, Teutonic-looking young man before him would not be out of place in Berlin. The man spoke in fluently perfect American English, wore a sweatshirt baring the letters: UCLA.

"American?" The man asked of him, obviously attempting a conversation.

Richie nodded without speaking and slid a little farther away on the park bench.

"You look a little lost."

He didn't answer.

"Working?"

He sighed. "Look, guy, I'm not great company."

"I know," was the friendly response. "I'm hungry and there's a bakery right across the street. Join me in a cup of coffee?"

Richie's pride was ruffled, but his stomach growled. "Okay." He followed the other American into the shop and slid into the booth while his benefactor ordered coffee and cookies.

"Here," the man shoved a gingerbread man towards Richie with his coffee.

"What's this for?" Richie asked.

He laughed. "To eat." He slid in across from Richie. "Name's Brian Wilks."

"Richie Ryan," he replied, still exchanging stares with the cookie.

Brian bit the leg off his. "Know the old story about the gingerbread man, Richie?"

"Huh?"

"Run, run as fast as you can. You can't catch me I'm the gingerbread man," Brian whispered. "Why are you running, Richie?"

He started to jump up. "Who are you anyway? Did Joe Dawson send you?"

"I don't know a Joe Dawson. I'm a musician on summer tour. Come on now, sit back down," Brian
encouraged quietly.

"Who told you about me?" Richie demanded.

He was quiet for a moment, stirring his coffee. "You wouldn't believe me if I told you."

"Yeah?" He almost laughed. "Try me. You'd be surprised at what I might believe."

"God told me."

Richie just sat there, not sure he believed his ears. Great, a Holy nut. "You, uh, talk to God, huh? You on speaking terms with the Big Guy and all that?" He tried to make it sound casual, but it was clear he didn't believe a bit of this.

"You don't believe me, do you?"

Clever man. "No, I mean, yeah, sure I believe you. Why not?" Richie shrugged. "So, what did He tell you about me anyway?"

Brian smiled and took a sip of coffee. "I knew I had to come here, now, this morning, and meet someone who needed my help. That was you."

"I don't think you can help me," Richie grumbled.

"The Devil is after your soul, Richie. You cannot withstand him alone."

Richie's eyes were now riveted to Brian. Images of red smoke and glowing red eyes passed before his mind. Echoes of the taunts vibrated through his brain. His exhaustion washed over him. He felt the sudden overwhelming urge to cry and battled back the tears. "I'm so tired," he admitted.

"I know," Brian replied kindly. "Come with me. We'll keep you safe. I'll teach you what you need to know."

(Present, NY)
"Yeah, well," Richie cleared his throat. "I'm not very good with good-byes." He slid the sword into its pocket in his bag.

"You have traveled with me almost three years. You've shared so much and yet I still feel as though there is another Richie Ryan I don't know at all." Brian gestured towards the sword. "Are you going back to the world you left?"

He tried to swallow his feelings. "I hope not. I'm not the same guy I was when I arrived, Brian. You've helped me a lot more than you'll ever know." He hefted the duffel over his shoulder. "Oh here, thanks for loaning this to me." He handed Brian a Bible.

Brian pushed it back. "Keep it, Richie. I'll pray it's the only weapon you ever need."
----------------------------------------------------------
(Miami)

Like most other Immortals, Methos had traveled light. His one bag had been deposited behind the door of Connor's newly rented condo and he had unashamedly helped himself to Perrier water, complaining about the absence of a good beer.

"You'll need your wits about you," Connor growled for a response.

"Oh yes, I forgot. It is Judgment Day or something like that, right? I could not help but notice you carefully avoided the wording Gathering," he remarked dropping onto the couch and putting his boot clad feet up on the glass coffee table.

"He always like this?" Connor muttered to Mac.

"Yeah. Pretty much," Duncan replied.

Methos carefully watched both of the MacLeods for a minute or two. "So what is this all about, anyway?"

"You were there during Duncan's experience with evil," Connor commented.

"Well, he told me about it," Methos replied with a sudden tone of caution. "Richie was the one who also saw some of that stuff. I always managed to show up after the fact."

Thick silence reigned for a minute. Connor and Mac exchanged glances.

"Oh please, spare me the drama," Methos hooted, jumping to his feet. "I wasn't born yesterday, you know. He is alive, right? I mean that whole bit back in Darius' church and all. So," he took a deep breath and shrugged, "is he in on this little party, too?"

Connor's expression never changed. "Yes."

"And we are off chasing what? Spooks? Zoastrian Devils?"

Mac glanced at Connor wondering if he also would learn what this was about. Connor's eyes narrowed slightly. "You were never what I expected, Methos," he announced.

He chuckled. "I have heard that before. Always disappointed my teachers, too."

Mac gave a grunt. "You had teachers?"

He left the empty bottle on the table. "I don't really recall. So, what is the deal here, MacLeod?" He looked at Connor, not Duncan. "You call me at some God awful hour, tell me it's life and death, get me jumping on an international flight and now you're making me play twenty questions. I had to suffer through customs in Miami for Godssake. Now this had better be pretty good."

In silence, Connor picked up the empty green glass bottle and set it aside in the recycling box. He seemed to be taking quiet pleasure in irritating Methos. As long as he remained silent, he remained in control. He liked being in control. At last he said: "Ever meet a man named John Kirin?"

"No," Methos said flatly.

"Well, I have," Duncan remarked a bit coldly. Visions of Kirin under the name of Cage abandoning a nun and ten children to the fate of the Kamaur Rouge passed through his mind. It was difficult to remember Kirin was a changed man.

"Interesting sort of guy," Connor said quietly, walking to the sliding door of the balcony and opening it. "Would do anything for money and wealth at one time. Anything." He glanced back over his shoulder at Methos. "You know the kind."

Methos sat there without a word.

He glazed at the beach below and the small waves splashing upon the sand in the moonlight. Six stories down, a young couple lay entwined on a blanket on the shoreline. Connor smiled for a moment, then turned around to face Duncan and Methos. "1970 or so he left Duncan, a nun, and ten young orphans to die so he wouldn't lose money on a heroin delivery. Shortly after, he had a change of heart and disappeared into outer China for a number of years before resurfacing as a holy man of God. Quite a metamorphosis, huh?"

"Your point?" Methos asked, without emotion.

"Duncan, changed after encountering Darius. He was challenged to lay down his sword and come away from the fighting."

"But I couldn't do it," Mac replied.

"Yeah, good thing, too, huh?" Connor said with a grin. "Think of all the affect you've had on the game all these years. But there are some who are called to lay down their swords."

"Like whatshisname," Methos put in.

"Anastophalus," Connor supplied. "Yes, like him."

"And most his followers lost their heads."

"Kirin carries no sword, neither did Darius," Mac whispered.

Connor nodded. "Nor does Richie Ryan. The time has come for good to take up the fight."

Methos made a face. "You sound so--so ethereal, MacLeod. Good verses evil--it's an old line. An overused one at that. Our Immortal battle isn't about good and evil. It's every man for himself."

"Is it now?" Connor asked softly, but he was watching Duncan's face.

"You yourself said that we aren't here to make friends," Methos argued. "In the end there can be only one."

"Yeah," Connor replied thoughtfully.

After a minute of silence, Duncan spoke. "Then what is it, Connor? Who told you about this--battle--or whatever it is?"

"Ramirez."

(New York)
Richie did not plan to meet Kirin or anyone else. He knew Kirin meant him no harm, he could sense that in him. But he had no intention on returning to the Game or any other battle. It was over. He would never again lift up his sword and take a life. Never.

(Berlin three years before)

Brian had noticed the sword right away as he offered Richie a bed for the night in his hotel room. He said nothing about it, but noticed that it was never far from the young man and always in his sight. Even when they went down to the restaurant for dinner, Richie had worn his coat and carried the weapon concealed. It seemed like an extension of him. It would have been far easier to tote a handgun.

Before going to bed, Brian took time to read Scripture and pray. Richie watched him with much the same curiosity Brian had had in him. He noticed that Brian was never far from his Bible. Funny, he'd even carried it inside his jacket pocket to dinner. It seemed like an extension of him.

Richie was grateful that Brian did not poke or ask questions. He never asked from where Richie had come or why he'd been running. That was unusual because sooner or later, everyone, even Mac, had asked those questions. They had all sought to remake him. But not Brian. The next day, Brian had introduced Richie to the band and agreed to let him stay on for a while as Rodney's assistant. Rodney was the soundman and Richie became a quick learner of woofers and tweeters, amps and megahertz. For two weeks, Richie found a place to belong and peace he'd not known for months. He wondered if he could begin to put the past away. Perhaps he'd seen the last of Ahriman. Occasionally, his thoughts would drift to Duncan and he'd wonder how he was doing. Then, one night, the dreams came again.

Richie was staring at his cold, dead image in the drawer of the morgue. "It is you, Richie. You are dead!" the hateful embodied voice of Ahriman shrieked in his ear.

He screamed.

"MacLeod killed you!"

"No! You tricked him!"

"He killed you!"

"No, I'm here!"

"You are dead. Dead. Dead! Murdered!"

"You did it. You killed me!"

"MacLeod did it! I cannot kill. I can only create opportunity. He had to want to do it!"

"NO!"...He jumped upright in the dark, bathed in cold sweat. He was tangled in the sleeping bag on the hotel room floor. Around him snored three other band members, oblivious to his fear. His heart still pounded loudly in panic. Was Ahriman here? He peered through the night. Nothing. Cautiously, he got to his feet.

He suddenly heard a child's singsong voice. "Richie. Richie. Come and play, Richie."

He grabbed his sword as he quickly spun around trying to locate the source.

"Here, Richie," the little voice called. The hotel room door opened on its own although it had been locked from the inside. "Come and play with me," the voice begged.

He carefully stepped through the doorway into the hallway, sword ready. "Where are you?" he demanded in a whisper.

"Ta! Ta!" A hand grabbed his shoulder from behind and he whirled, the sword passing through the image, inflicting no harm. The being laughed a cold deep laugh. "How do you like this one?" the man asked, spreading his arms. "It's one of my favorite forms."

Richie scowled at the man with the tattooed face standing before him. He was dressed in some kind of ancient warrior garb and there was a vicious scar that ran down the right side of his face. "Are you a throw back to Halloween?" he remarked hotly.

"Your friend MacLeod knows me." He walked in a careful circle around Richie. "I am brother in spirit to Methos. I am Kronos."

"Mac killed you."

He laughed an evil chuckle. "Like he killed you?" He cupped Richie's face in both hands, eyes glowing and licked his lips. "Your soul is mine."

Richie stared at him, frozen in dread.

Kronos gave a sudden gasp of what appeared to be pain, and stumbled away from Richie. Issuing a hiss, he suddenly vanished. Richie blinked in surprise and confusion.

"Richie, what's going on here?" Brian was standing in the hallway, beholding his new friend, clad in underwear brandishing the sword.

Richie just stared at him, still shocked past words. "He came for me," he uttered.

A look of deep understanding settled on Brian's usually cheerful countenance. "Yes, I know."

"I'm not crazy," he whimpered.

"I know that, too." He motioned to the sword. "You'll never overcome evil with that. It is a weapon forged by men. To conquer evil, you must leave the sword behind."

Present (NY)

Richie buried himself deeper into his coat against the icy mist of the dim gray city morning. For the first time in three years, he wondered where he would go. At the end of the alley, he turned left and suddenly felt the Immortal buzz. He turned and saw Kirin leaning against a wall, sipping coffee from a Styrofoam cup.

"You are early," he commented.

"So it would seem," Richie replied.

"It would also seem you were trying to avoid me," Kirin added.

"Would it? Don't see why I should wanna do that. You only plan to make me go back to a Game I left for good."

"You have to go back," Kirin stated firmly.

"Why?" Richie shot back. "Look, I had the best thing I ever had going. I was safe, I was with good people." He did not mention there had been no sign of Ahriman since the hotel in Berlin. "You want me to throw that all away for what? You?"

"I just want you to come with me and talk with Connor MacLeod."

"And if I won't go, what are you gonna do about it?" he demanded.

"You will come," Kirin answered without anger. "You could never refuse Duncan MacLeod, nor he you. Even when he thought you dead, he always carried a reminder of you with him. It is time for you to prove worthy of that devotion."

The memory of Duncan pulling the left glove from the hand of what he had thought was Richie's body flashed before Richie's mind.

"We have a plane to catch," Kirin finished.
------------------------------------------------------------
(Miami)

"I have to admit it," Methos commented stretching in the warm morning sun. "This place does have a lot more to offer than that dirty old barge." He gazed off the balcony at the four bikini-clad girls sunning themselves on the beach below.

Connor made no response. He had decided he didn't much care for Methos. It was a remarkable disappointment since he had spent considerable time at one point in his life wondering about the world's oldest Immortal. Somehow, he thought Methos should have been taller. Ramirez would have made a better Methos. He liked that thought and a small grin crossed his features.

Duncan stepped onto the patio and followed Methos' gaze downward to the beauties on the beach. "Well, you have an hour or so."

Methos shrugged. "I don't think I could all of them justice in just one hour."

There was the tingling of Immortal presence and the three swords sprung to hands. Connor stepped to the door of the condo, a study of utmost concentration. He turned the knob suddenly with his left hand, right hand sweeping the sword to block the doorway.

"Good gracious," commented Kirin from the other side. "Good thing I wasn't the cleaning woman."

Tension broken, Connor and the others lowered their swords. "You are early," Connor announced.

"Caught better flight," Kirin remarked, entering the room. He glanced towards Duncan, who seemed not to notice. Mac's attention was to the open, empty doorway.

"Did he come?" Mac finally asked.

For a reply, Richie stepped into the doorway and their eyes met. If there was any emotion; joy, anger, fear, or love, present, it did not show in the sober, blue eyes.

Methos let a breath out very slowly, also just staring at Richie. His last glimpse of the young Immortal had been as headless and although he had accurately deduced Richie still lived, seeing him again was still a bit of a shock. "Well," he murmured, recovering.

Connor carefully closed the door, his contemplation still on his kinsman. Mac had not moved a muscle.

"He was right where you said," Kirin stated to Connor, mostly an attempt to lighten the atmosphere. "That religious group--Mighty Thunder."

Connor patted Richie's arm gently. "Jesus saves, huh?"

"Perhaps, but his account isn't at my bank," Methos remarked with a grin.

Richie shifted his gaze to him, but said nothing. He crossed the room to Duncan. "You okay?" he asked quietly.

"Been fine, Rich," he replied trying to sound casual. It was a bit of an adjustment to see the Immortal before him not as an immature teen, or struggling infant Immortal, but as an equal in every way. Mac found it nearly impossible to stop staring.

"So, what's next?" Methos asked impatiently. "We're all here, right? No more Immortals coming back from the dead or anything like that, right?"

Connor motioned to Kirin. "Tell them."

Kirin ran a hand through his thin gray hair. "Now is where it all begins.."
---------------------------------------------------------------------
(NYC)

Rodney was carefully coiling the thick electrical cables. Brian and Steve, the drummer, let the nylon rope slip through their fingers as it lowered the large 30-foot high cross that had adorned the platform of the stage. It looked like it should weigh a ton and thud heavily when it touched the floor, but instead it gave a hollow clink as the brown painted Styrofoam came down. They disassembled the parts and wrapped them in the quilted material. Brian gathered the mass in his arms and placed it on the rolling cart.

The persona of Kronos, minus the warrior garb and the tattoo, stood to the side of the loading entrance watching for just a moment. These naive children of The Enemy frequently amused him in their open innocence. So eager to convert to their cause they'd take in nearly anyone. He smiled quietly, not forgetting the painful sting of three years ago. He waited until the cross was wrapped and stowed. He walked over to Brian. "Hello, Friend," he said benevolently.

Brian turned to face this visitor. "May I help you?"

Kronos, clean-shaven, reeking of cheap aftershave, in a conservative business suit smiled openly. "I have heard about the good work you have accomplished here. I wanted to know if you could help me find someone."

"Oh?" Brian dusted off his hands from his work. Something bothered him about the man and he wasn't certain what it was. His suspicion did not show.

"A young fellah, at least I think he's been hangin' around with you. Ryan, Richie Ryan. His family has been worried to death about him. Took off from home over three years ago." Kronos' face assumed a sorrowful, yet hopeful expression.

Brian shrugged. "We have a lot of lost kids come here for help. Unfortunately, most of them don't leave their names. I could check the mailing register, though."

There was a slight glint of annoyance in the blue eyes. "He hasn't been with your band?"

"Sorry. Wish I could be of help." Brian looked Kronos in the eye without hesitation. This man is not to be trusted. "If this kid does show up here, can I tell him you were by?"

Kronos expression slipped some. "Don't worry, I'll find him." He turned and walked away.

Brian watched him go until he turned the corner. He would not forget the face. There was something wrong about the man.

"Hey, Brian, get a look at this," called Toby, the bass guitar player who also handed PR.

"Did you see that guy?" Brian asked.

"What guy? No, I didn't see anybody," Toby replied.

"He was right here," Brian insisted.

"Sorry, Bud. I didn't see nothin'." He handed Brian a telephone note. "Cleveland is snowed in. We'll have to postpone."

Brian moaned. "We've got ten days to kill before Nashville."

Rodney snapped the top on the 40 gallon Rubbermaid tub containing the wiring. "We could go home for a vacation," he suggested.

"California and back in ten days?" Brian commented.

"Beats New York in February."

"Oh. I dunno," Steve called out. "The Ritz with a Jacuzzi for ten days sounds kind of inviting."

"The Ritz! Why you think we live in an old bus for?" Toby scoffed wrinkling up the note. He tossed it in the general direction of a trash barrel. It missed and blended in with the rest of the post concert debris on the floor.

"We gotta do something. We can't afford to sit around for ten days," Brian put in. "Wasn't there some place we had to drop cause we didn't have the time?"

Toby shrugged.

"Some place south. Like where it's warmer?"

He shrugged again. "There was one little thing. Wouldn't make much money." He pulled his small pad from his pocket and flipped through the tiny pages. "Homestead, Florida."

"Like in the hurricane Homestead?" Rodney asked, his interest taken.

Brian raised an eyebrow. "Sounds warmer than here."

"I don't know." Toby was skeptical. "They wouldn't have much time to publicize it."

"Let's just do it for donations," Brian suggested. "Hey, call them. See what they say. Maybe there's somebody down there that needs us."
---------------------------
(Miami)
Methos usually considered himself good at first impressions. Over all the centuries, it was one of the things that kept him alive. This John Kirin was an unusual sort. If it wasn't for Connor, he would have never come close to the man. He had the impression that Kirin had quite a hidden past. But then, don't we all he mused. Is there an Immortal older than fifty years who hasn't got a skeleton somewhere? Without any kind of real explanation about what was going on, Kirin had managed to get them all into Connor's Range Rover and headed out to the swamps Floridians so lovingly referred to as Everglades. Methos was acquainted with the area, although he saw no reason to make that knowledge public to the rest of them. Twice actually. Around 1900 he'd puttered around in a flat-bottom boat poaching alligators for about 10 years. Nice, safe, secluded work. His earlier visit had been in 1521 when he sailed onto Sanibel Island with Ponce de Leon. Not nearly as pleasant.

"How well do you know Kirin?" he asked quietly of Duncan. He, MacLeod, and Richie shared the back seat and he was confident that the engine noise covered some of his voice.

"Well enough. His name is Cage," Mac corrected. He did not sound happy. "Until sometime in the 1980s he was a mercenary. Got lots of innocent people killed to line his pockets. Some of them were my friends."

Methos was silent a moment. "Oh." He was well acquainted with Mac's convoluted concept of friends as some kind of sacrament. To be Mac's friend meant being offered a protector. To fall from that status could mean a very short life expectancy. "Then am I safe in assuming he is not a friend?"

Mac pondered his response. "He changed. He's not what he was. I have to accept that."

"Doesn't sound like you're very happy about it," Methos commented.

"I never quite understood what happened to him," he replied. "But whatever it was, he did a complete turnaround."

"Maybe it isn't so important how he changed as what he changed to," Richie offered.

"No, Rich," Mac shook his head. "It's why he changed."

"Which was?" Methos asked, giving a pseudo-innocent look.

"Like I said," Mac remarked. "I never quite understood."

"Well, if we are all romping off with him, don't you think we should?" Methos commented dryly. He reached forward and tapped Kirin's shoulder. "Hey, up there. Those of us in the back seat would like a little better explanation of what the hell is going on."

Connor glanced back at him. He was beginning to really dislike Methos. "We are going to meet someone."

"Ooo, nice. We aren't entitled to know who?" Methos fired back with a smirk.

"An old lady who lives in the mangrove swamp," Kirin answered.

"And she is going to what--unlock the secrets of the universe or something?"

"Not exactly. She was my teacher. Just as Darius taught MacLeod and Ramirez taught Connor. She showed me the better way."

Richie leaned across MacLeod and said softly to Methos. "You don't have to be afraid."

Methos glared at him, but recognized instantly that Richie had seen the truth. He was afraid and had covered it with sarcasm. I have a good right to be afraid. I'd like to go on living another five thousand years. I'm cooped up in this car with a mercenary has-been, two grumpy Scots, and an Immortal kid who gets my vote as most likely to lose his head his first decade and fancies himself to be Mother Teresa. And I shouldn't be afraid? Damn, I'm the only one making sense.

Connor turned the car off the highway into a gas station. "Time to fill the car and us," he remarked pulling up before the pump.

They all climbed out the vehicle onto the hot, dusty tarmac in front of the small weather beaten shop. Connor pulled the lever on the pump, stuck the nozzle into the fuel tank and started it running. The screen door gave a loud squeak and the little cowbell clanged as Mac and Richie entered the shop. It was cool inside, although not air-conditioned. Flies buzzed lazily around the counter area. They moved to the rear of the store and looked at the beverage selection. Kirin entered and picked up a newspaper.

Methos lingered outside. He decided to stretch his legs and walked around the side of the old weather beaten shop. I definitely want the front seat next time. Something moved near the large propane tank. He stepped closer and suddenly felt an Immortal presence. He glanced back expecting one of his companions to have come out, but no one was there. He again turned his attention towards the tank, sword drawn. "Show yourself."

There was a loud boisterous laugh that Methos recognized instantly. "Welcome, brother!" Kronos shouted, leaping out from behind the container.

Methos gasped. "My God."

He laughed. "No, just I, your brother, but thank you for the compliment."

"I saw you die. MacLeod took your Quickening," he uttered, in numb shock.

The door of the shop over by the gas pump banged and Mac's voice called: "Methos!"

Methos turned and in a flash, the world had changed. The hot, dry air, the dusty ground, the blazing sun were all replaced by the cool, damp, semi darkness of a boat construction warehouse. The half completed, ribbed carcasses of several hulls gave an eerie atmosphere and there was the faint lingering scent of resin in the air. "Where, the hell, am I?" managed to escape Methos' lips before he could stop it.

Kronos chuckled at him lightheartedly, savoring Methos' confusion.

What have I gotten into this time? Methos wondered, turning back to the image of Kronos. This may look like Kronos, sound like Kronos, act like Kronos--but this is most definitely not Kronos. He could feel his own fear rising in his throat and struggled to hide it. It took all his effort, to keep his breathing controlled and the expression on his face calm. "What do you want with me?"

The representation of Kronos laughed again.
-------------------------------
(Route 1, near Mangrove Swamp)

"Methos!" Duncan called again as he completed his circle of the property around the gas station. Where's he gone off to? He is always so self-centered. Must be off pouting somewhere. If this strange venture has something to do with good and evil I can see Richie, Connor, even Kirin, but Methos? He was never involved in this before. He's such a cynic. I could sooner have seen Joe involved. Ahriman at least appeared to him once. But he's not Immortal... "Methos!"

Richie came outside, a Dr. Pepper in one hand. "Where is he, Mac?"

"I don't know. Certainly isn't anywhere for him to go off to around here." He glanced around the area edged by cedar trees and swamp.

"Well, he didn't just disappear. He's probably just giving us a hard time. He'll show up in a minute." Richie had once been a bit fascinated by Methos. The idea of the world's oldest Immortal bouncing through the twentieth century in jeans and sweatshirts, stealing beers from the fridge, and in general being as much of a jerk as everybody else had been a bit heartwarming, if not surprising. He'd always thought the Oldest Immortal would be more like Darius: a sage of wisdom and knowledge. The growing voice inside him as of late had impressed him that Methos had wasted his vast potential. That was uncomfortable to bear.

Duncan walked back to the Rover where Connor had just finished cleaning the dust and spattered bugs from the windshield. "He's not here, Connor."

He gave no response, just walked to the rear of the vehicle and began to clean the back windows.

"Where could he go?"

"No where. He's pulling your leg, Duncan." A fleeting smile creased Connor's face, "and you are falling for it--just as usual."

"No, Connor. He never came inside. Methos wouldn't pass up an opportunity for a beer--especially if I was paying. Something has happened to him."

Connor shook his head. "Like what?"

Kirin had exited the store and stopped in the parking lot looking at Richie who had gone out behind the building and was stopped before the propane tank, one hand resting on its hot, metal surface. Richie turned and looked back a Kirin. "What is it?" Kirin asked.

"I don't know," he answered soberly, "but something was here." He came back to the car slowly, turning back to look at the tank one more time as he did so. "Something dark."

"We must go on," Kirin declared.

"Not without Methos," Duncan replied. "We can't just leave him here."

"He's not here," Richie stated.

Connor tossed the squeegee in the general direction of the water barrel and wiped his hands on a paper towel. He remembered Kirin was supposed to be the one who knew what was going on.

(Geneva, two weeks earlier)
Connor had kicked the snow from his shoes as he entered the small first floor apartment. He'd left the fireplace burning, for which he was grateful. Although centrally heated, there was something more refreshing about a fire on the hearth. He took off his hat and coat and tossed them to the chair. Brenda would never have approved, but then right now he was once again, between relationships. He dropped into the recliner and propped his feet up in the direction of the flames. He reached for the TV remote, but it was missing from its spot. "Damn."

"Looking for this little thing?"

He spun, leaping from the chair as if it had suddenly electrified, in full battle mode. He'd sensed no Immortal. He gasped.

Ramirez chuckled at him from where he lounged on the couch. "Nice place here, Connor. But you've become a bit soft."

His face twisted in disbelief and near panic. "Ramirez?"

He seemed unconcerned about his former student's fright. He pointed the remote towards the television and a news station popped on. "Interesting idea."

Connor stood before him speechless.

"Well, be a good host," Ramirez chided in a friendly way. "You must have some rum around here somewhere."

"Ramirez?" Connor whispered again. His logic burst through his shock. In a sweeping motion, his sword was in his hand and at the throat of the man before him. "You are not Ramirez. Ramirez is dead. Who are you?"

With a look of mild amusement, Ramirez placed his index finger on the edge of the katana and pushed it gently away. He rose to his feet and straightened his suit. "Very well, I shall serve myself." He walked to the cabinet took out a decanter. He sniffed the contents. "Ah, this will do."

Connor stood behind him, sword in hand, uncertain, which, for him was a rare condition. "I want some answers," he managed to say in an attempt to take control.

Ramirez glanced over his shoulder at him and poured a drink. "That, my boy, is why I am here." The tall man turned towards Connor and took a sip of liquor, pausing to savor the taste. He shrugged. "Fair." He set the glass down. "You must find an Immortal who goes by the name John Kirin. There is much at stake. Bring Methos, Duncan, and Richie Ryan to the place. Kirin will know where."

"Methos is a myth," Connor retorted, knowing better. "And Ryan is dead."

There was a twinkle in Ramirez eye. "Ask Duncan."

"Duncan?" Connor repeated, eyes narrowing.

"Remember what I told you, Boy. If evil should win, mankind would be plunged into an eternity of darkness!" Ramirez picked up his glass and swallowed his drink in one gulp. He vanished.

(Mangrove Swamp)

"Let's go," Connor decided.

"Connor!" Duncan shouted at him. "We were supposed to do this--whatever it is--thing together! You said Methos was part of it. We have to find him."

Connor glanced at Kirin, an action Mac did not miss.

"We have to leave him," Kirin repeated.

"And who decided he's calling the shots!" Mac demanded. "Methos is my friend. I won't leave here without him."

"We have to," Kirin replied with calmness. "If we don't meet with Deidre we cannot possibly hope to succeed."

"Succeed at what? And who is this Deidre?" Mac insisted.

Kirin opened the car door. "We have to go on. She will answer all your questions."

"I am not going." Duncan walked away from the car.

Kirin got in a shut the door. "Connor, we have to go. Make him come."

A scowl crossed the older MacLeod's face. He followed Duncan out to the edge of the property. "Duncan, this matter is more important than any one of us. You are vital to the success. Methos, apparently, is not."

"You brought him!" Duncan, in a fit on anger, drew his sword on Connor.

"Is this what you want, Duncan?" Connor whispered intently as the sun reflected off the blade by his neck.

Mac's anger gradually ebbed away and he slowly lowered the katana, mild embarrassment on his expression. What is wrong with me? How could I? I swore to never draw my sword except in self-defense again. How could I do this? "Forgive me, Connor," he murmured, "but I cannot leave him."

During the incident, Richie had approached, remaining notably at safe distance. "Mac," he said quietly. "You have to come with us. Methos is not here."

Duncan looked at him. "How are you so sure?"

He shook his head. "I don't know." He glanced towards the propane tank again. "But I know."
--------------------------------------------------------------
(Boat Warehouse)

"Who are you?" Methos demanded of being before him.

He grinned. "I am who you see me to be. All that Kronos was, I am."

"Kronos is dead," Methos stated flatly.

He walked slowly in a circle around Methos who turned to follow him. "You know, dead is such a relative term. I mean, dead compared to what? There are different stages of dead, or did you not know that?"

"Dead is dead," Methos responded.

"Then are you talking to the dead?" Kronos pointed out, his smile broad.

Methos frowned. "You are not Kronos."

Kronos suddenly grabbed Methos by the shirt of shoved him backward into a stack of one-by-threes. Methos fell to the concrete amongst a cascade of falling lumber. "Did you think you would never answer for betraying me to MacLeod?" he suddenly demanded.

Methos blinked, reaching for his dropped sword. It disappeared beneath his hand.

"You won't need that here," Kronos hissed. "It would not stop me anyway."

"What do you want?" Methos could feel sweat on his brow and the fear starting to overwhelm him.

His brought his face down nose to nose with Methos. "I want what is mine. What you owe me. Your allegiance, your fear, your anger, your life."

Methos, sprawled on the floor amongst the wood, face to face with the apparition of Kronos, tried valiantly to contain his emotions. "I owe you nothing," he managed to get out, even making it sound authoritative.

Kronos' eyes narrowed. "How soon they forget," he whispered. "Don't you remember your humble beginnings, Methos? Child of Slime. Do you forget where I found you? And how it was I who raised you up! I who helped you realize all you could become! Methos, named for the ancestor: Meth-u-se-lah!"

Methos lay unmoving, eyes wide, beyond further comment.

"Do you forget, oh Ancient One, who taught you to survive? There are none older than you because you were the first. My best. My protected!" The voice vibrated through the metal walls. "Your soul is mine!" Kronos roared with laughter. "Do not let this pitiful vestige of your brother fool you, Methos. It is I, the one to whom you swore your soul and spirit." He suddenly extended a hand and pulled Methos effortlessly to his feet.

Methos continued to stare in astonishment.

"Come then," Kronos said in a calm, compassionate voice. "We must walk together again."
--------------------------------------------------------------------
(Homestead, FL)
Brian and the rest of Mighty Thunder stepped out of the bus into the warm winter sunshine and appreciated the change of weather from the cold north.

Mike Tool, their contact person, said apologetically. "I wish there had been more time. We did get a high school gym reserved. It isn't anything like what you guys are used to."

"It will be fine," Brian assured him. "We're not here to make big bucks. The mission is to let Him shine."

Tool nodded, but did not seem too convinced. The bays beneath the bus were opened and the group began to pile the equipment onto the sidewalk. Brian looked towards the school building and breathed a prayer. There was something oppressive here, in spite of the cheery warmth. He wondered if the other band members felt it, too. He glanced at them, but didn't see anything to make him think they did.

The setup on the school stage would need to be modified to fit the smaller dimensions, but that was okay. Several of the large oil sheet backdrops would be omitted. Rodney was quickly sketching a scaled down version of his electrical lay to show the school maintenance people. He hoped the electrical circuits could handle it. Steve and Brian slid out the tube containing the Styrofoam cross.

"It's pretty big, Brian, let's not put it up."

"No, this we need to do," Brian insisted. "We'll find a way."

Rodney made no verbal comment, but was surprised. Symbolism usually did not matter much to Brian and this response was a little irregular. They'd left the large cross off on two other occasions. "Okay, Bro, then let's find a place for it."

(Mangrove Swamp)

It had been quite some time since Connor's Range Rover had turned off the main highway onto the cleache road. It seemed to go on forever amongst the towering trees and Spanish moss than draped from branch to branch. There were times when the swamp came right up to both sides of the road and,occasionally, small animals scurried out of their path. The sun was sinking low in the sky and everyone was hungry.

Duncan's mental outlook had not improved. He'd been manhandled into abandoning a search for Methos. He did not know where his friend was or what danger he might be in. Any thoughts that this was some kind of trick of Methos' were long gone. We should not be trusting Kirin. Connor isn't himself ever since this vision of Ramirez. And Richie...he is so distant it's like he's not really here. Methos was the only one who had kept his head about him. Now he's the one missing and no one else seems to mind. His thoughts were interrupted as Connor, with a word from Kirin, turned the car to the left onto a small rutted road that looked more like a ditch. Within moments, they were facing a small badly weathered mobile home trailer.

It did not resemble anything Mac thought a person of any quality would inhabit. It had sunken at an odd angle to one side as the swamp was attempting to reclaim the ground upon which it sat. Surrounded by trees, weeds, and overgrown ferns, the pathway to the door, which hung open, was not even clear. Several old tires and broken pottery decorated the front and the water came up almost to the back door where a small flat-bottom boat was tied up. The sour smell of the swamp was nauseating. And he sensed an Immortal.

Kirin had already gotten out of the car and was headed for the trailer, not looking back, but believing the others would follow.

"Connor, are you sure about this?" Duncan murmured.

He shrugged. "We're here. We should see what it's about." He started for the trailer.

Mac looked at Richie, hoping for a comment. He's usually good for a smart remark. But Richie said nothing. "Richie," Mac took his elbow. "I know things are--different now. I don't pretend to understand it all. But--for what it's worth--we don't know anything about this Immortal."

"Are you afraid, Mac?" he asked.

There had been no malice or ridicule in the question. Duncan blinked. "I'm concerned."

"We will find Methos, Mac, I promise."

Mac felt oddly as though he was the student and Richie the teacher.

Richie walked away towards the trailer and Mac followed, knowing nothing else to do. Mac had to duck to enter the low doorway. Compared to the outward appearance, the interior of the small trailer was tattered and worn, but clean.

"He is here!" exclaimed a small dark-skinned woman, who clapped her hands in joy. She came forward and took hold of Duncan's hand and led him towards the light of the room. "Yes. Yes," she whispered studying his features. "You are the one."

He did not answer, but looked closely at the aged woman. She was Immortal, of that he was certain. But she was old. He could not imagine her in mortal combat.

Her dark eyes glistened. "The Champion. How long have you known?" she asked of Kirin.

"Not long," he replied.

She nodded and spoke to Mac. "I have waited a long time for you. You have a great role to complete. And there is much to learn." She shifted her look to Richie. "He contains Anastophalus, I can feel my old friend." She closed her eyes for a moment, a hand on Richie's chest. She slowly reopened them turned away and waddled into the kitchen of the trailer, leaving the four men looking at each other.

"Who is she?" Richie whispered.

"There were once five who protected the human race," Kirin said quietly. "Deidre is one. Their duty was to pass their knowledge on when the time was right."

Duncan was remembering the old hermit. There seemed some remarkable similarities between him and Deidre. The old age for one. The recluse lifestyle for another. They both seemed a bit eccentric as well.

"Darius acquired his knowledge from the old wise one in 4 B.C," Kirin started. "It was a tremendous victory for evil when his Quickening was lost. His was the gift of peace. In China, I met Hun Fo Lee, and he passed the gift of compassion." He gave a self-conscious smile. "Imagine that: Me, the man who left nuns and children to perish becoming the vessel for compassion. Duncan, the hermit passed to you the gift of righteousness. Richie, Anastophalus gave you the gift of insight--the ability to look into the heart. Deidre possesses the gift of consolidation, the ability to unify the parts."

"She somehow made us all come here," Duncan added.

"Yes," Kirin replied.

"Then why Connor?" Mac asked gesturing towards his kinsman.

Connor answered for Kirin. "I met Darius ten years before you became Immortal, Duncan. I was to protect you and deliver you to him when the time was right." He glanced away. "I failed. Somehow, Darius found you himself. Remarkable man he was, Darius gave me a second chance." Connor shook his head. "Instead I pushed responsibility for Richie off on you. I want to try to set things right."

Deidre re-entered the room carrying to tray of iced tea in glasses. "There are many things you need to know before we encounter what we must."

"What about Methos?" Richie asked.

Deidre's eyes filled with sadness. "I had hoped he would make the trip."

"He disappeared half way here," Kirin offered.

She looked at him a bit sharply. "Then you left him alone."

"Not intentionally," Kirin replied.

She shook her head. "Things will go harder now." She looked around the group. "You must now prepare yourselves to lose your friend. Unless you do, you will be overcome. He is as dead to you now."

"By why?" Richie asked.

Her eyes narrowed. "You already know the answer. The evil that cannot be vanquished by the weapons forged by man."

(eighteen months ago, on tour)

Certain concerts drained Brian more than others. Richie never quite understood the difference. But this was one of them. Brian knelt before the bunk in the bus in silent prayer, sweat streaming down his face and, although it was warm outside in the Chicago heat, it was not because of temperature. Richie had entered the bus to find him in this prayer state and, respectfully, moved to the rear where the fridge was stocked with Snapple and bottled water. A year with the band, a year of their morning devotions, Bible studies, and concerts and Richie still did not understand much of what he saw. He sat down at the small table to drink his water in silence.

Moments later, Brian joined him. "It was a difficult concert, Rich."

Richie got Brian a bottled water and commented. "Why? Sounded good to me."

"The enemy was out there tonight. I could feel his presence."

Richie felt goosebumps along his arms. His mind flashed back to Kronos in the hotel hallway. "You saw something?" he asked, wondering if Ahriman haunted Brian too.

"Nothing I saw, Richie. I could feel the resistance. I could sense Satan trying to stop their ears."

"Satan. Like the pitchfork guy?"

Brian was quiet. "Satan, like the Son of Morning. --Lucifer, whatever you call him."

"Ahriman," Richie announced.

"What?" Brian's momentum had been stopped. He could tell Richie was deadly serious. He knew something of Zoroastrianism but was surprised that Richie who never showed much interest in religion,should know the name of the demonic evil in the ancient Persian religion.

"That's what Landery called him."

"Who's Landery?"

And Richie began hesitantly to piece together parts of the hideous story of Ahriman. How Landery had died, then Allison. How Mac had been the only one to see the reincarnated images of Kronos and Horton. As he spoke, the words became more and more rushed; memories that for more than eighteen months had festered in his memory. Nearly in tears he explained how Ahriman had tricked him and MacLeod. About the running, the hatred, and confusion. At last, he ran out of things to say and sat silent before Brian, the table between them.

"Well," Brian finally uttered in a breath, "you've had one terrible experience. I don't buy the one thousand years stuff. Evil is around us all the time. Just waiting for good people to do nothing. And I don't believe for a moment this demon of Ahriman--or whoever he is--is going to just go away forever.He will come again. You need to prepare for that time." He laid the Bible he would later give Richie on the table. "And you must see your way clear to make things right with MacLeod."

(Boat warehouse)
Methos listened to the evil that was Kronos as it bragged and strutted amongst the wood and pressed foam pieces of boats. Every so often, it would stop before a chrome piece, or a mirror, or anything else that even mildly reflected, and admire himself.

"We will rule the world again, brother," he promised Methos. "We did before, we will again."

"The world is different now," Methos commented. "You can't frighten people with ghost costumes any more."

He chuckled. "Ghost costumes. Ghost costumes? Look around you, Methos. These pitiful humans are lost, weak, confused. Looking for love in all the wrong places." He swayed his hips as he sang the line from the song. "Pathetic." He paused to smooth his hair before a glass. "And the Immortals are no better. They fret about silly things when the only thing is the Game. In the end there can be only one, huh?" he added in a whisper coming close to Methos' ear. "That is for you. I made it up for you. You are to be the one."

Methos eyed him coolly.

"You like that now, don't you? Knowing it is you who will take the prize--rule the world."

Methos said nothing, but his mind raced. To know it would be me? Is this possible? But what of the others? The good ones? MacLeod?

Kronos suddenly winced as if in pain and raced across the floor to a small window and peered out. It faced the high school across the street.
---------------------------------------------------------------
Steve finished tying up the cross to the high school stage. "There that ought to do it."
---------------------------------------------------------------
Kronos fisted his hands. "No. How could they know?" he whispered to himself. "They don't know. They can't know." He spun back towards Methos. "Do you want to be the one?" he demanded.

"Of course," he replied, but was deeply concerned about what this inferred. Why does it seem so natural to be talking Kronos? He is dead. Who am I talking to?

Kronos uttered a loud laugh and, picking up a piece of aluminum stripping, drove it through Methos' chest.

Eyes wide with confused surprise, Methos collapsed.
-----------------------------------------------------------------
(Mangrove Swamp)

It was twilight. Deidre offered the visitors bits of left over gumbo and bread, but it was plain she did not have much to eat. Connor remarked something about eating frogs and, taking the skiff, disappeared into the swamp. Duncan walked down to the edge of the water and stood, listening to the alligators calling in their guttural squawk as the large heron slowly circled and lighted upon a cypress tree stump thirty feet out in the swamp. A little mist was hovering close to the surface of the water in a few places. He remembered Methos. Where was he? What was happening? He knew his friend must be in some kind of danger. He would never have just abandoned them like that.

"It is beautiful, isn't it, Duncan?"

Even before he turned, he knew the voice. His mouth dropped, his heart jumped. "Darius!" He knew what he was seeing was impossible.

Darius, clothed in a shimmering white robe, gave a quiet, reassuring smile and came towards Duncan. "It has been a long time since I have seen you."

"Long--yes, I'd say that," he stammered. "How can you be here?"

"Because I'm dead?" he said gently. "Surely you believe in an afterlife."

He blinked. Do I? "I dunno," he uttered. How can this be Darius? It is impossible. Yet, Connor claimed it was Ramirez who told him to contact Kirin. These must somehow be connected. "Why are you here?" he asked.

Darius came to the water's edge and stood next to Duncan looking out across the swamp. "You need me."

"I have needed you other times, but you didn't come then," Duncan replied a bit gruffly.

Darius smiled and gave Duncan a squeeze on the arm. "Times are changing, Duncan. Things are in a flux and there is danger all around us." He gestured towards the trailer. "You came seeking what? Goodness?"

"I don't know," he admitted. It was uncomfortable to realize that he had been drawn along on this venture with Kirin without really understanding what was happening. "Kirin said it was about forces of good and evil. He said there were five special Immortals and you were one."

He smiled broadly. "I was."

"Is there nothing to do to recapture the essence?" Mac almost pleaded.

Darius suddenly looked at him intently. "Yes, there is. You must find Methos."

"I don't know how. I don't know where he is."

"Come with me. I can take you to him."
------------------------------------------------------
(Boat Warehouse)

Duncan gasped in shock. A moment earlier he's been on the bank of a swamp. Now there was concrete beneath his shoes and the smell of a factory. The room was semi-dark and he was unable to move from the spot. He was standing still and frozen. He commanded his arms, his legs, his mouth to work. Nothing was happening. What is this? What is happening? Darius, where are you!

"Good of you to come, MacLeod!" echoed another voice he knew from the past. Kronos stepped from the shadow. "Remember me?"

Unable to speak, his mind gasped in horror. Kronos! Ahriman! No, I had defeated him. He was gone forever!

"Well, not quite forever," Kronos laughed as though reading Mac's thoughts. "Such a pitiful little being. Did you really think you could defeat me? All the powers of evil in the world are mine!" He stepped aside and Mac could see Methos tied to a post, arms over his head. The stake was still in his chest. Kronos yanked it out and within a minute, Methos gave a deep gasp of life. "Brother!" Kronos called to him.
"See, I have brought your friend to you!"

Methos looked at MacLeod in surprise. "How did he get here?"

"I brought him, just as I brought you." Kronos leaned against Methos' shoulder. "He was worried about you," he said simplistically. "Imagine that. He should know you like I do."

I know him better, thought Mac still struggling mentally against whatever this was holding him paralyzed.

"Do you really think so?" Kronos asked him. "Yes, Highlander, I can read your thoughts, limited though they are. Methos told you, did he? Told you of the days when he rode with the Horsemen." Kronos stopped and chuckled. "What else did he tell you? Did he tell you we used children for target practice just to see how good our eye was with the spear?"

Mac knew he'd come to terms with the knowledge of what Methos once was. This demon was not going to turn him against his friend with this old thing. There was nothing Methos could have done that he had not seen before in other barbaric times. Methos changed.

Kronos roared with laughter. "Changed? My brother?" He turned to Methos. "Is that why MacLeod spared your head when he came after the rest of us?" He smiled. "You are a devil." He said to Methos, wagging a finger at him.

Methos struggled against his bonds, but it was useless. "What is your point?" he demanded, careful not to attribute Kronos' name to this monster. Even Kronos did not deserve that outrage.

"MacLeod, Methos is the survivor," Kronos declared. "That will never change. His tactics changed because the world changed. Society could not longer tolerate barbarism--so he adapted. We all did. He just figured his chances with you were better than his chances with us. I guess he was right. In his heart, he is no different. He will do what needs to be done to be the last Immortal!" He spun to Methos. "Am I not correct, brother!"

"You are not my brother Kronos. Kronos is dead," Methos retorted, hotly.

"What say you, MacLeod?" Kronos asked.

Mac found he had a voice. "You are insane. I defeated you once, I will again. Methos is my friend. I know what is in his heart."

"You do?" Kronos asked in fake awe. "Have you looked? Let us see." He pulled a knife and sliced through Methos shirt. With the skill of a surgeon, he sliced deeply into Methos' torso. As Methos emitted a cry of agony, Kronos shoved his hand into the chest cavity and pulled forward the pulsing heart. Methos, still conscious, gave a second shriek.

"No!" Mac shouted in horror.

"I must let you have a better look." Kronos severed the arteries and blood sprayed across Methos and himself, running in a stream down his arms. Methos' head dropped back in death and he went limp, held upright by the restraints about his wrists. Kronos turned to face Mac and suddenly turned into Horton.

He held the quivering, bloody mass up to Mac's face. "Can you see into his heart better now?" Horton chuckled. "I always did relate to you better in this form." He juggled the heart from hand to hand. "You primitives always give such a special place to the heart. There was a time when I used to have sacrifices made to me for my appeasement. Mortals would cut out the beating hearts of human sacrifices for me. For me. Ah well," he sighed and stopped to look at the heart again in his hand. "I guess you had to have been there to feel the emotion of the moment." He winked at MacLeod. "Too bad he forgot to sign his donor card." He dropped the blue limp muscle that had been Methos' heart at MacLeod's feet.

Mac knew Methos would live again, but it would take some time. And during that time, he wondered what this monster had in store for him. He remembered Connor warning him that evil was always present, he could not have destroyed Ahriman, but he'd never anticipated such a dramatic return. Why does he keeping coming back to me?

"Because you are The Champion!" Horton shrieked, eyes glowing red.
--------------------------------------------------------------------
(Swamp)

Connor didn't think he'd been gone for long. An hour at the most. He rounded the bend of mangroves headed for Deidre's small trailer, mildly relieved that he hadn't managed to get lost in the everglades. In the bow the white plastic bucket was half filled with frogs. He noticed Deidre standing on the shore awaiting him. The air was damp with rain and the rumbles of a thunderstorm echoed through the trees. He tied up the boat and picked up the bucket. "In the mood for frogs' legs?" he asked to be friendly.

Her expression was of concern. "Duncan is gone."

"Gone? What do you mean gone?" Concern was growing. He stepped from the boat, the frogs forgotten.

She nodded quietly. "Like Methos."

"Well, how could he go? Is the car here? Did he just walk?"

She gave a solemn expression. "Connor, there is much here you do not understand. Lucifer sent his demon for him and he was deceived."

Connor shook his head and turned towards the house. "Then you don't know Duncan. He doesn't just fall for anything."

She took his elbow. "It wasn't just anything."

He looked into the depths of her dark eyes, saw the sorrow of ages and ages of time. Just how old is she, anyway? He took a deep breath and contained his emotion. "You know what to do to find him, don't you?"

She nodded. "Kirin and Ryan will need your help now that Duncan is not here."

"Tell me what to do."

"Draw your sword," she commanded.

Obediently, he brought out the katana.

"Now, take my head."

He lowered the blade with a half a grin. "You are kidding, right?"

Her look said humor was out of the question.

He turned his back, took two steps away from her, then looked back. His eyes narrowed. "I can't do that."

"You must," she replied.

"You come with us. That is how it was planned from the beginning, right? It's why Kirin brought us all here. You were supposed to know what to do."

"You were brought here for this. Kirin, Ryan, and Duncan are parts of the whole. It will take you to bring them together. You are needed to draw the parts into one."

"One," he whispered, eyes widening. "In the end there can be only one," he whispered.

Her smile had a loving, grandmother quality to it. "It is time."

"I won't."

"You must or the others will never be able to win."

"This is lunacy," he declared. "Just come with us."

"You do not understand, Connor, but you will. You cannot help Duncan unless you take my head. To save him will require the wisdom of my ages, and your heart of love for him. You cannot face such evil on your own."

He stood before her, sword at his side. "I won't," he repeated

"I am not afraid," she reassured him. From the folds of her skirt, she revealed a cleaver. "Would you force me to take my own head?"

His features narrowed in doubt. Surely, such a thing isn't possible, is it? He glanced towards the trailer, hoping Kirin or Richie would make an appearance.

Deidre's movement was swift, and effective.

"O God," he whispered.

The Quickening cracked like a bolt of lightning, throwing Connor to the ground with its force. The century old, Spanish moss laid tree beside him exploded into flame as the tongues of energy danced from Deidre to Connor and outward in all directions.

Inside the trailer, Richie leapt to his feet, spilling iced tea across the couch and floor. In panic, he raced for the door, to be stopped by Kirin.

"Wait here," Kirin ordered, gripping his shoulders.

He struggled. "What's happening! Let me out there!"

Kirin's voice was calm, but firm. "It will only take a minute."

"What have you done!" he demanded.

"Deidre knew what was best."

Richie's eyes opened wider in awe as he wondered if Deidre had taken Connor's head. An electrical bolt struck the power pole outside and the lights in the trailer blinked once, then failed, leaving the two men in darkness. The Quickening seemed to last for an eternity, but at last, it gradually faded away. Kirin released Richie and allowed him to push past and out of the door.

Richie spotted Connor where he huddled on the ground next to the still burning oak. Uncertain of what to make of the situation, he was relieved to see Duncan's former teacher still alive. He knelt down next toConnor in the insufferable heat of the fire and the humid weather. "Connor, what happened?"

Connor slowly got to his knees, his gaze still fixed on the dead body of Deidre.

"Connor?" Richie said quietly.

Still without answering, he rose to his feet, walked back to the small skiff and kicked the bucket of frogs overboard. The little creatures leapt and splashed their way to unexpected freedom. "We've got to go," he murmured quietly. He walked back and picked up his fallen sword.

Richie glanced at Kirin, waiting for him to say something. "Kirin? What's going on? Where's Mac?"

Kirin gave a patient, but gentle smile. "Things have taken an unexpected turn, Richie. Duncan should have given up on Methos."

Richie scowled in confusion. "What?"

"We cannot lose Duncan." He noticed Connor was already in the driver's seat of the Rover and heard the engine spark to life. "We've got to go."

"Go where?" Richie asked, spreading his arms. "And what about her?" He gestured towards Deidre. "We can't just leave her unburied."

Kirin walked over to the car. "Let the dead bury the dead."

(Homestead High School Auditorium)

The electrical circuit blew for the third time, sending Rodney and a school electrician scrambling under the stage for the third time as well.

"Can't understand it," the man muttered hotly. "The upgrade was just finished last month. No way this can keep blowing like this."

Brian stood quietly by in thought. They had been plagued by problems this evening as they prepared. Less than an hour to performance and the lights were still failing. Steve had broken a drumstick without a replacement. Toby had lost the sheet music he'd just finished rewriting for their new song. And Brian felt very uncomfortable. Something was wrong. Things were not fitting together. The sensation of something oppressive and dark was so strong, he thought he could almost see it, reach out and touch it.

The local Baptist church had supplied them with a zealous team of "go-fers" who had been kept very busy trying to help as best they could. One was now making a hasty phone call to the high school band director to locate a set of drumsticks in a hurry. Two were crawling around under the stage with the school maintenance director. Two young girls were helping Rodney set up a CD and tape table out in the foyer of the gym. Brian moved off to one corner of the large gym and bowed his head.

Tool entered from the front entrance, clipboard in hand, and a roll of duct tape in the other. He handed the tape to Toby who had abandoned his search for the music and was taping the last of the cords to the floor. "I need to make a final check with Brian," Tool declared.

Toby glanced across the room, spotting Brian in prayer. "Not now, Bro." He took the clipboard and glanced down the list. "Looks great. Cafeteria for counseling is a good idea. Add that I should write a thank you to the principal later, okay?"

"Sure."

Toby went to Brian and quietly waited for him to complete his prayer. Then he said: "You feel it, too?"

Brian nodded. Together they made their way to the next corner and began to pray.
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(Warehouse)

Horton was gloating over MacLeod. "You don't understand, do you? You never did. You thought it was about you. It never was." He gave a sudden twitch of pain.

What was that? Mac thought. Something can hurt this monster. What is it?

"Don't worry your pretty little head, MacLeod. It is nothing," Horton snapped.

Are you too much of a coward to permit me freedom of movement? Mac thought towards him.

He gave a wide grin. "You can't hurt me. And you cannot merely think me out of existence. You want to fight me, Champion?"

Duncan suddenly realized he had movement and jumped into a defensive posture, katana in hand.

"Oh, really," Horton whined. "This is so old, Highlander." He spread his arms wide as Mac's sword swiped through him like cutting through a vapor. "See?" He giggled. "You're next move last time was to try to fight me with love if I recall. Or was it pacifism?" His smiled widened. "What little tricks do you have with you, Champion?"

Valid question. Mac wondered if he had any.
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The Range Rover raced back up Route 1 at a rate of speed to make even an Immortal nervous. From the back seat, Richie couldn't see the odometer well, but pretty well figured it was capped out at over one hundred. If Kirin had any questions about their destination, he wasn't voicing them and Richie could feel nothing but a sense of determination from both men. Alone in the back, he remembered how tight the ride out had been wedged in with Mac and Methos. Mac and Methos. He didn't understand what had happened to them, but it wasn't good. He could recall the crawling sensation he'd felt at Methos' disappearance. He realized he'd felt it also briefly at the trailer. It must have been when Mac was taken. Taken? Yes, he was certain that was what it was. An abduction of some kind. By whom? By what? And what was happening?

(Six months earlier)
Richie had thought he'd feel better after reconciling with Mac in France. He did not and wasn't sure why. "I don't get it," he confided in Brian.

"What were you looking for, Richie?"

"I don't know. It can never go back to what it was. I don't want it to go back to that. I just feel--I don't know--unfulfilled."

Brian tinkered with a minor chord on his guitar. "Then patching things up must not have been your goal."

He shrugged. "Guess not."

Brian looked him in the eye. "You still afraid, Richie?"

He didn't answer.

"I didn't know that you'd come back," Brian admitted.

"Sure I'd come back, why not? You guys are like family to me," Richie said, forcing a grin.

"You are hiding, my friend," Brian answered. "And here is safe."

He was silent. What should he do? Tell Brian about Immortals? About Holy Ground? "Can't imagine I'd have anything to hide from," he lied.

"You used to," Brian reminded him.

"Yeah, well," he cleared his throat. "That's all over now. Mac, he said he took care of that."

"Really?" Brian put aside the instrument. "How?"

"Well, he denied the evil within him. Saw it for the weakness that it was. Destroyed it."

"And that was it?"

Richie nodded without conviction. "Yeah. Guess so. No more bad guys. No more nightmares."

"So he could look at the evil within himself, destroy it, and then what?"

"Huh?"

"I mean. Evil is still here, right? We still have hunger and death and stuff, so maybe Mac didn't destroy the evil." Brian got up, carrying the guitar and put in into its case, letting Richie think about it for a minute.

Richie watched his back in puzzlement. "Maybe worldwide evil and personal evil aren't the same," he guessed.

"You think you can just wish Satan's hold out of your life?"

Richie had a momentary recollection of the horrors two years before. He certainly hoped so.

"He's not always evil in appearance. In fact, most of the time he's down right appealing. A beautiful angelic being whose only goal is to take as many souls with him into hell as possible."

"Hell, huh?" Richie attempted to hide the smirk. It wasn't that he hadn't heard Brian's talks about heaven and hell before, he just usually did his best not to listen.

"You don't believe in hell, do you, Richie?"

"Yeah, I sure do. I think we live it here. Maybe the good guys get to go to some place better when they die," he answered.

Brian nodded. "Sounds like a nice idea. Who decides what good is?"

"Huh?"

Brian straightened some. "You think some angel or Saint Peter or somebody stands at the pearly gate passing out boy scout patches or something? Who decides?"

He shrugged. "I dunno. God maybe?"

Brian took a sip of his water. "Satan was one of God's main angels, but he rebelled against God and was thrown out of heaven. If he can trick people into not believing in hell, then they won't understand their need of God. I'm not sure what your friend Mac thinks he did, but I can guarantee he didn't destroy Satan, Ahriman, or whatever you'd like to call him by wishing him away."

Somewhere in his innermost being, Richie had known that and tried to deny it. To have Brian state it so bluntly was painful. Yet, Richie had not been plagued by Ahriman since Berlin--since he'd met Brian. "You know how to destroy this thing, don't you."

Brian shook his head slightly. "I cannot destroy him, neither can you. Only God can do that and one day He will. Meanwhile---we need to use the right kind of sword." He picked the old, worn Bible.

Richie glanced at the duffel at his feet as scenery whizzed by. He reached down and unzipped it. The back of his hand brushed against the hard steel of the claymoore as he pulled out the Bible Brian had given him.
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(Homestead HS)

Brian could not see the crowd well as he stepped onto the auditorium stage, the spot lights were in his eyes, but he could tell the room was full of young people. He stepped to the microphone, shielding his eyes to get a look at the crowd. "Evening!" He shouted.

There was a general roar back.

"Great to be here tonight."

More clapping and shouting.

"So who's ready to rock!"

The lasers fired off and the strobes flashed as Toby and Rodney dashed onto the stage. Brian evoked a loud whine from his electric guitar and the event was begun.
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(Warehouse)

Horton chuckled as he beheld Mac's stoic expression and jaw set in stubborn anger. "What will you do? Highlander? Do you know what to do? Can you win?"

"I will beat you," he declared determinedly.

"Me? How can you beat me? You do not even know what I am, foolish boy." He laughed again and walked over to Methos' dead body. "He knows," he murmured softly. He took hold of a handful of Methos' dark hair and pulled up the limp head. "See what it got him." He let the head drop backward.

Mac knew Methos must revive soon. It had been hours. Just how long did it take an Immortal to grow a new heart and then have the body repair of the damage that had resulted from the loss of it? For a moment, he was distracted.

Horton's eyes narrowed suddenly and he gave a delighted gasp and turned towards the closed door. Moments later, Mac sensed an Immortal presence, aware this pseudo Horton had known first. How did he know? Does it matter? Who is it?

Outside, Connor shut of the vehicle's engine. "They're in there," he muttered quietly. Getting out, he drew his sword.

"That won't help you," Richie advised. "Leave it behind."

Connor looked at him as if he'd asked him to cut off his arm. He uttered one stuccotic chuckle. "Get your sword, Richie."

Intimidated by the older Immortal's fierce glare, Richie backed towards the car and his duffel. He paused to glance at Kirin. Kirin's blade rested across his arms. Richie frowned and looked down at the sword on the back seat of the car. "Kirin, you know this isn't the way."

"It is time for good to take up the sword and fight for what's right," Kirin replied.

He shook his head, setting his jaw. "No, not this way. 'For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does.The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world.'" He quoted the verse Brian and once told him. He picked up the old Bible, leaving the sword behind.

As Kirin tried to convince Richie, Connor went on ahead, knowing that Duncan was inside that building. He stepped through the door into the darkened room beyond.

"Connor!" Mac shouted the warning as Horton swung a sword at his neck. Connor, leapt away, rolled into the darkness behind a stack of plywood and Horton dashed after him.

Duncan raced around the corner and gasped. There were two images of Connor dueling before him. He wavered in confusion, unable to tell them apart.

"Duncan," one uttered. "Get the others. They are outside."

"No," the other countered. "Don't listen to him, it's a trick."

Swords sparked and clashed. It was maddening not to be able to identify his kinsman from an evil apparition. The two men locked swords, pressed together as one's sword slid within a hair's breadth of the other's throat. On sudden impulse, Duncan leapt forward and thrust his sword through the back of one, impaling him and driving the blade through the second Connor. The Connor facing him vanished as the other crumpled. Mac caught the real dying Connor in his arms.

"Good move, Duncan," he whispered his approval as he lost consciousness.

Mac lowered him gently, looking around for the missing entity. There were footsteps at the door as Kirin and Richie entered. Duncan spun towards them, sword extended.

For a millisecond, Richie recalled the image of the confused, enraged MacLeod at the Paris racetrack three years ago. "Mac, Mac," he urged gently. "Take it easy, guy. It's us."

Duncan only slowly relaxed. There was a deep gasp as Methos began to move. Mac turned, sword first towards him.

Methos straightened, still tied in restraint. Breathing deeply, he glanced towards Mac, then the others. "Welcome," he murmured.

Duncan remained motionless, trying to decide if he was real.

Richie stepped towards him. "Hey, Mac, why don't you just put that thing away, okay?"

Feeling strangely confused, he did so.

"So, ah, someone want to untie me?" Methos suggested, only glancing momentarily at the lump of bloody muscle that was stuck to the concrete floor.

Mac stepped forward and tackled the knots, as Kirin scowled. "You left us," Kirin accused.

"I didn't exactly leave you," Methos remarked. "I was sort of taken."

"Sort of?" Richie put in, recalling the tingle of evil he'd felt at the butane tank. He felt it now.

"It was a trick, Richie," Duncan offered. "He got me, too. The image of Darius." He undid the last of the knots and Methos rubbed his chapped wrists for a moment.

"Well, Kirin, you have your little band of Immortals, now what?" Methos asked, some of his former dry wit creeping back into his voice.
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(High School)

The third song rose to a crescendo as it concluded with a long roll of drums and trashcans. The crowd cheered, clapped, jumped on the seats.

"I say hey!" shouted Brian, sweat pouring down his face.

"HEY!" came the roar back.

"HEY!"

"HEY!" they echoed

"Who loves Jesus!"

There were shouts and cheers.

"You love Jesus!"

There were screams of yes and more cheers and their emotion heightened.

"I Say! You love Jesus!"

They were even louder including clapping and stamping.

"You Love Jesus!"

Now they were jumping and in the isles.

In an unexpected hush Brian whispered. "What are you gonna do about it?"

The roar was silenced as they stared at him.

"Can you come give Him praise tonight, then live like the devil tomorrow?" he murmured.
--------------------------------------------------
(Warehouse)

Methos suddenly gave an animalistic shriek of pain and rage. The others whirled around in shock. In a savage surge of speed, Methos' sword whistled towards Duncan. The latter stayed it with the katana, a reflex more than a thought. With arms stretched upward, steel to steel, Duncan stared in wonder at Methos whose countenance had been transformed into the image of hatred.

"Methos!" Mac shouted, as if to snap him out of a trance. "What are you doing!"

"In the end there can be only one!" he screamed back.

The blades slammed against each other in rapid succession as Mac countered Methos' attacks. For all his self-proclaimed avoidance of fights, Methos' five thousand years had made him an expert swordsman and it took all Mac's effort to fight him.

"What the hell is going on?" Richie uttered, realizing too late it had been a poor choice of words.

"It is too late for Methos," Kirin murmured. "Deidre said he was dead to us."

"Dead. What do you mean?" Richie demanded. "No. It's another trick."

"No trick," John replied, sadly. "Methos has always been a Horseman. Always."

Richie recalled the first Methos he'd met, the one full of peace, love, and understanding. Anastophalus had understood the world; he'd found a purpose in life. It had been a disappointment to learn that the real Methos, the world's oldest Immortal, was still struggling with the same questions he was at twenty-four years. There were no answers for Methos.

Mac swept Methos' blade to one side in a counter octave, then punched his friend in the face with his hilt. Methos stumbled back, tripped over some scrap wood and sprawled across the floor. Duncan stabbed at him with the katana, targeting a non-lethal spot. What's going on? Why is he doing this? Could he be Ahriman and not Methos? One thing Mac was coming to understand was that nothing was exactly as it appeared to be. What could he trust? What was truth? He stole a glimpse at the two Immortals standing uselessly by as they had all learned in the rules of the Game. Fight one on one, each his own battle. What had Deidre said about Richie. The gift of insight. Would he know what was real? If he was real.

Methos had scrambled back to his feet and ducked behind a box containing bath fixtures. Mac darted to the other side, but Methos was gone. The warehouse seemed oddly quiet. Duncan cast a careful look around. Methos could not just vanish--or could he? Ahriman could. Maybe it had not been Methos at all. Mac's head hurt from the puzzle. "Richie!" he called.

He came running. "Yeah, Mac."

"Was it really Methos? Or a fake?" he demanded.

He glanced downward. "It was really him."

"Why?" he whispered. Then, turning he shouted: "Why! Why, Methos! I know you're here, you can't just disappear. What are you doing!"

A quiet voice echoed from amongst the ribs of half completed hulls. "It's about winning, MacLeod. It's always about winning. Cage, you know!"

Kirin winced at Methos' reference to his former life. "Not any more!" he shouted back. "Come out, Methos. We can help you. Resist the evil."

He giggled. "Resist? Resist the ultimate power of the world?"
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In the gym, the Mighty Thunder had moved on to a fun pseudo-rap piece. Brian never did any talking longer than about thirty seconds. His audience didn't like preachy stuff. He didn't like preachy stuff. As they hammed their way through the comic relief, Brian prayed again, internally. It was still there; that oppressive blackness that had been hovering overhead all night.
--------------------------------------------------------------------
Methos felt a stab of sharp pain and gripped his chest. What was that? It was too painful to move for a moment or two. He'd never felt something like that before. He slipped between two nearly finished hulls and plotted his next move. I am to be the one, the winner. I am the one. He hesitated. MacLeod is my friend. He has helped me see beyond myself. In the end, there can be only one. "Come to me, MacLeod! Come reason with me! Let us talk about it!"

Mac slowly stepped closer to the sound of the voice, not trusting Methos' sudden suggestion.

Kirin murmured to Richie: "We will have to come together against him."

"The rules of the Game," Richie replied.

"Don't apply here," he answered. "We are the One. In the end, there can be only One--a unified oneness of us." He started in the direction of Methos and Duncan. "Duncan must be with us."

Richie cast a glance towards Connor's body, wondering how long it would take the older MacLeod to revive.

Methos, as if sensing the danger they might represent to him, leapt away from Mac, and, grabbing a pulley chain, propelled himself upward onto the deck of the nearly finished yacht propped in wooden stocks. Swinging his sword wildly, he taunted Duncan. "Come for me, Highlander! Be man enough to come one on one!"

Duncan started forward, but Kirin had reached him. "Duncan." He took hold of his arm. "We must go through this together."

Duncan glanced up towards the maniacal Methos. "Kirin," he whispered. "Can't we do something? You're the one who started this. You're supposed to have the gift of compassion. Well, do something."

Kirin gazed at Methos. "He is beyond us, MacLeod. He is dead to us."

"No!" Duncan shouted at him. "I won't accept that. There has to be a way. That coward Ahriman was here! Methos tried to fight him off. No, Methos wouldn't do this. He's being tricked!" He spun around again. "Ahriman! Come fight me, you coward!"

"Mac," Richie said quietly. "Ahriman is here."

"What?" Mac snapped.

He glanced at Methos. "He possesses Methos."

Duncan stared at Richie in shock. "No," he said quietly, "I can't accept that."

"It's true," Richie insisted.

Duncan stepped away from them. "Not Methos." He turned and ran towards the stern of the boat.

Richie looked towards Connor again. "Do something," he demanded of Kirin. "Connor is his relative or something, right? He could stop this. Why doesn't he come back?"

Kirin solemnly watched and shook his head. "We may have to go it without Connor."

"We have to get him back," Richie interrupted. "Deidre said it would take all of us. Mac doesn't understand. We need Connor."

Duncan had scrambled up through the scaffolding next to the ship and onto the afterdeck.

Methos was waiting for him, no sword present and a smirky smile on his lips. "Shall we settle this by ourselves, MacLeod? Mano y mano?"

"Is it true?" Mac demanded, but with a touch of pity in his voice, keeping his sword between them.

"What?" He smiled. "Most things about me are true. I was a Horseman. I have murdered, plundered, raped."

"You've also saved lives, you helped me," Duncan replied. "You are not what you once were."

He chuckled. "Must have gotten careless. Let's face it, Duncan, it had to come to this one day. Isn't it fitting that the first Immortal should be the last?" His sword spun up into his hand and he touched Mac's blade with his.

Duncan made no move. "Where is Ahriman, Methos?"

"Ahriman!" He laughed outright. "He was a figment of your imagination, remember? The boogie man." He parried. "Come on, MacLeod, don't make it too easy for me!" He made a vicious pass that Mac was forced to side step. Methos struck again and again with amazing speed that Duncan fought hard against to defend.

I don't want to kill him. Can I disable him? Mac recalled how he had outfoxed Ahriman by running Connor through before. Can I remove Methos from the equation for a few minutes? Ahriman would have to do something else then. Duncan wasn't exactly sure he could accomplish this. Methos, ordinarily was a good fighter. Right now he was a master. Duncan had never seen an Immortal fight with the accuracy and speed Methos possessed right now. It seemed inhuman. Maybe it was. Mac backed up as Methos advanced, sword first. They maneuvered up onto the foredeck, then the bow of the boat itself. Methos thrust outward and Duncan countered it, pushing the blade to the side. He whipped the katana in a counter octave to the left, but Methos whirled away with a chuckle.

"Come on, MacLeod, admit it. You always despised me just a little," he hissed angrily. "I should have been more. Lived up to my potential, right? Well, here it is. I shall be the One. It is promised to me!" He cut out and low with his sword.

Mac ducked it, losing his footing on the slippery fiberglass bow. He attempted to recover, tripped over the port running light, staggered again. He could hear the whistle as Methos' sword cut through the air towards him. Instead of stopping his fall, he let himself plunge over the side of the boat, thirty feet down to the concrete floor of the room. He stuck head first, dying instantly. A large pool of blood quickly formed a sort of halo around his head.

Richie could feel his hands shake slightly. Connor was still dead. Mac's revival would not be a quick one. Massive head wounds were amongst the slowest deaths from which to recover. Kirin, standing beside him, slowly drew his sword. A weapon forged by man... "Not with that, Kirin. It didn't help Mac or Connor."

John did not reply.

Methos had made his way down from the boat and now strolled towards them. He stopped, performed a little curtsy with an impish smile and uttered: "Then there were two." A vile grin creased his face as he lifted his sword, placing the point against Richie's cricoid.

Richie stood frozen, trying to conquer his fear, feeling the sharp tip digging slightly into the flesh of his throat. A thread of blood trickled down his neck.

Kirin moved his sword arm.

"Uh-hu-uh," Methos whispered. "So you think you don't need your sword, Ryan?" He poked the blade tip slightly against Richie's throat.

He gave a slight wince, but kept eye to eye contact with Methos. "It doesn't have to be this way, Methos."

"I like it this way," he answered with an innocent expression on his face. He jabbed the sword harder and Richie staggered backward as the tip pierced his throat and into his trachea.

Hand to his neck, mouth agape, gasping for breath, Richie dropped to one knee. In the same instant, John whipped his sword towards Methos, who still stood over Richie. Methos ducked leaving Richie in the follow-through of the Kirin's blade. Richie threw up an arm just in time and Kirin's sword left him with a savage gash across his arm instead of headless.

Kirin gasped in horror and shock of what had nearly happened.

Methos laughed, lifting his sword in Kirin's direction. "Would you like to try that again?"

Richie brought the small Sword of the Lord from his pocket.

(High School)
The concert was in its final moments. As the music reached a crescendo, Rodney beat out a wild drum solo on two trashcans.

"Take your life back from the Devil!" Brian shouted. "Take your home back!"
---------------------------------------------------------
Methos gasped, bent double, and gave a wail of agony.
---------------------------------------------------------
"Take back your school! Your town! Your country!"
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Cringing in pain, Methos stumbled a few steps back. He whipped the sword in Richie's direction, then seeing the Bible, stayed his sweep in mid-arc. An animal like snarl exploded from his lips and he immediately lunged towards Kirin.

"That's it! Fight me, you monster!" John shouted striking against Methos' sword repeatedly.

Methos gave one vicious sweep, intended on making John back up, but Kirin stepped forward, placing his neck into the path of the blade.

Richie gasped in shock and disbelief as Kirin's headless body collapsed to the floor.

For just a moment, a look of astonishment crossed Methos' face and then the Quickening hit. The first bolt struck Methos with such force; his sword was flung from his hand. It slammed into a stack of steel drums, puncturing one of resin. The liquid polymer quickly splashed out across the floor.

Stunned, Richie staggered back as the charged Quickening sent shards of energy coursing into lighting fixtures, steel beams, and pipes. A bin of nails exploded, showering them everywhere. A bolt ignited the stream of volatile resin and with a whoosh, the blue flame raced back up the stream to the drum. It exploded. Other drums of resin and toluene detonated one after the next and within moments, the entire structure was ablaze.

The sounds of the blasts could be heard in the high school where the concert had just let out. The front lawn was quickly crowded with young onlookers as police and fire crews moved in and fought the blaze.

Steve ran to move the bus so that a fire tanker could get in. Just as he started the engine, he could see the fire fighters bringing out a body. He gasped in shock and horror, recognizing Richie.
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(Next morning)

Brian lay in the semi-dark silence on the bunk in the bus. It didn't make any sense. Most of the time things didn't make any sense. When he turned his mind loose for just a moment, it would snap back to the police officer asking him if he could identify the body beneath the yellow plastic tarp. He had been afraid that he would see some charred skeleton, but Richie had been easy to recognize. No, he didn't know why Richie had been in the boat yard or who his three companions were. And he didn't know of any next of kin, local or otherwise. For over an hour they'd asked him questions, but beyond Richie's name, he'd known none of the answers. How can that be? I knew him for three years, yet I never knew him at all. Never knew what was going on with him. He remembered the Richie he'd met in Berlin. Frightened, angry, hostile. He'd watched as three years slowly melted the cold hardness away and the compassionate, loving man had started to peek through. There were the early days when Richie had seemed tormented by something from his past, his fascination with fighting the forces of evil. Why were you there last night, Richie? Brian recalled the feeling of evil being present. Had Richie's demons returned? He'd not known the other two victims even though the police told him their wallets had identified one as MacLeod, the other as Nash. The last victim had been decapitated, apparently in the blast and they, blessedly, did not ask him to look at that one. Who were they, Richie? And what were you doing? Brian covered his face with his arm. He was consumed with the burden of how he had somehow let Richie down.

The breeze was soft, warm, and lifted the Spanish moss as it gently whispered through the trees. The cemetery was otherwise empty. Methos sat on the bench, puzzled, confused, uncertain. He still wore the same singed clothing in which he'd escaped the fire.

What happened in there anyway? I don't remember. It's like a blur. I took a Quickening, Kirin's. And he felt remorse. Methos placed his elbows on his knees, his face in his hands. What is going on here anyway? Why do I feel this way? He had known moments of regret, times of indecision when he had to choose between the two evils--or a lesser good, but nothing like this torment. I must be losing my mind. I can't get a grasp on this. Or myself.

"Hello."

Methos physically jumped and stared at the young person sitting on the other end of the bench. He was the perfect of specimen of a man. Beautiful, if Methos dared to use the term. Tranquil. Appealing. He did not want to reply, but somehow had to anyway. "Hello."

"Beautiful day."

He looked away.

"You don't think you know me, Methos."

His attention was again riveted to this individual who knew his identity. "I am supposed to know you?" He was aware this person was not Immortal. Then what was he? The tranquillity of his features was somehow disquieting. Why?

"This is more pleasant, don't you think?"

Than what?

"I don't really care much for the scare tactics. They don't work very well." His ethereal features seemed to positively glow. "People don't trust ugliness. But they will follow good looks into hell." The angelic being suddenly transformed into the personage of Kronos, then back again.

Methos stared, eyes narrowed, skin crawling. He's back.

"Well, he never really left," the beautiful man corrected. He sighed. "You should have listened better last night. It would be over now."

"What?"

"You cannot kill them. They must kill each other."

"You're mad." Methos wanted to be away from this thing. The beauty didn't seem so enchanting any longer.

"You blew it. I promised you everything your heart longed for. Power, real Immortality." He gave a benevolent smile. "But you wouldn't listen. And now you will suffer for it."

His heart rate quickened. What's next?

He gave a soft laugh. "Not me, Methos. You. You feel it, don't you? That squirming feeling inside you that will not let you rest. Condemning you." He sighed. "And you held such promise. You should have had better sense. You took the Quickening of Cage and with it that essence of compassion. Think of it like a computer virus."

"Computer virus?" He squinted. But there was some sense to this demon's explanation, if one could believe the word of a devil. Darius had under gone an immediate transformation from a warrior to a priest because of a Quickening. And Ryan was certainly not the same since Anastophalus. I took Kirin's Quickening. What does that really mean?

"It means you've inherited a bunch of baggage," the angelic demon replied a bit coldly. "But you may still be of some use to me."

Methos looked up as he felt the twinge of an approaching Immortal. Three men clad in scorched and tattered clothing were headed across the green lawn towards them. He knew instantly it was Duncan, Connor, and Ryan.

The seated being grabbed Methos' hand quickly and Methos was surprised at the icy cold of the touch; like the skin of a dead body. "Listen to me right now. They can't take you. And they won't fight you or each other here. This place belongs to the Enemy."

"The..." Methos paused. Holy Ground. His mind was a whirl of confusion.

"No swords, guys," Richie whispered as the three approached Methos. "They won't stop Ahriman."

"It's Holy Ground," Mac added. Why did Methos come to Holy Ground? Is he afraid of us or Ahriman?

The young handsome face was right in Methos'. "This time listen to me. It can still be yours!"

"No it can't," Richie shouted out, the trio having been within earshot. "Don't listen to him, Methos. It's all lies."

"He took advantage of you," Mac added. "But he can't do that any more. You have Kirin's Quickening."

"The Quickening by itself is nothing," the being snapped back. The beauty was starting to fail, to drip away like melting wax. The lovely eyes suddenly glowed blood red. "You all are nothing."

Connor, standing in the center, reached out towards Mac and Richie and gripped each of their hands. "In the end, we are One," he declared.

The demon's loveliness was gone, replaced by the snarling continence of Horton. "So close, but you just don't get it boys." He gave an ugly grin and clapped a hand on Methos' arm. "This one is mine."

We must have Methos. Connor thought. "Methos, will you let this apparition make your choice? It is still your choice you know. From the dawn of time man has always had the choice."

"Don't let this fool confuse you, Methos. Nothing has changed between us," the demon countered.

"Methos," Duncan said quietly. "Everything has changed for you. You know that. You feel different."

Horton gave a gentle sigh and in a soothing voice uttered: "Don't let their chatter muddle the issue, Methos. Your choice is power with me, or death with these sniveling fools. And death most certainly is going to be theirs."

Methos did not reply. This decision should be easy. I should be leaping to the rescue of Mac. Why should I do that? Power untrained is no power. Well, death is death without question. But can he kill them? He just told me they had to kill each other. What is lie? What is truth? Truth is this demon is afraid. Of what? Me? Them?

"You see what you have done," Horton scolded him. "You've let that Kirin/Cage twist you. It was all so easy before, wasn't it? If you come with me, we shall find some of the most vial of Immortals for you to duel and you shall still that piteous voice. You still want to be the One don't you?"

"Methos, give me your hand." Duncan reached towards him, still maintaining the handclasp with Connor.

He licked his lips and started to rise from the bench.

Horton literally flew to his feet between them, glowing with sudden heat. "Stay away from them!"

Richie's mind had been racing through the three years of things Brian had told him. He cannot be defeated by weapons forged of men. This isn't a battle of flesh and blood. But how do I fight? He still had part of Brian's Bible in his pocket, part had been burned in the fire. I guess it will still work. He pulled it out with his free hand.

Horton spun on him instantly, rage twisting his face. "Foolish child. You think you can stop me with that. You handle the Word of the Enemy like a rabbit's foot, a good luck charm." He roared with a boisterous laugh. "You don't know how to use what you have."

Richie shivered slightly, knowing that to be true.

"But I know how."

It was a new voice. None of them had seen Brian appear from behind the shrubbery of the cemetery. He now stepped forward coming towards the small group of astonished people.

The image of Horton faltered, fading into the ugly, horned being covered with oozing sores that filled the air with stench. "How could you know!" it screamed, putting its hands to its head.

Brian never broke eye contact as he took Methos by the hand and gently tugged him to his feet. Without a word, he had Methos take Mac's free hand and he took Richie's so that they had formed a circle. Then Brian bowed his head. "In the name of Jesus Christ, I command the spirit of evil to be gone from here."

The being gave a shriek of agony and stumbled back.

"I pray a hedge of protection about each of us here. I pray the Lord extend that protection to include this place, this town, this state. Pray that the oppressive spirit be cast into the eternal lake of fire the Creator has prepared for Satan and all his kind."

With a last echoing howl, the demon vanished.

For a long moment, there was only silence and the breeze whispering through the leaves. Then Brian added: "Thank you, Lord."

"I don't believe in prayer," Methos muttered with embarrassment as they released their hands.

"I know," Brian replied with a knowing smile.

"What happened?" Richie asked. "Is Ahriman gone forever?"

"Someday," Brian answered.

"How did you know what was going on?" Richie added.

Brian lifted his eyebrows. "I didn't. I came here to try to find peace about---your death," he finished slowly.

"Oh, that," Richie glanced at Mac hoping for help. He got none. "I didn't die. Smoke inhalation."

A slight pain crossed Brian's features. "I know you were dead, Richie. I saw your body. When I first saw you guys here, I couldn't believe my eyes. It doesn't fit any theology I know, but I thought I was seeing the devil competing for your souls. But--I can touch you. You really are alive, right?"

He nodded.

"It is better that you not know too much," Connor said. "We are a special race of people. We are called Immortals, but it is actually a misnomer. We only die if someone takes our head."

Brian had been trained in seminary to look accepting of what anyone might say regardless of how bizarre it might sound. Well, this certainly is bizarre. He asked the logical question. "How old are you?"

Connor broke into a broad smile. "Me? Four hundred sixty, give or take a little."

He glanced at Richie.

He grinned. "I really am twenty four. Honest."

"Four hundred eight," Mac confessed.

Methos did not offer his age. When he noticed Brian's gaze he remarked, "Old enough, okay?"

Brian gave a small laugh. "Well, I guess there's nothing wrong with not looking your age." Internally, he was trying to decide how much was true. Obviously there had to be some merit to this tale. What else explained what he was seeing? "I always knew there was something special about you, Rich, but I never would have thought..."

Mac was amazed. He'd told mortals about his Immortality on rare occasions before, told new Immortals many times. It was not often he saw anyone accept the idea with such apparent ease. "It would be better if this remained a confidence," he suggested.

Brian nodded. "I don't think the world is quite ready to accept this as a norm. Besides," he paused to slap a mosquito, "I'm not real sure my denomination is willing to accept a fledgling pastor who believes that Immortals walk among us." Yet, even as he agreed, he wondered how he could contain this knowledge a lifetime. He could already feel the weight upon his shoulders. "I wish I could tell the other guys in the band. They are really upset about your death. No one even understands how you came to be here."

"We had to come," Richie supplied. "We were called here. Just like you were called to find me in Berlin. You helped me, taught me, probably saved my life. We were called here to save a life."

"Whose?" Brian asked.

"Mine," Methos said quietly, as if just realizing it himself. "Ahriman would have used me to divide and confuse you. Eventually, each of you alone would have fallen."

Connor spoke up. "Strength was in the unity--being as One. And Brian supplied the peace of God that Darius would have supplied." He felt an usual warmth, a feeling of being satisfied. It was an unaccustomed emotion for Connor. He wondered it if was the essence of Deidre being at peace. He hoped so.

Methos glanced away. He wondered what Kirin's spirit would demand of him.

Brian's gaze leveled on him. "You are uncomfortable about God or religion?"

He gave a half grimace. "This isn't my kind of topic. God and I gave up on each other a long time ago."

"Really?" Brian asked peacefully. "Why?"

For a moment he wondered if he shouldn't set this child straight; tell him of the hundreds, thousands of years of hatred and killing. "I've seen enough of what life has to offer. If there is a God, He doesn't seem to be very good at taking care of the good guys."

"I imagine you came to this conclusion some time ago? Twenty? Fifty? A hundred years or so?"

Methos started to open his mouth, then stopped.

"And when you decided to walk away from God, did all the trouble go away?" Brian gave a quiet grin. "You see, friend, it isn't about good and evil. It's about faith. Faith in God sees us through the tough times and gives us the hope for something better. Other wise--" he paused, "--what is the point? With no God, every person you've ever cared about who died, every enemy you have killed, is condemned to oblivion. Then where is the point to life?"

Methos stared at him. In five thousand years I have never known what it was all about. I've never been able to find the point to it all. This infant who is barely old enough to shave stands before me holding all the cards. He cleared his throat. "Well, you've given me something to think about."

"I hope so," Brian replied with sincerity. He extended a hand. "Brian Wilks. Ever want someone to talk to, look me up." He fumbled through his pockets, found a wrinkled ticket stub and wrote an e-mail address on it. "That and the old bus are the closest things I've got to an address. Well, at least till I have enough money to go back and finish seminary." He turned his attention back to Richie. "Will I ever see you again?"

"Maybe," he answered.

"Well, right now three of us are dead in the state of Florida and we really should leave town," Mac commented. "It's a big world, but it's remarkable how paths cross time and again. Here." He handed Brian a slip of paper. "If you ever feel you need someone to talk to."

Brian read the names and addresses of Rev. Bell and Joe Dawson. He folded the scrap carefully and slipped it into his shirt pocket as if it was precious. "Thank you." He shook hands with Mac, Connor, and Methos. He gave Richie a quick embrace. "Guess I should say to keep a good head on your shoulders, huh?"

Richie grinned. "Take care, Brian."

He studied Richie's face a moment longer. "Walk worthy of the Lord, Rich." And he turned away.

The Immortals watched as the mortal walked over the hill and down the other side. Even after Brian's blonde head had disappeared, Richie gave another glance back. For three years Brian and his band had been family, safety, friendship. It was sorrowful to remind himself he could not go back again. He would return to the Game of Immortals.

"We need to move on," Connor advised with a sigh. "There isn't anything more for us here."

No one made a cute comment about being a super hero team. No one asked what might have seemed an obvious question. They knew the answer by intuition. They did not need to remain together. It was time for each to go his way. Yet, they all stood in silence a little longer.

Connor tapped Richie's arm. "Care to put some of your talents to work and help me steal my Rover out of the Police impound yard?" They moved off, headed out of the graveyard.

Methos lingered, and Duncan waited for him. "You know," the Old One finally said to him, "I've lived most of my life regretting my past." He turned and walked to the top of the small knoll Brian had walked over. From the crest, he looked down on the parking lot just in time to see the back of the band's bus disappear around a corner. "I lived in dread that it would be discovered, but when it was, it was a relief in many ways. At the same time, things were forever different. That evil was always there. There never seemed to be a way to wash that blot away no matter what I did or where I went. It was always right there behind me. Not any more." He snapped off a blade of grass and chewed on it. "I know there were supposed to be five of us--that Darius was supposed to be on the team. But somehow this foursome replaces and finally cancels out the four horsemen. Does that make any sense?"

Duncan gave the barest nod.

"Cage died so I could live. Somehow I know he planned it that way." Methos tossed the grass away and issued a small chuckle. "In the end there can be only One. For centuries I lived in dread of that, like it was the sentence of death to all of us but one lucky person. Instead, it's a promise." He said nothing more to Duncan, but resolved in his mind to make a call to his bank in Switzerland. He'd be making a large anonymous transfer to a seminary in California so that a certain young pastor would be able to complete his training. And Methos' spirit was at peace.

end