All Hallows Eve
The full moon shone like a white beacon in the clear night sky. This close to the Thames, an eerie fog drifted through the streets adding an air of unreality to the landscape. The few pedestrians about this late at night walked swiftly down the street, huddled in their coats, as if wary of both the fog and their fellowman. At this time of the night, few lights remained on in the buildings, which stood like tall shadowy guardians of the city. The streetlamps, enveloped in the fog, gave off a sickly yellow glow. There was an air of sickness and danger in the scene.
Hugh Fitzcairn took a deep breath of the familiar autumn air and fumbled for his pipe, wanting to take advantage of the moment to taste tobacco and banish the odd odor of decay and death that lingered over the cityscape. His nose wrinkled petulantly until he'd lit his pipe and pulled in a great breath of the familiar and welcome aroma. He smiled with contentment, recognizing that he was one of the lucky ones. Smoking would never make him sick… nor kill him.
Holding his pipe familiarly in his mouth, he looked about the scene, anxious to get this meeting over with. He felt cold and damp so close to the river… and the cold seemed to seep into his being with a foul and sickening air. He shuddered visibly.
"Blast it… where are you?" he mumbled aloud to the foggy air. Glancing up at the street signs, only dimly visible, he noted that he was in the right place, and a glance at his pocket watch assured him that the time was right. Was it the wrong day? Surely not! Surely he didn't have the date wrong!
Then, even as he began to wonder if he had in fact made a mistake, he felt the unmistakable tingle of a nearby immortal. Focusing on it, he could even hear the familiar sounds of steel on steel and the grunts of punches landed, and loose items thrown. Evidently the fight was already in progress. He was just a bit late.
Ramming his hands into his tweed jacket's pockets, Fitzcairn sauntered jauntily toward the sounds of the battle being held in a dark alley where the light of a streetlamp failed to reach. He slipped quietly between the three figures watching the battle with mouths open and eyes wide. The two combatants were so focused on one another and on their fight, that they ignored that there were bystanders. Fitz chuckled at this obvious disregard of rules. These two were determined to finish their fight… no matter what.
Just then the tall bald immortal managed to slam a trash can lid into the unguarded face of his opponent. The smaller man stepped back, wiping blood from his face and spitting to one side. Fitz wondered if the man had lost some teeth. Then the smaller man yelled as he lunged once more into the fight against his larger opponent. Again and again the swords of the two men sang as they vibrated from the force of the blows.
"Is this for real?" a man to Fitz's left finally asked.
"Naw," another replied. "Can't be. Got to be some movie scene."
The third man, standing to Fitz's right laughed aloud. "Then where's the bloody camera."
Fitz chuckled. Then he sobered as he worried what might happen if there were still witnesses when the inevitable end of this fight happened. He vaguely recalled Duncan telling him about Kastagir and the Kurgan fighting in just such a manner. But the Kurgan hadn't cared if anyone saw… he hadn't thought he could be stopped.
Fitz leaned closely to the man on his left. "Perhaps you should get the police."
The man worked his mouth back and forth. "I think I'll see if I can find some bobbies to deal with this. These guys are crazy."
The second man nodded. "I'll go with you. Otherwise they might think you're drunk or something." He patted his own bag-wrapped pint of whiskey in his pocket. The smell of alcohol hung over both of them.
The third man looked around guiltily. "Well if you two go… I'm going!" With that all three teetered off, likely to find a quiet place for another drink before looking for a constable.
Fitz smiled. Sometimes the right word in the right ear could calm a potentially dangerous situation that could expose the immortals and their game to the world. Glancing around the alley, he noted that the immortals were now the only ones here. "It's a kind of magic," he chuckled. He sighed with a deep puff on his pipe, as he watched the combatants continue. Evidently they were another matter entirely. He sincerely doubted that he could influence either of them. And that really wasn't why he was here. After all… he wasn't supposed to interfere in the battle… no matter what. That was one of the rules, and while he'd never been one to obey rules, that one he did.
The larger bald immortal slipped on something wet on the asphalt of the alley and was now desperately fighting off a rain of blows from the smaller man, who was trying to press his advantage. The bald immortal gabbed some loose gravel, flinging it into the other man's eyes. The blows stopped as the smaller man hesitated to rub and blink his eyes.
The larger man rolled to his knees and bounced up, already swinging his broadsword. The smaller immortal yelped as the blade sliced across his chest. It was clear to Hugh Fitzcairn that the smaller man was swiftly losing his strength. He was being worn down by the larger immortal's size and power.
Almost as soon as that thought crossed Fitz's mind… the smaller man made one last desperate move. He turned and thrust to his left… managing to ram his broadsword suddenly into the taller man's mid-section. The tableau froze. Then the larger man keeled over to one side. The smaller man slowly struggled to his feet, and while gasping for air, swung his broadsword at his opponent's neck… and the quickening rose. Lightening shot out the single streetlamp so that the alley was bathed in the cool blue light of the quickening as the sparks showered showing the winner writhing in its power.
The sight never failed to amaze High Fitzcairn… it was as marvelous to watch as the first time he'd seen it. Newly immortal, he hadn't quite believed the tales that Henry FitzMartin was telling him. He'd maintained that the man was daft… right up until Henry had taken the head of a challenger and Hugh had been witness to the quickening. Ah well… he mused and tapped the tobacco out of his pipe. Enough of memories… he had work to do.
He watched the smaller man recover and then take a fast look around before running off. In the shadows, Fitz noticed the movement of a mortal on a cell phone. Likely the loser's Watcher, he thought and stood over the body… waiting.
A few moments later the ghostly form of the tall man… with head still attached rolled over and climbed to his feet. He looked around in confusion.
"A bit of a shock… eh?" commented Fitz as the man stared at him in confusion. Fitz gestured winningly. "Hugh Fitzcairn… your guide to the next stage of the game."
"The next stage? But I lost. That blighter took my head!" the man shouted.
"No one mentioned the double-elimination rules to you either… eh?"
"Some of us who lose along the way… if we deserve it… get a second chance."
"A second chance?"
"To fight for the prize of course!" Fitz said grandly. "Don't you want to live forever?"
"But… but… I'm dead?"
"Do you feel dead?"
The man thought about that and then shook his head slowly.
"We're on a separate plain of reality. I'm here to acclimate you to the place and teach you the rules."
"There's another set of rules?"
"Of course dear boy. You didn't think you could just pick up a sword and take my head did you?"
The man thoughtfully looked down at his sword. He reached down for it but his hand came up empty. He glanced in confusion at Fitz. From the shadows the Watcher had closed in on the body and was motioning to the men in an arriving van. Evidently the clean-up squad had arrived.
Fitz motioned for the big man to follow him. As they headed down the alleyway… the fog became denser until the reality of the mortal plain had vanished completely.
"Michael Grogan," the big man said.
Fitz nodded. He wanted another smoke but that would have to wait until his next trip. "Well then Michael, my lad," he began, slapping the man jovially on one arm, "this has all the markings of being the beginning of a beautiful friendship."
"Isn't that a line from Casablanca?" Michael asked to the sound of Fitz's merry laughter.