Part V

She's out there, no question, but I don't have a chance of tracking her. Even if I were still walking on two good legs, she's too quick and too alert, and I can't risk having her know of my interest. I've observed her during the day, and at the club where the kids here like to congregate (traded stories with the bartender, and even got an invitation to do a short stint on blues guitar some evening), but seeing her in action is a different matter. In ten nights of off-and-on surveillance, I've watched her fight exactly once, and then for only a few seconds.

Educational, let me tell you. In 1985 I sat in the stands at Wimbledon while Björn Borg played John McEnroe. Borg was a marvel, quick as a whip, reaching out to catch the farthest edge of streaking drives and slam them back across the net at angles impossible to intercept … and McEnroe was always there, meeting those impossible returns and bulleting them right back again, facing off against a master of unsurpassable speed and power and precision, and surpassing him. That's what this fight was like. They outnumbered her three to one, and human muscle simply can't duplicate the force and velocity of their attack; but she was right in there with them, blocking kicks that would have felled small trees, slipping punches that moved too fast for my eyes to register, shaking off hits that would have killed most healthy men and counterpunching in instant devastating reaction. I've watched a lot of individual combat in the last thirty years — mostly sword duels, naturally — but never anything close to this. She took out two of them before I blinked the second time, and I lost her when the last one ran and she went after him.

I guess I'll have to admit to Adam that he was right. When he first put me onto this I was understandably skeptical, but I couldn't just dismiss the possibility, not after what I'd seen with the Ahriman business. Still, vampires? And a mystical champion, a female at that, whose birthright was to hunt them? It was the mention of a Council of Watchers that caught Adam's attention, and kept mine. No matter how garbled the old stories, I couldn't afford not to investigate the possibility of an organization that paralleled my own.

Well, they exist. (I'll have to find a way to thank that boy Birkoff for getting me a peek at their files, and Langly for putting me in touch with him.) And there really is a Slayer. And — unless she's found a way to turn a living man into dust in less than a second — vampires are real as well. What's most interesting, though, is what happens when you take some of the old writings of their Watchers, and integrate them with the knowledge base of my Watchers, and check the result against sources that neither group has paid much attention to in the past.

I've spent most of my adult life in this job, and I thought I knew the subject about as well as it could be known. But bring in a few fresh facts, and suddenly the picture changes. You're not just seeing it in a new light, but from an entirely new angle, details being brought out that you couldn't spot before and the reality of it all taking on a different meaning. If I can confirm what I believe, a lot of very old questions have just been answered.

The composite scenario goes something like this:

Once the world was ruled by demons. Nasty buggers, real believers in giving misery plenty of company. Rivers of blood, mountains of skulls, lakes of fire, a generally depressing geographical theme. But the wheel turned a few times and their reign came to an end, and finally they were exiled to a different reality. The last demon to go transfused his blood, or whatever the hell it was, into a human, making the first vampire, and they've been with us ever since.

Vampires don't reproduce, strictly speaking. It's more of a really hard-sell recruiting drive, when one wants to make another vampire he feeds some of his blood to a victim before draining him the rest of the way. Human reproduction seems to scramble the process, though. Maybe pregnancy changes the blood chemistry in a way that vampires don't like, or that keeps the transformation from working, but the upshot is that it's very, very rare for a pregnant woman to be made into a vampire. When it does happen … well, it's like the Almighty says, Forget it, pal, only one to a customer; the unborn child is protected, insulated, and continues to grow.

That's where Immortals come from, and why they're always foundlings. The undead mother is burned out by the innocent life awakening inside her, until with its birth nothing remains of her. And for the child, inoculated in the womb against death, death turns out to be the doorway to a life that can last centuries or millennia.

That's not the end of it, though. Like most interspecies crossbreeds, Immortals are sterile, unable to produce children even before their first resurrection. But sometimes the lines can recross. If an Immortal is killed by a vampire, he comes back from it like he would from any other death; but if this is his (or her) first death, he or she comes back as an apparently normal human, aging and dying like the rest of us, having children who carry in their genes the legacy of their supernatural ancestors. And when two carriers pair and reproduce … well, the legacy seems to be tied to the X chromosome; so male children of a carrier mating can still be carriers themselves, or ordinary human, but the female children will either be carriers or something even more special.

So special, in fact, that there are never more than a few dozen of them alive at any given time. The Watchers (my own group, that is) have never taken any special interest in Immortals who haven't yet realized their nature, mainly because we have no way to identify them before that first death, but I privately call them protoImmortals. By the same token, these young women might be called protoSlayers, because any of them is capable of receiving, by some mystical selection process I can't guess at (and that their own Watchers can't seem to control), enhanced physical capabilities that make them able to fight vampires on equal terms.

Any of them, but not all. Only one at a time, as a matter of fact. Their Watchers refer to that one as the Slayer, but also as the Chosen One. "One girl in all the world …"

Remind you of anything? Does me.

So far I've followed pretty close to what's in the histories of the two Watcher organizations, with some external material here and there to plug the gaps. What comes next is my own speculation. I've never been comfortable with the traditional interpretation of the Gathering. How it works is easy to see — the Immortals fight to the death until only one is left — but the prize to be gained … well, I just don't know. Ultimate power? Could happen, I guess, but something about it just doesn't feel right. After intermeshing the two mythologies (and after seeing the drive and will, the living force of this girl), I have a theory of my own.

I think God plays chess. I think when Satan was losing, and seeing his demon generals about to be swept off the board, he set up vampires as a counter-move, and played into a trap. I think his own soldiers have been used to generate a new set of champions for the human race … or, what the hell, maybe even the next stage of humanity. The Immortals will fight it out to the last man (and a damned shame it is for the female Immortals, they were just a side-effect of the Game, never had a chance at the big prize), and that last man, carrying thousands of years of memories and experience, will link to the Chosen One, and something brand new will begin.

I hope it's not just wishful thinking. I've seen good people cut down in the last stages of this merciless bloody game, and I'd like to believe it was for something worthwhile, and not just meaningless slaughter.

This particular Slayer has only been active for a few years, but she's racked up a hell of a box score. Watching her with her friends, I saw the other side of that, of the scene from the park. She's not just brave and determined, she's clean and decent and good. If all of future humanity is to descend from a single woman, it could do worse.

I've heard the words repeated for so long, the sound of them just makes me feel sick now: "In the end, there can be only one." The last few years, I've let myself hope that One would be Duncan MacLeod, but now I'm going to add a rider to the wish: I hope the time comes soon enough that this girl will still be here for him.

She's out there, fighting a lonely, secret war to hold back the darkness … and maybe, just maybe, she has a higher destiny awaiting her than the one she knows.

end