The Fourth Seal
by Ziggy Sternenstaub
And I looked...And power was given unto them over a fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth. --Revelation 6:8, King James Bible
Part 1: Methos
And when he had opened the fourth seal I heard the voice of the fourth beast say, Come and see. And I looked and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. --Revelation 6:7&6:8, King James Bible
And thus I clothe my naked villainy in odd old ends stolen forth from Holy writ and seem a Saint when most I play the Devil. --Richard III, William Shakespeare
The darkness of the meeting room in the formerly abandoned power station in Bordeaux crowded in on Methos as he sat alone at the table, three empty chairs facing him accusingly.
This was the room in which Kronos had held his impromptu war council only an hour before, the room where Methos had presented his plan. The plan was of course meant to distract his brothers until he could contact Duncan MacLeod and warn him of the virus. But should his plan play out as expected, Kronos would never dream again; never proclaim his plans in that marvellous stentorian voice. Never again would the mad blue light in his eyes shine with such joy, never again would his fire warm and inspire Methos....
The surety of his success should have at least grimly satisfied him, but the only thing Methos could feel was a sort of wallowing melancholy, for the end result would certainly be the deaths of all three of his brothers in blood, companions of millennia. Sometimes loved, sometimes hated, always cherished.
But, Methos reminded himself, survival came above all of that. Survival came above even the bonds of brotherhood.
Survival was the reason that he had left the Horsemen to begin with. When Methos had departed camp for the very last time he had not been pleased with the necessity, but had hardened himself to the reality. The civilisations of the world, once consisting of little more than apes squatting in mud huts, had become advancing empires. People were no longer quite so willing to submit to the Horsemen's rule, no longer quite so willing to view them as gods or demons and fearfully worship them-- and fear and superstition had been the key to Horsemen's power.
Methos had all too clearly foreseen their probable end at the blades of some petty emperor's armies, angry that the peoples and villages he had claimed as his own property were being slaughtered by outsiders, by some ragged, painted barbarians on horseback. Methos had not been willing to stay for the final, pointless slaughter.
Though Kronos had been Methos' closest companion, the man was set in his ways and would have refused to consider his departure rationally, so Methos had left one day, nonchalantly, as though he were simply going off for a ride. The horse he rode was as always the pale one, but Methos left his cloak and skull mask behind in his tent. He wore white, but his tunic was covered with his brown leather armour, and he did not wear his woad war paint. Those things were the trademarks of Death, and from that day forward Methos was only Methos, no longer to be Death.
He had ridden far from the Horsemen's traditional territory. Leaving Europe and Asia, he had made his way down into Africa, finding refuge in the sprawling cities of Egypt. Still news of the Horsemen was legendary, and Methos kept his ear to the ground. The Horsemen, it was soon said, were taking a break. Not a single raid lead by four masked riders had been reported in decades. Methos had been rather startled to hear it. He had been so focused on his own survival that he'd barely realized the passing time.
He knew that Kronos had likely attempted to continue on with but three Horsemen after Methos' departure, only to swiftly realize that without Methos the raids were all fury and no substance. Methos made the plans, so Methos sustained the mind of the Horsemen. No matter that Kronos was the heart of the Four-- the Horsemen could not continue on heart alone. Without Methos, the brotherhood was finished.
He found by then that he was somewhat glad for it. Like one who had been awake and moving for so long that he barely realized his own exhaustion, Methos found the need and time to rest after the thousand-year rampage across the face of the Earth. He buried himself in the small, quiet existence, taking up a position as a scribe and quickly adjusting to the change in lifestyle. He aimed to live his life simply for the sake of living.
This Methos did for almost three thousand years. Almost without realising it, he had gradually adapted and changed, eventually becoming something that belonged far more to cities than to the wild steppes and plains.
But all things come to an end, and if you live long enough the past always catches up with you, as it did on the day when his brother's knife was buried in his chest, and he looked into Kronos' grinning, furious eyes. Then had come the confrontations, the revelations, and the reunions. It was very tiresome, Methos reflected: the petty anger and tension, the demands that Kronos was making of Methos, and the fact that MacLeod had taken it upon himself to judge the Horsemen, to judge Methos.
"There are some less than lily white spots in your past, MacLeod. I'd like to see the look on your face if I were to condemn you for them. Those things that are none of my business," Methos whispered into the silence. "Of course, that is different." He laughed bitterly, knowing that MacLeod would demand clarification. He could hear it all, already knew how the confrontation would play out.
Standing up, the ancient Immortal stretched languidly and gave a little half smile, sweeping the empty room with cool hazel eyes. He ran his hand over the round table, feeling its polished surface before he left, vanishing down the metal staircase.
Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod entered the Elysium church warily, eyes flickering about, searching for the tall, slim figure of the man he had come to meet. Only a short time ago he would have greeted that man with a smile, glad to see the enigmatic legend he had come to call friend. Now that man was an enemy.
Methos' Presence was strong in MacLeod's mind, harsh and clear where before it had been furtively warm. The ancient Immortal was sitting up near the front, bowed over his knees in a thoughtful mockery of prayer. MacLeod stopped some distance away from him.
"Well, I'm here."
The words echoed in the quiet building, and MacLeod wondered if anyone else--a caretaker perhaps--was supposed to be here at this time of night and, if so, what had happened to him. He frowned at the thought.
"Yeah, thanks," Methos replied. His sounded quiet, subdued, speaking with none of the fiery passion of the man who had cackled the blood-soaked history of Death.
"Why did you lie to me?" MacLeod demanded, hating that he had to ask; hating the reversal of roles.
"About what?" Methos asked. He was watching MacLeod now, expression unreadable.
"About Cassandra, about who you were!"
"I have been many things, MacLeod," Methos answered. He sounded tired.
"And who are you now?" the Highlander asked. He needed to know. Was the man he spoke with now Methos, ancient immortal and professional cynic, or was he Death in disguise?
Methos glanced away, smiling absently. "Why'd you think I didn't tell you? I knew how you'd react. What I've done you can't forgive. That's not in your nature. Will you accept it?"
Accept it. The words fell like stone slabs in MacLeod's ears. Methos wanted him to accept the deaths of thousands, to meekly look away from an ocean of blood. And what about the ones like Cassandra, the ones who hadn't been so lucky as to die straight off?
"Accept what?! That a friend I trusted with my life slaughtered innocent people? For what-- a few head of cattle? What are you going to tell me, Methos, 'that's how the world was?'" MacLeod's spewed bitterness at his former friend in an insidious rush.
Methos stood up, his hazel eyes dark now with some suppressed emotion. He was half hidden in a shadow that cut across his slender body like a silver-gray cloak. Almost for a moment, Duncan thought he saw the shadow of a pale skull across the angular facial features. He blinked, and it was gone.
"No, the world was how we made it."
"No, the world was how you chose to make it!"
Methos' eyes lit up with something like laughter before he turned away. The moment was almost brief enough to miss completely, but MacLeod was observing the other Immortal with painful intensity, and he caught the look. Renewed suspicion flared up in him and he continued with even more anger, "How you chose to slaughter her people and burn her village."
"And I chose to take her prisoner."
Methos poured out his tale with the voice of a natural born storyteller, and MacLeod could almost hear the beating of the drums that had rang through the Horsemen's camp, could see Methos and Cassandra and Kronos, three players in that sordid little Bronze Age melodrama. As Methos talked, the two Immortals made their way outside of the church and into the graveyard, still on holy ground.
"She escaped across the wilderness, and she must have died a dozen times from heat and thirst before she found a village that would take her in, and I bet it was worth it just to get away from us." There was disgust in his voice, though for whom MacLeod couldn't quite figure. Cassandra or himself and his "brothers?"
"So what are you doing with Kronos now?" the Highlander asked, somewhat subdued. He didn't want to trust Methos, but found himself grudgingly doing so—to a point.
"Same as always: trying to survive. And if you want Cassandra to live, you'll get her as far away from here as you can."
"What, and let Kronos go!"
"You don't have a choice, MacLeod! You can't stop him. I can't stop him! Nobody can!" Methos was loudly adamant.
"Yeah, four guys on horseback are gonna rule the world," MacLeod snorted.
"The world doesn't change, not in five hundred years, not in five thousand. It's only the details that change. Kronos didn't torch those villages for a few coins; he torched them to watch them burn. And now he'll have a nuclear bomb or a planeload of Napalm but the effect will be the same. The world living in fear of the Horsemen," Methos wavered between his customary cynicism, and a sort of breathlessness that Duncan was sure he did not like.
"And you expect me to let that happen? You should know me better than that!"
He started to walk away, but Methos reached out and stopped him before he made it far. His eyes caught the Highlander's sharply, and for a moment Duncan felt every one of the ancient's years bearing on his soul.
"I came to warn you."
Methos explained the virus with a blank mien that only underscored the horror of what he was saying. A disease to destroy the world. A creation with the ability to fulfill the prophecy that the four ancient Immortals had inspired so long ago.
"It will only kill a few," Methos said of the bomb in the fountain. "But it's a start."
"The water supply's next," MacLeod filled in grimly.
"Bright boy," Methos mocked.
MacLeod came to a decision then. He needed to act, and he needed help-- inside help. He had no choice but to trust Methos.
Incredulity spread over the ancient's face.
"Oh, no no." Methos' voice was a staccato stutter. "If I go up against him, I lose."
The man was absolutely unbelievable. "Going with the winner?"
Methos only smiled.
"So why are you here, Methos? What game are you playing?"
"It's in the bottom fountain just above the water line. White, then black, then red."
"Don't do this. You have a choice."
And he wanted Methos to make that choice, the Highlander suddenly realized. He wanted his friend to abandon his mad game playing and just come with him.
"And you have . . ." Methos checked his watch. "Twenty-four minutes."
Duncan stalked away.
The sensation assaulted Cassandra abruptly, unmistakable and harsh. Immortal Presence.
It's about time, the woman thought irritably.
"Duncan, what took you so long?"
Impatiently, she opened the door, only to realize her mistake too late. She tried to slam it closed again, but already the three male Immortals were crowding into the small space.
Kronos stepped inside, grinning maliciously.
"I'm afraid Duncan is otherwise engaged."
Silas and Caspian followed the older Horseman inside silently, looming statues of menace.
"Am I wrong? Don't I owe you something? Too bad you didn't know you had to take my head to kill me," Kronos drawled.
"I'll take it now!"
She lunged for her sword, but Caspian reached it first, leaping onto the bed to cover it with his heavy body, and the priestess felt her options rapidly dwindle. Then Knonos reached into his leather jacket and pulled out the very same dagger that she had stabbed him with so long ago.
"I've waited a long time to give this back to you." The scarred Immortal 's voice was calculated to inspire just the right amount of fear.
He hasn't changed, Cassandra contemplated with an odd sort of distant contempt for Kronos' predictable theatrics. She was going into emotional shock, she realized. They couldn't be here. She'd known they were united again, known it. . .but to actually see it, to have them come for her, together, after more than three thousand years... That was something else entirely.
Kronos walked very casually toward her. His eyes were glittering. Cassandra cringed and felt her mind go numb.
No more young lovers or gossiping friends lingered around the fountain with cotton candy. The people had fled in fear when Duncan had run at them screaming of the danger. Now the water soaked the Highlander's legs as he stood in the fountain, leaning over the bomb. Such a small thing to go unnoticed—death in a tiny box.
Hurriedly, MacLeod examined the wires, looking for the first one to disconnect the bomb. The blinking of the red lights where the timer was displayed distracted him for moment, and he stared at it. Not much time left.
Wires. . .white, then black, then red, he heard Methos' voice again.
Carefully he cut the first wire, and then the second, and then...
Kronos was waiting for him, chomping on fried chicken when Methos returned.
"Your bomb didn't work. Not much of a plan, was it?"
Kronos' behavior was too casual; deliberately transparent. He tossed a chicken bone into the fire dish.
"Well, I'll think of better," Methos replied.
"By the way, where were you?" Kronos demanded, jumping up.
"I was just--"
"Warning your friend. You didn't really think I wouldn't know you'd tell MacLeod, did you?"
"It's not like you think it is."
"It's just like I think. My dearest brother, that's what makes you my perfect right arm. We think alike," Kronos had stopped close beside the older Immortal, crowding into his space.
Methos laughed as Kronos continued without pause. "We always have."
"I doubt that, Kronos. No one thinks quite like you."
Kronos chuckled, genuinely amused. "Spoken like a true scholar. Look at this." He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small remote control. "All I have to do is punch in a few numbers, and a small vial explodes in the reservoir above Bordeaux. And then, well, you know what happens next, don't you?"
Methos stared at his brother with a slightly incredulous expression, but said nothing.
"We all have our own little plans. I'm sure you won't disappoint me. Come with me. I have something else to show you."
The other Immortal jauntily lead Methos to a large cage, more than big enough to hold a human. And sure enough, there inside lay Cassandra. Not lucid enough to observe her captors, she still seemed disturbed by their presence.
The monsters invade even her dreams, thought Methos.
"She was asking about you. You knew exactly what you were doing when you sent MacLeod to that fountain, didn't you? So I did what you expected. I went and got Cassandra while she was unprotected. That was the plan, wasn't it?"
Kronos appeared almost edgy and Methos gave the expected nod of confession.
"You see, I know you better than you know yourself." The other Horseman sounded smug.
"Which is why the plan was perfect," Methos returned calmly.
"Your plans always are."
Methos smiled quietly and inclined his head with modest pleasure.
"I wonder what your friend MacLeod thinks of you now, though...."
"Think I care?" Methos murmured.
"You should. You lured him away. When he comes back he finds that someone's stolen his woman . . . If that--if that was me: I'd want you dead."
The meaning was clear; Methos did not need to be painted a picture.
Still calm, he observed his brother, a little smile now painted on his lips. Kronos seemed to be waiting for a response, and Methos let him wait. Almost without their having meant it to happen, a contest of wills arose between the two stubborn old Immortals.
Realizing that the battle could continue all night, both men looked away at the same time. Kronos leaned over the balcony railing.
"By the way, where are Silas and Caspian?" Methos asked.
"Ah. . .that goes hand in hand with this little device. One of my improvisations," Kronos smiled again, his eyes glinting into the darkness.
"You sent them for MacLeod, didn't you?" Methos mused.
"Why yes," Kronos mimed surprise at his guess.
The taller Immortal leaned close towards the other, his arms folded on the railing.
"I'm afraid they're going to be waiting a while. . . I've a gift for you, brother."
Kronos turned to Methos, eyes wide with interest.
Duncan MacLeod woke up with a start. It was dark--the dark of a gloomy building with few windows. Having taken numerous Challenges in just such surroundings, he knew the look of the place. He also knew that he was gagged, bound hand and foot, and chained to the wall of the room.
The last thing that he could remember was bending over in the fountain. He'd just disarmed the last wire of the bomb, and then something had hit him. A bullet or missile of some sort, he was sure. Perhaps a long range sharp-shooter? He'd not seen anyone in the area, or felt an Immortal Presence, so it was really the only possible answer. Someone just out of the range of his senses, waiting for the perfect moment. But who?
The heavy iron portal swung open, slightly illuminating the small room with still very dim light and Methos' slim form entered, followed by Kronos' shorter, stockier one.
"It's too bad I can't remember my birthday," Kronos drawled, "Or this would be the perfect gift."
"And here I thought I was the only one who couldn't remember his mortal life," Methos retorted.
"It's reconciling the calenders that gives me trouble."
"Of course," Methos shrugged as though he'd lost interest in the conversation. MacLeod was suddenly, poignantly reminded of how very fickle Methos could be at times: how he could be so intensely interested in the most trivial of things while completely dismissing what was really important.
"In any case," Kronos persisted in his damnably cheerful manner, "I don't need a birthday to be pleased with this. Of course"--he paused to flash MacLeod a delighted smile-- "I'll be much happier once I take his head."
"Really," Methos commented, taking a seat on a large crate near the door.
"I'm sure you'll be happy too, brother," Kronos said pointedly, watching Methos with narrowed eyes. Methos returned the look calmly but MacLeod, observing closely, saw something change in his expression. It was as though Methos had suddenly reached the end of his rope.
"You know I'm not pleased, Kronos. I just know that MacLeod will only keep coming if I let him go. But know this: either we return to the old ways as equals or the Horsemen will never again be whole. You need my willing cooperation for success, and I'm willing to give you that. As long as you understand that you do not own me," Methos grated.
MacLeod screamed through the gag and struggled against his bonds.
"Always the survivor, the servant to necessity," Kronos whispered. "We were equals before, and you threw it away!"
"The world was changing. We would have been destroyed if we had tried to ride against cities, and we had no means to stop their growth. And you come after me now with your demands and your threats, and expect me to cooperate under these conditions? As you delight in pointing out: you know me better than that."
"So what changed your mind?" Kronos walked about the crate, stalking the silent figure in the middle. Methos followed the other Immortal with his eyes, as if he were tracking a snake.
"Maybe I'm tired of hiding."
"What about this sudden distaste for killing you've developed, brother? How am I to believe that one word of what you speak is truth?"
"That's the fun part, brother," Methos smirked, jumping up from the crate. "You don't."
He sauntered out the door.
Kronos stared after Methos for a long time before he was finally able to tear his gaze away from the doorway. He realized with an start that he was grinning widely, and felt fierce joy well up in his chest. Something had changed about the scheming, frightened man that Methos had become. Some dynamic had been altered. Methos had demanded his power returned to him, and when Kronos had questioned his right to it Methos had simply taken it.
Kronos spun around to eye the bound and gagged Highlander with delight. Oh, he was going to have fun with this one. With this...show of good faith.
"Well, MacLeod. I waited—and this is one cold dish that I am really going to savour."
Hatred burned in the Scotsman's brown eyes. Kronos laughed at him as he reached out and tore the gag from the younger man's mouth.
"You'd better kill me now, Kronos, because if you don't I will escape, and I'll never stop coming until I take your head." MacLeod's eyes glowed in the dim light, and for a moment he truly appeared an avenging warrior angel. Perhaps the Highlander had forgotten that the angels, too, were portents of the end: merciless messengers of doom in a faith as bloodsoaked as Kronos' own dreams.
Kronos chuckled. "I've heard rumours of your prowess in battle. You've become overconfident!" And he quoted blithely: "And I heard a great voice out of the temple saying to the seven angels, Go on your ways, and pour out the vials of the wrath of God upon the Earth. Revelation 16:1."
Kronos smiled at the Highlander's baffled contempt. Soon, the terror of true belief would replace it. The Horseman was certain.
end part 1
Questions? Comments? Mobs with pitchforks and torches? All are welcome!