There comes a time in every Immortal's life when training gives way to experience. Someone is going to challenge to you, and if you're not ready on that day, you will surely lose your head.

Matthew Leonard, the author of those words, had tried to instill the import of them into his pupil with every lesson he gave about defense and offense when it came to wielding a sword.

If someone calls you out, I won't be able to step it and handle it for you. That's not how the Game is played. It's got to be one on one. You and your opponent, until the very death.

Not that it was a matter of 'if someone called him out' at all, but a matter of when. Leonard knew that as sure as the sun rose each morning, peeking into the mountains where they had made their camp, someone would attempt to take his friend's head. There was no way to avoid, save a life spent lurking on Holy Ground. There were those who chose that path, letting their skills grow weaker and weaker to the point where they dared not venture outside their sacred refuge.

You, Leroy Gibbs, are not that kind of man. You are a soldier, brave and true, and are not afraid to take up a weapon if the need was upon you.

Those words were ringing in Gibbs' ears now, as he slowly backed up, inching away from the Indian in front of him. The man, and Apache, he reckoned by the war paint on his face, had a battle axe gripped tightly in his hand. All Gibbs had was his army saber, and right about now, it looked like a very inadequate blade.

His best attempts at reasoning with the other Immortal had failed - mostly because he didn't Apache and the Indian didn't speak much English. Or else he wasn't letting on that he knew any English. Instead, he was circling Gibbs with his axe and grinning manically while Gibbs retreated and tried to regroup.

The savage had almost gotten the drop in him, sneaking up behind him while he stopped to rest his horse on the way back to camp. He might have succeeded if he had not been an Immortal. It was the buzz, that overwhelming sensation he felt in the back of his every time another of his own kind came near, which alerted him to the impending danger. He'd barely rolled out of the way when the heavy axe came swinging downwards. It stuck in the ground where he'd been laying with his back to the rocks and by the time his opponent had pulled it from the ground, Gibbs had his own sword out.

The Apache made another attempt, charging at him, and Gibbs darted to the side, lashing out with his saber in the hopes of drawing first blood. A crimson slash appeared on the Indian's rib cage, and he knew that he had at least been successful in that much. His opponent's insane grin faltered in that moment, but only for the time it took him to register what had happened. He pressed his hand to his side, wiping his long, calloused fingers across the slice, and then held up his blood-stained hand. Much to Gibbs' horror, he smeared the blood across his face, whooping in demented glee and then charged him again.

In the back of his mind, he remembered a story told around the campfire of the Indian village where he and Matt stayed when they first crossed the plains. The tale of a young warrior who died in battle with the white man's army and then returned to life as a demon. His own tribe shunned him, driving him out from their village and forcing him into exile years before. The Chief of their village had called it a legend, not truth, but Gibbs now knew better.

The Demon Warrior was an Immortal. This Immortal. And he was hell bent upon driving that axe he wields straight through Gibbs' skull.

It was possible, Gibbs rationalized, that he did not know what he was. The Indians had no other lore about their kind. He certainly did not fight like his only intent was the taking of a head. Hacking his victim to bits perhaps, but that was something which simply could not be allowed to happen. There was no reasoning with this man. There was no backing down. If he was to survive, he was going to have to take the Demon Warrior's head.

His first head ever.

There would be no turning back from that point. The question remained, was he ready?

Gibbs didn't know, but he sure as hell knew he wasn't ready to die, either.

Author's Note: The Next Installment of this series will be a 14 chapter novella I wrote for the AU Big Bang fanfic challenge. It's called "This Mortal Coil" and will be posted on it's own. If you're reading this series still, please look for it. I'll continue posting the 1-part drabbles in this thread, but the big one deserves it's own place. :-)