Richie Ryan killed the engine on his bike and coasted through the wrought iron gates to the park-like expanse beyond, wheels crunching on loose gravel. He rolled past the well-kept lawns of the enclosed community in silence. Not that he was concerned about waking the residents at such an ungodly hour. They were long past disturbing, deep in their eternal slumber. But Richie had acquired a healthy respect for cemeteries of late. He always made it a point to locate holy ground when he entered a new town, whatever the hour. This far past midnight, it might as well do double duty.
The bike rolled to a stop and Richie dismounted, pulling off his helmet. A slight breeze riffled over his severely shorn head. Jar-head short. But the gyrenes had nothing on Richie Ryan for vigilance. He made a slow three-sixty, taking in the lay of the land. Wide expanses of lawn, dotted with shade trees and the occasional edifice. One large mausoleum on a small rise drew his eye. Town benefactor, no doubt, still claiming homage, even in death. Most of the other graves were marked with less ostentation—the ubiquitous headstones and, on the more recent plots near the road, set-in plaques.
Richie had made a study of gravestones—a preoccupation if you hung around Immortals much. He knew houses of the dead in all their myriad fashions, from the standing crypts of Paris to the tasteful urn on the mantle piece. As far as cemeteries went, he preferred headstones—they made better windbreaks, for one thing. Besides, plagues seemed more like an afterthought than a monument. And they encouraged brevity.
"Short and sweet," he said out loud, his words sounding harsh even to his own ears. No room for an epitaph. Like what? Beloved student–?
Richie shook the thought out of his head, swallowing the sour taste in his mouth. No sense dwelling on it. What's done was done. He was lucky. He still had his head. And he planned to keep it.
He picked out his berth for the night and wheeled the bike off the road and up onto the grass. He parked it at the feet of an angel, where it could lie hidden from view behind a wide wingspan, and he took his bed roll over to a gnarly oak. There was a nice hollow where roods broke the surface, and he spread his blankets for the night—what was left of it. These days he never slept more than four hours at a stint anyway. His midnight companion saw to that.
Richie took one final scan of the neighborhood. Quiet as the grave. A smile touched his lips, falling short of his ice blue gaze. Satisfied, he did one more thing before settling in for the night. He laid his clam-shell rapier by his side, close to hand.
It was always the same dream, only the characters would change to torment his psyche. Mako, Kristov, the bodies would change, but the head would remain the same. A Gorgon's head with writhing tendrils of dark hair and flashing, fathomless eyes of pure evil. But the countenance was always Mac's.
Duncan MacLeod, his former teacher and present nemesis. The one man he had trusted with his whole being. The only man who had made him feel safe. The man who had tried to take his head.
The dream unfolded with dread predictability: Richie on his knees in the dojo, slick with sweat, straining for air and bleeding from a dozen cuts. His rapier lay just out of reach, knocked from his useless fingers. And looming overhead, a maniac with a bloody sword.
Skunk-ripe fear filled his nostrils, constricted his throat, throttled any cry. His forehead burned with the brand of betrayal from those taunting lips where the monster had kissed him. But the eyes—they blazed with unbridled evil. He felt his hair wrenched back, his neck exposed for the final cut…
Demonic laughter ripped through his brain, obliterating thought, leaving only blank terror.
Then it came—one swift stroke. He felt nothing, but the room was listing, tilting, falling up and away. Ceiling and floor spun past his open eyes in a blur of light and dark. When the room settled, he could see someone's foot edge on. His foot.
His mouth was open on a scream, but the only sound that reached his ears was the shriek of lunatic laughter…