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The One, a Highlander/Forever Knight Crossover

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“This is the story of the beginning of time, for our time began one thousand and forty-seven years ago with the emergence of the Age of Immortals. When the One, the true sovereign of us all and his Champion, the Knight Eternal, came forth to enforce the law, to protect mankind and immortal alike from the powers of Darkness. He, alone, now governs this earth and its myriad colonies in space. These two immortals changed our world, bringing a lasting peace and a robust, eternal prosperity. They changed each other: becoming Brothers of blood and truth. This is their story as it is recorded in the chronicler’s books: the books of Endless Forever.”

(-_-)

The members of the Order of Nine, a radical splinter group within the Watchers, relentlessly sought to kill Duncan MacLeod. They wanted to take his head, to dissipate his Quickening. Their goal was to stop the Gathering and prevent the accumulation of Quickenings within one immortal. Because they knew, they had found the ancient and all but forgotten prophecy, which foretold that the One would have the power to rule the world, forever. Believing mankind did not deserve that fate, the Order used their Watcher connections to begin a unholy purification. Collecting immortal heads was Horton’s way to stop the threat of world domination by the One. Duncan MacLeod was high on his soon-to-be-dead list. Of course, Duncan had other plans.

**

Duncan was alone on hallowed ground. He had left Richie behind, fearing for his life. The small rural French church in which he sat was sanctuary from his own kind, but not from the Order. Healed from the last ruthless attack upon him, Duncan’s fatigue robbed him of his ability to reason. Should he continue to run from the Order of Nine or seek them out and eliminate them one by one? There were no easy answers and there was no one to guide him, Darius was dead. In the soft glow of the lighted candles of the church he rested his head against the polished wood of the pew in front of him and tried not to pay attention to his body’s demands. Hunger and thirst caused him severe discomfort. Most of all he needed to rest. His mind tortured by thoughts and feelings of the past that he could not suppress. Thoughts that sickened his heart with sorrow. The past haunted him as cruelly as the order hunted him right now.

Why did he let his thoughts travel back again and again to the darkness? Darius had died on holy ground. Duncan’s mind went back to the horrific site of his best friend’s body lying headless among the scattered debris of a battle royalé. After so many centuries of friendship, Duncan felt desolate without his old companion. Such a long friendship was unknown among mortals and even more of a precious commodity amongst immortals. True friendship, like love, was hard to attain and even harder to sustain over the centuries. Moreover, it was such a tragedy that Darius’ Quickening was lost. The thousands of Quickenings that Darius had taken as a warrior, the wisdom of untold lives, plus his own two thousand years of accumulated knowledge had died with his passing. The emptiness and pain of that lost flooded Duncan’s heart. He desperately missed Darius’ wisdom, humor and good company.

Time after time, he had found himself walking in the direction of Darius’ church, his mind not able to believe that Darius was not there. If only there was someone to fill the void, but he knew that would not happen. There were too few ancients left in the world. He would never find that special friendship again.

Someone was coming! Duncan came to full alert and drew his sword. His senses could tell it was another immortal, but not one of his kind. No, this was a vampire. There were only a handful of ancient vampires still alive in the modern world, who were older than he, Duncan surveyed the dark shadows of the church and wondered how comfortable a creature of darkness would be on holy ground? Nicholas Knight stepped out of the shadows and into the candlelight. His handsome features were masked by his deep concern for his friend’s well being.

“Duncan,” Nicholas said, his soft voice carrying well in the vacuousness of the church. “My friend, I’ve come to help you.”

Duncan is relieved to see the face of a friend. He sheaths his sword and relaxes visibly. Going to the vampire, he threw his arms about the immortal creature. A smile lighting his tired face.

“What are you doing here? I haven’t heard from you for several decades? I feared the worst. By my sword, it is good to see you once again, Nicholas!”

“Forgive me, Duncan, in this age of cell phones, tablets and computers, there is no excuse for not keeping in touch.”

“How did you find me? How could you possibly have known of my need?” Duncan asked.

Nicholas closed his eyes as if momentarily lost in thought. When he opened them again, Duncan could see a terrible concentration in those dark blue-gray eyes.

“I can explain.” An image coalesced next to the ancient vampire. It was Darius! The cleric was as Duncan remembered him, strong, yet gentle; soft spoken, yet filled with power and intelligence.

“Darius!” Duncan was overcome with feelings of joy and moved to embrace his long lost friend, but his body merely passed through the shimmering image.

“Be assured Duncan, it is I.” Darius said, “Remember the teas I used to make for you to drink, from the moss and mold forms?”

“Yes,” MacLeod said smiling at the comical remembrance. “But how can you be here? Are your powers so strong that you can vanquish death itself?”

“Certain vampires have the ability to hold the door open between the living and the dead,” Nicholas said.

“I come to you, through Nicholas.” Darius explained. “He has always had that ability. Because of our history together the connection that the three of us have carried from the past, that ability is even stronger than it normally would be.”

Duncan sat down heavily in the empty pew as his two friends stood over him. All he could do was shake his head in amazement. Exhaustion was settling in again. The adrenaline rush he’d felt just a moment ago was wearing off.

“I can’t believe you’re both here,” he said, looking up, but as his mood lightened, a look of worry haunted his face.

“Darius, why didn’t you tell me of the Order of Nine?”

“Immortals knew of the Watchers from the beginning. They were the only mortals that were truly aware of our existence for century after century, but they had little power over us. They were a quiet and inconsequential part of immortal life; I never thought that they would evolve into killers. Within the last decade the Order of Nine has arisen–a militant inner group, headed by a dynamic new leader. It is Horton who pushes them to destroy us. His evil has tainted the Watchers and plunged them into a fierce internal struggle. The Watchers will now have to make a monumental decision. Will they defend and protect immortals or will they remain watchers and look on as Horton annihilates us. We are marked for death by the very records they have kept on us. I was totally unprepared when they came for me. It took only a handful of men to disable me, while Horton took my head. You can do nothing to stop his killing rampage, Duncan, nothing.”

“Nicholas?” Duncan queried his friend.

“Darius needed to talk to you immediately, to give his counsel. The only way that I could be the catalyst was to be here, physically, with you. He told me of the Order of Nine. Here, this is for you.”

Nicholas handed Duncan a cloth sack. Inside was food and water.

“I am here for as long as you need me, Duncan. I’ll do what ever it takes to make sure your head stays exactly were it belongs.”

“Thanks. I couldn’t ask for better companions in this battle than you two.”

“I’m going up into the bell tower and have a look around, while it’s still night,” Nicholas said as he flew up into the rafters, leaving the immortal and the spirit of his dead friend to converse alone. Something told him that the two needed privacy right now. He could use a moment of peace himself. He hadn’t stopped moving since Darius had come to him, two days ago.

“Darius,” emotion filled Duncan’s voice. “It is so good to see you again. I have mourned your passing.”

“Don’t grieve any more Duncan. There is much that I must impart to you and so very little time.”

(-_-)

France was the ancient land of his birth, yet as Nicholas looked down upon the familiar landscape, he felt a pang of homesickness for his friends; the family of mortals that he’d left behind in Canada. He longed to return to the life that he had claimed for himself there. His emergency leave from the Toronto police department had left everyone guessing about his motives and whereabouts. Natalie and Schanke were the only ones who knew that he was helping a friend, a very old friend.

How his heart ached for home, but his duty and loyalty lay here with this immortal and the shade of the most powerful immortal who ever lived. Nicholas felt Darius’ incredible presence as he held his essence on this plane of existence. Standing high in the rafters of the bell tower, he closed his mind to his own needs. Putting his life on hold for a brief span of weeks or months would be a small down payment on a very old debt. He had to commit to Duncan, anything less would be a betrayal of their friendship.

Duncan must be the One. Why else would Darius have come through the barrier of death to speak to him? To preserve the One from fatal harm, that had to be it.

He scanned the horizon one last time. The gently rolling hills and small farms were as quiet and serene as he remembered them from his childhood. From this vantage point, he could see for miles, three times as far as any mortal. Nothing seemed out of place. Taking one long last look he floated down to the main hall. He made a point to land away from his friends. He didn’t want them to see how unsteady he was becoming.

He owed Darius and Duncan his life. He wouldn’t leave until he was sure that Duncan was out of danger even though he knew that holding Darius near drained him tremendously. How long could he sustain this difficult connection? How much time would be needed to recover his supernatural powers after the connection was broken? The fact that Darius had been an immortal of unbelievable power, a power that was filled with the light, made his task that much harder. The channeling was sapping Nicholas’ energy to dangerous levels, but they mustn’t know that. His resolve strengthened by his deep friendship, Nicholas approached Darius and Duncan.

“Everything seems quiet,” he said as he walked up to them. Darius came forward and stood in front of Nicholas.

“I must go.”

“But I thought that you were going to stay and help us to defeat the Order?” Nicholas said, looking shocked by the cleric’s words.

“I cannot further endanger you with my presence, Nicholas. I know your strength diminishes every moment that you hold me near. But I want to impart something to you. Something which I hope will make your existence easier and at the same time help Duncan and you in your war against the Order of Nine.”

“What is it?” Nicholas asked.

“I offer you…my Quickening!”

Nicholas looked at the two immortals in disbelief. They both returned his gaze with calm assurance.

“How can you do that, Darius? When you died without the benefit of another immortal in your presence, your Quickening was lost. I know that.”

“I learned how to preserve my Quickening even in death. I can not give it to Duncan. I am connected only to you, Nicholas. To lose my Quickening would be a crime against humanity and all of immortal kind. I must warn you, though: this may be a curse as well as a blessing. You are a creature of darkness. What I offer you is knowledge that is bathed in the light. You will never be able to kill again. I could not and so I chose the refuge of hallowed ground. I do not even know if you will be able to withstand its power. It may destroy you. You will be the first immortal to receive a Quickening without benefit of being born an immortal. What say you, Nicholas DeBrabant, will you accept?”

Nicholas felt the weight of the moment. He ran his fingers through his already unruly blonde hair. He had to make a decision.

“If I do not accept, all is lost, isn’t it?” His voice was heavy with emotion, as if he could see the dark, foreboding future that a negative decision would bring.

“Yes,” Darius said, “all is lost.”

With only moments to resolve his dilemma he clearly had made a decision.

“Then, I accept.”

Darius smiled and there was a visible easing of tension in his manner. He had prayed that Nicholas would accept, for more than the Quickenings would be lost if he hadn’t. All would have been lost, completely, irrevocably, lost forever.

“I must go.” Darius said as he turned to speak to Duncan. “Remember what I have told you. Be well my friends, we will meet again. This I promise you.”

“Good–bye, Darius. I will wait, expectantly, for that time.” Duncan said.

Darius turned back to Nicholas and firmly took hold of his shoulders.

“Nicholas, thank you for your courage.” Darius said as he embraced the vampire. His body became a white, searing light. Nicholas screamed in agony as the light penetrated and engulfed him. It entered into the core of his being and ravaged his unearthly body. Lightening surges of energy invaded the small church. Winds howled through the tiny structure sounding like banshee’s screaming in a jangle of discordant voices.

Everywhere there was the spark and flash of energy consuming and being consumed. The whole earth quaked with the power of this very unusual Quickening!

Shafts of dark and white light pierced Nicholas’ body. The flow of energy seemed more potent than any Quickening Duncan had ever witnessed. Immortals did not normally interfere with one another’s Quickening – it was not law but unspoken courtesy. But something seemed wrong about this. A Quickening was usually brief and intense. With this Quickening the intensity level seemed to heighten with each passing moment.

Nicholas wouldn’t be able to sustain himself for too much longer if the energy continued to increase.

“Duncan!” Nicholas screamed for help, his body contorting helplessly at the center of a cascade of lightening that repeatedly invaded his body. “Help, me!” He was definitely in trouble.

Duncan took hold of Nicholas with all his immortal strength. He held onto him as his body convulsed with the energy that flowed through it. The surging power pulsed through Nicholas, but Duncan couldn’t help but feel it too, as the massive discharge of energy now invaded both immortals. After what seemed like a lifetime of exhaustive torment, Nicholas closed his eyes and collapsed as the light-energy and deafening sound disappeared.

The Quickening was over. The little church was undamaged and strangely quiet as Duncan gently lifted Nicholas over one shoulder in a fireman’s carry. He picked up the small cloth bag with its contents of food and water and he went quickly out into the night.

He forced his already exhausted body to perform yet another duty. The fury of the Quicking would draw attention to the church. Right now, both he and Nicholas needed anonymity and some place to hide. Nicholas was cold with no outward sign of life. He was, of course, undead. An unconscious vampire would always appear dead to the casual viewer. But this vampire was the most important creature on the face of this earth. More important than any other immortal ever could be. He was heir to more than just a Quickening. He was now the One!

(-_-)

Darius had told Duncan that the Gathering was no more, that the world of immortals would change now and forever because of what transpired this very night. Darius had always known that he would have to relinquish his Quickening, but he could not foresee who would be strong enough or savage enough to take him on holy ground. So even he had not been able to predict this turn of events. Now they knew. Nicholas would be the recipient of Darius’ Quickening. Nicholas would be the catalyst that would obliterate the past. The senseless killing of immortal by immortal would end and a new order would begin.

“A new legend is born tonight, Duncan,” Darius had said with great enthusiasm. “An ancient prophecy foretold that, the chosen one will not be born of immortal blood. The darkness as well as the light will gather in his heart, and the sun will never set on his kingdom, and neither will it ever shine on his domain. A telling line if one considers Nicholas’ vampirism.”

“Of course, you could let Nicholas accept the Quickening and then before the power has set into him, you could take his head. You could become the One, Duncan,” Darius said looking deep into the soul of his longtime friend. There was no hesitancy on Duncan’s part.

“I could not kill Nicholas, not after what we’ve been through. If the world changes, if immortals must change, then let me be a part of that change. I can not betray him.” The conviction in his voice was matched by the deep sincerity of his dark eyes.

“You have chosen well, Duncan. You will be Nicholas’ Champion through all of time. The way will not be easy, there are many forces who would destroy the One. You will have to guard him with your life’s blood.”

“I will do what must be done, Darius.”

(-_-)

Duncan carried Nicholas far away from the church. He found an abandoned tool shed and lay Nicholas in a corner of the cluttered, single room on the dusty wooden floor. He sat next to the vampire and ate his first real meal in many days. While he was eating, he laid his fingers across the pulse point on Nicholas’ neck. He felt the staggered beat that only happened every ten minutes. He breathed a sigh of relief. Nicholas had survived; he was the One. He remembered Darius’ words and how the next few days would be critical for Nicholas. Finally, Duncan lay down next to Nicholas, his sword at ready. In a matter of minutes he succumbed to the bone weariness that ate away at his immortal flesh. He slept, knowing that he protected the fate of the world. Nicholas would bring the dreamed of Utopia that mortal and immortal had sought throughout time. Duncan slept, living shield for the One.

(-_-)

Nicholas awoke with a start, his mind and body still reeling with the sensations of power. He lay in a corner of a dark, dusty room that smelt of disuse and abandonment. Duncan is at his side, his deep breathing an indication that he is in a restful sleep. He needed to sleep. He had survived the onslaught of the Quickening, but he had not worried about that. Now, after survival what could he expect? He tried to experience his feelings. Had he been changed? Was he any different now from before? He felt a peace in his heart that hadn’t been there–or was that merely self-delusion? Did he feel more knowledgeable? That was a hard one to quantify.

Nicholas ventured a peek over his friend’s shoulder. He saw that there were thin shafts of light coming into the old building from the east. He felt his power weaken. Morning; the light of dawn was penetrating its way into the room. Best that he sleep too: who knew when they would have time again. He placed his hands over his heart; a dead heart that would never know the ravages of time. Only time would tell if that heart were truly changed. He closed his eyes and he, too, went back to sleep.

Inside him, the forces of light and darkness battled for dominance over his immortal soul. The soul he had sought for so long to reaffirm had been there all along, constructed from the clean cloth of his compassion for humanity. His humanness still struggled with his vampiric state, a battle that would rage on until the end of time. Now he would be aware of that battle. His soul, enhanced and clarified by the Quickening, was now a physical thing. He would be able to feel it, almost touch it; it would be that real to him. The Man of the Night, brought to the darkness long ago by seduction, would now become the light of the world. From out of his personal darkness, his light would shine brighter than any before or after. Mankind and immortal would live in the shadow of his wisdom.

(-_-)

How they met.

The French countryside of 1612 was a paradise for Duncan and Darius as they traveled together, experiencing the world, their camaraderie deepening.

They were traveling not in pursuit of adventure, but rather they sought tranquility in an often troubled and dangerous world. They came to a poor village, a former mining town. It’s mines long since used up and forgotten.

A young child had fallen into one of many air shafts of an abandoned mine. His weakened cries had grown fainter and fainter as the people of his village labored desperately into the long night to reach him. The villagers shored up the crumbling walls of the shaft, only to have them cave in again, nearly trapping the would-be rescuers. The precious life was just out of reach; the child seemed doomed.

Duncan started to remove his cloak and jacket.

“What are you going to do?” Darius asked.

“I am going to save the child.”

“You will not die from being buried alive, nor from lack of air, but the child is not immortal, Duncan. He is dying. Even now his cries are barely audible; the icy dampness will claim him long before you will.”

“But I must try, Darius.” The look in his eyes told his friend that no amount of persuasion would sway him from his task. Darius took Duncan’s belongings. He determined that he would aid his young apprentice in this foolhardy, yet admirable, mission.

“Yes, you must try.” Darius’ wisdom shown from his blue eyes. He looked with approval upon his youthful companion. Duncan conferred with several of the older men about the mine shafts. Then turned back to the crowd.

“There is another shaft, but a short distance away,” Duncan began loudly as he strode toward the center of the crowd.

“Aye, the land be riddled with the accursed shafts,” an old woman bellowed, “left from the old mines, they are.”

“Going down into that shaft, a man could dig his way across into the shaft where the boy is.”

“The ground is weak and the soil wet, no man will risk it,” the headman of the village commented.

“I will risk it,” Duncan pronounced.

The crowd murmured its collective disbelief.

“Why would a stranger, a nobleman, risk his life for a child of ours?” the headman questioned.

“I will not stand idle, while a child suffers and dies just yards away from me. It matters not whose child it is. Will no one help?”

“Let me help,” a voice from just behind Duncan spoke. Duncan turned and felt the presence of another immortal. He placed his hand on the hilt of his sword. A comely man of power and wealth came forward. His rich attire and educated manner left no doubt of his social position. The stranger motioned Duncan away from the crowd; all the while Duncan kept his hand on his sword.

“You are immortal?” Duncan questioned. This felt different, somehow, not like any other immortal he’d ever known before. “I am Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod,” he said starting to draw his sword, ready to defend his head.

“You will not need your sword.” Darius said as he came up from behind placing his hand on Duncan’s, re-sheathing the partially drawn sword. “Duncan, I would like you to meet Nicholas DeBarbant. He is a vampire.”

Duncan fixed Darius with a look of incredulity.

“My strength will hold longer than yours. I can direct the digging and pin-point the child’s position,” Nicholas said in an easy manner.

“And how can you know that?” Duncan questioned.

“He was injured in the fall and I can smell his blood very plainly.” Nicholas said.

“Nicholas is not like other vampires,” Darius interjected. “We have worked together before. He is a man of honor, you can rely on his abilities and his word.”

Duncan was finding it hard to give credence to the concept of a beneficent vampire. Vampires were loathsome creatures. Not fair young men, capable of compassion for the luckless child of a countrywoman.

Nicholas extended his hand in friendship.

“We must work fast, the child will not last too much longer.” Nicholas reiterated.

Duncan took the extended hand and felt the icy coldness of Nicholas’ undead flesh. His skin crawled momentarily, and then he focused on the situation at hand. If Darius trusted Nicholas, then he would also. For he had known the cleric for decades and he trusted his judgment of men and vampires.

Darius took charge of the surface rescue operations. He had the people move far away from the shaft that the two immortals were to descend into. This was to keep weight away from the fragile tunnel shafts as well as give Nicholas a modicum of security. The vampire risked his life in many ways. If they could not finish before sunrise, he risked being injured or killed by the approaching sunlight. Even more of a jeopardy to Nicholas was the possibility of the mortals finding out about his vampirism. These men wouldn’t hesitate to kill a creature of darkness if they were to suspect his true nature.

The two immortals lowered themselves into the cold, wet shaft, hanging from makeshift rope ladders. Once out of site of the villagers, Duncan watched as Nicholas disengaged from the ladder and dropped toward the bottom of the tunnel. Hanging in the air at a spot in the tunnel that he had chosen, Nicholas attacked the muddy wall. With the crude digging tools available to him, he started tunneling toward the injured boy as Duncan came down by the conventional method.

They worked tirelessly to save the child. Duncan supplied the backbreaking work of hauling the excess soil into an adjacent tunnel and shoring up the rescue tunnel as Nicholas cleared the way into it. They worked for long hours into the night, Nicholas stopping only briefly now and then to sniff the air and reorder his direction. The soil shifted and rained down upon them constantly. They were getting close.
Their crude attempt at shoring the crawl space was holding, for now. Nicholas backed out to speak to Duncan.

“I can see him,” Nicholas said, his vampire vision did not need the lantern light that was their only source of illumination. “But I am covered in mud and can’t get a good grip on him. I need to dry my hands.”

“Let me go in, I am not nearly as mucked up as you are.” Duncan said.

Nicholas was about to protest when the ground about them started to object even louder. Duncan dove into the vampire–made tunnel and felt around in the dark for the child. Getting a grip on him, he cried out in triumph. Then he knew panic as the walls of the tunnel started to fall in. There was no space to turn. Duncan began backing out with the child clinging to him for dear life. More and more soil filled in the crawl space. Duncan braced himself, his own back, arms and legs holding the ceiling up, shoving the child underneath him and out toward Nicholas.

“Go to the light!” He yelled at the child. The light vanished, the soil became a crushing weight compacted around Duncan. There was no air. How long could even an immortal exist in such conditions? He didn’t know. He only knew he was trapped, buried alive. Nicholas and Darius were his only hope of rescue. Duncan felt himself slipping away. His body, unable to maintain itself at normal levels in its present situation, was shutting down, darkness prevailed and he felt himself enter into its realm.

(-_-)

Duncan took a deep, painful breath. His mind cleared as he looked into the faces of two very concerned immortals. Darius and Nicholas knelt over him and they both smiled as recognition returned to his eyes.

“The child?” Duncan croaked through a parched throat.

“Safe, in his mother’s arms,” Darius replied as he held a cup of water up to Duncan’s lips. “Now, be quiet and rest a bit, we will move you out of here as soon as we can.”

“What happened?” Duncan asked as his mind came back from oblivion.

“The crawl space we fashioned collapsed in on you, but not before you pushed the child out.” Nicholas began. “You were buried for over two days. It took us that long to get you out.”

“The townspeople helped us exhume your body.” Darius spoke with pride in his voice. “They felt it was the least that they could do for you, after you’d given your life for one of their own. They will remember you for a long time, Duncan, you have done well.”

“While it is still night, we must remove him from here.” Nicholas said. “I will have to carry you out over my shoulder; it would not do to have them see a ‘dead man’ walk away from his tomb. Do you feel up to being moved?”

“Yes,” Duncan replied.

Darius ascended the ladder first. Checking for obvious observers, he signaled down to the waiting vampire. Nicholas wrapped Duncan in a heavy, homespun blanket and with little effort lifted him on his shoulder. He rose straight up to just below the surface of the ground and then grabbed the ladder. With a practiced expertise, he made the load look heavy and slowly joined Darius. They walked to a waiting mule drawn cart. Laying the ‘body’ down in the back of the cart, they led the animal away to their quarters in the village. The lateness of the hour prevented further intrusion by the townspeople and that night the two men left with the ‘body’ to return it to his ‘family’.

For nearly two years thereafter the trio traveled together, moving only at night to accommodate their nocturnal friend. The friendships forged in the midst of disaster were now tempered and strengthened in the quiet hours of their immortal lives. They came to the village of Tríon and Nicholas decided to go on without his friends, but they made plans to meet later that decade.

“It is hard to think of him as anything but human,” Duncan ventured as they watched Nicholas ride away into the gathering dusk of a warm summer’s night.

“In some ways he is more human than you or I.”

“I do not follow you?” Duncan said coming to sit next to his friend and mentor.

“He strives to be human, constantly. That is more than most of us attempt to do, Duncan. He fights to conquer a hunger that is a thousand times stronger than our own and he is victorious more often than not. His compassion and concern for all of humanity make him a very humane being; no matter that his blood is vampire.”

“Do you think he will ever attain his goal and become human again?”

“I can not tell, Duncan. If anyone has the strength of will to accomplish this task, Nicholas has. We can only offer our support and friendship. Hopefully, he will find the peace he desires so desperately.”

Nicholas was never far from their thoughts. They added their own efforts in finding an ‘answer’ to his most troubling problem. Four days later, they resumed their journey. The summer was pleasant and they traveled at a leisurely pace. The roads were filled with fellow wayfarers which precluded the amount of highwaymen restricting travel. So it was only two days before they came to the village of Abelard. What they found there in that warm night chilled them to the bone.

Frightened and angry villagers congregated in front of a small but sturdy barn. They shouted, waving their torches in the moon less night.

“I say burn it to the ground!” A heavy set, gray bearded man screamed at the crowd.

“No, please, please, this is all a mistake!” a young, slender man pleaded. Gripping the arm of Gray Beard, he tried to dissuade him from the burning.

“There’s your mistake, the devil’s own; accursed and evil is the demon inside the bishops barn.” An older, darker man with only a few teeth in his head and reeking of fermented brew spoke.

“Maybe you’d like to burn in hell with him.” Toothless spat in contempt.

The young man, his eyes wide with fear, pressed himself closer to his wife and small children.

“Alber!” the woman wept, dragging her mate away from Toothless. She pulled her children closer, fearing for their safety, as the mob grew more agitated.

“We have to kill it.” Toothless informed the crowd, as the young family cowered beneath his glare.

Then the woman sighted Darius and ran to him as he and Duncan dismounted.

“Please Father, in the name of the God, help us. They will burn the master’s barn and kill the man inside.”

Darius looked at the woman’s terror-stricken face and was moved by her desperation.

“What transpires here?” Darius asked in a calming voice. Seeing a man of the cloth helped to alleviate some of the crowd’s fear. Voices dropped their angry tone in acknowledgment of his presence.

“There be a demon in that barn, stuck to the wall like a piece of rotten meat. We need to burn him to ash and beat the ashes into the ground.” Old Toothless pontificated.

“What has this man done to warrant such accusations?” Darius questioned.

“It spits and growls with fangs like a demon wolf, that’s what it does. It drinks the blood of our innocent children.”

Duncan and Darius exchanged glances. Could it be Nicholas?

“I must attend to this lost soul,” Darius said as he strode toward the half open doors of the darkened barn.

Gray beard stood in his way.

“Don’t go in there alone, Father. He’s already hurt four of my strongest men.”

Duncan drew his sword.

“I will accompany the good Father, my sword will protect him.”

Gray beard looked at the polished, sharpened blade and the strong young man that held it. He stepped away letting them pass.

Darius took a lamp from one of the villagers and entered into the dark interior of the building. The light threw eerie shadows everywhere and a carnivorous breathing reverberating off the thick wooden walls. The amplified animal sound seemed out of proportion; like a monster breathing. It was very cold inside the barn; as cold as the grave.

The “man” had been beaten severely. As he had tried to raise or started to fall, they had thrust a sharply pointed handle of a pitch fork through his chest and into the wall, pinning him in an awkward position. Not able to stand and yet not really able to crouch, the “man” seemed oblivious to his condition. The battered face and angry feral golden eyes turned toward the two approaching immortals. Burned, beaten and bloody, the vampire growled at them and they could feel the coldness from the exhaled breath of the beast.

“Nicholas?” Darius lowered his tone to almost a whisper. “Nicholas, we are here for you. It is Darius and Duncan.”

The vampire turned his gaze upon them. It saddened his friends to see him so sorely used.

“Help me with this,” Darius motioned Duncan to his side and the two pulled the wooden handle from Nicholas’ chest. He fell to the floor. Unable to move, too weak to even crawl away, the vampire lay in the clean straw at their feet. Darius knelt down next to the injured vampire and took him up in his arms.

“Darius, go away from here, this is my nightmare,” Nicholas said. Though his eyes stilled glowed golden, Nicholas was aware that he was among friends.

“Why have they done this to you?” Duncan asked. Kneeling close, he pressed a clean cloth to a huge gash on Nicholas’ forehead.

“Fear,” he returned, “fear of what I am and what I might do.”

“How did they know you were a vampire?”

“They knew only that I was different and one of them set to watching me. I do not know what he saw, for I am always very circumspect in my behavior, but I was different and that was enough. They came after me all at once, catching me off guard. I “turned” becoming vampire to protect myself. Hoping to scare them long enough for me to get away as I ran seeking shelter. But they were braver than most, now they have seen the beast and will not be satisfied with anything but my ‘death’.”

“If they desire a dead demon, then we must give them one.” Darius said in his most soothing voice. “Duncan, cut me lengths of that rope and break off the sharpened end of the pitch fork.”

“What do you propose?” Duncan asked as he did Darius’ bidding.

Nicholas looked apprehensively at the gentle cleric.

“Nothing will dissuade them from protecting themselves.” Darius took the items from Duncan.

“What do you mean to do?” Nicholas placed his own hands over Darius’. Knowing he hadn’t the strength to resist the two immortals, he felt his own fear rising.

“I give you my word that you will wake again…you have known me long enough, Nicholas, to know that my word is true.”

“But these are desperate people,” Nicholas pleaded.

“If they take my body from you, burn it and scatter the ashes. I will cease to exist.”

“You must trust that Duncan and I will be able to keep you safe. If you have another plan, we will gladly listen to it.”

“No, I can think of nothing.” Nicholas said. “I must trust you. There is nothing else. My life is yours.” He lowered his hands from around Darius’ and looked up into the eyes of the immortal that he had known for many life times.

“Do not be afraid, Nicholas.” Darius said soothingly.

“Quis separabit?” {*Who shall separate us?} Darius spoke the words of magic and touched Nicholas at the temples and then his heart.

With those words on his lips, Darius thrust the sharpened stake near Nicholas’ heart. Nicholas howled: an unearthly sound of fear and betrayal, writhing against the force of the blow. His cry pierced the heart of mortal and immortal alike. Duncan watched, too horrified to speak. Nicholas was still, his golden eyes blank and lifeless.

Gently, Darius placed the vampire down on the straw covered floor. He took the lengths of rope and proceeded to tie up Nicholas’ body. Pulling the ropes severely about his undead flesh.

“Must you use such force, Darius? I know he cannot feel.”

“Duncan, there is no time. Take his head!” Darius commanded.

“What?” Duncan could hardly believe his ears.

“Do as I say, Duncan. We have no time. Do it!” The urgency of his voice left no room for questions.

Duncan stood, drew his sword and with all his strength he swung the sharpened blade with a cutting blow. The two immortals carried the grisly body of the vampire out of the barn between them. Duncan carried the body over his shoulder while Darius held the head by it’s long blonde hair.

“It was as you feared,” Darius began, “this devil-beast would have brought death and despair to your village. Collectively the people of the village moved away from the two immortals and their gruesome burden.

“My friend and I will take the remains to holy ground, where we will dispose of it. Its spirit will rest at last and you will never have to fear its retribution.”

The crowd, even Gray beard and Toothless, seemed placated by Darius’ words. They parted like the Red Sea as Darius and Duncan took the bloody remains of the vampire to their waiting mounts. Darius helped Duncan wrap Nicholas’ body in a blanket and place it on the withers of his horse. Then they wrapped Nicholas’ head and carefully tied it to the pummel of Darius’ saddle.

“We are grateful to you, both, for helping us in this,” Gray beard said. “We are lucky that you came along.”

“Yes, we are all very lucky.” Duncan pronounced as he gave a hard look to Darius. He turned and mounted his nervous horse. The smell of vampire blood was causing the animals much distress.

Darius went to his saddle pack and removed a leather flask, which he gave to Gray beard.

“Sprinkle this holy water over the place where he was captured.” Darius said and he then gave a blessing to the people and the land and animals that resided there. At last he mounted and the two immortals rode quickly away.

“Where are we going?” Duncan asked.

“To the graveyard we passed on the other side of the village. We must make haste. I am not sure how long the animals will endure the scent of vampire blood.”

They came upon the graveyard Darius had spoken of. Riding to the center of the potter’s field at the far end of the cemetery, they dismounted. The poor, the unknown transient and executed criminals were all that populated this meager part of the small cemetery. No grave stones or crosses cluttered this bleak and dissolute acreage.

Carefully, Darius lay the body of Nicholas along with his severed head on the blanket that they had conveyed the body in. He knelt next to the body, untying the ropes that had been placed there. With all his strength he pulled the wooden stake from the inert body.

“Duncan, hold your sword here with the blade up.” Duncan once again complied.

‘“Quis separabit?” Darius said as he touched the temples and finally the heart of the vampire. Darius ran his bare forearms down the razor sharp edge of Duncan’s sword.

“Darius, no!” Duncan pulled the blade away, but not soon enough. Darius bled from long, self-inflicted wounds. His vital fluid flowing onto the body of the vampire, bathing it in the blood of the most powerful immortal to have ever lived. As he bled profusely, a deathly pallor colored his face and Darius collapsed onto Nicholas. He looked as dead as the vampire.

Duncan stood transfixed, as Nicholas’ form began to tremble and quake beneath the blood-spattered body of Darius. The head moved of it’s own volition and came to rest against its body. The clean cut made the reunion a quick and magic action. The body was suddenly whole. And as the vampire’s blood glistened black on the moon less night, Duncan saw the re-emergence of the being called Nicholas. His blue eyes opened and he breathed in lung-fulls of the warm summer air. He became aware of the weight of Darius across his chest and, sitting up, saw the sacrifice that Darius had made for him. Looking around, he found Duncan kneeling at this side. Duncan placed his hand on Nicholas’ shoulder. His dark eyes showed no fear, only friendship. His face reflected a genuine astonishment at what he had just witnessed.

“No better friends could a vampire have,” Nicholas said as he held the body of Darius close. Reaching out to touch Duncan, he repeated. “I owe you both, more than I can ever hope to repay.”

Carefully he lay Darius’ body next to him on the blanket. He made as if to stand but found himself weak. Nicholas growled in frustration.

“What is the matter?” Duncan asked as he looked to Darius’ wounds. The flesh in the cut area was slowly healing, the way an immortal’s body always did after serious injury.

“I am weak with hunger,” Nicholas replied. He licked the splatters of immortal blood from his arms and shivered not with cold, but with the blood lust. “I need blood.”

“You must feed upon me, then,” Duncan said without another thought.

“What are you saying? I need massive amounts of blood, Duncan.”

“No more than Darius has given already.” Duncan countered. “In a matter of hours, his body will regenerate all the lost blood and he will be as he was before. You can not kill me by drinking my blood. And I fear I am the only meal you will find within the confines of this potter’s field.”

Nicholas was famished. His hunger not just a gnawing inside his physical body, but a craving that consumed his entire self, his undead soul.

“You must take my blood.” Duncan intoned as he drew closer to Nicholas. Tilting his head back just a bit, he exposed his strong neck to the vampire. With the smell of immortal blood all around him and the tantalizing sound of Duncan’s strong heart pounding the rich, aromatic eternal blood through his veins, Nicholas could not resist. He sprang at Duncan, his strength coming from some dark inner well-spring of his vampiric being. He bit deeply into Duncan’s neck, knocking him from his kneeling position. Biting and tearing away the throat of his friend. Sucking almost every drop of blood from his body. Blood that would give Nicholas undead vitality again. As his own savagery subsided, Nicholas found himself crouching between the two bloodless immortals. He placed his hands on each one. He had fed and fed well, the smell of blood still lingered in the air about him, but he knew that he would not feel the overwhelming grief and unending guilt that accompanied all of his prior feedings. For the first time since he had crossed over, Nicholas felt a strange kind of peace; these men would live. They were his friends. His hunger was abated for a short span of time. He would remember his debt of honor to these immortals. With the taste of Duncan’s blood still on his lips, he felt the power of the immortal blood coursing through his body. Revitalized and renewed, he vowed that he would find a way out of the blood letting. Some day he would kill no more.

(-_-)

In the abandoned tool shed, Duncan awoke to find Nicholas gone. His sword at ready, he searched the shadowy confines of their sanctuary room.

“Nicholas?” he called in a stage whisper, his eyes focusing in the dim light.

“Duncan,” Nicholas said, “it’s all right, I’m right here.”

Duncan turned to the west and saw Nicholas standing before an open window, the sun setting in the background gave a pinkish glow to his fair skin. There was such a look of rapture on the vampire’s face.

“It’s so beautiful, Duncan, so magnificently peaceful and beautiful.”

“Yes, it can be, but it’s still a dangerous place for us.”

“I feel different. There is a power and strength, but also a longing, a sadness, almost a reverence for what has been.”

“That is how the Quickening goes, it fills you with all the emotions, strengths and weaknesses of those who have gone before. The good, the evil…it changes you, sometimes in ways you can’t even comprehend.”

“I’ve never felt so alive, so enthusiastic about everything.” Nicholas said as he turned toward his friend. “It’s as if I’ve been reborn.”

“You have been reborn, remade. Do you remember the old legends that Darius used to tell us: the legends of the One?”

“Yes.”

“Do you know that Darius thinks that now, you are the One; that you will halt the killing of immortal by immortal. That all immortals will come to serve your eternal leadership, becoming your ageless and timeless warriors. He believes that you will bring peace to this world by uniting it under the rule of one immortal. Who better to rule than someone who is not constrained by time? You could rule from a position of wisdom brought down through the ages. You know history, you’ve lived it.”

“Me?” Nicholas looked quizzically at Duncan. “I’m a vampire. Do you think the world is ready for a vampire world leader, Duncan? Mortals don’t even believe that we, you and I, exist. How can they come to accept us, have faith in us, when we’ve lived for centuries, confined to the shadows of their world? I can’t believe that it could happen.”

Duncan came down on one knee and held his sword hilt up before Nicholas in a gesture of total submission. Bowing his head low and then looking directly into Nicholas’ eyes, he spoke the words that would forever bind him to the One.

“Now, in this the time of the Beginning, I kneel before you, Nicholas Knight. I swear an oath of fealty to you. My life’s blood is yours to command. I will pay that price to any and all who challenge you or your title. You are the One.”

“What are you doing?” Nicholas came forward and placed his hands on Duncan’s shoulders, trying to cajole his friend up from his position on the floor.

“Hold a minute, Nicholas. I am doing what Darius told me to do. What all immortals will have to do, to keep their heads in this New World order. You have the power, now, to change the world. You are immortal, you are vampire, but now you are much more than either of these entities. You were given to this place and time to rule this earth. I can only take my place at your side. To make sure that you continue; you must continue.”

His face serious and introspective, Nicholas stopped, stepped back and listened.

“I will defend you, my Lord, until the end of my days, and your word will be my work.”

“I can’t believe this,” Nicholas said staring intently into the eyes of his friend.

“You must believe it, Nicholas.” Duncan admonished him.

“I feel a little foolish,” Nicholas said as he came forward and took Duncan’s sword. The air around Nicholas brightened and swirled with tiny charges of static electricity. Nicholas closed his eyes and felt a shiver of energy flow through him and into the sword.

“I accept your oath of fealty,” he said as he held the sword up in front of him, it began to glow white hot in his hands. “you shall be my sword and my shield, Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod.”

Duncan watched in wonder as his ancient Katanian sword, cooled in the grip of the One. He accepted his sword back from his new Lord and felt its warmth in his hands.

“This whole thing is unnerving, Duncan. I think you had better get up now,” Nicholas said with a look of incredulity on his face. His attention snapped quickly to something outside, and his body became tense as he concentrated.

“What is it?”

“There are people outside, all around us. I was too absorbed in the ritual to notice before. We’re surrounded. I’d guess about fifteen men.” There was no way of defending themselves. The close quarters of the small shed would only hamper their defensive efforts. The shed would not shelter them from a barrage of gunfire, if it came to that.

“Put your sword up and come here,” Nicholas commanded. Duncan did as he was told. Nicholas put his arms around Duncan and lifted straight up through the old roof. Duncan let out a cry of elation and held on with all his strength. They both heard multiple guns fire as the men of the Order shot repeatedly at them.

“I guess being a vampire, does have its advantages. Whoa, how high are we going?” Duncan asked as they accelerated into the night sky.

There was the explosive crack of a high caliber rifle. Duncan felt Nicholas shutter and his flight pattern became erratic.

“I’ve been hit,” Nicholas yelled out against the deafening wind. Duncan could feel that they were losing altitude. He looked down at the ground far below. The men of the Order were in several jeeps, traveling fast over the smooth terrain, following them.

“Drop me,” Duncan told Nicholas. “I’ll survive the fall and you’ll be able to get away from them.”

“Forget it. They’d be on you before you could recuperate and take your head. I’m not going to let that happen. We just have to make it to that cloud bank. Then I can veer off in any direction and they won’t be able to follow.”

Duncan looked at the storm clouds gathering in the northern sky. They seemed so very far away. Nicholas closed his eyes briefly. He was straining to maintain altitude and pushing hard to keep his speed constant. The approaching rain pelted them and the wind whipped them off course. They were cold, wet and near exhaustion.

“Are you going to make it?” Duncan asked as the wind nearly blew his words away.

“We have to make it––there’s too much at stake.” Nicholas replied in a determined voice.

Again rifle and gunfire interrupted the quiet night. Gratefully, the storm clouds engulfed them. The coldness of the clouds turned into torrential rain. Nicholas veered further north as the storm started in earnest. Both of them were now thoroughly drenched.

“I’ve never been so happy to be rained on in my life.” Duncan shouted over the sound of the thunder.

“We’re going down,” Nicholas said with urgency.

Duncan held tight and watched the ground come up too fast. They landed hard, but they landed. And not too far from the little church were they had first met, just hours ago. The rain was coming down in cold sheets and the night had darkened considerably. Duncan took Nicholas’ right arm around his shoulder and supported him as the two entered into the sanctuary again. The heavy doors were unlocked and they dripped water on the hard wood floors as they made their way up the main aisle. Nicholas was walking with great difficulty.

“It hurts,” he said has he clutched his left side, where the bullet had penetrated.

“I’ve never known you to feel so much pain before.” Duncan had a questioning look on his face.

“There is a mortal in my life. She is a forensics pathologist. She’s been trying to help me come back over. Sometimes I ‘feel’ things, as if my mortality is beginning to return. I guess this is one of those times.”

Nicholas was near collapse. Duncan lifted the vampire off his feet and took him directly to the altar. Clearing the altar of its vases of flowers with a sweep of Nicholas’s body, he placed him down on the well-lit surface.

“I don’t think an altar is the place to be examining me.” Nicholas tried to get up and Duncan merely pressed him back down.

“I need the light and the height of the table. Now lay down and let me look at this.” He examined the wound and frowned. “And by the way, where did you come up with that sword and shield stuff?”

“It just came to me. I guess you’ve got your work cut out for you,” Nicholas smiled as he closed his eyes and tried to will the pain away. “I never thought we’d be thrown together like this. The One; for the life of me, I thought you would be the One, Duncan.”

An old wrinkled man, bent and faded with age, came out of the shadows from the back of the church.

“What are you doing?” he said in horror as he watched the two men desecrate the altar. “You can’t….” Duncan wouldn’t let him finish.

“My friend has been hurt. I need clean cloths to help me stop the bleeding, now!” He ordered in a tone that was not to be denied.

The old man made as if to protest then thought better of it and quickly left, hopefully to find the items needed.

“The bullet’s still in there. I’ve got to get it out,” Duncan said as he applied pressure with his bare hand to the bloody wound. “Where is that…?”

The old man returned with the cloths that Duncan had requested and Duncan unceremoniously took them from him and set them down on the table near Nicholas.

“I’ll be all right,” Nicholas said as he sat up slowly, painfully. “I just need a little time to rest.”

“Nicholas, I want you to lay back down or….” Duncan never finished.

Lighting flashed just outside the old stained glass windows. Thunder shook the ancient stone church, causing a vibration that penetrated the church to its foundation. The wind blew the double doors at the back of the church open. Seven spheres of ball lightening entered from outside. The fast moving lights traveled in straight lines along the pews to the altar. Once at the altar, the globes of light slowly circled around Nicholas. Both Duncan and the old man watched in amazement as the spheres stopped perfectly still. They bathed the vampire’s body in their light. As suddenly as they came, the lighting exited out the back of the church. But the black clothing that Nicholas had worn was now the deepest, royal purple. And his bloody hand, the hand he’d used to hold the wound at his side, glowed with an iridescence that rivaled the ball lighting itself.

“Mother of God!” The old man exclaimed, coming down on his knees. “Dear, Mother of God!” He genuflected several times, never taking his eyes off of Nicholas. His eyes widened in amazement. The old man began praying in earnest, for he was sure that he was in the presence of a holy miracle. Nicholas was unaffected by the holy epitaphs and sat very calmly looking at the changes that had befallen him as if he, too, were amazed.

“Old man,” Nicholas said in a soothing voice, holding up his left hand high in the air, bathing the church in its radiant light. “Go to the village, wake the people. Let them know that I have come.”

“You are the Son?” the old man quaked with excitement.

“I am the One; the Builder of Dreams, the Maker of Legends. Go and wake everyone and tell them I am coming.”

The old man nodded repeatedly and left in great haste.

“What was that all about?” Duncan asked.

“The Order, they are still out there. If we are to be safe, we must use more than just your sword. And these strange occurrences will not continue forever. We must utilize them as they come. The Order will have a tough time trying to harm us in the midst of bedlam. Here, help me down, I feel uncomfortable up here.” As Duncan helped him from the altar, they both heard the sound of metal hitting the wooden flooring. They looked down to see the huge spent bullet that had fallen from Nicholas’ wound as it healed completely before their eyes. The two immortals stood facing each other. No one was more perplexed than they were by the magic that was now enchanting their lives.

“Shall we follow our young friend.” Nicholas said with a humorous gleam in his eyes and a classic theatrical flourish of his arm.

“After you, my Lord.” Duncan said with an equally extravagant bow to Nicholas. The two friends laughed and exited down the aisle of the church.

“You know this is going to be hard to believe in the morning, when I can barely believe it now, Nicholas.”

“Duncan, what else did Darius tell you? What other manifestations of being the One await me?”

“Are you sure you really want to know?” Duncan asked.

“Yes, I need to know. Knowledge, in this case is much more than power, it could mean our lives.” Duncan nodded his concurrence.

“Darius said that you will have mystical powers, but he did not define them. That you and I would become bonded in a way that would surprise us both. And that we should be prepared to find treachery and betrayal among our friends and friendships among our enemies.”

Nicholas listened intently. “Can’t prophesy come in plain English? This riddle within riddles is beyond frustrating. I hope we are ready for this.”

“Whether we’re ready for it or not, it’s ours; our fate, our kismet, our karma, whatever you want to call it. There is no going back. There is no yesterday to hide in.”

The heavy rains had stopped, leaving the air clean and clear. The night was now brisk and invigorating. They bantered on as they watched the glow from Nicholas’ hand fade. They walked down the old cobblestone roadway that led to the village. The lights and the noise from the town were an indication that the old man had made himself known. All hell was breaking loose, and they steeled themselves for the insanity they knew would follow.

As they approached a bend in the road, Nicholas turned away toward a stand of near-by trees.

“What are you looking for, Nicholas?” Duncan inquired, following the vampire into the darkness.

“I’m starved. I left a cache of blood here.” He came upon the spot in the trees where he had left his food. Someone had come upon the cache first. The refrigeration unit that had been buried to protect the precious blood supply was smashed. The many bottles of bovine blood were broken and empty, the precious fluid having soaked into the rain wet ground. Nicholas bent and lifted a large shard of broken glass.

“Who do you think could have done this, and why?” Nicholas said in a disturbed voice.

“If the Watchers are keeping tabs on immortals, how many times have we crossed paths, Nicholas? It wouldn’t take much to deduce that you were immortal too. Being a vampire doesn’t prevent you from being found out.” Duncan said looking at the mess.

“So much for the best laid plans of vampires.” Nicholas said disillusioned at his failed attempt to keep a food supply on hand.

“You do have alternatives,” Duncan said as he turned Nicholas to face him.

“Duncan, I can’t feed on you.”

“Why not? You’ve done it before. You know I can’t be killed that way. If you’re hungry, you should feed. Just let me sit down. I remember how ravenous you can get,” he said as he sat on the dead stump of on old tree.

Nicholas looked at his friend, his hunger clawing at his insides.

“When you said your life’s blood was mine, I didn’t think you meant it literally.”

“Come,” Duncan tempted Nicholas by opening the collar of his shirt and exposing the thick, blood ladened arteries of his neck. He felt no misgivings about entrusting his life to Nicholas. This was no great sacrifice; he was doing his duty. Even if it meant dying a little to keep the One alive. Whatever pain or hurt he would feel, would be accepted with honor. There would be no other way for Duncan now.

With a gentleness that belied his vast vampiric strength, Nicholas tilted his friend’s head at just the proper angle and going down on one knee, he bit into corded muscles of Duncan’s neck. Duncan felt the surge of his immortal blood as Nicholas fed briefly.
There was the momentary pain as the flesh gave way, but the letting of blood was like drifting into a dream: no more painful than letting go of reality, drifting into sleep. The immortal blood filled Nicholas with a feeling of euphoria and strength. Duncan lost consciousness and Nicholas caught and cradled his body as it slumped to one side. Nicholas didn’t want Duncan to get any wetter lying in the moist grass. His eyes golden, his fangs extended and sharp, he took hold of Duncan’s sword. Growling in a low register, he brought Duncan’s sword to a ready position as he glared into the night. Nicholas hadn’t taken very much blood, only enough to sustain him until tomorrow. He absolutely couldn’t take more than that. Darius was right. He would not be able to kill again, but would he be able to defend himself? There was no hallowed ground for Duncan anymore, there never had been a sanctuary for him. They were both fair game for the Order and all the many enemies that the One would garner in this new life.

Nicholas knew that when one of them was thus incapacitated, it left them both vulnerable to attack. Duncan’s recuperative powers were amazing and he would soon be back to normal as his body worked to replace the missing blood. Unlike mortal blood, immortal blood had an unusual taste and properties that often went beyond anything that a vampire could expect. Nicholas felt a light descending from above him. His golden eyes stared, disbelieving into the night sky. His body remained on guard and ready for combat.

A light from above flooded the meadow where Nicholas knelt with Duncan. This light did not harm Nicholas, but invigorated him. Then he saw it. Darius descending from the heavens, mounted on a charger made of fire. All about him the night sky was filled with luminescent energies that almost took on human form. Nicholas watched wide-eyed. It had started.

“Nicholas,” the quiet cleric’s voice seemed to fill the vaulted sky. He came down upon his knees before the two immortals.

“That was quite an entrance, Darius. You need not kneel before me, we are friends.”

“Believe me, Nicholas, this is more for the benefit of those who watch you.”

Nicholas stared past the mystical, luminous glow of lights and his inhuman vision penetrated the night to see that many people were standing quietly at the edge of the meadow.

“They can not hear us,” Darius said. “They are only able to watch.”

“What is it that you have come to tell me? Nicholas lifted the unconscious Duncan in his arms and stood. Darius stood with him.

“Long ago, when Duncan and I rescued you from that angry mob––when I bathed your body with my immortal blood, when Duncan willingly gave his blood to feed your eternal hunger––we set in motion the events that are now overtaking us. The Circle turns, the good that we do, as well as the ill comes back to haunt us.” Darius smiled.

“I am ready for that.” Nicholas said a whimsical smile on his lips.

“Then you must know that Duncan will be your salvation or your certain doom. The bond forged between you is vital to your survival.”

“What must I do?”

“You have already started what must be done.”

“Must you speak in riddles?” Nicholas said forcefully, a tinge of frustration evident in his voice.

“I am sorry, Nicholas, I can only tell you what I can tell you. Be well, my immortal brother. We most certainly will speak again.” Darius mounted the fiery horse and rode back into the night sky. The lights faded away, the darkness over-taking the night again. Nicholas looked at the unconscious form of Duncan in his arms.

“This is going to be so much harder than I thought,” he said to his unconscious friend. Nicholas started toward the village, aware that vast numbers of people followed him. Their voices speaking in astonished whispers.

The men of the Order of Nine watched with deadly concentration. They came forward with great stealth. The old man had done his job well, spreading the word throughout the village that the One, a fair-haired stranger, had come. Now that they knew that Nicholas was the One, his death was all that the Order lived for. They drew their guns. Nicholas turned at the sound, fearing not for himself, but for Duncan and the mortals that crowded around him. With his enhanced vampiric vision, he could see them taking aim at him. Would they shoot through the crowd of innocent humanity?

It was then that the ancient 1958 Oldsmobile rumbled smoothly up to the road toward Nicholas. The old man from the church sat behind the wheel. He stopped the car and hurriedly got out.

“My gracious, what has happened?” the old man said, looking at Duncan.

“He will be all right in a little while, but we need shelter. He must rest,” Nicholas said indicating Duncan. Already the long night was giving way to the break of day. Nicholas didn’t want to test his new found powers by waiting for the approaching sunrise.

“Come, I will take you home.” The old man took charge of the situation. His brief moments of wonder at the church were now replaced with his consuming need to serve the One.

“What is your name?” Nicholas asked, his French coming back to him with little effort.

“Benoit de Casabianca,” the old man replied, “but everyone calls me ‘Old Ben’”. He called to several of the young men standing in the crowd to help Nicholas with his burden, but he refused their help and bade them stay back. He would trust no one, not with Duncan’s life.

“I am Nicholas Knight and this is Duncan MacLeod.” Nicholas entered into the car. The car turned and went straight into the village, the crowds of people following quickly. They had seen the messenger from the sky speaking to the fair young man that Old Ben had called the One. Who was this beautiful young man and his darkly handsome companion? Everyone had a great curiosity about what was happening and there was much talk and speculation about this “coming”.

The Order where already in communication with Horton as they raced into town in their jeeps. Nicholas had to die even if it meant that many innocent lives would accompany him to hell.

Old Ben ushered the immortals into his house. Nicholas carried Duncan inside and Ben motioned him up the stairs. There they entered the master bedroom.

“Please draw all the shades,” Nicholas asked as he lay Duncan down on the large comfortable bed. Ben drew all the shades tightly and stood at the doorway.

“I’ll be out soon, Ben. Please close the door behind you.”

Ben did as he was told and Nicholas was alone again with Duncan. He breathed a heavy sigh of exhaustion. Looking around him at the room filled with many photos and mementos of a life well lived. It was easy to see this man had lived a long and prosperous life, with many friends and offspring to populate it.

“Duncan, it has only begun and already I feel a terrible aloneness.” He looked down at his companion and shook off his feelings of self-pity. “Why do I trouble myself with such matters? You will be coming back and it will be difficult for you.” Nicholas knew about the pain that immortals endured as their bodies re-entered life. The first lung-full of breath was more painful than many mortals’ last moment on earth.

“If only there were some way of easing your passage?” Nicholas placed his left hand over Duncan’s heart. A sparkle of tiny lights began from his fingertips and radiated out onto Duncan’s chest. Duncan drew in a deep breath and calmly opened his eyes.

“Welcome back,” Nicholas smiled.

“That’s the first time that has ever happened,” Duncan said with a rather strange look on his face. “I’ve never come back so peacefully, before.” Nicholas withdrew his hand.

“Did you do something?”

“I guess I must have. I touched you and felt a tingling sensation…did Darius say I’d have healing powers?”

“No, he said nothing about that to me. But I’m glad you have more self-control now than the last time you fed on me. I had a sore neck for two days.” Duncan said as he touched his healed throat.

“I’ve developed some self discipline over the last few hundred years. Will you be okay? Can I leave you here, alone?

“What have you got in mind?”

“I think we have to get the people on our side. I’ve got to convince them that vampires and immortals are just regular folk.”

“That will be difficult, especially since all of them aren’t.”

They both got a chuckle out of that and then a quiet descended upon them again.

“I can’t delay this any longer, we’ll get you some food and then talk to the crowd.”

“I’ll go with you.” Duncan said rising from the bed.

“Don’t you think you need to get some rest?”

“I’ll rest later. You’ve got to have someone watch your back, Nicholas.”

Nicholas nodded in agreement.

Morning had come as Duncan descended the stairs. He had all the shades in the house drawn to protect the One. Nicholas came down. He looked tired. His exquisitely pale skin and golden hair made him seem fragile. Duncan knew that daytime was hard on vampires, sapping their preternatural strength. He, too, was very tired, but there was no help for it.

Outside, the crush of people was growing by the minute. Someone had called the police and they were starting to arrive in huge numbers. People were talking loudly and openly about the ‘Miracle in the Meadow’. Those who were present at the time were trying to make believers of the late comers.

Ben prepared food for both of them. Duncan coaxed him into relenting in his attempts at persuading Nicholas to eat, telling him that the One couldn’t eat common food. Old Ben accepted that and retired to the kitchen.

“What will you tell them?”

“I have absolutely no idea. This is all going to be done with smoke and mirrors,” Nicholas replied.

Once Duncan’s meal was finished, he and Ben left the house, leaving Nicholas to talk to the police and make several important phone calls. The two went to the local town hall and prepared it for Nicholas’ arrival. Upon their return they found Nicholas clothed in heavy garments that would protect him from the sun, which Ben had dug up for him before they had left. They exited out the kitchen door to the waiting Oldsmobile.

Duncan, accompanied by the police, body guarded Nicholas to the waiting car. He kept a sharp look out, fearful that at any moment the Order would emerge from the crowd and attempt to kill Nicholas. They drove hurriedly to the town hall.

People were already packing the aisles inside the hall. All the blinds and drapes had been pulled, allowing no sunlight to enter the meeting place. Old Ben came forward and the people settled down to listen to what he had to say. Ben told of first coming upon the two strangers in the church. He explained about the storm and the ball lighting and how the light transformed Nicholas’ clothing. There were murmurs of disbelief and the noise level started spiraling up again as people began talking among themselves, disputing everything that Old Ben said.

“You must stop and listen now,” Old Ben said finally, “The One wants to speak.”

Nicholas stepped up to the podium. Someone threw open the door at the back of the auditorium as they arrived late. A shaft of sunlight struck Nicholas full in the face from the open door. He cried out in pain and turned abruptly. Duncan stepped between him and the light, shielding him from it.

“Close that door,” Duncan commanded, “and let no one enter from that door again until we are through here.” A policeman stood before the doors, blocking entry.
“Are you all right?” Duncan asked from over his shoulder.

“I’ll live.” Nicholas returned. Duncan had to smile at that statement.

“The One can not bear the sunlight. No one must expose him to it!” Duncan stepped away from Nicholas, his eyes darting among the vast numbers of humanity before him. Which one of them would make the next move? Which one would try to kill Nicholas?

“Good morning, ladies and gentlemen,” Nicholas started in fluid French. “I am the One, my name is Nicholas Knight. I have been alive since the year 1228 AD and I am immortal. Please listen to my story.” Again the crowd began talking loudly. There was much disbelief and a great uproar, this was a hoax, it had to be. The crowd grumbled and showed no signs of quieting.

“We can not hear or see!” someone yelled from the back of the auditorium.

Nicholas rose in the air, at least twelve feet above the podium itself. Using his vampiric powers, he amplified his voice to a level that everyone in the auditorium could hear.

“I am the One,” he said in a soothingly, resounding voice, “my name is Nicholas Knight.”

Collectively the people in the auditorium gasped at the sight of a man floating in mid air.

Speaking low enough so that only Nicholas could hear, Duncan said.

“Don’t go out over the crowd Nicholas, we still don’t know who our friends are!”

“There is a legend that is hidden in time, it speaks of my coming, it tells of my existence. Listen and I will tell it to you.” Nicholas started.

Nicholas spoke eloquently. He told them of immortals, good and bad, but didn’t frighten them with too much knowledge. The vampire would have to go slow. Mortals would know the truth in time. He was as charismatic a speaker as Duncan had ever heard, even without the use of the Blood Tongue. The Blood Tongue was the hypnotic intonation that vampires used to control their victims. Luckily, it had only a minimal effect on immortals. Resisting the hypnotic suggestions disguised in the tonal quality of the words was easy for Duncan. That was how Nicholas had gotten around the police, just a few simple words, spoken in the Blood Tongue. Nicholas was doing well. They were hanging on his every word. Duncan felt a presence and his sword was in his hands, ready.

“This is not the time of the Gathering!” a voice bellowed from mid-way in the hall. A tall, gangly man strode forth. He pulled a broad sword from his coat as he jerked the large great coat off and onto the floor. There was a cry of panic from those close to the commotion as they pushed away seeking escape from the threat of violence.

“You are not the One,” he said vehemently, as he brought his sword to the ready position and advanced on Nicholas with quick strides.

“Zoltan,” MacLeod came forward, recognizing the man. “This is the One. You must believe me. You remember me? I am MacLeod, of the Clan MacLeod and I have sworn to protect him.” Duncan stood between Zoltan and Nicholas.

“Maybe you should let me handle this?” Nicholas said from behind Duncan.

“You called me, Your Sword and Your Shield, remember? So stand back and let me earn my keep.” His tone of voice told Nicholas that he was not to be denied.

The two immortals fought, their swords clanging and clashing as the crowd rushed for cover. Though Zoltan fought bravely and with great strength, Duncan was, by far, the more sophisticated and battle-worthy of the two combatants. With a rain of well-maneuvered parries and thrusts, Duncan had Zoltan at a definite disadvantage. Finally, with a mighty blow, Duncan cut Zoltan’s broadsword in two. The tall, fair-haired immortal fell to his knees with a blow to the back of his knees from Duncan’s sword.

“Yield to the One, or forfeit your life!” Duncan lifted his sword high in the air for the killing blow. It would have to be powerful to take this large man’s head quickly, cleanly. The police charged down toward the immortals, ready to stop the melee.

“Hold!” The word reverberated throughout the hall, snapping everyone’s attention back to Nicholas. He approached soundlessly, lifting the hilt of the broad sword from the ground where it had fallen. Miraculously, the severed blade rejoined the hilt and the entire sword glowed white hot in Nicholas’ hand as he took the last few steps to stand before Zoltan.

“I ask only that you serve me, by serving humanity, Zoltan. By guarding the Truth and preserving the laws of man and immortal kind with this sword,” Nicholas said as he held the sword out before him.

“I serve no demon!” Zoltan spat at the One. “Vampire!” He hissed with further contempt. Immortals knew of vampires, they were common knowledge to all immortals.

Nicholas dropped the sword and as the tip struck the floor, it shattered into a million shards of light that twirled away into the far corners of the hall. What happened next was too fast for the human eye to catch, but several mobile phones were trained on the scene and recorded it accurately for posterity.

The sword shattered. Zoltan’s Quickening began to swirl about his body. Screaming in agony, his Quickening was ripped from him by an unbelievable force, Zoltan vanished from the face of the earth. With one mighty surge, the Quickening passed through Nicholas and struck Duncan, bringing him to his knees.

Several men, the Watcher tattoo clearly visible on their wrists, guns drawn, came forward and proceeded to shoot at the two immortals. Most of the bullets passed through Nicholas, but Duncan was severely wounded. The One, his eyes golden, his sharp fangs exposed, growling ferociously, swiftly disarmed the men. His strength and speed were no match for the mortals that attacked. Lifting Duncan from the floor, Nicholas flew through an adjacent window, shattering the glass outward.

“Is this what they call a strategic retreat?” Duncan asked as Nicholas flew him toward a waiting helicopter. Nicholas’ flesh was smoking and burning where it was exposed.

“I will not place people in danger. We’ve won a small but powerful victory. The people have seen what and who we are. They know us by our actions. Immortals and Watchers alike will have to stop and think about their place in the scheme of things. That’s all we can ask for now.”

“Where the hell did this helicopter come from?” Duncan yelled against the force of the artificial wind created by the blades of the hovering aircraft.

“You should know better, Duncan. Time makes you wealthy and paranoid. We both have more money than we can ever use. Now there will be nothing to stop us from using it to the best of our abilities, and I always try to have a plan B, don’t you?”

The sun-shielded helicopter that Nicholas had arranged for while at Old Ben’s, took them to a destination known only to a few. It was just the beginning of the One’s rule; a skirmish in the long, long battle.

After careful examination of the tapes everyone agreed that the One was not a man, but something terribly inhuman.

(-_-)

Several days later, Duncan looked out of the twenty-sixth story window of a hotel at the gray overcast skies of Paris. The gentle yet constant rain made the morning traffic a mess. He hoped he could get through. Richie was on his way to him. Nicholas was on the phone in the next room making arrangements to continue on to Toronto. What had once been a flight for life, running from the Order of Nine, was now an entirely different animal. There was so much to be done and an eternity to do it in. He smiled, laughing inwardly at his little joke. It would be so good to see Richie again, to find comfort in the friendship of his young companion.

There was a knock at the door.

“Come,” he said gripping the back of his neck, hoping to ease the tension there.

Richie entered the room, his eyes scanning for others. Finding only Duncan, he walked toward him.

“Mac, it’s so good to see you.” Richie extended his hand in friendship and Duncan merely took that hand and pulled him into a friendly hug. Comforted by the closeness that was again between the two immortals. Richie held on to his teacher for a long while. Finally, pulling away from Duncan, with a disturbed look on his face, Richie aired his concerns.

“Dawson and I were worried, Mac. We couldn’t reach you, then all this mumbo jumbo about the Gathering not ever happening. This guy Knight––who the hell is he and what is he? It’s all over the news that he’s some kind of vampire. Is that true?”

Before Duncan could answer, Nicholas did. Standing in the French doors of the bedroom, he spoke.

“You must be Richie,” Nicholas said extending his hand in friendship as he advanced toward the two immortals. Duncan drew the heavy drapes across the windows to protect Nicholas from the light. Richie made no effort to reciprocate the hand shake.

“Yes.” Duncan offered. “Richie, this is Nicholas Knight. He is a vampire and he is also the One.”

“What?” Richie gave Duncan a look of pure incredulity.

“Does he know?” Nicholas asked. “Will he comply?”

“Will I what?” Richie said, a venomous anger overtaking him.

Nicholas, let’s take this slowly, I don’t think we have to rush these matters, especially with Richie.”

“Duncan, time is a luxury that we can not afford anymore. As an immortal he must make his decision and soon. I must have allegiance from all immortals or they will suffer the same fate as Zoltan.

“Does this guy have a screw loose or something? It can’t be the time of the Gathering. There are too many immortals left. I’m new at this thing but I think I know enough to know the score.”

“Richie, everything has changed.” Duncan started to explain.

“Do you have a sword?” Nicholas inquired of Richie.

“Yes, I do.” Richie said, not taking his eyes from Nicholas.

“Give it to me.”

“You gotta be kidding,” Richie said looking from Nicholas to Duncan.

“Give him your sword, Richie.” Duncan said in a very authoritarian tone.

Nicholas turned toward Duncan. “Who am I, Duncan? Who do you serve?

Duncan came down on one knee and drew his Katanian sword from its sheath at his side and held it out to Nicholas hilt first. His head bent in supplication, Duncan said, “You are the One and I, Duncan MacLeod, am your defender and champion through all time.”

Richie drew his sword from his long coat, at the same time discarding the coat on the floor and came between Nicholas and Duncan.

“Okay, they say you have to power to manipulate men’s minds. Let go of Duncan. Release him from what ever mind control you have over him, or I swear I’ll kill you right here, right now.” His sword at ready position, there was no doubting his intentions.

Duncan stood and gripped Richie's sword by its sharp blade.

“Richie, I am under no one’s spell. I speak the truth. All immortals will have to serve the One or risk death.” Looking into the very heart of his young apprentice he said; “You mustn’t harm this immortal. I will kill you to protect him.” There was the ring of truth in Duncan’s words and the cold certainty of that truth stopped Richie in his tracks.

Richie looked hard at the One. He was immortal all right. There was no doubting that, but this felt so different. There was a coldness that emanated from him that made one want to shiver. Nicholas’ blue-gray eyes seemed darkened by a lingering evil. But his face had a peace and composure that negated the darkness in his eyes. He was like a tarnished angel; silver gone ashen gray, the oxidation proof that something rare and fine lay beneath the hard, grey surface.

Richie turned to Duncan. There was no compromise in his eyes. He was deadly serious. He would kill to keep the One alive. He knew he had no chance against his teacher and feared that he would find the same fortune against the One. Still, inside he felt the urge to at least attempt the battle, he was after all immortal and to fight to the end was his fate. There could be only…Richie resigned himself to his new fate, he relinquished his sword.

Duncan handed it, hilt first to Nicholas.

“I am sorry that I must rush you to a decision, Richie. I would like to give you more time, but I must know.” With his two hands, Nicholas seized the sword and held it before him.

“I ask you to use this sword in my service, to bring justice into this world and defend the truth.” The sword glowed white hot in Nicholas’ hands.

Richie looked to Duncan. Visibly shaken, his eyes searched the face of his friend and teacher.

“Duncan, what do I do?”

“Do what your heart tells you to do.” Duncan said as he placed a comforting hand on Richie's shoulder. Richie turned toward the One.

“Yes, I will serve you.” He said wild-eyed, a young immortal still fearful of life and death. Nicholas gripped the sword by its bright blade and held it hilt first out to his youthful defender.

His hand trembling, Richie took the sword. It was still warm.

Duncan walked several paces over to the couch and picked up a fine leather and metal scabbard. Smiling like a Cheshire cat, he came back and handed the scabbard to Richie.

“Welcome to the Legion of Eternal Knights,” he said.

“Immortals will never have to hide their swords again. Wear it proudly, my friend.”

“You knew?” Richie said in wonderment.

“I was hoping.” Duncan replied, winking over to Nicholas. He adjusted his own sword in its sheath. Nicholas came forward to shake the hand of his latest inductee.

“Thank you for joining us, Richie. This must be a small celebration, my friends. My private jet will be landing at the international airport in one and half-hours. Whatever matters you have here must be concluded in less than that time. Then we leave for Canada almost immediately.” Nicholas turned and walked back into the confines of the bedroom. Then over his shoulder he asked; “Wasn’t the kneeling a bit melodramatic, Duncan?”

“A guy’s got to have a little fun” Duncan replied, a devilish smile playing across his lips.

“Thanks, Duncan, you scared the piss out of me,” Richie commented, taking a shot at Duncan’s shoulder. Duncan blocked the blow with little difficulty and all three immortals laughed, breaking the tension in the room.

(-_-)

Captain Schanke, at the scene of another Toronto homicide, lifted the corner of the body bag to view the latest murder victim to come under his jurisdiction. Nat finished talking to one of her M.E.s and came back over to stand by his side. Schanke rose and took a measured deep breath.

“What’s the word on this one, Nat?” he queried.

“Well, it’s not our Night Stalker that’s for sure. I’ll have more information for you after I’ve run all the tests. Looks like a simple gang related murder. And by the garage sized entry points made by these bullets, I’d say that these are those lovely American Rhino bullets that are penetrating their way into street life everywhere.

“Man, oh man…I hope the dweeb who no-brainered their production rots in hell. As if we didn’t have enough nasties in this world without adding one more.”

“You look tired, Nat” Don ventured. “Everything okay?”

“It’s just this thing with Nick. I guess we’re all having a hard time adjusting.” Don placed a comforting arm around her shoulders and drew her into a friendly embrace.

“Who knew all of this was going to happen. Stonetree’s heart attack. Me being promoted to Captain. Now Nick calling himself the One. Making nations as well as world leaders cow tow to him. It’s been a year all right, Nat. But I don’t think we have anything to worry about. I talked to Nick just a few hours ago. He’s still our Nick. We just have to adjust a little to all this weird stuff. He said to tell you he misses you and he’ll be in touch as soon as he can. Why don’t you and I go over to Jannaker’s and have a latté and sit for a couple of minutes. What do you say? The paperwork can wait. I’m the boss and I can partition a little time for a close personal friend.” He gave her a comforting squeeze and wrinkled his nose in his most friendly and un-captain like manner.

Nat smiled at Schanke. He never ceased to amaze her. Of all the people in the world, he was the one she most depended upon since Nick had gone to France to help his friend, Duncan. His steadfast loyalty to Nick and his on-top-of-it professional behavior had surprised and delighted her. Both she and Nick were lucky to have him as a friend.

“Jannaker’s sounds fine. Just let me get my purse from the car and I’ll be right with you.”

Schanke watched her walk back to her car and his own feelings were in turmoil as well. He knew that things would never be the same as they had been. But he also knew he was going to do everything in his power to make things work for his friends. Nick would need all the help he could get, especially now. And Nat, poor Nat, she’d been dealt the lowest blow. He could see the smoldering love inside her. She’d fallen hard for Nick. He’d just have to be there for both of them. He straightened the brim of the brown Fedora, the one that Nick had given him for his birthday and pulled the collar of his trench coat up against the cold of Toronto’s night. He took Nat’s brief case as she came up to him and lead her back to the Caddie. It was warm and cozy inside and he started joking with her right away. He never knew how easy it was to be strong for his friends, but then he’d never had such good friends before in all his life.

(-_-)

Nearly six months had passed since Nicholas had become the One. Duncan stood watching the sun set out of the bullet proof Polaroid windows of an old factory that had been converted into the dwelling place of the One. The south side of Toronto, which had suffered from disuse, was now the central hub for all the Nicholas’ activities.

A new Gathering was taking place now. More and more immortals were coming to serve the One, becoming his “ageless, timeless warriors” as Darius had predicted. State by state, province by province, country by country and village by village, the outcome inevitable, the One ruled. Duncan turned and walked softly into the adjoining, darkened room. Nicholas lay there, in a simple yet elegant black lacquer bed. The royal red satin sheets made his fair skin seem to glow with a light from within. He looked like a beautiful porcelain sculpture and not a vampire lost in sleep.

In the short period of his rule, he’d done things that other men had only dreamed of. He had outlawed war. All weapons of war were controlled by immortals loyal to him only. There was a world economy, a world communications system and the world court was now a potent supplier of justice with an army of immortals guarding over its decisions. Standards were set high, but then, mortals and immortals alike had risen to the call and come forth and made the peace work, made the world work. Within the next six months the world would see an end to hunger. Nicholas had set in motion a flurry of creativity. Bridges and roads and housing were planned and executed. But destruction had also been brought to an end. The rain forests, the seas, the land, the old growth forests, all of earth’s priceless treasures had became a top priority on the One’s agenda. Pollution and population were measured and marked and quotas and timetables for change were implemented. Slowly, with as much input from the people undergoing the transformation as possible, change was taking place. But still there were detractors; people who found change abhorrent. They were the ones that Duncan worried about.

That last decision to control population had turned many people against him. Sector by sector of the globe, he’d laid down population control. Now the Order was only a small fraction of the people who wanted the One dead. The Populationists, those members stood for uncontrolled growth, wanted him as dead as the Order did.

Tolerance was the law. For the most part, the world blessed Nicholas and his work. There were even groups that had come into being that professed that Nicholas was the Messiah, but he’d put an end to those rumors right away. He had become everything that Darius said he would be, wise and strong, intelligent and true, but at what a cost to him personally. Though he fed on human blood collected for him from vast numbers of volunteers, still he had lost weight. His eyes showed a weariness about them that hadn’t been there before. He worked long hours with little comfort or companionship. Every moment of his life was a decision; every decision took a tiny bit of his soul.

(-_-)

Duncan remembered last night. Duncan’s anger flared. How many times must they kill him? The memories of last night’s incident came rushing back to him. What little happiness Nicholas had, he derived from visiting with children. To make the world a better place for all children had become a consuming passion for him. Last night the children of this province had gathered to meet the One. He’d come out to them, smiling and lifting them in his arms. Anyone could see the healing that communing with children gave to Nicholas. Taking advantage of the event, one of his enemies had used the night to try to kill him. A bomb had been planted in the pavilion that Nicholas was using as his meeting place. He and several of his Honor guard had detected the bomb. The immortals had thrown themselves upon the blast, saving countless lives: but the bloody sight of the One and his private guard nearly blown to pieces had traumatized the children. Duncan had arrived just after the explosion. On his knees he’d pulled Nicholas into his arms. He’d held the vampire as he watched the black blood return to his body, his life’s essence slowly making him whole again. Duncan barked commands at his guards.

“Find them, whoever is responsible, FIND THEM AND BRING THEM TO ME!”

Though they’d searched the entire complex, the culprits could not be found and Duncan’s anger could only be swallowed whole. There were no enemies to fight. The One lived and his enemies had taken flight, unseen and unknown.

(-_-)

Duncan looked at Nicholas’ sleeping face. It seemed so angelic in the shadowed light. After what he’d done so far, the great strides he’d made in bringing peace and prosperity to the world, still they hunted him. It made no sense: no sense at all.

Rachel, his personal secretary, came in to wake him for the coming nights work. Duncan motioned her off.

“Let him sleep,” he whispered to her and she backed quietly out of Nicholas’ bedroom, closing the double doors behind her and walking past Duncan. Duncan stared for a moment at the closed doors, then felt a cold chill touch the back of his neck.

“It must be hard, “a majestic voice came from behind Duncan, “being a god among men, as well as a creature of Darkness.” That last word was said with a terrible venom.

Duncan turned instantly his sword at the ready. He found a tall, fair man wearing a full-length leather coat standing in the living quarters of the One. This was no ordinary intruder: Duncan felt the presence of a truly ancient vampire. Using his extended blade, he backed the creature further into the living quarters, away from Nicholas.

“Who are you and what do you want?” Duncan didn’t hide the menace in his voice. He kept advancing on the stranger, driving the vampire before him.

“I?” the beast said with feigned innocence. “I have come to swear my allegiance to the One. To kneel before him and praise him!”

His sword felt more and more heavy as Duncan looked into the brilliant, azure blue eyes of the Master vampire.

“I’ve come to help, to bring my energies to bear upon the larger problems at hand.” LaCroix took hold of the razor sharp blade in Duncan’s hand and gently took it from his grasp. Taking the sword by its hilt, he drove the tempered blade deep into the flooring. Leaving it trembling with his powerful thrust.

“Immortal you are, but do not think your immortality will save you from my power.”

With strength that far outmatched Duncan’s, LaCroix drew him into his cold embrace. Titling his neck at just the right angle, he bit into and drank from the Highlander. Savoring the rich immortal blood, the strange properties of the fluid overtook him. He felt intoxicated and reveled in the euphoria that the blood gave him.

“Wouldn’t you like to come to my lair?” He said mockingly as he took a tight grip on the immortal. He exited the building with Duncan, his compliant captive, tripping multiple alarms as he went.

Nicholas woke to the sound of those alarms. Getting up from bed, he opened the double doors to his outer offices. Duncan’s sword still quivered from the firm thrust that had set it into the flooring. The only evidence that Duncan had ever been there at all, was a drop of his blood that had fallen like a tear on the sword’s hilt. Others flooded the room––Nicholas’ immortal guard. Not one of them had seen or heard an intruder, yet someone had come and gone. Duncan was missing and not likely to have left without alerting someone of his intentions. Unless, of course, he had been kidnapped. Nicholas gave orders to search the area, sending his best to the task. But in his heart he knew who had taken Duncan. He also knew that he had to face his mentor alone. His new powers and position demanded that he settle the power issue once and for all. He would let LaCroix know that the One was not to be trifled with.

He rushed into clothing and sent everyone in his service on urgent errands. No one must follow or attempt to aid him. When he was sure that he was alone, he took to the night air. Flying high above the city of Toronto, he listened for the telltale sound of two hearts. One, the ancient heart of his loved/hated Master, LaCroix. The second the immortal heart beat of his Knight Eternal and best friend, Duncan MacLeod.

Though Duncan was immortal, he was in jeopardy, his head being an easy prize for a vampire of LaCroix’s strength and cruelty. Nicholas combed the city, searching in desperation for his lost companion. It wasn’t until close to sunrise that he heard an old familiar voice that turned his cold heart, colder.

“Here, Nicholas, we are over here!”

Nicholas flew towards the rising sun, following the sound, but he found no one that night.

(-_-)

Schanke sat at his computer terminal in his office when the One entered the nearly deserted station. The shift was about to change, the night being almost over.

“Nick,” Schanke didn’t stop typing. “pull up a chair…be with you in just a second.”

Nick felt his guards as they dispersed all around him, covering every entrance and exit. It was comforting and discomforting, to have so many immortal hearts beating in the background all the time. Would he ever get used to it?

Schanke typed in the last words on the report he’d been working on and picked up his phone. “No more calls in here, Trish,” he said dropping the receiver and turning his full attention to the One.

“We’ve come up empty handed, Nick. The Toronto vampire community and every sink hole in the area have been turned inside out and we haven’t found a fanged thing. Where ever LaCroix is, he’s lying really low.”

Nick smiled proudly at the Captain of the precinct. Good old Schanke, nothing ever got to him. He was part of the bedrock that was Nick’s foundation of friends and co-workers.

“I didn’t expect much.” Nick hesitated for a long moment. Then letting out a sigh he said, “Who would have thought.”

“Come again,” Schanke replied.

“Here we are talking about the vampire community, you’re in charge of an investigation searching for an immortal kidnapped by LaCroix. If you’d told me we’d be having this conversation last year, I would have called you a madman.

Don looked at his former partner and now self-proclaimed Ruler of the World.

“Yeah, I guess some things have changed, Nick.” Schanke stood, placing a comforting hand on Nick’s shoulder. Nick stood up and Don gave him one of his warm, fuzzy bear hugs.

“But, thankfully, some people don’t change. You look like you’re really beat. The sun will be up soon, why don’t you get some rest. I’ll buzz you if we find anything. Promise.”

Nick looked wearily into eyes of Don Schanke. For the flicker of an instance he saw some strong emotion there, but then it was gone.

“Is everything all right, Don? Are Myra and Jenny okay?”

“Oh, just the usual day to day,” Schanke said, his eyes as normal as they ever where.

“Keep trying,” was all he could think to say. “I know you’re doing your best.”

“Sure, partner.” Schanke drawled good-heartedly. As he watched Nick walk away, Schanke felt sick inside and anguish shown from his dark brown eyes. He clenched down on it as it threatened to consume him and turned back to his desk. Picking up the phone he said. “Okay, Trish, I’m taking calls again.”

(-_-)

Nicholas returned to his quarters. There was always work to be done. The sun had been up for hours when he finally got to bed. He found a mint on his pillow. He smiled broadly at the gesture and lifted the aluminum foil to check it out. Finding on closer examination that it wasn’t candy at all. Inside the aluminum foil was a note wrapped around an ancient silver button that adorned the hair tie that Duncan had worn the day he disappeared.

“You will come alone to the Cambridge building. You will come now!” the note said. The script was in an elegant style that LaCroix had developed over the centuries.

Getting away from his guards took major maneuvering. But getting to the Cambridge building in the middle of rush hour traffic was the real miracle.

The Cambridge building was on the outer parameter of Nicholas’ vast southern holdings. Its massive structure had long ago become one of LaCroix’s many sanctuaries. The building itself barely showed signs of age. The only indication that there was any kind of presence at all was the high, barbed wire fencing that ringed the place. The huge parking lot was empty. Nicholas parked the Caddie, its tinted glass protecting him from the sunlight. Exiting the car, Nicholas flew over the fencing and came down running for the entrance. No one barred his entry and he walked into the building, his acute hearing listening for the sound of hearts beating.

“Okay, LaCroix! I’m here now. What do you want? Where is Duncan?”

From ahead he heard a the tell-tale sounds he was looking for. Walking deeper into the interior of the building, a feeling of lightheadedness overcame him. Nicholas reached out to the wall and steadied himself. He hadn’t been out in the sunlight long enough to feel so weak. The dizziness passed and he proceeded on.

“There you are.” The strong mind of LaCroix entered into his senses. “I’ve been waiting for you.” It was stronger than Nicholas remembered, almost like a physical presence that one could not evade.

He walked toward the sense of LaCroix, still holding the wall for balance. Going through many darkened corridors, walking down short flights of stairs, he finally arrived at the main lair. It was pitch black. There was the beat of a human heart, but it was very slow and labored, as was the breathing that accompanied it. Nicholas could see LaCroix sitting on a huge raised diaz, a feeding platform, draped in layers of the finest silk. LaCroix held Duncan’s neck in his right hand, Duncan lay across his lap. It looked as if LaCroix had just fed; the scent of immortal blood was heavy in the air.

“It’s amazing how they keep regenerating the blood, isn’t it?” LaCroix said, his eyes glazed and wide. He was out of his mind from the intoxication of immortal blood.

“What have you done?”

“It’s impossible to bring them over. You can never drain them to that point of near-death. But they can die, can’t they Nicholas?” LaCroix let Duncan’s head fall just a few inches, exposing the fragile neck. He smiled his crooked smile filled with malevolence. “It would be that easy to rip his head from his shoulders, wouldn’t it?”

“Let him go, LaCroix, this is between you and me. Why bring anyone else into it now?”

Nicholas came forward and again a wave of dizziness over took him. He wavered visibly, he couldn’t get the spinning to stop. What was wrong? He didn’t have time for this now.

“It is me you want, isn’t it? Hasn’t it always been me? You brought me across to sit at your side and when I refused, you hated me for it. Didn’t you?” Nicholas kept advancing. Duncan’s heart was still beating erratically, his breathing labored.

“I created you. Everything you are is mine. Don’t you feel that in your black heart, Nicholas? Don’t you know that your every second of existence is a gift I’ve given you?” LaCroix left his prey and came toward his brother/son.

Unsteady on his feet, fighting just to stand, how could Nicholas hope to defeat the Master vampire before him?

“What is this? Aren’t you supposed to be the One, capable of ripping an immortal’s life away, stronger than any vampire in existence? Isn’t that what you are, Nicholas?” LaCroix’s majestic voice seemed to reverberate from the thick walls attacking Nicholas from every direction. The blood induced euphoria that the ancient vampire felt was transitory, he was coming back to his normal self. His anger flaring hotter and quicker.

Duncan stirred. Nicholas could feel that he was in a horrifically weakened condition.

“Duncan, stay still.” Nicholas commanded. Nicholas pulled Duncan’s sword from his great coat. The slender, metal blade and carved, antique ivory hilt exploded with a light from within. The brilliance drove the darkness into the far corners of the room. Both vampires shielded their carnivorous eyes from the blinding light.

“Do you think a simple parlor trick will defeat me? I have seen cultures begin and end. Watched the Black Death curl these parasites that you call mortals into rotting piles of maggot-infested flesh. The light will not stop me. No one betrays me, Nicholas. No one leaves me! No one!”

LaCroix flew into Nicholas, the force of the blow bringing them both up against the opposing wall. High above the floor, LaCroix held Nicholas pinned with his weight.

“What will you do, LaCroix? Kill me?” Nicholas hissed into his mentor’s face.

“Yield to me, as you did so long ago…. YIELD! Become a part of me again!”

Nicholas dropped the sword to the floor. The strength in his right hand was failing. There wasn’t enough in him to resist LaCroix’s overwhelming power. He felt a searing pain. Howling in agony, he held his right shoulder and fell from LaCroix’s grip. He lay writhing on the floor as LaCroix floated down to him.

“What is this? Some feeble attempt….” LaCroix looked at his former apprentice, his companion through time, and he knew that Nicholas was not counterfeiting his suffering.

“What is it, Nicholas?” Bending down to examine his lost child, LaCroix smelled something out of the ordinary. The strange scent was coming from Nicholas’ shoulder. LaCroix tore the clothing away to find the skin in some advanced state of decay.

“Help me!” Nicholas begged as wave after horrendous wave of pain flooded him. He reached out gripping LaCroix, pulling himself into the ancient vampire’s embrace just as he succumbed completely.

“You must help him.” A voice pleaded from over LaCroix’s shoulder. LaCroix turned, fangs bared, ready to mangle whom ever it was who would interfere in his affairs.

“You are his only hope. Mortal men have placed a curse upon him. Only you can stop it.” Darius stood behind LaCroix, watching the turn of events.

“Who are you and what are we to you?” LaCroix snapped, knowing that the shadow of a man was no threat to him. Still, he held Nicholas closer.

“It matters not who I am. Nicholas is dying. Even you can see that. You must act quickly or he will be lost forever.”

LaCroix looked at Nicholas. He was unconscious now. His shoulder oozed a vile-smelling fluid that even made the vampire want to gag.

“What have they done to him?” he asked, not taking his eyes away from his fallen companion.

They have developed a microscopic life form that will devour immortal flesh. It eats away at his shoulder even as we speak. If it enters into the core of his being, he will be totally consumed. To save him, you must remove the infected area. The sword will cut away the organism that kills him.”

LaCroix relinquished his hold on Nicholas, stood, and walked over to where the sword lay. It still gave off that offensive bright light.

“It is a sword of truth,” the cleric spoke, “the light lives in it now. It will burn your undead flesh.”

“How do I know you speak the truth?” LaCroix asked contemptuously.

“You know your instincts, listen to them.”

LaCroix looked back at Nicholas. A pool of black vampiric blood was oozing out from his shoulder. Death was forming, like a rain cloud over Nicholas, waiting to leach away his undead life. Reaching down LaCroix gripped the sword. It burned his flesh, sending a bittersweet smoke into the air. Placing his left hand over his right, forcing the impossible to happen, he lifted the sword from the floor and turned toward Nicholas. He did not cry out, though the cost of the effort could be seen plainly on his face. Walking through the shade that was Darius, LaCroix lifted the sword high in the air. He stood ready to do the deed. Nothing would stop him from saving Nicholas, nothing.

“NO!!” A voice from the diaz screamed. Duncan, still weak and frail from his days of cruel captivity at the fangs of LaCroix, came flying at his tormentor. The force of his blow sent both of them tumbling away from the One’s side.

“Duncan, no! You must not interfere.” Darius tried desperately to reach the foggy brain of his young immortal friend.

The sword, sent clattering along the floor, came to rest in a far corner of the room.

Duncan fought LaCroix. The weakened immortal’s strength was no match for the vampire’s, but somehow that didn’t matter to Duncan. He kept finding courage in his heart, kept dodging the blows that were thrown at him, kept bringing what energy he could against the might of the vampire. His days of torture at the hands of LaCroix were fuel to propel him on, but seeing him about to take Nicholas’ head; that was enough to make him find the strength and skill to defeat the vampire. Duncan had sworn an oath to protect the One with his life’s blood. He was more than willing to pay that price right now.

A familiar voice spoke to Duncan. It was Darius, but he sounded so far away. What was he saying? Duncan didn’t have time to listen. He had to protect Nicholas. He had to kill this vampire or Nicholas was lost. If the One died, the world would again be flung into the chaos and anarchy of the past. The end was close, he could not let that happen.

Duncan dove for his sword, lifting her with ease, the blade flashed and crackled with energy. He swung it in great arc about his body. Forcing the vampire back and away.

“Come, try to take his life now!” Duncan taunted the vampire; the tempered metal of the Katanian sword lusting for vampire blood.

“You fool! There is no time for your petty games. Nicholas is dying. Give me the sword to save his life. Give me the sword!” LaCroix battered the immortal with the full force of a body blow.

The sword was sent tumbling into the air. Before it could make its second revolution, LaCroix plucked it from the air and swooped to Nicholas’ side. With a slashing blow the putrid flesh and bone were excised. LaCroix dropped the sullied blade and dragged Nicholas’ body from the tainted blood. Lifting the body he took it to the raised diaz. Tenderly, untypically, he lay his fallen companion on its surface. With a piece of the silk he bound the wound up tightly. Finally, he cradled Nicholas in his arms and began rocking back and forth. All around him Death waited with hungry eyes. LaCroix could see Death in every corner, hear its raspy, wicked breath.

“You can’t have him.” LaCroix said angrily to thin air.

Duncan stood shakily, a trickle of blood slipping down the side of his face from where he had impacted the wall with intense force.

“What is this, what’s going on, I don’t understand…?” Darius stepped into Duncan’s view.

“It is all right my friend,” he said compassionately.

“Darius, what is happening?” Then with recognition, “How can you be here? Nicholas isn’t even conscious. I don’t know what’s happening any more.” Duncan collapsed to the floor holding his head in pain and confusion.

“The time of trial is over.” Darius tried to comfort Duncan. “I am here because of LaCroix.”

“LaCroix?” Duncan said in astonishment, “Nicholas’ Master?” He stared at the vampire with new awareness.

The Master vampire held his disciple close to his breast, like a protective father.

“How can this be, Darius? Please, help me to understand.” Duncan looked up at his friend and mentor.

“You have made it happen, Duncan, you and LaCroix. He took you by force from Nicholas’ stronghold. He drank of your blood repeatedly over many days, thinking that he might bring you over or at least kill you to give heartache to Nicholas. He found that he could accomplish neither goal, but then the intoxication of your blood was too great and he continued partaking of you. Your immortal blood awakened in LaCroix abilities that have lain dormant for all his dark life. LaCroix is a seer of great power. Nicholas received his powers from LaCroix when he was brought over. LaCroix has never used his abilities. Never even knew that they existed. Now, he can not help himself. He has been tuned to all that is in him. The evil that lives in him must now contend with the light that had always been there hidden in the darkness. His love for Nicholas has also been clarified. He will protect the One from death and disaster; he has the sight.”

The only light in the vast room was Duncan’s sword, it cast a mellow glow, its shining, brilliant light casting dancing shadows on the walls.

“This is all so unbelievable, Darius. What else could possibly happen?”

Duncan was about to speak when LaCroix interrupted him

“Damn!”

“What is it?” Duncan ventured to ask.

His eyes seeing something that Duncan’s could not, LaCroix spoke as if in a dream.

“I must take Nicholas away from here. The Order of Nine and the Populationists have joined forces. They are amassing a large operation outside this building. It will only be a matter of time before they enter looking for him.”

“Then we must get Nicholas back to our stronghold.”

“We?” LaCroix said sarcastically. “I don’t recall inviting you into this.”

“You’re not taking Nicholas anywhere without me.” Duncan said caustically.

“Duncan, I think we must learn to trust LaCroix,” Darius interrupted. He could see the tempers flaring between these two already.

“I trust no one with Nicholas’ life. No one,” Duncan returned.

“Well, if you can keep up.” LaCroix picked Nicholas up and walked briskly to an exit.

Duncan tucked his sword into the crook of his arm and followed with great haste after the Master vampire, but he found the best he could do was to keep LaCroix in site. The dark corridor went down, growing smaller and smaller as it turned into a tunnel. That ended abruptly. A huge hole in the floor was the only way to continue. Holding his sword over the edge, his only source of light, Duncan looked deep into the blackness but could see no bottom.

Without a second thought he leapt into the abyss. Falling, falling he hit packed earth. Hit it hard.

“It’s about time you got here.” LaCroix said. “Watch Nicholas, I will return in a few minutes.”

Duncan was relieved that he hadn’t lost the two vampires and was just as relieved that LaCroix would be gone for some time. He came up to Nicholas, curious to see what shape the One was in. What had happened? His right shoulder was gone, where LaCroix had made his amputation. It was in a state of regeneration, but it was regenerating very slowly. Nicholas’ normally very fair skin tone was a ghastly ashen color. He really and truly looked dead.

“What have they done to you?” Duncan said, his heart breaking to see his friend in such sad shape. He lay his hand over the vampire’s heart, hoping to feel it beat.

“Duncan?” Nicholas reached for Duncan’s hand. His eyes were open, but he found it hard to focus. “Duncan, is that you?”

“Yes, Nicholas, I am here.”

“What happened?”

“Darius said that mortals tried to kill you. That some one placed a microorganism on your shoulder that would have totally consumed you, if LaCroix hadn’t intervened and removed it with my sword.

“I remember now,” Nicholas said slowly. “Schanke was the last one to touch me. It had to have been him.”

“Schanke, your former partner, your friend? I can’t believe he’d do a thing like that to you.” Nicholas tried to get more comfortable and found it impossible.

“I don’t think he did it willingly. He was most likely forced to do it. It doesn’t pay to be a friend of the One. Where are we? The last I remember we were in the Cambridge building with LaCroix.”

“We still are, I think. LaCroix left for a few moments. He said he’d be right back, and something about the Populationists and the Order joining forces to defeat you. We really need to get back to the stronghold, Nicholas. Neither one of us is in great shape. When we are back at the stronghold our forces will be more than able to protect you. I’m surprised that they aren’t looking for us?”

“I think it is best that you” LaCroix indicated Duncan, “stay here––hidden, until I can send someone for you.” LaCroix offered as he returned from his little trip.

“No,” Nicholas said in a command tone. “Leaving Duncan would mean his certain death at the hands of the Order of Nine. I will not allow that.”

“What will you do then, Nicholas? You aren’t strong enough to dictate to me.”

“I will not leave Duncan,” Nicholas said more forcefully than before. He drew himself closer to his Highlander friend as Duncan placed a supporting arm around the injured vampire. “I will not go without him.”

“Can’t you fly us both out of here?” Duncan asked.

“If it weren’t daylight, yes. It’s nearly noon out there and we wouldn’t get far. This place is too isolated. That’s why I chose it.”

“Then we will think of another way.” Nicholas countered. “There has to be another way.”

“This underground is a labyrinth of passageways that I had built to my specifications. We can try to outwit them by going into the deeper levels, but we will have to keep moving. Their numbers are vast and even the best maze will only hold so many mice. I have called for help, but it will take nearly fifteen minutes to get here. I don’t know that we can last that long?”

“If you hadn’t lured us all out here, we’d be safe at the stronghold, with immortals enough to fight this battle.” Duncan was furious with LaCroix.

LaCroix stared daggers at Duncan and started to reply but was interrupted by the One.

His eyes golden, his fangs, sharp and exposed, he spoke but in a voice that made them both stop and listen.

“I won’t have this bickering. I have little enough strength as it is. I will not waste it on keeping the both of you from killing each other.”

They both started to defend themselves at once.

“Enough!” He said with finality. “I can not move through these passages unaided. We must find a space that can be made to hide us.”

Nicholas looked drawn and pale. Duncan knew that he needed to feed to help him over come the many injuries he’d sustained. His own strength was not returning either; he needed food and rest too but the One had to come first. He knew that as he approached Nicholas.

“You need to have blood,” Duncan began.

“I will not feed on you, Duncan. You’ve already been through too much,” Nicholas said closing his eyes to end the discussion.

“But, Nicholas,” Duncan protested. “Then drink from LaCroix, his blood will sustain you.”

“Then none of us will be at full strength. What an abysmal idea that is, totally worthy of such an….”

LaCroix froze as a vision filled his heart with terror. He backed away from the One and Duncan, his eyes wide with the future.

“What do you see, LaCroix?” Duncan demanded.

LaCroix started clawing at his eyes. “No!” he said. “No, don’t. I don’t want to see this.”

“What do you see? Tell me what you see!” Duncan gripped the vampire by his shoulders, demanding the truth from him.

As Nicholas watched the two immortals on the other side of the passageway, the image of Darius appeared close to his side.

“Darius, what must I do? My powers are fading.”

“Nicholas, my friend, you must surrender to your fate. You know what must be done. Do it with peace in your heart. Follow me.” The gentle cleric lovingly touched Nicholas’ wounded shoulder, the healing in that touch gave Nicholas the strength to rise and follow.

(-_-)

“I thought we’d ordered several tracking devices placed on Knight’s car.” Richie said angrily.

“We did. We had six of them in various places. But he must have found and removed them all.” Joe Dawson spoke calmly to the youthful immortal.

“LaCroix could kill Duncan, couldn’t he?”

“With little or no effort. Vampires and immortals have never been in conflict before now. They each had their own little niche and neither had to worry about stepping on the other’s toes. But now, it’s a whole new ball game. LaCroix is the nastiest of the ancient vampires, but he wouldn’t get rid of Duncan without using him in every way possible first. He’s too shrewd for that.” Joe tried to comfort Richie’s fears concerning Duncan’s life, even though he knew that the circumstances didn’t look good.

The door to the One’s inner sanctuary opened and Captain Schanke walked in with fresh news.

“We got a call minutes ago, from LaCroix. He’s out at the old Cambridge building south of town and Nick’s with him.”

Both Richie and Joe looked at the man who had just lost his only daughter to the Order of Nine. A man who hadn’t stopped to grieve or mourn that loss because his own hand had placed the One in deadly danger. His professional life was overriding his personal tragedy. The two men looked at the third, neither one wanting to break the silence, not knowing what to say to a man who’d lost everything.

“Listen,” he said looking from the Watcher to the youthful immortal, “I know you know what happened. We don’t have time for the dead right now. The Order and the Populationists have amassed a huge force at that building. We’ve got to move on it now. I’ve got helicopters landing just outside in the courtyard. I’ve got immortals, cops and Watchers ready to climb into them. No, I’ll only slow you down.” Dawson said tapping his cane against his artificial legs.

“There are no Watchers any more, Joe. We’ve all got too much to lose.” Richie said as he took hold of Joe’s free arm.

Schanke took the other arm and the two of them helped the Watcher out to the waiting helicopters.

Nat stood just inside the huge cargo helicopter. Dawson, Richie and Schanke were the last to board before it lifted into the afternoon sky.

“Are you all right, Schanke?” She said in a low tone as the cargo doors closed them all in.

He turned to look at her and the heartache in his eyes made her want to hold him and cry.

“I’m hurting, Nat, but I can’t stop, not now. He’s doomed because of my betrayal. I can’t feel anything until I know if he’s okay. Jenny and Myra were my life and the Order and those bastard Populationists killed her without a second thought.” He closed his eyes and she had to put her arms around him. Hold him. Try to ease the terrible pain that was eating him alive.

“You don’t have to do this, Schanke,” she said so only he could hear. “Everyone will understand.”

“It’s the only thing that’s keeping me going right now,” he said pulling himself together and hugging her back.

Richie looked around him at the mixture of immortal guards in their dark purple uniforms, the Toronto S.W.A.T. teams and the Toronto Watchers. He thought about where he’d been just a year ago. A bad boy growing up on the streets of Vancouver. Now, both he and Duncan, had sworn their allegiance to a vampire who ruled the world. Nicholas and Duncan, might be dead, the bright hope of the future lying in a pool of its own immortal blood somewhere. It was all too hard to follow, too hard to believe. In his heart, he prayed to the powers that existed that the dark side would not be victorious. He prayed, knowing that prayers were whispers against the hurricane winds of change.

(-_-)

Nicholas lifted up through the tunnel that LaCroix had carried him down. Slowly, with Darius as his guide, he traveled back to the feeding chamber that he had left just a life time ago.

“There must be some way to block these tunnels, Darius. I don’t want LaCroix and Duncan to be at risk. I am the one the they want to kill.”

“The walls will crumble at your words.” Darius assured him.

Nicholas looked back over his injured shoulder. “Fall. Fall to the ground, protect my friend, my father,” he said with intensity. From behind him the tunnel fell in on itself; a weakened spot in the keystone giving way. The dust and debris cascaded down, blocking the passageway.

Leaning on the tunnel walls for support, Nicholas smiled. “Good,” he said as he turned back to Darius. Each moment took more of his fading energy. With each step, he promised himself only one more, only one more. Until, at last, the chamber was before him. He didn’t make it to the raised diaz. He collapsed just meters from it. Darius stood over his exhausted form.

“We have only to wait,” Darius spoke softly to his fallen companion.

Nicholas closed his eyes and his thoughts turned to Natalie. That he’d not found the time to tell her of his love. That he might not ever have that time now.

“What will happen?” he asked the image of Darius. “How can I hope to defeat Horton and the Populationists with no army to back me, no….”

Darius knelt beside him, calm and serene.

“Rest easily, my friend,” Darius said. “You are not alone. No one ever is alone, remember that.” The cleric touched the shoulder that had been amputated earlier and found it nearly whole again.

The darkness in Nicholas wanted to rage against the evil that engulfed him, to fight with all his strength against the events that threatened everything that he had worked so hard to bring about. From somewhere inside, an inner wisdom bubbled up to the surface of his mind. Peace encompassed his heart. The anger, the rage, the seething hatred of the evil that Horton represented was still there. That would never go away, but what controlled it and focused it now was a profound compassion for even the twisted existence that Horton represented.

“I must return to the other side,” Darius said compassionately. He stood to leave Nicholas. “You will need all your strength now.

“I understand.” Nicholas said. The serenity in his dark blue eyes told Darius that he truly did.

Darius made the sign of the cross and gave the ancient Latin blessing.

Nicholas smiled, knowing that the ritual would not hurt him, now or ever again. Darius dissolved into the darkness, taking all light with him. Nicholas lay in the consuming lightlessness. His compassionate heart his only comfort.

“If I can make the walls fall…can I get some light?” He asked of no one. The overhead florescences hummed and started to give off a waning light.

“I’ll take it.” Nicholas said with returning enthusiasm. He was starting to feel better. He pushed himself to his knees and then stood with a minor amount of difficulty. He made it to the raised diaz and sat down with an unaccustomed heaviness.

Lights flooded the chamber as Horton and his minions entered with their own illumination. But their lights didn’t remain on long. The many flashlights and torches winked out and the only true light remaining were the lights that shown dimly over Nicholas’ head.

There was some confusion as the approaching mob rushed in, but that dissipated when Horton saw his prize.

“Take him!” Horton ordered. “You’ve made a fatal mistake coming here alone, without your immortal guards and Watchers to protect you. You’re mine now, and I will kill you, you undead freak of nature. You will die and after you, all your followers. No immortal shall rule mankind.”

The crumpled entry way that Nicholas had pulled down with words, now exploded outward into the main chamber. LaCroix, followed closely by Duncan, came bursting into the room.

“So certain are you of your power?” LaCroix stepped towards the four advancing men and with little or no effort, sent them flying into the adjacent wall.

“Stay behind me.” LaCroix admonished Duncan.

“Yes.” Duncan replied. “Don’t trust Horton. His agenda is all about killing Nicholas.”

“So, Horton.” LaCroix continued into the room placing himself between Horton’s minions and the One, as Duncan took position next to Nicholas. “You want to bring about the end of Nicholas, do you? Stop the madness of immortal rule?”

Horton was raging: his anger and hatred visible on his contorted face.

“Take him,” he commanded of his combined troops.

LaCroix bore his fangs, growling in fierce animalistic fury. If there was an alpha male vampire, LaCroix was an alpha/alpha male.

Slowly, Horton’s forces advanced trying to encircle the three immortals. Duncan took point on the other side of Nicholas, his sword at ready.

Nicholas sat on the diaz: his mentor/father before him, his friend/protector behind him. The odds were getting worse as more and more bodies came through the doorway to join the ever-increasing tong inside.

“LaCroix, Duncan, it’s me they want, stand down, remove yourselves from the line of fire.”

With the last of his strength Nicholas used the blood tongue in an attempt to control the mortals.

“Stand down! Lower your weapons.” The command in his voice reverberated in the vast chamber.

Nicholas watched as everyone came to a stop. Everyone, that is except Horton.

“Kill him, you miscreants, you fools, kill him!”

Horton grabbed an automatic weapon from one of his mesmerized troops and ran forward, but before he could take aim, LaCroix was there, disarming him. With one hand, LaCroix easily held Horton up off the ground by his throat.

“Snap that fragile little neck for you, Horton?” LaCroix offered.

“LaCroix, NO!” Nicholas snapped.

“Don’t worry, Nicholas, I don’t have to do anything. His fate is sealed.” LaCroix mangled the weapon and after shaking the daylights out of Horton, he let him drop like a stone to the floor.

“I’m a seer, Horton. I can see your fate, can tell you your future.” LaCroix spat out the words with vile venom.

“You will be found guilty in the murder of Jenny and Myra Schanke, and the attempted murder of the One. You will be given a life sentence and sent to the penal colony on the dark side of the moon. Your followers,” LaCroix turned to face the huge crowd of armed men. “Your followers, will join you in various stages of guilt. They will be hunted down, tried and convicted. But don’t worry.” LaCroix smiled a viscous smile. “Neither you, nor they will ever finish the long trip there in one piece. The devoted followers of the One, will pull you down, one by one. You’ll all disappear, vanishing without a trace: the unsolved mystery of this or any millennium.

LaCroix’s laughter bordered on frenzied madness with just a twist of sadistic mirth added for good measure.

From behind Horton’s hoards came chaotic sounds and hellacious commotion. The cacophony of battle seemed to be coming for all around. The chamber lights flared in bright attendance and the One was illuminated in a white light that flooded the dais.

From the opening that LaCroix had come through and the main entry hall the One’s immortal guard erupted. With swords and laser guns, they immediately took control of the situation. Mortals knew better that to fight immortals; one on one. No good odds there, at all, ever.

Horton made one last futile attempt at finishing his job. He threw a knife at the One. A dozen immortals jumped him and he would do no more damage.

The knife covered with the microorganisms that ate immortal flesh did penetrate Duncan’s body as he placed himself between Horton and the One.

Nicholas caught Duncan as he began to fall. He was going to remove the offending knife when LaCroix stopped him.

“Leave the knife alone, Nicholas. The blade is contaminated with the same vile human concocted death that almost took your life. If we leave the knife where it is, it will be easier for the surgeons to remove all the tainted flesh around it. Rather than having to guess about where the knife was.”

So with great haste and care Duncan was moved to the immortal guarded hospital in Toronto. Surgery was performed excising the tainted flesh.

Nicholas took up vigil at Duncan’s bedside. He would not be moved, nor persuaded away. He looked pale even for a vampire. He sat next to Duncan’s bed, holding his hand, waiting for him to return to the land of the living.

“It’s like nothing else exists for him.” Richie commented as he stood with Captain Schanke, Dr. Lambert and Joe Dawson looking in on the recovery room through a large bullet proof glass.

LaCroix joined the group.

Inside, Duncan had just regained conscientiousness. Nicholas looked relieved and elated. The reunion was a happy one.

“So,” Richie turned to the vampire that he’d just recently met. “LaCroix, I hear you can see the future. Mind telling us what’s in store for the One?”

“I wish I could say the worse is over,” LaCroix began, his deep melodic voice seemed tinged with something akin to sadness.

“But with you to tell us what’s going to happen, we should be forewarned and ready for any contingency.” Joe interjected.

“Well the good news is that Nicholas’ mystical powers will continue to become stronger, the bad news is that there are lunatics and assassins aplenty—they will never stop trying to kill him. Now they will have a more important target.

“Who?” Richie asked.

“Me.” LaCroix said matter-of-factly. “Killing the seer will become the top priority.”

“I don’t suppose you can see your own future?” Richie asked.

“No.”

“Great,” said Schanke, “just great.”

“Isn’t that Darius.” Natalie ventured as everyone turned to see the cleric at Duncan’s bedside.

“It has begun.” LaCroix said.

Nobody knew what he meant.

(-_-)

“No, Nicholas, I will not be shepherded by a band of juvenile vampires. I don’t care what training they’ve gone through. I travel this world as I please. You above all people should accept that fact.”

Nicholas took a deep breath and focused on his sire.

“I understand how you feel about this, LaCroix. But you know this isn’t the same world any more.” The bounty on you head is a hundred times what it is on mine. They would destroy you to hurt me as well as silence your visions. You can’t expect me to stand by and take no action while you “travel” alone inviting death. I will not lose you…not now, not ever.”

“So we are at an impasse. I will not relinquish my freedom and you will not….”

“I will not see you dead.” Nicholas’ anger flared.

“So what is to be done?” LaCroix queried.

“We are apart of each other. You have said that from the beginning of our relationship. And, finally, I have to acknowledge that. We are apart of one another. Others are aware of this. Your death might mean mine as well.”

That hit LaCroix where he lived. He had to admit there was a possibility of that fact.

“For now, accept the armed guard. I’ll make sure that they remain as unobtrusive as possible. Give me this LaCroix. Please.

Nicholas had only said please once before. It had the desired effect.

Touching the master vampire, Nicholas felt the ancient bond between them strengthen.

LaCroix closed his eyes, turning away, a vision of the future clouding his heart and mind.

“What is it, LaCroix?”

“Several weeks from now—there will be terrorist attacks at your London, Jacarta, Melbourne, San Francisco, Singapore, and Tenimon Square headquarters. This attack will be the last major push for a decade. It will be a swift and bloody, cu de ta.

“How?”

“Hundreds of human suicide bombers at each site. It will be a blood bath if we don’t start rounding up the people involved right now.”

“I’ll get the international police on the line.” Nicholas said reaching for his red phone.

“No need.” LaCroix explained as he pulled a tiny phone from his coat. “Captain Schanke provided me with a cell phone the direct connects to the visions department.”

A look of incredulity crossed Nicholas’ face.

Someone came on line and LaCroix shifted his concentration.

“Penelope Rivers Eyes, please.”

“He has his own department.” Nicholas gave a sardonic smile and shook his head in amazement. He walked to an adjacent set of offices to give LaCroix “space” as he relayed his vision.

Being the absolute ruler of the known worlds was a 24/7 experience. More and more Nicholas sought out and appointed people in designated jobs. Good people making tough decisions. Slowly, the very heavy mantle of power was growing less and less burdensome. He did this purposefully, with great passion and haste.

“You fear the future, Nicholas?”

The image of Darius stood at his side. Nicholas felt his presence before he could see him.

“The periods of time longer between each attack, but the attacks are relentless. One day, I fear, they will succeed. Hopefully, by then I’ll have put in place a groundwork of government and the right people to govern, so that my absence will not be felt.”

“Good people exist, men and women who will carry the work forward and guard what I have begun. Good immortals will defend, honor, respect and protect the appointed people.”

“The world is a dangerous place, Darius. And vampires don’t die in their sleep in soft, comfortable beds, do they?”

“No, they don’t.” Darius replied truthfully.

“I feel something in my spirit, Darius. Like that night in the South of France in a Bishops barn. I was caught between life and death, between heaven and hell, between worlds and words: there were few options then. I had to trust in friends. Trust that they wouldn’t betray me. That I would see the sun set again.”

“I think you worry too much, Nicholas.”

A violent explosion thundered through the complex. The percussion knocking Nicholas off his feet.

“No!” was all Nicholas could say as he scrambled from his place on the floor, rushing to the explosion. As he got closer to the blast site, it became harder and harder to negotiate through the rubble.

Before he could get to where LaCroix lay, Duncan came out of nowhere and stopped him.

“Oh, no you don’t.” Duncan had his personal vampire guards restrain Nicholas. “Take the One to the complex safe center and protect him there till I give the all clear.”

“Duncan, you can’t…” Nicholas began.

“Yes, I can and I will. You gave me total authority in emergency situations and this…is an emergency. Now go with Theo and the others. I’ll keep you in the loop. Promise.”

Nicholas acquiesced, with great misgivings.

Immortals swarmed the area.

Duncan’s second captain of the guard came forward.

“Report.” Duncan barked his anger barely concealed.

“Blast site is secure. LaCroix is severely injured. We will have a vamp-medic here in five minutes. It was a vamp smart bomb, ninety percent sure. Perimeter is locked down. If the bomber is still on site we’ll have him. There is a possibility it was a radio-controlled device. We’ll know more in a few minutes.”

“Good, give this report to the One, immediately.”

“Damn.” Duncan whispered as he entered the blast site.

LaCroix lay crumpled and bleeding at the vortex of the destruction.

There was an uneven truce between the two immortals now. Duncan needed LaCroix’s visions to stay one step ahead of the assassins and LaCroix needed to stay on Nicholas’s good side by playing nice with Duncan. After his kidnap and torture at the fangs of the master vampire, it was hard not to want to take his very ancient head off and end this immortal cold war. So Duncan bit down on his anger, his hatred and his mistrust and knelt down next to Seer of Visions.

“LaCroix, help is on the way.”

Black blood seeped out of LaCroix’s eyes and ears. His discomfort was visible. Even Duncan’s hard heart melted under the extreme circumstances.

“Empathy for the undead?” LaCroix’s normally silken, cultured voice was raspy and barely audible.

“No one deserves this.” Duncan replied.

“I’ll take that as a yes. Is he okay?”

“He’s okay.”

LaCroix closed his eyes and bloody tears streaked down his ruined face.

Duncan found it so ironic that two disparate reasons drove both LaCroix and he to love and defend Nicholas.

V-medics crawled over the mounts of rubble and zeroed in on LaCroix. They began accessing his condition.

“Take good care of him.” Duncan commanded of the medics. As immortals and mortals came forward to the report to the Knight Eternal, he turned his attention to finding the bomber in their midst.