War is for the young. They rage against god and man, discovering their limits in their own mortality, watching their anger melt away with their blood. They slump in defeat, in death; it is over, for them. Others will pick up their swords and continue their battles, younger and younger each year.
Perhaps you are wrong. Perhaps the ever-widening gap has in truth turned you mad. Humanity's final revenge, its last laugh. But the race is not to the swift, nor the wars to the victors, nor the years to the aged. You are history's inheritor. And you feel nothing.
Your final dream was this: to join in the struggle in the pit, to climb to the top of the writhing mass, to stand above as the fray drowned each and all in their struggles to escape, and then to walk away.
You had held the dream in your mind as you fought, as you watched friends and kin die in the Gathering. You had held out hope for surcease of sorrow. When you won, it would be over. You would gain your prize and regain your long-lost humanity. Because the prize was what the victor would make of it; it would shape itself to your desires. You would earn your humanity in blood and birth.
But it does not come.
You face the end and slay your dragons and take the prize deep into your soul, and nothing changes. Nothing changes.
There would be an end; the prize would consume your soul and your Quickening, it would return you to your innocence. The prize would burn the Gathering from you and take with it all your strife and sorrow. And you would be what remained. You would be Russell Nash until you died. You would gain a mortal life in return for your soul. And you stood to embrace it.
But it does not come.
You have walked this earth for too long, you have lived this life for too long. There is nothing left for you here. Your war is over now; you have won. The scars etched into your bones are the only proof you shall ever need, or ever have, of your sacrifice for this, your victory. You fought because you could not contemplate your own defeat. But you have contemplated your death every day for each year you have toiled under this burden of life.
You have won. You have lost everyone you have loved, and you have won, and now it is time for your war to be over. No one would continue this battle. It is time, you know, it was time for it to be over and return to the dust from which it had been birthed. Connor MacLeod had won and now Connor MacLeod could return, take back what had been stolen from him by the game, and live until he died.
You are too much the warrior to ever lay down your sword. You are too much the warrior to ever choose defeat. But you ceased to be a warrior on the day your war ended.
And so you wait for the prize. You wait for mortality. But your mortality does not come. And the prize burns in your breast, throbbing like a wound that never fully healed. Its promise whispers to you. It tells you secrets and promises you the world.
It says, Connor, I can give you your heart's desire.
It says, Only but name it, and it will be yours.
It says, Come, warrior, and take your prize.
And you tell it your desires and you wait, but it does not come. It never comes.
A year later, you visit Duncan's grave and kneel by the gravestone. He had died early in the Gathering and you had buried him here, next to Heather. Your family rests beneath the earth and you walk above it, Immortal still, undying still. Your very breathing mocks you.
The Gathering is over. You have won the prize. You stood victorious. But it is not over. And you do not know how to end it.
The prize whispers to you in the darkness of your dreams. It says, Connor, Connor, why do you hurt yourself so? It says, Reach out, claim me, for I am here and never far. It says, Connor, I can make you a god.
It says, Must you forsake me as well?
You walk the ends of the earth, again. The prize gives you nothing but dark dreams and cold fears. There is no respite. You live, taunted by the hissing promises of power unimaginable, but it is not power you seek, but surrender.
Two years on, and there is the whisper on the wind of an Immortal presence, and you have your sword in your hand before you realize it was only a dream. Only a dream. And it is two years on and you still carry a sword, and you laugh at yourself, so alone and so insane. You laugh or you will die, and you laugh until you choke on your breath and you roll on the ground like a madman, not caring, never caring, for you are the victor, you are the One, and there will never be respite from your victory.
And so you give it up. And so you forsake your victory.
And like lightening, you can see it behind your eyes. You see your prize and it stands tall in the darkness of your thoughts. It reaches out a hand towards you and you take it.
It says, Connor, I can give you the world.
It says, Connor, name your victory and it will be yours.
And so you say, a mortal life, give me a mortal life. You say, end it all, anything, only end it.
The prize glows from within, and you can see them. You can see them all, standing as ghosts before you. Everyone you have vanquished and everyone they have killed, for eternity, standing before you. And one comes forward.
He says, I am the victor of the ages, the survivor of the sword.
He says, I won three thousand years ago and here I stand.
Another comes forward to join him. He says, I killed until none remained and the lightening took me up to heights unknown and promised me my deepest wishes and the power of gods over kings and all living creatures in obedience to my commands. But I was not strong enough. I did not want it.
The first says, He did not known of the Gathering, but he was not the first to win.
Others come forward now, a handful of them, and you see the ghosts turn to smoke and water as their conqueror passes. The winners are made of lightening and they tell you their stories. They tell you of their victories. They tell you of their desires, the ones the prize could not grant.
Says the victor of ten thousand years, the prize does not have the power to turn you mortal.
Says the victor of five thousand, it cannot make you anything other than what you are.
You are a warrior, the victor of this age. The prize can give you power and wealth and every desire save your lost mortality.
Says the victor of ten thousand, you were never mortal, Connor MacLeod.
And you surrender, finally, to the truth. Your final surrender is this: let this war continue. Let the war never be over. Let your war never be over.
Let someone else win.
Bring it back. Bring it all back.
And you feel the prize, as it weeps in your breast, but it accedes to your demand. It accepts your forsaken victory. You banish the ghosts with a word and the prize returns, its body made of all the Quickenings of the world, and the lightening comes towards you.
And you meet it halfway.
You reach into the flame and you say, take it back; take it all back. And the flames consume you and, as they burn away your victory, you are the happiest you have been in four hundred years.