Nick Wolfe didn't know what day it was; he just knew he was in trouble. Manacled to a wall and blinded, he prayed that today was the day his torturer ended his suffering. He wasn't being allowed to heal from the injuries the headhunter had inflicted; Nick's Quickening wasn't able to cope with the extent of the damage. Nick could only imagine now what the other immortal wanted to do next. Nick had fought for as long as he'd been able, believing that if he didn't survive, he'd at least die knowing he'd tried. For a moment, he remembered what the other immortal looked like: a silver-haired, geriatric, thin gentleman in golf-style polo and khaki slacks who'd stopped him to ask for directions, looking harmless. Nick knew if he survived this, he'd never make that mistake again.
Imprisoned, Nick could only shudder as the sense of his kidnapper's Presence swept across his senses. He heard his torturer mutter unintelligibly as he moved – something that sounded like "They're early." The sound of a click, then something metallic sliding down rope, was followed by a sudden thud. The Quickening slammed into Nick like a grenade blast. Unable to flee, Nick could only scream around a ball gag as the essence of an ancient immortal gone insane hit him.
In the midst of the agony of trying to absorb the powerful Quickening, fighting a battle for his own sanity, strong immortal presence hit Nick again. If he had breath to spare, he would've sworn; as it was, he could only focus on the battle raging through him. If the newcomer wanted his head, he was going to have to wait until this was over.
Cory growled and flung an arm out to stop Rich from entering the basement. "Stay back," he hissed.
"Wha – oh, shit." Rich halted. His eyes scanned the room, seeing the lightning from the Quickening, the remote-controlled guillotine, the man they'd come to rescue manacled to a wall. In one of the hardest voices Cory had ever heard him use, Rich said, "When it's over, we need to make sure he's who he's supposed to be. Don’t take him down right away."
Cory glanced at his friend and sometime partner, recognizing the voice of experience. "Go get Matthew; he'll be best for that."
Rich nodded once, then turned back the way they'd come.
Mouth tightening in a thin line, Cory surveyed the man on the wall. It never ceased to anger him just how cruel people could be, but this was going to stick out as one of the worst he'd personally seen. By now, Nick was supposed to be doing something fun with Cory. The knives he'd asked Nick to deliver out of Amanda's safekeeping had been mostly an excuse to meet the man, as Rich had suggested. Rich had worked for Nick at Sanctuary, and had been instrumental in setting up the meet since Amanda hadn't wanted to leave Tahiti just to retrieve Cory's knives. Then Cory had discovered that the ex-cop had connections he could exploit to get blueprints of a building Cory had earmarked as a target. That had been a week and a half ago. Now Cory barely recognized the brown-haired, confident, attractive man he'd seen on Skype.
To Cory's experienced gaze, the Quickening was taking a long time to settle. He'd seen enough of them to know what it should look like when it wasn't a struggle. Combined with the strength of the immortal he'd sensed when they'd approached the farmhouse, Cory suspected that Nick was having a difficult time.
He heard Matthew and Rich come down the stairs; Rich sounded worried, but Cory didn’t pay attention to the words. Rich had known Nick longer; he'd earned the right to be concerned, but Cory had spent most of his long life trusting his teacher to do the right thing. He wasn't about to stop now.
Matthew immediately took charge. "Nick, you can fight this," he commanded. "You hate it when the criminals win; don't let this one take over." He kept talking, coming closer in stages, until the lightning faded and Nick appeared to have passed out from the struggle. A blindfold was over his eyes.
"Nick, wake up," Matthew commanded.
Cautiously, Rich stepped closer and tried to find a pulse. "He's dead. We're going to be fucked if he wakes up as someone else. He's been keeping a lot of people's secrets, thanks to Sanctuary, and he's a good guy. He doesn't deserve to overload. You know where the nearest holy spring is?"
Matthew shook his head. "No time for that." He pulled a cross out from underneath his shirt and laid a hand on Nick's chest. For a moment, Matthew's face tightened as he had to figure out where to put his hand where he wouldn't cause further damage.
"Blessed are the warriors who defend the borders of this Earth so that the gates of Heaven may be staffed by those who believe in the Power Above. Blessed are those who fight the powers of darkness and evil, who stand ready to serve. In this hour of need, I call upon His grace to heal his faithful servant and plead my student's case at the feet of the Gracious Lady. Please, help him against this force that would change who he is.
"With Nick in this fateful hour, I place all Heaven with its power, the sun with its brightness, the snow with its whiteness –"
Now Cory stepped closer and joined him in the familiar prayer, "The fire with all the strength it hath, the lightning with its rapid wrath, the winds with their swiftness along their path, the sea with its deepness, the rocks with their steepness, the earth with it starkness, all these I place, with God's almighty help and grace, between myself and the powers of darkness. Amen."
"Amen," Rich echoed. He looked doubtful, but his voice had held conviction and hope. Cory reached over and touched Rich's shoulder, nodding reassurance at the younger immortal. Rich smiled briefly, but he looked as though he was already preparing to run if necessary.
Abruptly, Nick glowed, lit by his own Quickening. His head came up, straining at the bonds holding him, and he shuddered violently. His face twisted in a grimace as the suicidal immortal fought to gain control, but Nick was too stubborn to let him win. After several minutes, the last bits of lightning faded away.
After borrowing a knife from Cory, Matthew quickly sliced through the straps holding the ball gag in place. "Nick?"
Nick swallowed past a dry throat. "That you, Matthew? You alone?"
"No, Cory and Rich are here, too."
"Sorry about missing the meeting," Nick said, genuinely apologetic. His voice sounded raw, nothing like it normally did, and he swallowed again before speaking. "Bastard jumped me when I left Starbucks."
"We figured something happened when you didn't show," Rich said quietly. "If we let you off this wall, are you –"
"Still your favorite ex-cop," Nick replied, compassion in his voice. Cory glanced at Rich; there was clearly a story he hadn't heard. "Kyree tried taking over, but he hated that prayer. It felt like you bled off something."
"It was meant to," Matthew said. "We'll get you down in a few minutes, Nick."
Cory swore as he studied the contraption holding Nick. "Bastard welded him to the wall, Matthew. It's gonna hurt."
Rich pulled off the blindfold covering Nick's eyes and gasped. Swallowing hard, he asked, "Nick? Can you see us?" Worry coated his voice.
"No." Nick swallowed again. "They're punctured." He paused. "I provoked him into doing a bit more damage than he planned."
Curse words met his declaration. Nick waited. He was naked, he'd been tortured, he'd taken a Quickening he hadn't planned on taking; he'd let the older and more experienced immortals figure out what to do.
"I think you'll be happier if you're out of this for a while," Matthew suggested gently.
Nick winced, remembering how he'd gotten to this part. "He drugged me while he was putting me up here. Yeah. Do whatever you need to do, Matthew." Drawing in as deep of a breath as he could, Nick waited.
Matthew looked expectantly at Cory, who stepped forward and stabbed Nick expertly, killing him instantly.
"Anything I can do?" Rich asked. “I’m not that good at the kind of first aid Nick needs.” He looked as though he wanted to be anywhere but studying the damage to his friend, and Cory couldn't blame him for that. Not for the first time, Cory wondered just how close Rich and Nick were.
"Find Nick's sword and any other personal belongings," Matthew suggested. "Make a sweep of the upstairs. If you find anything that might identify this bastard, bring it to me, but use gloves. Then get the bag of explosives out of the SUV. We don't want anything left behind that can identify us."
Rich nodded and headed upstairs at a run.
Grimly, Matthew and Cory worked to free Nick. As both had expected, it was an unpleasant exercise. Between the metal manacles and the leather strapping that had bound Nick, there was a lot of ripped skin and crushed bones. In the end, Cory had to use the welding torch to cut Nick free, as his skin had grown partly over the manacles.
"Any other injuries?" Matthew asked Cory when the last binding was pulled out of Nick's body.
"No, but he’s gonna need a shower; there’s blood everywhere.”
Matthew nodded. "Then all this –" he gestured to the room "– was just to make sure Nick couldn’t run when the bastard killed himself."
Rich returned in time to hear the last part of what Matthew said. "That's just sick. What was he trying to do, win a new body?"
"He's not the first or the last to try," came the dry reply from Matthew.
Rich glanced over the body on the floor near the guillotine, and shook his head. "That's just seriously desperate. How the hell did he expect to get down or undo the damage he caused? Even if he managed to win, he couldn't have gotten down without help." Rich paused and studied the room. His eyes landed on a partially trashed video camera mounted on the wall. "He was counting on that. He watched us arrive. We need to make sure Nick is still Nick when we pull out that knife."
Cory whistled softly; Rich was too young to know something like that. "Something you want to tell us, Rich?"
"Some other time," Rich deflected, but not before the older immortals saw a flash of pain cross his face.
"We need to get going," Matthew said pointedly. "Long explanations can wait, but Rich, I do want to hear a short one."
"Duncan, Dark Quickening, and me in the way. If that wasn't enough, he overloaded a year later, thought he was seeing demons, and I was — you guessed it," the redheaded immortal bit off. "Now can we go?"
Cory and Matthew exchanged mutually appalled looks, and Cory abruptly realized that had to be part of the reason Rich had stopped looking at the Highlander with hero worship. "Give me time to set the charges," Cory said, tactfully changing the subject.
"Just don’t blow us up," Rich agreed, sounding relieved to focus on the task at hand rather than himself. "I'll get the doors for you, Matthew. We aren't finished with this bastard — I found keys to several storage units upstairs."
"We'll check them out once Nick is safe," Matthew promised. "Can you move that chair — thanks, Rich." Matthew hoisted Nick into a modified fireman's carry, mindful of the knife, and waited for his other student to set the old mansion ablaze.