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Gogmagog part three

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Imagine the usual disclaimers . . . the act of writing fanfiction is born of a longing for Canon; it feeds the hunger; it does not satisfy it.

Warning: Mayhem. Murder. Explosions. Promiscuous sword-swopping.

Ezek 38:15: And come from your place out of the uttermost parts of the north,

you and many peoples with you,

all of them riding on horses, a great host, a mighty army;

you will come up against my people Israel, like a cloud covering the land.

GOGMAGOG

Act Three

Shinmyoken: divine sword

Two Watchers loitered on a hillside, just adjacent to a convenient truck stop and overlooking a certain bridge. In many ways, it was the perfect spot to mount a surveillance operation. There were trees and underbrush, there was plenty of cover. The view was good. At the truck stop, there was fresh coffee--it wasn't good, but it was strong--and a candy machine, and madame's teenage daughter who helped out behind the counter was easy enough on the eyes.

Etienne Pelletier lowered his binoculars. "Any idea what he's doing?"

Peter Wilmington shrugged. They had both been pulled off their own immortals for this special duty; when the dark quickening was in question, all normal procedures were suspended. For Pelletier, this meant handing Amanda the thief (lively, but no real trouble for an experienced Watcher) over to junior observers and taking on the challenge of his lifetime. This Malik . . . if this new immortal Malik, if this immortal Malik was suffering from the dark quickening, he was the most dangerous subject Pelletier would ever follow. For Wilmington, who was twenty-five years older than Pelletier and whose days of active duty were far behind him, it meant all the thrills of the past, restored. In his time he had been the sneakiest field Watcher in Europe. He had been assigned to a safe subject for years now, he had thought never to use his skills again . . .

But when the dark quickening was in question, all normal procedures were suspended.

"We're sure he's one of them?" Wilmington said, now. This was always a sticky point when dealing with a possible immortal.

"I watched him take the American punk's head," Pelletier growled. "And Duncan MacLeod drew a sword on him. He's immortal, all right. But this dark quickening, that's more difficult to spot, eh? Ever seen a case, Peter?"

"Not I. Personally I thought it was just a myth. You know, a convenient way of explaining what happened to Darius?"

Pelletier grunted. "Mmph. Then I suppose we are both lucky men today. For an expert on the subject is on his way to pronounce judgement."

And the two of them turned, momentarily ignoring their subject--watching as two men climbed up from the truck stop to join them.

"Well, I know one of them," Wilmington said, "but didn't he resign? And isn't that--?"

"Duncan MacLeod's traveling dog and pony show." Pelletier spat on the ground. "It's Joe 'Gone Native' Dawson and that deserter Adam Pierson."

"Now, now," Wilmington soothed him, "he had a perfect right to resign. The Watcher life is not for everyone."

"He laid down his duty toward history," muttered Pelletier. "A sacred charge. How many know the secrets he was entrusted with? Could you turn your face away from the truth, Peter, have your eyes opened for you and deliberately close them again? Dawson is the better man. Dawson may break the rules right and left . . . but at least he's sticking out the course." He raised his voice. "Joe. You know Pierson isn't allowed to be here."

"Yeah, well, I have written permission from the hall monitor." Joe Dawson stamped his cane impatiently against the ground, gestured with the sheaf of papers he held. "The Eastern European bureau's sent the faxes from Istanbul. They've found Malik's chronicles. Problem is, unless one of you is fluent in ancient languages, we need a linguist to translate."

"I can read Latin and Greek," said Wilmington. He reached for the faxed chronicle pages. "And I'm passable in Aramaic."

"Unfortunately, these are all in Hebrew." Adam Pierson smiled shyly at him. "Hi, Peter. How's your immortal?"

"No better, I'm afraid. Thanks for asking, though." Wilmington ran his fingers over the blurred lettering on the shiny sheets of fax paper. He glanced at Pelletier, who threw up his hands in a Gallic gesture of disgust and resignation; then he handed his binoculars to Pierson. "Welcome aboard, Adam."

"Glad to be of help. What's he been up to, anyway? This is an odd place . . ."

His voice trailed off.

"You're right, and we can't figure it out," said Wilmington. "Why cross a continent and then go swimming? He arrived here late yesterday afternoon, started making dives, and seems to have kept it up all night. Etienne spotted him bringing something up--"

"It was a small object, small enough to hold in one hand," said Pelletier. "More than that, I did not see."

"--anyway, once we had more light, we should have been able to see what he's doing. Unfortunately, he seems to have finished."

The early-morning sun cast long shadows away from them: three men close together and the fourth, who was Pierson, a little distance off and staring intently through his borrowed binoculars. Birds sang in the trees. From the bridge below, the Watchers would be invisible.

"Joe, there are some notes clipped on here. Are they yours?"

"Yes," said Dawson. "They're what MacLeod told me, right after fighting Malik."

Pelletier and Wilmington crowded together to read the notes. After a moment, Wilmington said, "Aputel. Jh hv hv. Lalun llun. Malik said that?"

"You recognize the words?"

"They're from the Key of Solomon. The names of spells pertaining to demonic possession."

"Makes sense," said Dawson, with a glance at Pierson that held some note of resentment Wilmington couldn't decipher. "Malik's from the Dark Ages, the dark quickening would seem like possession to him. Maybe what we need is an immortal exorcist. Adam! You know all these things--are you getting forgetful in your old age?"

But Adam was still gazing down the hillside, and there was no reading the expression on his face.

Dawson muttered. Wilmington sighed. Pelletier was already groping for his own binoculars. So silence fell; and if anyone had been watching the Watchers, he would have caught them doing what they did best . . . spying in the name of history. And presently, they all stiffened slightly; Dawson stood a little taller and a worried frown crossed his brow, while Pelletier pursed his lips and Wilmington made a restless movement and Pierson became like a statue. "The curtain rises!" remarked Pelletier.

A car had drawn up at one end of the suspension bridge.

Duncan MacLeod had arrived.

He came out of the car and stood beside it, his long coat stirring in the breeze; he looked like a monolith. Powerful, immoveable. His black shadow stretched down the length of the bridge, huge as a giant's. As his companions emerged, there was a glitter and a flash of light. MacLeod had drawn a sword.

"Merde!" said Pelletier, to the other Watchers. "That's Amanda's sword! What is that pompier doing with my immortal's sword?!"

"She gave it to him earlier."

"Isn't she in love with that American detective now?" asked Wilmington vaguely.

"She is not," said Pelletier. "Wolfe, that crude and unshaven hoodlum? Why, she is worth so much more--"

"Quiet. Malik's coming."

Like a troll out of hiding, Malik had appeared at the far end of the bridge. Gone were his rags and his patches and tatters; now, he wore black jeans and black leather and black, glossy sunglasses. And a sword which rested in his hand like Doom. Malik raised the katana he held, poised it above his head, slanted down from eye-level in a guard position--angled to protect his throat. He called out something.

Duncan MacLeod walked slowly toward him.

Instinctively, the Watchers above drew into a close knot, crowding together; Dawson noticed that Methos was at his shoulder, and then he forgot about Methos, he forgot to breath. He forgot his companions. Below, the heat of the new day shimmered up from the girders and pavement of the bridge, distorting the figures of the two immortals. It made first one seem bigger, then the other. It made their images dance, it blurred their faces like a disguise. It made it difficult to tell one man from the other. For just an instant, it seemed to Joe that the man with the katana was MacLeod, striding forward to do battle with some menacing stranger.

When only five yards separated them, they charged one another.

They came together in the ancient dance, the dance all Watchers knew: the dance of the Game, seen from a distance. Poetry, written in blood. Vivid. Vicious. Violent. They passed each other at a run, they swung around with lifted swords; one staggered, and one smiled. Their swords had clashed, and the music of the blades meeting was the only sound that reached the Watchers above. Nothing else seemed to have happened.

But blood had splattered across the width of the suspension bridge.

It was Malik's blood. Now Malik fell back, his free hand pressed to the shoulder of his sword arm. MacLeod had slashed him in passing, almost severing the sleeve of the black leather jacket; it flapped free, cut at a slant. And Malik was giving up ground, retreating, answering MacLeod's thrusts with parry after parry. He retreated almost the length of the bridge. Then he rallied, and the onlooking Watchers exchanged a knowing glance. His arm had healed.

The two immortals backed away from one another, heads down. They seemed to catch their breath. MacLeod was seen to speak, and Malik to answer.

Without looking around, Pelletier held out a hand toward Wilmington, and Wilmington slapped a cassette-recorder into his palm. Pelletier thumbed the Record button, and began to dictate. ". . . MacLeod says, why did you come here, you're a dead man now. Malik answers, you know what was lost here--don't you?" Pelletier paused. "Good thing I can lip-read. Wonder what they mean. Now MacLeod says, you should never have taken my sword . . ." Meanwhile Joe Dawson drew in a shuddering breath, and found that his eyes were aching and tears had dried in stinging tracks on his cheeks. He hated it when his immortal fought.

Then he thought to look for Methos.

Then he frowned, moved, suddenly started and slapped at his coat pocket.

For Methos was nowhere to be seen, and Dawson's cell phone was also gone--stolen right out from under his fingers.

And the fighting immortals lunged together. Their swords crashed, rang, sang, grated and clattered. First Malik seemed to have the advantage, then MacLeod, then Malik again. They were cutting each other now: coups and touches, a nick over Malik's eyebrow, a long red line that appeared on Mac's cheek like magic and vanished like magic again. A backhand slash that opened the front of Malik's leather jacket like ripped paper. A vicious answering cut that left Mac staggering, momentarily blinded by blood.

Malik stepped forward, wheeling, turning the katana's blade. Up flashed the blade. Down it came, slanting crosswise through the air. It moved so swiftly it was nothing but a long red streak. Its tip sliced MacLeod from shoulder to hip.

MacLeod screamed and fell to one knee.

His opponent turned like a matador. For an instant Malik's entire body seemed to hang extended; the man and the katana frozen in a textbook lunge, one graceful line from left heel up through leg and torso and extended right arm--all the way to the point of the blade. Time stopped. Joe bit the inside of his cheek so hard it bled. Then he exhaled and his shoulders slumped, as Mac rolled under the katana's stoke--escaping the killing blow.

Joe turned half away, sick at heart. He caught the action with quick nervous glances through his binoculars . . . while below, the fight went on. The ripped right-arm sleeve of Malik's jacket flapped as he moved, threatening to come right off. MacLeod's coat was in rags, ripped in a dozen places; he fell back, taking advantage of a momentary lull to shrug it off and kick it over the edge of the bridge. Both men moved more slowly now, more cautiously, more defensively.

Beside Joe, Wilmington remarked, "Malik's going to take him, isn't he?" and Pelletier hissed a warning. "Oh, dear," said Wilmington. "Dawson, forgive me. It's never over till it's over."

Joe was unable to reply.

But he heard Pelletier making little clucks and yelps, like a commentary on the fight; he heard Wilmington, who had witnessed a thousand challenges, groan suddenly and bite back an exclamation. His heart sank. He stole a look. He felt his skin go cold.

MacLeod was retreating, giving way step by step in a blinding flurry of parries. The sword he had borrowed from Amanda moved in a blur, defending, defending, defending; the clash of the stolen katana against the borrowed Oroboros blade was like the beat of a dying heart. The high-powered binoculars showed Joe everything: the lines of blood crossing his immortal's flesh in a dozen places, the wild eyes and clenched teeth of his friend. The way his feet stumbled. You could all but hear his heaving breaths.

Joe shut his eyes.

Then he heard Wilmington say soberly, "There it goes, Etienne. Fight's over-- Dawson? Aren't you watching?" Joe shook his head, steeled himself to look. And gasped as Wilmington suddenly thumped him on the back. "Heads up, Dawson! Your guy's got our guy down!"

Relief washed over him. He raised his binoculars, a grin blossoming on his face.

A gunshot split the air.

Joe clenched his fingers on the binoculars, and it seemed as if the sunlight had grown dim and the world contracted to a single image. MacLeod, dying, on his knees. Malik, triumphant, standing over him. The gun in Malik's left hand, aimed straight at Mac. The sword in Malik's right hand, swinging up for a beheading blow.

A phone rang.

The tiny shrill sound carried clearly to the ears of the Watchers. Below, Malik paused and the expressions crossing his face were clear: confusion, bafflement, intrigue, frustration. He prodded MacLeod with the toe of his boot, and MacLeod fell forward on his face. Malik shrugged. He seemed to hesitate. Then he shoved the gun into the front of his pants, pulled out a cell phone.

He turned it on. He swung the katana up again, casually, while lifting the phone to his ear.

A voice said, "Hello, Malik. Remember me?"

Malik roared. He knew that voice. "You!" he cried--feeling his face darken and swell, his sight grow dim with rage. A surge of memories made him stagger. His fist clenched on the katana's hilt. Amanda and Jacob were racing toward him now, at a dead run . . . but there was no way they would reach MacLeod in time.

But the voice in his ear said, mockingly, "Yeah, you remember me. Do you see me, Malik? I'm watching you." Malik screamed and spun around, jabbing the katana wildly at nothing. He ran a dozen steps down the road. "Look up, Malik!" said the voice. "Come and get me."

He turned in a circle, blinded by the morning sun. A bellow of rage burst out of him. "Where are you? Face me!"

Behind him, Amanda and Jacob were dragging MacLeod's body away toward the car.

"You betrayed me!" screamed Malik into the phone. "You destroyed us! It was your fault!"

"You're pitiful," said Methos' voice, and the line went dead.

At the far end of the bridge, a car started. Malik dropped the cell phone and it landed in a patch of willowherb, unharmed. The katana slipped between his fingers. He watched it fall, as if it was a thousand years distant; he cast a distracted glance toward the other end of the bridge; he slumped to his knees, groaning. For an instant he thought he saw men watching from the trees at the top of the hill--but when he blinked, they vanished like magic.

Not even the thought of the shards of crystal hidden in his coat could console him.

They only reminded him of what he had lost.

Instinctively, his fingers scrabbled up the katana and the cell phone. He patted the breast of his coat. MacLeod was gone. He was alone. He rose, swaying, and ran toward his motorcycle. He had to do something, go somewhere--only, he knew not where.

#

Khazaria, 965 AD:

It was spring in the Caucasus Mountains, and Chichak was in Derbent, the southernmost and strangest of Khazaria's cities. It was the city of the Iron Gate; indeed its very name meant iron portal in Persian, and the Muslims told tales of it from Baghdad to Khojand. Derbent, portal to Khazaria. It straddled the land corridor which ran along the shore of the Caspian Sea, and the sea was on its one side and the mountains on the other . . . and it was a walled city of peculiar shape, overlooked by a fortress high upon the mountain at its landward side.

It was more than a mile long, that city. And only a bowshot wide.

It was a living wall, thrown across the defile. It marched from the fortress to the sea, bristling with fortifications. Since time out of mind, this had been the way by which invading armies marched south into Persia. For hundreds of years, it had also been the way by which Muslim armies tried to march north into Khazaria. Past the Iron Gate.

The Portae Caucasi, learned men called it. From this narrow defile, the Caucasus chain ran northwest to the Black Sea; everywhere except Derbent, the way was blocked by mountains. There were passes, of course. Stone towers guarded them. There were roads, and soldiers guarded them. The mountains between had their own fortifications, which were cliffs and glaciers, and snowfields six feet deep even in summertime. For hundreds of years, Khazaria had laughed at invasions.

It was a legend, and like all legends it grew in the telling, until it became the story of a mighty wall--a wall stretching continuously from Derbent the way to the Black Sea, right over the loftiest summits of the Caucasus. A wall beyond walls.

Chichak sat wearily in a wide stone window, her slippered feet dangling in space. The window was unglazed, and the wall around was of stout masonry, eleven feet thick. Three stories below was the fortress courtyard, with its arched stable entrance and its floor of beaten earth. Down there, a gang of men was shoeing an ox in the traditional manner. That is, they had bound the poor beast upside-down to a pole frame, and were hammering nails into its hooves at their leisure. Its anguished bawls drifted up to her. Chichak barely heard them.

She sat so still that she might as well have been stone. She was frozen, from the cold tip of her nose right down to her feet; not even her toes wiggled. Her golden curls were hidden beneath a tall white turban so tightly tied that not a single strand escaped. Her golden earrings were clusters of tiny bells, falling in tiers to her shoulders. Not a jingle, not a chime sounded from them.

The men shoeing the ox were laughing as they worked, driving the nails through and clenching each one over to keep it in place. Chichak felt as if she was tied up on a rack of poles. As if a merciless God was driving shoe-nails into her heart, and clenching each one over, to keep it from working out.

But presently she had to move. She blinked her aching eyes, she bent her head, she frowned a little. The sound of singing voices was drifting to her ears. Chichak started. What was that?

She knew those voices.

"Her face was like a roast pig's ear,

Bristled with hair

And her nose never stoppynge

But ever droppynge--"

Happy voices, singing an English song.

"Her head dress wrythen in wonder wise

With a whim wham

Knit with a trim tram

Upon her brain pan--"

Familiar voices.

"--her shone smeared with tallow

Greased upon dirt

That baudeth her skirt--"

Chichak gasped. She leaped to life. Her turban fell off, her hair tumbled free, her earrings rang out in a merry peal, as she skipped and danced down the castle stair. Out into the courtyard she dashed, running headlong past the surprised farriers and their upside-down ox. She skimmed like a butterfly through the tunnel of the fortress gate, and on the other side she emerged into brilliant sunlight and there were three riders coming up the road, singing as they came.

"Then Eleanor skimmeth it into a tray

Whereas the yeast is

With her mangy fists

And sometime she blennes

The donge of her hennes

And the ale together . . ."

"Jacob, Jacob, oh Rebecca! Methos!" Chichak sprang at the nearest rider, who happened to be Methos; he grinned from ear to ear as he hauled her onto his saddlebow. First she hugged him around the neck, then she kissed him smack on the point of his chin, then she knocked his hat off and grabbed two hands full of his hair. She shook his head to and fro, and Methos screwed his eyes shut and made a face. "Methos Methos Methos!! The Lord brought you back to me!"

"Never use that name before strangers, Flower." Now she had her face buried in his tunic, her fingers crooked full of woollen stuff. He took hold of her chin and tilted it up, and tapped the bridge of her nose. "Fie, Chichak. What are these wrinkles on your brow? What are these swollen eyes? Why, what is wrong?"

"Where's Malik, Chichak?" asked Jacob expectantly, in Khazarian.

"I never see him," said Chichak dolefully. She shook her head and slid down off the horse, with her fingers still entwined with Methos'. "But come in. Come into the castle, let me see your mounts walked and watered, let me have my women bring you wine. Then I'll tell you . . . I'll tell you everything."

She kept a stranglehold on Methos' hand, all the way up to the castle.

". . . I never see him," she repeated, a little while later. "I mean, he is here and I am here, and we share one bed, yet I have not exchanged ten words with him in as many months. We never talk of love anymore. Since you--since you gave him the crystal, he's been so different. Like a stranger to all he was. Everything has changed. He talks of doubling the size of the army, of bringing in mercenaries from Byzantium and Armenia, he wants to make treaties with the Rus. All the time, he's away with the army. But that's not all. He's taken on my father the King's duties, and my father--my father stays shut in his palace in Itil, now, never setting foot out of doors and never admitting visitors. He might as well be dead! No one sees him except his rabbi and his wives."

"Malik is ruling now?" asked Rebecca.

"In all but name. He wants to--oh, I don't know--he talks of wild things, of marching south into Persia, freeing the Exiles, ending the Exodus, rebuilding the temple in Jerusalem. That's all he talks about." And Chichak sat shaking her head. "Now that he has the crystal. Now that he is invincible. Oh, Rebecca, why did you ever give it to him?"

Methos and Rebecca exchanged a long enigmatic glance.

"Not for that," said Rebecca. "Methos?"

He pulled another face. "Well. We made a mistake, Rebecca, and it seems that little Flower here is paying for it. But I don't think it's too late--"

"But it is," said Chichak in a rush. She hung her head, a crimson blush in her cheeks. "I haven't told you the worst thing. Because he is distant from me, he doesn't know what I do, I spend long hours alone. And he doubts me now. He doubts my love for him survives. Every . . . every time I glance at another man, he grows a little more distant."

"The cure for that is in your power, Chichak," said Methos, and he smiled warmly at her. "Once the crystal is out of his hands, I think you can persuade him of your love again. Rebecca? He's misused the stone, that much is clear. We must take it back from him."

"Yes," said Rebecca. "But do you think we can?"

"We have to try."

"And when we have it back," she added, after a long thoughtful moment, "then someone must teach him the errors of falling into mundane ambition. The Game is our business, and when we dabble with mortal kingdoms, disaster ensues. Someone must remind Malik to take life lightly. Methos, my jester, I think you are that man."

Chichak suddenly brightened. She took Methos' hands in hers, and squeezed them. "You'll make him remember how to laugh?"

"And to love, little Flower."

She blushed again, but this time as red as a nightingale's rose. She rose, pulling him with her, and swinging their joined hands lightly to and fro. "You'll sing him songs and propose him riddles, tell him jokes and stories?"

"I'll tease him. What a fool he is!--to neglect a wife like you. I'll recite Panchasakya and the Smara Pradipa, the Kama Sutra and the Kama Shastra. I'll relate the seven ways to satisfy a lotus woman."

They turned in a circle, as if in a dance, while Jacob grinned and Rebecca looked on with approval. Chichak's earrings sang out chimes, her face glowed with trust and expectation. "You'll school him."

"I'll fool him."

"And laugh at him?"

"I'll chaff at him!"

"Oh, Methos! And will you put the fear of the Lord back into him?"

"I will," Methos promised. "And the joy back into your life, sweet Flower." He tweaked her chin, she gave him a slap on the back of his hand. Methos chuckled, and she burst out giggling and pulled his head down to kiss him on the nose.

As she did, a footfall sounded at the doorway. Malik, in full armor, stepped into the room. His face was still that of a martial archangel, as beautiful as biblical hero's. But his golden hair was unkempt, and his strong features were marred by harsh lines; his large eyes had a fixed stare, his eyebrows were set in a daunting frown, there was a feverish flush in his cheeks. An avenging angel, with a sword clenched in his hand.

When he saw Methos and Chichak, his mouth twisted with suspicion and fury.

#

In the present day:

"Damn you, Methos, what the hell was that about??"

Methos held up a finger, shaking his head a little at Joe; he was in the passenger's seat of Joe's car, and Joe was driving. "Yeah," said Methos into the cell phone pressed to his ear, "yeah, yeah . . . yeah. Yeah, Peter. Etienne says what? . . . Tell him to be careful. Yes. Yes, I know that no immortal has ever seen his shadow. But it's the first time that hurts--that's what they say." He listened. "Gotcha. Yeah, I know I'm not supposed to even be involved. But be careful, Peter."

Without putting down the cell phone, he glanced at Dawson. "Hey, Joe--when all of this is over," he said, "would you like to go into partnership with a detective agency? You could hire a full-time manager for the bar. We could clean up, you know. I always think it's a shame to let those Watcher skills go unused."

Joe hunched forward over the wheel and made an irritated growling noise. "Why do I put up with you?"

"I don't know. Must be friendship." Methos listened to the cell phone. "Joe. Next right."

"Ha." Joe hit his right-signal switch. Like good Watchers, he and Pelletier were trading off the job of tail: first one vehicle would dog Malik and then the other, never letting themselves be seen following him for long. Right now, Pelletier was on the quarry. "Tell the truth for once, Methos. What has Malik got on you?"

Methos was silent for several moments. Finally he said, "Turn left. I take it Mac didn't mention to you that Rebecca's crystal fell into that river?"

Joe swore. "The crystal vanished over two years ago! No one knew what happened to it. You mean--"

"Yes. Malik probably has all the pieces by now, all except one. The last one is in Mac's pocket. I saw Amanda give it to him, back at the Jardin des Tuileries."

"And if Malik had killed Mac--"

But Methos only looked gravely at him.

The car rolled down the road. The French countryside flowed past around them. The sky was sunny and blue.

"How did Malik know about the crystal?"

"I think . . . he could find it by instinct. Sometimes immortals can be drawn to other immortals that way," Methos added. "By instinct. Like a call to the inward ear. I think he could find it because it used to belong to him."

"I'm not even gonna ask you about that," Joe said in a dark tone.

"Smart man." Methos listened to the phone. "Take the next off-ramp."

"And why do I get the suspicion he hates your guts?"

Methos signed. "Because he does. It's a long, long story, Joe."

"So tell it. We're not in a hurry."

"It all goes back to the crystal . . ."

#

Derbent, 965 AD:

"The Ishmaelites are massing at Baku," said Malik. He stood upon the massive outer wall of the city, gazing out between crenels so tall they overtopped his head; the wall was fifty feet high, twenty-five feet thick. Rebacca stood several feet behind him. Malik was robed and armored like a martial king, in silver-washed mail, in a silk caftan trimmed with sable and embroidered with cabalistic symbols and alchemical formulae. In one hand, casually, he carried a broadsword heavy enough to cleave plate-mail--so powerful, it could cut a man in half with a single blow. His helm was decorated with a golden coronet.

"An army of twenty thousand men," he said, and his blue eyes gazed thoughtfully toward the infinite south. "From all across Islam, they have come to destroy Khazaria. Rebecca, I think now I have always known this day would come . . . I have been preparing for it my whole life long."

Rebecca shivered. She wore a long felt cloak and fur-lined boots, and a pointed capuchin was tied upon her head; this same sort of leather hood had been worn everywhere north of the Black Sea since the days of the Scythians. But she was cold despite her warm clothing, cold with forebodings and fears. It was late twilight, almost nightfall. Stars twinkled at the zenith of the sky. Upon their left hand, the waters of the Khazar Sea--which had been called the Hyrcanian, and would be called the Caspian--were a silvery plain stretching away to distant further shores. Far southward, a blue light flickered across the sea's waves, and luminous flames seemed to play along the slopes of the mountains. The lights and the flames marked the harbor of Baku, which had been held by the Arabs for over three hundred years.

"They little know who awaits them," said Malik in his deep musical voice. "My army will take Baku even as the foe in Baku plot to take Derbent. And whosoever holds Baku, holds the only good harbor on this side of the Khazar Sea. It will be our sea, soon. All the Ishmaelite ships will be ours too. It's time, Rebecca. Time to march south, and begin to teach the sultans just whose is the one true religion."

She said, "Malik, are you sure this is God's will?"

"How could it not be? So long as we continue to fight, can the Messiah's day be distant? No, no, He must come anon, for even the Christian dogs say so: the millennium approaches, they say amongst themselves, and then the world will end. And here is our oracle. You yourself gave it to me." Lightly, he touched the breast of his armor. "The paladium of invincibility. The philosopher's stone."

"Yes. May I see it, perhaps?"

"Of course." From within his caftan, he removed a leather pouch. The drawstring was a braid of tasseled gold and silver cord. Malik shook the contents--a wadded silk cloth--out into his hand. The folds of dark silk fell back.

A star lit the gathering night.

It shone with an inward blaze. It was utterly strange, a faceted sphere, many hundreds of years before the art of gem-cutting would be understood; no one alive in that era had ever seen a jewel polished in any shape but one of soft curves. The tools to facet gemstones had yet to be invented. The art was as yet undreamed-of. But the hard planes and edges of Rebecca's crystal were like a revelation of light--brighter than the cazami of the sun.

"It changes shape," said Malik, "in a magical wise. Sometimes it is large, sometimes somewhat less. I have observed it to burn hotly in my hand, and then to be cold as ice of Mount Elzburg. And as you will know, while I wear it no weapon can wound me, no sword can deal me harm. Not even another immortal can slay me now."

Rebecca was silent. She was thinking; her mind was racing from argument to argument, searching for the words which would persuade Malik to give up the stone. As she pondered, the sounds of laughter and merriment rose from the street behind them. Torches, new-lit, lifted their tossing fires. A snatch of song was heard.

"What are the properties of the philosopher's stone?" she asked, finally.

"Why, it confers life." Malik stroked the surface of the crystal. "It makes a man invincible."

"A man. An immortal, you mean."

"Yes. An athanatizontos. What else could I mean?"

"And to a mortal?"

"It . . . it gives length of days. Bounty of health. It brings wealth, it transmutes ignoble metals to gold--" He smiled, essaying a joke. "Though I have not yet tried that experiment! Rebecca, what is amiss?"

"You must give it back to me," said Rebecca.

". . . Rebecca?"

"You must give it back." She turned, facing him, lifting her hands to put the peaked hood back from her head; her coppery hair haloed her in sudden splendor, as if an archangel incarnate had been revealed. "You have misused it. You must yield it up. Give it to me now, Malik."

Malik actually took a step away from her. Then his face darkened, and he folded the silk wrapping around the crystal and put it back in the leather bag. He stowed the bag away and laid one hand upon it, over his heart. Standing so, he shook his head.

"I will not."

"It is not yours," Rebecca said relentlessly. "It is not meant for the pursuit of power. It is not to be kept, only given away. Give it away, Malik."

"So that you can keep it?" His eyes narrowed. "And hoard it for yourself? No, no, to do so would be the act of a fool--worse than a fool--a lobscoused loon, a ding-thrift widgeon. No. An hundred times, no."

Like king confronting queen upon a chessboard of living men, they measured one another.

It was Malik who looked away first. "An hundred times no," he repeated, wearily. "If you insist, I will surrender it, Rebecca--I am not a villain, not a thief--but later, later. After this campaign. Once . . . once Baku is in our hands, I promise you, I'll yield up the crystal. But not before."

Another burst of laughter came up from below, jarring the solemnity of the moment. Malik flushed. He clutched his hand more possessively over the Methuselah stone. Something like paranoia passed across his face.

"Or is this Methos' plot?" he whispered.

"What?" said Rebecca in honest surprise.

"Has he planned this? I saw him, saw her joy at his return-- Is that it? He wants Chichak for himself, doesn't he? He always coveted her. And now he will seize his moment, seduce her and steal her love."

"You're wrong," she said, moving away. "But enough of it. After the battle, Malik--I'll hold you to that promise. When do you plan to attack?"

"Within the week. I must ride out tonight, patrol the westward border down Tiflis way. There's a report of a strange knight seeking challenge of me by name--almost certainly an immortal." He shrugged and half-smiled. "Since you gave me the crystal, such challengers appear almost weekly. As if they knew to seek me out. This will be just another trifling beheading."

"Malik--take care."

"How could he hurt me, whoever he is?" asked Malik.

She left him there. He left Derbent before midnight, riding alone across the Caucasus mountains.

And they never saw the Malik they knew again.

#

In the present day:

". . . Amanda? It's Methos. Is Mac back with us yet? . . . No? Why not, it's been-- Oh, I see--it's like that."

"What's wrong?" asked Joe, glancing over.

Methos covered the phone's receiver with the palm of his hand. "He's still dead."

"What? He always heals faster than that!"

"Well, being shot in the head seems to have cramped his style," said Methos. "Not that I'm blaming him, mind you. I usually take a few extra moments to snap back myself, after having my brains splattered all over a road." He thought. "I was embalmed once. In Thebes. Took over a week to come back to life afterward." There was a sound--a tinny, shrill sound--a demanding, feminine sound--emerging from the phone in his hand. He tilted his head to listen, and said, "Okay, Amanda. But you'd better hope he hurries up and heals . . . Why? Because we're following Malik, remember? And he's heading straight toward a village full of morning shoppers."

#

Derbent, 965 AD:

Chock. Chock. Ker-chock!

"My turn!" said Chichak happily.

She knelt upon the rushes of the floor, her skirts gathered about her knees. Her upraised hand gripped the crudest of dies: an astragalus, a sheep's white knucklebone. Before her, the flagstones had been swept clean, and there were walnuts lying there in small pyramids, four nuts to a pile. She was playing at cob-nut, against Methos and Jacob. She was shying the knucklebone at the nuts, and whatever she managed to knock down, would be forfeit to her.

A respectable horde of walnuts lay at her knee. A slightly smaller one sat beside Jacob. Methos had had more, only last turn--but he had wagered them upon the toss of the die, and was now bankrupt.

"Throw them, squirrel!"

She hurled the die. Crack. Nuts leapt into the air. Crick-crack! They rolled and bounded, cracking violently together, with such force that several pyramids were knocked asunder. And Chichak flung up her hands with a peal of laughter, overjoyed at the devastation she saw. Her eyes sparkled as she turned impulsively to her companions. "Oh, I am rich now! You--"

But she broke off as her husband stepped through the door.

She took one look at him, and scrambled to her feet. "Malik! Husband, speak to me! What's happened, what's wrong?"

Malik sniggered. It was a juvenile sound, appalling in the mouth of a man several centuries old, and it went on and on, becoming a jagged cackle without mirth--a sound like raw despair. His hand snaked out, snatching hold of her sleeve, and he reeled her closer and crushed her against his mailed chest. A walnut split apart with a crack like a scream, crushed to pieces beneath his heel. "Greet me properly, wife." He bent his head and took her mouth, bruising her with a kiss.

When he released her, she staggered and almost fell. Her fingers crept up toward her swollen lips. She whispered, "Malik? What's become of you?"

"Who," said Malik. He was grinning as he stood there, arms akimbo, surveying the room. "Why, how pleasant this is. Whore and whoresons and cuckold all united after so many years."

Methos and Jacob rose slowly, drawing their swords. There was a wary, wise light in Methos' eye; he halted Jacob with an upheld hand, and studied Malik keenly. "You are no cuckold," he said, his voice gentle. "And Chichak is no whore."

"I in plain terms unto the world will tell," quoted Malik, his grin widening, "whores are the hackneys which men ride to hell. And by comparisons I truly make, a whore worse than a common shore or jake . . . There's a price to be paid for adultery in Khazar, you know. The trunks of two trees are brought together, the adulterer and his whore tied to the branches and then the trees let go--so that the both of them are split clean in two. Have you taken your pleasure of her yet, Methos? Or has the sin been sinned merely in your hearts?"

"Wipe that foul spittle from your lips!" Jacob sprang forward, enraged. But Malik took hold of him, wrenching the blade from his grasp and sending him face-forward into the wall. There was a hearty thump, and Chichak let out a shriek. Jacob slid floorward, dead to the world, and Malik juggled Jacob's sword lightly in his hand, as he stalked toward Methos.

Chichak ran between them. She was sobbing as she tried to take her husband's hand. "Beloved, my heart, my David, my Absalom--Methos is your true friend and I your true wife, you know that in your heart. No one has betrayed you. What brought on these night-fears?"

"Shh, Flower." Methos moved to one side, and Malik swung about to face him. "Malik. Student. Rebecca said you went to answer a challenge?"

A grating laugh burst from Malik's mouth. His face twisted in an uncanny manner, werewolf-wise rather than manlike; veins swelled across his forehead, as though his brain bulged out. "Aye. Aye, Methos, yes indeed."

"They say a murdered mortal's eyes take the reflection of his killer to the grave, and a beheaded immortal's likeness may peep out from his killer's eyes. Dark-quickening, the oldest ones call it. Are you confused with quickening, student? Do you remember the lives of the dead?"

"Am I myself, you mean?" Malik sneered at him. "No fear, old man. I am more myself than ever, now. My eyes have been opened, that's all. I have been blind, but now I see."

"Malik, this moil in your soul, it can be cleansed away--"

Malik pounced at him.

Methos twisted away, with his doublet ripped half down from one shoulder and his hat knocked off; breathing quickly, he retreated toward the door. And Malik stood in the middle of the room and bellowed with hacking laughter. "Cleansed? Put the beam back in my eye, you mean. I see it all now. I understand everything. Would you challenge me, Methos--take my head?"

"No. You are my student. I won't fight you, Malik."

"You should. You should. Not that you could take me. Watch this!" And with a lightning-fast gesture, he raised Jacob's sword and slashed with the cutting edge at his own throat.

Chichak wailed aloud.

But the sword only shattered and Malik stood there rocking with amusement, pointing a finger at her, sniggering at the look on her face. "So long as I have the crystal, I am invincible." The shards of the sword were all over the floor; he kicked at them, pettish as a child. "So you'd better not try, Methos. I can have your head for the taking, you know." He licked his lips suddenly. "Maybe I'll have it now."

"Do so, then." Methos put up his sword, and crossed his arms. "Remember Darius? Take my quickening, Malik, and we'll soon see who has the stronger soul. They say that after Darius took the oldest immortal's head, it was an hundred years before he would answer to any name but 'Dimitri'."

"Ah, I see through your tricks," muttered Malik, a little sulkily. "Don't think I'll do what you ask. Later, Methos! But for now, night falls and I yearn for my dear wife. Chichak! Time to get reacquainted."

He grabbed her wrist and dragged her out of the door.

Methos crossed the room and lifted Jacob to his feet, ruffled his hair. "Brave boy. No, they're gone."

"We have to stop him--!"

"No. This is not the way. Let's think about this, Jacob."

"But he'll hurt her--"

"Hush. He's still Malik, remember. Chichak is his love and his life. I think," said Methos, "no matter what happens, she is the only one who can reach him now."

#

". . . and that was my mistake," Methos finished. In France, a thousand years later. He sighed, and turned to look out of the car window. He sighed again.

"What, you're not going to stop now? Finish the story, Methos!"

"There's no time," said Methos. He gestured. "We're here."

"Dammit . . . Okay. Better call Pelletier and Wilmington, tell them to drop back and lie low. We'll take over surveillance." Joe swung round a turn. Row houses walled both sides of the road now, and there were apple trees, flowering, like clouds of pink and white. Men out strolling with dogs on leashes, women wheeling perambulators, passed by without bothering to glance at the moving car.

Several intersections away, they could now glimpse a motorcycle parked illegally just aft of a fountain square. It was tied up to a concrete pillar, like a horse roped to an innyard post. A stout woman in uniform was standing next to it, writing a ticket.

"What's Amanda's plan?" Joe asked.

"Plan?" said Methos. "What plan?"

#

Further down the village street, a man in a ripped ragged jacket and sunglasses all knocked-awry staggered like a drunkard; it was a miracle the gerdarmes had not seen him already. He had dropped the keys of the motorcycle underfoot, trodden on them and forgotten them. The katana was concealed in his coat. The useless pieces of the crystal were also there. He lurched to a halt by an outdoor cafe, fell into a chair and spilled the shards of the philosopher's stone out across the glass-topped table. Feverishly, he began to fit them together. But his fingers shook so much, the fragments slipped between them . . . and he was sure that at least one piece was missing. And when a garcon approached with a frown of concern, Malik cursed him in ten different voices.

The waiter ran to call for help.

Then all the pieces of the crystal fell through Malik's numb fingers, as a tone of music sounded in his mind. He swept them back into their bag, hid them away, rose and stood leaning heavily on the table--glaring like a madman. Amanda, sword in hand, stood in the alley entrance opposite the cafe. She beckoned him; and Jacob was there too, staring over her shoulder.

Malik snarled. Slowly at first, he began to stalk across the street; traffic stopped and there was a blare of car-horns. He never noticed. By the time he reached the alley, he was running. He vanished into the shadows--and behind him, the garcon shrugged and went back to counting his soupcons, forgetting the imbecile tourist in a moment.

#

Derbent, 965 AD:

The stone castle was as cold as death.

Malik lay sprawled across the ruins of his marriage bed; a strong draft of wind blew starlight in over the window-casement, but the chill did not seem to touch him. Sweat cooled on his body. He smiled in his sleep, dreaming dead men's dreams.

A shadow moved at the door.

She had slipped out of their bed an hour earlier, stumbled weeping to the door, leaned on the wall beside it with her fingers stammering over her bruised flesh; and he had turned over and watched her with the grin of a possessed man. All that he felt was pleasure at her shame. She had fumbled the heavy door open and lurched painfully out of their bedchamber. And he had yawned and fallen into a satisfied sleep.

. . . and in the meager light she came back to their bed with dragging feet, holding something concealed in her skirts; even in his dreams he had known it was her, and Malik never woke. Her little hand slid under the pillow. As she quested for his treasure, he broke into a sleeping sweat and mumbled some question, and Chichak answered clearly: "Fear not, love. It is only I." Then she bent and pressed a kiss to his forehead.

She stole the stone from its hiding place.

She lifted the sword she had also stolen, and tears ran down her face.

He stirred restlessly, one hand groping across the empty side of the bed. "Chichak?"

She hesitated.

Then Malik opened one eye.

And like a monster from a nightmare, he came surging off the bed at her, the sword--Methos' sword!--falling awry. The gash of pain along his arm and shoulder made him howl with pain. He grabbed her round the throat. Chichak was shaken like a mouse in a terrier's jaws, she fell away from him and sprawled along the floor. Blood besplattered the bed; he was already flinging the pillows over, tossing the sheepskin blankets to the floor, searching for the stolen crystal. Then he glanced over his shoulder and saw her crawling toward the unglazed window.

She was halfway across the deep casement when he caught her ankle and began to haul her back. A cold wind swept over them both. His hands climbed up her body, grabbing handfuls of her bedgown, ripping it apart while she kicked and rolled and struggled--and when they reached her slender throat, they fastened around it. He throttled her like a hen for the pot.

When his mind cleared, instants too late, he looked down and saw her lying there. Dead. Dead. Dead.

It was Methos' fault!

He had cried out in uttermost grief, and gathered her poor dear corpse to him. As he did so, her lifeless hand opened. Rebecca's crystal, brighter than the moon above, rolled out of her fingers and across the casement. Like a soul flying to its maker, it fell over the edge.

It struck the stone flags of the courtyard, seventy feet below, and shattered into a hundred pieces.

#

In the present day:

In the narrow alley, Malik wheeled with sword on garde while Amanda and Jacob circled, circled, circled him like prowling wolves. No blow had yet been struck. A low terrifying growl rumbled in Malik's throat: feminine spite and masculine rage and bestial fury all passed across his face. The masks of a dozen identities seemed to distort his features. When he spoke, it was in many voices.

"Sweet Jacob, my copple-crowned widgeon . . . and ye dullytripe slattern--whosoever ye may be--dunghill-quean, for this you'll pay--"

"Wash out your mouth with soap," Amanda snapped. Her claymore reached out and tapped his, testingly. Malik slapped her blade aside, wheeled and parried Jacob's blow.

"This is against the rules!"

"I was never much for rules," said Amanda lightly.

"Thou light-heeled strompet!"

"Right on--all counts--"

He lunged. The heavy blade of the claymore turned, blocking the katana as Amanda switched herself out of the way; it was as if she swung her whole body lithely upon the fulcrum of her sword. And like the circus acrobat she was, she twisted and dropped--and the claymore came around at his knees, forcing him back. "Touche!" Amanda said.

"Putaine!" he spat. "Amazone! Grande horizontalle!"

"Is that your French side showing through?" She skipped past him. "I see your doughty deeds were but false dice. They say, ofte times we see that the latter end of a man discordes with the first--"

"They say?" High, low, middle--the katana smashed against the claymore, rocking Amanda backwards, and Malik snickered. "What say they? They have said-- Let them say!"

She parried, turned, slammed the claymore up to block his blow at her throat, made a long gliding step and was lunging in from the right. "Moldiwarpe!" he added.

"All that," Amanda agreed, "and much, much more." She glanced aside. "Jacob, sweetheart. A handles a's sword like a fishing-rod. Step in, cut nee his lights--then foin him and paunch him and ha' done with all."

The katana bit deep, scoring a bright ding in the claymore's softer steel. She staggered. But then Jacob thrust from behind--forcing Malik to disengage before he could behead Amanda.

"This is so unfair!" The words came out in a furious whine. "This isn't how you're supposed to play the Game!"

"Ye stinking lichfoul," said Jacob grimly.

Amanda circled him on one side. Jacob circled him on the other.

"You can't afford to kill me." Again, Malik's voice changed. "Joke's on you, lady. Take my head, and lose your mind. It's Hobson's choice, huh?"

"I don't plan--to kill you." She parried. "I plan--to hogtie you and--dunk you in holy water--" Brushing past him, she whirled and blocked his sword-stroke and smiled insolently into his face. She held the claymore one-handed, now. "Until you give up the ghost!" she ended.

From the fingers of her other hand, she dangled his gun.

"Lost something, Malik?" she inquired. She tossed the gun in the air, caught it, and pitched it off to the right. It ricocheted off a garbage can, and fell to the alley pavement--far out of Malik's reach.

Malik shrugged. "Big deal," he sneered. "You missed all the important stuff."

Amanda switched on a smile. "You mean like this?" She twisted her wrist, and a small bag fell into her hand. A bag which clinked and chimed. A familiar bag. "Jacob! Catch!!" she said, and hurled the bag.

Malik roared, whipped around to face Jacob, and lunged. As he did so, his back was unprotected. And Amanda sprang after him.

Her point sliced deep into the shoulder of his sword-arm.

What happened next, happened with blinding speed.

Malik turned. He dropped the katana from his right hand into his left. He struck at the forte of her claymore, putting all his strength behind the blow. Amanda screamed without words as her weapon was smashed out of her hands. He cut once, turned again, facing Jacob--

Behind him, Amanda was flung backward, her white coat instantly covered with brilliant red. She hit the ground and died.

--and Malik sprang like a cat, hurling himself up and forward--right over Jacob's sword-stroke. He landed rolling, bounced back onto his feet. He was behind Jacob, now. Jacob began to turn. Malik thrust.

Jacob fell to his knees, clutching his belly.

Malik swung the katana, disarmed him, stepped close and lowered the razor-edge of his blade. There was a little blood on his shirt, but his shoulder had already healed. As for the bag of crystals, it had fallen unharmed to the pavement. "Well, well," he said. "Jacob, my teacher's pet. How does it feel to die?"

"Do't." Jacob bowed his neck beneath the sword. "Take the head, ye swinyard wife-slayer. Squob out your apprentice's life. Do't, man!"

"Oh, I don't think so," Malik drawled. He nudged the bag with a toe, and then turned and kicked Amanda's claymore far down the alley; it ended up somewhere near the gun. Then with his right hand, he reached into his jacket and withdrew a cell phone.

He punched in the number he had seen on the call-trace screen.

Somewhere, a phone rang.

"Methos?" said Malik, smiling. "Come face me now. Alse see your friends die a-wallow i' their gore."

#

"Where the hell are they?" muttered Wilmington. "Try Joe's number again."

Pelletier stabbed at the phone with his finger. He scrubbed sweat off his face. He listened at the earpiece.

"But it's busy," he said in surprise.

#

"At last."

Methos stood at the far end of the alley. The cell phone in his hand appeared to be his only weapon; his head was tilted, his eyes watched Malik with a strange clinical look. He said nothing.

"A thousand years I've waited for this moment." Malik stabbed Jacob again, just for insurance, and then turned on his heel and began to walk toward Methos with long unhurried strides. "In duresse, buried in her tomb--a stroke of genius that, trapping me on holy ground--ah, Methos. Methos. I've dreamed of this day. Tell me, are you the oldest of us now?"

"I am." Methos crossed his arms. "So you see, nothing has changed. Take my head, and I'll do my damndest to make you into me."

"Oh, I don't plan to take your head." Malik swung the katana up, twirling it. "That would be merciful."

"Then face me," said a voice behind him.

He turned, and MacLeod was there.

The rest of the world seemed to fade away. Sounds dwindled. Vision narrowed. The two men walked unhurriedly toward one other.

They halted simultaneously.

"So you want another helping of death?" Malik asked.

"It's your death we'll be seeing this time," Mac answered.

"Who are you, anyway?"

"We'll know each other soon enough."

They smiled simultaneously.

The first to attack, now, was the likeliest to lose. It was the classic trap of high-level martial arts . . . that the aggressor was always defeated. MacLeod narrowed his eyes, watching Malik--his weapon, his hands, his stance, everything about him--and Malik stood just out of sword's-measure, gazing back. Those eyes could have been mirrors. What was the heart of his opponent's shinmyoken: the crucial point at which he was vulnerable--not to be seen with the ken of the eyes, only known with the kan of the mind? Where flesh and soul had their center, there was shinmyoken. Only there, at the seat of his shinmyoken, could Malik be defeated.

Behind Malik, Methos had drawn his sword . . . but neither Mac nor Malik noticed.

They struck simultaneously.

The katana smashed into Amanda's Oroboros sword, and the blade of Amanda's sword shattered like a broken mirror.

And behind Malik, Methos stepped forward, lifting his blade, shouting out loud as he did so. Malik swung the katana. Mac sprang straight backwards, raising his empty hand.

Methos threw his sword; it caught the light in a great flash as it passed overhead; it fell smack into MacLeod's grasp.

Malik blinked and MacLeod thrust with Methos' sword--and just like that, it was over.

Malik's knees folded. He choked and a gush of blood flowed over his shirt-front; red bubbles appeared at the corners of his mouth. The katana fell from his hand. Instinctively, his fingers scrabbled after it, and then he was on hands and knees, staring up, with one hand planted upon the bag of crystals. MacLeod stepped closer, poising Methos' sword for a beheading blow. "Gogmagog," he said quietly. "Your time's run out.'

"You can't kill me," Malik gasped. "You know what will happen--"

"Aye," answered MacLeod. "It's crystal-clear."

He struck and the headless corpse toppled--and the alley exploded with light. There was fire-flaught in it, fire-leven and erthemovinge gone wild; luminous fingers of mist crawled up the alley walls, surged away in a phosphorescent tide. To Mac's left, a garbage pail burst and its lid spanged thirty feet straight up and landed bouncing and rolling. To his right, all the windows overlooking the alley shattered. Glass knives fell like rain. A finger of electricity writhed up MacLeod's body, arced out of his burning eyes and hit Methos, playing along his limbs and frying Joe's cell phone to a cinder. Both men shouted as the levin-bolt of the quickening linked them--lashing away, crackling away, draining away into the earth. And the pavement rolled and shuddered under their feet.

Bits of burning paper blew around Mac as he bent and retrieved the bag that held the pieces of the crystal. Jacob and Amanda were just stirring, opening their eyes. MacLeod looked rather blankly at Methos' sword in his hand, and then at the katana lying on the ground. Then he turned away from the katana, shrugging in indifference--and saw Methos watching him.

His face distorted.

"A thousand years," he breathed, and started forward.