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Gogmagog part four

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Imagine the usual disclaimers. Warnings: angst, smarm, fantasy violence; twisted history. And the cold-blooded murder of the English tongue.

Ezek 38:21: I will summon every kind of terror against Gog, says the Lord GOD;

every man's sword will be against his brother.





Katsuninken: Life-giving Sword





From his vantage point, Joe witnessed it all.

He was on a rooftop, four stories above street level and directly opposite the alley's mouth; here, leaning against a ventilation exhaust, he could see everything while remaining invisible. Earlier, he had watched Amanda and Jacob tempt Malik into an ambush, and then Malik had turned the tables on them--hell on wheels, that man!--and taken them both down. Then Malik had summoned Methos . . . but MacLeod had arrived at the eleventh hour . . . and then--and then-- Joe had observed dozens of quickenings in his time, but never one like that. Never. He remembered once watching Amanda steal a kill from MacLeod, and the swift fire of the quickening had sought her out like magic; he had seen Richie take a head in Mac's presence and vice versa, but the quickening always went to the one who took the head. No matter who else was present. He had never read a chronicle that even suggested such a thing could happen!

Now he watched the dark quickening take hold of MacLeod.

Amanda and Jacob had seen it too. Joe saw Amanda bounce to her feet and dance sideways, going for her sword. Jacob seemed to be shouting. (And there lay Malik's headless body, cauterized and clean; it would have to be picked up before the police arrived, taken to the nearest Watcher-owned funeral home--) MacLeod ignored all this. In his left hand, he gripped the bag of crystals--holding it like treasure. In his right hand, he held Methos' sword. He saw only Methos. He stalked toward Methos, and there was murder on his face.

Methos faced him, empty-handed.

With a flare of silvery light, the sword swung around and came at Methos' throat, and from a block away, Joe saw Methos shiver all over--but he did not flinch. His hands were empty, he made no move to defend himself; he appeared to be speaking to MacLeod, but his back was turned and Joe could not see his face. The flat of the sword lay heavy against his skin. Through his expensive binoculars, Joe focused on the edge of the blade; a line of scarlet had sprung out along it. Glistening, gleaming. Staining the sword. But Methos did not move.

MacLeod looked unlike himself.

He was disheveled, his hair sticking up in spikes, and his features--more familiar to Joe than Joe's own reflection in the mirror--seemed to have smeared themselves into strangeness. The stubble of fresh beard on his jaw appeared unnaturally dark. His mouth worked unpleasantly, his eyes bulged. The clean lines of his face were distorted, sheened with sweat, their harmony lost. Their beauty was gone. Joe looked at his friend, anguished, and saw only a sneering thug.

(What was Amanda doing there, off to one side?)

Now, there--Mac's lips were moving. Joe leaned further forward, and his own lips moved, shaping the words. ". . . why did you do it . . . you and Rebecca . . . your fault she died . . ." A pause, then Mac threw back his head as if to howl at the sky. The sword shuddered in his hand; Methos was driven to his knees, hands clutching Mac's wrists, as Mac bent over him and shouted into his face. On the rooftop, Joe took an instinctive step forward, clenching the binoculars until his knuckles whitened with strain. He could see everything--but do nothing.

Sometimes it wasn't easy being a Watcher.

But--there! Methos had turned his head. And his face in profile was not calm; his eyes were squeezed shut, his mouth drawn with pain and fear. Methos was speaking and MacLeod was listening. Just a little further, and Joe would be able to read his lips too--

"Why did you give it to me?" Mac was demanding.

Methos made a small movement, averting his face. His lips parted, and then he stopped and shook his head.

"--a test of some kind--giving me the crystal? Why do it, if not for me to use it to save my people? Speak to me! Tell me, Methos!"

But Methos did not answer.

Instead he turned fully into Joe's view, shaking off the sword as if he was unafraid; evidently looking MacLeod right in the eye. Saying one word. "Duncan."

MacLeod stepped back.

(What was Amanda--oh. There. She had just stooped and picked up Malik's fallen gun. And neither Methos or Mac had noticed . . . ?)

No. No. They weren't paying attention to Amanda at all.

They hadn't even seen her.

It was as if they were in a world apart.

Methos said again, "Duncan," and his face filled with a warmth and love that made Joe lean forward in surprise. Methos took hold of the blade of the sword, his hand curving around it lightly--setting it aside, stepping in close to MacLeod, reaching out to touch his forehead. His fingertips ghosted down across Mac's eyes; Mac's eyes fell shut, the long thick lashes lying flat, and then sprang wide open as if shocked. The surprise, the confusion in them was clear to be seen. For just an instant, Methos' palm cupped the curve of Mac's cheek. For just an instant, something seemed to leap like quickening between them . . . for an instant that seemed to turn back time and linger like eternity. As if they were linked by a golden cord.

Then Amanda snapped the safety off the gun.

MacLeod ripped himself away from Methos, and his shout of anger carried clearly to where Joe stood a block away. A gunshot rang out. There was a swirl of movement, the swift gleam of light on a blade, as Mac leaped to one side and ran for it. Joe, watching, gasped and blinked.

Then he lowered his binoculars, and said a phrase he had learned as a boy on the Chicago streets. Something made him cough and rub at his eyes, which were stinging; his breath caught in the back of his throat, and he reminded himself that a good Watcher had no business getting emotional.

Below, the alley was empty.

#

"Aha!" said Etienne Pelletier to Peter Wilmington. With a dramatic exaggerated shrug of both shoulders, he jabbed his finger out. "I knew it! The motorcycle!"

"That's MacLeod's car," said Wilmington, looking down the street.

"And there's Dawson's Citroen!" Pelletier suddenly chuckled. "Well, well, Sherlock. The game's afoot!"

"My dear Arsene--may I call you Arsene? . . . you read too much fiction, you know."

The two Watchers grinned at one another. Then they sighted immortals in the offing, stiffened and dove for cover.

Traffic was bumper-to-bumper at the ring intersection with its pretty memorial park fenced off by posts and chains; the fountain's spout winked in the sunshine, and the air was alive with blaring horns, one-finger salutes, and insults flung every which way. Traffic was zooming along the street, with cars weaving in and out. On the handlebar of Malik's abandoned motorcycle, a ticket fluttered like a flag. The lights changed. The family which had been waiting anxiously at the curb sprang into action, hustling across the street: there was a swarm of shock-headed black-haired children with sallow skin and liquid brown eyes. The little boys had long pointed noses and wore neat caps upon their heads, the little girls giggled madly as they rushed forward. Their mother held an infant clad in yellow-flowered trousers. Her youngest ones clutched hold of her skirts, and her eldest walked beside her, flinging her arms in the air.

"Maman! You see the Devil in everything I do! All the girls at school wear skirts shorter than this, and as for my hair, what is the matter with blonde curls? Suzanne dyed and styled it for me, it did not cost a sou."

"Yasmin," said her maman in a sigh of despair. "Hasbi rabi jal Allah!"

"Maman, remember we are not in Algeria any longer. This is France . . . and it is almost the millennium." Yasmin patted her hair. "I had to work like a slavedriver, just to convince you to take off your veil. And now this. But Suzanne did it perfectly, don't you agree? Everyone says I look like a young Brigitte Bardot."

"Mo fi kalbi hirallah!"

Then Yasmin's eyes went wide with astonishment, as four immortals stormed out of a nearby alleyway. The foremost was a man gripping a golden-hilted sword. Yasmin's baby sisters burst out in fresh giggles, Yasmin's baby brothers yipped with excitement--but Maman gasped and clutched her heart in a panic. Maman saw the blood all over Amanda's coat-front.

Cars braked and their drivers screamed obscenities; MacLeod had run straight out into traffic, with Methos and Jacob and Amanda hot on his heels. Cars swerved. Cars wove from lane to lane. Mac swung his sword, and a hubcap parted company with its wheel and rolled away, jingling. Another slice clove a bumper cleanly in two. Yasmin's family was marooned in the crosswalk, in dire peril of their lives--clutching one another in terror, while around them the traffic swerved every which way. And Yasmin goggled at the handsome stranger, taking in those shoulders, those eyes, that body--and that magnificent sword! Certainly, he must be a movie star.

France! Not for a million francs would she go home to Algeria.

Meanwhile, "Mac, Mac! Wait up!" Amanda was panting. She grabbed Mac's arm. "Talk to us! Duncan?"

MacLeod swung around. His lips had peeled back from his teeth. For a heartbeat they were nose to nose; then Amanda stepped back in shock. "Duncan?" she said weakly.

"It's Amanda the raven," said MacLeod, and the venom in his voice stunned her. "What the hell d'you want with me, woman? Better get back to your mortal stud. Your little boy--is he thirty years old? Thirty-five? Older? What escort service did he use to work for, that he knows enough to satisfy you between the sheets?" His voice dropped. "Does he know how many men have been in there before him?"

"Mac--you don't mean that. You're sick. Let us help--"

His gaze slid slowly up her body, across her face, lingering over her lips. He let out a short bark of laughter. "You're a glutton for punishment, Amanda." Now it was her throat he was staring at, hungrily. "Once you have hold of a man, you don't know how to let go. Want a little more of me?"

"Duncan, please--"

He struck her clean across the mouth, snapping her head back and bloodying the back of his hand.

Amanda took a lurching step, narrowly missing a snazzy royal-blue roadster with an Italian family goggling wide-eyed through its windows. On either side, traffic whizzed by. She staggered and then a girl with drugstore-yellow curls had hold of her; a swarm of black-haired children caught her clothes with tiny eager hands and hauled her out of danger. The peroxide blonde was poking at the bloodstains on Amanda's coat, her face aglow with innocent delight. "You're shooting a movie, aren't you?" she demanded. "American movie stars!"

"Oh yes," said Amanda weakly. She patted a small girl on the head. Sneaking a glance past them, she saw MacLeod reeling in circles, waving his sword, with Jacob upon his back. Jacob's legs were wrapped around MacLeod's waist, Jacob's fists were flailing. Even as she looked, Jacob was flung off, to land sprawling across a car hood. He rolled sideways and fell out of sight.

Methos stood hesitating in the crosswalk, sliding one hand into the front of his coat--perhaps going for a gun.

MacLeod swung the sword backhanded at him. "Stay away from me, Methos!" It was a shout of raw fury. Methos ducked away, and a fire-red Porsche veered sideways with a scream of abused wheel-rubber and almost creamed a Mitsubishi. Jacob appeared from nowhere, with road-dust all over his jacket, and leaped at Mac again. Amanda flung up her hands, and ran to help.

"Ye muck-suckle from the goathouse! How dare you lay one hand on sweet Amanda!!"

"Jacob, get him down, take the sword away! I'll bring the car up--"

"Yt ys too late," said Mac. He held Maman, his hand fisted in her shawl, and the infant in the yellow flowered trousers was hugged in the crook of his sword-arm. Both Maman and baby screamed like banshees. Yasmin in her attractive short skirt stood behind them, hands pressed to her cheeks and her eyes as big as saucers.

"Would you give your life for theirs?" MacLeod asked Methos. "I imagine there are Watchers all around us. Just think--one little accident, and your secret's out for good. Wonder how long it'll take them to guess who you really are?" He joggled the baby. "Will you die for him?"

"Duncan!" said Methos. "Stop this. Stop this now."

"I--" Mac hesitated. Emotions, personalities seemed to swirl across his familiar face; they were like muddied water, drowning the true MacLeod. He blinked as if in a daze, shook his head hard. Then he said in a voice which was not his own: "Don't try to stop me. I know what to do."

"Malik?" said Methos. "Is that you?

"Aputel," said Mac. The word whined out from between his teeth. ""Lalun llun--j'h h'v h'v--" Suddenly he tossed his head, seemed to come to himself; something like the old MacLeod looked out of his eyes. Then a sneer crossed his face and the moment was gone. "All of you--just keep out of my way!"

He kissed Maman smack on the mouth, releasing her with a flourish. Then, as she sank down in a swoon, he tossed the baby into the air.

When the dust cleared, Mac was long gone. All the cars in either direction had halted, an appalled silence had fallen over the whole crowded street. Amanda, breathing hard, stood in the midst of chaos--with a car's headlights six inches from her right hip, and another car's bumper so close it actually creased her tight leather pants. But she held little Daoud cradled safe to her heart. To Jacob clung little Ali, little Makub, little Selim, little Maryam and little Sephira. Maman, her mouth sagging open, sat there on the pavement and goggled at them all.

All Methos had was an armful of ripe Yasmin.

The gerdarmes were certainly on their way. "Ah, hell," said Methos. He seized Yasmin, bent her over his arm and kissed her thoroughly. Then he set her on her feet, and ran off with Jacob and Amanda.

Behind them, Yasmin stroked her own lips with trembling fingers. "Ah, France," she breathed. "I will never leave!"

"La ilohal ill Allah!" said Maman.

Behind them, Peter Wilmington appeared like magic from the vicinity of the fountain. Etienne Pelletier turned around; he had been window-shopping halfway down the street, with his back turned to the quarry. And Joe Dawson limped out of the alley entrance, holding MacLeod's discarded katana between finger and thumb.

"What the Goddam is this?" said Pelletier. "Musical swords?"

#

Sometime later, Dawson found three immortals holding a council-of-war in the graveyard down the street.

All he had to do was spot their car, parked just outside the wrought-iron gate. Within, Methos was sitting perched on a gravestone, side by side with a benevolent marble angel. He seemed pensive. Jacob was not pensive; Jacob was raving like a madman, foaming at the mouth, spitting insults and promises. While Amanda stroked his hand, and tried to calm him with coos and sympathy.

"Yon haggise, yon chitterling, yon hog's harslet and hart-of-grease--"

"There, there. Shush, darling--it's all over now and no one was hurt."

"--yon fals file, yon fear-babes, yon muck-spout without peer--"

"And you were positively heroic, jumping on him like that."

"--yon dizzard, yon goff, yon common swinking jester-- counterfetting the gestures of any man, and moving his body as him list. Ah! a had such a wicked tongue, fore to slander you, my douce Amanda--"

Amanda, much moved, kissed him on the forehead.

"--I wrinched my ankle a-falling and a wheel ran o'er my shield arm--I feel all mucksen up to the hucksen!"

"Jacob, enow," said Methos quietly. "Beth ye less wreched, I pray."

"Do you think you three can talk modern English for a while?" asked Joe. "Because I can tell you right now, I've had it about up to here."

"Mm. Relax, Joe, we're done." Methos sat up a little. "May I have Mac's katana? . . . Thanks. I feel naked without a sword." He made the katana disappear. "I'm sorry about your cell phone, by the way."

"Suffer for the cause," said Joe with a crooked smile. "I've already got a replacement. And yes, my people are following Mac."

"What next?" Amanda asked.

"Why," said Jacob, "our course is surely charted. This is a very demon, as we have seen before." His face was set--hard and grim and determined, and for the first time, he looked older than his years. Like a true immortal. "Methos, my godphere, we all know this. A must be dealt with as before--taken by fine force and fore-setten i' her sepulchre. Alse we sall ne'er go quit of him."

"But he's still our Mac," said Amanda, holding up one hand. "Isn't he? Methos, you know more about this than either of us. Mac's fought the dark quickening before and managed to defeat it. Tell us how he did it."

"The dark quickening," Methos mused. He had one foot propped up on the gravestone now, his arms crossed over his knee and his chin sunk upon his chest. The hands of the marble angel seemed to cast a benediction over his head. "It's like . . . a sickness of the memory, it's like a kind of immortal schizophrenia. As if the personalities of all the other immortals they've killed all manifest themselves at once. It falls upon those afflicted by fits and starts. Even in their maddest moments, they would suddenly seem to come to themselves and feel remorse. Do you remember, Joe?"

"I remember it, yes. He almost killed Richie. He almost killed me."

"Yeah, he almost killed me too. He was damned unpredictable. I took him onto holy ground," Methos added, to Amanda and Jacob, "and let him fight off his own demons. We have to find some way of doing that again."

"No," said Jacob harshly. "Nay. Whatsoever your friend did before, this is a demon which hagrode our Malik for nigh a millennium without slackening--have ye forgotten, Master Methos? There is no cure to't."

A silence fell.

"And Malik was strong. And good passing reproach." Jacob hunched his shoulders; his ears stuck out, pink-edged with stubbornness and determination. "'Twasn't enough. You know what we did wrong."

"What I did wrong, Jacob my God's-sake." Methos glanced at him with affection.

"We all helped in't."

"What do we have to do?" asked Amanda, pale-faced.

"Eke what we ought have done before. Swop off his head," said Jacob. "Only an old strong one can subdue these fiends. Master Methos, ye must kill him and take his quickening."

"You can't do that!" said Joe loudly, before he even thought of opening his mouth.

Amanda looked up, away from him. Jacob looked down, away from him. Joe lurched forward, suddenly awkward on his cane, putting out a hand to Methos in entreaty . . . and Methos looked straight at him, his face smooth and blank.

"You're probably right. Amanda, Jacob--" And he went on speaking in a language foreign to Joe Dawson, while Joe could only stand and clench his teeth.

#

Derbent, 965 Ad:

Rain was falling heavily as Jacob rode up to the fortress; a north wind blew hard, sleet and hail drove into his face, and he thought that the storm would never end. His horse staggered, lame in the off hind pastern and with arrows still quilling the fleece that was its saddle-blanket. Jacob's riding-cloak was in ribbons. All his wounds had healed, and many a soldier lay dead behind him upon the way, who would have thanked God for the boon of immortality. Yet still he was as weary as the end of the world.

He had lost his helmet. At the citadel gate he reined in his nag, raising his face to the skies; his strawberry-blond hair clung in streaks across his forehead, soaked to the color of a fox's red pelt. Wet smears of blood and earth and offal marked his cheeks. His mouth opened, twisting in misery--making a silent cry of woe.

He found Methos and Rebecca in the great hall, sitting at a chess-table in the corner. Jacob was reminded of the English fable of the Fisher-king: a man wounded by his own hands, unable to heal, unable to die . . . trapped in a castle doleful as a grave, tarrying in a life which was no life. While a magician and a queenly woman played a chess game that never ended. With crystal pieces moving upon the board. Red and white chess pieces, which were the symbols of alchemy--of the chymical marriage which birthed the philosopher's stone.

He drew close to them, dumbfounded with sorrow and bewilderment. What were they doing, what game were they playing?

But there were no chessmen on the table between Methos and Rebecca. There was nothing but a meaningless jumble of quartz. And the faces they turned to him were older than time itself.

"'Tis a nightmare we're trapped in," he said finally, in Khazarian.

"God's-sake." Methos stood up, dropping a fragment of crystal to the table-top. It rang like a woman's earring, and Rebecca covered it with her hand. The drumming of the rain on the castle walls made Jacob's head echo. Jacob heard himself make a small sound of sorrow, and then Methos held out his arms; Jacob went into them as if coming home, and he pressed his wet face into Methos' shoulder and snuffled with confusion and grief.

When he dared to look up, they were both waiting.

"The battle's lost," he said. "The flower of Khazaria's army is slaughtered, carved hot in its own juice. All gone, all gone. All gone, at the barricades of Baku."

"Tell us how," said Rebecca harshly.

"The Ishmailites were waiting in ambush. They came by their thousands, they came by their tens of thousands . . . I have never seen so many of them, never imagined-- Malik led us to disaster." Jacob shuddered all over. "Onto holy ground, where neither he nor I could so much as strike a blow to help our mortal flock. Did he think the philosopher's stone would make them all invulnerable? They died by the thousands, Methos. They died by their tens of thousands."

Methos closed his eyes; he looked four thousand years old.

"He has destroyed us! And at the height of it I heard him laughing, jesting with his aides and ordering all our reserves into the slaughter. 'Withdraw?' he said. 'We are the chosen people! Every Khazarian who dies today will be healed by God's miracle, and rise up as invulnerable as I am!'" Jacob hung his head. "They trusted him, Methos. How could they not trust his word, when every last man of them had seen him heal?"

"He's mad," breathed Methos. "It's the dark quickening, Rebecca."

"He said he would raise the dead with that accursed crystal-- Rebecca, where is the crystal?"

"The crystal is here," Rebecca answered, and she swept her hand across the half-constructed puzzle upon the table--breaking it apart like a house of cards. "Here is his philosopher's stone!"

"It's wrecked?"

"We found the pieces strewn in the stableyard. Methos has been all day long gathering them up. It is destroyed, Jacob."

"Destroyed like Khazaria itself." Jacob touched one fragment. "Three-quarters of the army's gone, I think. The remainder, dispersed to the four winds. Even if the Ishmailites do not press their advantage, the Bulgars and the Rus and Byzantines will soon hear of this day--and come, like vultures to the feast. Khazaria may linger on like a bad memory, for a generation or two or three . . . but this is a blow from which we will never recover."

"It's my fault," Methos said to Rebecca.

"No, no," Jacob protested. He could not bear to see his Master Methos revile himself. "It's his fault, only his-- Where's Chichak? Mistress Rebecca, we must take Chichak north to safety--within the week, the enemy will be stabling their horses in Derbent, and she is only a mortal and prone to death--"

"Chichak is dead," said Rebecca.

". . . what?"

"Dead," Methos said. His voice was scarcely to be heard. "He murdered her, on the night you rode out to war. And it's all my fault."

Jacob wept. He took Methos' hand and kissed it. "I loved him too, Master Methos. Would have died for him."

"He has to be stopped," said Rebecca.

Methos turned his face aside.

"We have to plan," she said.

By the time Malik came riding to Derbent, three long days had passed. By then, most of the people had fled. It seemed that he brought horrors with him, like ravens brooding on his shoulders, and as his horse's hooves clattered through the streets of the emptied city, those left to see him shuddered and turned away. At the fortress, he found a few hundred men, all survivors of the battle of Baku; these were the wounded and the maimed, too weary to ride further. The rest of his army had vanished, melting away like snowflakes in the rain. Those who were left, looked at him with dumb accusation--but Malik did not notice.

"Hunt down the deserters," he commanded them. "They betrayed Khazaria. Put them to death like the dogs they are." When he turned away, they spat on the ground, but Malik never saw it. "Find the alchemists Rebecca and Methos!" he ordered. But no one would say where they were. "Where is my crystal? There were pieces of crystal scattered across the stableyard, I want them found and brought to me--the man who steals one for himself, will pay with his life!"

But no one obeyed.

Chichak's women had vanished. Finally he found a few servants hiding in the stables. After he had killed two of them with his bare hands, the others told him what he wanted to know.

And then he was riding, riding across the mountains. His warhorse had been raised in these parts and could climb like a goat; the trails they took went sheer up cliffs and crossed the skirts of glaciers, as they rode southwest into the Caucasus. Into mountains older than known history, where Prometheus had been chained at the beginning of the world; all across the Caucasus, blacksmiths still hammered an extra blow every year, to renew the Titan's chains. All across the Caucasus, tiny valleys held the dregs of history. There were the graves: kurgans and dolmens and mounds, so many that every earthquake jarred the dead from their hiding places, and every mile of road seemed to weave amidst ancient tombs. There were tribes back in the mountains who still called themselves Colchians, and talked of Jason and the golden fleece; there were red-headed folk speaking bastard Latin, sprung from the Roman legions, and bandits who claimed descent from the armies of Alexander. A thousand years from now, the Jews of Khazaria would be numbered among these curiosities of history.

But today, in village after village, Malik found empty houses and deserted barns. All the country people had heard of the battle of Baku, and they knew that the Ishmailites would be coming. If not today, then next month. If not this year, then next year. They had rounded up their stock, and fled.

He discovered his fellow immortals near just another such deserted village, a village so tiny it boasted nothing but twelve houses, a synagogue and a cemetery. Their horses had been turned loose within the cemetery wall and were grazing on the grass and weeds; the sepulchers were drystone boxes, each box made from five slabs of the local limestone. Here and there, a compound tomb in the Greek style could be seen. The portals of these tombs were little houses raised against the mountain, and the tombs themselves ran back into the cliff-side. Byzantine refugees built such tombs for their loved ones. But all the Byzantine refugees were gone.

He could feel other immortals around him. Malik dismounted. In his long tunic and coif of chiming ring-mail, a naked sword gripped in his fist, he strode toward the cemetery. His armor shone like polished silver. His face was the face of a beast. "Methos, Jacob, Rebecca!" he shouted as he came. "Face me, you cowards!"

No one answered. There seemed to be no one left for miles around. But Malik smiled knowingly as he walked into the graveyard. Stones lovingly carved with menorah images surrounded him; with a sweep of his sword, he knocked one down, and he laughed as he set his foot upon it and broke it in two. Then he cocked his head. He moved slowly forward. He smashed his mailed fist against the door of a step tomb and sprang through the doorway, his blade slashing forward--and he froze grinning, with the sword against Methos' throat.

"Traitor." Malik stroked the sword downward, and Methos gasped. A white line was left indented in his skin. "What, are you weaponless? Afraid to fight me, Methos?"

"This is--holy ground--"

"Where's Rebecca? Where's Jacob? Bring them out."

"This is holy ground," said Methos, turning and facing him coldly. There was brick-dust upon his hands, and mortar in his thick brown hair. "Have you forgotten everything, Malik? Or will you take my head here--in Chichak's tomb?"

Malik blinked. He seemed to hesitate, to falter with confusion. ". . . Chichak's tomb?"

"The best we could find her. She's waiting for you, Malik." Methos pointed toward the inner door of the tomb; there, Malik saw a hod of mortar, tools waiting and a stack of bricks close to hand--but the doorway had not yet been sealed. The niche which remained was just large enough for one man to step through. "Go say goodbye."

"Chichak is there?" Malik whispered. He took an impulsive step toward the doorway.

Then he halted.

His face darkened.

"This is a trick--"

"You have not asked what else is there," said Methos very quietly. "What else we will bury with her."

". . . no." Malik took another step. He halted again, gazing suspiciously around. Then he stepped back, away from the doorway. "What's in there, then?"

"The crystal is in there," Methos said. "Go get it, if you want it."

But he was talking to an empty room: Malik had already sprung through the doorway.

There were three steps down, and he took them in a single eager bound; there was a landing beyond paved with red and white tiles of glazed clay. There was a candle burning within the tomb-chamber, a niche on either side, a shelf for a body recessed in each niche; there was nothing else. Chichak lay within the left-hand niche.

They had bathed her and made her seemly, and dressed her in the royal robes she had been too impatient to wear in life: in satins and silks heavily damasked and embroidered, sewn with gilt thread and beryls. Rebecca had brushed her golden hair. She glittered with all her jewelry, but her skin was as sallow as a waxwork's. She would never skip in the sun again, never dance with the spring lambs, never ride breakneck across the hills. Never giggle or sing or speak. She lay upon the bed in unnatural decorum, arms straight and face composed. She had never been so quiet in her life.

Malik, breathing hard, stood over her. His fingers twitched. When at first he reached out, it was as if to touch her face . . . and then his hands plunged into her hair, he was groping at her lovely robes, he slid both hands right under her and tumbled her poor corpse sideways as he searched. He searched and searched. While all the while, his own harsh panting sounded in his ears. He muttered to himself, speaking in tongues and voices; the candlelight played over him, and he looked like a fiend assaulting an angel. Or a martial angel, possessed by a legion of fiends. And when he realized that the Methuselah stone was not there, he jerked upright with his fists curled full of Chichak's golden hair and roared a curse upon Methos the trickster--

It was then that Jacob shot the arrow into his heart.

Malik fell.

"Thus perishs Gogmagog . . . Master Methos, are you sure this is safe?" Jacob lowered the bow, and stepped into the inner chamber. Methos and Rebecca were close behind him; all three moved nervously, the ancient prohibition against violence on holy ground making them edgy. "I feel as if God's hand will punish us."

"No," said Methos. "Trust me. This is something I know. As long as we do not take his head, nothing will happen."

He knelt and stroked his student's dead face, gentler than Malik had been with Chichak.

All was done quickly, then. Rebecca smoothed Chichak's hair into order and straightened her tumbled robes; ere she was finished, both men were already outside, snatching up bricks and mortar. Working with feverish haste. Bricking up the door.

"We should have done as Rebecca wanted," Jacob muttered, even as they worked.

"Too dangerous," Methos snapped, "I won't hear of it--"

"He ought to pay with his life, for what he did to her! To Khazaria. For the grief she has caused you and Rebecca both."

"He will pay," said Rebecca, stepping out of the tomb. "Hear me, Malik," she said, glancing back over her shoulder, "you'll never regain the crystal you lusted for. I promise you this. After we have dealt with you, I swear I'll disperse the pieces to the four corners of the earth."

Already, the gap in the doorway was shrunk too small for a grown man to pass.

"Swiftly, swiftly." Methos' hands flew, setting bricks upon brick. The bricks were strong, the wall would be thick; once the mortar had dried, no one man would be able to batter it down. Not even if he tried for a thousand years. And when the tomb was sealed, whoever was within would soon stifle in the dark. "Just a few more and we'll be done--"

"I still think we should take his head--"

The gap was half the size of a man.

"Hush, Jacob. And hurry."

The gap shrunk smaller.

When they had filled in all save a single chink of the wall, Jacob stopped and stooped to peer into the hole. The candle beyond had blown out, and all was dark. Ten more bricks would finish the task. And in his heart he spoke a curse upon Malik, who had begun as Khazaria's savior, but finished as a monster.

"Gogmagog here we throw in prison, till on Judgement Day he shall awake at last--"

Malik's sword, hurled out of the darkness, slammed through the muscles of his shoulder and knocked him back like a cannonball.

What followed was a tumult that Jacob, afterward, never remembered clearly; it was a confusion of shouting and struggle, disorderly as a dream. Bricks bulging out, breaking, falling. Rebecca's scream. Seeing the monster shoulder through the shattered wall--so filthy with blood and dust and mortar that it resembled the walking dead. Wrenching the blade from his shoulder, knowing it had been aimed at his throat. Then--wrestling with Malik, pinning his arms from behind and dragging him back toward the hole--reeling away while Methos and Malik grappled--leaping back into the fight--shoving Malik bodily against the gap in the brick wall. And freezing, sick at heart--as Malik thrust his face toward him, saying in a cunning thickened voice: "Give me the crystal, give me the crystal, and I'll bring her back and make her immortal like us."

Jacob spat in Malik's eyes. He straight-armed Malik, knocking him back into the darkness. As Malik went, his hand snared Jacob's collar and dragged him along. They both vanished through the hole, and the last thing that Methos and Rebecca heard was Jacob's cry: "Finish the wall! I'll hold him till you do!"

Methos screamed, "Jacob--no!!"

As Methos sprang toward the gap, Rebecca stepped up behind him and slammed the hilt of her sword against his head. As he fell, she shoved him aside, and reached for the bricks and mortar. As he woke, she was setting the last brick in the wall; and when she was done, she gathered him into her arms and comforted him.

They would stack heavy stones against the wall, and stand guard until those trapped within were surely dead; then they would set the outer tomb in order, plaster the wall and paint it, and hide the entrance chamber with subtle arts. They would barr the way as if with gates proof against fire and steel; it would not be opened, until the time arrived when the Lord Almighty, the Glorious and Most High, should be pleased to open it. They would pray for Gogmagog, that the alchemy of time might cure him. And they would mourn together, when this was done, for Jacob, for Malik, for the death of a dream--and for golden girls and kingdoms, which both alike could perish, and history would forget even their names.

#

In the present day:

"Have you got the translation?" asked Joe.

Wilmington eyed him shrewdly. They were Watchers: they had been trained to memorize almost any gibberish their immortals might spout, to transcribe it in phonetic notation and turn it in for (hopefully) someone to decipher. Immortals said funny things all the time, and the older ones could break out in dead languages at a moment's notice. Nonetheless, this was . . . rather odd. "You're sure that Malik said this?"

"Yeah, yeah. That's medieval Greek--isn't it?"

"Yes. All mixed with old English. Here." Wilmington tossed him the fax. "But I warn you, it doesn't make any sense."

Joe read the fax aloud. He started out eagerly, and then slowed down; and then slowed down some more. "'We'll let him strain until he goes to vault, then get in before he skirts or sinks. Joe thinks we mean to hunt at force, but we should make him counter if we can.'" His voice began to falter in bewilderment. "'Our hounds babble, they beat counter, they break field. They'll run riot and spoil the game. Or hunt change. If they should happen to catch sight of his prick--'"

He broke off.

"It's an old hunting term, that much we know," said Wilmington helpfully. "For the track of the quarry, the footprints of a hare. We're having a dictionary of hunting patois couriered from the London office, but it won't be here until tomorrow."

"This is gibberish!"

"Not if you're familiar with old English, presumably."

"'--let him seat form. Go tappish. Trajon. Watch the watchers,'" Joe read. "'Take the kimaya.'"

"Now, that word," Pelletier said, "we can't even pin down to a language, let alone a definition. Eh, but this is all strange, you know, Dawson--it sounds like someone giving directions to confederates, not a madman's rantings at all. If we could manage to put it in some kind of context, it might be clearer. Why were you unable to hear what the others were saying?"

But Joe could only shrug.

It had only been two days, he thought, and still they had come full circle: back to a beautiful spring evening, overlooking the emerald lawn where they had met before the funeral. The ruins of Rebecca's castle stood stark against the sunset, little time seemed to have passed. Yet so much had happened. And here he was, sitting with his fellow Watchers. Their vehicle was like a thousand other Watcher vans, plain black with one-way windows, with flashing violet lights on the dashboard. Just like all good Watchers, they were dressed in drab suits that gave them a vague resemblance to FBI officers . . . and wherever they went, people reported lights in the skies, strange electrical effects, paranormal phenomena. It was enough to make a man believe in conspiracy theories.

"Pierson could have translated this," Pelletier was saying, "if only we could haul him out of the field long enough. Where did Pierson get to, anyway?"

"He went with Amanda and Jacob. I have to meet them in a few minutes, you know that." Joe peered out the van windows. "Are you certain MacLeod's in the castle?"

"Dead certain."

"I wish you wouldn't put it that way, Etienne."

Pelletier shrugged nonchalantly. He leaned over, then pointed across the lawns. "MacLeod went into the cloister at two o'clock and hasn't come out since. See there? That tree commands a perfect view through that window, the window Malik broke yesterday. Once Peter gets up it, he'll have a ringside seat for the whole confrontation--"

"It's been ten years since I climbed a tree for the cause," said Wilmington, rubbing his hands together. "I hope I still have the knack."

"--and meanwhile, I plan to rove the perimeter. That way, if any of them starts moving, I'll be able to follow."

"What if they spot you?" Joe inquired.

"Bah. In twenty-two years of fieldwork no immortal has ever spotted me. If one of them ruins my record tonight, I'll--I'll--"

"Don't say it," Wilmington said hastily. "Time to get moving. Wish us luck, Dawson."

"Break a leg," said Pelletier.

As Wilmington skulked through the trees of the castle park, he moved like a shadow in a coal cellar at midnight. Full dark had now fallen. A light shone through the chapel door, flickering, leaping and falling: MacLeod had kindled a bonfire right in the sanctuary, and now through the open doorway the Watcher could catch sight of the possessed immortal intoning over mysterious diagrams on the floor. Were those . . . was that . . . could that be a pentacle there? Wilmington looked around, but there was no sign yet of Amanda and Jacob. Nor had he yet heard a car arrive. He sidled a little closer to the chapel, trying to get a look through the door.

It was a pentacle. Now MacLeod moved into sight; he knelt, lighting candles at the points of the pentacle, and then he leaned his golden-hilted sword upright in the center and seemed to speak some cabalistic formula. There was a sheaf of papers in his free hand. Of course! That was why he had returned to the castle: Rebecca the alchemist had stored her books of 'magic' here! Wilmington felt a frisson of excitement. He backed cautiously away, and then hurried toward his lookout tree. And it was then that someone leaped on him from behind.

Wilmington had no time even to squeak. A strong hand clapped over his mouth, a sword whipped round and pressed its flat warningly to his throat. "Ah, there," breathed a boy's voice in his ear. "Nay, nay, man, make no outcry. Don't think we'll durze out as readily as that! Sall have ye y-bound in a trice . . . yet it wrings my hackles, to lay rough hands on a mortal of your years."

As Pelletier moved round the other side of the castle, he put all his years of fieldwork into play. Deep down he was sure there was no better Watcher alive. He heard a slight sound from somewhere near Wilmington's tree, froze dead still and listened with dire suspicion. Had it been a voice? Then a twig broke overhead, and Pelletier's head snapped up.

A black-clad figure dropped upon him. She landed like a cat, blocking his escape. She wore tight-fitting leather and the blade of her sword had been painted to camouflage it; she carried a coil of black nylon cord in her free hand. And Amanda crouched face to face with her Watcher.

"Busted!" was all she said.

Five minutes later, cursing the loss of a perfect field record, Etienne Pelletier was left trussed and gagged under a bush.

As Joe Dawson walked toward Rebecca's castle, he thought dire curses all aimed at Methos. Damn the man! What was he playing at? 'Take the kimaya.' Joe had no idea what a kimaya was, but he could make a stab at guessing: the word would mean something like 'philosopher's stone'. And as for 'watch the watchers'--there was only one reason that Methos would plot to get the Watchers out of the way. Methos was worried about being exposed. Methos was planning to do un-mortal things tonight--like getting into a swordfight, perhaps. Like taking a head.

The whole world was quiet.

Peace and harmony breathed over the ancient stones of Rebecca's castle. The chapel door stood invitingly open, and through it could be glimpsed a scene from bygone days. You could almost forget that the castle was crumbling down and the chapel itself had been torn to pieces; everything seemed as it must have been, a thousand years ago when all was well, and the world was young. Joe loosened his gun in its holster. As he did so, peering toward the chapel door, a tall shadow moved up behind him and powerful hands clamped down on his arms.

"Come into my parlor," said MacLeod.

Joe was turned around, his gun taken from him and tossed contemptuously aside, his arms pinned and his mouth covered. Then he found himself being half-carried toward the chapel. He tried to kick and fight--it was no use. He had never felt so helpless. MacLeod's gentleness toward mortals was such that he usually treated them like fragile children . . . but Joe remembered now how damned strong he was. How his immortal enemies went in fear of him. And now he chuckled as if at some joke as he dragged Joe across the chapel threshold, while his low growling voice spoke continuously in Joe's ear: "The name of the angel Aputel is that which the priest bears on his breast when entering the Holy of Holies, and written on a brass vessel it rescues from all manner of weapon, loosens every form of evil--so much that it will banish all demons, and have power over everything done in the world--"

He released Joe, dropping him beside the pentacle drawn on the floor. Joe fell heavily to the broken flagstones and burst out in racking coughs. "Malik?" he managed to say.

"I invoked Aputel and nothing happened!" Mac grasped him, lifted him high in the air, shook him and dropped him again. This time, Joe felt one of his prosthetic legs give way at the ankle's joint. "I wrote the formula JH HV HV and dissolved the paper in water, but drinking it availed me nothing--I, I wrote Lalun Llun upon me--"

He thrust his bared forearm toward Joe's face. There were still traces of blood to be seen upon the skin, vaguely reminiscent of Hebrew letters.

"No time to create the quintessence, even if I had the tools. If, if, if Rebecca was still alive, she'd be able to help me, but she's dead--isn't she dead, Joe?--and Methos is my enemy--"

Now he swung away, raking both hands through his hair. His voice sounded strangled. Joe, who felt fairly strangled himself, got his good leg under him and lurched sideways, rubbing his throat.

"Mac, listen to me," he rasped.

"Her copy of the Sepher Maphteah Shelomoh was incomplete!"

"Do you know me?"

MacLeod turned. For a long moment he stood gazing at Joe in confusion. Then he said, "I have to do this. Then everything will be right again, and I can go home to Chichak."

On the floor at the center of the pentacle was a scattering of pretty quartz-like crystals.

"Mac--do you remember who you are?"

Mac started. Then he snorted. For the blink of an eye, he looked like himself. "I'm Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod, and--" He glanced toward the crystals, seemed to jerk all over. Veins rose in his forehead. His lips peeled back from his teeth.

He said, "Yes. I know who I am. I know who you are too, Joe. And all my so-called friends. You deserted me, every one of you, and now you expect me to run to you and beg for help?"

"Mac?" Joe whispered.

"As if you had all turned your backs and walked away from me into the Paris fog," said MacLeod. "Even Amanda now, after three hundred years. D'you think I wouldn't find out about her new lover? D'you think I don't know you damned Watchers would be reading reports about her love life, laughing at me--did you ever think to tell me how she betrayed me, Joe? Well, I said it once and I'll say it now: never again. Never again!!"

His hand swept out. Joe was knocked to the hard stones of the floor, his lip cut and his hands bloodied as he tried to save himself. Behind him, Mac laughed--a short sharp bark of noise--and moved toward the pieces of the crystal. He crouched down and began to fit them together.

"Mac, listen to me, you're not yourself, but we can help you--"

"Almost there," said Mac. He reached into the neck of his shirt, groping for something. When he removed his clenched fist, there was a length of stylish chain trailing from it. He jerked and Amanda's keepsake came free. "I just have to put the last piece in."

". . . and then what?" said Joe despite himself.

"And then? Then I can solve the puzzle." His voice changed, deepening to a beautiful melodious baritone with Eastern accents. "Put the pieces together." He faltered, drew back his hand, shook his head hard. And spoke in his own voice. "Then break them apart--"

"We'll stop you," Joe blurted out.

"--and end it. You, Joe? I don't think so. Oh, I know the others are here. I can feel them." Insanely, he dropped the crystal and stood up, drawing Methos' sword. He glanced at Joe and a slyness was in his eye. "They're afraid to face me," he said, "on holy ground. And you thought you could keep me occupied till the cavalry came, huh? It shall avail you nothing. Hello, Methos!" he added suddenly and brightly. "Come to join us?"

He kicked Joe in the face, and strode away.

For a few moments, Joe knew only pain. Then he looked up hazily, and saw something he had hoped never to see: immortals fighting upon holy ground. It was Amanda and Jacob against MacLeod, and all three moved like wildfire, whirling, springing, dashing in and out--with MacLeod defending himself and the other two forcing him gradually toward the chapel door. Out where they could take his head. But it was an uphill battle. Even as Joe looked, Mac almost disemboweled Jacob, and then Amanda was sent hurling toward the chapel wall, to fall heavily, scramble up and spring back to Jacob's rescue. And Methos was not helping them; Methos knelt beside Joe, one hand under his elbow, saying anxiously, "Are you--?"

"Now I know why Pelletier said, 'Break a leg,'" Joe growled. "He was laying a curse on me."

Methos grinned crookedly. His gaze fell upon the crystals. "Joe, what was Mac trying to do?"

"How would I know?" Joe showed him the last crystal, hidden in his hand. "Here. Take it. Keep it from him--"

But he was speaking to empty air. Methos had snatched up the crystal, and was gone.

He walked toward the others. As he did so, he reached inside his coat, and withdrew the katana. With a flip of his wrist, he reversed it; he held it upright, parallel to his body, its point toward the ground. A bright candle-glimmer ran up the blade, a shimmer like white moire dancing upon the perfect Japanese steel of the honor sword. Methos halted, seemed to study the pattern of the fight. He crouched slightly, raising the katana and inclining the blade slightly away from himself. Then he sprang straight at MacLeod.

And his sword in Mac's grip clashed against Mac's sword in his hand. Methos shrugged his broad shoulders and his long coat swirled like dark water; he swung his arm casually sideways, and again steel struck steel. Mac's thrust was knocked aside. MacLeod shouted and spun to the left, whirling around with a blow so fast it was a blur on the air--and Methos turned his body fractionally, and again the katana rang as the heavier sword hit it and was deflected.

Clang. Clang. Clang. For three, five, eight blows Mac's strokes were met by Methos' parries, and it was perfect, hypnotic, unhurried as a dance between the two of them. With streaking horizontal arcs that were Mac's blade, with quick short vertical flashes of brilliance that were Methos' weapon. Thirteen. Seventeen. Jacob and Amanda had both fallen back, forgotten. And Methos and Mac moved together, calmly, at the heart of the storm. As if linked by a golden cord. Methos defended. MacLeod attacked. Clang. Clang. Clang--

"You can't keep this up forever," MacLeod said; the words carried clearly to Joe's ears.

Clang.

"Kronos used to say," Methos said, "that I was--too lazy to be a great fighter--" Clang. Clang. "--but I could learn on my feet like no one else he knew--" He stepped backward, spinning in a complete circle, whirling the katana as he did. "--all I had to do--was defend long enough--and I'd know all the other guy's tricks. Like this."

The point of the katana rose, edge parallel with the floor, and darted forward like a dragonfly. The two men froze into a perfect picture. With MacLeod's sword somewhere out in the line of sixte, and the cutting edge of the katana resting beneath MacLeod's chin.

"You're not yourself today," Methos sighed. "Sloppy, student."

"You wouldn't do it," MacLeod grated.

"Who are you?" asked Methos.

"I'm Duncan MacLeod--"

Clang.

There was a blur of motion. Amanda yelped and Jacob yipped and then they were both leaping into the fray. Methos had dropped the katana and it went skidding off somewhere to the left as Methos dove for safety, landed next to Joe and crouched there, eyeing the fight. "What the--?" said Joe.

"What he said," said Methos. A piece of crystal materialized in his hand. He fitted it into the others--

---the ruined chapel filled with light--

--and as swift as a thought, Methos picked up the Methuselah stone and hurled it. MacLeod caught it, dropped it, and smashed his blade down upon it.

There was a sweet aftersilence that rang in the ears. In it, a mist spread across the chapel, filling it with a gentle white light. It looked like a quickening. But it glowed out of the broken shards of Rebecca's crystal. The luminous cloud blossomed like a flower, and it grew into an alchemical tree of life; stars flashed within it, suns and moons hung like gold and silver fruit. As beautiful as a unicorn's garden. As terrible as a thunderhead full of winged lightnings.

Something like an electric arc sprang into being between Methos and MacLeod. It wavered, blue-white, thickened and intensified and blazed. And grew and grew. And grew.

And, like winged lightnings, sparks ran through the thundercloud of the air. As beautiful as a unicorn's garden. Lights lovely as the fruit of life and knowledge hung within the bright mist of the alchemical tree. Suns and moons and stars would have been wan beside them. A quintessence of glory bloomed and dwindled and ebbed away, until it was merely a mist which vanished like magic. The blue-white beam winked out. All gone.

It was over.

The chapel was quiet. Here, Jacob and Amanda stood open-mouthed, gaping like fools; there, two Watchers who had managed to wriggle themselves free peered in through a broken window--one minute too late to catch the fireworks. Near the door, MacLeod had slumped to his knees. Methos walked toward him, and when he was close enough he tilted up Mac's chin and looked deep in his eyes. "Who am I?" Mac asked.

"Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod," said Methos. "Now will you give me back my bloody sword?"

#

Epilogue:

Picture two men on a bridge, throwing stones into the water.

The stones were brown and black and grey, round river rocks smoothed by current and time, and Methos skimmed his across the river's surface with a cunning hand and watched them skip and sink; MacLeod hurled his at the bits of paper and garbage that went floating past, scoring nine times out of ten. From time to time, they glanced at each other and grinned.

Mac remarked, "So that was the mistake you made."

"It wasn't one of my brightest centuries," Methos said glumly. "I should never have persuaded Rebecca to give Malik the crystal, never have let him hurt Chichak, never have let him lead his army against Baku, never have entombed him instead of taking the head . . . and every time, I made the wrong choice." He sighed and dropped a jagged yellow rock into the water. "Rebecca was always stronger than I."

"Harder, perhaps. But not more loving."

"Maybe."

Methos delved in the depths of his coat, and brought out a black plush bag rather like those used to carry diamonds. He shook it, and what was inside clacked softly, musically. He set it upon the rail of the bridge, and toyed with the drawstring.

"The water in rivers that we touch," said MacLeod suddenly, "is the last of what was past and the first of what is to come; so with time passing."

"And what the hell does that mean?"

"Today is the first day of the rest of your life?"

They laughed together, and Mac reached into the bag and drew out a handful of magic crystals.

"I was a fool, Mac."

"Jacob doesn't hold it against you."

"Yeah, well, Jacob's kind of soft-hearted, you know."

Mac juggled the crystals gently in the palm of his hand. Methos tossed a flat brown pebble into the river.

"Methos. You're not responsible for what Malik did. You made errors, out of love. He sinned through vanity and greed and ambition--"

"Tell that to Chichak."

"Well, it's over now." Mac leaned forward, stretching his hand out over the water. "Should I do it?"

Methos reached out and caught his wrist. "No, don't. Let's keep it the way Rebecca planned it . . . You keep one, I take one, Rebecca and Jacob both get one, even Joe can have one if he wants--and someday, maybe, the philosopher's stone will be remade and put to its proper use."

"I forgot to ask you this before," Mac added, stowing the stones away. "You gave Malik the Methuselah stone, but not to use for worldly purposes--it seemed almost as if you were testing him, but he failed your hopes. What did you expect from him anyway?"

"It was not made to be kept," Methos told the river, "but to be given away."

"But why to him? That's what I don't understand."

"Well. What would you have done, Duncan? Say, if I gave you the stone. Not today, though. Five or six years ago, when you were running the antique store. Before you had even met Joe."

Mac gave a gasp and turned to him, eyes wide with sudden understanding.

"I would have given it to Tessa--"

"And that was the answer I expected. I would have given it to Chichak," Methos said quietly. "If I had been so lucky as to be married to her."

#

After the two immortals had gone, two Watchers emerged from their hiding places and strolled along the bridge.

"The signs are all there," said Peter Wilmington.

"Isn't much doubt about it." Etienne Pelletier spat over the bridge railing. "A big surprise, though."

"In a way, it makes me see him in a better light," Wilmington remarked.

"Oui. At least he isn't a deserter."

"So . . . are we agreed?"

"He's one of them, no doubt about it."

"And Joe probably knows."

"Yes. Joe probably knows--but that's not our problem, thank God." Pelletier brooded. "I was happy, being Amanda's Watcher."

"You can't stay with her, she's seen your face. Actually, I envy you your new assignment. Pierson's a sly one--you'll need to use every trick in the book."

They shook hands.

"I have to go after MacLeod," Wilmington said. "I promised Dawson I'd cover for him until tomorrow."

"I have to get going too."

"Good luck."

"Break a leg."

They went their separate ways . . . and the Game went on.