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Millennium

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Imagine the usual disclaimers. Imagine the usual warnings, and more; this is a death story. Imagine the Watchers, Methos and MacLeod, and the Gathering. Imagine being Cassandra.

This story has no connection to any other fanfiction I have written.





"Behold now, Caesar seems to provide us with profound peace . . .

There are no wars any longer, nor battles, nor brigands nor piracy,

but at any hour we may travel by land, or sail from the rising of the sun to its setting.

Can he, then, give us peace from fever too,

and from shipwreck, from fire, from earthquake or lightning?

Come, can he give us peace from love?"

Epictetus





Millennium



The Year 1996



All over the world, the Watchers dreamed.

They woke, ate, shadowed their immortals and made out their reports, went virtuously to their beds and tried not to talk in their sleep--for even the most dedicated Watcher wants to live a normal life. And the Watcher rules forbade taking girlfriends into the secret. No, wise Watchers waited for marriage; wise Watchers, if they knew what was good for them, didn't leak information to one-night-stands. You could be court-martialed for betraying Watcher secrets. You could be sent up before the Watcher tribunal.

The Watcher tribunal didn't play games. They didn't waste their time with reprimands and fines, or mess around slapping blabbermouthed Watchers on the wrists. A bullet to the back of the head ended the matter, and that was that.

All over the world, Watchers did their work. Teachers at the academy taught espionage to bright-eyed youngsters. There were wet-work specialists who cleaned up the corpses which immortals (an untidy lot!) kept leaving about. There was a Watcher medical section, whose researchers smuggled immortal corpses into labs and conducted top-secret autopsies. The anti-advertisement squad spent all its time checking the media and squashing reports of immortal activity. There was the tribunal and its agents, keeping a vigilant eye on everybody. There were Watchers who watched the Watchers, just to be sure that no immortals in disguise infiltrated the ranks. There were librarians, secretaries, supervisors, computer specialists. There was a pension plan, and a disability plan.

The field Watchers (aristocrats of the Watcher hierarchy) kept immortals under surveillance, recorded challenges and quickenings; they wrote their Chronicles, and kept an eye out for new immortals and unrecognized old immortals. Old ones who had never been spotted still turned up from time to time--and of course there was always the hope of finding Methos. The researchers collated old Chronicles, translated endless reams of ancient writings, collected clues and studied their subjects. They worked on the Doomsday Book. They studied Gathering theory.

And the Watchers dreamed. They dreamed of being the one who found Methos. They dreamed of their immortal being the last one, the winner of the Game. Most of all, they dreamed the old dream, the dream every Watcher had and no Watcher admitted to. They dreamed of suffering an accident, dying . . . and waking up afterward.

They dreamed of being the ones they watched. They dreamed of being immortal.

#

She dreamed like Merlin in the crystal cave.

The junior Watcher had nodded off on stake-out, with her nose in the pages of The Hero With a Thousand Faces and her coffee gone stone-cold. A pair of binoculars lay abandoned on the car seat beside her. She whimpered a little and her knee twitched in her sleep: understand the mythological aspects of the immortal phenomenon, her supervisor had told her--but The Blade of the MacLeods was the book she really wanted to read. She was supposed to be brushing up on her academics, yet still she dreamed of love.

. . . as he touched her naked . . .

A smile curved her lips, her hand tightened on the book-cover.

. . . dared to go where no man had gone before . . .

A street-light shone on the rain-covered sidewalk, and wind gusted, rattling the car windows. She never stirred. It was cold, it was dark, it was three o'clock in the morning. She was on probation, with seven demerit points on her record, and the East Coast Bureau had already warned her, in writing, twice; the junior Watcher didn't care. Blissfully asleep, she continued to live her fantasies.

. . . masterfully, he swept her off her feet, laughing that carefree laugh. "I care not for your puling relatives and your Aunt Yowe. Why are you afraid of their disapproval--you, the freest spirit I have ever known. Cast off your shackles and flee with me. You are mine, Shannon H. Maus!"

A clash of swords echoed through the night.

She jerked awake. Her first reaction was to panic: the book hit the floor, coffee flooded over her knee and soaked her old jeans right to the ankle. She scrambled every which way, grabbed blindly at the binoculars and knocked them into the seat-bucket, ended up hunched behind the car wheel with her shoulders up and her head sunk low. Her hands wrung one another. Two round eyes stared out through the spokes of the wheel. Her face was peeled-pink from sunburn and her lashes and brows were so blonde as to be invisible; all that could be seen was those goggling eyes, and a nose which trembled with alarm. Subject, subject, subject--where the hell was her subject? Oh no. Oh no! She'd lost Cassandra again!!

She got the door open, fell out onto the street. And she was running, sneakers squeaking on the wet pavement--running, with the binoculars clutched to her like a security blanket.

Shannon Maus pelted along the street like an Olympic sprinter, swerving to avoid the streetlights and finding every bit of cover with superhuman skill. (Straight As in Urban Stealth three years running.) She heard a noise, aimed herself at a corner, and skidded to a halt in a spray of rainwater. Then she tiptoed around a dumpster, stepped into something, and almost went flying. Listening hard, she slid toward the corner.

Faint voices came to her ears. And then there came, again, the muted ring of steel on steel.

Shannon had the binoculars-strap clenched in her teeth. Her eyes rolled with suspense. Rain dripped down her back, and her right sneaker had filled up with water. Keeping her work in mind, she groped a can of spray-paint out of her coat-pocket and gave it a preparatory shake.

She began to spray along the wall, in huge letters of phosphorescent blue. MILLENNIUM was what she wrote. Intertwined with the English script were glyphs in the secret Watcher code: November 21st 1996. Beneath these, she added a few dots and dashes and an upside-down happy face. 1:55 AM. She drew an abstract squiggle, which was the icon of an immortal--the sign which meant Cassandra. She drew a pothook linked to the squiggle, which represented her, Cassandra's Watcher. Swiftly, she added her initials: SHM, with a couple of extra o's added for style. This was the nickname she secretly hoped to be known by. When she was famous. Someday.

Shoom. Yes. That would be her name.

A bony young man was now sauntering along the street, eyeing the parked cars with a professional glance. Shannon slunk behind the dumpster and watched him warily. Was he . . . ? He was. He halted in front of her graffito, looked right and left, produced an aerosol and, without hesitation, added another immortal's icon.

She straightened, letting him see her. "Cassandra," she said. His eyes widened a little, and Shannon grinned inside: nobody forgot her immortal. Her immortal was old, mysteriously gifted, and photogenic. "I'm Shannon Maus. Who's your immortal?"

"Bonsoir, Maus. I'm Giles Corot." The young man extended his hand. "Assigned to Cassius Polonius."

She wrinkled up her nose; this was a name she had never heard. "Is he tough?"

"The toughest!" And Giles reached out confidently, adding the final touch to the graffito. A slash from side to side, and there it was: Cassandra vs Cassius Polonius. Shannon gnashed her teeth. "I think I hear someone talking, is it them?" Giles added as he holstered his aerosol. She nodded. Then they flanked the mouth of the alley, flattened themselves to the wall, and listened to the voices of their immortals.

". . . You're outclassed, woman. Might as well give it up." A pause. "Do it and I'll make your death quick and painless."

". . ."

"Right. Intelligent woman. Dead dumb, but intelligent. I like that in a woman. Say . . . you're a pretty hot number."

". . ."

"You know, it's a crying shame to behead someone like you. But--duty calls."

". . ."

"Well. Huh. You say? I think . . . that is, I . . . you . . . you . . . Right? Oh. Okay. There, you happy? I'm putting it down . . ." Pause. "Hey! What the hell am I doing? Damn you, witch, your head is coming off right now!"

Shannon was gnawing her fingernails to the quick, Giles shrugged nonchalantly and prepared to swagger with reflected glory. Cassandra vs Polonius, Polonius takes Cassandra, exit Cassandra. Close file. Meanwhile the air filled with the sounds of a scuffle: cries and curses, the music of cold steel and the crash of a garbage-can falling over. Then Shannon quivered all over as a scream pealed out. "Cassandra!" she whispered, and she began to pray: "Oh God, dear God please let it not be my very first assignment getting whacked in my very first month . . ."

Then they heard a gunshot. A falling body: thump. A blade slashing down: swish. An ominous silence.

A serpent of luminous haze slid around the corner, eddied along the street.

Shannon clapped her hands over her ears, cowering, as the first lightning-bolt arced out of the alley-mouth. Windows shattered. The ground shook. The streetlights flickered and faded to brown-out, and she could have sworn she heard a sonic boom. Tiles, shaken loose from the rooftops, plummeted to the street five storeys below and exploded in plumes of dust. "I hate this," Shannon mumbled as the world thundered and resounded and roared, "I really, really, really hate quickenings . . ." And then the noise died away, blessed peace fell, she dared to draw a breath and stifle a sneeze against her flannel sleeve . . . and just as she was about to peek around the corner, footsteps sounded in the alleyway.

Giles dived for the dumpster, Shannon whipped around and began to decorate some more wall. (Protective Coloration Manual, chapter seven, pp 201-233: keep your hands occupied, loiterers attract attention.) In her frayed jeans and bomber jacket, with her hair crammed under a baseball cap, she was well-disguised. She drew a fancy blue curlicue and a sneering devil's mask. Meanwhile her nerves were on tenterhooks: was the winner Cassandra, or Cassius . . . ? She had a compact mirror in the palm of her hand, with which she looked over her shoulder.

Behind her, her immortal staggered out of the alleyway.

Shannon sagged against the wall. She hid away her relief, averting her face. Cassandra, Cassandra, Cassandra . . . her own immortal, more beautiful than any ordinary woman. With her enormous, unearthly eyes. Her mane of shining hair. Her taste for clinging fabrics and long knitted dresses. Cassandra, like a Rossetti painting in Shannon's adoring eyes; true, she looked nothing like Rossetti's women, but somehow she had that air. Cassandra walked through life like the queen of the world. Always on top of the situation, never losing her cool. Always keeping her air of friendly calm and faint amusement.

And Cassandra her immortal, moving like a sleepwalker, went jerkily straight past Shannon and never saw her at all. Cassandra stumbled at the curb, collapsed to the ground, and there she crouched--hunched over, with her hands in her hair, and her sword rolling away in the gutter.

For a moment she simply rocked back and forth. Then she raised her face to the light and wailed: "The end has come!"

Behind her, Shannon gawped. The can of spray-paint fell from her hand. Cassandra was sobbing, with terrible harsh noises that sounded tortured out of her very heart; she ripped at her face, and the furrows that her fingernails made filled with black blood and healed almost instantly. There were words in her weeping. ". . . a great evil comes, sweeping all before it . . . only, only a solstice child--one who has s-seen darkness and light--can defeat it." A despairing cry: "The voice of evil." A gulp and a hiccup: ". . . the ch-child and the man . . ."

Giles Corot skulked out from behind the dumpster; his face was bleak. "She's mad," he snapped.

"Shhh!" said Shannon.

"She doesn't even hear us!" Giles whispered, "and--listen to her. Crazy as the Italian parliament. I don't know how she managed to whack my immortal, but you're welcome to her." At the curb, Cassandra was wailing like a banshee. Shannon made a face at Giles, and jabbed her finger toward the darkness of the alley; he threw up his hands, and vanished in the direction of his defeated immortal. Then Shannon pulled out her cell-phone and dialed for a clean-up squad.

When she flipped the phone shut, Cassandra was staring at her.

"I know what you are," she said.

Shannon went cold all over. From somewhere, she summoned an innocent stammer: "Huh? Lady, I'm just a student from Coshosham Ohio, and I don't know whose this spray-paint is, but it isn't mine--"

Cassandra spoke.

The young Watcher froze. Her ears were filled with the music of Cassandra's words. She felt her eyelids drifting shut, her lips parting in bliss, and before she knew what she had done, she was standing within arm's-reach of her immortal, in the light, defenseless. Her mind was blank. Her face was blank. She stood patiently waiting, lost in a memory of the sound of Cassandra's voice.

Cassandra looked her up and down. So this was what they sent to watch her? Pretty, she thought, but dreadfully young--like a baby girl dressed up in her brother's clothes. "Show me your wrist," she commanded. Is this a Watcher, then? One of a secret society, so well hidden that we immortals--who dwell in life's shadows, like panthers skulking in wait--have never noticed we have company? But she's no more than a little mouse. She looked thoughtfully at Shannon's wrist. Yes. That's the tattoo that Duncan mentioned. "Mm. Thank you, you can put it back now. And tell me your name."

". . . Shannon . . ."

Certainly a mouse. Nothing noble about her. Is she a typical Watcher? Yes, no doubt they are all mice. How better to go unnoticed?

"Is your friend a Watcher too?"

". . . yes . . ."

Mice beside panthers. Mice stalking the cats.

"What is he doing back there?"

"Hide the body," Shannon murmured, "keep the secret . . ."

She was incapable of thought now, and so she could not understand the despair in Cassandra's expression. "You poor thing," said the immortal, watching her. "Mortals like you are all I can charm these days, I can't even hold another immortal anymore. And yet I used to have power over man and beast." She took hold of Shannon's chin, turning her face to the glow of the streetlight; the young Watcher resisted at first, and then Cassandra spoke to her and Shannon remembered that she had no better friend in the world than her immortal. So she lifted her chin obediently, stood with drooping eyelids and her mouth drowsily smiling. "So far have I fallen," Cassandra said, "that I have to defend myself with a gun."

". . . I'm so sorry," Shannon whispered, meaning every word. And when Cassandra patted her cheek, she leaned forward like a plant to sunlight. "You're so wonderful . . . it's such a shame . . ."

"Poor child, doomed to spend life in the shadows. And you're such a pretty little thing. What? Don't shake your head, for it's all true."

". . . no, no, I'm nothing compared to you . . ." Shannon swayed where she stood. ". . . why are you unhappy . . . ?" she ventured.

Cassandra shrugged sharply, dismissing the question. "You wouldn't understand. You're only a mortal." Then when she saw the flash of pain on her Watcher's face, she relented. "But I'll tell you anyway. Have you ever had a child, Shannon?"

". . . no . . ."

"There was a boy once," Cassandra said. Shannon listened as if her life depended on it. "A boy of mine. Bonny and brave, the best of lads. I found him abandoned at the crossroads, and carried him in his swaddling clothes, to lay on a mortal woman's breast. Hidden in Donan wood, I watched over him. I guarded him as if he was my own. And when he grew to be a man--when he should have been my champion--my enemy seized hold of him, and stole his heart away."

"But you shouldn't be so sad," Shannon mumbled, not understanding. Her voice had gained strength, she stirred and her eyes began to focus. Cassandra blinked and saw to her shock that the Watcher was shaking off her spell. "You're an immortal," Shannon told her; she straightened, brushing away Cassandra's hand with its soothing, hypnotic touch, and now she spoke with passion and conviction and her voice rang through the night: "You have a wonderful life! Why--you've got everything. You've got--"

"Shh," Cassandra urged her, putting every ounce of power she possessed into her voice, "shh small Shannon--you're sleepy, you're sleepy, you could fall asleep where you stand and imagine this conversation was no more than a dream--"

"No!" Shannon tossed her head, shrugged her shoulders, broke free of the glamor like a pony whisking away a fly. She snatched hold of Cassandra's hands, held her when the immortal would have retreated in horror. And she gazed at Cassandra with shining eyes. "Don't give up, Cassandra. You've lived so long, you've seen so much. Whoever it was hurt you, forget about him."

Her hands clutched Cassandra's. Her fingers were stubby, the nails chewed off and the knuckles chapped--while Cassandra's fingers were long and graceful, Cassandra's manicure was perfect. And mortal and immortal were face to face. Cassandra's skin was luminous in the night; Cassandra's hair streamed down her back, dew-wet with rain and glistening black. Shannon's eyes were crossed with emotion, there were worry-lines creasing her forehead. Her nose was running. Her lips were parted in gentle confusion, showing two rabbit-like white teeth. "Just think," she said softly, urgently, pressing Cassandra's hands, "just think, you're with Duncan MacLeod now. I saw you with him just this morning. He's--well, he's so handsome! and he loves you. I saw him looking at you. Think of that--Duncan MacLeod loves you!"

"No!" Cassandra shouted, jerking her hands free. Shannon stumbled back, gasping--and her immortal snapped, "Stand still." Shannon stood still. Cassandra ordered, "Cover your mouth," and Shannon's hands flew obediently to her mouth. "How dare you?" Cassandra whispered. "I ought to send you out to play in the traffic. How dare you follow us around, watch us, meddle in our lives? Intrude in our Game?" Her face twisted. "How dare you give me advice?"

Giles came running out of the alley. He recoiled at the sight of Cassandra speaking to Shannon; then Cassandra saw him, spoke, lifted her hand--and he froze with his mouth open in a gasp.

As easily as breathing now, Cassandra held them both under her spell. Giles might as well have been a statue. Shannon was ensnared, as if she had never fought free. "You don't know anything about me," Cassandra said, her voice low. "You've never known actual danger, true love, real fear. Or hatred that lingers for thousands of years, that shapes the soul as the weather wears mountains away. Your life will trickle through your fingers before you've had a chance to live at all. You're mortal. You can't understand."

They watched her, mindless as zombies.

"Go," she said, putting all her power into her voice, "to the old submarine base outside the city. Walk through it. Clean up the bodies you'll find there. Destroy what's in the labs. Take pictures, make records. And tell all the other Watchers--tell them that all you find, is the work of the Four Horsemen. Tell them that three died tonight, but the fourth escaped. And until Methos the Horseman is dead, evil will walk free in the world."

Amazingly, this woke a semblance of life in both Watchers; they jerked slightly, and the man's lips moved. "Methos?" was the word his mouth shaped.

"Go!" Cassandra commanded.

They went.

How can they understand? she wondered, watching them stumble away. Do mice understand men? But maybe they can dispel the myths, set the record straight. Her hands curled into fists; she remembered the ancient past, and the deeds of the Horsemen. No. No modern man could understand--that's how Methos ensnared MacLeod. Caught him with lies, seduced him with promises. How well I remember your power!

She found her sword lying on the street, sheathed it with a decisive slash. Vile Kantos with his 'voice of evil' was not more wicked than you, she thought. Yes--your voice has a magic of its own. Methos, prince of liars.









The Year 1997



Cassandra dreamed.

It was the old dream, all confused with the new, and it began as it always did, with vivid fragments: scarred, terrible Kronos with his Assyrian robes and iron scale-armor, and his sword forged from a fallen star. And his eyes that watched, full of cold mirth, calculating. Kronos and the Horsemen storming across the wastelands, in the ancient world. They had all been legends, all four Horsemen.

Silas, the invincible juggernaut.

Caspian, with his terrible hungers.

Methos, behind whose innocent face lay a thousand cunning plans.

And Kronos, ruling them all with an iron hand.

In Cassandra's nightmare, she was a slave again. The Horsemen had slaughtered her people, and Methos had taken her as his woman. The lessons she had learned then would color her whole future--like a blood-red dye steeping across the tapestry of her long life. She had cowered before the Horsemen, as if before the Fates themselves. But worse than this had been what Methos did to her, for she had not been strong enough then to fight his wiles. He had stripped away her hatred, and forced her to love him.

That was his true crime. In her nightmares, that was what Cassandra relived.

Cassandra, dreaming all this, fought with the sheets of her four-poster bed; she punched her pillow and threw it to the floor. The ticking clock on the night-stand sounded like a death-watch beetle.

The dream blurred. Past became present. And as before--as always--she was held captive by the Horsemen--but this time it was in Bordeaux, in 1996. She dreamed that Silas and Caspian shoved her reeling back and forth; one of them said, jeering, "A great evil comes, sweeping all before it!" But she could not tell which one was speaking. "Only a Highland child can defeat the voice of evil." Silas poked at her with his huge fingers, and Caspian wound his arms around her, grinning, and tried to bite off her nose. In the hotel lobby. In public, while the other patrons gaped and the bellboys ran for help. Until Kronos sauntered over to the manager's desk, tossed a thousand-franc note and a business card down, and said, "When her boyfriend comes, tell him where to go." And he turned to Cassandra, the jester's scar across his eye crinkling with mirth, wagging a finger in mock-reproof: "But why did you think poor Kantos was Ahriman? Stupid Cassandra . . . It's me, of course."

She tossed. She turned. She whimpered and bit the inside of her cheek. He can't be the Evil One. Methos could be--Methos is alive. But Kronos can't, because he's dead.

She dreamed that MacLeod and Methos were standing together in a churchyard, talking quietly, sanely, like old friends. Duncan was asking Methos about her: "What is she to you, Methos?" And Methos said, "One of a thousand regrets, MacLeod . . . One of a thousand regrets."

The images became jumbled, after the manner of dreams. Why should she hear a voice singing a hymn? "--la muerte. Donde esta la muerte? Donde esta mi muerte? Donde su victoria!" She imagined giant Ferris wheels, hot-air balloons, celebrations in every street, while Duncan and Methos hid in a dark cellar--why? And all the while, the Highlander spoke on: "I've seen her do what seems like magic. I don't understand how."

Methos shrugged. "It's the realm of the imagination," he said. "You've been there." And he quoted Milton: "The mind is its own place and in itself / can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven."

"I think I could have loved her," said MacLeod. "But she lives in the hell of her own past. Methos? When we shared the quickening--for a moment, I imagined I was you." He was trembling--a sorrowful thing to see, in such a strong man. "Methos, what will happen to us? When the time comes, must we fight each other? Should we make a mutual suicide pact? Or just swear to steer clear of each other?" He shuddered, averting his face as if he had said something shameful. "I don't think I can fight you, Methos. I think we shouldn't stay together--I think we should--"

"Hush," said Methos sharply. The choir sang strongly around them. He went on in Latin: "Iamdudum video; sed nil agis; usque temebo; persequar hinc quo nunc iter est tibi . . . I've seen that for a long time, but it's no good. I'll stay with you. I'll stay with you until you get to the end of your journey."

MacLeod began helplessly to laugh. "Don't quote Horace at me, I-- What will we do?"

"I would die for you," Methos said.

Cassandra jerked upright, panting.

It was December 21st, the winter solstice, and Christmas decorations were hung in the street outside. Red and green light patterned the sheer curtains of Cassandra's window; she had the penthouse suite of a private hotel, which had once been a comte's Paris house. She had been here for almost three weeks, and had (as was her habit) furnished the rooms to her tastes, paying cash for everything. Silk and satin were all she could sleep on. Flowers had to cover every table, scent the air in every room. She could not abide a painting which was not genuine; everywhere she went, she haunted art galleries and made a game of discovering greatness before the critics did. Then when she moved on, she walked out and left it all behind.

It was a year now since Kronos had died, a year since she had seen Methos and MacLeod. During that year, she had been to every corner of the globe, from Easter Island to Alaska, from Borneo to Los Angeles. She had fled from place to place like an albatross which finds no welcome anywhere it goes. Everywhere she paused, memories of Bordeaux forced her onward. But at last, with the waning of the year, she had found a little peace of mind. She had come back to France.

Wherever she traveled, she enjoying celebrating the local festivals. Thus, the Christmas tree she had purchased was a blue spruce, imported from Vermont, and it was decorated with blown-glass ornaments, delicately iridescent. At a Japanese dealer's, she had come across a tray of two-hundred-year-old netsuke--tiny round sculptures of wood or ivory, laughing Buddhas and frogs on curling leaves, rabbits and fruit and small squat samurai. They had been made to knot cords around, counterbalancing the purses and seals which noblemen hung from their sashes. Now they dangled on Cassandra's tree. And just for fun, she had visited a jeweler's shop and bought his entire inventory, so that she could drape gold chains like wreaths on the branches. Threaded with diamond rings which flashed and glittered. Tied with huge velvet bows, whose fabric sparkled with ruby pins and emerald earrings. Christmas red and green.

She slipped her feet into fuzzy slippers, wrapped a cashmere robe tightly around herself. The nightmare preyed upon her mind, so that the beautiful things around her seemed as unreal as mirages; any moment she would wake up, and be surrounded by the harsh sands of her desert youth. Then she managed to shrug off her forebodings, laugh at the thought. She walked to the window, and peeped out.

She saw a spark of red on the rooftop opposite. It was the light of a video-camera.

Cassandra gaped at the sight. Through a world of falling snow, she gazed at a cosy shelter which had obviously been there for some time. There was a beach-umbrella, a wind-break of canvas and plyboard, and a wadded-up sleeping bag, plus what had to be a heater and a chemical stove. There was a telescope, too, and the camera on its tripod . . . and a Watcher all muffled in toque and mittens, making snow-angels.

Their roles were reversed. She was watching her Watcher, who had no idea she was being observed. It was ironic; nevertheless, Cassandra's hands clenched on the curtain. She let it fall, swung around, jerked on her coat and hat and boots. She jammed her sheathed sword into the lining of her coat, found her revolver, and strode to the door.

Outside, the lamp-posts had been wrapped like candy-canes in green and red, and pine wreaths decorated every doorway. Cassandra's breath rose like smoke as she loped across the street. As she forced open a door, brilliant snowflakes fell drifting around her. As she found a staircase and ran up it, circling toward the roof entrance, each time she passed a window there was a flash of stained-glass light in her eyes. Gigantic acrylic lanterns, red and yellow and green, had been strung between the buildings. They rotated endlessly, their panes aglow with color. They had been made in the shapes of immense Christmas ornaments.

Soundlessly, she picked the lock on the roof-door, eased the door open and looked through the crack.

There was no Christmas tree here. A Chronicle or two lay about, wrapped in protective plastic sleeves. The tiny stove stood in a puddle, inadequate to do more than melt the snow; the sleeping bag had obviously seen much better days. A candle jammed in a beer-bottle provided light, and an unwrapped Chronicle lay open on a milk-crate. The snow fell over it all, with huge flakes--glittering crystalline flakes--perfect flakes, unbelievably large.

Shannon was out in the falling snow. The blurring imprints of her snow angels were all around her. But she had left them; now, she was rotating with her arms outspread, catching snowflakes on her tongue.

She saw Cassandra. Her mouth fell open, her eyes became round and panicky. But this time she made no pretense of innocence. She blurted out, "You're not supposed to be up here, you have to go away!" and then she leaped toward her makeshift blind, trying in vain to cover the Chronicles with her hands.

Cassandra was there before her, snatching the book off the milk-crate. "What's this, little mouse?" Without effort, she fended Shannon off, while she tilted the Chronicle this way and that and peered curiously at the cover. "Someone's diary? No date, no title. Are all your love-affairs recorded here?"

"You're not allowed to look at that!"

"Nonsense," said Cassandra. Then she looked up, astonished. "This . . . this book is about Duncan MacLeod."

"It's his most current Chronicle." Shannon was dithering, uncertain whether to snatch the book and leap off the roof (as was her Watcher's duty) or try to bluff Cassandra away from these forbidden reading materials. Or just to give in and tell all. She steeled herself, stretched out one hand. "Please give it back. Or else I'll be punished."

"That's your lookout," said Cassandra lightly. She leafed through the Chronicle. "What will they do, dock your pay? Doesn't look as if they pay you much anyway. Besides, don't you have better things to do in the Christmas season, than sit on a cold rooftop and spy on a stranger? You should be out partying."

"It's my duty to watch you. And to research your known associates. Anyway I don't have anywhere else to go."

"Don't you have a boyfriend, then? Or a husband. A lover?"

Shannon blushed pink, all over her rosy-cheeked face. Her ears were already red from the cold. "No."

"Or a family?"

"No more than you do."

"Ah, but I'm a citizen of the world." A packet of photographs fell out of a slot in the back jacket of MacLeod's Chronicle. Cassandra picked it up--and again, her hands became still and an emotion which Shannon could not understand crossed her face. She stood gazing at the top photograph, which was a snapshot of MacLeod, posed with his arm around a second man; they seemed to be in a bar of some sort. "That's Joe Dawson," she said.

"You know him?"

"Yes, we've met." She touched the face of the man in the snapshot. "His beard was shorter then. But this length suits him. And he looks happy. So it's true what Duncan said, that he and his Watcher are friends."

"Oh yes, they were famous for it." Shannon was reassured by this mention of Dawson, who was after all far senior to her in the Watcher echelon. This was all the encouragement she needed to start scurrying around, fetching her solitary chair and brushing the snow off before offering it reverently to Cassandra. "Why, they were the best of friends!" she said, and wiped her nose, overcome with emotion. "Would you like some coffee? I have a thermos here, let me pour it out for you-- Someday I want to be famous just like Joe Dawson, with every Watcher knowing my name. Look, there's another picture of them together. That's the bookstore Dawson used to own. And here they are in MacLeod's dojo."

But Cassandra did not sit down, or reach out to take her coffee. "Shannon, this picture. Here. Who is this man?"

"Him?" Shannon peered down. "Oh, just someone Dawson knows," she said indifferently. "I forget his name. MacLeod is very loyal to his friends and will stand by them through thick and thin, the older Watchers all say so. Mind you," she added, "I've heard them say that Dawson is getting a little past it, that he ought to be retired. He spends as much time writing about this friend of his, what's-his-name, as he does about his immortal. As if he doesn't know who he's supposed to watch!" She moved the photo aside. "This is the one I like best," she said, pointing.

"I see," said Cassandra, without expression; the photo she had been looking at was one of Duncan MacLeod and Methos. The other picture, the one Shannon liked best, showed Cassandra and MacLeod and appeared to have been taken in Seacouver, in springtime, in bright sunlight; there Cassandra was, sleek in a silver velour pullover and pedal-pushers, leaning forward to accept a rose-bud from MacLeod's hand.

She hesitated. Finally she asked, "Where is MacLeod now?"

Shannon did not answer, and Cassandra glanced up to see that her Watcher seemed to avoiding her gaze. "What's wrong? He isn't dead, is he? Is he?"

"N-no," said Shannon, shuffling her feet. "But he's gone. He . . . well, he went crazy, the reports say. Went crazy and killed his own student and then he vanished and no Watcher can find where he is. He's been gone for ages. Joe Dawson's been transferred to administrative duties." Seeing Cassandra turn pale, she added hurriedly, "MacLeod will turn up again, you can bet on it. He's too good to lose his head that easily. He's on the Doomsday short-list, even--and that's the list of immortals most likely to win the Prize!"

". . . he killed a student?"

"Um. Yes."

". . . he went mad?"

"Maybe it won't last?" Shannon said. "Uh, and anyway, don't all older immortals go crazy from time to time? Not you, of course, but the men, the ones who take a lot of heads. They get crazy and then they get over it. In the Chronicle, it says that MacLeod was talking about demons that only appear at the millennium, the dead walking the streets of Paris, the end of the world--impossible things."

Cassandra said, "I should be going back now."

"Oh. I guess you should. I wish," said Shannon, and then she blushed all over and said in a rush, "I wish you weren't an immortal, or that I was."

There seemed to be no answer for this, so Cassandra turned to leave. At the roof-door she cast a glance backward at the humble tableau: snow was falling in heavy eddies over the beach-umbrella shelter, and everything sparkled in the glow of Shannon's lamp--and there her Watcher stood, gazing dolefully after her. Like an abandoned puppy, thought Cassandra with a pang of sympathy. Look at those spaniel eyes!

On impulse, she ran back across to the shelter. "Wait! I have a Christmas present for you."

She took off her fur coat and draped it over Shannon's shoulders--keeping only her sword for herself. She wound her Versace scarf around Shannon's throat, she fluffed up Shannon's hair and set her stylish hat jauntily on the young Watcher's head. With a deft touch, she adjusted her Watcher's stance, patted her cheeks and beamed at her. "You're beautiful, you know," she whispered, just before she ran back to the door. She put magic into the words. "A beautiful young woman, the kind that every man wants. Remember it. Carry yourself like the prize you are."

And from the door, she heard Shannon's voice, gulping with joy: "Cassandra! We'll see each other around. And--and--and when Duncan MacLeod reappears, I'll get a message to you."









The Year 1998



MaxMara.

Yves Saint Laurent.

Hermes.

Lolita Lempicka. Comme des Garcons. Sybilla and Kashiyama. Chantal Thomass. The House of Chanel. The Victoire boutique . . . Cassandra was shopping.

Cassandra needed new clothes, and only the best that Paris could offer would do. For, after all, she was old--old--three thousand years old, and having lived most of those years in privation, she felt that she deserved a little pampering. Besides, she liked clothes. And there was no place like Barbara Bui for soft feminine attire, or Sonia Rykiel for the sumptuous knitwear which Cassandra enjoyed; and swimwear by Eres was essential, after which it was a visit to a shop named Kookai which featured the kind of youthful, slinky dresses which could not be resisted. And then there was Diapositive, whose line of body-hugging garments might be off-the-rack, but who cared? Not Cassandra. Definitely not. Everywhere she went, money paved the way for her. At every chic salon, out came her Visa and off went boxes and bags, to be delivered to the hotel de charme which was her current place of residence.

Just now, she was engaged in the most important clothing choice any modern immortal could make: buying a new coat in which to conceal her sword.

The Marais district was her destination now. Here, just north of the Ile-de-la-Cite where Duncan MacLeod had once anchored his barge, all the yet-to-be-trendy designers could be found--exhibiting their work in tiny fashionable shops, awaiting discovery. Cassandra's taxi dropped her in front of a renovated mansion just off the Place des Vosges, a garden square in which she had fought several pre-dawn challenges. She climbed a flight of stairs, found a corridor lined with the glass-fronted doors of small stores and businesses. At one, she knocked. When it opened, she inquired, "Salon Berenice?" and held out a card.

"Ah, the private viewing," said the woman who had opened the door. She bowed Cassandra in. "Please! Be seated down. Coffee? Or would you enjoy a tisane while you view?"

In moments, Cassandra was settled in state in an opulent chair, with a tisane of sweet-scented herbal tea at her elbow. The proprietress fluttered around her, uttering a flow of effusive remarks in comical English--drawing Cassandra's attention to the impeccable Belle Epoque decor and the special character of her salon. "Principally, we expose replications of classic haute couture, but we have a sweet preference for accessories, beside jewelry of historical significance. Our line of Princess Diana wedding rings is beyond par. Also we have fulfilled commissions of every kind in past times, exposing for the discerning curious pieces of couture, for that unique patron such as yourself, Madame--"

"Mademoiselle."

"Oh! Mademoiselle, yes." The proprietress nodded over and over, clapped her hands several times. Then she performed a sort of delicious shiver of anticipation, as four pouting models magically appeared. "By Mademoiselle's request," she proclaimed, "the opera coats!"

The models strutted forward and revolved.

"First," the proprietress exclaimed, her English miraculously improving, "a Babani replica of an opera coat. It is rich plum silk velvet, with Islamic beadwork, and a lace passementerie knotted with vegetable-ivory beads. With a painted scarf attached at neckline, decorated in matching embroidery of beads and sequins." The model displaying the Babani replica smiled and stroked her lapels. "Note please, the straight rectangular silhouette, inspired by Middle Eastern style. Note besides, the extreme delicacy of the beaded pattern which is accented by gold couching and achieves a floating quality against the dark background of velvet."

The model made a final revolution, and made way for her sisters.

"Next! A nineteenth century costume coat, reproduced in pearl-grey silk organza. With hidden crossover closure in front and central button closure at the skirt. A fitted bodice accentuates the bosom, waist and swells of hips. Embroidered coats-of-arms accentuate the backs of the wrists. The full skirt, with extra swagger in the back, fitted waist, and broadness in the shoulders, creates an hourglass silhouette which on Mademoiselle would be chic to the extreme."

"Go on," said Cassandra, sipping her tisane.

"Next! An A-line silhouette tribute to early haute couture, in midnight-blue brocade. Observe the high V-shaped neckline and three-quarter length sleeves, the dramatic sculptural presence of this minimal yet lush opera coat. The turn-of-the-century semi-fitted shape--"

"Go on."

"Finally! We expose to Mademoiselle our triumph, this futuristic opera coat in ivory linen embroidered throughout with colored sequins. A Balenciaga reproduction. With a high round collarless neckline, fitted torso and full skirt. The broad belt adds style to this timeless garment. Also, the custom-made sequins lend a very modern ambience. This coat poses a question of interest to the discerning eye. Though made of traditional fabric, its abstract beaded motif reminds one of the look of space-age materials such as plastic, and indeed its sequins are unique one-of-a-kind plastic art objects, cut from scrap titanium used in the NASA space program--"

"That coat." Cassandra had stiffened, leaning forward, her eyes gleaming. "Bring it closer, please. Yes. Yes. I like it! I'll have that one."

The proprietress beamed at her.

It was while Cassandra was arranging for the Balenciaga coat's fitting and alterations that there was a stir at the door. The proprietress herself hurried in that direction, haughtily fretful over the small interruption; then in a trice, she was back, and her face was puzzled. "Mademoiselle, this was delivered for you." And she put a slip of paper into Cassandra's hand.

Cassandra unfolded the note. There were just two sentences on it. At first she simply stared, then her shoulders sagged and she heaved a sigh that came from her very heart.

The message said: He's back. Joe Dawson reports that he fought a demon, and triumphed.

#

Graffiti was the Watcher grapevine, all over the world.

And why not? Graffiti was everywhere. Especially, graffiti could be found in derelict places, the very places where immortals fought. No one gave it a second glance. A graffito could be as elaborate as necessary, incorporate all sorts of bizarre flourishes, sprawl over an entire wall and hold an infinity of coded messages, and no one would ever look at it and realize it was a cipher. Especially, no immortal suspected the secret history written upon the world's walls.

Of course, every modern Watcher carried a cell-phone. But one could not go around with a phone glued to one's ear; there were easier (and more traditional) ways to keep in touch. Time out of mind, field Watchers had left signs to warn each other where to go, what to watch out for. At first, they had used the same signals that gypsies and hobos still did; in fact the old vagabonds' gate-code had been originally created by Watchers. But nowadays, a can of spray-paint served as well.

This was a derelict place all right . . . the industrial district of Paris, run-down and unfashionable, and teeming with deserted warehouses. Even now, in mid-evening, it was uninviting; come midnight it would reek of peril, and fifty immortals would be walking these back-streets, looking for battle. Thus, the Watcher to be found in a deserted back-alley, doing his duty. Armed with two aerosol cans, and with three more lined up, ready for action. He was painting.

He sauntered back and forth before his chosen wall, and the jabs of his thumbs sent flares of paint--primary colors that ran like liquid light--in curves and arcs across rough cinder-block. The cinder-block itself was covered with thick white paint, a perfect surface for cartoon-art. His partner had just relieved him; he had all night to do his field report. He wanted to get every detail right.

He drew a dragon with enormous tire-like eyes and ballooning coils, its frayed bat-wings spreading to infinity. A knight astride a sinking Titanic tilted against it. It was the Oroboros, symbol of the end of time--sprawling along the curve of the ocean, with the Earth's globe rolling away beneath it, encircled. The dragon's knotted tail gagged its jaws, but its talons were fearsome, and its eyes glowed fiery red. A red haze of paint-streaks like stars and comets swooped around it. Framing this central image, a damsel held out the Grail, Merlin the magician plied a computer, the Horsemen of the Apocalypse galloped to the attack and a sword stood in a stone. The dragon's face was the knight's face; the two were dopplegangers.

The white-armored knight signified the immortal named Duncan MacLeod. Stenciled on the dragon's chest was a swaggering bulldog; this was the icon of another immortal, Keith Aliek by name. The fuzzy toy hanging from the dog's collar stood for Aliek's Watcher, witness to the fight.

Now Aliek's Watcher was recording the details of the encounter, in a series of innocent-looking doodles. Here a squiggle, there a squiggle: Aliek (an ape-necked Neanderthal, cordially disliked by all his Watchers) was armed with all his favorite weapons, swords and knives and shuriken. Here, a small notation: see Aliek's 1854 Chronicle re the bad blood between him and MacLeod. Here, a series of dots: Aliek had flung insults, growled like a professional wrestler, pawed the ground and foamed at the mouth--his usual performance.

Here, an exclamation point: MacLeod was unarmed.

Here, an emphatic set of pothooks: MacLeod--voted "most likely to cream all opposition" four years running by the Paris Watchers--seemed unwilling to fight.

Aliek had issued a challenge, MacLeod had shrugged it off.

Aliek had charged, MacLeod had stepped aside.

Aliek had wheeled, advanced with blade a-whirl: MacLeod had stepped aside.

Aliek had halted, glared, snarled, lunged; MacLeod had (surprise!) stepped aside.

Aliek had run headfirst into the cinder-block wall and smashed his own skull in. He had sprawled face-down in the gutter, a perfect target. By the time he healed, though, MacLeod was long gone.

All this, Aliek's Watcher faithfully recorded--painting a lovely explosion right on the spot where Aliek had met his doom. Paris' other Watchers would need to know that Duncan MacLeod was out tonight, as formidable as ever, but unwilling to take heads. Eventually, of course, everyone would receive an official bulletin . . . but tonight, all the Watchers who passed by this street would get the news.

. . . And it was while he was adding the final touches to his work that he realized someone was observing him.

Across the street, beneath a broken-down awning, a man was loitering. His back was to Aliek's busy Watcher, he was swathed in a long rusty-black duster, and deep shadows concealed him. If not for the row of windows behind him, he would have been invisible. But the windows were there, and only half of them were broken; it was in the pane of a window that the Watcher had spotted him, no more than a glimpse of movement where no movement should be. There was the swing of a long coat, a face in shadow, the tilt of a hat jammed down low. And then you could make out the man standing in the darkness, watching in the reflection on the window. You could make out everything about him . . . except his face.

The Watcher stiffened. Across the street, he saw his audience stiffen--like a mirror image. Like a conjuror, whose leather-gloved hand now lifted, fingers spread in a mocking gesture: thumbs up, then a wave goodbye. Aliek's Watcher had never met Adam Pierson, and anyway he could not see the stranger's expression; he did not understand the air of recklessness behind the gesture. Why, it was as if the man could read Watcher code! "Wait," he called, suddenly, impulsively. Was this a colleague? Or an immortal who knew too much? "Wait! What do you want?"

The stranger was already moving away. But he halted, he seemed to be laughing--and then he called back over his shoulder, his face still invisible, "He's back, is he?"

There was such mirth in that voice!

"Who are you? Who are you?!"

The man was running now. There came a shout of irrepressible joy, as he leaped and skipped like a child. And he cried a name: "Methos!"

The Watcher's mouth dropped open.

He dashed out into the middle of the empty street. But the echo of footsteps faded into the night, and he was too slow, and Methos was gone.

He hurried back to his wall, and began to paint.

#

Cassandra, stewing, held out for almost twenty-four hours before she gave in to temptation. It wasn't her way to get involved with other immortals. It wasn't her style, to indulge in sentiment. It wasn't her business, what Duncan MacLeod did and where he went and what his state of mind might happen to be . . . but still, there she was, walking along a quay overlooking the Seine, with the flying buttresses of Notre Dame for a backdrop.

She saw the Nobile lying at anchor upon the placid river, bellying in the gentle swell of a wave. A detective had once told her that this barge was Duncan MacLeod's Paris home. But how long ago had that been?

It's been years, she thought. He could have changed. Maybe he's moved. Or staying somewhere with friends. Or gone back to that one-room dump in Seacouver.

She walked back and forth past the barge several times, eyeing it.

Her high black glossy boots with the big heels tap-tapped along the pavement. She ran her fingers up and down the fringe of her expensive Irish lace shawl. She flounced her mane of hair, causing several passing men to suck in their breath and mentally count their cash; but when one of them started toward her, Cassandra gave him a look that sent him on his way. Twice, she began to hurry off--and halted in agitation. When have I ever been so indecisive? But finally, she made up her mind. She would go in, and greet her solstice child.

She turned, and saw Methos.

Methos whistling between his teeth, not seeing her where she stood. Three hundred yards separated them and he would not sense her--yet. Cassandra screamed inwardly and her hand groped for her blade. Methos, bright-eyed and cheerful, as if there was no punishment for the wicked and the sins of the past were meaningless. But it was broad daylight and she could not attack him here! Methos with his head high . . . halting at the foot of the Nobile's gangplank, just as Duncan MacLeod appeared on the deck.

Her teeth ground together. Her heart hammered. Her skin crawled. She backed away, gaze fixed on the two of them, knowing that neither one had noticed her. She saw Duncan shrug, with something like resignation and something else--something suspiciously like happiness. She saw Methos tilt his head and seem to take in all the changes in MacLeod, tote them up as if he understood the reason behind every one. And the sum of his assessment was a smile of blinding approval.

He sauntered up the gangplank, and at the far end of the quay, Cassandra fled unobserved.

#

"Hiya, MacLeod. You're looking well." Methos walked into the barge: hands in pockets, head swivelling as he looked around. "And you've redecorated."

"What do you want, Methos?"

". . . cut your hair too, I see."

MacLeod shut the deck door, and stood with his arms crossed, watching as Methos prowled around. "And you haven't lost your nosiness. Did Dawson send you?"

"Joe? No. I haven't talked to Joe in ages."

Methos halted at the far end of the barge. Bare floorboards stretched in all directions, and the starkness of the decor was the colder by contrast with him: birdlike and rumpled, his hair on end, his sweater showing through the open collar of his coat and his expression as warm as summer.

"So how did you know I was back?"

"What?" Methos said vaguely. "Oh. Read it somewhere. So you killed your dragon, did you?"

"My demon. Yes." MacLeod came down the steps, stopped at their foot. The width of the long room separated them. At last, he sighed. "Methos, where did you go, where have you been? I needed your help."

"No, you didn't," said Methos. He seemed to be hiding a grin. "Where was I?" he asked the air. "Oh, I remember now. I was in a circus."

". . . you were in a circus? Methos, I was in a monastery all year--and you ran away and joined the circus??"

Now Methos was definitely concealing a grin. "You were in a monastery? Now that, I just can't picture. Yep, I was the star attraction for the Cirque de Trocadero-Triomphe. Rave reviews in five European capitals, and the applause we got when we played the Casino Blanc at Monte Carlo--" He kissed his fingertips. "Magnifique!"

MacLeod came closer to him. "What were you, the man who cleans up after the elephant?"

"No, no. 'Doctor Merlyn, Miracle Worker.' Tarot-card reading. Fire-eating. Sword-swallowing. I swallowed," said Methos blandly, "a sixty-seven-centimeter Toledo blade, thereby setting a record unequaled in circus history."

"You did?" Mac took another step.

"I also," Methos said, "have the distinction of being the only professional in the business able to ingest an entire string of Christmas lights, ignite them in situ, and thus illustrate the mysteries of the esophagus and digestive system. And that was how I earned my other title: X, the Human X-ray Machine."

"I wish I had seen it."

"I wish you'd been there too. Amanda tells me you're good with a knife-throwing act, we could have combined it with my Tarot-card turn."

"You could have swallowed the Christmas lights, and I could have tried to put them out."

Mac was all the way across the barge now. Methos was no longer hiding his grin. They stood there trying to be solemn, and then all at once they came together, laughing out loud and holding each other hard, and Methos gasped and said into Mac's ear, "Yeah, I missed you too. But really, really, you didn't need me, Mac. So are you going to tell me how you defeated your demon?"

#

He needed her.

At first, Cassandra walked swiftly. Then she began to trot. Then she ran. Her blind feet carried her from street to street, until at last she hurried along in a welter of blaring auto-horns, of drivers leaning from their car-windows and screaming with raw fury. Her eyes stared unseeing at the traffic lights. Her feet beat out a refrain, her heart and mind echoed the chant: he needs me, he needs me, Duncan needs me. To warn him. To protect him. To save him from Methos. He needs me!

When she became aware of her surroundings, she found she had come all the way across the Ile de la Cite. She had turned off the Rue de Lutece, and was in the midst of a hundred wonderful booths bedecked with greenery--for this was the old bird-and-flower market, almost the last of the famous flower markets of Paris.

Every Sunday, the florists' displays that now surrounded Cassandra vanished like magic, to make way for stalls selling every kind of caged bird . . . but just now, the market was a blaze of colors. There were gladiolas, there were irises, there were roses and orchids. There were tulips fresh from Holland. There were vast buckets of dahlias, from which one could (after paying) pick out any ten; there were bunches of lavender and bundles of narcissus, and a dozen artistes were busy at their tables, fingers flying, with ribbons and asparagus-fern--creating bouquets while their customers waited. Bits of stepanotis and baby's-breath lay strewn in every corner.

Her steps slowed. The merchants here knew her; first one and then another smiled widely, beckoned with a hand, and held out a perfect flower for Cassandra's approval. She nodded mechanically. Their smiles became gloating. Not knowing what she did, Cassandra wandered from booth to booth, pointing at random. Wherever she pointed, flowers were whisked into bundles and off they went to the bouquet-maker's table; there, Cassandra's favorite bouquet-maker would beam from ear to ear, shoo her other clients away . . . and make a work of art for that best of patrons, a customer who spent money like water.

It would all be delivered to her hotel room by supper-time. Cassandra didn't care. She muttered to herself, knowing that she must look like a madwoman. A crowd of tourists strolled past oohing and aahing, while the businessmen of the city selected roses for their mistresses, and the young brides of the city picked their wedding bouquets. And smart Parisian matrons looked over flower-arrangements, while keeping a sharp eye out for errant husbands. She spotted her Watcher lurking in the background, pink nose pointed at a display of miltonoides orchids like gay cream-and-scarlet pansies. She spotted a bearded lunatic in robe and sandals, handing out pamphlets of wrinkled newsprint, and sporting a placard which proclaimed DOOMSDAY IS COMING!

She saw a pair of young lovers in the crowd. The girl was beautiful, with a cloud of dark curls and a gold necklace. The boy who held her hands was tall and gawky, with a beak of a nose. But they were smiling, lost in each other's eyes, and when the girl reached up tenderly and touched the boy's cheek, Cassandra saw his lips move as if he was making her a promise he would never break.

Cassandra choked. She clapped her hands to her mouth and turned away, half-bent over. A moment later she was retching into a chipped metal wastebasket in the back of a booth, while a sympathetic flower-merchant patted her back. "There, there, mademoiselle!" he cooed (for Cassandra was among his best customers), "soon you'll feel much better. No breakfast for three months, no wine for another five after that, and then you'll be bringing your little one along for all of us to admire . . ."

She straightened, about to give him the tongue-lashing of a lifetime. There, hovering anxiously at the entrance of the booth, was her very own Watcher.

"Shannon?"

"I saw you were sick," said Shannon in a small voice. She looked furtively about. She had a piece of paper in her hands--Cassandra recognized it as one of the pamphlets the lunatic had been handing out--and was pleating it between her fingers. "Can I help?"

"Let's go sit down somewhere." Cassandra barely knew her own voice. She gripped the young Watcher's arm, keeping an iron hold until they were both at the far edge of the flower-market, seated at a cast-iron table in a street-side bistro. Even then, while a garcon whisked up to take their order and whisked away again, she held on to the edge of Shannon's sleeve. "You've changed," she said.

Shannon Maus blushed. Indeed, she had changed, and for the better. Her hair had been cut, and very well cut; her face was made up, and with some skill. Cassandra looked hard at her lipstick and eyeshadow, and admitted she could not have chosen better herself. She had a rather nice necklace around her neck, a silk blouse and German jeans, and high boots which flattered her legs. She carried herself as if she thought she was beautiful--and she was very pretty indeed, just because of this air of confidence.

"Well, I have a boyfriend now," she said naively. "In fact I have as many boyfriends as I want."

"I'm not surprised," Cassandra said.

The garcon appeared in record time, bearing two glasses of vin blanc and a pair of rosebuds with ribbons tied round their stems. The wine was set ceremoniously on the table, the rosebuds presented with equal ceremony. Cassandra handed him a banknote, and he kissed his fingertips all the way back to the kitchen.

"So how's the Watcher business?"

"I can't tell you anything about that, I took an oath. In fact," Shannon admitted, "I'd be in deep trouble if the other Watchers realized how much you knew." She shivered a little. "But don't worry, no one knows. But you, Cassandra . . . are you okay? You looked--I don't know how to describe the way you looked--"

"An old nightmare," Cassandra said. She frowned; she had just glanced at the pamphlet which Shannon still held. It was not what she expected--not a printed tract full of ranting and raving. There were no words printed on it at all. There was only a meaningless doodle, beneath a staring turquoise eye. "Shannon, what's that?"

"Nothing," Shannon said, stuffing the paper into her pocket. The way she said it told Cassandra that this too was Watcher business. "Um. I followed you to Duncan MacLeod's barge, you know. You broke up with him back in 'ninety-six, but--but you still love him? Don't you?"

Cassandra felt herself go white. She jerked to her feet, ready to run.

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I shouldn't have asked--"

"No, you shouldn't!"

For a moment Shannon sat with her head bowed humbly. "It's only that . . . I wish I could help . . ."

"Shannon," said Cassandra; Shannon looked up, swiftly, hopefully. ". . . Shannon, there are Watchers shadowing MacLeod too, aren't there? Not just Joe Dawson, but Watchers like you, who follow him around." Shannon was nodding. Cassandra leaned forward: "And keep records, like the book I saw before. Chronicles. I want to read his Chronicles."

"No! No no no, you can't do that, I'd be court-martialed if the tribunal ever--"

"Shannon," said Cassandra, and there was a honey-sweet power in her voice. Shannon was silent, sitting frozen at the table with her mouth half-open. "Listen to me, Shannon, my mouse. Tomorrow, you're going to get me MacLeod's records."

"Yes," said Shannon tonelessly.

"And his computer records too--whatever's current. If there are pictures, get those too. I need to know who his associates are, and where he goes, and what he does."

"Yes," said Shannon.

"I have to do this," Cassandra said. "You don't understand, of course, but I have to. It's for his own good. He needs my help."

"Yes," said Shannon.







The Year 1999



All over the world, immortals dreamed.

They dreamed of the Gathering, of course. What else gave meaning to their endless violence? It was their very own legend, only half-understood: in an age to come, in a distant land, they would be drawn to come together and fight the last battle--for in the end, there could be only one. And the last surviving immortal would be the winner, and reap the Prize. But no one knew what the Prize would be. No one knew why they should kill to win it. No more did they know where they came from, where they were going, what they were. They only staked everything they had--their dreams, their heads, and their lives--on a prophecy . . . a prophecy whose origin they did not know.

The Watchers, too, had legends. Oh, not legends about the Gathering--no, no, the Watcher legends were about the Watchers themselves. Field Watchers whispered tales of the all-seeing Watcher tribunal, which knew all and saw all and whose operatives were everywhere. Junior Watchers at the academy told each other that someday, they would penetrate to the inner sanctum of Watcher administration, and discover the secret Baby Ring, the imprisoned Watcher women who bore immortal infants, the immortal men who ran it all--and the unspeakable reasons behind it.

They traded X-files videos, whispered about conspiracies, and told each other what really became of immortal corpses collected by Watcher clean-up squads. Of what really happened to pregnant women struck by lightning. Of what really happened when a mortal was caught in a quickening, of the immortal Illuminati who worked from the Pentagon to control every government in the world. Of Watchers falling in love with their subjects, vanishing without a trace, only to be glimpsed centuries later--still young, still beautiful, blissfully united with their immortal paramours. And there were the tall tales of research gone wrong: of immortal organs transplanted into mortal patients, and senior Watchers living hundreds of years with borrowed hearts pumping in their chests--of immortal limbs sewn to mortals, which after their new owners died, still lived and twitched, eternally young--of the gruesome Head Experiment of 1929.

Finally, there was the Doomsday Project, about which rumor was rife. And no wonder! No other research was so closely guarded. To most Watchers, it was a mystery: all they knew was that there was a Doomsday Book, in which the name of every immortal who had ever existed would (someday) be written. And someday, every last immortal would be tracked down, identified, and listed in this book. Someday. The Watchers even had a fable about this; they told each other that the Gathering could not come until the last entry in the Doomsday Book had been made.

There was a Doomsday shortlist too: it named the immortals worthy of special attention, the immortals considered most likely to win the Prize. Watchers dreamed of being assigned to an immortal on the list.

On this list, the name of Duncan MacLeod stood near the top. Other names were added and struck off as time passed; but Methos' name was always there too . . . always, the name of Methos was at the very end of the Doomsday list. For that name had been on the list longer than any other.

#

It was New Year again, and fairy-tale snowflakes were tumbling across a steel-grey sky, falling upon Cassandra's head and sparkling in her dark curls as she slipped through the Paris streets. She wore her Balenciaga coat, its beads and sequins sparkling brighter than the snowflakes, and felt like Cinderella. She entered a small apartment building, used a key which was not hers, admitted herself and climbed up several flights of stairs. The building was almost a hundred and fifty years old and lacked an elevator. At the very top of the stairs, she found the door she sought. She let herself into Shannon's rooms.

Three AM, said the clock in Shannon's tiny kitchen. Cassandra had been here before, but every time she came, the apartment had changed. Now she wandered around, looking. For a moment she contemplated a Xerox resembling a police-composite drawing, depicting a man in an immortal's long coat and a hat pulled low. She picked it up, puzzled, and put it down; then a number of snapshots pinned to a corkboard caught her attention. Here was her Watcher, posed with what had to be several other Watchers. Here she was at a computer, with Joe Dawson looking over her shoulder; both of them had been caught in the act of glancing up, grinning. There were photos of Shannon with a whole series of keen-looking young men, and she was giggling behind her hand in most of them, not taking any of it seriously. All the young men looked very serious indeed, though. But no one of them appeared in more than one picture.

Cassandra stopped in front of a brand-new calendar; every evening in January already appeared to be booked. As for Shannon's bedroom, that told its own story. The room was all a-tumble--as if its mistress had blown out of there in a hurry--with the closet-door half-open upon brilliant party clothes, and a selection of fancy shoes lying rejected on the rug. The vanity table was covered with jars of makeup, tins of hair-spray, perfume bottles. Fashionable perfumes, expensive ones. Not a single Brand-X name was to be seen. Most of them were Christmas gifts, with their bows and ribbons still on them. Like the red roses on the kitchen table and the box of fancy chocolates by the couch, they spoke of courtship.

Shannon was no longer spending the holiday season alone. Cassandra sat on the bed, felt the springs give beneath her with a juicy bounce.

I did this, she told herself, and the thought was good.

She found three of her own Chronicles (and six Anne Stuart romances) piled on the night-table. A number of flimsy pamphlets had been stuck into them, evidently as bookmarks. Cassandra slid a pamphlet free, touched the image of an eye printed across it in staring blue ink. The evil eye, she thought. But the message beneath the eye was in cipher and she could not read it. She dropped the paper, picked up a Chronicle and paged through it, laid it aside again. Finally she found up a newspaper and settled down to read.

Civic leaders were concerned about the rising incidence of vandalism in Paris. Not to mention the record levels of graffiti! There were three articles about the perils of Y2K, and a long feature detailing plans for the upcoming millennium. Grandiose plans. Plans for the world's biggest clock, the world's biggest balloon, the world's biggest book and the world's biggest Ferris wheel. On New Year's Eve, the Eiffel Tower would give birth to a giant egg, which would crack open upon massive video-screens showing millennial parties around the world. Twenty thousand lights on the tower would flash; a crowd more than one million strong would celebrate; there would be music, fireworks, laser lights and feu d'artifice. Fighter jets would scream overhead. Bright plastic fish would fill the Seine. There would be something called Balloons for the Millions, and a giant Earth Tower in central Paris; and twelve immense gates would be erected along the Champs Elysees, to swing open at the stroke of midnight and invite the peoples of the world to enter L'An 2000 . . . She was still reading about the Champs Elysees when there was a noise at the door.

Cassandra laid down the magazine. She heard a key turn in the lock, voices in the hall outside--and then a sudden stifled giggle. She drew back a little, knowing that here in the bedroom, she was invisible. And she eavesdropped shamelessly. Was that a kiss she heard? Yes, it was. A hissing whisper: "No, no, you can't come in, Giles!" A playful scuffle, ending with more kisses. "Mmmm . . . but the answer is still no. Well--maybe next time."

A young man's voice: "Are we still on for tomorrow?"

"We'll see. Phone me."

"Goodnight, Shannon."

"Call me Shoom," said Shannon's voice. "Everyone else does."

The door closed.

It was a beautiful Shannon who came tripping into the bedroom--a Shannon with the latest style of glitter in her mussed hair, with eyeshadow as iridescent and fragile as the powder on butterfly-wings. Her lipstick was smeared, making her mouth appear larger, softer, and her eyelashes fluttered restlessly as she sailed into the room; she was kissing her fingertips with a smack of triumph, and then she spotted Cassandra and stopped short. "Happy New Year," said Cassandra.

"Ohh." Shannon flopped down on the bed and pressed a hand to her forehead. "Don't surprise me like that, I'm still giddy from champagne. Happy New Year! It's nineteen-ninety-nine!"

"I know I promised not to come here without checking first, but I couldn't wait--"

"Why aren't you giddy too? Everyone's been drinking bubbly, why not you? Weren't you with someone special tonight, Cassandra?"

"I thought I'd come see you instead." Cassandra was a little annoyed. "I didn't think you'd be too drunk to talk."

"Well, it's the New Year." Shannon bounced on the bed. "And just wait until next year. If the world doesn't end, that is. Oh, God, tonight was so much fun, Cassandra--you can't imagine--you'll never guess--"

". . . and do you have the new Chronicle, then?"

"What? Oh, yes, I managed to make a copy, it's out there." Shannon waved one hand at the doorway. "Cassandra! Tonight I met Him--Duncan MacLeod!!!"

Cassandra halted, halfway to the door. "What?" she breathed.

"Well, I looked in at Joe's bar before going to the Watchers party--you know that Joe and I are pretty good friends now--and Joe gave me a glass of champagne to start ringing in the new year, and we were talking, and He came in with Adam Pierson--" A flick of Shannon's littlest finger dismissed Adam Pierson. "They're always running around together these days. I think Joe's grooming Adam to be the next MacLeod Watcher or something. You know, he's really rather cute--"

"You don't like him," Cassandra said, and for an instant her words hung like echoes in the air.

"--cute, but such a bookworm, that who could like him? I don't see why Joe bothers."

"Tell me about MacLeod."

Shannon heaved a deep sigh. "Gawd, I love his hair. It's growing out again, and he's such a Greek god, you know, women stop and stare when he walks into a room. Joe actually introduced us. And he smiled at me! Bet he guessed I'm a Watcher--well, why else would I be hanging around with Joe Dawson?--but he never let on, just pretended to kiss my hand and smiled. Killer smile. Wow. He likes me, I know he does. I think he wanted to ask me out. Imagine that, me with Duncan MacLeod!"

"What did he say to you?"

"What? Oh. 'Happy New Year.' Then he went off with Adam. But it was the way he said it." Shannon was up and twirling around the room, spinning in a dream-world of romance. "Oh, Cassandra, I could have danced all night--"

"Did you ask Joe the questions I wanted you to ask?"

"Most of them. I couldn't ask them all at once, I'd make him suspicious . . . But I asked most of them. Cassandra, I think--I think all the MacLeod Watchers are getting suspicious. Not Joe yet, but there's Stephen and Giles, MacLeod's field surveillance team. Stephen keeps looking at me funny, and it's getting harder to lie to Giles--"

"Giles?"

"Giles Corot. That was him with me tonight? His immortals keep getting whacked and it was getting him down--he needs a break, so he's been assigned to MacLeod. He's very nice. I hate to lie to him."

"Shannon, Shannon, Shannon." Cassandra caught hold of her Watcher's hand and tugged her back down, to sit hunched on the bed. She patted Shannon's cheek. "Don't be so afraid. Let me do the worrying here."

"But if they alert the tribunal . . ."

"Shh. What did Joe say?"

"Um. Joe says MacLeod has turned right away from the Game and doesn't want to fight at all anymore. That MacLeod says he won't kill for any Prize. And . . . and, uh, I asked Joe about the 'demon' and the prophecy, but Joe says MacLeod says the prophecy was never about Kantos at all. It was about this ancient Persian demon, Ahriman, that appears only once every thousand years, and now Joe says MacLeod says Ahriman came for him and he defeated Ahriman and that ought to be enough for any one immortal--"

"But that doesn't make any sense," said Cassandra slowly. "Ahriman, you say, an ancient Persian demon? I remember ancient Persia. And Ahriman--he was Angra Mainyu, 'Evil Spirit', the adversary; the world had been given over for him to rule, but at the end of time Spenta Mainyu, 'Holy Spirit', will inherit all. But that was more than two thousand years ago." She blinked, lost momentarily in memories--while Shannon watched her with respectful awe. Didn't I dream about Ahriman once? But she could not remember when, and she dismissed the thought. "Where was I then? I lived in Babylon the Great, I served in the Temple of Anahita . . ."

"That's not in your Chronicles. Cassandra! You weren't one of the priestesses who had to, uh, um, prostitute themselves for the god--"

"No, no. I was a baru-priestess, a diviner. The highest-ranked of Anahita's servants. For seven hundred years in Persia," she said, remembering, "I forecast the future: that was where I learned my art. I walked before doomed Cyrus' army as he went forth to battle the Massagetae. I was with Darius in Scythia. I was the darling of kings." Cassandra bowed her head. "But that was when the world was young," she murmured, "and everything was black and white. Then Alexander came, and the Romans, and Mohammed. And we grew up and saw there was only grey."

Where did I go then? I settled in Delphi for a while, and became the Pythoness of Apollo; I warned Gaius Julius of the Ides of March; I warned the Popes of the coming barbarians. No one ever believed me. Forget that! Remember only the flame of Zoroaster.

"We believed everything went in dualities then," she said, thinking back. "Good and evil, truth against the Lie. Enlightenment lay in the way of Ahura-mazda, in whom Evil Spirit and Holy Spirit were perfectly balanced." Cassandra sat thinking, chin propped on her fists. "I have to see Duncan," she said at last.

"Cassandra? About the tribunal. I'm so scared, I can't sleep at night anymore. Do we have to keep doing this? MacLeod's field Watchers--"

"I told you, I'll do the worrying about that." Cassandra stood up, with a shrug of her shoulders. Then she looked kindly down at her Watcher. "I know what. They work on twelve-hour shifts, don't they?--the way you told me. Tomorrow you'll take me to visit them when they change shifts. We can catch them together. And then," Cassandra said, "I'll deal with Stephen and Giles."

#

MacLeod was an important immortal, far more so than Cassandra; where she had only Shannon to watch her, MacLeod had Stephen and Giles and Joe Dawson all busy recording his doings for posterity. Two field operatives, with Joe to coordinate them. Just now, they were running their surveillance from a van parked near the Nobile, and shift changeover was at the quietest hour of the morning. Cassandra had no trouble catching them at it. It was a misty New Year's morning, with fog drifting in curtains off the Seine, and the promise of more snow later. Shannon pointed out the van to Cassandra, and then hurried off, frightened; Cassandra walked along the bank, concealed in the white fog. She was amused by the ease of it. She slid the van doors open, catching a fragment of conversation: ". . . so damned many of us in Paris, you can't shadow your own immortal without tripping over an audience, I'm sick of it--"

"It's all because of that bloody search for Me--"

They saw Cassandra. Their mouths dropped open. Cassandra smiled, knowing that they were dazzled; she wore lipstick that screamed seduction, her hair streamed in wild curls to her waist and there was a snow-white rose in her hand. She climbed right into the van, shutting the doors behind her. "Hello," she said.

If any passing Parisians had been able to glance through the van windows, all they would have seen was an enchanting woman chatting with two young men. Ah, Romance! was what they would have thought. If they had been able to hear, they would merely have been perplexed. The two Watchers sat like puppets, nodding jerkily, while Cassandra spoke: ". . . don't suspect her . . . give her whatever information she asks for . . . she has total authorization . . . Don't mention her to Joe Dawson, either. Now--you, Giles, I hear you're seeing Shannon as well?" Cassandra leaned forward, lifting one finger. "I hope your intentions are honorable. Because she's very special--are you listening?--one in a million, and you would rather die than do anything to hurt her . . . Understand? Good. You'd better. And one last thing." This was something she had never been able to coax out of Shannon, but she had fewer compunctions dealing with MacLeod's Watchers. "That computer over there? Show me how to access Watcher files."

They nodded and nodded.

Twenty minutes later she let herself out of the van. She was twirling the white rose between her fingers, and in her back pocket was a piece of paper . . . another of those mysterious papers that she kept running across. Like the others, it was marked with the evil eye, and the writing on it looked like Farsi--unless you could read Farsi, of course. Then you might just shrug it off as some other language, some obscure dialect or other. Unless you were three thousand years old and could read every obscure dialect known to man. She had picked it off the van floor, asked Stephen about it, and Stephen had said, instantly, "Oh, that's the latest Methos alert, from the Doomsday Project." Then she had asked him to translate it for her.

Now she stroked her hair caressingly, leant forward to savor her rose. She cupped the rose in her joined hands, and thought of the picture she would make once she took off her Balenciaga coat. She had chosen a long dress of dark red damask, smocked and embroidered all over, and tailored with cunning pleats round the bosom and hips; it looked little-girlish, until you saw how snugly the material fit. There were tiny spangles, shaped like stars and comets and magic moons, tucked into the smocking; these winked as she moved. It was a sorceress' dress. Strings of garnets and wooden beads were wound through her hair; strings of garnets and wooden beads swung from her ears. Her boots had the very latest clunky fashion look. They made her three inches taller too. There was only one flaw in her ensemble, she thought; the rose ought to be red. But when she stood before her solstice child, she would be able to carry herself with pride.

She strolled through the fog, with the rose in her hands, feeling his presence all around her. She must be almost at the barge by now. Then she bumped smack into Methos, who was coming in the other direction with his nose buried in a book.

He jumped back, exclaiming, "Mac?!"--and then realizing who she was. Cassandra hissed like a snake. She dived after him, stretching out her neck and snapping her teeth wolfishly, and flailed the only weapon she had handy: the rose.

She raked the flower across Methos' face, petals flying and the thorns scoring his flesh, before he could get out of reach. "How does it feel, to make the Watchers trust you, and then stand by while they search for Methos?" She pulled out the wadded-up pamphlet out, hurled it at him. It struck him full in the chest. And by then she had drawn her sword. "I suppose you laugh at them. They think it's the Second Coming if one of them catches a glimpse of you. Is it fun to deceive them?" She ran toward him, swinging the sword two-handed. Her skirts swirled and her heels thudded on the concrete of the quay. And he was backing away like the coward he was. "Methos the Horseman, Methos the Watcher! How dare you come here, hang around him? Are you filling his ears with your lies again? Are you turning him against me?"

She caught a glimpse of his face: astonished and blank, fearful and sorrowful, calculating and maddening--and then he sidestepped and vanished like smoke. Cassandra sobbed as she pursued him down the quay. She caught up where the fog thinned, and his tall lanky figure was momentarily silhouetted. She shouted: "It's just like Bordeaux! You used Kronos, pretended to be his friend--till it looked like he was the losing side--isn't that true, Methos?--you used the Watchers, now you're using MacLeod--" Every time she got near him, he eeled away and evaded her. And she bobbed and lunged desperately after him, running in circles. "--if it isn't true about Kronos, why didn't you just run from him? Isn't running what you prefer?--you coward! Stand and face me! Coward!"

His voice came quietly out of nowhere: "I saved your life."

"You're just lying again!"

The book came flying at her, and she slashed with her sword and cut it in two halves in a storm of rent pages.

"You're nothing--but a liar--" She ran straight forward, holding the sword out in front of her. "You always lie--you never had anything else to offer--it's all you ever do!" She cut and slashed and stabbed. But there was no target for her sword.

"Liar, liar, liar!!"

She stood still, alone, panting, sobbing. She was where she had begun, with Methos vanished. The pages of the book lay all around her feet, and she glanced down and found white rose-petals lying on white paper like snowflakes on snow. The stem of the rose was crushed to a smear under her fashionable large heel. Fragments of vision reflected from the polished steel of her sword-blade.

The rose-petals all stirred, swirled up and flew into her face, and the book-pages flew with them. Cassandra batted them away. And the night and the snow, the pages and the rose-petals were all stark images, black and white; snow-devils whirled around her, and little gusts of wind like whispering voices.

And crumpled newspapers with them.

She caught a sheet of greasy newsprint, looked at the date and gasped aloud: MILLENNIUM STORMS was the headline. HUNDREDS DEAD. POWER OUT ACROSS FRANCE. STORM OF THE CENTURY. Cassandra shook at the paper, trying to flatten and read it, but it curled around her fingers, and the grainy typeface--MILLENNIUM--was smearing her hands--DON'T DO IT--while the rose-petals stuck to her flesh like stigmata, dire wounds that would not heal--

MILLENNIUM.

THE GATHERING IS COMING.

COME TO PARIS.

She was flailing her hand now, frantically trying to get the paper off, but it was glued to her skin DIE IN PARIS and the rose-stigmata were bleeding COME TO PARIS blood splattering blood splattering DIE IN PARIS and Cassandra screamed, she screamed COME TO PARIS COME TO PARIS DIE IN PARIS and blood all over her there was only one way to get it off COME TO PARIS COME TO PARIS her sword was in her other hand DON'T DO IT she swung it up and down DON'T DO IT and she thought distantly that the relief would surely be worth the shock--

She reeled back. The sword clattered to the ground. All the newspapers fluttered up and blew away, and her severed hand was lying at her feet, stark black and white, with rose-petals pooled red in the palm. But this was a dream, and there was no pain. And the words roared in her ears, graffiti upon the walls of Cassandra's mind MILLENNIUM the moving hand writes and having writ, moves on MILLENNIUM the writing was on the wall MILLENNIUM MILLENNIUM MILLENNIUM--

#

MacLeod stood on the deck of the barge; something had made him uneasy. He thought he heard sounds--a woman's cry, commotion, the noise of a fight. But when he stalked warily down the drawbridge onto the quay, no one was there.

But still, he thought he heard footsteps.

He was unarmed, so he kept a careful watch out for an ambush. Other immortals did not make him afraid any more--facing them, after all he had done, was nothing to him--but the wise man did not throw his life away. (Besides, if he got bushwhacked at his age, his friends would never let him hear the end of it.) And was that another immortal he felt approaching? It was. MacLeod tilted his head. He called: "Amanda?"

She fell out of the mist into his arms.

"Cassandra!" Her coat was undone, her breasts heaved and her damask skirt was split right up the thigh--but it was the blind white stare of her eyes that frightened MacLeod. He held her up, and she struck at him with shaking fists and tried to twist free; she did not seem to know him. "Cassandra, it's you," he said incredulously. "What . . ."

"D-Duncan?"

"Where is he?" MacLeod put her behind him, looking vigilantly around. "Who is he? I don't see--"

"--the rose--turned red--"

"What?"

He heard a thump, turned incredulously--and there was Cassandra lying in a heap on the gangplank.

#

"You fainted. Scared the life out of me."

Cassandra sat on the bed, swathed in blankets; she looked and felt very small, very subdued and shaken. Her hands were still trembling and she did not seem to be able to get warm. MacLeod had pulled off her glossy boots (a chore in itself, for they clung like glue) and propped her feet on a pillow, and hung up her opera coat. Now he sat down beside her and offered her a glass of red wine.

"You remember what I liked," she said to the floor.

"How could I forget?" MacLeod said, kindly. "It's been a while, though, I admit. I waited for you for a long time, you know . . . and then I gave up on waiting. Who was chasing you?"

But all she did was shake her head.

"Then what brought you to my door tonight?"

Cassandra tossed off the whole glass of wine at a single gulp. "We have unfinished business," she began.

"Oh?"

"I came to warn you . . ."

". . . about Methos," MacLeod finished for her, a little grimly. "You met him outside just now," he said. "Didn't you? Cassandra, I won't help you hunt him down."

"Duncan, you don't understand--"

"You're going to tell me he'll betray me. He won't. He's my friend."

"He's nobody's friend!" Cassandra exploded. She leaped to her feet, shedding blankets violently upon MacLeod. Why didn't he ever believe her? "He's--"

"Cassandra, he's harmless."

"He's evil!"

"No, he's not."

"He is!"

"Is not," said MacLeod. He seemed to be trying not to smile.

"Don't humor me," said Cassandra between clenched teeth. "I suppose he's told you something about his past--I wonder which version you got?" She curled her lip. "Oh, don't look at me like that. I'm just surprised he had the guts to confess. What excuse did he use? 'I'm not like that anymore.' 'Kronos forced me to it.' 'The times were different.'" She looked down, speaking in a whisper. "I know how charming he can be. But don't trust him."

"I do trust him, Cassandra," said MacLeod. He laughed suddenly. "Oh, not with my honor, maybe. But with my life. With my sword. With my head."

"But--"

". . . And just maybe I know a wee bit more about good and evil than I did once. I've done some strange things lately."

"I heard. You battled a demon."

"Who told you that?" MacLeod asked. But she only shook her head. He went on, "Well, I met a demon, just as your visions foretold. But it wasn't the devil our pastor used to warn us of--not Auld Reekie with his pitchfork and long pointed tongue, and a face leering out of his backside." He snorted at the thought. "I don't think that kind of demon exists . . . Oh, what I fought was evil, all right. But it was hollow--like a voice of gusty air, that whispers into our ears late at night. Something wicked that lives inside us all. It speaks with our tongues and tempts our hands to evil deeds, and when it kills, we're left holding the bloody sword and the guilt is ours. The guilt is real. What it makes us do, is real. But it has no power but what we give it. Good and evil have to balance each other in us all."

Cassandra barely bothered to listen to this; she was watching Mac through the veil of her hair. How handsome he was, her Highland hero stalwart and true--and she remembered the boy he had been, so quick to assure her that good would always defeat evil. But now that boy was dead. How can I show him Methos' true colors? "Duncan, what can I say--"

"You can't," said MacLeod. "He's my friend, Cassandra. Don't force me to choose between you."

"Duncan, I'm begging you--"

"No, Cassandra. Or you'll leave me no choice."

"--but you're wrong, Duncan--"

"No. It's you who're wrong."

"Duncan, wait!" He was turning away from her--but the tone of her voice made him pause. Cassandra spoke, swiftly, urgently: "Duncan I had another vision." And he swung around, staring. She relaxed a little, knowing she had him. "Just now," she murmured. "Outside your barge. I saw the future . . . I saw the Gathering."

"Tell me," he whispered. His eyes were white-rimmed; it was as she remembered, even as a boy he had not been comfortable with the supernatural. "What--when--did you see any details?"

"I saw the Watchers," said Cassandra. "I saw a blue, staring eye above the word Doomsday. And the Watcher sign, an astrologer's zodiac wheel enclosing the dove of divination--"

"I thought it was a clock-dial, with a phoenix rising from it," said MacLeod.

"Did you? I didn't. I heard the centuries ticking down, to the end of the Game. Then I saw the wheel burst into flame. And I saw a painting on an alley wall, of an immortal with a drawn sword. Mortals were bringing him severed heads--they wore Watcher tattoos--they were bowing down before the graffiti--" She was across the room, clutching at MacLeod's arms. "Duncan, it's coming. Sooner than we think. And these Watchers are dangerous, they know who we are and they're invisible to us. Think what a weapon they could make, in the hands of an immortal. I think that's what my vision meant. And you said Methos--"

"Cassandra."

"--Methos was one of them--he's a Watcher too--why did he join them? Did you ever ask him? Duncan, I think he's planning--"

"Oh, Cassandra. You're not a good liar, are you? This 'vision' of yours, you just made that up." He disengaged her hands gently, while she shook and shivered like an ague sufferer, staring wide-eyed at him. "It won't work, Cassandra."

"Duncan, listen to me! He's dangerous! And think, you said yourself he was among the Watchers when you first found him. Hiding from vengeance--or something more? Remember, he's a master plotter, nothing he ever does is what it seems. And he can lie and smile, you'll never catch him out in a lie--"

"I think you should leave now, Cassandra."

#

"Were those her exact words?" Methos said, later.

"Yes," said MacLeod. "But she was making it all up, I could see it in her eyes. She's obsessed with you."

"Me?" Methos said. He shook his head, thinking of the warnings Cassandra had screamed at him; what had she cried? That Methos was turning MacLeod against her. "No, not me. I think it's you she wants."

Mac only snorted. "I don't wanted to be wanted the way she wants you. Humor me. Watch your back."

"I always do," said Methos. ". . . But she knows more than she should. I think I'll have a word with her Watcher." And he went round and asked subtle questions of Shannon Maus, the loveliest young Watcher he knew. But Shannon looked on him with a mysterious hostility, and wouldn't say a single thing.

Winter passed. Paris flooded. Methos and MacLeod quarreled, debated, lent each other books and swapped reminiscences. To fill his time, Mac began restoring and authenticating old paintings, and soon found himself with more business than he could handle.

Spring came: March, April. Immortals stalked the back-streets of Paris, never dreaming that Methos was in their midst, and Methos avoided them all and laughed up his sleeve. Amanda made a flying visit to the barge, an even more flying visit to the Louvre, and fled with the gendarmes on her trail. MacLeod continued to stay out of fights.

Summer arrived: May, June. The marigolds and nasturtiums were in bloom. MacLeod stayed on in Paris, for Methos was teaching him spoken Egyptian, and the market in antiquities was thriving, and he wanted to strip all the barge's fittings and replace them with new paint and brasswork; and all in all, his days were full. Joe Dawson stayed in Paris too, as a loyal Watcher should; he played the blues, managed his bar, and wrote a double Chronicle--one for MacLeod, the other for Methos--like an accountant with two sets of books. And he dreamed of posterity. Someday, Methos would be elsewhere, living a new life, and then Joe's secret Methos Chronicle could be revealed. This was a thought that made his eyes gleam.

Methos said to MacLeod one day: "Someone is shadowing me."

He had nothing concrete to go on, merely an instinct. But it was an instinct honed by centuries on the run, and he began to take precautions. Whoever was stalking him, Methos never caught up with them. They were as stealthy as Watcher field operatives. Methos abandoned his current apartment, began to move erratically from place to place, and showed up at MacLeod's at the most unpredictable times. Sometimes in the AMs, sometimes in the PMs. However, he was still sure he was being followed.

MacLeod watched him with concern (over his predicament) and scorn (for his excessive caution). They weren't friends--not as Mac and Darius had been friends--and yet scarcely a day went by that Methos didn't turn up at the barge. If he did miss even one day, Mac found himself more disturbed than he cared to admit. What lay between them was strange. Methos was no one Mac admired--as Mac told himself, often. There he was, older than history, and yet he claimed to have no secrets, no wisdom, no answers to give. Instead of acting his age, he seemed flightier than a mayfly. He never took anything seriously. He irked Mac. There was no affection between them. How could there be?

They weren't friends, they had nothing in common. MacLeod didn't even like Methos. How could the world's greatest survivor be such a pain in the ass?

"And where are you laying your head now," he inquired of Methos, after a month of hide-and-seek had gone by and his friend was apparently content to play this game forever, "under a bridge, or on a park bench? Why don't you try to catch them, whoever they are?"

Methos only shrugged in the most irritating way. He had turned up at the barge in the earliest hour of the day, and while Mac sat up yawning in bed and glared, he had strewed the floor with his belongings, used the shower and put the kettle on. Then he had brought Mac a mug of tea. "Youth hostel, this week. Why bother? I can outwait them."

MacLeod sat on the edge of his bed, cradling his mug and blinking sleep away. He drank a swig of tea, sighed, and stood. Then he went to find some clothes, taking the tea along. From the bathroom, he called, "You can get your head cut off by them too."

"Yeah, yeah. What have you got in here to eat?"

"You could at least have brought along a baguette. There's some fruit in the bowl."

"Is that all?"

"I was going out to breakfast. Methos, whoever it is will challenge you--"

"It's not an immortal. It's mortals, that much I do know. A detective agency, maybe."

"Great. An outraged husband will shoot you in broad daylight and Adam Pierson's secret will be out." Mac appeared in the bathroom doorway: clean-shaven, fully dressed in a white naval turtleneck and slacks, brushing his hair. He set down his mug on the kitchen table with a precise annoyed clink. "Pour me some more, will you? Thanks. You have to find out who's behind this. Why don't you do something?"

"I'm doing something. I'm avoiding them."

"I mean, doing something!"

Methos stole the hot mug from him, holding it away with a grin and warming his hands at it. "Am I driving you crazy?"

"Let me walk you back and we'll see about these people."

"I bet we would," Methos said mildly. "Sorry, I don't let guys with swords follow me home." He washed down the last bite of his fruit with the end of Mac's tea, and handed him back the empty mug. "Besides, you've already fought the Last Battle--remember?"

"I will never understand," Mac exploded, "how you've lived so long, when all you do is run away from--"

"The secret," Methos said, "is in running well, and standing equally well, when the time for standing comes." He picked up his sword and his coat; one was propped against the side of a chair, and the other was in a heap by the floor. "All right, all right. Are we going?"

Outside, the sun was just about to rise over Notre Dame. Paris' tourists were still snoring in bed, the inner city was deserted. Methos yawned, while MacLeod kept a vigilant watch out for their shadow. They talked quietly as they went.

". . . it's probably Joe's dearest dream, to see the two of us become best friends."

"Of course it is. I'm his immortal, and you're the oldest. Why shouldn't he think that way?"

They walked along the bank of the Seine, and then turned into an empty street lined with garages and run-down shop-fronts, where alley-cats sat yawning on the garbage-cans and a few early-morning dog-walkers could be sighted in the distance.

". . . thinking about what she told you--about the prophecy. Maybe she knows things we don't. What if she wasn't making it up, Mac? What if the Gathering is coming?"

Mac's face hardened. "I've withdrawn from the Game now. So have you."

"I knew an immortal once," Methos remarked, apropos apparently of nothing, "who withdrew from the world. Eight-eighty-five AD, that was. An army of Vikings had laid siege to Paris. They had camped right under the walls of the city--on the Right Bank, almost exactly where the Louvre is now. Their general was a particularly nasty immortal who wanted to conquer the world." Methos glanced calmly at MacLeod. "My friend was the oldest immortal, then. His name was Lycos. He stepped off holy ground for the first time in over five hundred years, challenged the general at the city gate. And died. And then the general turned his army around and went home to live out the rest of his days in peace . . . His name was Darius."

"Darius' turning point," Mac said, laughing in surprise. "But I'm not the world's oldest immortal. This is a good place," he added, glancing around. "Just keep walking." And he melted back into the shadows like a professional.

"Hasta luego," Methos said.

He sauntered on, continuing to talk. His stalker was probably just around a corner somewhere, skulking in his wake. And there were just enough shadows to confuse matters. So it didn't matter what he said--as long as he kept his voice low, and gave the impression of two people conversing.

". . . the end is coming. No, Joe's not an immortal. He doesn't bother to think that if both of us survive to the Gathering--well, then either you cut off my head, or I cut off yours--all bets are off."

He glanced idly at graffiti, reading the Watcher messages buried amidst gang slogans; these told of the usual challenges, the usual beheadings, the usual deaths died and quickenings taken: the murderous everyday round of immortal life. All ephemeral. Most of it would be scrubbed off or repainted in a day. Its purpose was merely to keep passing Watchers updated on current dangers--on dark and stormy nights, say, in deserted back alleys and derelict warehouses, when the Kurgan or his ilk were on the prowl. Then, it was vital to know which immortals were walking at midnight.

"And as for Cassandra, I wonder if she was lying. I wonder--hey, what's that?"

That was graffiti too--but not in Watcher code. Those words scrawled across a door were in ancient Hittite.

As he read them, there was a small commotion behind him--just around the corner. Someone yelled. Something clattered. A cat ran past, fur bottled and tail up with fright. Methos turned, looking back, and there came MacLeod with his hands in his pockets and the collar of his long coat turned up.

"Lost him, did you?"

"Yes," said MacLeod, brushing dust off his sleeve, "but I didn't need to catch him. I know who it was. It's a Watcher--I got a clear look at his wrist just before he ran. Short, with a round face and red lips, and black hair slicked well back in a ducktail--"

"Yeah, I know him," said Methos, nodding. "His name's Stephen Laurier. Mac, that's not just a Watcher, that's one of your field operatives. Your very own Watcher. Well, well, well!"

But Mac was looking up at the graffiti, and frowning.

"That's not Arabic. I should know what it is. Methos, what language is that?"

"It's nothing," said Methos, "just gibberish, that's all."

The message read: I TOLD THEM YOU WERE STILL HERE.

#

"So have you broken into the Watcher records yet?" MacLeod asked Methos, three days later.

"Would I do something like that?" said Methos. But MacLeod only looked at him, with a scornful smile in his eyes. Methos looked back blandly, and then his lip twitched and he broke into a grin. "You know me too well . . . I did it yesterday. Didn't find a thing, though."

"I asked Dawson whether anyone suspected who you were, and he said he hadn't heard anything." Mac added, "And you still haven't told me what that inscription said."

"Well, damn you," said Methos. "You do know me too well. It was just a message from Cassandra." He shrugged; he did not want to discuss the message. "I may go talk to her Watcher again," he added.

MacLeod looked hard at him. Then, surprisingly, he changed the subject. "Methos?"

"Yeah?"

"Methos, how many of us are there?"

"Immortals? Well--when I quit the Watchers, there were six hundred and ninety-one of us on their lists." They were leaning on the railing of the Nobile, in the sunset, with golden-green light breaking across the uttermost west. And Paris around them was a fairy-tale city, Snow White's diadem, whose gold was all gilded towers and whose jewels were the rose-windows of churches; the crown of clouds above was the upside-down mirage of the crown of stone below. The city of Paradise found. The apple isle of Avalon, the hero's reward and final resting place.

"Only seven hundred in the whole world?" said MacLeod; he was appalled.

Methos said, "There was one decade just before the time of Christ that our total number fell to less than a hundred. It's in the Watcher records. They were sure it was the Gathering at last. But then what you might guess happened: there were too few of us, we couldn't find each other so we couldn't fight, and then new ones came along and our numbers rose. There were over fifteen hundred of us during the Renaissance, but since then we've been getting fewer again. It happens."

"I always thought," said MacLeod to the barge railing, "that there were thousands of us. And how could the Gathering come, anyway? As fast as we kill each other off, new ones die their first deaths. Do the Watchers have any theories?"

"Yeah, tons of 'em. It doesn't matter. After all, what could kill us off so fast that the new ones didn't replace us? It'll come if it comes, I always thought."

Mac gripped the railing. He said, "But what if Cassandra wasn't lying? What if it does come? And you and I and Amanda and all those we love are there at the end? We can't be made to fight each other. I never expected to be alive for it, anyway!"

But Methos was laughing. "Oh, I think every sane one of us is convinced we'll be the last immortal. Be honest, Mac. Don't we all know deep down that we'll win the Prize? If we didn't, we couldn't go on." MacLeod turned his face away and would not answer; instead he leaned forward, propping his elbows on the railing and gazing pensively down into the river. Methos went on, more than half to himself: "But then . . . if you know in your heart that you'll be the winner . . . then, the question isn't, who'll win the Prize . . . the question becomes--not who'll be the last--but--who'll be second-last . . . ?"

"Methos," MacLeod broke in; he hadn't been listening. He had stiffened suddenly, leaning further over the side of the barge. Now he was pointing. "Methos--look."

"What the--?" Methos looked. Wide-eyed, the two immortals gazed at the message splashed in fresh scarlet paint on the planks of the barge. "Well, I'll be damned," breathed Methos.

"Is that demotic Egyptian?" MacLeod asked.

It was. It read: I'M WATCHING YOU.

#

There were Watcher glyphs painted on the old door; they were an invitation. Those signs could be found around most Watcher haunts. Methos pushed the door gently open and stepped through. This was the back door of a Paris tavern, probably the only Goth bar in the whole city; 'C'est-fini' was its name. He followed the signs down to the basement-level bar, treading carefully because the railing had been artistically cracked every few inches. The treads were furnished in Egyptian tile, and had been deliberately chipped to give an impression of decrepitude; one entire tread was blacked out as if missing. The mirrored wall was painted with cracks. Within, the lights were low, the ceiling was low, the decor was corny and the whole place reeked of cheap sensation. Even the glitter-ball hung over the dance-floor was tinted scarlet. He had never been here before.

Another staircase rose from the dance-floor, to a balcony lined with room-doors. Methos guessed that the locks on those doors could be sealed by feeding coins into them, like feeding a parking meter. But 'C'est-fini' was deserted, of course. It was barely eleven in the morning and the bar would not open for hours yet.

He found the door to the sub-basement stair, and went down.

Here was an altogether cleaner room, well-lit, spacious, paneled with cedar and furnished with tables and desks and comfy chairs. There was a soft buzz of voices, a fragrance of cigarettes. And here were Watchers, almost two dozen of them--fresh off the night-shift, relaxing during their down-time and enjoying a quiet get-together . . . for field Watchers were nocturnal animals, most alert at night. They left their immortals soon after the sun rose, when the chances of witnessing a challenge fell to nothing. Statistics compiled by Watcher researchers showed that less than one-half of one percent of beheadings occurred between ten AM and two PM.

Methos knew everyone here. He spotted Joe Dawson presiding at the bar, and went to clap him on the shoulder. The gang around the pool-table waved and called, "Adam!" Methos got himself a coffee and found a box of croissants, Danish pastries and American-style crullers. He read the latest Have YOU Seen The World's Oldest Immortal? poster, stuck to the wall with scotch tape and decorated with a Doomsday Project eye across the top. He stopped to help someone trying to translate a Chronicle in Latin into modern French, and pointed out two errors in their work. As usual, several people wanted to know when he was coming back into the fold. Declining their offers (he could start back with the West European bureau tomorrow, all he had to do was say the word, why was he wasting his years of training?) he kibitzed at the pool-table, flirted with female operatives, drifted around the room . . . avoiding the corner thronged with eager young male Watchers. This was, naturally, the corner where Shannon Maus held court.

But without seeming to look, he watched her.

How beautiful she was, in her kiss-soft pashamina dress, her hair cascading over her shoulders. She wore leotards and a rose-colored denim jacket, and little low boots like Red Riding Hood's. How beautiful she was! And yet there was no one outstanding thing about her; her hair was a mere mouse-blonde, her eyes of no particular brilliance, her face and figure ordinary. She was just a girl. Three years ago--Methos remember her clearly--she had been as plain as candle-wax; something had happened to light her up, and now men fluttered around her like moths around a flame. She drew them because of her self-confidence, she held them with her joyous smile; who wouldn't want what she had? It was her glow of happiness that bewitched them--but that was a trick very few mortals ever mastered. It made Methos frown. It was an immortal trait.

"I can't believe how much she's changed," Joe Dawson said in Methos' ear, and Methos started.

"She looks like Cassandra," he said.

"Don't worry," said Joe, "the tribunal agents have tested her. She's certified as a genuine mortal." He leaned closer. "But I did wonder . . . could she be pre--?"

"No, she isn't. But I think she's getting too close to her subject."

"Occupational hazard," Joe said lightly. He was mixing a cocktail; his hands never paused, shuttling bottles and spritzers. "Don't we all know it? If I had my legs, I might be practicing kung fu today. As it is, all I caught from Mac was his sense of honor."

"And that's a dangerous thing," Methos murmured.

Then he started again, as someone slid up to the bar beside him. A soft voice spoke: "Tell your fortune, Adam?" Methos jumped and turned. It was Shannon herself, looking up into his face with her slightly myopic blue eyes. They were plain eyes, but the smile in them was very lovely; she fanned a pack of cards in her hand. There was a diamond ring on the third finger of that hand now. "Follow me," she commanded, "and I'll tell you your future."

She led him to her table in the corner. While he had been speaking to Joe, the hour had changed and half the Watchers present had snatched their coats and vanished like smoke; now the room was all but empty. Only the poker crowd remained. Methos held Shannon's chair, saw her seated and sat down opposite; she looked sideways at him with an enigmatic glance. "Congratulations," he said.

"Oh? For what?"

"For your engagement, of course." He indicated the ring. "Giles Corot, I suppose. He's a lucky man." But Shannon only shrugged. Methos added, "Do you know how to use those things?"

"The tarot cards?" And indeed, those was what they were: a hand-painted set, with the Greater and Lesser Arcana, in the Venetian mode which contained seventy-eight cards complete. Methos did not recognize the style of deck. "Don't worry," said Shannon, seeing doubt on his face, "they were a gift, they'll work. Haven't you seen one of these before?" She showed him the back of one card. "Everyone has one. See, they're a Watcher tarot. Every card is a different immortal, all from the Doomsday shortlist."

The Watcher symbol was printed on the back of each card. There they all were, cups and swords, spades and diamonds, and most with distinct faces like photographs scanned for computer-printout; an immortal's name was written across the foot of each. But he knew all the faces, of course. He had met all these immortals, or at least studied them in Watcher files. One or two cards bore stylized images, still with names attached; those were immortals so elusive that their pictures had never been taken. And the twenty-two cards of the Greater Arcana were the immortals deemed most likely of all to win the Prize. Shannon fanned them out for Methos, folded them and began to deal them--not bothering to shuffle. "I'll tell your fortune," she repeated.

"Some of these cards are hand-painted," Methos said suddenly. "They're from a different deck."

"They were made specially for me. Aren't they beautiful? Look, here's your favorite immortal, Duncan MacLeod."

He reached out and touched the card: there was the Highlander all right, with a claymore thrust into a stone at his feet, and a katana held crosswise at shoulder height. He was dressed in motley, and there were bells tied to the end of his long curls. "The Fool?" said Methos. "Well, well."

"Everyman on the journey of life," Shannon told him. "He represents your present, Adam. The cards I deal on this side are your past. And those I deal on this side foretell your future."

She was laying down tarot cards as she spoke. She must have stacked the deck, because they were all there: the Devil, the Hanged Man, Death (all presumably representing Methos' wicked past) amidst a scattering of disastrous lesser-suite cards. Judgement was there, and diamonds which spoke of journeys; friendship-cards and love-cards; and the sword cards denoting every kind of ill-fortune. And finally, she showed him the card labeled XVII, the Falling Tower with its explosion of bricks and mortar. A tiny human figure gripped the parapet at the tower's edge. Its face was a blank, but its stance was terrified. The legend at the foot of the card was hand-lettered, in an elegant copperplate.

"Here," she said, touching the minute image, "see? That's Methos."

The Devil in her deck was not a Doomsday shortlist immortal; it was one of the hand-painted cards, and the man drawn on it was a dead immortal named Kantos. Death's card was another dead immortal . . . but this one was Kronos. Methos looked from them to the Methos card, with its doomed protagonist about to fall to his fate; and then to the face of the mortal girl, whose eyes held too much knowledge. He knew then who had painted these cards for Shannon. And he knew that the young Watcher had been told who he was.

No one was within earshot. Methos said in a bare murmur: "Your immortal is putting you in danger, Shannon."

But the girl looked at him with clear and shining confidence. "She would never do that." Her fingers played with the knotted friendship bracelet on her wrist, running it round and round. "Cassandra is a good immortal."

The bracelet was made from scraps of wool, in joyful crude colors, pink and orange; its knots were uneven and the ends were already unraveling, but there was a lot of love in it. It was more like Shannon than anything else she wore. Methos touched it--and she snatched her wrist back as if he would contaminate her. "Did you make this for her?" he asked.

Shannon bit her lip.

"You've laid out some of these cards wrong," he said gently. "This one, and this: friendship and love. She meant them to be reversed, didn't she? But you've put them right-side-up. Shannon, I have to talk to her. Can you take a message?"

"I'll take you to her now. She wants to see you."

Not for love or money would he have accepted her invitation, which had trap written all over it. "No," said Methos. "Tell her, meet me on holy ground if she--"

"It's not an ambush," Shannon answered, quickly. "It's safe. Cassandra wants--"

"I'm sure she does. Look, here's my phone number. Have her call me."

"No! I m-mean, listen. Um, come back to my apartment with me and I'll call her then." She paled slightly as she made the offer, but her voice was sincere. "Meth--" she started and changed in midword, "--Adam, it's for the best. I promise--I know her, you see--I know she means no harm." And there was nothing in her face now but an earnest desire to help.

"You two look pretty intense." It was Joe Dawson; he had just limped across the room to them. And now he stood, head cocked, his brow creased and one eyebrow crooked with curiosity. "Everything okay, Shannon?"

"Oh Joe, you're my knight on a white charger." She stood up, folding the remainder of the tarot cards together, and for an instant she laid her hand on Dawson's sleeve and smoothed it, gazing up; and Methos saw the old Watcher melt, because she was looking at him as a moth might look at the flame. No mortal could have resisted that expression. "We're fine. We were just leaving."

"I don't think so," said Methos, pushing back his chair. "I see the poker game's breaking up, think I'll head out with the rest of the guys. Ta, Shannon."

While he collected his shabby coat and pushed his way up the stairs in the cheerful flood of departing Watchers, she stayed at her table--staring after him, confused and balked, and with the strange tarot spread out forgotten before her. Joe, puzzled, was at her side. Methos called to them, "See you both later!" and hurried on, head down, surrounded by Watchers--as safe as if he had been encircled by armed guards.

Their carefree conversation filled his ears. As long as he was with them, no one could attack him. Methos wondered if he was paranoid . . . but it wasn't paranoia, he reminded himself, if someone was really stalking you. And he hadn't lived five thousand years for nothing. He walked on, head down, hearing the young Watchers babble.

"--double-backup all the computer records for Y2K--"

"--latest memo from the Methos search--"

"--was writing up Ahmet Dede's kill on the side of a dumpster, when he popped round the corner and looked straight at me, he said, 'I thought it was you, I never forget a face'--and I thought I was made for sure. Good thing he's as loony as a bedbug."

"--what do they plan to do with Methos anyway when they find him? Handcuff him and shoot him full of sodium pentothal, and not let him go till he tells where the bodies are buried? Or is this just so they can put the last name on their list?"

"Well, I heard he really is the last one. Catch him, and the Doomsday Book is complete."

"I don't believe it. What would be left for us to do then?"

A pause. Then: "Triple-backup all the computer records for Y2K!" and everyone began to hoot.

Guffawing, they tromped through 'C'est-fini' and onward to the street. Methos moved unnoticed in their midst. As they passed out onto the sidewalk, a flash above caught his eye, as a flock of pigeons rose from a gargoyle cornice five storeys up: for an instant they showed against the sky stark and calligraphic. When he looked down, all the Watchers around him seemed flat, like playing-cards. Methos blinked. Then he froze. The last Watcher had just slammed the bar-door shut--and there was a message painted across it. It was so freshly-sprayed that little rivulets dripped from the letters; the language was so obscure that Methos could not even remember its name. But the words read I CAN TELL THEM WHAT YOU ARE.

The air had become dark. The sun was a dim disc overhead, eclipsed by the paper fans of fluttering pigeon-wings. Cursing, the young Watchers groped forward, and one of them almost blundered into traffic before the others caught him: the cars roared past like famished monsters. Huge cars, growling, snarling, snapping. Someone passing at the top of the street turned to glance curiously back--but he too was as flat as a card, and his face was a blank pink oval.

A wave of chill went over Methos. Now the pigeons above were immobile, painted images on dim blue watercolor. As for the cars, these were a moving blur--a solid wall of color and noise. The river of moving sand, Methos thought vaguely, which no man can cross, for it stops only between dawn and dusk every Saturday. And tick tock tick sounded the clapping pigeon wings. The Watchers huddled in a shaking knot: this was something utterly outside their experience. It was the realm of the soul, which MacLeod had walked once or twice, seeing it as an empty ruin in which his good half fought his evil half: the battleground of the self. Methos knew it too, but in a different guise. He thought of it as his memory house.

But this wasteland rose from another immortal's imagination.

A voice whispered in his ear. He looked and the Watchers were blind now, crying like children, babbling about fogs and mists. The voice muttered and mumbled. And indeed a glowing white mist was curling around them. The voice cried out. It beseeched. It chided. Graffiti in wild luminous streaks was unfolding on every side, racing up the walls of the buildings, writing warnings in every language known to man. The voice went on and on. Mythic icons and nightmare images strobed on and off. The voice rose and rang, commanding, chastising, chanting.

The pigeons had vanished.

The Watchers and the cars were gone.

The street was empty.

"Your hand is weak," said the voice. "You're growing sleepy. Sleepy."

The voice was insidious, everywhere. Methos shuddered and threw off the sudden drowsiness he felt. He stood empty-handed in a deserted Paris of the soul, listening intently. Was the voice getting closer? There was such desolation in it! And why should the only things that moved be crumpled newspaper-pages tumbling along, grey rose-petals blowing dustily down the street? Every building was blazoned with enigmatic spray-paint nonsense: STORM OF THE CENTURY and DON'T DO IT and IT IS LATER THAN YOU THINK. "Give up, it's over," said the voice. He was all alone, with no one to fight. But out of the corner of his eye, he saw moving shadows in the windows: clouds and flying birds were reflected there, the Watchers in their confusion, and all the everyday traffic of the living city.

And a woman with a sword was stealing up behind him.

Methos drew in a blur of action, wheeling and parrying an invisible blow. He saw nothing--but his blade rang against another. He gave ground, taking one precise step back, let his sword drop into the logical counter-parry and felt the impact of steel as edge met edge. He heard the voice cry out in angry shock. And he grinned toothily, going on the attack.

Anyone who looked would have seen a lone swordsman battling an invisible enemy, while the windows around betrayed the true engagement. The windows were full of color: bright blue skies and scudding white cloud, the primary shades of signs, and the beauty of street-lights and human beings. The battleground was flat, unreal, and stark with shadow. And the woman reflected in the glass was as lovely as a dream. The man beat her sword down, struck it awry, lunged and cut with all his might.

Cassandra's blade flew from her hand. She was beaten to one knee, her hair falling across her face, visible at last--disarmed. "Your tricks don't work on me," he said.

She spat at him, full in the face. "You cheated!"

"All's fair." Methos propped the flat of his sword over one shoulder, casually, and wiped his cheek with the back of his hand. "You're not good enough to take me, Cassandra. Not with magic, and not in an honest fight."

She was defeated--and still she snarled and glared. Methos noted in passing that her coat was haute couture, that it was Balenciaga, and that it looked like a London tart's fancified rain-slicker. She seemed ready to fly at him with her painted fingernails. "I have to stop you--"

"Stop me from what?" he asked.

"I'm not afraid of you anymore. Finish it!"

He only sighed.

"I've hurt you enough, Cassandra. I will never raise my hand against you again." He turned away, running his sword back into its sheath--and in an eyeblink the empty grey street was transformed, becoming full of noise and life. Methos walked back toward the Watchers, who hadn't seen a thing. Behind him, a woman's running footsteps faded away. And he felt sorrow, for he thought her worthy of his compassion, but never of fear.

"Cassandra, you were never good enough."

#

Six miles south, at that moment, Duncan MacLeod came out of his barge and stood at the top of the gangplank, facing north. Some intangible feeling had summoned him. As he gazed across the city, he saw whirling clouds move over the North Bank; they cast a dark shadow upon Paris and brought a curtain of advancing rain. Though it was summer, the wind was chilly. He thought he saw lightning. The ill-weather brought stinging forebodings on its wings: he knew inexplicable storms often meant that somewhere, immortals were fighting.

. . . And perhaps it was them fighting: Methos and Cassandra. He didn't want it to be them, he didn't want them to meet, because he was afraid--afraid of Cassandra's determination, of Methos' will to survive. He was afraid of what Methos might do, if Cassandra backed him into a corner.

Perturbed, he walked back and forth and watched the sky, until iron-grey clouds glowered overhead and the first droplets plashed in the Seine. From time to time he cursed aloud. Bad times were coming, he felt it in his bones--and he thought he had escaped all that. He thought he had put the Game behind him forever. But though he had laid down his sword and turned away from the world, it seemed as if the world was not finished with him.

So he was still there, waiting, when Cassandra came.

She came out of the rain and the gathering storm, drenched, drooping, defeated and despairing. The ridiculous Balenciaga cloak dragged behind her, and every step she took was like her last. "Duncan!" she cried, staggering toward him, "Duncan!" and Mac ran to meet her. She flung herself into his arms. "Oh Duncan!" He had to hold her up. She wound her arms around his neck, her whole body shuddering against him. And the rain came down over them like three thousand years of lamentation.

Wondering, he picked her up and carried her to shelter. Cassandra seemed stunned. She let him take off her cloak, chafe her hands and brush back her wild hair. "I'm so cold," she whispered through chattering teeth. "So cold."

"You're soaked through. Let's get you out of those wet things. A hot shower will warm you up."

She stood like an obedient doll to be undressed and wrapped in a big soft fluffy robe. Then she trudged off speechlessly to the bathroom.

Mac tidied up some of her wet clothes which were strewn all over the floorboards, and listened to the shower running. The water was caressing her bare body now; it was impossible not to imagine it. The Balenciaga cloak was heavy and sumptuous, running like chain mail through his hands. Here was the dress she had worn, dark velvet with sleeves of lace, scented subtly with a lingering fragrance. Her underclothes were sheer silk.

He remembered the first time he had seen her, in Donan wood: she had let him glimpse her bathing, a selkie-wife clad only in her hair. And he had been a lad of thirteen, newly wakened in the witch's bed. Her hidden cottage in the wood had dazzled him with its wealth and comfort--it had seemed worlds away from his father's poor croft, where he laid down o' nights on a plank, with his plaid for a coverlet, and his luxury in winter had been a sheepskin full of lice. She had toyed with him, teased him, seemed to promise delights undreamed-of. One kiss then had been enough to make him her slave. What had happened now, to wound her so?

He fingered her dress and found long sword-cuts slit through the material; the cloak too was slashed, bleeding beads and sequins on the floorboards. Then he knew. Only Cassandra, he thought, would go out to fight in such a get-up. When she came out of the bathroom with towels swathed all around her, he held out a handful of sequins and said, "You found Methos."

"I couldn't kill him," she said dully.

MacLeod felt a surge of such relief that for a moment, he simply shut his eyes. "Thank God," he said. "Cassandra, I knew you would reconsider--"

"I couldn't do it!" she shouted. Then she hung her head like a shamefaced child. "For thousands of years I've hunted him. Is this how it ends? I used every trick I had, and he defeated me. I'm not good enough to take him, Duncan."

"Maybe in your heart you knew vengeance was futile," MacLeod began.

"An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth is the code I was raised by," Cassandra answered angrily. "I thought you of all men would understand, Highlander. I thought I could come to you now of all times." There was a lost desolate look on her face. "Obviously I can't. I, I . . ."

"Cassandra, don't torture yourself."

"And why not? He tortured me first. You never understood me," she said through clenched teeth. "You don't know what I've seen in the future. I know--I know now I was wrong about Kantos, about the prophecy--and you were wrong too, about Ahriman or whatever you called your attacker. It's Methos who's the true Voice of Evil. It's he who'll bring the Gathering upon us." And she turned away with a furious shrug. "Give me my clothes. I'm leaving."

"Cassandra." Mac was too wise to try to touch her. "You're talking without thinking. How could any one immortal cause the Gathering?"

"He'll use the Watchers against us! Who else could do that?" She snatched up her gown, one boot and the cloak, holding them wadded to her breasts; then without looking at him, she flung down her towels and began to dress. Only the towel which confined her hair remained--like a huge terrycloth turban. Her smooth skin glistened with water-droplets. She turned her back contemptuously on MacLeod, bending over to reach for her other boot. "Don't you gawk at me," she ordered as she did. "I suppose you're laughing, now. I was a fool to come to you."

He could not help looking. The naked curve of her back, contrasted with the big fluffy towel above, gave her a perversely innocent look; the contrast made her seem very young, very vulnerable--and extraordinarily sensuous. She was pulling on her boots now, pausing to cast an angry glance over her shoulder. MacLeod thought of the temptress in Donan wood, the smiling and contented woman who had made love to him in Seacouver. What had she said then? 'This one's for me.' But what had he given her that night, that she had not given back a hundredfold?

She straightened, shrugging the dress down over her hips. Her underclothes still lay discarded in tiny luxurious wisps on the floorboards--and again the contrast between innocence and shamelessness struck a deep chord in Mac. It was her awkwardness and beauty combined that drew men. He said a little hoarsely, "I've never laughed at you."

Cassandra saw the direction of his glance. Her whole face flamed scarlet, but she did not deign to retreat. Instead she raised her chin a little, promising, "I won't stop hunting him."

"You gave me his life once--"

"--never again!"

"--what can I say to persuade you--"

"--you can't persuade me! He killed my people, he enslaved me, he destroyed me and cast me aside. He left me a temple in ruins. And he will pay for it." Cassandra made a violent gesture. "Look what he made of me!"

"This is what he made of you," said MacLeod. He took a swift step closer, took her face in his hands and kissed her.

She stiffened, then she swayed forward and was pressed against him, blindly, trembling, shut-eyed; and her mouth opened with raw hunger, so he thought of baby birds starving for love. Her fingers wound into his hair. For an endless instant it was like that. Then she was gone from his arms, hovering near the door--gasping, one hand pressed to her mouth. He thought he had never seen eyes so huge.

"Yes," she said, in a fragile tone. "I love you."

"Then be with me. Forget him." Then: "Cassandra, I'm begging you: don't do it."

"I can't. I can't! Don't you see? You leave me no choice."

"--but you're wrong, Cassandra--"

"--no, no! It's you who're wrong!"

"Cassandra, wait!"

But she had already turned to leave. She jerked to a halt at the tone of his voice; for an instant she was framed in the doorway, hesitating. Then she shook herself, and stepped through the door.

Duncan's voice behind her was a quiet promise: "Cassandra, if you kill him, I swear that I'll come after you."

#

Someone has to do it.

She walked swiftly, purposefully, her heart a wilderness; this time she knew exactly where she was going. Her teeth were clenched. But every shop-window seemed to show her a different future, another Paris--a darker place where tarot cards lay scattered like footprints across a snowy field, leading her on to the unknown. It was coming on to storm again, she could feel it in her bones. Why didn't any of the happy tourists around her feel it too--what was wrong with them--why did they laugh so? They reminded Cassandra of hyenas howling over a carcass. Oh, why didn't anyone ever listen to her?

I have no choice.

She found Shannon Maus and Giles Corot in Shannon's little apartment; they were sitting on the couch when Cassandra let herself in, and though they were holding hands they did not look at each other. They only looked toward the door, and when they saw Cassandra it was like the sun coming up in their faces. Shannon's eyes sparkled brighter than the stone on her engagement ring. Giles sat expectantly awaiting orders. "You're here. I'm glad." Cassandra paced, halting from time to time to glance in their direction. "He refuses to see the truth, I'm alone against Methos. Let me think for a moment." And they were obediently quiet, watching her.

Here were two who would always believe in her. Just looking at them warmed her heart . . . for it was Shannon and her fellow Watchers and all such innocent mortals that Cassandra had to protect.

He betrayed you too. But he will pay.

"Cassandra?" That was Shannon; she had come up timidly behind Cassandra and was tugging at her sleeve. There was a scrap of brightly-colored wool in her hand, which she held out like an offering. "I just wanted to s-say, you're not alone."

For a moment Cassandra looked blankly at the length of knotted and braided wool. Then her eyes filled with tears and she took the friendship bracelet, tying it around her wrist.

I'm doing this for all of you.

"It's time," she began. "Giles, we've talked about what you have to do. First we need to go online with the Watcher database and see which immortals are in Paris right now. Then you need to take me to wherever it is that Watchers meet . . ."

#

There was one sure way for immortals to make themselves powerful.

Cassandra's first targets were young immortals, carefully chosen. She picked the evil ones: some were murderers, some arsonists, some rapists, and all had sins as black as night on their souls. She did unto them as they had done unto others. She spoke to their Watchers; their Watchers led her to them; they were no match for Cassandra. They were defenseless against her magic. Their quickenings gave her strength.

It was not enough. Through July and August, she stalked Paris, spending hours in the Watcher database. The files gave her an endless feast of evil immortals. When she had finished with the young ones, she hunted their elders. Some had sacked cities. Some had cast hundreds into slavery. Some had helped the Inquisition. There was a sea captain who had sailed prison-ships to the colonies, and a doctor who had learned his trade in Babylonia and experimented on captives in Auschwitz. Cassandra did not take risks with them. Their Watchers told her just what kinds of ambush would work; when no ambush was possible, their Watchers volunteered to make the kill. Then she took the head. With some of the more dangerous targets, nine or ten Watchers all joined in to help. For even the most formidable immortal could be taken down by mortals . . . if there were enough mortals, and they knew what they were facing. And by the ides of October, Cassandra felt herself becoming powerful again. Magic came more easily, and she remembered the way it had been in her youth, when all things had seemed possible to her. Flashes of prescience plagued her. And yet it was still not enough.

She had to work quickly. Any day now, Methos might change his identity and vanish. Or he might find out what she was doing; there was no telling what he would try then.

October slid into November. The newspapers spoke of Y2K plans; she could not read them without shuddering. Fragments of graffiti on the walls she passed left her shaking and disoriented. They told her STORMS RAGE ACROSS FRANCE. They told her HUNDREDS DEAD. They told her THE END IS NEAR.

She had to know more.

By November, she was challenging opponents so dangerous that fighting fair was not even an option. These ones were amazingly old, frighteningly difficult to trap, almost unkillable; every one of them was immune to Cassandra's voice. Some were older than she was. The older they were, the more easily they could counter her magic tricks. For them, she needed her Watchers; she needed every advantage she could get. But with each quickening, she could feel the visions come closer.

It was on the last day of November that MacLeod found her again.

Joe Dawson had sent him. He found her in an alley at midnight, surrounded by all the wreckage of a quickening: shattered glass, strange scorch-marks on the walls of buildings, and a litter of flaming chaff and paper. And his heart was wrung with pity, for Cassandra, still incandescent with lightning, knelt on the filthy pavement and cradled a dead mortal's head in her lap. She looked ancient and wild, like a primeval huntress mourning her dead--a feral girl, dressed up in a modern woman's sophisticated costume. She looked capable of anything.

She saw Mac. She was never more fey than in that moment, climbing to her feet in confusion, backing away from him; she seemed to barely recognize him. Her head was turning from side to side and her glazed eyes appeared to be tracking invisible sights. A beheaded body lay just beyond her, but Cassandra never glanced in its direction. Instead she pointed at the dead mortal. "She was his Watcher," she told MacLeod. "She gave her life to help me."

MacLeod sighed. "Cassandra, she gave her life because you hypnotized her."

"C-can't you see the writing all around us?" Then she shivered and seemed to focus. "Duncan?"

"Cassandra--the Watchers have caught up to you. They know everything. The ones you bewitched have been taken by their tribunal--"

"No!" She stepped back, in shock and horror, crying, "That can't happen--you don't know what the tribunal will do to them--you don't know what you've done--"

"They sent me to stop you."

"No," she repeated, shuddering. "No."

"It's over, Cassandra."

He was moving toward her when she stiffened. She looked elsewhere in distraction. "Can't you hear the voices? It's--it's all coming true--" Then she said, "I know now what to do." Then she looked straight at him and spoke: "Sleep, my solstice child."

He was too young to have learned how to fight off her magic. MacLeod staggered, and she spoke again, gently: "Sleep, sleep, beloved." He fell and lay like at her feet, a prince cast into enchanted dreams; Cassandra stooped and kissed his forehead. And all around them rose an archaic sound--some church's bell tolling, to mark the twelve strokes of midnight and the first day of the last month of the century. This was his final glimpse of her, before his eyes fell shut: the witch standing astride him, tilting back her head so her hair streamed wildly down, while her banshee's voice shouted so loudly, that all the world's immortals would surely hear. And Cassandra screamed, she screamed: "Come to Paris, come to Paris, come to Paris come to Paris COME TO PARIS COME TO PARIS COME TO PARIS--"







The Year 2000



December 1st, 1999:

Joe Dawson growled and pulled the pillow over his face. There was no justice: no sooner had he given up and gone to bed, than he was awakened by someone pounding on his door. And shouting. Shouting loudly. "Joe! Hey, Joe!" He raised his pillow a fraction, squinted at the clock and groaned out loud. "Joe, wake up and let me in!!" Joe pulled himself upright, ran a hand through his hair, and rubbed his face. "Adam?" he mumbled.

"Open the door, Joe!"

Joe looked at the clock again, disbelievingly. Twelve-seventeen AM. Twelve-seventeen AM. Twelve-seventeen AM?

Fortissimo: "Joe, get up now!"

Understandably, it was a good ten minutes more before Joe, having donned his pants (and his legs) appeared all bleary-eyed in the doorway. He leaned one arm on the jamb and blinked at Methos. "So who died?" he asked.

Methos pushed past him without another word.

"My friend, you are one rude son of a bitch." Scratching his beard, Joe turned to watch. "All this so you could get at my computer?" Then his eyes narrowed. "All right, Methos, spill it. Who's after you now?"

The computer was booting. Methos drummed his fingers on the keyboard throughout the virus check; then in a trice he was entering passwords and PIN numbers, logging onto the Watcher network. "You didn't hear it," he said. "Did you?"

"Hear what? All I heard was you, hammering on my door. Can't you pick up your email at home? Wherever that is nowadays." Joe stumped a little closer. Then, "Hey! Get out of there!"

"Shove off, Joe, I'm busy."

"The hell I will. You get off-line right now, or--" Methos, paying no attention, was downloading current status reports from the worldwide net. Joe bent closer: "Wha . . . ?"

A series of one-line updates was scrolling across the screen. It was routine stuff, mostly concerned with the movements of immortals--their daily lives, not their fights--and any Watcher worth his salt could glance at it and guess the time of day and time of year. The updates were mostly from Asia, eight hours away, where dawn was breaking and field Watchers were now coming off-shift and filing their reports; across Europe and Africa, nothing; a trickle from wintry North America, and a small flood from South America where it was evening, and the weather was warm. Immortals were predictable: they fought mostly at night and during the summer--the summer nights of whatever time-zone they happened to find themselves in. The South American reports were all location updates. There was a death-notice from Bangkok, another from Easter Island. And the tally of immortals had shifted. The new total: seven hundred and sixty-six, all told.

"Nothing strange there," said Joe, doubly perplexed. "Methos, what's happening?"

Methos was leaning back in his chair, cradling a cell-phone between shoulder and ear. "Answer, Mac," he muttered, tapping the mouse-pad. "Answer your bloody phone."

"He went to talk with Cassandra." Joe felt a jolt of guilt. "You don't think--"

"C'mon, pick up the phone . . . Aha! Mac? You there?"

Joe, leaning close, heard MacLeod's distant voice come clearly from the phone's speaker: "Adam?" Then, in answer to Methos' question: "Yes, I'm all right." A pause. "So is she." A long pause. "Did you hear it?"

"I still do," said Methos into the phone.

A still longer pause. Then: "I'm going to the barge. Call me there."

Methos clicked the cell-phone off, folded it and stowed it away. He looked sideways at Joe, and then deliberately looked away--hunching one shoulder and averting his face, pretending to be absorbed with the perfectly routine traffic on the Watcher network. Joe (his mouth half-open on a host of questions) felt like hitting him. But in the end all he did was turn his back and stomp muttering back to bed.

He dozed off and on, dreaming uneasily--aware of the lights still on in the other room, soft computer noises and sometimes the sound of a curse. Whatever Methos was up to, Joe knew he would get out of Mac in the end. Still, it was difficult to sleep. A hour passed; two hours; three and a half. Joe growled into his comfortable pillow, pulled the warm quilt up over his shoulder. He was determined not to ask. But finally he gave up and dragged himself back to Methos.

There he was, the world's oldest immortal. Sitting in Joe's chair, swigging Joe's imported beer, and staring at Joe's computer screen. Wordlessly, Joe held out his hand, and Methos put a bottle of beer into it. Never looking away from the computer.

What was he waiting for?

Ho-hum. Two deaths from the Asia bureau, a little excessive maybe (three beheadings a week was the average for December) and the idea of immortals fighting upon Easter Island somehow struck Joe as akin to killing on holy ground--but then, Connor MacLeod had been headhunting in the south Pacific, the last time Joe had looked. Joe glanced again at the second death-notice: yes, it was Connor's kill. There had been an inconclusive fight near Mount Fuji, in Japan. An immortal in the Punjab had suddenly turned up with a student, apparently recruited out of the local Tower of Silence . . . Nothing unusual there. "Adam, whatever you're looking for, it ain't happening. Why don't you just sack out on my couch and catch a few z's? You'll feel better when-- Oboy."

Nicholas Wolfe died vs 'Kenny' @ New York approx 2:45 AM Greenwich, said the letters printing themselves across the screen; a raft of small-print details followed the death notice.

Maple White died vs Kiem Sun, @ Okinawa approx 2:30 AM Greenwich.

Evliya Celebi died vs unknown immortal, @ Bangkok approx 1:00 AM Greenwich; collateral damage + mortal deaths fr quickening; request backup.

Jules Canot died vs 'Jane Doe IV' @ Alice Springs approx 2:20 AM Greenwich.

Aurel Stein died vs Siah-Sek, @ Islamabad approx 2:00 AM Greenwich.

Benjamin Constant died vs Ludovico de Bologna @ Sophia approx 12:30 AM Greenwich.

Saint-Germain died vs Goodwin @ New York approx 2:00 AM . . .

"Oh my God," Joe breathed. "What's going on?"

"I knew it," Methos was muttering. He stabbed a finger at the computer. "See there? The common thread. Look where all these fights took place."

Joe looked. His jaw dropped. "Airports?" he said.

#

All over the world, mortals lived in ignorance. How could they guess at the secret war fought in their midst? Immortals lived their unnaturally long lives, were injured yet healed with supernatural speed, were beheaded and died with spectacular fireworks; and mortals never guessed at the truth. Whatever they witnessed, they put down to other causes: poltergeists or fairy folk, ghosts or angels, psychic powers at work . . . oh, there were a thousand theories to pick from. As for the quickenings, either global warming or UFOs always got the blame. Only the Watchers knew about the wanderings and the battles and the journeys of immortals.

They came from every quarter of the compass.

Every known immortal was moving toward Europe. They came like salmon leaping upstream--driven by an unknown urge, with their befuddled Watchers behind them. Telephone messages flew like birds, as the Watcher network tried to make sense of the inexplicable. But there was no way for them to understand. And how could they learn anything?--for the Watchers did not communicate with their immortals, nor the immortals with their Watchers.

Some were like sleepwalkers, knowing nothing except the need to travel; those were the young ones. Some heard the summons clearly, and came prepared; those were the old ones. Some fought the enchantment, and came unwilling--but still they came. There was one thing they all had in common. Some were frightened, some mystified, some filled with blind rage and shock; but every one was on edge. In this mood, they converged on airports in the world's major cities--in New York, Los Angeles, Hong Kong, Tokyo--and what happened then, was predictable.

#

That year, the Paris Watcher bureau was being run from a funeral parlor in Montmartre. When Joe Dawson got there, in the early afternoon of the first day of December, he found locked doors and a hand-lettered sign: CLOSED DUE TO EMERGENCY. But he had a key, of course. He let himself in. Chalked on the stucco wall above the doors was what looked like a slogan in Arabic; it was a code message, telling all passing Watchers to come here for information. And within, was chaos.

No one was even making a gesture toward the appearance of normality: the coffins had been turned into work-stations, littered with papers and equipment, and surrounded by cheap folding office chairs. A dozen researchers were manning their computers, updating the Western European network as reports came in. Phones were ringing, voices babbling, coffee was perking and sandwiches were being passed around. Joe looked around with approval, seeing fully three-quarters of the Paris staff hard at work. Only the field Watchers were missing, and they were out dutifully tracking their immortals, nerves on edge, phoning in for the latest news every half hour. Everyone knew that something exceptional was happening.

A large chalkboard set up in one corner supplied the strangest note. It was covered with fine lines of cipher, which no outsider could have read. But above them, at the top of the board, was a number written large and plain. It read 721 . . . except even as Joe came in, someone hurried over and changed it to 720. And added another line of code underneath, which was the death-notice of an immortal.

Martin of Tours died vs Alex Raven @ Leningrad, 1:30 PM Greenwich.

Mariotta Rochia died vs Kiem Sun, @ Hong Kong approx 2:00 PM Greenwich.

'Virgil the Magician' died vs Kassim ibn Sallis @ Meknes, 1:45 PM Greenwich.

Benny Carbassa died vs Cory Raines@ New Orleans, 10:45 PM Greenwich.

The Sleeper of Ephesus died vs Cassandra @ Paris, 11:52 AM Greenwich . . .

The list went on and on.

"They'll call this Black Wednesday," Joe marveled. He snagged a passing researcher by the sleeve. "Hey, Jean-Luc. Any word from--well, you know who?"

"The Doomsday people? Not a peep." Jean-Luc lowered his voice. "And Duncan MacLeod?"

"MacLeod's at his barge, he's not moving. I slapped a marshal's badge on Adam Pierson and sent him round to do surveillance."

"Did he--well--say anything to you?"

Everyone within earshot was listening avidly. Their thoughts were written large upon their faces: Joe was the only Watcher in communication with his immortal. Did he know anything? What had Duncan MacLeod revealed?

Joe shook his head. He said gruffly, "He's clammed up," and saw faces fall. "Jean-Luc, so many deaths--" He gestured toward the chalkboard. "This madness doesn't seem to have reached Paris yet, thank God. But we need to be ready for it. How many quickenings have been witnessed by outsiders?"

"Well, there's the California mess . . ."

"What?"

Jean-Luc pointed. "See that cluster of death-notices? And the second cluster, here? Well, you know there are more than sixty immortals resident in California, and of course most of them converged on LAX. That's the first cluster, here. And here, about five hours later, is the second cluster--that's when they reached New York and had to change planes . . . The Los Angeles Watchers circulated a story about a shipment of fireworks bound for Disney." He shrugged, but there was a spark of amusement in his eye. "A freak accident, no? Very spectacular, but nothing to fear. Perhaps an urban myth, which never really happened--they are quick thinkers in the California bureau. As for the New York Watchers, they followed suit with a report of electric failure at La Guardia, but added a editorial on 'air rage' in the New York Times. We have people on that newspaper."

"Good work. And the California immortals?"

"They're over the Pacific." His gaze met Joe's. "Thirty-nine of them, now. In a few hours, their flights will touch down in Europe."

"We need to have stories prepared," said Joe quietly. He leaned over a computer terminal, absently punching up the locations of various immortals. Amanda Darieux was still in New York, he saw; Connor MacLeod was in transit over the Pacific. "Now, the rogue Watchers. Where are they, Jean-Luc?"

"We locked them in the basement--your two MacLeod Watchers and all the rest. But they aren't putting up a fight, they all seem more dazed than anything else. The tribunal was going to try them today. They planned to have it wrapped up by five tonight--but that was before, well, all this, and now no one knows--I mean, who knows when we'll be able--"

"Good man," said Joe, slapping him on the shoulder. "Go get something to eat."

He went downstairs, and found two Watchers on guard; both were athletic, both were armed. Joe spoke to them. One unlocked the basement door, and he went through.

It locked behind him. Here was a storage room, newly furnished with several sleeping bags and folding chairs. There were TV trays too, and a neat pile of paper plates and used styrofoam cups by the door. A stack of newspapers and books showed that the Watchers above had been kind, and supplied reading materials as well.

All the suspect ones were there: almost twenty field Watchers whose immortals had recently died at Cassandra's hands. They were gathered in a knot at the far end of the room--not talking but seeming to take reassurance from each others' presence--and there, in their midst, was Cassandra's own Watcher. Like a queen surrounded by her court, but a tragedy queen, with a Harlequin romance clutched in her pale hands.

She sat on a decrepit chair, her head bowed. The diamond-cut links of her gold necklace sparkled and glittered in the uncertain light. Sometime since Joe had last seen her, she had gotten her hair restyled in chic disorder, tiny wisps curling charmingly around her face, and the mouse-blonde color of it was enlivened by streaks of chestnut and copper. Her skirt was wrinkled from the seat of the chair, and there was a rip in the sleeve of her fashionable sailor-striped t-shirt. But she looked up when Joe entered, and the ghost of a smile was in her eyes. It was a faded smile, but indisputably real. "Joe!" She hurried toward him, still holding her book. "Oh, I'm so glad they let you in." She clung to his hand. "Please--they won't tell us anything--but you can tell us, you'll know--how is she, Joe?"

"Last time she was spotted, Cassandra was fine. That was at noon." Gently, Joe relieved her of her paperback and led her back to the chair. The other tainted Watchers crowded around them, anxious. They tugged at Joe's coat like children, asking timid questions; it was hard to look at them and see the cold-blooded murderers who had plotted against their own immortals. "Shannon, are you all right?"

"Oh yes, we're all just fine. Well, Giles has a black eye from resisting arrest, but that's his own fault." Giles, standing loyally at Shannon's shoulder, flashed Joe a rueful grimace. Shannon continued, "Anyway we don't matter. Joe, we can't help hearing the commotion from upstairs . . . what's, what's going on, is it something bad, is it--?"

"We don't know yet." Joe looked at her, and thought her entirely too concerned with her immortal; it was disturbing. "Shannon, do you know what could happen to you?"

"Nothing will happen to us," she said. Her eyes shone with innocence. "We haven't done anything bad." All the others nodded at once. Incredibly, Shannon was now patting Joe's arm--reassuring him, with kind concern in the gesture. "Why," she said, "we all know we were doing the right thing: Cassandra is a good immortal, after all, and the ones we helped her defeat were all evil. We know our own immortals, who better? And . . . after all, isn't that what the Watchers are for? I mean, we all know about the Doomsday Project--what else could it be for, except to sort the good immortals from the evil immortals, and see that none of the evil ones wins the Prize? Ones like the Kurgan. It's like our duty." And she shuddered, blinking. "In the end, there can be only one--and if the wrong one wins, the world will be cast into an eternal age of darkness."

#

Terence Coventry died vs Kage @ Ontario . . .

Nicolai Tesla died vs Lek Dukaghin @ Mexico City . . .

Nigniacca the Florentine died vs Kassim ibn Salis @ Gibralter . . .

Lung-shu alias Nagarjuna alias Klusgrub, died vs Cassandra @ Paris . . .

Warren Cochrane died vs Harry Houdini @ Lima . . .

By December 2nd, a wave of immortals moving up from South America reached the northern hemisphere. Almost two hundred strong, they were. They booked international flights out of New York, caught connecting planes and hopped cross-country; further clusters of deaths at La Guardia and Kennedy airports marked their passage. Earlier, the immortals of California had crossed the Atlantic, landing at London and Paris and Madrid; those at London and Madrid immediately departed; those who arrived at Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports in Paris dispersed. Other immortals hastened westward, coming out of the vastness of Asia: from China, from Russia, from India and Japan. Their faithful Watchers scurried in their wake.

Across the continents, the same story was retold. Its course could be traced out on the plane routes of the world; at every major airport, there was carnage. From New York and Hong Kong--the crossroads of the world--the death-notices were now coming almost constantly. In Hong Kong, the immortal Kiem Sun had taken over the international airport; helped by a tong-like army of fanatical mortal followers, he had made it into his own private hunting preserve. At Kennedy International and La Guardia in New York, frantic Watchers resorted to every sort of lie and subterfuge; the death-toll from those airports would continue to rise until December 7th . . . by which time, virtually every one of the western hemisphere's immortals would be gone from the Americas.

Still, a pattern was developing.

From Iceland to Antarctica, from Peru to the Aleutian Islands, immortals were moving toward Europe. Where they were forced into juxtaposition, they killed each other. The young died on the swords of the old; the old and powerful took the quickenings, and moved on. As soon as they reached Europe, they scattered. They went on--they scarcely paused--but not by plane; they zigzagged across countries, by train and rental car and even by motorcycle. The surviving young ones, more reckless, kept to direct routes, and many more of them died upon the road; it was as if they had flung caution to the winds. But it was the older and wiser immortals who seemed best able to fight off whatever had possessed them. Those immortals were now seen to be hanging back, picking their routes carefully--avoiding each other, as they had always done. Their mystified Watchers charted their progress and wondered.

Their destination: France.

In New York, Amanda Darieux was one of the few who tarried; she was hunting the child-immortal named Kenny.

Connor MacLeod owned his own plane; he was flying east-north-east, skipping from tiny landing field to tiny landing field, crossing the French Tuamoto islands, bound for Tahiti. Already, he had booked a commercial flight from there to Hong Kong.

In Paris, Joe's colleagues worked round the clock. Their mortuary was now a command post, with a gigantic map that filled the whole of one wall. On this, the travels of the surviving immortals made a bewilderment of lines; it seemed as if the whole globe was converging on Watcher headquarters, West European bureau. Dozens of death-notices studded the map, each a tiny colored pin, winking in the artificial light and telling a sorrowful tale. As for the Watchers themselves, hopped on caffeine and junk food, they were too wrought up in History to worry about security. When one of them said, "Isn't that a pizza truck I hear?" the others only applauded. Out went all their junior staff, euros clutched in their hot little hands . . . and when those unfortunates reached the street, they looked around in bewilderment.

Pizza trucks were commonplace on the streets of Paris, and they could have sworn one was waiting for them now, but somehow no pizza truck was visible. "Eh?" they said.

They turned around and the street had vanished. They were in a fairy-tale wood, with a witch standing between the mossy trees: with glowing mists coiling about her, half-hiding her lovely form, and a glowing red light in her eyes. One smile and they were enchanted. "I've been looking everywhere for you," said Cassandra. "Won't you take me to my friends?"

#

". . . and waltzed out of there with Shannon Maus and all our hypnotized field Watchers in tow," Joe finished, several hours later. "No one lifted a finger to stop them. Didn't even think to try tailing 'em till it was too late. They made a clean getaway."

He was in the barge, with Methos and MacLeod. The two immortals had been busy with MacLeod's computer when he arrived, and he was not surprised to find them on the Watcher database, getting the latest updates. Both looked morose. Methos was quiet, but his face seemed bonier than usual; Mac had been pacing like a trapped lion. Now they all sat together and watched the tale of names unroll across the computer screen.

Reagan Cole died vs Alex Raven @ Berlin . . .

Hasan-i-Sabbah died vs Boyer @ Cracow . . .

Herbert Gris died vs Ceirdwyn @ Madrid . . .

Nasreddin Hoja died vs Zoltan Laszlo @ Istanbul . . .

"What will happen when they reach Paris?" MacLeod whispered. "Methos, are we sure they're coming here?"

"Where else could they be going?" Methos answered.

"What?" said Joe.

Neither immortal replied. MacLeod was staring at Methos, and Methos lifted his head and met his challenging look deliberately, serenely, quietly. Mac said, "Do you still hear it?"

"How could I help hearing it?" Methos replied. He rubbed a hand across his forehead. "I'd have to be bloody dead not to. What I don't know is, why you don't hear it, Mac."

"I'm not the one she wants," said MacLeod, grimly.

"Who wants?" said Joe.

Lucius Cornelius Sulla died vs Marcus Constantine @ Paris . . .

Felice Martin died vs Cassandra @ Paris . . .

Further deaths attributed to Kiem Sun et al @ Hong Kong: Emily Rochia, Juliet Rochia, Everett Bellion, Kan-chiang Ch'ih, Hsien Tsiang . . .

Mac said, "She's drawing us all to her. What is she after, anyway? What does she want?"

Methos said, "At a guess? She wants to become powerful enough to challenge me."

Joe said, loudly, "Who?"

They ignored him.

"Why are you still here anyway, Methos? I thought you'd be--"

"Safely in Antarctica by now. Yes, I know. Why haven't you left for Seacouver, Mac?"

"What are you talking about?" This was Joe; he was now seriously irked. He leaned between the two immortals, thrust his face aggressively close to MacLeod's. "C'mon, buddy, I'm about to start screaming here. Talk to me. What's going on?"

MacLeod seemed about to speak. Then he turned away and looked determinedly into the computer screen. "It's an immortal thing," was all he said.

Joe growled deep in his throat.

Methos said, "It's an immortal quirk." And he looked with gentle affection at MacLeod, who kept his face stubbornly averted. "No business of any mortal, as Mac well knows. We feel . . . we can sometimes feel each other far away. Sometimes we feel compelled to seek other immortals out, and the impulse can draw us across continents. Sometimes we can call out to each other, too. Or hide from each other," he added, grinning suddenly. "It all depends. But we are all being drawn here, now--"

"To France? To Paris?"

"To Cassandra. We are being called, and we are coming."

"Like lemmings leaping off a cliff," said MacLeod with sudden violence. "Dust in the wind." He stood up, slamming the chair right over; it crashed to the floorboards of the barge. Joe and Methos made haste to get out of his way. All they had time for was one speechless look at each other, and Mac was gone--with the door crashing shut behind him, his footsteps thudding on the roof overhead, and his fury like a visible cloud around them.

"Ha," said Methos. He sat down again in front of the computer and folded his hands on the keyboard; slightly rumpled, clad in dingy black, he looked shabby and innocent, like the young Watcher recruit Joe had first met him as--but that was years ago, wasn't it? He had looked so harmless then, soft as a Welsh kitten. If Joe closed his eyes, he could imagine himself back in the library at the old West European HQ, while the latest batch of kids from the academy went through on their orientation tour. And a youth with spiky black hair and a witch-nosed profile had stuck out his hand, grinning, and said, "Hallo! I'm Adam. But everyone calls me Taffy Pierson."

Since then he had seemed to change and change. Joe had watched him grow up; the gawky student had become a scholar, and Joe had seen him gain confidence and maturity, year by year--just as any mortal would. His appearance had changed, his manner had changed, even the tone of his voice had deepened. His air of clumsiness was like the final grace-note in an already perfect disguise. Joe had distinct memories of seeing Methos with shaving-nicks, paper-cuts and sprained ankles; once, after Wales lost to Scotland at rugby, he had turned up sporting bruised knuckles and a beautiful black eye. No Watcher alive would have spotted 'Adam Pierson' as an immortal.

Joe would never have guessed by himself. Even after learning who Methos was, Joe had never been able to picture him using a sword. Methos had seemed so mild, next to MacLeod. So nonviolent. So unthreatening. So unlike other immortals. Joe remembered making jokes about it; he remembered seeing MacLeod curl his lip with disdain at Methos' cowardice . . . And Methos' air of meekness had been like the final grace-note in an already perfect disguise. Neither of them would ever have suspected--until they had learned about the Four Horsemen.

Now he--the greatest survivor of a race of survivors--tilted his head to listen to footsteps and thumps from above. "He's doing kata. Good. It'll calm him down." He scowled. "But I think we ought to go somewhere less conspicuous. Maybe down under Shakespeare and Company. Or move into Amanda's place, it's holy ground."

"Methos, what's up with him?"

Methos shrugged, turning the computer screen toward the wall, and climbing to his feet. "It's difficult for him. He's always loved mortals, remember, it's in all his Chronicles. More than any other immortal, he mourns when they die. How do you think he feels when he outlives the ones he loves?"

"My God, does he really think this is the Gathering?"

And Methos raised an eyebrow. "Don't you guys?"

"Why are you staying, Methos?" Joe asked abruptly. "I mean, Mac's not the only one who expected you to be in Antarctica by now." Methos merely shrugged again. Joe watched him prowl across the barge, strip off his black sweater and find his sword; he pulled on his gloves, he swung the sword experimentally, and then he picked up Mac's sword too. With a sword in either hand, he moved toward the hatch. "You're not going out there?" Joe said, jarred out of his preoccupation. "You'll be seen!"

"I thought Cassandra was harmless. I was wrong," said Methos, and now he did not look like 'Adam Pierson'; he did not look like the Methos Joe knew; he looked like a five-thousand-year-old stranger who might very well be called Death. He looked ageless and dangerous. "I should have killed her when I had the chance . . . I don't want Mac to pay the price for my mistakes. I'm going to go do some kata with him, myself. I need the workout."

"Methos, there are six other Watchers out there ogling the barge right now--"

"How does it feel," Methos asked, "knowing you'll probably outlive the both of us?"

He went out, slamming the door behind him.

Joe let himself down into the desk chair. Not thinking, he fiddled with the mouse-pad, swung the monitor back into place; one of his canes fell clattering to the hardwood floor, and he cursed and kicked it aside. From above him, there came an outbreak of thumps and thuds, and then the clamor of steel on steel--like hammer and anvil.

He looked at the computer monitor. Then he understood, and began to curse.

The latest update on the screen read: Amanda Darieux died vs 'Kenny' @ New York.

#

Somewhat later that day:

". . . hi, Harry."

"Hallo, Bill. Been a long time since Casablanca, eh? You're looking fit. Come to help watch MacLeod's barge, or are you just slumming?"

"Nah, they told me you were here, thought I'd look you up. I've been watching Kassim ibn Sallis, you know."

"Kassim. Hmm. Formidable. Got a grudge against MacLeod, I hear." Harry grinned. "I have a tenner in my pocket that says MacLeod takes him."

"Done. Hey, I saw a lost-dog poster stuck on a lamp-post back there, with Watcher code on it. About Adam Pierson. Is that true?"

"I'm sorry to say it is. I saw him and so did Charlie. In broad daylight, swinging a sword."

"Oboy. So he's one of them." A pause. "So . . . how much are you willing to wager that he's a new one?"

"Not a penny, I saw him with that sword. Bloody good, he is." Harry leaned close and whispered solemnly: "Joe Dawson's known about him for a year or more, I reckon. Bet he's been sheltering him."

"You're nuts." Bill brooded. "Twenty dollars American?"

"Done."

They shook hands. They settled back down in Harry's surveillance blind; today he was in the back of a parked truck down-river from MacLeod's barge. Harry passed Bill a pair of binoculars, and uncapped his thermos of tea. Perhaps an hour passed in companionable silence. Then:

"Bill! Wake up! Look!"

"That's MacLeod. Is that Pierson? What's that they're toting?"

"A pair of bedrolls, from the look of it," said Harry, using the binoculars. "Yes, they're scarpering, the rogues. Got your coat? Good, let's go."

With the ease of long practice, they fell into the recommended tailing position: half a block behind the subject, inconspicuous, ready for anything. The quays were crowded, busy with happy tourists seeing Paris. The strolling crowds made it easy to keep out of sight. They chatted as they went.

"So . . . heard anything from the Doomsday types yet?"

"Not a peep. The latest rumor was, they confidently expect that immortal numbers will stabilize at one hundred and fifty, it'll all blow over and everyone will go home. Course that's just a story, they don't want people panicking. Ten to one it's the Gathering."

"Ten to one it's not. How could it be? Only way it could, would be for no more new immies to appear--"

Harry rolled his eyes. "If a new immortal suffers his first death in the forest, and no Watcher witnesses it, does he come back to life?" he asked rhetorically. "No, all that's needed is for the old ones to kill each other off faster than new ones can turn up."

"That is the dumbest thing I ever-- Is that them turning left, there? Better hurry up, they seem to be sprinting. They're going into Notre Dame . . . Hey! I read on the Notre Dame website that the repairs were all finished and the scaffolding was already down!"

"Well, they expect it to be down in time for the Fete de St-Sylvestre, but so far all we've seen is more scaffolding than ever--"

"Bummer. I've got a five-franc note here that says they aren't finished on time--"

Arguing, they walked briskly into the cathedral. It was easy to spot their quarry: two tall men, black-coated, carrying bedrolls slung over their shoulders . . . just now, going toward a side chapel. Harry and Bill dropped back and loitered near the chapel entrance. They pretended to be admiring the rose windows; they pretended to be discussing the fine historical significance of the Gothic period; they pretended to be waiting for their wives. "Immortals," said Bill eventually. "Once they get on holy ground, see if you can get them off it."

"I'm going to peek round the corner."

"Harry! Don't! They'll spot you in an instant!"

But it was too late; Harry had already peeked. His jaw dropped. The expression that appeared on his nondescript face was so comical that Bill, too, leaned around the corner and had a look. Then both Watchers swore aloud in ringing tones, making a passing tour of schoolgirls burst out giggling.

Two total strangers with unshaven faces, wearing long black overcoats and carrying bedrolls, were standing just around the corner. Both looked bored, yet satisfied. One was counting a roll of cash. The other leered at Bill and Harry, and then he jerked up his index finger, muttered to his friend and strolled past--snickering loudly as he went by.

Poor Bill and Harry stood marooned in the nave of Notre-Dame. Harry was scratching his head. They looked at each other, shrugged in unison, and then Harry pulled out his phone and called in a report. "Good luck to them, wherever they're bound," he said as he stowed away his phone. "I expect they're going to hide. Feel like a bite, Bill?"

"Sure."

They walked morosely out of the cathedral. Neither man spoke. Bill kicked a pillar as he passed it. Then:

"So . . . I've got a twenty that says this is the Gathering, and my man Kassim wins the Prize--"

#

By December 8th, Watcher bureaus throughout the world were folding up their operations and moving shop.

They had no choice; they had to follow their immortals. And their immortals were gone. Still, the Watchers had done sterling work in covering up after their subjects. Barely a newspaper in the world had gotten wind of the carnage, though the Enquirer ran a story on LAX Y2K UFO SHC that was still earning SPONTANEOUS HUMAN COMBUSTION--THE CALIFORNIA COVERUP! headlines well into the summer of 2000. Terrorism had been blamed. 'Air rage' was also a well-used ruse. And there was the ever-popular tactic of blaming quickenings on firework accidents; with the millennial celebrations so close, how could it go wrong?

By December 11th, though, things seemed to be settling down. A few immortals were still marooned in distant places--Connor MacLeod was stuck in Hong Kong, pursued by Kiem Sun's agents, and stray immortals from distant parts of the Third World were only now reaching civilization--but the airport incidents were largely over. The world's immortals were crossing Europe. They were bound for Paris: a blind man could see it, now. The world's Watchers were arriving in Paris, accepting the hospitality of the West European bureau, and settling in for the duration. Meanwhile the Watchers of Paris were busy arranging cover stories and hiding the evidence of immortal kills. They had escaped the carnage that had struck other countries, but now it was surely their turn.

And on December 12th, a disastrous oil spill off the coast of France grabbed every headline in the country. The Watchers breathed a sigh of relief. After this story had died down, there would be coverage for the Y2K celebrations, and that should take them safely to the millennium and past. Until the New Year parties were over, no reporter alive would have time for silly-season news.

Meanwhile, the surviving immortals converged on Paris.

Their numbers now: 535, no more.

#

On December 14th:

At the Champs Elysees, a car which had just come from Orly Airport drew up to the curb and let a young boy jump out. He was blond but grubby, with Saxon features; he looked perhaps twelve, but was eight hundred years old. The elderly couple in the car called well-wishes after him--"Bon chance, cheri! Bon chance!"--and the boy, hunching his shoulders, muttered under his breath: "What a pair of perverts. What am I, their own private Macaully Culkins?" His name was Kenny. He was immortal. He was late getting to Paris, for plane tickets were costly, and that kind of money was hard for a boy his age to get; he had crossed the Atlantic in the wheel-well of a 747, freezing to death. Even now he was shaking with cold, imagining frost in his hair. But he had reached Paris at last.

Yet he could still feel the call that had pulled him here, a pounding jungle rhythm in his soul. It set all his nerves on edge, it made him want to kill something. He knew he had to find whatever-it-was--even though he did not know where or why or how. He only knew that he had to keep looking.

Wiping his nose, he looked around. The Champs Elysees was breathtaking, for Paris was decorated for both Christmas and New Year. In one direction, he could see a gigantic Ferris wheel, with a flashing golden sun at the hub. In another, he could look through the bare boughs of trees and glimpse the Eiffel tower, the face of which now sported a huge Countdown Clock. The trees themselves had been wrapped in transparent cellophane, and tied up with ribbons and bows. With swarms of tiny white sparkle-bulbs inside the cellophane gift-wrap. And nets of twinkling colored lights thrown over top: red, blue, yellow. Kenny glanced at all these things, and shrugged indifferently. He turned his attention to the sidewalk around him.

Bonanza! he thought.

It was a mother-lode of tourists. Y2K rubes everywhere, cash on the hoof, good prospects for earning some lunch-money. He scrubbed his face clean and slicked down his hair, and plastered on a bright smile. Adults liked to see a cheerful face, they shelled out more readily when you smiled. A bashful grin, broken French: "Au secours, mademoiselle?" and an outstretched hand--that was what it took. And if that didn't do it, he could always pick their bloody pockets.

An hour passed. Kenny now had a prop--a bright-eyed puppy like a walking mop, which a little old lady had been walking down the street . . . that is, until Kenny had pushed her, grabbed the leash and ran. A cute dog was better than money in the bank, when you were working a crowd. He had a spiel: "Mademoiselle, un euro pour Poovre Noire?" He was making money hand over fist. Presently, he stopped to buy a bag of hot pretzels, side-stepped into an alley--stuffing pretzels into his mouth--and paused to count his loot. While the dog turned flip-flops and walked on its hind-legs, begging for a bite. "Blackie, you're a gold mine. Look at all this cash! Maybe I'll keep you awhile." He yanked Blackie's leash, in a friendly way. "Just don't delude yourself that you're going to get any of my lunch, fleabag." And he was holding the last bite of pretzel just out of Blackie's reach and laughing like mad, when five boys from a local street-gang came around the corner.

Two minutes later, they ran off. They were laughing; Kenny, on his knees in the alley, was retching his belly out. He was penniless again, and his sneakers were gone. Blackie was licking his face and whining, and Kenny grabbed hold of his collar, hauled him closer, and twisted his tail till the dog broke free and streaked ki-yi-yi'ing for freedom. Kenny hurled a Coca-cola can after him, screaming, "Serves you right, you dumb dog! Go on, scram! It was your fault!!" Then he pounded his fists on the tarmac until the knuckles bled.

He would get more money. Lots of money. And if he saw those boys again . . . well, he had a sword, and they didn't.

He was just climbing to his feet, when he felt another immortal nearby.

Kenny froze as the lovely woman strolled around the corner. She was dressed all in sequins, gloriously glittering, and she was like a wicked stepmother in a fairy-tale: black as night, white as snow, red as blood. The dog was cradled in her arms. It wriggled blissfully as she scratched its neck, and when she caught sight of Kenny she widened her eyes and smiled.

"Why, little man," she said, stroking the dog, "who might you be?"

"Cassandra?" said Kenny tentatively. It had been a lot of years, but . . . He thought suddenly that he had never seen anyone so beautiful, never. Never in his whole life. "You're different."

"More powerful," said Cassandra. She cuddled Blackie, and Blackie kissed her cheek in worship. They made a magical picture, the woman and the little black dog. "Hello, Kenny. Were you drawn here too?"

"Couldn't help coming," he muttered, brushing himself off. He scrubbed his bloody knuckles against his shirt. "Can't get that--that voice out of my head--" Kenny broke off, glanced suspiciously at Cassandra. "D'you know who it is? Who's calling us?"

"I couldn't escape it either," she sighed, "or get away. All of us are coming, Kenny. Paris is going to be very dangerous for our kind."

"Yeah." Kenny made his face innocent and guileless. "I'm scared, Cassandra. Can I hang around with you for a while?"

"Should you trust me?" asked Cassandra.

"You? Sure, of course! You're the only one I'd trust." He slid a step closer, grinning up at her. "Besides, my dog likes you, and dogs are good judges of character."

"So they are."

Together, they strolled onto the Champs Elysees, and Cassandra began to point out the sights. "They've abandoned the notion of building giant gates," she told Kenny, "but there's a Porte de l'An 2000 at the Arc de Triomphe and a Porte Virtuelle at the Place de la Concorde, and soon there'll be more Ferris wheels, all along the length of the Champs Elysees." She laughed, while the besotted dog licked her face. "Eleven wheels. One will be filled with artificial snow, that falls glittering as the wheel turns! And another will be a gigantic musical instrument. There'll be a World Wheel, filled with messages from around the world. There'll be a video-display wheel called Eternelle Recommencement. They're all due to start rotating on New Year's Eve."

"Wow," said Kenny, scheming.

". . . Kenny, I know what we both need. First, new shoes for you. And then . . . what do you say to a feast? I know a patisserie that has the most wonderful desserts." And the words rolled off her tongue like a seduction: "Chocolate-filled croissants, Kenny. Eclaires, cream horns, English trifle. Honey tuilles. Banana creme brulee. Warm sour-dough cake with raspberry ganache filling and Swiss chocolate drizzle. Ameretti terrine topped with coconut milk glace . . ."

"Do they have Hagan-daaz ice cream?" asked Kenny.

"I'm sure of it," Cassandra promised. She set the puppy down, keeping hold of the leash, and held out her free hand. "Come with me."

By the time he reconsidered, it was too late.

#

At about that time, the loveliest young ex-Watcher in Paris was skulking down a street, bound to meet Cassandra at the Galeries Lafayette. Parisian men ogled her as she went past; she jumped a yard when someone whistled, and then shrugged sheepishly and tossed her admirer a kiss. She wore rumpled jeans and a loose jacket, and all her earthly goods were in her pockets. Her hair was scraped back in a pony-tail, she had licked off all her lipstick--and yet still she was the prettiest girl those men had ever seen. She was used to being looked at, but she blushed anyway. Though she did not know it, that only made her more appealing.

She hurried along, pausing from time to time to look at graffiti. Some of this was true graffiti, and she dismissed it and walked on by. But some was Watcher graffiti, which made her shiver all over. Once or twice, she pulled out a Bic and made notes on the back of her hand. A young man offered gallantly to buy her a memo-pad--perhaps a daybook, a pocket calendar or even her choice of electronic organizers--they might, possibly, discuss the details over supper and a drink?--and Shannon thanked him politely, but declined.

At the Galeries Lafayette, the show windows had been decorated by a famous artist; they were filled with dancing clockwork fairies. A throng of shoppers stood oohing and ahhing. Shannon preferred the Bon Marche windows with their Cinderella theme, but these were almost as good. She could not resist slowing down to look. It was while she was gawking, her troubles momentarily forgotten, that someone elbowed up to her and shoved a ball of paper into her hand.

Her heart stopped. She swung around, seeing an anonymous back retreating through the crowd; then, trembling, she flattened the crumpled paper. It was a Watcher pamphlet, with a blue Eye staring balefully up. "Doomsday," she muttered. Beneath the Evil Eye were pothooks and squiggles, cipher which she read at a glance--it was worse than her darkest nightmares. A pattern of glyphs marched across the foot of the cheap pamphlet . . . these were all icons . . . they were a list of immortals . . . "Oh no," she whispered.

"What does it say?" asked Cassandra, looking over her shoulder.

Shannon leaped a yard and clutched her heart. "Nothing! It's nothing! Just an update, that's all."

"An update on what? Read it to me." Cassandra was holding a puppy in her arms: a wriggling black mop, whose fur seemed singed. She had the vague look in her eyes that Shannon knew meant she had just killed.

"No, let's go into the store. There could be other immortals around . . ." Shannon almost dragged Cassandra the rest of the way. Inside the Galeris Lafayette, she felt safer; there were Christmas trees and toothsome displays everywhere, and happy people out gift-shopping with their hands full of colorful bags. She and Cassandra had often met here before, in happier times. Now she stood by the perfume counter, gazing listlessly at the latest Guerlain scent, and wishing she was as brave as her immortal.

Cassandra still held the small black dog. She flicked a disdainful finger at the Guerlain fragrance, which (according to its display card) was a limited edition, available only until the Millennium. "I hear it's mostly tuberose," she said. "Just like everything else this season. Who do they think they're fooling?"

Nervously, Shannon sniffed a sample from a funky purple-plastic capsule. The note beside it proclaimed 'Ultraviolet! A Lifestyle of Spice. With that Touch of Fresh Pepper, Amber, Vanilla and Kinnokusei.' Shannon wrinkled up her nose over it. "Eww," she said.

Cassandra had picked up a Yves Saint Laurent perfume in a hot pink bottle. Shannon's heart was wrung at the sight of her: she was gaunt now, with lank hair, and blue stains under her eyes. Beads from her tattered coat dripped on the floor. In her arms, the bedraggled dog squirmed and whined. A clerk headed toward her, frowning, and she said, "You don't see us. No, wait. I like this, wrap it up for me. The large size, please." She handed him her Visa, and he vanished, all smiles, to do her bidding. When he returned, bearing a red gift box, she took the perfume and presented it to Shannon. "For you," she said.

"Thank you," said Shannon, blushing. "Um, I've got a report from the others. MacLeod and Methos have vanished, they're not at the barge anymore, we can't find them--we tried to tail Joe Dawson, but Joe didn't lead us anywhere. Maybe he doesn't know where they are either. Um. Where did that dog come from?"

"I have no idea. I suppose it's stolen. Kenny had it."

"Kenny?"

"One of the wickedest immortals you could imagine," Cassandra reassured her. "Much too evil to live." She put the dog into Shannon's arms, touching her hand as she did. "Why, you're ice-cold--here, wear my coat. What was in that pamphlet, to frighten you so? I saw the Doomsday Project eye."

Shannon stood beside the perfume display, shoulders hunched. The opera cape hung limply from her shoulders; she clutched the present and the dog. "I don't," she began, and then, "There are--" She hugged the dog. "Cassandra, you have to watch it, there are special directives on every wall in the city. There are so many immortals in Paris now, there was even a dark-quickening warning--the rules against interfering doesn't apply if it's a dark quickening--"

"Rules which fall under the Doomsday protocol?" said Cassandra. Shannon's gaze leaped guiltily up to hers, and Cassandra shook her head, smiling. "Stop trying to mislead me, Shannon. You know I know all about this Doomsday Project of yours. Its aims are the same as our own, aren't they? To be sure that no evil immortal wins the Game."

"Nobody's really sure," said Shannon miserably. "I mean, everyone says so, but it could be just rumors. If the number of immortals falls too low--if the other signs appear--then the Doomsday protocols are supposed to supersede normal Watcher rules. But nobody knows what that means!"

"But you think that's what it will mean?"

"Maybe. I guess. You see, there's this thing called the Doomsday shortlist."

"And this is?" Cassandra asked, eyebrows raised. But Shannon did not answer. "Let me guess. When the Gathering comes, the rule against interfering doesn't apply. And the worst immortals on the list will be eliminated?"

"No, that's not happening yet! I'm sure it isn't! The paper was only a warning--for people to be ready for anything--and memorize the target list, just in case--"

"I'm on the target list, aren't I?"

"It was only a warning," Shannon mumbled.

"I can recognize my own icon by now, Shannon. I saw it on the sheet." Cassandra stood thinking, toying with a flask of perfume. "I can see why they think me an evil immortal. They don't understand, after all. Does this mean you're in danger? If you are--"

"No, no, it's you, you're the one who's in danger! But you can be safe. Haven't you killed enough of the bad ones now? You can stop hunting, and they'll take you off the list. Then you'll be okay."

"But you forget," said Cassandra. "I'm still not strong enough to defeat Methos."

"Ursa the giant wasn't evil," said Shannon in a very low voice.

"What was that?"

"Stephen used to do surveillance on him. He told me this morning, he can't believe you k-killed him, that Ursa would never hurt a fly--"

"How dare you!" There were people all around them; the cheerful babble of their voices cut off, their heads swivelled to look, when they heard the crack of Cassandra's voice. Cassandra gripped Shannon's shoulder, and went on, more softly but with great force: "I am calling the evil ones toward me. Only they hear me, and come to my sword . . . No one believes me, not even you. But I will save us all. Do you trust me?"

"Yes--but--"

"Look, here's your friendship bracelet round my wrist. I swear to you, I'd never do anything to hurt you." Her digging fingernails relaxed, and the painful grasp of her hand softened to a caress; she stroked Shannon's arm, and Shannon sighed. "I've brought you another present, you know," Cassandra said. "Here."

What she gave Shannon looked like a quartz crystal, hung on a thin gold chain.

"It was in Kenny's pocket--I imagine he was going to pawn it, the little fool. He probably had no clue what it was. It's a Methuselah stone. Priceless. It's yours now, Shannon." Cassandra herself dropped the chain over Shannon's head, and kissed her on the forehead. Then she turned her around, and gave her a little push. "Everything that I do, I do to keep mortals safe. Now run along, I have to plan."

Shannon stumbled out of the department store, with her mind in a whirlwind of turmoil. The Balenciaga coat was round her shoulders, the crystal hung round her neck. Her arms were weighed down with Cassandra's other presents. Giles' ring on her finger should have been her dearest treasure, but she had forgotten about Giles. When a man walking past stopped short, stared, and cut loose with a heartfelt wolf-whistle, she managed to reply with a faint smile, but wiped away a tear as she did.

"And has she given you your heart's desire?" said someone's voice, behind her.

It was Duncan MacLeod.

This was Shannon's day for being surprised. She let out a squeak and shrank back, shocked round eyes staring at MacLeod. "You . . . you tailed me?"

"You tailed Joe Dawson," said Mac, "I tailed you--it's a refreshing change, following a Watcher, instead of being followed." He moved toward her, smooth as a panther.

"I won't tell you where she is," Shannon said fiercely.

"I don't expect you to." He was almost within touching distance.

"Stay away, I've got a gun!" He snorted. She retreated, confused, intimidated, improvising as she went: "Anyway, how do you know you've got the right person?"

Duncan MacLeod rolled his eyes. "Young woman, don't be daft. Your name is Shannon Maus. I first set eyes on you more than two years ago--in Seacouver, just after I met Cassandra for the second time. She used her damned voice on me then, in a memorial park near a cemetery. You were the girl sitting on a bench on the other side of the park. You wore--" his eyes narrowed, "--bottle-lensed glasses and a fuzzy sweater, and you were pretending to read a book by Barbara Cartland. A Ghost in Monte Carlo was the title. And you looked at Cassandra as if she was the most wonderful thing you had ever seen." Shannon looked, now, as if she wanted to sink into the ground. He let a moment pass, then added, "Besides, you're wearing her coat."

"I'd just been assigned to her," Shannon blurted out, "just that week. She was my first assignment."

"You're not going to shoot me," said MacLeod. "You don't have enough violence in you to squish a spider. Why are you helping your immortal to kill?"

Shannon valiantly stuffed her misgivings away, and raised her voice in defense of Cassandra. "She's a good immortal, she only kills evil immortals, she--"

"Here's a list, courtesy of Joe. Read the names of her recent challenges." MacLeod held up a piece of paper; reading it, she went pale, gulped and looked at her feet. "You're wrong about her, you know. Joe sends a message. The Watcher tribunal has exonerated all of you. They know Cassandra bewitched you, and they don't care--other things are more important now. Anyway, you're not under sentence of death."

"Is that what you came to tell me?"

"No. That's Joe's message. My message is to Cassandra. Tell her she's wrong about Methos, tell her she doesn't have to fight him, tell her to stop what she's doing. Tell her to let us go."

"Let you go where?" said Shannon, blankly. ". . . And she's not wrong. She can tell the future, but the problem is, nobody ever believes her."

"Give her my message," Mac said.

He turned, releasing her, and began to walk away. Her gaze followed him, so heroic, so stalwart and strong; he was the one immortal whom Cassandra had always spoken of with admiration. She took a step after him, and then another step. Then she began to trot down the street in his wake. "Mr MacLeod?"

MacLeod wheeled, and she stopped in embarrassment. "Well, what is it?"

She held out the little black dog. Mac looked down at it, momentarily speechless; this was not what he expected. She was saying, "--to Joe? Please? To give to Kenny's Watcher, please. That's the only one who might know who he belongs to."

Stymied, he took custody of the dog. The dog wagged itself all over, and wriggled closer to him. And he stood and watched her scuttle away, with Cassandra's coat flying from her shoulders; and though he did not know it, Amanda's crystal hung around her neck.

#

Marcus Constantine died vs Ceirdwyn @ Paris . . .

Boyer died vs Cassandra @ Paris . . .

Zoltan Laszlo died vs Kassim ibn Sallis @ Paris . . .

Cory Raines died vs Cassandra @ Paris . . .

Alex Raven died vs Cassandra @ Paris . . .

GregorCzardas died vs Cassandra @ Paris . . .

Paris had always been a city blessed in its immortals: never bereft of them, often with as many as twenty at once living within its perimeter. Now there were twenty times twenty. There had never been so many observed in such close confines, not in all the Watcher annals. Historically, immortals had always avoided the company of their own kind. But anyone could have guessed what they would do, when several hundred at once were forced into proximity.

They fought, bled, and died. The five hundred or so who had reached Paris by the thirteenth, were four hundred by the eighteenth--two hundred and fifty by the twenty-first, the winter solstice--less than one hundred, by Christmas Eve. As their numbers fell, they became more formidable. Each fight they fought was more desperate, each quickening more spectacular. Only the strong survived--that was what passed for a law of physics among their kind--and now it was the strong beheading the strong. For the victor gained the strength of the victim: this too was like a law of immortal physics.

On Christmas Eve, haggard Watchers gathered before computer screens throughout the city, read the toll of survivors, and wept for fear: eighty-seven living immortals. Eighty-seven extremely powerful immortals; every time another one died, now, such freaks of weather followed that even the most hardened field Watchers were appalled. And still they killed each other. How could they help it? It was their nature.

While the Christian world celebrated peace and rebirth, the world's immortals were out stalking. They were fighting beneath Christmas lights, in a swirl of picture-perfect crystal snow. They were slaughtering each other in icy alleys, just a stone's throw from banners proclaiming Joyeaux Noel and L'An 2000. The losers passed their power on to the victors; the victors found Cassandra, and died. While holiday crowds thronged the city, while Paris decked itself in preparations for the millennium, the last immortals went out and killed each other.

A further, terrible pattern was now evident. First, the world's immortals had converged on Europe. Next, it had become obvious that their destination was France. Once they reached France, they moved toward Paris. Now they had reached Paris . . . and they were still seeking out a single point. That point was Cassandra. Even newly-made immortals were arriving in the city, rushing blindly toward her, and dying at her hands. Watcher eyewitnesses had seen it: immortal after immortal confronting the witch, slumping entranced to their knees, and bowing their necks to her sword.

By Christmas morning, there were less than fifty left.

#

On December 25th, Christmas day, the very last immortal to reach Paris stepped off a plane in Charles de Gaulle airport. It was late--just an hour before midnight--and he was weary and haggard, having tarried in Hong Kong far too long. A terrible hard journey, days of hiding and hunting, a bitter fight and a devastating quickening lay behind him. He did not know what lay before him, but he suspected the worst.

In his head, he could hear the voice calling.

It was like the Lorelei: irresistible. "La luxure," he muttered, rubbing at one ear. "La luxuria. Damned sirens. Merde!" All the way from Easter Island, he had heard it, that evil voice--beseeching, commanding, compelling--and the closer he came, the louder the summons spoke, till it thundered and echoed in his brain; he had hoped once he got to Paris, it would cease. But here, it was louder than ever. So he rubbed his unshaven chin, smiled an antique smile, and strode off to collect his sword at the baggage carousel.

The young lady stationed at the information desk spotted him, soon afterward. He was just leaving a florist's stall, and she found herself unable to look away. His face was like nothing she had ever seen before: strange, very old-fashioned, with colorless hair, and eyes like those in paintings of Saint George she had seen, in the Musee Gustave Moreau near her Paris apartment. It was the face of a crusading knight, in a world that had outgrown chivalry. Glittering eyes, framed by straight parallel slashes of lashes. A smile that was a sideways slant of the lips, swift and irresistible. He wore a blue suit and grey tie, beneath a long, expensive trench-coat, and he was tossing a bunch of white roses, which he had just bought, from hand to hand as he walked. He looked to her like a wealthy business executive, just coming home from some exotic holiday; he looked to her like a leopard she had seen at the zoo, lounging ready to spring.

He was looking back at her: her heart fluttered. He came straight to her, and she was thrilled to her core.

"Joyeaux Noel, mademoiselle," he said, detaching one rose from his bouquet and handing it to her, along with a card. She felt close to fainting. He smiled a little--just a little--and leaning closer, closed her parted lips with the tip of one finger. "I expected to be met by a kinsman of mine. Has anyone been inquiring for me?"

The card read: Connor MacLeod--Proprietor, Russell Nash Antiquities--Specialists in Classic Weapons--New York, USA.

"No one has asked-- Why, is something wrong, monsieur?"

"Do you hear a voice?" He was tapping the side of his head and looking about. "A singing in your ears?"

"Why, no, monsieur. I can direct you to the infirmary--"

"No, no. I'm sure it's just the change in altitude," he said. "All the world's a hostile chorus, isn't it?"

"Oh yes," she sighed, thinking of her job.

His laugh was a very quiet affair, no more than a private chuckle: "Heh heh heh." But the mirth in his eyes was unmistakable. It emboldened her. She scribbled on a bit of paper, held it out. "If monsieur wishes to hear a friendly voice in the chorus, then . . . perhaps you might call this number. And ask for Monique."

He left her there, with a rose and a dream.

Connor walked away, keeping a weather eye out for Duncan. The airport concourse was like every other such concourse, large and chilly and crowded with people; gigantic banners proclaimed the millennium, and Christmas decorations competed with them for size and color. Far away, he caught sight of Pere Noel in his red robes, handing out balloons to children. Throngs of mortals jostled past, carrying shopping bags and boxes of chocolates, and late gifts all sparkling with tinsel. Gendarmes strolled vigilantly among them. It was almost midnight. Everyone was shouting, voices reverberating--but louder yet in his mind was the echo of immortal presences.

He had never felt so many of his own kind together--hundreds of them, it seemed--pressing in on him from every side. Thousands of them. Some were close and some were far, and Connor would have sworn they were chanting a summons to him; he had never known the like before. But he thought the sensation could drive a man mad: his skin crawled, his bones ached, every instinct told him to go for his sword, and yet he knew no other immortal was nearby. All this, and the confusion of Kiem Sun's quickening was still with him--like stinging acid in his soul, closer to a dark quickening than anything he had felt since the Kurgan's time. He wondered if he was daft. But it put him in mind of something Ramirez his teacher had said: that in a way, all immortals were linked.

It was eerie. He stalked through the concourse, every nerve on edge, but there was no enemy to fight. Beneath immense Christmas trees, amidst the jungle beat of carol-music from a dozen loudspeakers, went Connor MacLeod clutching his roses; he gripped the bouquet so tight that the thorns drew blood. His gaze flicked this way and that. Once, he stopped to look at a newspaper booth, at headlines proclaiming STRIKE ENDS AT DISNEYLAND PARIS and MASSIVE 2000 PARTY WILL GO ON. Everywhere, mortals were laughing, running to meet each other, kissing and embracing. To him it had the unreality of a dream. A little girl ran by, hugging a red plush bear; a digital display in the toy's stomach flashed, alternating between 'An 1999' and 'An 2000'. She collided with Connor, dropped her bear and burst out crying, and Connor crouched down and put the toy back into her grasp. "There, there, darling, see now? All safe again. And where is your mother, then?"

She ran off, clinging to her bear. When Connor flicked a glance back, a heartbeat later, she had vanished. He swung half around, searching the crowds for her. All seemed suddenly strange: the jingling Christmas music had gone scratchy, muted, and all the colors had dimmed, to the dim flat brown of old sepia photographs. The mortals around him were cartoon images of themselves. Dead. Indistinguishable. Mere paper. Even the babble of their voices had faded to nothingness. Where had the colors gone, the music? A solitary flash of scarlet caught his eye; was it his white roses, suddenly winking brilliant red? It was then that he knew he was already under attack.

Connor dropped his briefcase and his roses. He took a long step away from them, one hand going up over his shoulder, to the baggage-roll slung across his back; his trenchcoat swung wide, and the sound of his katana zinging out of its sheath was sibilant, like ripping silk. The sword described spirals, whirling, circling, coming up and around and down--and Connor crouched poised, weight low, snarling like a leopard as he scanned every direction at once. No one was there. The Christmas travelers rushed back and forth, but they had become unreal: mere flickers of silent motion. He thought he could walk right through them. The music was gone.

Where was his enemy?

He thought he heard something, and leaped around, the tip of the sword swinging in swift circles as he whirled--and then he was motionless, crouching again, barely breathing, with the katana's gripped in both hands and the blade just so. Ready for anything. As Ramirez had taught him to be.

There was an immortal woman on the other side of the concourse. She was separated from Connor by the constant rush of moving mortals, but she herself was still, brilliantly colored, sumptuous: an oil painting framed in a sepia world. He thought no mortal could ever attain such beauty. The sequins flashing on her long cloak were space-age, modern, like something from the cover of a science-fiction paperback; the exotic cast of her face and the serenity in her large eyes were ancient, fatalistic, like something from the Bronze Age. She was unarmed.

"Who are you?" he challenged. "Are you the one who's calling us?"

She lifted her hands, in a gesture of peace and beseeching. "My name is Cassandra and it is my gift to see the future. Stranger, I need your help. Every thousand years, a demon is loosed among us. Ahriman is his name, he is the voice of evil, and if he wins, an age of darkness will follow. Only a Highland child, one who has been through shadow and light, can defeat him. Will you help me fight the demon?"

Connor said nothing. His katana never wavered, nor did he drop his guard. There was an air of magic about her, to his way of thinking. And was that a spark of red he saw in her eye?

"Won't you join your strength with mine, and help me?"

"Maybe," said Connor. "First you tell me about this demon of yours."

"His name is Methos the Horseman, he is the Voice of Evil. If there is any good in your heart, you will join my fight against him. In his time, he has killed thousands--sacked cities--destroyed empires--"

"I always heard Methos was a good man," said Connor skeptically.

"No one knows him as I do. Believe me. He must die."

She was surely a witch, he thought. She had ravished him into the realm of illusion, where anything could happen: banshees howl and women turn to wolves, the dead rise and speak, men walk under water and not drown. All immortals found their way here, eventually. Ramirez had taught Connor to walk this realm, and centuries afterward Connor had reentered it and experienced waking dreams bordering on the fantastic; he had dreamed of meeting dead Ramirez again, of fighting immortal sorcerers and winning the Game. There, he had attained his heart's desires . . . only to find them stale and dull. And wakening from the otherworld, he had shaken his head at the vagaries of the id and ego; his kinsman Duncan had summed it up best, saying, "Connor, your subconscious has appalling taste."

"Please." She was pleading, with tears in her lovely eyes. "I beg you. Come to me."

A scream ripped from Connor's mouth as he leaped toward her. He described a complete circle, the katana wheeling in a great arc. As he spun, every muscle in his body snapped, and the apex of his leap was the cutting edge of the katana. The speed of the resulting blow made the sword into a blur. The force put into the blow was enough to cleave concrete. The swing was aimed at a point somewhat beyond Cassandra's neck.

Her head sprang free and fell at Connor's feet. And the quickening hit him like grim death.

Connor imagined it all. When he was able to focus again, he realized that color and depth had returned to the world, and all the mortals had reappeared. The hurley-burley of the Yuletide season surrounded him. He made his sword vanish, looking quickly around; but none of the gendarmes had noticed. A mortal caught hold of his arm and supported him--he was still reeling--and he thanked her absent-mindedly.

She was young, with a sweet Scots burr to her voice, and bonny enough to make Connor give her a second glance. "Och now," she was saying, "but mind that first step, it's a steep one--do I know you, sir?"

"Thank you, miss," he was saying, even as she spoke, "I think a goose just walked over my grave--I mean--I mean, I--do I know you, lass?"

And then they both spoke at once. "Heather?" said Connor, and she said, blushing, "Eh! My dear, is it you?"

He stammered, "Heather, my love--my life--" for it was her, a Highland lass through and through: his one true love, restored to him. She was in his arms now, touching his face with disbelieving trembling fingers--and yet he had buried her, four hundred years ago. His Heather, restored to him. Alive again. Young again. And surely this was still the realm of fantasy, but Connor didn't give a tinker's damn for that now. Not while his wife clung to him, weeping, "It's really you, isn't it? Oh, darling, I had such nightmares--"

"Where's Ramirez, then?" asked Connor, grinning, with his arm around her waist. He looked about, but no Ramirez was to be found.

"I dreamed that someone spoke, and the dead rose and walked," she said vaguely; at the mention of Ramirez she had merely frowned a little. "And then I saw you. I didn't know you at first--what's become of your good MacLeod tartan? You look a damn Englishman in that coat."

"I'm a damn Yankee, actually. Anyway, what brought you--" He frowned back, and then shrugged. "Ah, Heather. You're here, you're with me--what else do I care?"

And she smiled, saying, "Perhaps it's your reward for good deeds. Let's wait here for Ramirez. Only kneel down, my hero, and let me give you a kiss."

Duncan and Methos, at the far end of the concourse, had just sensed the proximity of another immortal. They hastened toward it; Duncan in the lead was saying, "--almost six years since I last set eyes on Connor--" and then he saw. Through an eddy in the crowds of mortals, he saw his kinsman kneel before an armed woman. It was Cassandra, but so changed that Duncan barely knew her.

Her dark hair was all limp tangles, trailing across her face. Her clothes were filthy, ripped and tattered from battle, and he was sure he saw unwashed bloodstains on her coat. Worst of all, her youthful face and body were distorted: she stood hunched over, with her fingers crooked like claws, and there was a hag's squint to her lovely large eyes. She stroked Connor's head, spoke caressingly to him; and Connor, his back to Duncan, swayed like a bird under the spell of a serpent. They were fifty feet away. Dozens of mortals separated them from Duncan. No one else seemed to notice them; the stained sword in Cassandra's grip was surreal in a modern airport, and yet not a single person gave her a second glance. Their image wavered, blurred almost out of sight. She was raising the sword. Duncan raced toward them. He knew he would be too late. He cried: "No! No--"

Cassandra saw him.

She gasped. Light flared as her sword-blade jerked, and she jolted a half-step backward, scarlet-cheeked. Connor, lost in a dream, never moved. She seemed unable to look away from Duncan. Sorrow and shame and despair warred in her face; then with a bitter twist of her mouth, she steeled herself and took aim with the blade. But all she could see was Duncan fighting his way toward her, too slowly, too late; the sword juddered in her grip, her heart was in her eyes. Her lips moved. He read the words she whispered: "Forgive me. I love you."

"Cassandra, stop, stop--that's--"

She actually hesitated. Then she glanced past Duncan, and spotted Methos.

Duncan shouted. It was too late: her face had hardened like ice, and the woman he knew was gone again--vanished in the blink of an eye. The air swirled around her and then there was nothing there. Cassandra and Connor both had disappeared like magic. All that was left was a bouquet of roses on the airport floor.

Gone. Gone. Gone, where he could not follow. How could this be? Reaching the roses, he spun around in bafflement. "Methos," he cried. "That was Connor--where are they?" And Methos gripped his arm; but Methos was looking at nothing, and as Duncan realized what he must be able to see, Methos suddenly flinched and looked away.

A knot of people had suddenly formed around some obstruction on the concourse floor. A woman fainted. Another pealed out a scream.

The windows above rattled. Across the concourse, other people were halting; they knew nothing of the small furore near Duncan; they were pointing upward, and exclaiming. Duncan looked up. Crimson clouds boiled across the midnight sky. The interior of the terminal became dark as night. He flinched, knowing what the sight meant, and then he felt a ghost-caress across his lips, smelt perfume and heard the sound of a kiss--as if a woman hurrying past had brushed lovingly against him. A voice spoke: "I will give the world to you." But when he looked down, all he saw was a scarlet haze. And the roses at his feet were blood-red.

Then the wind hit the walls outside--a tempest like the end of the world.

#

"He never wanted to be immortal," MacLeod said. "Not even in the beginning. Even when he dreamed of winning the Game, his idea of a proper prize was his mortality all restored, and a wife who would be like his Heather, and Ramirez back again."

The tempest that struck when Connor died had peaked at six AM, but it was not until noon that the wind died away and the sky cleared, blue and bright. Then the shell-shocked people of the city ventured forth, to find their beloved streets full of debris. Roof-tiles had vanished, trees were down, broken cars and broken windows and broken awnings were everywhere. Even now, bewildered home-owners were telephoning their insurance adjustors. News services were already proclaiming it the worst storm in fifty years.

Methos and MacLeod had gone to ground in the cellars under Shakespeare & Co.; they were there now, surrounded by crates of journals and books. The air was damp and already wetness was seeping in at the walls. Outside, the Seine was rising.

"We're dying, Methos. Claudia Jardine is dead. So are Grace Chandler and Carl Robinson and the de Valicourts. They never had a chance. And Cassandra--how could she do that to him, to Connor of all people? He never even raised a hand to stop her. And if there was ever an immortal who loved fighting, it was Connor. Is this real magic, what she's doing?"

Methos shrugged. "It's the magic of the imagination," he said. "You've been there." And he quoted Milton: "The mind is its own place and in itself / can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven."

"I think I could have loved her," said MacLeod. "But she lives in a hell of her own making. Methos, what will happen to us? When the time comes, must we fight each other? Should we make a mutual suicide pact? Or just swear to steer clear of each other?" Distracted, he gripped Methos' arm. "I don't think I can fight you, Methos. I think we shouldn't stay together--I think we should--"

"Hush," said Methos mildly. MacLeod was now fidgeting with a book, looking away. Methos eyed him; then he dug an elbow into Mac's ribs, smiling, and went on in Latin: "Iamdudum video; sed nil agis; usque temebo; persequar hinc quo nunc iter est tibi . . . I've seen that for a long time, but it's no good. I'll stay with you. I'll stay with you until you get to the end of your journey."

MacLeod began helplessly to laugh. "Don't quote Horace at me, I-- What will we do?" Methos said nothing, and he answered for him: "I would die for you, you know."

"You could stop talking about death," said Methos, "if you want to do something for me."

"Why am I the only one who doesn't hear her call? I could understand if she challenged you, Methos--but she's tearing our world apart in order to come at you. And that's what can't be forgiven . . . If I had killed her last month, none of this would be happening." Mac turned away suddenly, groping for his coat. "And I know what to do."

"Duncan?"

"I'm going to find her and stop her. Don't bother trying to follow me," he added.

Methos stood and watched him stride vigorously away. The cellar seemed hushed in his absence--empty and lonely and cold. Methos sighed. Then he picked up his coat, slung it around his shoulders, and went up the stairs and out onto the street.

Secret Paris surrounded him, full of hidden intrigue.

As he walked away from Shakespeare & Co., there was Watcher cipher everywhere around him: on the walls and doors, blazoned in road-worker's paint on the littered black pavement of the street, and on the notice-boards by the doors of coffee-houses and water-bars; this was secret Paris. The Watchers' Paris. There was no scrap of waste-paper without its message; this too was secret Paris. Wherever he might go, he would find Watchers now. He reached out and caught a pamphlet blowing by. There were glyphs on it, warning of possible dark quickenings in the Latin Quarter, of multiple challenges near the Eiffel tower. There was a notice of Connor MacLeod's death.

He could feel the other immortals too. MacLeod was moving swiftly away from him, bound for the Pont Neuf; the others were scattered throughout the city, perhaps hiding on holy ground. Methos could tell that they were very few, but he thought someone else might mistake them for thousands. The sense of them was astonishingly strong. It reverberated like a gusty wind in his ears--echoing in his soul--unprecedented, like the storm of Christmas night. It made his fingers itch to grip a sword and drive the threat away. For where Watchers kept in touch via writing, immortals knew each other by the quickening. And that was a speech so thunderous, it struck right to the heart.

He could feel Cassandra calling, even now. Her sweet whisper in the back of his mind was both faint and irresistible, a kiss imagined in a dream: come to me come to me come to me come . . .

Even a four-hundred-year-old immortal is still young enough to face death with passionate rebellion. Methos had lived twelve times as long, and he had faced death so often that he had exhausted every stage of emotion in response--terror, anger, despair, ennui--and now he could contemplate death with amusement and dislike. Sometimes he thought of it as a sort of unwelcome neighbor who kept turning up on the doorstep, making demands. It was the prospect of watching those he loved die, now, that made him want to rebel.

A City of Paris repair truck trundled by at the far end of the street. Metro workers passed Methos, each one with a stout plastic bag to gather up storm debris. He smiled at a pretty girl hastening past, with her arms full of Christmas presents. He kicked a stray chimney-pot as if it was a football, began to sing under his breath: ". . . la muerte. Donde esta la muerte? Donde esta mi muerte? Donde su victorio!" In the end, he thought, even fear of death perishes. All that is left is the joy of life.

At the corner, he found a Watcher leaving a communique on the sidewalk.

It was chalk art, glowing off the concrete. The artist knelt surrounded by bright images, with a hat out to collect change; she was the image of a street busker in her shabby coat and beret, but by the code messages in her pictures, she was surely a Watcher. He had to smile, for she had brought a broom and swept off a whole swath of pavement, and then drawn all the familiar sights of the city. Each landmark was scribbled with the cartoon-image icons of immortals; Methos could glance at them and see who exactly had been fighting in each quarter of Paris. In the midst of the medley of images was a phoenix in flames, rising from a clock-dial--the Watcher symbol, but transformed. The bird of rebirth held the world in its talons, and in the pupil of its eye was a question-mark. The clock-hands stood at midnight.

Methos stood admiring the artist's work. Presently she glanced up at him, first at his wrist and then at his face. He dug out some money and dropped it into her hat. "Nice day," he remarked.

"Beautiful," she answered automatically. "Do we know each other?"

"You've probably seen me on wanted posters lately. I'm Adam Pierson." Methos saw her eyes go round as she recognized him. He crouched down, holding out a hand. Meanwhile a few other admiring souls had gathered, to toss coins in the hat and marvel at the pretty pictures. "But we're not private here. Can I borrow your chalk?"

While innocent mortals looked over his shoulder, he drew a happy face on the concrete. Then a prancing pony. Then a stick-figure of Pere Noel, with wind and clouds puffing out of his big bag. There was a scattering of laughter from the onlookers; the Watcher looked swiftly up, picked up her own stick of chalk and began to draw her own cartoons, in a comic parody of a duel between artists. Her pictures were just that, with no buried messages in them, and she watched Methos warily as she drew. But each of his pictures was like a coded sentence.

Duncan MacLeod has gone to find Cassandra, he wrote. Where is she?

The Watcher merely shrugged.

Methos drew a series of fireworks: What are the instructions from the Doomsday Project?

She folded her arms, refusing to answer.

I beg you: tell the other Watchers not to meddle. Not even Cassandra is evil.

She frowned. Her hand reached out, hesitated. Then she got a carrot-orange chalk, drew freckles on his happy face, and added squiggles of curling hair. The freckles were just dots, though they made the onlookers chuckle. The squiggles were writing: We think she caused this.

She did cause it, Methos wrote. But others are responsible. Killing her now won't stop the Gathering. He wrote quickly, decisively; the onlookers were beginning to be mystified. We are too close together and it drives us mad. It's already too late.

The Watcher wrote: She's evil. She underscored the words.

How many immortals are left?

She shook her head, refusing to answer.

Where is Cassandra?

Another shake of the head, more vehement this time. Methos looked her in the eye, patiently waiting. She folded her arms, with an air of finality. Calmly, he tapped with the chalk under his last line of cipher--restating the question. At last she grimaced at him, picked up her own chalk again and wrote:

Who are you?

And he wrote: I am Methos.

The young Watcher gazed at him with stricken eyes. Then she scooted forward, disregarding her knees which got covered with colored chalk, and whispered into Methos' ear. "She's hiding somewhere near the tour Eiffel, we think. But she seems to be able to make herself invisible."

"I can find her," said Methos. He rose, stretching, and grinned at her, so light-heartedly that she was shocked. Then to the astonishment and amazement of the crowd, he drew a blade from the lining of his coat. It was a massive sword, no toy, with golden hilts, and he twirled it and cast it down ringing at the Watcher's feet. "Time to atone for our sins," he said.

Frozen with awe, she watched him go. It was not until he was almost at the next corner that she shook herself out of her stupor. Then she jumped to her feet, threw down her chalk, and ran after him . . . but when she reached the intersection, he had vanished into thin air. And she never saw him again; no Watcher did.

#

Duncan MacLeod was searching. He had quartered the city, and was methodically walking through each district in turn, trying to catch a trace of Cassandra's presence. In the Halles, he had been challenged by a wild-eyed stranger who named himself Guy le Strange, who seemed to be showing the signs of dark quickening; Mac had retreated from him, finally losing him in the metro station. In the Invalides district, he had glimpsed Ceirdwyn in the distance and called to her, but she had taken one look at him and fled in what seemed fear. He sensed other immortals, but so far he had been lucky and managed to avoid them. But it was unfair that every other of his kind could hear Cassandra calling . . . and he was the only one who could not.

A day and a night had passed. It was late afternoon, December 27th.

He was circling back toward the Ile de la Cite, to see if the recent rising of the Seine had endangered his barge, when he felt it. An enormous light seemed to burst in his mind. "Methos?" The city whirled around him. "Methos?" He tried to get at his sword, managed only to stagger a step forward and then slump to one knee; he knelt trembling on the littered sidewalk, and then he covered his face with his hands and began to weep. "Methos!"

Around him, the air darkened. The second storm began.

#

The French called it la double tempete: the dual storms of December 26th and 27th. The first was Connor's tempest; it struck the south of France, felling power lines and wrecking whole forests. The second was Methos', and the swathe of destruction it reaped stretched across the north, caused cyclones off the tip of Brittany, and before it was done, swept on to devastate western Europe. The death toll was in the hundreds, the damage incalculable. But France was worst hit; peaceful France, with its clement climate, had never known the like. And in the stunned silence of l'apres-tempete, the French people were left with an awesome mess to clean up.

In Paris, no mortal lives were lost . . . but the immense lead roof-panels had been peeled right off the Pantheon, and windows had shattered in Notre Dame, and Saint-Chapelle had suffered a devastation of stained glass. Museums all over the city closed for emergency repairs. The roof of the Maison de Balzac had been destroyed by a falling tree. Nor was the damage confined to heritage buildings: everywhere you went, roof-tiles had flown away and chimney-pots had been smashed down. Metals signs and awnings lay strewn in the gutters, broken branches were everywhere.

Sorrowful workers at Versailles surveyed ten thousand uprooted trees. The Ile de la Cite was flooded--its quays submerged, and gulls roosting boldly on the half-submerged quay-side benches with their rustic wrought-iron backs. Floodwater was even seeping into the storage basements of the Louvre, causing les curators to gnash their teeth and tear their hair in grief.

Rural France was struck even harder. More than eighty mortals died, more than half a million homes were without power, more than a million trees were destroyed. Trains were put out of service, highways were blocked, Christmas travelers all over the country were stranded. The rivers were still rising; in Bordeaux, three nuclear power reactors had to be closed for fear of the floods. The fishing fleet of la Rochelle was decimated. Wreckage lay all over the country, and great damage to the vineyards of the south was sure to follow. It was estimated that the total repair bill would eventually top eleven billion dollars American.

The Watchers gathered around their computer screens, praying. Cassandra's duped puppets had all come sorrowfully back to give themselves up--only Shannon Maus was missing, and everyone said she must have killed herself in remorse--and as for Cassandra, she was seen no more.

MacLeod went to St Joseph's, and mourned.

But the mortals of Paris knew nothing of this. Day followed day, and the world did not end. Gradually, gently, bit by bit, Paris emerged into sunlight; the streets were cleaned off, and it was discovered that the Eiffel tower and all the millennium attractions had miraculously escaped damage. The Countdown 2000 festivities would go forward. The bateaux mouches dinner cruises along the Seine (alas!) all had to be scrapped--but nothing else was. Parties and fetes, balls and reveillons would be held as planned. And Y2K? Who thought of Y2K anymore! It was old news; nothing bad would happen. And the outlook was bright for Paris on the morning of La Fete de St-Sylvestre: New Year's Eve.

Only the Watchers knew otherwise. Cassandra was gone . . . but the remaining immortals were still doing what immortals did best: killing each other. Methos had been right. They were too close together, and it drove them wild.

Nothing could have stopped them now.

#

December 31st, 1999:

Cassandra woke.

Like waking from a dream. Like rousing from a nightmare three thousand years long. For thirty centuries, she had lived in the hell of her own past; it had been the memory house in which all her magic and her hatred found a nursery. And she had furnished it with a hoard of stinging remembrances, building thorn-thickets of grudge to guard it, until the waking world faded to unimportance in her eyes and all she could think of was revenge.

But now all that seemed like the fantasy of a child.

What day is this? Not since her youth had she felt such bubbling joy. How happy I am! As if I've cast off my past like the Emperor's new clothes. As if . . . why, I've been set free!

"I did it!"

She was whirling and darting on the bird feet of a dancer, sailing like a fairy round her room. Why, yes, this was the cellar where she had laired--but what did that matter anymore! And how ridiculous everything suddenly seemed. It was on holy ground, and that was good, but . . . Why had she thought that Persian carpets would disguise the splintered floorboards, or that costly paintings would make up for the lack of windows? Or that Tiffany-glass lamps went with Louis XIV furniture. All the flowers in the vases were dead. Her bed was unmade, with satin sheets dragging on the floor, and the place looked as if it hadn't been cleaned for ages. What had been wrong with her?

Never mind. Never mind. She would snap her fingers and walk away. "Shannon? Shannon where are you? Shannon I feel--"

And Shannon came running, gulping as she grabbed Cassandra's arm and held her up. Cassandra smiled kindly at her, even while she pushed her away. "I'm alright. Never been better, actually. Have you been frightened for me? And what day is this? I've lost track of time."

"Oh, Cassandra," said Shannon, crying real tears. "It's New Year's Eve. And I've been so scared--"

"Thought I'd gone mad, mm? Well, I haven't." Suddenly she hugged the young mortal, mussed up her hair and kissed her cheek, and then burst out laughing at Shannon's horrified look. "What a face you're making! I feel like Scrooge on Christmas morning. Do I look like him too or something?"

"Look in the mirror," said Shannon in a stifled voice.

Cassandra frowned. Is there something wrong here? But she turned, walked across the room and stood before her big mirror.

Her hands flew to her face. Her hair was unraveled yarn, trailing across her shoulders; her dress hung like sacking, and every bone in her body showed. Her face was all bones and eyes, it seemed, and her lips were cracked and dry. There were lines around her mouth she had never seen before. And those were bloodstains on her skirt--on her sleeves--besplattering her unwashed hands with their talon fingernails. "What have I turned myself into?"

Shannon was now patting her shoulder, babbling nonsense about true beauty coming from the soul. "I don't know what happened--for the whole month, nobody has told me anything and of course I can't ask the other Watchers, and the ones who were on our side have all run away--don't cry, Cassandra, we'll buy you a new dress--go shopping first thing tomorrow morning--"

Cassandra jerked away. "Stop it!" she shouted. "What have I done to myself??!"

"You've been raving for days now," Shannon mumbled. In a whisper: "I was afraid it was dark quickening."

"It's over," said Cassandra suddenly. "It's really over."

Shannon seemed to have nothing to say.

"It was so easy. I didn't think it would be like that. And now it's over, all the others can go on with their lives, new immortals will come and everything will be as it was . . . I remember what he said: It's time to atone, he said. Oh, Shannon! I can barely believe it!" But Shannon was now tugging urgently at her sleeve. "What is it?" Cassandra demanded.

". . . he didn't fight you."

"Why, no--and you're right, I never expected that--but it doesn't matter."

"He didn't even bring a sword."

"No. He didn't." Why didn't he? she thought, abruptly. But then she dismissed the thought, made a face at herself in the mirror, swept up her tattered coat and covered herself in beads and sequins. "Never mind, it's a new century dawning. Come along, my mouse." She caught Shannon's hand, pulled her toward the door. "Don't worry about being seen in my company, no one will be looking at us anyway. Let's go. I want to help ring the New Year in."

Coming up into clear sunshine was like a rebirth. Amazed, Cassandra found herself looking at the mortals around her with a joyous chuckle on her lips. She saw people dressed up in bright costumes, with bunches of gaudy balloons in their hands. Every color seemed brighter than she remembered. The pop-music piping from a boulangerie's doorway made her stop short and listen in wonder. She found herself sniffing rapturously at the whiff from the next-door MacDonald's; when she realized what she was doing, she went up on her toes and clapped her hands with mirth. People all up and down the street glanced indulgently at her, smiling.

"Shannon, why haven't I ever seen how wonderful life is?"

She had never seen Paris look so beautiful. The reason was the joy in all the faces she saw; the streets were full of party-goers already, and champagne bottles were being passed from hand to hand. All the children had painted their faces. All the young girls had silver glitter and bright dyes streaking their hair. They suited their surroundings, for the city had assumed the air of a circus fairway. And whichever way Cassandra glanced, she found marvels.

There toward the Parc Andre-Citroen, what must be the world's biggest hot air balloon hovered on the skyline. (Shannon was hanging anxiously on her arm, asking if she felt all right. It was all too ridiculous!) There toward the Place de la Concorde, she glimpsed the immense Ferris wheel with its glittering sunburst; she had heard that near the Ferris wheel was a sundial so big, it used the Luxur Obelisk for its gnomon. ("You're not like yourself," Shannon protested.) She wanted to ride on that Ferris wheel, go up on the giant balloon. Then she looked at the Eiffel tower with its immense clock proclaiming 6H AVANT L'AN 2000, and burst out laughing from sheer delight.

Where had it come from, this happiness she felt? Was it Methos' happiness?

She wondered how many immortals were left, and if they were out celebrating with everyone else. Then like a distant chord of music, she felt another of her kind very near. Coming closer, swiftly. There, at the end of the street.

It was a friend. "Ceirdwyn," she called, beginning to walk toward her.

But by the time she reached her, Ceirdwyn had vanished down a side-street. "Ceirdwyn?" No answer came echoing back; Cassandra stepped forward, and then retreated, feeling wary--though she and Ceirdwyn had been friends for fifteen hundred years. The sun had set at five-thirty, and dusk was already darkening the back alleys. Groups went past, talking in loud voices, and an impromptu band sporting saxophones and drums trundled down the middle of the street. The whistle of fireworks, the sparkle of red-and-green explosions split the evening sky. Several strangers, with grim expressions ill-accorded to the day, pushed by Cassandra where she stood hesitating, picked up their heels and ran away lightly in the direction Ceirdwyn had gone. She thought they looked at her strangely as they did.

"Shannon, stay right here," Cassandra ordered. Fireworks lit her spangled coat as she moved slowly into the side-street; behind her, she heard laughter and shouting. Ahead was dead quiet. There was Ceirdwyn standing before a newspaper kiosk, beneath a huge scarlet Coco-Cola sign. She clenched a paper in her fist, and the headlines were like screams across the pages: STORM OF THE CENTURY and HUNDREDS DEAD and POWER OUT ACROSS FRANCE. "It's me," said Cassandra quietly--but Ceirdwyn did not answer. The newspaper flapped in her hand, as she moved away from the kiosk. Then Cassandra saw her expression, and was horrified.

"You caused this!" Ceirdwyn cried, and came at her.

"Stop it! We have witnesses--" Cassandra had just enough time to draw and parry. The sheer passion of Ceirdwyn's attack shocked her; it was as if the other woman had gone insane. "Why are you doing this! I only want to talk!" But Ceirdwyn's blows were already beating her guard down--Ceirdwyn had always been better in a fight--why was Ceirdwyn doing this? "You have to drop your sword," Cassandra commanded desperately. Why did Ceirdwyn resist her magic? Why were the watching mortals so silent? "Your arm is getting tired. You have to drop--your--sword."

What was wrong with the mortals around them?

Ceirdwyn's face twisted with pain. "You are--a monster--" She gasped, and the sword fell from her rigid hand. Cassandra breathed a sigh of relief, lowering her blade. She cast a distracted glance at the mortals, finding both ends of the side-street blocked by crowds of people, and the strangest look on their faces--just like the expression on Ceirdwyn's face. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Ceirdwyn's coat swirl. Then she saw the slash of Ceirdwyn's knife.

She reeled back. Her own sword clattered to the ground. The discarded newspaper fluttered past and blew away, and--and--and her severed hand was lying at her feet, in pools of red blood, just as she had once dreamed. Blood like red roses. But this was no dream, and there was pain. Appalling pain. She doubled up, clutching her wrist in disbelief, vaguely aware of Ceirdwyn moving unhurriedly past her, picking up a sword--

"Better you had cut off your own hand, than brought us to this," said Ceirdwyn's voice. "Die, Cassandra."

Cassandra spoke. "Kill--yourself--"

Ceirdwyn did.

Cassandra slumped to her knees, as a fresh outbreak of fireworks blazed above the rooftops of Paris--knowing that the tumult on the streets was now so loud, even the wildest quickening might escape notice--knowing that windows were breaking, the pavement burning, the walls shaking around her. She saw Celtic spirals and triskelions hanging luminous in the air. Or was that just illusion? But when it was over, she still knelt shaking in the gutter, and the blood on the ground was her own. The stump of her wrist had been cauterized by the quickening. And she looked up at the Eiffel tower above the tops of the buildings, and saw that the countdown clock had gone dead-black.

Someone said, "Happy now, Cassandra?"

"Joe Dawson?" she gasped.

"In person." There was a gun in his hand, and it was aimed at her. She was aware that Shannon was holding her up. And the onlooking mortals were moving closer--their faces pale blots turned toward her. What were they doing--tidying away Ceirdwyn's body? All evidence of the fight was vanishing, even as Cassandra watched. Were they all Watchers, then? Dawson said, "Proud of what you've done?"

"No--but--but it's done--"

"And everything can go back to normal, huh? . . . Duncan MacLeod's still hunting for you, y'know."

"--I'm not afraid to face Duncan and explain--"

"'I'm not afraid to explain,'" Dawson repeated. "Well, isn't that just fine. I suppose you thought all the other immortals were gonna just pack up and go home? Well, think again. Cause they didn't." He spat on the ground; his face held such bitterness that she was dumbstruck. "There are less than ten left now, Cassandra!"

"That isn't my doing!" But an unfamiliar voice spoke wryly in her heart, saying Why, yes--it is.

No. No. The pain exploding up her arm was making her light-headed. She could have escaped anytime, but Watchers blocked both ends of the road, and--how many were there? A hundred? Shannon, frightened but unmolested, helped her climb to her feet. And she straightened her shoulders; no mortal was going to see her afraid. "Don't tell me that this is the Gathering--I'm not a fool. The Gathering is a myth. Other immortals will come after us, and someday they'll look back at this nightmare and laugh."

"Lady, if it sounds like the Gathering and it looks like the Gathering, and they die like it's the Gathering--what does it matter if other immortals will come? No. It's the Gathering, all right."

"And I suppose you're going to kill me now. Isn't that what your Doomsday nonsense is about? That's where you pick out the immortals you don't like, and kill them all?"

"No," said Dawson. "That's where we pick out the candidate we want, in the name of mortals everywhere. We figure we have a say, since the world he'll inherit is ours. That's what the Doomsday Project was always about." He raised the gun, grinned mirthlessly. "You're gonna take him on in a fair fight, Cassandra. No tricks. We'll be watching."

He's right, she thought suddenly. He's right and . . . and--was I wrong?

"Think I hear him coming," Joe said. He kicked out with one leg, and Cassandra's sword was knocked skittering along the tarmac toward her; Shannon scurried forward and scooped it up. Cassandra was aware of the picture they made: of herself, bent half-over like a cripple, shielding her maimed wrist in her coat; and Shannon cringing beside her, with the blade cradled in her arms. A tall figure appeared at the corner of the street, and Cassandra scuttled a step backward into the shadows. It was Duncan MacLeod. "Here's our champion," said Joe. "And guess what? He ain't you."

Her gaze met MacLeod's. In his, she saw judgement.

She ran, knowing that he would follow.

Around her, streams of innocent mortals hurried in the opposite direction--toward the light, while she scurried into the shadows. She ran, with Shannon fleeing at her heels, swerving between the deserted back-alleys of the city and boulevards choked with rejoicing crowds. Around her, people were dancing to the music from brightly-lit patisseries and cafes, or rushing toward the giant beacon which was the Eiffel tower, or simply standing on street-corners, kissing. She ran beneath balconies full of singing mortals, beneath banners proclaiming '2000'. How could it have come to this? She ran, becoming more exhausted at every turn, and whenever she slowed, she felt MacLeod behind her.

Around her, televisions in shop-window displays showed Millennium parties in a hundred other cities. She ran, feeling the deaths of other immortals resound in her mind, like the aftershocks of distant earth-quakes. Around her, she knew that the quickenings of the defeated were simply going unnoticed--no competition for the noise of Paris, on this night of all nights. She ran, with empty bottles crunching under her heels and the cries of champagne-sellers and hot-dog vendors in her ears. They were killing each other around her, the last immortals.

Around her, she saw mortals in the crowd who were not celebrating; they were talking into cell-phones, and she knew that they were Watchers and they would lead MacLeod to her. She ran, casting glamor over every strange mortal she saw, but there were so many of them! Who could have dreamed there were so many Watchers? She could not enchant an entire army of Watchers. Not after the injuries she had sustained. So she ran--knowing that they were herding her.

When at last she dared to slow down, she found she had come full circle. Hours had passed. She was at the Chaillot Palace theater; behind her, the Trocadero gardens stretched down to the Seine, and across on the Left Bank there were long flickering shadows streaming from the revels at the base of the Eiffel tower. She could see the vast crowd gathered there. Ordinarily, the theater roof above her was Paris' favorite viewing stand . . . but tonight it was cordoned off, it had been declared structurally unsound and earmarked for repairs. Cassandra slowed down, looking fearfully around her. "Shannon? Let's go this way." She stepped over a barrier, pushed past another. She opened a door and climbed a flight of stairs.

She emerged onto the empty rooftop. She was utterly exhausted. The clock on the Eiffel tower was still dark, but she knew it must be almost midnight now. She and Shannon were alone.

With a wrench of her mind, she cast shadows over them. It was very strange: however far she cast her perception, she could only sense two other immortals anywhere anymore. Are they all dead? The depth of sorrow she felt startled her. Is this the Gathering? An infinite future, she thought, was opening before the mortal world, and there was nothing possible that was not either intriguing, or wonderful, or joyous; there seemed nothing imaginable that she could not love. Why had she never realized that before? Her fellow immortals should have shared this night . . . but her fellow immortals were dead.

She had always demanded judgement, she thought--groping toward some discovery she should have made centuries ago--and now that judgement faced her, why had she fled? She had asked: Who is Methos, to escape punishment? She should have asked instead: Who am I, to take vengeance?

One of the two survivors was MacLeod. The other, even now, was coming up the stair toward her rooftop. Shannon was trying to put her sword into her hand. Cassandra felt her glamor tatter and blow away; she was simply too weak to hold onto the mirage. The door opened. "Stay back!" Shannon cried. "Stay back!"

"Why, Cassandra." The other immortal moved toward them, drawing his sword; he was Kassim ibn Sallis. "Well, well." He was as dark and lithe and handsome as Cassandra remembered; he spoke with a voluptuous hesitation in his voice, as if he was licking his lips over every word. "I was--looking for Duncan MacLeod, actually. But you'll do almost as well. It's you who forced us here--isn't it? I thought I recognized your hand in this." He saluted her with his blade. "Are you ready to die?"

Cassandra's heart screamed. She jerked her arm, cast the sword far away. "Nooo!!!" Shannon wailed--poor moonstruck Shannon. Cassandra turned and shoved her, sending her reeling toward safety. Then she turned to face Kassim. Her voice spoke: "I'm no match for you. I can only ask you not to do this. We have no reason to fight."

"Woman, those who thought we had no reason to fight--have all perished," Kassim purred. "There is a Prize to consider, after all." He stepped forward, jerked slightly and turned his head. "Ah--excuse me, just hold that thought. Highlander! We meet again."

"Don't do this, Kassim," MacLeod warned. He strode toward them--he seemed enormous, unstoppable--and the katana appeared in his hands; he took a two-handed grip, tilted the sword sideways and raised it to shoulder height. "My quarrel's not with you."

"Do you know how few of us there are left!" cried Kassim, and he lunged at MacLeod with his sword jabbing. "Don't think you'll cheat me of the Prize, MacLeod!"

"We're the last three," said MacLeod quietly. The katana moved in a whirling blur. "Sorry, Kassim."

While they fought, Watchers appeared at the stair door. Below the theater rooftop, the Trocadero gardens were filling with men and women dressed in holiday disguise; so many, that no ordinary Parisian could come near. Like the revelers round the Eiffel tower, they had come to witness the passing of an era. But they were not looking at the Eiffel tower. They were watching the immortals on the Grand Esplanade. This was what their order had been created to do: to bear witness to the last battle, in the name of all Earth's mortals.

With one last fragment of foreknowledge, Cassandra knew that Kassim could not defeat the Highlander. In a moment, MacLeod would take the head, and then he would come for her. One part of her struggled for serenity. When did I lose the fear of death? One part of her cried out: Not yet! I've just begun to know the joy of life!

Where were these thoughts coming from? She had never thought this way before.

She had to gather her magic, destroy MacLeod and the Watchers with it--turn herself into a wolf and flee--vanish, as if into the enchanted forest of her solstice child's youth--- It was her only chance.

There--Kassim had fallen. For a moment MacLeod stood over him, looking down. Then he cut swiftly, took the head--as Cassandra gathered herself. Forgive me, Duncan! But the quickening was rising like ghost-vapor, and she had to strike if she wanted to live. I was wrong, you were right. It was now or never. Where has my conviction gone to? When had she lost the fire that would have kept her fighting?

Is this what happened to Darius long ago?

MacLeod turned to face her. Kassim's quickening was dying around him, though scattered fires now burned all across the Grand Esplanade. Was that regret and remorse in his face? What was he saying? "Get out of her, Ahriman."

Am I the Voice of Evil?

All across Paris, cheering mortals popped champagne corks and screamed themselves hoarse; the rooftop was a tiny island tossed in the sea of confetti and streamers. The Watchers bore witness. Cassandra's glance found Shannon, sobbing in her Giles' arms; she looked a message at her, and suddenly Shannon ripped off the chain round her neck and flung it forward like a prize. MacLeod stooped and picked up the crystal.

His face was grimly determined, but his eyes seemed vast and dark. He stowed dead Amanda's crystal away, raised his katana, and hesitated. Around them, a chant rose, shaking Heaven and earth: seven . . . six . . . five . . . four . . . She knew she could have stopped him with a word. But it was time to atone.

"I don't want to do this," he said.

I made myself the thing I feared.

"Do it," said Cassandra, and did not know that she spoke in Methos' voice. She dropped to her knees--seeing the Eiffel tower explode into fireworks, knowing that midnight had struck. "Do it!" she commanded, with the last echo of her magic.

The sword came down.







































And here (for those fed up with doom and gloom) is the Alternate Ending:

This was his final glimpse of her, before his eyes fell shut: the witch standing astride him, tilting back her head so her hair streamed wildly down, while her banshee's voice shouted so loudly, that all the world's immortals would surely hear. And Cassandra screamed, she screamed: "Come to Paris, come to Paris, come to Paris come to Paris COME TO PARIS COME TO PARIS COME TO PARIS--"

It was at this moment that Joe, peering out from a Watcher van across the street, drew a bead on the whacked out witch with a gun equipped with a laser sight, and drilled her one right between her beautiful but unfocussed eyes . . .

The action continues when Joe wakes up a very embarrassed DMotCM and together they drag Cassandra off to the Watcher tribunal, where she clears all the little Watchers she interfered with, and they don't get punished 'cos it really wasn't their fault! The Watcher tribunal sentences her to 365 days of round-the-clock psychiatric counseling plus 100 years of community service in a woman's group that administers to fashion victims, under pain of beheading if she runs off or hypnotizes anyone or wears anything fancier than a tee shirt and a pair of jeans. No mannies or peddies for 50 years, cause the tribunal's in a particularly mean mood. The century of wearing simple white cotton tee shirts and Jockey For Her panties sanes Cassandra right up. Turns out she has an allergy to silk, it makes her cranky.

Shannon gets famous, but not the way she hoped. Nobody ever calls her "Shoom", instead they call her "Schmoo", and not just behind her back. She spends twenty years in research before they let her do field work again, this time for an Immortal bag lady who hasn't gone further than fifty yards from her SRO in a bad neighborhood of New York City in 95 years.

Duncan, Joe, and Methos are fed up with both mortals and immortals using the Watchers organization to Hunt. They form the IDC, which stands for the Immortal Defense, uh, Council/Company/Corporation (Duncan wants Council, Joe wants Company, and Methos wants to incorporate for the tax benefits even though Joe points out they are supposed to be a secret organization; at any rate, they can't decide which word the "C" stands for.) The IDC is comprised of a bunch of Immortals who watch the Watchers and functions as a means to nip Hunting in the bud--the organization continues on for the next couple of thousand years. Methos is amused because he not only founded the IDC, but he's also the founder of the Watchers.

Alternate ending courtesy of: Celeste Hotaling-Lyons, of STORYBOOK


Originally posted elsewhere early in 2000