New Immortal in Town
Highlander: The Series, Forever Knight, X-Files, JAG, and Tom Clancy novels crossover
"I am a Watcher. I take this oath to observe and record the lives of any Immortals I encounter. I will do so without interfering in their lives, nor allowing them to know of my presence. To this I swear and pledge my life, so help me God."
Hey, I was only in this for the job. I had no idea what weird society these guys were trying to project, but the job offer to help build a really interesting database sounded too good to be true. Especially at the salary they were willing to pay.
I looked around the room at the couple dozen other new "recruits". Most of us were on the young side, though not all. There were two that looked like they were just this side of becoming street bums, three that looked like former military, and one that almost had to be a hooker. Not that I really knew what one looked like, mind you, but she looked just like the prostitutes on TV. The rest of us looked like we were just out of school. Come to think of it, the good looking red-head over talking to one of the Directors might be old enough to be a junior in high school any day now. Since I already knew at least something about each of them, I already knew there were seven nationalities represented in this "class". Whoever these Watchers were, they were definitely multi-national.
"Isn't this so exciting?" asked Andrea, one of the few Americans in the room. And the only other American student. For that reason, we had drifted together over the past couple weeks.
"Huh?" Yeah, me and my witty rejoinder. Okay, so I wasn't suave with the ladies.
"Finally becoming Watchers, Ryan. I mean, now we'll be assigned to real Immortals and start learning what they're really like!" Andrea seemed to be just brimming over with excitement, though I couldn't really understand it.
"Hey, like I keep telling you, I'm just doing this job for the database work 'cause it'll look good on my resume. Everyone keeps talking about watching Immortals. I mean, are they really, well, immortal? Like never die?" I still had a hard time believing that, even after all the evidence I'd seen here.
She gave me a strange look indeed. "Haven't you been listening to the lectures over the last week? Yes, they're immortal. Yes, they CAN die, but only by decapitation. We Watch them." As if this explained everything.
The packet of instructions I had been given earlier by Watcher Geibhart told me to find someone named Joe Dawson for placement after receiving the membership tattoo. I wasn't all that keen on receiving one, but figured it was some kind of weird initiation thing. The line by the side of the room was already forming of the new recruits, and Andrea and I joined it.
"Who're you going with?" I asked just to pass the time.
"Someone named Albert Gunn from the North Eastern America Territories. Hope I don't have to work in New York. I hate big cities."
She and I continued to chat until it was her turn to get the tattoo. That I couldn't watch, so I scanned the room. The two weeks I'd been here in Paris had been very educational for me, though I wasn't sure what I would do with some of the knowledge and skills. Stealth, improved recall, forced entry, and using all types of surveillance equipment might be good skills to have if I were going to be working for the CIA, but I really doubted I'd need them driving a keyboard. Oh, well. Who was I to argue against my employer's training methods? Yeah, yeah. I may actually have to Watch an Immortal sometime, but I rather doubted it. Unless it was at a gaming convention or a bookstore, I fit in about as well as a crocodile in the Mojave Desert.
I heard Andrea asking the tattoo artist to point out Mr. Gunn to her. I turned back just in time for her to point out one of the obviously American men talking together over by the lectern. Andrea thanked the French woman and headed his way.
I sat down. "Nervous?" she asked in a semi-amused tone.
"Is it that obvious?"
"Well, since you just gave me the wrong wrist to put this tattoo on, yes, it is." Her eyes glinted with laughter, but she was trying to keep a straight face.
Flushing, I corrected that mistake and let her get to work. All in all, it wasn't too bad. I didn't faint once. After my ordeal was over, I asked her about Mr. Dawson.
"That's me," came a rough but friendly voice from beside me. I turned and looked him over. Average height, beard, mostly gray hair, and a nice cane were added to the casual shirt and slacks he was wearing.
Shaking his hand, I introduced myself. "Hi, I'm Ryan Chessman. I got hired to work on a computer system for you?" He waved me toward the door and started ambling that way. Oh, that's what the cane's for. His stiff gait could only be due to prosthetic legs. Judging by his apparent age, it'd almost have to be from the Vietnam War.
"Yeah, we're finally getting a decent computer, and I needed someone to put the database and security together for us. You came to us with good references from Mr. Yeager. Both for skill and discretion. Think you can hack it?" The tone had a little challenge in it, but the smile was friendly enough.
I chuckled. "I thought part of the job description was to PREVENT people from hacking it."
He gave me a wry grin. "You know what I mean. Come on. Our flight back to Seacouver leaves in a couple hours and I need to make arrangements to restock my bar with the local grape pressings before I head over to the airport."
"Hmm?" I asked as I looked up from my computer. Mr. Dawson was standing right in front of me. I hadn't even heard him come in.
"In case you hadn't noticed, there's a flu bug going around. And Angie just called in sick. I'll need you to follow Richie Ryan for a few days until she gets better."
"Me?" I squeaked. Okay, it wasn't a REAL squeak, but my voice hadn't done that since I was fifteen. I cleared my throat. "Uh, okay, but you should know that I've never followed anyone around. What if I screw up and he sees me?" This was a real cause for concern. What with all the rumors of Immortals and some renegade Watchers hunting each other a while back.
"Don't worry. He knows about us, but isn't a Hunter."
That made me feel better. At least if he cornered me, I had a good excuse for following him. "Wait a minute, he KNOWS about us?"
Mr. Dawson looked pained for a moment. "Yeah. It's a long story. I'm surprised you didn't hear it at Watcher's U," he responded. "Anyway, he does, and he isn't dangerous. At least to us. He recently finished a hunting expedition, and is still recovering. Taking several heads in a short time apparently takes a while to recover from. At any rate, it should be easy to tail him. Look him up for his current address. Tomorrow morning should be early enough to start. Any questions?"
I thought about it a moment. I had learned what I needed at WU, but my practice marks weren't the best. Okay, they weren't anywhere near. They didn't have to be for a computer jock, but they made me try all the same. "Yeah, why me?"
Instead of answering, he looked around the room. Of the two dozen chairs, mine was the only one with a warm body in it. He turned to me with a raised eyebrow.
Okay, stupid question.
"Er, I mean, no questions."
Trying to hide a smile, he turned and walked away.
Okay, first thing's first. I saved off what I was doing and entered the archives to learn what I could about one "Ryan, Richie". Turned out to be short in time, but long on detail. He'd apparently been spotted almost immediately and wasn't tough to follow. Okay, only immortal for a few years, teacher was Duncan MacLeod. Oh, that's how he was spotted. MacLeod's Watcher saw him go through first death. And that was one Joseph Dawson. Small world. I wrote down his current address and a few of his favorite haunts before calling it a night.
On my way home, I marveled at how my life was turning out. On graduation, I didn't really believe what they had told me. Enough data had passed in front of me over the intervening months that I did believe in it now. What a strange world.
Since his Chronicles said he wasn't an early riser (and thank God for small favors), I didn't feel the need to show up until seven the next morning. Even so, it was a serious problem dragging myself out of bed. A large breakfast and a fifteen minute drive later, I was at an inconspicuous spot a half block down from the exit of his apartment building. By a stroke of luck, that spot could also see into part of his front room.
I was sorely disappointed in my first day's Watching. Other than a trip to the grocery store (he ate mostly frozen dinners and junk food), he never left his apartment. Oh, I know what the Surveillance instructor said, "Watching most Immortals is usually as exciting as watching paint dry. NOTHING happens. But we must Watch anyway, because anything can happen at any time. And when that happens, it's enough excitement to last you the rest of your life."
By dusk, it was clear that he was determined to vegetate in front of the TV until the fall of civilization.
I made my way back to the local headquarters to make the entry into his Chronicles.
"How'd it go?"
Mr. Dawson again. What, didn't this guy EVER sleep? "Unless you want to know what his favorite television station is, or his preferred brand of toothpaste, there's nothing I can tell you."
He chuckled. "Well, keep at it. There are a few Hunters in town. He's not a high profile target, but you never know. I'll let you know when Angie is better."
I just nodded. Maybe tomorrow he would actually DO something.
For the first six hours, it didn't look like he was going to. The good news was, I was getting plenty of reading done.
Finally, he came out of his place and headed over toward his motorcycle. Considering that the time was in the middle of the afternoon, there was no telling where he may be going. I hustled over to my car and followed him for only a few minutes until he pulled up beside DeSalvo's. Ah, yes. I remembered that this was one of his more frequent stops. And I also remembered that there was a surveillance post set up somewhere nearby, since this was the home and business of MacLeod.
Where's that post . . . I looked at all the line of sight upper story windows in the area until I finally spotted one that seemed to have a camera lens almost against the glass. Let's hope that's it. The downstairs mailboxes had one listed as belonging to a William Spielack. And that apartment number was on the second floor. As I recalled from my recent education, any name with the word "watch" or any derivative was potentially a front for Watchers. I hoped Spielack was close enough.
"Who is it?" An older, male, but not unfriendly voice answered my knock.
"A friend of Richie's. Angie asked me to keep an eye out for him." That should be obscure enough to anyone except MacLeod's current Watcher.
The door almost immediately opened to a man who could've been given a red suit and asked to play Santa Claus at any children's party. Except for the blue tattoo on his wrist. I held up my wrist and he nodded, backing out of the door. "Come on in. My name's Robby Jackson. I saw Ryan enter, and expected Angie to come in a few minutes ago." The small apartment was clearly set up to be a surveillance post. Good camera on a tripod by the window, binoculars on the sill, two card tables, opened laptop plugged into a phone outlet, microwave, hot plate, a few chairs, and a folding cot. Not exactly the Ritz, but not too bad.
"She's sick with this flu. Dawson assigned me to him until she gets better."
This explanation seemed to satisfy him. He went back to his seat by the window and picked up his binoculars. "They're doing a few katas. After that, they'll practice for at least an hour. They're very predictable about that. Anyway, it gives us someone to talk to instead of staring at the walls all day long."
"At least you have WALLS. I've got this nice little niche by the apartment building."
He looked at me, almost smiling. "Read Angie's personal notes, as well as Ryan's official Chronicles."
He shook his head and pointed at the laptop. It turns out to be logged into the Watcher database. After a few seconds, I pulled up Angie's notes, and discovered what Mr. Jackson was referring to. I sighed and tilted forward until my forehead was on the table. "Dumb, Chessman. Dumb, dumb, dumb." Of course she would have a post set up. Nice as that niche was during September, it wouldn't be habitable during January.
I turned back to Mr. Jackson. His mouth kept twitching, trying to contain a smile. "Um, I see what you mean. Thanks." I gave him a wry grin to show I wasn't angry. He gave me a deep chuckle as the smile broke through. "I'm rather new at this."
He gave me a shocked, "No!", one hand coming up to the side of his face in total amazement.
I glared. He laughed. "I shouldn't be so hard on you. You have to learn some way or another. Ryan's as good as anybody, and better than some. You could've been assigned to Kalas for instance."
That was true. At least Ryan only killed Immortals. And he was fair about it. Unlike that St. Cloud I'd heard about at WU.
Robby (he wouldn't allow me to call him Mr. Jackson) and I spent a few hours talking as our charges spent the time sweating. I watched some of it, and discovered that Ryan was quite good, but MacLeod was fluid motion. There was an artistic grace about him that made it nearly hypnotic to watch, but the results me glad I wasn't on the wrong side of that katana.
Thanking Robby for the information on Angie's post, I left just after Ryan did. He went straight back to his apartment block, but seemed twitchy as he climbed off his bike. Walking toward the door to the apartment building, he stopped dead in his tracks, hand reaching into his coat. I snapped my gaze in the direction he was looking and saw what had is attention. For good reason.
Looking to be in her mid-twenties, 5'9", 125 pounds. And she was staring right at him with a smile that had nothing to do with humor. Underneath that jewelry, makeup and hair dye, she would be reasonably attractive, but I've never been into the pierced nose and purple hair spikes thing myself.
Ryan cautiously walked over as she continued to stare at him, and us at her. With a wave of one hand, she indicated a quiet alley on my side of the street. He seemed to argue, gesturing at the passing pedestrians. Her smile vanished and she pointed again. Shrugging, he indicated she should lead onward. She gave her hungry smile again and crossed the street, walking past my car, and into the alley. As I got out to follow, I noticed Ryan rubbing the back of his head. I couldn't blame him for being nervous, really.
Though I didn't try to sneak up too close, I did want to stay close enough. I had just peeked over the most disgusting trash dumpster this side of Mexico City when they started talking again.
"We don't have to do this." That was the first time I had heard him speak. Youngish voice, but calm.
She pulled a short sword out of a scabbard across her back. "My name is Sandra Rocke. There can be only one. Prepare to die." Wasn't she so very pleasant?
As he pulled his sword out of his coat, his voice shifted into a blatantly fake Spanish accent, "My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die."
She frowned in confusion; I nearly broke out into laughter. I could get to like this guy.
He had already set himself in a defensive stance, and she moved in. It didn't last long. Though aggressive, she clearly wasn't up to his caliber. After the third cut on her sword arm, she dropped it and tried to rush him. In a duck and spin, he got out from in front of her rush and hamstrung her. In a moment, he was standing over her kneeling form, "Live or die?"
"There can be only one!" Not terribly bright or original, but you had to give her marks for bravery.
Sighing, he completed the cut. I'd heard that witnessing a Quickening was incredible, but I was a little too close for my comfort. I ducked behind the dumpster for safety as the alley began to be lit with jagged bolts of lightening. One struck the light pole directly above me and everything went dark.
Ugh. What happened? I'm flat on my back, no recollection of how I got there, and my head feels like it's about to fall off. "Musta been a helluva party," I muttered.
Someone laughed. "That it was, Ryan, but not what you may be thinking."
I turned my head. And then I stopped, closed my eyes, and turned the rest of the way, much slower. When I opened my eyes again they focused on someone vaguely familiar. 5'6", 120 pounds, short hair somewhere between blonde and brown, brown eyes, mobile and expressive face. I tried to place her, but my head felt a neat freak was in there with one of those wire rug beaters. I must have been frowning at her, because she said, "Andrea, remember, from WU? You must have hit your head harder than I thought."
Oh, yeah. Andrea, Watchers, Immortals, Richie Ryan. I closed my eyes again, "I'm not cut out for this."
She must have thought that was funny for some reason. I certainly didn't. "What happened?"
She stifled her giggles enough to get out, "I was following Rocke. She found Ryan, they fought, he won, the light fell on you, he left, I rescued you."
I tried to piece that one together as I rubbed my temples. Much to my surprise, I discovered that I remembered most of it. Ryan didn't see me on his way out, or he went out the other end of the alley. The dumpster protected me from the brunt of the light's fall, but I still got clipped. "What about Rocke's body? Where'd Ryan go?"
"I called Joe. He's sending a cleanup crew. Richie Ryan went that way. How're you doing?"
Well, that took care of two problems. Ryan had headed back to his apartment, and I was perfectly willing to report that minor tidbit to Mr. Dawson. Immediately before requesting a month off. How did I feel? "Not bad, considering. The light must have knocked me out cold." My hand reached up behind my left ear where it felt the worst. Yep, lots of dried blood. "That'll be fun to let heal. All in all, much better than I have any right to expect."
A minivan pulled into the alley from the direction opposite of Ryan's apartment. I began trying to think of a good reason to be found lying on the ground with a decapitated woman thirty feet away. I wasn't having much luck. Mr. Dawson climbed out of the side door and started toward Andrea and me as three others got out and headed over to the body with cameras, rubber gloves, a body bag, and a sword case.
Once he got to us, he turned to see that his crew was doing their job properly. He shook his head and started mumbling, "During daylight. As if it wasn't ugly enough business." He turned back to us and offered me a hand up. "You okay?"
Standing, I held a hand to the alley wall to brace myself and to make sure it wasn't moving. "Nothing's wrong a couple aspirin and a night's sleep won't cure. Light knocked me out cold once the Quickening started. Andrea said Ryan went back toward his apartment. I can file this all tomorrow. Mind if I just go home?"
"Give your keys to Andrea. She'll take you. You're not driving if you may have a concussion." He turned from me and addressed my erstwhile nurse. "Andrea, since you followed Rocke all the way from New York, you have a choice. You can either go back there, or you can stay here and work for me. Think awhile about it. We'll stop by Ryan's place after cleaning up here and give you a ride back to your car. After that, I'd like you to file your report tonight or tomorrow morning, but I'll give you a few days to decide where you want to go after that. Fair enough?"
She seemed to agree, so I pulled my keys out of my pocket and pointed toward the car.
On our way back to my place, we traded stories. I told her of my assignment on Mr. Dawson's database and unexpected assignment to Ryan. She'd gone to New York after graduation and been immediately assigned to Sandra Rocke. Sandra had apparently been quite new to the Game and was a big believer in the "get them before they get me, we're all hunters" philosophy. She hunted with a reasonable degree of success on the East Coast before moving out west. Her style depended on raw fury and chaos. Faced with such an unpredictable foe, most opponents became confused, flustered, and ultimately made a mistake. Richie Ryan had been her first challenge out here. He didn't get flustered, and she made the mistake. Andrea hadn't liked her much. Can't blame her there. The woman tried to kill my assignment for no reason whatsoever. Well, no GOOD reason, anyway. And on top of it, nearly gotten my head split open too.
Once back to my apartment, I considered inviting her in, but claimed to feel too ill to be a decent host. Besides, Mr. Dawson and his crew would be around in a few minutes to give her a ride. If she was insulted or disappointed, she didn't show it.
In truth, I was feeling pretty good, but had no idea how to act around her. Yeah, yeah, mid twenties is prime dating time for those of us who aren't already married, but I never did have the nerve to ask anyone out. Okay, so I'm a coward when it comes to women.
Once inside, I immediately stripped out of my bloodied and torn clothes and pitched them. The shower made me feel human again, and calmed me down. The dried blood came up easily, but I couldn't find the cut. Probably buried under the hair somewhere. After fixing a quick frozen dinner for myself, I crashed.
The next morning found me filling out the appropriate paperwork for a Watcher who witnessed a Challenge. Who the combatants were, relative skill, time of day, location, weather conditions, what swords they used, any conversation before, during, or occasionally after. Reasonably straight forward questions, but I never was one who enjoyed paperwork for the sake of bureaucracy.
"How're you feeling?" Damn, this guy can continually sneak up on me.
"Not too bad. As promised, here's the report," I said, gesturing to the screen.
"Fair enough. Oh, Angie's better. You're off Ryan. Back to the dull database."
"Amen," I muttered. "Leave this spy stuff to James Bond."
He just shook his head and chuckled.
Without having to try to be inconspicuous outside an apartment building for the third day in a row, things went much easier. I got back into working on the database and went home feeling that all was right with the world.
The next morning started at a much more respectable hour than had my three most recent. I actually didn't have to suffer through a sunrise this time. Cleaning up after breakfast, my juice glass slipped out of my hand and luckily landed in the sink. Clumsy. I gingerly reached in to begin pulling it out and felt a sharp pain along the side of my index finger. Okay, VERY clumsy. Grabbing a mostly clean towel, I wrapped it around the bleeding gash and went into the bathroom. I unwrapped it again and thrust it under the running faucet. With my free hand, I opened the medicine cabinet and pulled out the box of Band-Aids. Anybody who's ever tried to open one of those stinking little things with one hand can well imagine the contortions I went through for the next two minutes.
By this time, my cut finger was numb. I pulled it out and dried it with a handy tissue, picked up the (finally) ready bandage and looked at the cut. And looked. And looked.
The finger wasn't cut.
I flexed it. It was a little stiff from the cold, but otherwise seemed just fine. I looked down into the sink. Yep, little spots of blood in the sink, and a bloody towel that I had wrapped it in.
The cut had healed itself in less than five minutes.
That wasn't possible.
One explanation jumped out of my subconscious and screamed for attention. No. That can't be it. That can't possibly be it. I can't be . . .
I shook my head. What were the odds? World population of six billion, roughly five hundred of them running around. One in twelve million? Something like that. Hell, I had a better chance of hitting the lottery. But a guy from college HAD hit the lottery. Walked away with a little over ten million. So the odds weren't completely impossible.
NO! That can't be it. Hallucinations! That had to be it. What could cause me to believe what I'm seeing? Drugs? A dream? Something I ate last night? Little green men from Mars? I snorted. Yeah, maybe the Romulans kidnapped me.
My mind kept churning through the problem, but didn't come up with any explanation that I was comfortable with. After considerable thought, I realized that there were only three possibilities. I was dead and this was the afterlife. I was insane. I was Immortal.
The first two didn't bear much thought. I couldn't do anything about either of them. Not that the third was much better, but it at least it was a starting place. That one was testable.
Now that I had something to do, I went back into the kitchen. The broken glass was still in the sink. One of the top pieces had a thin layer of blood on it. May as well use that one. Coming in from a different direction, I got a grip on it without cutting myself again. Taking a deep breath, I cut along the heel of my left hand, deep enough to draw a little blood. Stilling the urge to turn on the water and wash it out, I just watched. Little skitters of energy seemed to criss-cross the area for a few moments as the wound closed itself.
I just stared at my hand as the few drops of blood slowly dried.
I was Immortal.
The thought kept bouncing around in my head, refusing to stop long enough to be analyzed. What did I feel about this? Happy? Sad? Panic?
Well, first thing's first. I sure wasn't going to go in to work today with this revelation. Dropping the glass shard into the trash, I picked up the phone and called.
"VisionQuest. How may I help you?"
"Hi, this is Ryan Chessman. I think I've caught this flu bug running around. Could you tell Mr. Dawson I won't be coming in today?"
"Sure thing. Hope you get feeling better."
That was easy enough. They won't bother me until at least tomorrow now. My first step was to learn everything I could about what it meant to be Immortal. Fortunately, I had full access to the only known books written on that particular subject. I logged onto the database from my PC and started learning.
By lunch I had learned a few tidbits, but nothing much more than what I remembered from WU. The most immediately useful item was that Immortals could sense each other, though the exact description of the feeling wasn't included. Instead, it was mentioned that it apparently wasn't the same from one Immortal to another. Mostly Watchers couldn't see anything except that the Immortal's attention was suddenly jerked away from whatever they were doing. However, sometimes something else more obvious would occur, including sneezes. I almost snickered. He, whoever the Immortal was, would have an awful time sneaking up on enemies if he sneezed the instant he came within twenty feet of them.
Enemies. With a start, I realized that my life was in constant danger from people who I wouldn't know about until they were practically standing in front of me. As if this wasn't difficult enough.
Well, with that thought, I started looking in another direction. Who were the Immortals I may run into in Seacouver? And who can I go to for help and information? MacLeod, Ryan, Rocke (they hadn't updated that record, I noticed), Smythe, Gonzales, and VanHaus were listed as currently being in the immediate area. Of course, there were always the possibilities of transients and unknowns. From the biographies, I knew that the last three mostly stayed to themselves and disliked unexpected visitors. Of the semi-stable group, only MacLeod and Ryan seemed to be liked by anyone. Smythe was quiet enough, but hadn't had a friend or student in nearly three centuries. Gonzales was too young, as was Ryan. Though Ryan's relationship with MacLeod made me think that he would help if I could prove I wasn't a threat to him. VanHaus was an eccentric hermit who'd been known to use sniper rifles on unannounced Immortal visitors. Charming fellow, that. MacLeod looked like my best bet, at least for now.
I pulled up MacLeod's full biography and learned what I could about him. Just over 400 years old, Scots highlander, initially student of Connor MacLeod. Since then has studied under several philosophers including Darius and multiple monasteries around the world. Hasn't taken any known students other than Richie Ryan. VERY impressive kill list, including Kalas, Greyson, and Xavier St. Cloud. Preferred weapon is a katana, though he originally used a claymore and has been seen with multiple others. Many known friends, Immortal and mortal, his only other semi-permanent home was in Paris. Habitually helping out the weak and defenseless. I definitely fit into that category. Mr. MacLeod was going to get a visit from me.
The drive over to his dojo seemed to take forever. I was constantly looking in the rear view mirror, wondering when someone would jump out at me with a sword. I wasn't usually this paranoid, but then, the past twenty-four hours had hardly been usual.
Parking near the dojo was easy. It was early afternoon and the streets were quiet. As I neared the door, an odd feeling started in the back of my head. It felt like the pins and needles feeling when an arm falls asleep, but it happened inside my head. No wonder this got Immortal's attentions when it happened. I pushed open the door and walked inside.
MacLeod was standing in the middle of the floor, holding his sword, and staring at me. I swallowed and stepped back.
"I am Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod." Deep voice with a hint of accent.
"I . . . I'm Ryan Chessman," I stammered. I clearly wasn't armed, but he hadn't even so much as blinked. Or lowered his sword.
"Okay. So why are you here?"
I opened my mouth to speak, but that feeling came back, vaguely from the direction of the swinging doors off to my right. I looked that way just as Richie Ryan stepped through the doors, wearing only a pair of underwear, holding his sword in a defensive posture. I'd apparently walked in just after their practice.
His sense felt less dense, somehow. Not as deep. That made sense. Even though he'd taken a few heads in his time, he was vastly less experienced than MacLeod. He continued to advance.
"Easy, Richie. He hasn't done anything."
I smiled and tried to look harmless. "Ryan Chessman," I said, introducing myself to Mr. Ryan. I offered my hand, but it was ignored.
"Let's try again. Why are you here?" MacLeod hadn't lowered his sword, but his stance somehow seemed less threatening.
"Isn't that obvious?" They looked at each other, confusion written all over their faces.
"You haven't challenged either Mac or me, so it isn't obvious to me why you'd come here."
"I'm obviously new. I need help. I need to know what to do."
MacLeod raised an eyebrow. "Obviously new?"
"Yes, my sense can't be nearly as strong as even Mr. Ryan's here. I only died yesterday."
Ryan was frowning at me. "First off, call me Richie. Second, how do you know me?"
I pulled down my shirt cuff and displayed my tattoo. Mr. Dawson said Ryan knew about Watchers, and I had to assume MacLeod did too. Seeing the tattoo, they both calmed down somewhat. "I was following you yesterday, Mr. Montoya." Richie grinned, MacLeod only looked confused. "The collateral damage from her Quickening blew a light from the wall of the alley. It must have killed me on the way down."
Richie looked saddened for a moment. "Sorry about that," he mumbled. "She challenged me."
"I know, I don't blame you. I blame her." Even as I said it, I realized I WAS blaming her for screwing up my otherwise calm and predictable life.
MacLeod hadn't moved, but had relaxed his combat stance. He apparently was still trying to figure me out. "You said your sense can't be as strong as Richie's. What do you mean?"
I looked at him with a frown. "When I first walked in, feeling you was quite a shock. When he walked in, it was the same feeling, but not nearly as strong. I can only assume that's because he's only a few years Immortal, compared to your four hundred plus. By that logic, I can't believe you see me as a threat.
I had both their attentions. "You can tell how relatively old we are?" Richie's voice was somewhere between awe and skepticism.
"You can't?" That's odd. Could be a useful skill, but why would I be the only one to have it?
"No, we can't," from MacLeod. "I didn't realize very many of us could. Pay attention to that trick. Appearances can be deceiving, but auras may or may not."
"You mean Kenny?" I recalled that one from this morning's reading. Richie winced.
MacLeod grunted. "Among others. Come on up to my place. We can talk there. Come up when you're done, Richie." He nodded and went back into the locker room.
I followed MacLeod over to the freight elevator and he opened the gate, gesturing me to precede him.
One look at his loft, and I began to drool, figuratively, of course. "This is the kind of place I want to have. Open, simple, but nice." Without touching anything, I began to walk around, examining items.
My host walked around behind the counter into the kitchen. "Want anything to drink?"
"With the way my nerves are, yeah, a beer would be nice."
He grinned. "Wait 'til you meet Adam." He placed a beer on the countertop and leaned back on the refrigerator. I noticed he hadn't put down his sword yet.
Walking over, I removed my jacket and dropped it onto the arm of the couch. After a moment's hesitation, I picked it up again, folded it in half, and laid it back down. I went the rest of the way over to the counter and retrieved the beer. After taking a sip, I motioned to the sword. "I don't blame you for not trusting me. I really am new. I've been a Watcher for less than a year, I died yesterday, and I don't even own a sword. How can I prove I'm not a threat?"
If he was embarrassed by holding a sword in his own kitchen, he gave no sign. "How can you prove you're a Watcher? Who's your boss? Who's my Watcher? Who's Richie's?"
I sighed. "Aside from my tattoo, I can't prove anything without breaking my oath. If you know anything about the Watchers, you know we can't discuss anything with anyone outside the group. Especially Immortals. My existence is going to be a problem for them. They'll probably have to move their headquarters and change phone numbers."
He just smiled and shook his head. "You and they can discuss that later. For now, why are you here? Why did you seek me out?" While speaking, he put the katana down on the counter and poured himself a glass of apple juice. Though I couldn't reach the sword from where I was sitting, I appreciated his effort to show me trust.
"I guess I need a tutor. Someone to teach me what I need to know. I have basic knowledge of what it is to be Immortal, but not how to live like one. Sooner or later I'll need someone to teach me to fight, but I don't even want to think about that." I sighed. "And I guess I'll just need someone to tell me everything will be all right."
He looked at me out of the corner of his eye. "Sometimes I forget how difficult this is for the first-timers. You're a Watcher. You already know most of what you need. The Rules, the Game, Holy Ground. You'll need to learn how to fight. You'll also need to learn how to 'die' and set up a new life somewhere else every so often without drawing attention. Almost anyone can help you with that one. As far as fighting, you need to find out what style would best suit you and find a teacher who uses that style. For instance," he paused, hand reaching toward sword. Someone coming.
"Probably Richie. No offense to him, but it isn't very deep. Pretty strong, though."
Richie's head poked up the stairway. "Just me, Mac."
MacLeod turned to me, shaking his head slightly. "Learn to use that trick."
Mr. MacLeod continued, "As I was saying, I can help you determine which fighting style you need to concentrate on, but I may or may not be able to teach it. Besides, I already have my hands full with the strong, shallow one here." Richie looked over from his perusal of the refrigerator to give us a quizzical glance. "Never mind. For now, though, I think there's someone you need to meet," he said, reaching for the phone.
Grabbing my beer, I continued my examination of the MacLeod residence. I only saw a few pictures, which I found rather strange. One was of him with his arms around a smiling blonde with the Eiffel Tower in the background. The other was of a dark-haired beauty that I recognized instantly.
Richie came up behind me with a glass of water of his own, looking for what had my attention. "Ah, yes. Tessa and,"
"Amanda," I interrupted. At his quizzical look, I merely pointed to my Watcher tattoo. He nodded.
"Well, Adam will meet us at Joe's tonight at seven," said MacLeod, hanging up the phone. "For now, I need a shower. Richie, if you could educate our young friend?"
I almost had to smile. Even taking into account that Richie was about 4 years Immortal, he was still a bit younger. And he looked even younger than that.
MacLeod headed into what I assumed to be the bathroom and I continued my examination. Other than those two pictures, there was almost nothing of MacLeod's past or personality in the place.
I was about to ask Richie about this when we both felt another sense coming in via the back door.
"What is this, Immortal Central?" I muttered. This one was deeper than MacLeod, but not as strong. Somewhat older, but fewer Quickenings?
The previously mentioned Amanda came walking in, bag over her shoulder, short sword in the other hand. Seeing Richie apparently at his ease around an unknown, she relaxed a bit, but didn't lower the sword immediately.
"Amanda, this is Ryan Chessman. A newcomer to the Game. Ryan, this is Amanda, a friend of Mac's."
I'm sure I was staring as she glided across the room, hand outstretched. I'm not sure if I was drooling with my mouth open and tongue hanging, but it wouldn't surprise me if I was. Giving myself a mental slap, I composed myself. I took her offered hand and kissed the knuckles with a soft, "M' Lady." She raised an eyebrow and dropped into a curtsy. Chuckling, she dropped her bag onto the couch, nodded toward the bathroom where a shower could be heard and raised an eyebrow at Richie.
He nodded. "Adam is meeting us at Joe's at seven. See you there?" At her nod, he took my shoulder and pulled me out the door, pausing only long enough for us to grab our coats.
Once outside, he paused and looked at me with a small smile. "Earth to Chessman. You in there?"
I shot him a frown. His smile only got bigger. Sighing, I gave up. "I suppose you want this story?" With a grin, he folded his arms and leaned against the wall of the building. "You know what the Watchers do. Among other things, we have lots of pictures. Some of us use them as backgrounds on our computers. One of the favorites among the secretarial pool is a picture of the noble Duncan MacLeod looking out across the ocean during a sunset. Personally, I think it's a neat picture, but he isn't my type. On the other hand, SHE definitely is." I hoped that would get my point across without making me look like too much the fool. It did, and I did anyway.
Richie was on the verge of exploding with laughter. "A Watcher with a crush on Amanda?! She'll love that one." With that, he lost control and started howling. I simply glared. He only laughed harder.
"Actually, I know very little about any of you personally. I read MacLeod's Chronicles this morning, and I know a handful of other names, but almost nothing about any of you individually. I stumbled across Amanda's picture one day and liked it. The caption only gives her name and a date. That's all I wanted to know."
He gave a slight shake of his head. "She's gorgeous, no doubt of that. However, she's much too much for either of us to handle. Only MacLeod can handle her, and she's quite happy with it that way. They've been dating for centuries."
Oh, well. So much for my fantasy involving Amanda, whipped cream and marichino cherries.
Getting my mind back to the present, something occurred to me. I was no doubt under observation by at least one, probably three, Watchers. At least one of them knew me, and I was calmly talking to an Immortal, outside the residence of another one. I'd be lucky if I weren't lynched the instant I walked into work tomorrow. With a frown, I turned to Richie. "I need to take care of something. Give me the address of Joe's and I'll meet you all there."
Getting suddenly serious, he shook his head. "You aren't going anywhere alone until you've been trained. You're a easy mark on the Immortal playing field right now." Fun thought, that.
"Okay, but I really do need to do something. Alone. No offense, but they won't like Immortals walking in, if you get my drift."
The simplicity of that statement stopped me in my tracks. Yeah, I was, but they wouldn't know that. Hopefully. Knowing it intellectually, and coming to terms with that minor fact are two entirely different things. "Yes, but they won't know that. Hopefully, I won't be too long. If it makes you feel better, I'll leave my car here. When I get done, we can go back to my place and I'll beat you at Doom until seven, okay?"
He agreed to wait for me here. He apparently had some paperwork that needed to be done for the dojo, anyway. In order to keep the location of the observation post secret from unwanted Immortal eyes, I took a roundabout route back to the apartment of Mr. Spielack.
I identified myself to Robby again and he let me in. Two extra sets of eyes were looking at me. I showed them my tattoo to identify myself and gave them my name. Angie Mollson, a mid-thirties redhead was Richie's Watcher, and Bart Mancuso, a early fifties distinguished gentleman was Amanda's Watcher.
"Um, I'll assume you saw me over there," I indicated the dojo out the window.
"Yes, but we'll ignore it. There's a reason that the three of us are assigned to the three of them," Robby said indicating the dojo. "Joe Dawson picked us because we don't find anything wrong with Watchers interacting with Immortals. Within reason. I called him immediately after you showed up, but he said to do nothing. No doubt he'll want a word with you tomorrow morning, but for now you're clean. Count your blessings. They're fascinating people, and if Dawson lets you stay in contact with them, well, he has his reasons."
"Thank you," I whispered. I began breathing again. This was going MUCH better than it could have. I'll still have to figure out how to explain all this to Mr. Dawson, but I had most of a day to figure something out until I saw him again.
Robby shook his head. "Don't thank us. Thank him."
Nodding, I left without saying something that may end up getting me into even more trouble. Getting back to the dojo by a different route took only a few minutes, but by that time I was breathing normally again.
Richie looked up as I walked in. He indicated for me to wait a minute while he finished up some paperwork. Nodding, I looked around. Plenty of standard exercise equipment, floor mats, a few wooden practice swords and a matched set of Japanese swords near the door. They all had the curved, thin blades that made me think they were katanas, but of three different sizes. I'll have to start learning the different names soon.
Richie came out of the office with his coat. "Ready to go?"
"I'll assume they will be, um, indisposed for a while," I said, chucking a thumb upstairs. He grinned and nodded. "Okay, my place or your place?"
Richie and I arrived at Joe's a couple minutes early. Standing outside the door, we couldn't feel anyone inside, so we knew MacLeod and Amanda weren't there yet. Pushing the doors open, we walked into the quintessential blues bar. I began to wonder why every Immortal in the area seemed to like it so much.
Then I found out, in the form of just another shock in a day filled with them. Mr. Dawson was tending the bar. Joe's, Joe Dawson. Of course I would run into my boss tonight. To my quiet horror, Richie walked right up to the bar and sat on an empty stool. I had little choice but to follow.
Mr. Dawson noted our arrival, and without bidding, he placed a beer in front of Richie. "How ya doing, Rich? Hi, Ryan. What'll ya have?"
I stared. "You two know each other?"
Richie looked at me blankly, but Joe grinned. "I told you he knew about us. Oh, we'll need to have a talk tonight. Later. Now, do you want anything to drink?"
"What the hell. My day's already had enough surprises. A beer would help. Killian's, on tap if you have it."
"Coming right up."
I was just starting to mellow out when I felt someone take the barstool next to mine and place a hand on my elbow. I turned. It was Andrea. What was that I had been saying about surprises?
I stared. She smiled. Richie poked me on the other side. "You going to introduce me to your friend?" he asked.
Shaking myself back to attention, I smiled at her. "Richie, this is Andrea Burke, a friend from school. Andrea, this is Richie Ryan, a recent acquaintance from here in Seacouver." She gave me just a flicker of a look. She knew who he was. "Richie, I hate to do this to you, but could you leave us alone for a minute? She and I need to talk." He apparently got my meaning, because he didn't argue. He just nodded and got up. I turned back to Andrea. "So, what's a nice girl like you doing in a place like this?"
"I heard that," Mr. Dawson's tone was hard, but the twinkle in his eye belied any threat. Damn, this guy ALWAYS managed to sneak up on me.
Andrea laughed. "I came in here to give Joe my decision to stay out here. The northwest beats New York any day." Her expression became much more serious. "Should I ask why you were sitting with Richie Ryan?"
No. "Would you believe me if I said it was a very long story? Best left for another day?"
She just looked at me. I was saved from saying anything more by feeling someone coming in. Make that two. Felt like MacLeod and Amanda, but I couldn't be sure. Anyone with roughly the same ages and power would feel the same. Fortunately, this time I was right. They came in arm in arm looking like the nearly perfect couple. From the way he was smiling at her, it was clear that my crush wouldn't go any further than that.
Mr. Dawson nodded toward them and said to me, "Your table awaits."
Andrea clearly recognized the two of them. She looked at the two of us, a question written all over her face. Mr. Dawson patted her on the hand, but addressed me. "I'll tell her a story, a very long story. Your very long story. You're going to have to tell her soon anyway." I looked at him. How could he possibly know? The look he gave me clearly said that he did know, though. How in the world . . . ?
"Uh, thanks. Andrea, I promise we'll talk later. If you still want to." With that, I stood up and walked over to MacLeod and Amanda's table, arriving at about the same time Richie did.
"Who's your friend?" Amanda wanted to know.
She and Joe Dawson were deep in a whispered discussion even as we looked over. She caught my eye as I looked and frowned a question. I sighed and nodded back. Her eyebrows crawled further up her face than I thought possible. I turned back to Amanda, "A friend?"
Amanda gave me a "Yeah, try again, buster" look before dropping the topic, for which I was quietly grateful.
MacLeod steered us back onto why we were here. "What are we going to do with you?"
Funny, that was my question. "Unless you know a way to make me mortal again and let me go back to my quiet, tame, BORING life, I was hoping you could tell me." I shook my head. "Hell, it doesn't even feel real yet. At the least, I know I'll need sword training and some general 'How to live as an Immortal' tutoring. Sooner or later, I'll have to figure out what job I'm going to have. I can't very well stay with the Wa," I caught myself. MacLeod and Richie knew. I had no idea about Amanda.
"You're a Watcher?" Okay, so she knew. That fixed one potential problem, but created several others.
I frowned. "I thought we were supposed to be secret from Immortals. Everyone I've run into knows about us."
Amanda pointed to Mr. Dawson. "Joe and Duncan have been friends for years. And Duncan and I don't keep secrets, do we dear?" I managed to keep a straight face. Richie rolled his eyes. She shot him a nasty look and MacLeod stifled a grin just before she turned back to him. Staying calm and collected around these folks was turning out to be more than a full time job. Or maybe it was just her. Come to think of it, considering the last day and a half, it's a wonder I don't need a straitjacket.
A waitress was delivering MacLeod's and Amanda's drinks as the most powerful aura imaginable hit me. I could barely keep my seat as the feeling of static in my head nearly caused me to pass out. I was concentrating on breathing as MacLeod waved the newcomer over toward our table and Richie made room. Someone took the seat next to me. My actions had clearly not escaped anyone seated at the table. Nobody offered help, but nobody said anything, either. It took perhaps ten more seconds before I could open my eyes again. I started to my left and worked around the table. MacLeod looking on with a hint of . . . amusement? Amanda just looked concerned, Richie encouraging. I finally got to the last face and nearly fell out of my chair again. "ADAM?!?" Those surprises keep sneaking up on me.
He merely gave his enigmatic smile and tipped his head in acknowledgment. "Ryan."
Amanda was looking on in amazement. "You two know each other? And what's wrong with you, Ryan?"
"Yeah, we know each other. He's a researcher for us. I helped him set up a database for his project. Speaking of which, may I have a word with you, Adam?"
He didn't even blink. "I have no secrets from these three. Or Joe for that matter."
Here goes. "How old are you?"
He gave his half smile again. "Why?"
"I've already tried to explain this to MacLeod and Richie. I'll try again. Even without reading everyone else's Chronicles in depth, I have a good feel for ages and relative strengths. I read through MacLeod's, so I've been basing everyone off of him. Richie's aura has almost no depth, but he has a surprising strength. I take that to mean he's quite young as an Immortal, but has taken a few powerful heads." I stopped and looked at him. He nodded, impressed, and I continued. "Amanda is a lot deeper than MacLeod, two or three times his age, but isn't quite as strong. Slightly fewer Quickenings." She nodded. MacLeod and Adam had hardly blinked. "You, on the other hand, make MacLeod look like a kitten. You're at least three times Amanda's age, but you have more strength than I can possibly comprehend. I'll try again. How old are you?" I couldn't believe I was speaking to him this way. This guy had an aura strong enough that I'm surprised I couldn't see it.
Mr. Dawson, apparently sensing the tension at the table, came over. "Anything wrong?"
Adam was looking at me with perfect calm. "Our young friend believes I'm a great deal older than Amanda, though it's rude to discuss a lady's age. Very well, how old do you think I am?"
I frowned. "MacLeod's four hundred. He's the only one I really know. Amanda's something like two and a half that, call it a thousand. You're more than three times that. Thirty-five hundred?" I must be out of my mind. At that, he'd have had to been born in 1500 BC.
Joe was almost chuckling by this point. Adam glanced at him, then focused back on me. "Good try. Closer to five thousand, though." Perfectly calm.
I'm sure my jaw hit bedrock. I blinked, stared. Everyone else here had taken the news calmly. They all knew. Five THOUSAND?! I snapped my jaw shut and tried to regain my composure. "Well, this explains why all your notes to me looked like hieroglyphics. They probably were."
That got smiles or chuckles out of everyone at the table.
Adam smiled a moment then became serious. "That trick is useful, but you'll have to learn how to filter it. When I came in, you were clearly incapable of defending yourself. That will get you dead quite quickly. I can think of only one person who may be able to help you on focusing that talent to become an asset without also being a liability."
By this time, MacLeod was watching him. "Will you be okay with that?"
"My feelings don't matter." He gestured to me, "His survival depends on it."
Since I was the topic of conversation, I figured I had the right to enter it. "I'm glad you two know what you're talking about, 'cause I'm totally lost."
MacLeod shook his head slightly, "Cassandra." Amanda frowned a little, but held her peace.
I waited. Nobody said anything. "Okay, I'll bite. Cassandra who?"
Adam gave me a patronizing look. "A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, everyone only had one name. Cassandra IS her full name."
"Okay, but that answers only part of my question. Who is she? Why will she make you uncomfortable? Why will she be able to teach me when one of the four of you can't?"
Mr. Dawson answered this one, "Who she is and her relationship to Adam is very long," I rolled my eyes, "and complicated. How she can help is much easier. She has been called several things over the ages: witch, demon, etcetera. Today we could call it Psychic. If Adam's guess is correct, you'll need mental training to use this ability of yours, which is nearly unique. She's one of the only living Immortals who could do that."
A long silence descended on the table. I sat and tried to imagine what my life was turning into. I kept vacillating between euphoria, sadness, and horror. Eventually, it just settled down into resignation.
"Well, enough of this for now. I've been informed I'm not to be on my own until further notice. Does this mean one of you has to physically be with me?"
MacLeod turned to Mr. Dawson. "Anybody in town?"
"No headhunters that we know of. That doesn't mean there aren't any, but he should be reasonably safe as long as he doesn't go looking for trouble."
MacLeod nodded. "Okay, then. If you show up at the dojo tomorrow at nine, we can start your training. I can start you out in hand to hand and find out what sword fighting technique you're suited for. I'll contact Cassandra and tell her about you. What she does from there is her choice, of course." He stood up. "Until then." He offered his hand to Amanda, and the two of them left after a quick round of good-byes.
While they were leaving, Adam had simply disappeared, for which I was quietly thankful. His aura made me skittish. I sat and stared at my beer for a few moments before turning to one of my remaining table companions. "And what about the Watchers, Mr. Dawson?"
He shook his head. "First, my name's Joe. Second, I don't know. We can't let you stay in your present position. You have access to entirely too much data. I'd like to keep you, but you have to help me think of a way to do it."
I nodded at that one. I could definitely understand his position. No matter that the idea of actually getting into a fight to the death sickened me now, I could imagine that the access to that kind of data might make me a hunter. And he couldn't have that. "Okay, next question. How did you know?"
"Adam told me. Pre-Immortals are detectable to the older Immortals, but not to new ones. Ever since Adam met you for the first time, he knew you would eventually become Immortal, and he told me. I felt safe assigning you to Richie here, because he's too new to have noticed you." He struggled to his feet. "I'm giving you a few days off. Think about what you want to do." With that, he headed back behind the bar.
Richie also stood. "You've got a lot to think about. I've only been in Oz for a few years, so I know what you're going through, probably better than most of them. If you need someone to talk to, I'll be around." After shaking my hand and waving to Joe, he too departed.
I was left staring at the tabletop with my thoughts running in circles. I'm Immortal. I could conceivable live for millennia. I'm going to be hunted by people scarier than I can imagine. I don't want this!
So wrapped up in my thoughts, I didn't notice a presence beside me until she touched my hand. "Penny for your thoughts?"
I looked up at Andrea and didn't say anything for a few minutes. I opened my mouth a few times to say something, but kept closing it without saying a word, eventually giving up with a humorless chuckle. "What is there to say?"
"It's true what Joe said? You're Immortal?"
Mutely, I nodded.
She sat down and thought about it for a few moments. "What do you think about it?"
Good question. "I have no idea. I've only realized it for less than a day now. I don't think it's sunk in yet."
"Do you want to talk about it?"
After a moment, I shook my head. "No. For the time being, I want to pretend this isn't happening. I'd rather just sit here with you and talk."
"Why, Mr. Chessman, are you asking me out on a date?"
I tilted my head a moment. "Yeah, I guess I am." She merely smiled.
By eleven the next morning I was regretting two things. One, the fourth round of drinks, and two, agreeing to let this Scottish demon get anywhere near me. Oh, sure, he called it teaching. His definition of teaching must involve beating the tar out of me without even breaking a sweat. I was not having a good day.
"Good recovery!" His praise was underwhelming. I just grunted and came at him again. I'd been trying to get this throw to work for at least an hour. Every time I came in at him, he'd slip out of the way, usually throwing me across the room just for fun. As expected, I ended up on my back, but this time I managed to at least knock him down too. Progress, of a sort.
"Good one. That's enough for now. Go get a shower. I need to finish my workout." That made me feel good. I was so weak as an opponent, he didn't even get his normal daily workout out of me. I stumbled into the showers and let a hot soak bring me back to the land of the living.
As I was tying up my shoelaces, I felt a shallow/strong sense come into range. Hoping it was Richie, I poked my head out into the dojo and watched him come in and head into the locker room. As he was changing into his workout clothes, I told him about my beating. "You'd think he'd get tired of beating up poor little defenseless guys like me. I mean, I'm not even a challenge for him!"
Richie only chuckled. "I felt the same way when he started to teach me. I'd spend days trying to get a clean hit. It took a while, but I eventually got the hang of it. You can too."
Yeah, right. "If you don't mind, I'd like to watch you two practice. I need to find a sword fighting technique that I'm comfortable with. After that, I'll take you out to lunch. I need to talk to someone."
He smiled. "Deal."
Watching them spar wasn't so much instructional as hypnotic. The fluid dance between the two of them was complex, but beautiful. Shaking my head, I concentrated on watching Richie individually. I tried to watch how he handled his long blade, counters, thrusts, blocks. He was using it well, but MacLeod was quicker and managed to slip in a cut now and then. After a half hour, the one on the floor with a sword to his throat was Richie. And MacLeod was finally breathing heavy. He backed up, offered Richie a hand up, and gave his opponent a bow. Richie bowed back before retrieving his sword. Walking over to his duffel bag, he retrieved a cloth and a jar of oil. Taking a seat at a weight machine, he began cleaning his sword. MacLeod nodded his approval and asked Richie to work on his katana as well. MacLeod turned to me. "Did you learn anything watching us?"
"Yeah, don't piss either of you off."
Cocking an eye at his student's chuckle, MacLeod gave a slight grin. "Not quite what I was getting at."
"My impression was that you're quicker than he is. That katana looks to be a lighter weapon, though almost the same length. Therefore, you're faster. His long heavy sword style would be based more on brute strength. He makes fewer cuts at you, but each is potentially more harmful. You make more cuts, but individually each is less powerful. I'm not saying you're not strong, you clearly are, but that style seems more suited to a weak, quick fighter."
"Possibly, but not necessarily. The katana is a lighter weapon, so I can move it around more. The strength of the cut comes from the fighter, not the weight of the blade. Richie's blade is much heavier. Fewer cuts do more damage, but he can't move the blade around as much as I can. However, it's harder for me to stop one of his swings for the same reason. A heavier blade has advantages and disadvantages."
"You boys still down here showing off testosterone levels?" Amanda came walking down the stairway, wearing a sweatshirt several sizes too large. And nothing else I could see. I resisted the urge to pant. "Don't let him talk you into anything you don't want, Ryan. You pick a style you like."
"That's what I keep saying. Ryan, come by again tomorrow. I know a little about several different styles. I'll try to demonstrate a few for you and you can pick one." With that, he collected his katana from Richie and started up the stairs, Amanda on his heels.
I turned to Richie. "Wow."
He laughed. "Down boy. No offense, but she's out of your league. She's almost entirely unselfconscious, but don't take that as an invitation of any sort. She's devoted to Mac. If I were you, I'd stick to that cute brunette you were talking to last night."
I blushed, he grinned. "Okay, okay. She's off limits. Get dressed. I've thought of about ten thousand questions to ask."
Giving me a brief salute with his blade, he cleared up his cleaning tools and made his way to the showers.
Lunch at a local deli was educational. I asked him all sorts of offbeat questions and he fielded them all as well as he was able. How often do I have to move? Are any places better or worse? What's the proper care of a blade? How do you carry one around all the time without it being obvious? How do you sit down without slicing open some part of your anatomy? Where do I go to buy swords? What do I look for in a good blade? How do I recognize a bad one? How do you live, knowing that any day may bring a Challenge from someone better than you?
That last one made him pause. "Ask Adam," was his only answer to the question. "Those philosophical questions are better asked of someone a lot older than I am. I can help you with the practical day to day stuff. Adam or Mac are better at the tough ones." He shook off his solemn mood and gave a carefree grin. "But enough of this. I'm starting to sound like some crotchety old codger. Let's go."
The rest of the day was spent relatively normally. We caught a movie that neither of us had seen and walked around the mall for a while. Eventually, we parted company with a promise to meet at the dojo tomorrow.
Since I wasn't tired, I headed over to Joe's for some company. As I approached, I walked into a wall of static. Yep, Adam was in. Even though I knew what I was experiencing, it still took me almost a full minute before I composed myself enough to walk in the door. As expected, he was seated at the bar with a beer bottle in front of him. He'd been watching the door as I entered, and he turned back to his discussion with Joe as he identified me.
Since I wasn't in the mood for any more Immortal talk, I took a place at the bar a ways down from He of the Powerful Aura. "Hi, Ryan. Killian's, right?" I didn't recognize the voice. I looked up to see the other bartender I'd noticed from last night.
"Um, yeah. Sorry, but do I know you?"
He pointed at his left wrist, gave me a conspiratorial wink, and stuck out his right hand. "Sorry, I'm Mike. Joe's assistant." He paused. "And assistant bartender."
Shaking his hand, I nodded. He'd be one of the unassigned Watchers under Joe's employ. Probably administrative since a Territories Director would definitely need one. This bar was clearly a gathering spot and something of a field office for the Watchers. I wondered what the local Immortals (who all seemed to know about the Watchers) thought of that one. How do they, and Joe for that matter, deal with the conflicts of interest such a place would naturally bring about?
I shook my head. Not my problem. I grunted to myself; not my problem for the moment. I had to keep reminding myself that I WAS one of the local Immortals. And a Watcher assigned to Joe's domain. This was all starting to give me a headache.
Once again trying to shake off the morbid mood, I took a sip of beer and listened to the band playing on stage. I was never much into the blues myself, but it seemed appropriate for my mood, somehow. Listening to good music and nursing my drinks, time passed swiftly.
Around eight, my head jerked toward the door as I sensed two Immortals coming in. Before they even entered, I had them pegged as MacLeod and Amanda. Sure enough, they walked in and headed toward one of the few empty tables. I watched with detached interest as the crowd unconsciously parted before them.
They recognized Adam and myself, but nobody changed seats. I was thankful for that. Trying to come to terms with my situation was difficult enough without someone pestering me about my decisions.
Things were just getting back to normal when another sense hit all four of us. This one was old. Not quite as old as Adam, but clearly older than Amanda. And it had almost as much power as MacLeod. That combination got my attention, but not as much as the other item I noticed. While everyone else's auras had a sense of almost chaotic frenzy to them, this one was ordered. I caused me no discomfort at all.
Then she walked in. Whereas Amanda was beautiful, this woman was stunning. Appearing to be in her mid thirties with dark skin, she had a regal grace that can't be taught. MacLeod had an air of authority that created a respectful bubble around him. She had a similar effect, but it was closer to awe. Her gaze started to her left and worked around the room. She gave MacLeod a small smile, barely gave Amanda a flicker of eye movement, and settled on Adam. And stared. It wasn't overtly angry, but there was definitely something there. I made a mental note to ask him about it sometime, especially since his eyes looked almost . . . sad? Her gaze finally shifted off of him and continued until they stopped at me. She raised an eyebrow at my blatant stare and with a graceful inclination of her head, indicated MacLeod and Amanda's table. I nodded, and we converged.
By the time I arrived, MacLeod had already risen and was holding her chair, to the quiet disgust of Amanda. Giving a slight bow from the shoulders, I introduced myself. "Ryan Chessman, ma'am."
Her voice was a bit deeper and huskier than I expected, but entirely feminine for all that. "I am Cassandra."
I flicked an eye at MacLeod before turning back to her. "Thank you for coming so quickly. I'm told by more than one person that you're a unique person with nearly unique gifts." I took a seat next to her, and Adam quietly squeezed in between me and Amanda.
She tilted her head and regarded me for a moment. "I'm not sure how to respond to that."
"No insult intended, I assure you. Perhaps I'd better explain. As you may tell, I'm quite new to this group. I can tell a person's approximate age and relative strength merely by my sense of their Quickening. I'm told that you have similar skills."
Both eyebrows were nearly lost high on her forehead by this time. "Very well. Tell me what you sense about me."
I regarded her for a moment. "You're not as old as Adam, but a great deal older than Amanda. Call it twenty-five hundred to three thousand. You are something like half again as powerful as Mr. MacLeod. The thing about your aura that fascinates me, though, is how calm and ordered it is. Everyone else's is constantly shifting. Adam's has some of the same elements, but not to nearly the degree that you do."
She looked over at Adam for a moment before turning back to me. "You know how old Methos is?"
"Is that his real name? Yes, I guessed it at thirty-five hundred yesterday. He told me five thousand."
Adam and MacLeod were staring at me. "You're not surprised that his name isn't Adam?"
"He told me that her full name is Cassandra because there were no surnames then. He's older. Therefore, he HAD to have only a one word name. Considering his age, I'm not surprised he changed it. He has to be quite a target for the crazy hunters running around." Adam gave an almost soundless sigh, but said nothing.
The look in Cassandra's eyes was a great deal more respectful. "With no training, you guessed him that closely?"
"I knew how old Mr. MacLeod is. I estimated Amanda at two and a half that. Then I estimated him at more than three times that." I turned to Amanda. "If I may, where did I go wrong with those guesses?"
"I'm a little less than three times Duncan's age now. Methos is just over four times mine. Though I thought he told you it was impolite to discuss a lady's age." The twinkle in her eye belied any censure.
Giving another little bow, I said, "My apologies, Lady." She smiled, MacLeod's mouth twitched, and Cassandra's eyes were suddenly smiling.
Cassandra focused those incredible green eyes on me and continued. "You will be fun to train. I haven't had fun training someone for nearly half a millennia." She glanced at MacLeod for a moment before turning her attention back to me. "To answer your question, yes, I do have some talents in that area. I suspect you have more talent than you know, as well. There are few enough left as it is. I will train you on one condition. Never use your gifts to harm anyone, except in self defense. I've been a victim for entirely too much of my life. I don't want to add to the problem. Do you agree to that term?"
It sounded simple enough. Do good, don't do harm. I looked around at the only other people who could help. MacLeod just gazed at me with utter seriousness, Amanda was frowning down at the tabletop, and Adam was staring at a point over on the opposite wall. "Forgive me for saying so, but that sounds odd. Go forth and do no evil? It sounds like something out of a low budget movie."
Cassandra's eyes suddenly hardened, MacLeod's flared, and Amanda looked up. "Perhaps it does sound like an antiquated code of chivalry, but that's what we know." She sighed. "Perhaps Duncan's ethics have rubbed off on all of us, but the world does need more good guys. Cassandra and I disagree on a whole host of issues, including this Highlander Boy Scout here." Adam rolled his eyes and MacLeod grinned, not at all upset. Amanda continued, "But the two of us do have one thing in common. We cannot stand to unleash evil Immortals into the world. The world is ugly enough without any of us adding to it. And entirely too many of us already do. If you want help from any of us here, that's one of the conditions." Adam looked like he was about to say something, but a quick glance from Amanda stilled him.
I turned to Cassandra, "Very well, I agree to your terms of training." She gave a soft smile as I returned my attention to Amanda, "You said that was ONE of the conditions. I clearly need the help of everyone here. What are your other conditions?"
She relaxed a bit. "Those are easier. Help us when we ask for it, promise to help out a newcomer to the Game sometime in the future, and do everything you can to stop the evil ones from gaining power."
I gave her a smile. "Sounds like what a group of friends would do for each other anyway. I'm honored to be offered a position."
Once Cassandra had agreed to train me, she gave me directions to her place in Wales and told me the training would begin whenever I arrived. I spent a few days getting my local affairs in order, buying a plane ticket, and resigning from the Watchers. Joe had been saddened by my decision, but could see my point. I couldn't very well remain a Watcher if I continually spent time with Immortals.
I arrived at her secluded cottage buried in a forest almost a week after she made the invitation. She had offered me lodging, but I preferred to stay in the nearby city. I knew she meant well, but I didn't want to become too dependent upon anyone. Foolish perhaps, but an important item for me. I had found a small apartment and a job at the local computer shop.
Early on, I had expressed my concern that I couldn't defend myself if an Immortal came for me. She assured me that we were safe. From her casual comments, I gathered that she had declared the entire area off limits to uninvited Immortals. Everyone feared her powers enough to honor that declaration.
The mental training itself was fascinating. I had always been intrigued by psychic powers, but never considered that I may have some myself. Cassandra turned out to be a strict but good teacher. I had learned to better read auras, filter them, and cloak mine. She seemed to know exactly what I was capable of, and wouldn't let me rest until I had made it to the level she demanded.
Since she only expected me out at her place for two evenings a week, I found I had plenty of free time. Remembering that I was vulnerable to any Immortal who came around, I had started taking karate classes soon after arriving in the area. It had mildly amused me to catch a glimpse of a blue tattoo on one of my classmates after one evening's classes. Joe Dawson may be an acquaintance, perhaps even a friend, but he was still a Watcher. And I was Immortal.
Actually, I was slowly coming to terms with that. It still freaked me out on occasion, but it didn't send me into blind panic or depression like it did for the first couple weeks.
During all the time I'd spent with Cassandra, I had learned precious little about her. She was clearly powerful, but I knew almost nothing about her history. I knew she and Adam had known each other a long time ago, and that she and MacLeod knew each other when he was younger, but I didn't know anything about either of the relationships. She told me enough to train me, but little else.
And so the weeks turned into months.
"Very good. I think you're getting the hang of this."
I gave a small smile, but didn't open my eyes. Cloaking my aura was hard work.
"Now, keep that up for a half hour, then come find me."
I didn't make it the full half hour, but I only faltered once. As Cassandra and I were discussing the day's lesson, we felt another Immortal approach. Her face darkened for a moment, but then cleared as we both recognized the newcomer as Duncan MacLeod.
She let him in at his knock, and we greeted each other politely before he folded her into a warm hug. Well, that answered part of my questions about their past relationship.
After releasing her, we sat around her fireplace and he told the story of why he was here. He'd apparently decided to come visit his ancestral home a few weeks ago. He'd been there somewhat recently, and decided he wanted to spend more quiet time there. As he was telling the stories of his clansmen for the past twenty generations, I watched him. He was basically the same as when I first walked into his dojo a few months ago. He was relaxed and in a very good mood. Well, a vacation can do that to you. He wrapped up his narration with why he was here. He'd been on his way to London, and then back to Seacouver, when he decided to stop by here and see how things were going.
I rolled my eyes. "I'm learning, but I recognize there's so much out there that I can't do yet."
Cassandra shook her head. "I've already taught you everything you can learn. Trying to teach you the Voice would be a waste of time. You simply can't project anything; you have no skills in that direction. Beyond practice, there's no more I can help with."
I sighed and leaned back in my chair. Well, at least I had a few tricks to help me survive. "Unless you wish me to stay, Cassandra, I believe I'd like to go back to Seacouver."
A moment of sadness passed over her face as she reached out her hand to touch mine. "Be well, young Chessman. Remember, you will always have a refuge here if you have need of it."
I had to clear my throat around the sudden lump. "Hey, don't get so mushy on me now. It'll be a few days until I can get my affairs in order and head out. I'll be back out here before I leave." I turned to MacLeod. "I've a spare couch if you need it to crash for a few days." I cocked an eye at Cassandra. "Assuming you don't have other arrangements."
She glanced down, her mouth twitching as it fought a smile. "Ah, ha! I got the Lady Cassandra to blush. My day is complete."
She gave me a dirty look, but MacLeod was laughing.
Between returning the rented furniture, tying up loose ends at work, and informing all interested parties of my leaving, it took me three days before I climbed onto a plane bound for New York. Saying good-bye to Cassandra had been difficult, but the other two Immortals took it in stride.
I spent the trip reading the latest Clancy novel and watching MacLeod charm the stewardesses. The man had charisma that went beyond the natural. Once we were off the plane, we made our way to the luggage claim. Our flight to Seacouver wouldn't leave until tomorrow morning.
With our luggage secured, we worked our way toward the taxi stand. And both stopped abruptly as we felt another Immortal approach. Making it look casual, MacLeod dropped his bags and settled into a ready position.
I had been concentrating on the aura. "He's slightly older than you, and a little more powerful."
While I thought this to be disturbing news, he smiled. The unknown Immortal finally broke through the crowd and approached. Slightly taller and thinner than MacLeod, he wore a gray trench coat and a smile on his face. "Duncan! So nice to see you again." What accent was that? They shook hands, and he turned to me. "Russell Nash."
I ignored the hand extended in front of me and crossed my arms. "Try again."
"Pardon?" MacLeod looked like he was about to choke on laughter, but Mr. Nash wore only a politely curious expression.
I sighed. "That's not your name. At least not your real one. What is?" Duncan (he had insisted I drop the formality) didn't seem to regard this man as a threat, so I wasn't afraid to be addressing him in such a manner. Besides, his aura didn't seem threatening to us.
He smiled. "Connor," he shot a smile at Duncan, "Connor MacLeod."
Both my eyebrows tried to crawl up off my face. "Ryan Chessman," I said numbly, shaking his hand. I looked at the two of them. "Let me guess, cousins?"
They both laughed. The elder answered, "Genetically, who knows. But we are clansmen. I had been chased out of Glenfinnan in Duncan's grandfather's time for rising from the dead. When Duncan was thrown out, I found him. Since then, he's had all of the fun."
"And most of the women," came the younger man's mutter. I frowned at him. He shook his head. "Inside joke. I knew Connor lived here. I had tried to get a message to him before we left London, but I didn't know if he had received it in time to meet us. We have time to kill. I wanted to at least spend it among family, as it were."
As Connor started to lead us to his car, he looked sideways at me. "How did you know I was lying about my name?"
"Your aura flickered."
He just blinked and frowned. Duncan explained, "He's got a touch of the Sight. Cassandra's been tutoring him."
"The witch?" Duncan just nodded.
I held my tongue. The term was incorrect, but she didn't mind it.
After dumping our luggage into his trunk, Connor took us to a local brewery and they started swapping stories. Duncan told about how the clan was doing, and Connor started to regale me with stories of, "When Duncan was younger". They all ended up embarrassing him, but I expect that was the point. When he began to falter, Duncan took up the challenge and started telling stories back. It never did come to blows, but I began to wonder after two hours.
Parting the next morning didn't seem to distress either MacLeod in the slightest. "How do you do it?" I asked as we checked our luggage.
"Always say good-bye. Walking away from Cassandra yesterday, and now Connor today. Neither seemed to phase you in the slightest."
The look he graced me with was mostly calm, but with a twinge of regret. "It isn't easy. We've all just learned to live with it. I've been saying good-bye to people I love for four hundred years. Practice doesn't make it easier, just more bearable."
I had plenty of food for thought on the flight into Seacouver.
Arriving in Seacouver felt good. I had a few friends back in Wales, and of course, there was Cassandra, but I was far more comfortable here.
MacLeod and I worked our way through the normal airport hassles (it had never occurred to me how much trouble it was, trying to fly when you need to have a sword handy). We finally had all our belongings, and he stopped by a pay phone to call Richie before we parked ourselves at a lounge to await his arrival.
"What's the story with Adam and Cassandra?" I asked between sips.
He frowned at my choice in beers, but answered anyway. "Did you ask her?" He cradled a scotch in front of himself.
"Yes, but she didn't answer."
"Ask him. It's their story, not mine."
"Okay, then how about this one? What's the story with you and Cassandra? You don't have to tell it if you don't want, but I'm just curious."
He nodded. "No big deal. She's the only person left alive who knew me when I was still mortal. I grew up as the clan chieftain's son, and she was living nearby as the witch of Donan Woods. Robert and I would wander in those woods, sometimes. She kept an eye on us, because she knew what I would become. She showed herself to me, once. My entire clan thought she was a witch, and in league with the devil." He glanced down into his drink and chuckled. "I had forgotten about her, thought she was the figment of a childish imagination. Then a few years ago, she showed up on my doorstep. Between the two of us, we stopped a great evil. A former student of hers was using his powers irresponsibly, and we had to stop him. After that, we'd kept in loose contact for a while. Then came the mess with the Four Horsemen." He was silent for a minute before going on. "You'll have to ask Adam for the rest of that story."
I was hopelessly confused. I'd never heard of the Four Horsemen outside of biblical references, but it apparently meant something to him. I frowned a question at him, but he just shook his head.
We continued chatting, discussing good places in town for me find an apartment, and some of our favorite restaurants. It was almost an hour later when we felt the approach of an Immortal. MacLeod was on his feet almost instantly, but I assured him it was Richie. Sure enough, Richie came walking through the door, spotted us, and made his way over. "Mac, Ryan."
I gave him a long look. "Who is she?"
He stopped dead in his tracks and stared. "How . . ?"
MacLeod just looked at him steadily, "He's been studying with Cassandra, Rich. I'm sure he can read all sorts of things about you."
Richie gave me a frightened look, and I just gave a small smile that didn't reach my eyes.
MacLeod continued, "Though the smear of lipstick on your cheek is probably what gave it away."
I dissolved into laughter as Richie blushed furiously. MacLeod calmly handed him a napkin and indicated the corner of Richie's mouth. He scrubbed furiously as I finally calmed down.
"Sorry, couldn't resist," I said between chuckles. "Hi, Richie. How's it going?"
He gave me a mock glare. "I'll get you for that one." His fierce look dissolved into a smile. "It's been active around here. I've met someone, as you can tell," he gestured to his cheek and Duncan and I both grinned. Flushing slightly, Richie continued, "Joe's also found himself someone. He's serious about her. Probably wedding bells in their future. She's a Watcher, so we don't have to worry about saying something around her."
As MacLeod and I hefted our luggage out to Richie's borrowed 4X4, he told us all about Vu Tran Hoa. How he'd met her and they'd fallen madly in love with each other. It sounded pretty intense to me, but if they were still like this weeks later, maybe they had a shot at it. I snorted to myself. Listen to me. Like I was a great expert at relationships, me who hadn't ever had a girlfriend in his life.
During the drive back to MacLeod's loft, Richie continued his stories. About meeting someone named Crispin, learning he was a sensory adept, fighting a whole group of them at once, and parting ways with Crispin once the fight robbed them both of their abilities.
"I wondered about the changes in your aura. You're much more ordered now, but in a different way than Cassandra is. Also, you've taken several heads since I left, but only one of them was powerful, and he was extremely so."
Richie gave me a respectful glance. "Yep, that was Fergus. Something like fifteen hundred, I guess. He'd send his hounds out to trap Immortals and then he'd take them down by barraging them with waves of Quickening energy. And taking their heads when they were defenseless." He shook his head. "Gang hunting, keeping young Immortals under your control with lies, no fair fights. I won't lose sleep over taking him down."
MacLeod looked quietly proud of his student. That speech sounded almost like something he'd say. I gave an inner chuckle and changed the subject. "Duncan, mind if I borrow your couch for a few days until I can get myself an apartment?" I tilted my head at him and gave a slight smile. "I offered you the same in England, even if you didn't accept."
MacLeod didn't blush, but he did cock an eyebrow. I considered that enough of a victory. Richie raised both eyebrows in question, but I shook my head.
He accepted that and continued talking, "Anyway, if you two want to come by Joe's tonight, we'll be there and Gina probably will be, too."
I nodded. "Sounds fine to me." I took a deep breath and continued. "Guys, I need sword training. I won't ask either of you to do it, Lord knows you've helped me enough, but if you could at least recommend someone, I'd appreciate it."
"I've been thinking about that one. I don't know if it'll work, but how about a short sword of some type in my right, and a long knife in my left? I don't know why, but that just SOUNDS right to me. I'll never be terribly strong, so I can't work with any of the bigger swords. I'm not ambidextrous, but nearly so, so two handed fighting may be possible for me. Besides, I trimmed Christmas trees for three summers. My left arm is already comfortable with a machete."
MacLeod shrugged. "You can give it a try. But I really wouldn't mind training you. I'm not very practiced in two handed myself, but I have some theoretical knowledge. Besides, sparring against one of us would be good practice."
Richie was shaking with silent laughter.
"Huh? Oh, sorry. It's just that Crispin taught me two handed fighting over the last two months. Perfect timing. If you want, Mac and I can spar, and you can watch."
"Sounds good to me."
Richie had clearly gotten better. MacLeod still won, but he had almost as many cuts on his arms and body as he had given Richie. I began to applaud as they parted and bowed.
"You've been practicing," panted MacLeod. It may have sounded accusing, but he was clearly happy.
Richie grinned, saluting with his blade. He came over to me. "You see what you wanted to see?"
I nodded. I indicated the shorter blade in his left hand. "May I?"
Nodding, he laid aside his larger weapon, reversed the shorter, and presented it to me on his arm, hilt first. I took it tenderly, backing away from him. Giving few practice swings, I eventually settled into a defensive stance, trying to imitate MacLeod and his katana. They both chuckled. I blushed. "Okay, okay. So I'm inexperienced at this."
MacLeod walked over to the three matched weapons hanging on the wall that I had seen, oh so long ago. He took down the shorter two and returned to me. Handing me the sheathed weapons, he took Richie's blade and returned it. He turned back to me. "The longer blade is called a wakizashi, the shorter is a tanto."
He nodded for me to unsheathe them and let me get a feel for their balance. Once I was reasonably comfortable, he began to teach me a few katas with the blades. For now, he explained, I could practice with those, but they weren't permanent. They were show pieces, not fit for combat. Once I decided to continue with this weapon style, we could find permanent blades.
I ran through the katas a few times, MacLeod pointing out missteps or sloppy swings, until I had done each twice correctly. By this time, I was dripping sweat.
After replacing both blades, he went up to the loft to unpack while I took a shower. After his shower and once we were both presentable to the outside world, we went over to Joe's to meet the two newcomers to the area.
Walking into Joe's was a minor triumph for me. Adam's aura didn't even slow me down. Duncan slowed down at the two signatures, but I assured him it was only Richie and Adam.
It was a crowded place tonight. Adam and Richie were looking in our direction, sharing a table with a young Oriental girl holding Richie's hand. That must be Hoa. Over at the bar, I noticed Joe talking to two women, though I couldn't see who they were.
Duncan and I worked our way over to Adam and Richie. I nodded to them, "Gents." I smiled down at their table companion and kissed the offered hand. She was small, perhaps 5'2" and 100 pounds soaking wet. She looked relatively young, perhaps twenty-two. "You must be Hoa."
She smiled and nodded.
Someone cleared their throat behind me. I turned and was shocked to see Andrea, with Joe and another woman standing immediately behind her. Andrea held up her hand, "Don't I get at least the same courtesy as a complete stranger?" She tried to look stern, but the twinkle in her eye gave her away.
"My gravest apologies. I beg your forgiveness." I kissed her knuckles as well, then offered her a chair. She was pleased at my actions, but Richie just chuckled. Adam and Duncan pulled another table over as the group included the new members.
Once we were all settled, Joe made the introductions among those of us who didn't know everyone. Gina kept a hand tucked into Joe's elbow, but didn't say much. Hoa on the other hand, was quite open. She would be a lot of fun to get to know.
Once the introductions were concluded, Joe asked Duncan about his visit home. He started on an abbreviated version, throwing glances at Hoa and Andrea.
Joe interrupted when it became obvious Duncan was holding back some historical pieces. "It's okay, Mac. Everyone here knows."
Duncan raised an eyebrow, but Hoa was clearly in shock. She turned to Richie. "Is EVERYONE here Imm, er, like you?"
He was frowning slightly himself, looking at Andrea, so Joe came to the rescue. "Do you know what the Watchers are, Hoa?" She shook her head, so he explained. "We know what Immortals are. We've been tracking them and keeping their histories for thousands of years. I'm a Watcher, and so are Gina and Andrea. Everyone else at the table is Immortal." Andrea's and Gina's eyes got a little wider. Andrea peeked a glance at Adam, but didn't say anything.
Hoa still looked shocked. She looked over at Duncan and then me. We both nodded. She apparently already knew Adam. "Wow. How many of you are running around?"
Scattered chuckles sounded around the table. Joe continued his impromptu education, "Nobody's quite sure. The best guess is about five hundred."
She frowned. "I meant here in town."
Joe seemed to count the people at the table. "At least four." She gave him a sour look, so he continued, "Sorry, but we generally don't discuss such things. Against the group rules, though you'll find the Watchers around here already bend the rules." His voice held a trace of embarrassment, but everything else about him seemed relatively calm. Gina and Andrea shifted a little uncomfortably.
I tried to rescue them as much as possible. "You'll find a lot of ambiguity among the Watchers as to how much contact with Immortals is acceptable. Joe here broke a lot of ground, but it's still rough on most of the rest. I'm in a unique situation. I was a Watcher, but turns out I became Immortal about four months ago." I left out Adam and his story. That was his to tell if he wanted to.
Hoa seemed to digest that for a moment as Richie's hand gripped hers. Slowly, she asked, "And how many Watchers?"
Joe took another look around the table, "Three?"
Hoa growled, but Joe threw up his hands. "Sorry, but not everyone at the table needs to know. More importantly, most of them don't want to." She clearly didn't like the answer, but dropped it.
Once he realized he could speak freely, Duncan returned to his family stories with gusto. How many were still there, the peaks and valleys in the last twenty generations.
Since I was the only one at the table who had heard all this before, I volunteered to get everyone's drink refills. While over at the bar, I indicated our table and asked Mike, "What do you think of all this?"
His hands continued expertly preparing the drinks as he took on a thoughtful expression. "That isn't for me to decide. I just Watch and record, remember? What everyone else does is their own business."
"True, but do you AGREE with Joe?"
He took a long time in answering. "If I didn't, would I be here?" That didn't necessarily answer my question, but I dropped it anyway.
I made it back to the table just in time to listen to Duncan finish a story about Debra Campbell. His voice was rough, and Joe was looking at him with a touch of pity.
"I'm sorry," whispered Andrea. "I didn't realize she meant so much to you."
He cleared his throat before tossing back his drink. Standing, he asked Richie and myself, "See you two tomorrow?" At our nods, he took his coat and abruptly left.
"I'm sorry," Andrea repeated. Her eyes had misted over.
Joe shook his head, watching the dark figure make his way out the door. "You couldn't have known. She was his first love, even before he became Immortal. You never forget your first love . . ." He trailed off, lost in thought. Gina rubbed his arm, giving him a compassionate smile. His face brightened immediately, "But don't worry about it. Mac isn't the type to hold a grudge."
In an effort to change the subject, Richie turned to me. "How'd your training go?"
I smiled at Hoa's look of confusion. "I've been told that I have a very rare gift. I've been in England for a few months getting training. The idea is to read Immortal auras better than most, and even manipulate my own to some degree."
Richie appeared skeptical, "Such as?"
I looked around. Well, everyone here was a friend. Frowning in concentration, I abruptly cloaked myself. Richie's jaw dropped and Adam's eyebrow quirked. Closing my eyes completely, I tried something that Cassandra had told me about, but I'd never tried. As rapidly as I could, I cloaked and uncloaked myself, trying to shift my 'frequency' as I did so. I could almost feel Richie's and Adam's auras struggle to keep up. I head a scuffle off to my side, and opened my eyes, allowing my aura to shift back to normal. Richie was on his feet, looking around, wild-eyed. Once everything calmed back to normal, he looked at me. "Don't DO that!"
Adam, completely unruffled, said, "You did ask, Richie."
Four voices, almost in unison, "What happened?"
Richie sat back down, still slightly flushed. "It felt like a dozen Immortals just came in the door."
"So that's what it felt like," I muttered. "Sorry, but I was only trying to confuse my aura, not panic you." I gave Adam a look, but he just gazed blandly back. "Is it possible to phase you?"
He almost smiled. "Who do you think taught Cassandra?"
My jaw dropped. Well, damn. I was going to have to get some straight answers out of this guy sooner or later. Dredging up my composure, "Well, does that mean I can call you grandpa?"
Joe stifled a guffaw, Richie nearly fell out of his seat with laughter, the girls looked afraid to laugh, and Adam just gave me a sour look.
Fighting her smile, Andrea poked me in the ribs. "Ryan, be nice."
"Ah, yes. I'm supposed to be nice to my elders."
Adam gave me a stern look. "Listen, you young pup," he began.
Joe, Richie, Hoa, and Andrea chorused sotto voice, "When I was your age. . ." Everybody but Adam broke into laughter; he took on a 'wounded pride' look. For the first time, I felt his aura actually relax. I caught his eye and gave him a slight smile. His eyes smiled back and one corner of his mouth inched upward.
The remainder of the evening passed quickly. Adam eventually took his leave and Joe went back behind the bar, Gina following close behind. As it approached midnight, I excused myself and headed toward the door. Once I made it outside, I felt Andrea beside me. "Walk me to my car?"
I smiled and offered my arm. She indicated a direction with a tilt of her head, and we fell into step. "Has Joe assigned you to someone yet?" I asked, just to pass the time.
I waited, but nothing was forthcoming. "Okay, to who?"
She gave me an admonishing look. "You know better than to ask that, Ryan."
"Okay, sorry. If so, why are you letting yourself being seen with an Immortal?"
She stopped and gave me a look devoid of any emotion. I frowned, "What?"
She slugged me in the arm. "For one of the smartest guys I know, you're real dense sometimes, Chessman." With that, she stalked off toward her car, leaving me rubbing my arm in confusion.
Richie came up behind me with Hoa on his arm. "I'm younger than you are, Ryan, but even *I* saw that one coming."
I turned to them. Hoa had a look of pity on her face, Richie's was carefully neutral. "Care to clue me in?"
Hoa opened her mouth, but closed it without saying anything. Richie shook his head. "See you tomorrow, Ryan." With that, they walked away.
If I ever figure out women, I'll write a book and make millions.
Whereas I found my psychic training fascinating, the physical training was simply grueling. Nine to eleven every day, either MacLeod or Richie would prove (painfully) that I wasn't up to snuff. Don't get me wrong. I was gradually getting more comfortable with the two handed fighting techniques. It took longer for them to beat me, but I never won a round. Every time I fought one of them to a standstill, they would change their technique just enough that I was incapable of defending against them again. I expect this was deliberately designed to force me to recognize a deeper pattern to their fighting, but it was taking forever to learn anything.
The only thing that could be said for my unarmed training was that it was less bloody. I still wasn't coming close to beating them, but at least I wasn't ruining nearly as many shirts.
My only place of refuge was Joe's. Several nights a week, I would go in there to escape the Immortal world for a while. Occasionally, Adam would be in there, and we would talk, but for the most part, I just relaxed in an atmosphere that wasn't threatening.
Over the next months, I gradually became more comfortable with my new life. I started my own consulting firm with a small business loan. Since it was free lance stuff, I hasn't held to any schedule. And that helped immensely when it came to my training.
One added benefit of my training routine was that I was getting into better shape. Most of my old clothing (those not destroyed by long, sharp objects) ended up getting replaced as they became too big. I trusted MacLeod's advice, when I could afford it, and Richie's most of the rest of the time.
On my semi-weekly stops at Joe's, I began to see more and more of Andrea. We would sit for hours and talk of anything and everything. This time with her was more reminiscent of our time at Watcher's University than of the recent disagreement in the parking lot. By tacit agreement, that conversation was never brought up.
Gathering my courage, I eventually asked her out. Her response, "About time," finally told me the answer to the question that I had asked Richie a few weeks ago. And that this wasn't my idea. Or at least wasn't my idea first.
Dating was a new experience for me. I'd never gone out with anyone seriously before, and I came to look forward to spending time with her, even if only a few hours at Joe's. Since she was a Watcher and knew who I was, it fixed a lot of potential problems for me. I never had to hide my sword, never had to explain if I suddenly cut a nighttime stroll short, and didn't have to explain why I healed so quickly after I cut my hand open with a knife preparing dinner one night.
One evening at Joe's, I was talking to Richie about life in general. As such things tend to do between two attached young men, the talk turned to our significant others. He listened to my stories and looked at my dreamy expression with barely contained mirth.
"You've fallen for her, Ryan."
I began to sputter, but stopped. I had, hadn't I? Spending my life with her seemed so simple, obvious.
He smiled at the expression on my face. "Actually, Hoa told me before I noticed myself. Why do women seem to see these things quicker?"
"If I knew that, I'd write a book. And sell it to the male population of this planet."
He chuckled. "True enough. Tell you what. Hoa and I would like you to come over to our place this weekend. We'll fix supper and we can make a night of it. Saturday night sound good to you?"
It did at that, and told him that we'd be there if her schedule allowed for it.
It did, and we arrived at their apartment at the appointed time. Hoa made a lasagna that would make an Italian weep with joy, and the night only got better from there. We chatted, played cards, watched a movie, and generally had a great time. Finally making our farewells at about one, Andrea and I climbed back into my car for the trip to her place.
"They make a wonderful couple, don't they?" Despite the late hour, she didn't seem the least sleepy.
"That they do," I agreed. "They apparently bumped into each other when Richie was training with Crispin, and I was over in England. I'd never believed in 'love at first sight', but they seem to have managed it."
She had nodded at my first comment, but grown silent at my second. She spent the rest of the drive back staring out the window. Pulling into a parking spot, I shut off the car and turned to her. She looked at me with an attempt at a haughty expression, "And I thought MacLeod's manners would have rubbed off on you by now."
Realizing what she meant, I hopped out and opened the door for her. Offering my arm, I escorted her to the door to her place. Unlocking it, she turned to me, "Care for a nightcap?"
I opened my mouth the refuse, but never got the words out. Before I could react, she was pinning me up against the wall, giving me a kiss that was getting a much stronger reaction than any of our previous kisses. "Ryan, sometimes you are so dense."
I could only agree as she turned toward her open door, pulling me willingly along.
I awoke in a strange room, in an even stranger position. This was definitely the first time I had awoken with somebody pinning one of my arms down. Before my sleepy body began to consider the situation, my mind had replayed the previous twelve hours. Peeking a look at the clock, I realized I had slept in. I was due at the dojo thirty minutes ago.
As gently as I could, I pulled my arm out from under Andrea. Even that wasn't good enough. She woke with a jerk. Panic rode her face for a moment before her mind caught up with events.
I smiled at her. "Good morning. Oh, and in the future, I'll try to be less dense."
She gave me a coy look, "Only certain parts."
I raised an eyebrow and she giggled. "As much as I'd love to stay right here and prove my, um, density, I'm late for my training. Though we must do this again sometime."
Giving her a peck on the cheek, I began gathering discarded clothing and weaponry from three rooms and headed out. A stop at my house got me a fresh change of clothes and a set of workout sweats. Running back over to the dojo, I walked in only an hour late, yawning. MacLeod and Richie interrupted their sparring as my aura hit theirs.
"Well, well. Look what the cat dragged in." MacLeod looked at me for an explanation, Richie kept his face carefully expressionless.
"Blame him," I said, waving a hand at Richie.
Richie fought a smile, but the gleam in his eye told me what he guessed. MacLeod turned to him a moment before turning back, his eyebrow raised in question.
I sighed. "Amanda's back in town," I said, gesturing up to the third aura that I'd identified. "I won't ask you about your night if you don't ask me about mine."
By this time, Richie was nearly choking trying to hold his laughter in. MacLeod looked confused before realization finally dawned and he gave both of us a faint smile. "You're both adults, but if you want a piece of advice: Be careful falling in love with a mortal. Even when they know about us, it's still hard, knowing you're going to lose them eventually." He trailed off, clearly lost in memories. He snapped back when Richie moved toward the showers. "As I said, be careful. End of speech. Get dressed, Ryan. We still have an hour."
I went to Joe's early that evening. He greeted me cheerfully enough and we chatted for a few minutes. Once the opening pleasantries were over, I gave him a long look. "Can I assume you know all the relevant facts about last night?" He frowned slightly before giving a slow nod. "Good. Only one question. No, make that a request. Despite my current status, I still believe in the Watchers. My only request is that you don't let Andrea be my Watcher. Whichever way this goes for the two of us, she wouldn't be objective about me. Could you do that for me?"
By this time he was smiling. "Already done. She wasn't assigned to you in the first place, but now that will become permanent."
I relaxed into a smile. "Thank you." I felt Richie approach and turned back to the bar as he and Hoa came walking in.
She was laughing. "And what did Duncan say to Ryan?"
I turned to them just as they walked up to me and Joe. Richie was tense until he spotted me, but tensed again as Hoa's question sunk in. Hoa followed his eyes and saw me standing there, looking at her. She started to stammer out an apology, "Sorry, Ryan. Didn't know you were in here."
"It's okay. His look was pretty good after I commented about Amanda. At any rate, I'm told that I should thank you. You spotted this coming long before I did." She smiled and nodded shyly. "Tell you what, if I miss something like that again, you smack me upside the head, okay?"
"I thought that was my job," said Andrea, snaking an arm over my shoulder.
"Yikes, you are sneaky, aren't you? I didn't notice you come in." I turned around to give her a hug and kiss.
"No offense, but that IS what Watchers do."
Life continued to get better and better. Andrea and I moved in together about two weeks later. We had discussed marriage, but decided that both of us didn't care.
My training gradually got better. At least I was ruining as many of Richie's shirts as he was ruining of mine. And I was actually winning some of the spars, too.
Joe's continued to be a regular relaxation stop for me. On one of those nights that Adam was present and in a talkative mood, I asked him about Cassandra. He took a long time in answering, but slowly, painfully, gave me a story about a band of marauders that went by the names of Kronos, Silas, Caspian, and . . . Methos. More properly, The Four Horsemen. The entire story, or at least his abbreviated version of it, still took upwards of two hours to tell. I was occasionally nauseated, sometimes impressed, often horrified, but always enthralled by the story. By the time he got to the Double Quickening he had shared with Duncan, Joe was sitting with us, a solemn expression on his face. When he finished, Adam took a shuddering breath and a long pull on his beer. None of us said anything for several minutes.
"You unspeakable bastard," I breathed. Adam didn't flinch, but Joe shot me a warning glance. "I don't know whether to try to put a stake through your heart or give you a medal of courage."
He gave a wan smile. "I'd like to think I don't deserve the first, and I'm sure I don't deserve the second."
I shook my head. "Well, I did ask. Now I know. Thank you."
He shook his head immediately. "Don't thank me. I have a hard enough time living with myself the way it is. I can't unload any of this guilt and I won't even delude myself into thinking I can. I can just answer the questions and hope nobody follows in those particular footsteps."
Another long pause settled over the table. "She still loves you, you know."
Adam flinched, but didn't say anything. He knew.
Glancing at the clock, I noted it was getting late. I stood and stretched out my back. Grabbing my coat, I waved to Mike. "G'Night, Joe. Methos." Joe nodded back, but Adam was lost in his memories.
The cold air felt good against my face as I walked slowly toward my car. I shuddered, thinking about Adam's life. How he remained sane is nothing short of a miracle.
Half a block before I reached my car, I abruptly sensed an Immortal and stopped dead in my tracks. Reasonably old, five hundred or so. Lots of heads, but none of them particularly strong. I took a careful look around and spotted movement in the alley. Keeping one hand on my wakizashi, I edged in. I made it about ten feet before I saw her. Huddled against the side of the dumpster, wearing hardly anything. She looked perhaps fourteen and looked at me with abject fear.
Taking a quick glance around to see if anyone else was near, I approached to within five feet. My hand never left the hilt of the sword tucked into the front panel of my coat. "What's your name?"
She just shook her head and tried to shrink further into the wall.
I sighed. "Look, you're probably five hundred years old. Don't try this game. Now, what's your name?"
The fear abruptly fled from her face and she stopped trying to press into the wall. "So are you going to try to kill me now?" Young voice, no accent I could place.
I cocked my head at her. "Why would I do that?"
"Because everyone else does. I'm a weak target. I have no sword. I have to run from everyone who knows what I am. All I need is some help, and I can get out of this miserable life, but does anyone help? No, all anyone is interested in is using me or taking my head." She looked resigned to this fate and ready to bolt if I made a wrong move.
But her aura had been flickering wildly the entire time. "That was what, four lies? You're not weak, you're just a trapdoor spider. Try another story."
The look of fear returned, but this time it was genuine. "Don't kill me," she whispered. That plea was honest enough, but there was something else in her aura that warned me.
Slipping my left hand onto my combat knife, I made a big show of removing my other hand from inside my coat and sticking it into my pocket. And I turned back to the mouth of the alley and started to leave.
A flicker of mental warning and just a scratch of metal on brick was all I needed. Whirling around, I brought the knife to block the slash she was aiming at the back of my neck. I reached into my coat again and drew my second sword and settled into a ready stance. "My name's Ryan Chessman, by the way."
Her face had gone deathly white when her first slash was blocked, and the second blade came into view. She backed up into a crouch, but did not try to escape.
"Don't do this," I said. She simply snarled and darted in. Her technique wasn't very good, I noted. She relied on her defenseless look too much. After three simple parries, I realized that she had had almost no training at all. Coming out of my purely defensive routine, I started pressing her backward. Within a minute, her sword was lying at her feet and mine was at her neck.
I had to try again, "Walk away." With a wordless snarl of rage, she produced a switchblade from somewhere and plunged it into my wrist. Completely on reflex, the arm moved sideways, neatly severing her head. With a cry, I dropped my knife and pulled the switchblade out of the opposite hand. Well, I didn't witness Sandra Rocke's Quickening, but I'm sure going to witness this one.
I slowly backed up until I had bumped into the opposite wall. By this time, a white fog had begun to swirl out of her body, drifting slowly toward me. The first bolt of power blasted me forcibly into the wall, making me drop my sword. The lightning strikes themselves hurt, but . . . they didn't. It stung, but each added to my own power, making me feel larger. Lightning skittered across the ground and rebounded from the walls. I don't know how long it lasted, but I eventually felt fewer and fewer of them striking me. When I had taken three whole breaths without being belted, I took stock. I was on my hands and knees, only slightly moved down from where I had first been struck. After some judicious movements, I discovered everything still worked. My hand had even healed.
Unsteadily standing, I retrieved my two weapons and wiped them clean on a old coat I found next to the dumpster. After a moment's pause, I retrieved the switchblade as well. By this time, I was nearly stable. Walking out of the alley, I paused to regain my bearings. It was late, but I needed another drink.
Walking back into Joe's was something of a relief. Adam's comforting aura was still there and I could at least relax. The first thing I did was head over to the bar and ask Mike for a rag. With a quizzical look, he tossed me one. Keeping it hidden from anyone else around me, I wiped off my hand as well as I could. Mike took back the rag with a raised eyebrow. What could I say? I just shrugged and asked for a beer. I took it back to Adam and Joe's table and sat down, completely uninvited.
I wished Andrea were here. I needed a hug and someone to tell me that I did the right thing.
Joe and Adam just watched me as I had a shaking fit. "Who?"
I pulled out the switchblade and looked at it blankly for a minute before answering. "Don't know. She never gave her name. Looked fourteen, but was closer to five hundred. She tried the defenseless innocent routine on me. Did Kenny have any students?"
Joe answered without any hesitation, "Holly Weathers. She slipped her Watcher a week ago down in San Francisco. She was a tricky little thing. Mostly went after the young, idealistic ones. Yeah, she operated much the same way Kenny does. How did you know?"
I frowned at him. "I told you. She was five hundred. And she had taken dozens of heads. When she tried the 'Poor little me' speech, her aura flickered so much it was almost strobbing. If I couldn't read her aura, she would have had me in about thirty seconds." I continued to stare at the little blade in my hand.
Adam just gazed at me. "You okay?"
I took a shuddering breath. "I will be."
He nodded. "Welcome to the club."