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Full Circle, Chapters 41-44

by Celedon


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Chapter 41

Rome

Dawn broke; it found that the Roman emperor gazing out his window to the near distance where a curl of smoke could be seen. He frowned, wondering what it could be, hoping that some fool citizen hadn’t set fire to the slums again as had been the case several times before. He sighed; he hadn’t been able to sleep well lately since word had gotten to him that there were rumors of an army heading for the city was on the move. No one had been able to substantiate the rumors; those he had sent out to verify them had never been seen nor heard from again. He rubbed at his abdomen, wincing at the dull pain that throbbed in it. “Peasants,“ he muttered.

He then decided that it was a good day to go back to bed. It was far better than dealing with things as they stood now—especially after seeing what looked to be a fire somewhere. He slowly made his way back towards his private chambers and disappeared.
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Soot, burning embers and choking smoke filled the nose and lungs while the heat of the fire singed the hairs on the body. The skies darkened with the smoke; flames shot skyward in long tongues that seemed to want to lick the clouds. Men, women and children panicked, as they were run down in the streets by the invaders who had conquered Rome’s defenses easily. To them it had been almost like it had been preordained; scaling the walls had been easy as had setting afire the gates so all of them were attacked at once. That way, no one group defending one gate could put out the alarm to others; it weakened the Romans considerably by doing it that way.

Running between the buildings, one hand clapped over his mouth and nose to keep out the smoke and soot that covered everything from sky to ground, Methos scurried to a good location where he could see just what had happened and who it had been that had set Rome ablaze.
People screamed and shoved him about as they tried to get to freedom with their lives; he pushed and shoved through the throng, scooping up a sword that had somehow fallen from some man's hand. He looked it over carefully to see if it was Roman or not; if not Roman, then perhaps he could tell just who it may belong to. He had seen many weapons in his time and used many weapons from all centuries, from all differing cultures. He was adept at judging a blade and could tell at a glance the origin of the piece; this blade was not Roman in origin but from the North. It was--

A horse and rider came from nowhere it seemed and ran swiftly past him, knocking him down into the street in the process as it rushed by him. He scooped up the blade again. Staggering, he looked after the rider as his nostrils curled at the smells that surrounded him and eyes narrowed at the sight of the rider, he uttered one word in a voice that had chilled many a man or woman's blood in years and centuries past.

"Goths!" he hissed as he looked it over more. He glanced around. Darius has broken an oath to me about not sacking Rome," he thought to himself. And, Darius knew what the consequences would be should he break it--the loss his son's life by Methos' hand.

Grabbing a yank of horsehair from a unmounted horse running through the narrow streets in sheer terror from the raging fires, Methos leapt upwards onto the animal's back, fighting to gain control over the beast as it reared at the unexpected weight. It rose up once upon its haunches, then twice before settling down to chase through the streets as if Hades himself was in pursuit of it. He rode low to the horse's neck, trying to keep a lowered profile as he tried to weave about the streets of Rome, through the throngs of chaos that spilled from everywhere he could see through the smoke.

Sporadic fighting between the city's legions and the invaders could be seen in clusters of groups; some were fighting even on the steps to the Senate but even Methos could tell it was a lost cause. He had seen enough in the centuries and had participated in as well as planned enough raids to know how efficiently this had been sprung and how well organized the attack was.
He pulled up hard as the smoke momentarily parted and looked ahead of him. A man also sat astride a horse, giving commands to the multitude of soldiers that swarmed around him in concerted bloodshed and gore that it wreaked upon the inhabitants of the city. With eyes narrowed, he caught his breath as the unmistakable aura of an immortal reached him through the throngs.

The other rider turned at the same moment that Methos had spied him; he too, felt the aura of someone like him nearby. Two sets of eyes searched the crowds then locked onto one another. The looks exchanged from one of recognition and acknowledgement of their immortality to one of hatred as they truly recognized who the other was.

"Methos!"

"Greyson!"

In a flash, both men raced towards each other, the swords upraised. Unmindful of being seen, they swept past one another with the sharp clanging of metal from their swords clashing together that sent a shrill, ringing sound to the skies. They jockeyed back around, screaming at one another as another pass was made but this time, Methos swung down on the far side of his mount's side.  Only his head showedon the underside of the horse's neck while one leg was still slung across the horse's neck to hold him on.

His fingers were tightly laced in the hair in the horse's mane as he rode; it was an old Bedouin trick learned a few centuries ago. It was one he had relied on many, many times before to keep his head intact. With a last cry, he struck out at Greyson's mount in a slashing motion that neatly cleaved the muscles and tendons in the horse's neck. With a great gout of blood rushing from the wound it faltered this way and that before tumbling to the ground and sending its rider head over heels into the dirt of the street.

Greyson lay momentarily stunned, but he recovered quickly and struggled to his feet again only to turn and face the onrushing attack of his ememy again. Thinking quickly, he ducked and then as the mount rode past him, he stood and grabbed at the rider, who fell hard to the street but was on his feet in a moment of time.

Soldiers began calling to one another at the sight of their commander and his opponent fighting. "Rally! Rally--the commander needs help!" All who heard the cries, dropped what they were doing and rushed to their commander's aid, encircling his attacker, all weapons drawn and aimed at all the vital areas one needed to know in order to kill someone.

Methos was roughly grabbed and held tightly by the Goth soldiers. His eyes blazed in both anger and in a desire to kill Greyson. He struggled but that only succeeded in causing the grip he was held in to become painfully tighter. He watched as Greyson calmly dusted himself off then began encircle him in a slow, methodical pace as if he were on a hunt and Methos was the intended prey.

An empty smile slowly crossed Greyson's lips; no warmth was found in any of his mannerisms or his speech. He paused for a moment as if he had been thinking then said, "Very good, men. You've captured something very valuable to the General today. He will be well pleased with your efforts this day." He began his pacing again then glanced around him looking for a suitible spot so that the other immortal could be dealt with without any interference from others. He clapped one of the soldiers nearest to him on the shoulder as he pointed to a spot atop a staircase. "Do you see that?"

The soldier nodded and looked expectantly at his commander as he awaited orders.

The smile dropped off Greyson's face as his voice dripped malice. "Take the prisoner up there and deal with him."

A runner came up then and gave a quick salute. "The General requires your attendance."
Greyson's face clouded over momentarily. Now he wouldn't be able to finish what had started between them--duty called. His eyes slid over to stare at Methos then back to the runner. "Where is the General?"

The runner gave directions to where his father could be located and he nodded in acknowledgement of them. "Very well--you, you and you--" he pointed out the three strongest looking of the soldiers and pointed the space he had pointed to earlier. "Take the prisoner up there and crucify him." This time, a true smile crossed his face as well as a look of anticipation. Leaning in as if to let Methos in on a private joke, he said, "I'll be back to check on you later!"

Methos growled at his tormentor and hurled a gob of saliva into his face once he was near enough for it to hit him squarely. He struggled again, twisting and turning as he tried to get out of the soldiers' grip but it was to no avail.

"You do know, Methos what they say, don't you? When in Rome, do as the Romans do!" With a hearty chuckle, he whistled his horse to come back, mounted, then rode away leaving Methos being dragged up the staircase to a most horrendous and slow death.

For as long as it lasted, that is.

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Chapter 42

When Darius was finally found by his son, he was standing amidst the ruins of what had been the Emperor's once ornate palace but was now only a smoking ruin. Here and there fires still burned among the cornerstones and in the inner gardens. The fire had been so intense that some of the rock used in the building had fused from the heat, into one large, blackened lump of rubble amidst the rest of it.

He turned when he felt another approaching him with hands on hips and a large smile crossing his face while his eyes glittered at the conquest that had occurred. "Welcome!" he crowed at the sight of Greyson. "We have achieved a great victory today; there is much to be proud of." Darius rubbed his hands briskly then walked over to step up on the remains of a wall to look over at the dark skies and the glow of the city in flames below him. "You have done well, my son. You and your men shall be well rewarded today."

Greyson joined him at the wall to look at the devastation below also before turning to ask, "Where is the king?"

His father answered rather enigmatically, "Which one?"

Greyson frowned for a moment, in confusion. "The king, Alaric!"

"Gone. He will not return in this lifetime," Darius calmly replied then after a moment's pause said, "Nor in any other lifetime, for that matter."

Greyson's face showed nothing at the news of the king's demise--he had been in the way of his father's and his own plans for conquest far too long. Now, with the king gone, they were free to follow the dream of an empire of their own stretching from the Urals to the western ocean near Gaul, if indeed it existed. He looked back at the fires below and nodded. "Good. And the Emperor?"

"Fled, so I hear," Darius chuckled at the thought of it. "All for the better--but he won't get far. I have a bounty out on him and the men searching for him at this moment." He turned to look at his son then slid his arm through his son's in a confidential manner. "We have taken that which some have said was unconquerable. For that, we must give thanks! However, there is much more to do here but we must not tarry too long or we will be caught in the heat of summer and the rains of late spring. There are more important prizes to be won yet."

Silence fell between them as both knew what was being referred to--Gaul and, perhaps, the tin mines of Britannica if it could be done and if one could find a way over to it that would hold an army the size of the one they currently had brought with them. After a few minutes of nothing being said, Greyson spoke up to announce his find a while ago. "I have found something which you had lost some time ago, Father. It is here in this city and it is something you considered valuable at one time."

Intrigued, Darius asked, "Oh? And what is that, my son?"

"Methos."

Darius paused in mid-stride at the name and paled for only a moment of time before his face went back to his normal color. Slowly, he repeated the name, "Methos? Here?" One look at his son told him that indeed Greyson was telling the truth of the matter. He shivered, feeling as if a cold breeze had come upon him suddenly at the remembrance of the oath he had made to the man--and the warning from Methos that came after. He rubbed briskly at his arms then patted at his sword that hung at his side. With determination and steel ringing in his voice, he ordered, "Gather the men together and all that we can possibly carry. Organize the taking of all livestock that can be slaughtered as well as wagons of grain and drink. We are leaving here as soon as we possibly can."

"But, Father!" Greyson blurted out surprised by the order, not fully understanding the reason why he was ordered to do such things. The look of reproach on his father's face was not what he wanted to see and indeed, the look on his father's face was not one of a father, but one of the greatest generals the world had ever seen or would ever see if all went well. He nodded once in assent and acceptance of the order then turned on his heel to begin preparations for the pullout.

Darius watched him go then went back to look towards the northwest in the direction of Gaul. He shivered again as he repeated the name, "Methos..."
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For thirty-six horrifying hours Rome burned, was plundered, raped and was pillaged before the Goths left, taking with them a very long supply train full of the spoils of war that they had obtained off the citizens of Rome. Herds of cattle and swine as well as sheep were prodded and shepherded in line as they followed the vast hoard of soldiers. One could tell which direction the army went by just following the scorched earth and grass as well as the bloated bodies that had fallen by the wayside of the roads and had stiffened as the flies laid their eggs into the open crevices of them.

As far as the eye could see, all one could see of any given color seemed to be the black of spent fires as well as the crimson of spilt blood from the clashes the Goths had with anyone unlucky enough to oppose them. Smoke could often be seen to be billowing on the horizon as more resistance was burnt and ravaged into submission at the cost of hundreds of lives lost. Those who lived to tell of the Goths' passing were taken as prisoners to replace those soldiers who had died over the course of the march.

Methos, by no amount of a small miracle, had been tracking the army for close to 2 months now, occasionally coming close enough to go into the encampment itself and sit at the campfire to eat as well as to listen to what the soldiers had to say. Rumors were always running rampart through the rank and file but their spirits were high as were their resolve to see the march through to the end, wherever that may lead them.

Always, he stayed away in terms of distance from either Darius or Greyson so that his presence couldn't be detected by them. He preferred to ride alone and a little behind the rest of the army so he could track them easier as well as note any changes in Darius' strategy of conquest. Word had spread far ahead of the invaders to the small hamlets and villages that stood in the path of it; little to no resistance from the peoples they encountered soon became commonplace.

If the weather held, within two months they would reach the small outskirts of a small waddle and daub earthenworks encampment was located that had a great river that flowed nearby it, Methos realized. In fact, it nearly could be said that it was a part of the encampment itself but that would not be true as the encampment was actually located on a small island in the river. It was connected by a series of small bridges made of rope that spanned from one side of the river to the island and back again. A ferry also was used to haul the harvest goods as well as trade goods across and back the river.

The Parisii people, who inhabited the island, were very well adapted to their homes and had a great reputation as metalworkers as well as craftsmen in the more precious metals of the highest degree. Methos had spent time there during his travels, but not enough time to learn too much of their ways. He knew that they revered someone they called the One, who was supposed to be one of the Ancients that had roamed this land since time began and who, their legends told, could not die. Whether or not, this so called One was fact or fiction, he never found out because he thought it was far better to leave than to find out whether it was truth or a myth.

Still, considering the direction the army was headed, the memory of what he had been told by the Parisii, nagged at him and made him wonder now, in hindsight, if perhaps he had missed an opportunity to meet one of his own kind--an immortal. If there was an actual One, and if they had turned out to be immortal... He frowned as the thoughts kept going about in his mind, as he turned over the possibilities this way and that, analyzing them, and coming up with more questions than he had answers to! It made his head hurt; so, with a shake of his head, he cleared his mind of such thoughts and began to concentrate on how to get to Greyson and kill him.

Preferably, with Darius watching....
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The last vestiges of a blood red sunset winked behind the hills and horizon as Darius stood alone watching it sink. Once it disappeared, he turned and rubbed at his hands as if he were wiping away something on them. Looking off into the early evening sky, he then sighed at the beauty of it--and the ice cold loneliness and emptiness it also seemed to speak to his heart of.

For some unknown reason, the further his armies had progressed eastward, the more uneasy he became and the more he felt as if perhaps as of something was missing--that somewhere in his long life he had left something behind and forgotten. And whatever that something was, he instinctively knew that it was vital, but try as he might he could not identify what it was. It interrupted his sleep at night and haunted his days. He found himself shaking his head, as once more he tried to conclude what it was that bothered him so but once more, it eluded his mental grasp and dissipating into the thinness of the air about him.

The army had been marching for nearly four months now; the fourth new moon was beginning to rise over the far hills to the south of where they were encamped. He stared at it as it bathed the night landscape in eerie shades of silver and darkness. The army had conquered much of the Eastern provinces of the shattered Roman empire, and on this day they had paused to celebrate as they had taken much of Gaul without so much of a whimper or a drop of blood. Word had spread before them of their approach; often as they arrived at a settlement, whatever Darius demanded of them in terms of bounty or ransom it was nearly instantly provided by those who were the tribal chieftains or the elders.

Admittedly, there were some who tried to oppose them despite the odds against winning a pitched battle with the soldiers of the Goths' experience and mettle. They were dealt with swiftly and surely--they were hung, their goods confiscated, their homes burned, their women and children taken and raped before the elders or chieftain's eyes prior to his and their dying. The buzzards were soon upon the scene to begin to pick the body clean until only the skeleton remained and the tattered remains of tissue that they had been to pick off of it. It made for a gruesome reminder of just what the consequences would be if any one else tried to thwart the Goths in their march to the sea.

Most of those who lived in their path to the sea, watched them as their lives were destroyed in a matter of a few hours by the conquerors. It was noting new--Gaul had been overrun throughout the centuries by several different peoples of many different identities and names. The Goths were only the latest to come and were probably not going to be the last ones either.
Darius turned around and watched the glimmering campfires that spotted over the entire camp and listened to his men as the wind carried snatches of song and comardarie to his ears. He nodded to himself; these men were good men and he was thankful to have them at his side and to fight his battles. He took a deep sigh then made his way to his tent to sleep with the hopes of not dreaming the disturbing dreams of the past few weeks.
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"Come," a voice commanded as it tickled Darius' brain, just beyond the realm of conciousness. "I am waiting."

Darius' eyes flew open and he bolted upright into a sitting position on his cot. Swinging his head from one side to the other of his tent, he tried to see who the voice belonged to but he saw no one. One hand reached down to tightly grasp his sword as if to reassure him that it was there--no one could come expecting to catch him unawares without the general knowing about it or being caught unprepared. Shakily, he released the breath he had been holding and then laid back down but with the sword across his chest.

As soon as his eyes closed again to sleep, the voice returned, more insistent and urgent. "Come. You will know the way," the voice cajoled. "You have nothing to fear."

This time, Darius leapt out of bed and began to throw his clothes back on. Wisps of the dream continued to pluck at his conciousness and he heard the voice again.  "I am waiting."

Frightened by it, he threw back the tent flaps, stumbling into the dark of the night right into Greyson's arms. Wild-eyed, he looked about before he realized who had him in their tight grip then relaxed and pulled himself away. He stood there for one moment more as each stared at one another in the moonlight before taking off for the picket line to grab his horse.

"Father?" Greyson's voice cut through the night. He was concerned about the other man-never had he ever shown any signs of fear, not even under the worst of battle conditions. He had always been cool, calm and collected. His behavior now was erratic now and he didn't understand it. He took a few tenative steps towards Darius who had stopped, turned around at the sound of his son's voice and was waiting for whatever else he had to say. "Let me come with you."

Darius' face clouded over and he shook his head. "No," he replied evenly. "I'm--fine. I just need some time alone. Stay here and see that all is well." Turning his head towards the east, he became silent for a minute before saying, "I need to do this by myself."

"It's not safe. The wolves--" Greyson protested but stopped as he saw the determination set upon the other man's face. He bowed his head in acceptance of his orders. "Watch out, Father. Be careful."

Darius then turned and disappeared into the long shadows of the night.
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He rode into the night for some distance, guided by some unknown force until he saw a wide river snaking its way through the landscape and dotted with several islands, the largest of which he could see had high waddle and daub walls built upon it. It was toward that particular island he led his horse and paused as he felt the unmistakable power of another immortal wash over him. Who or whatever it was extremely old and powerful, he knew. Calling out to whomever it was he said, "Show yourself!"

Nothing happened.

Again, he called out. "Are you afraid to fight me? Show yourself!" He led his mount up and down the river's bank impatiently as he searched for a place that he could ford it and get to the island. His eyes shifted across the river to the earthenworks; the fear he felt rising with each moment. He cursed himself for feeling it too--there was no reason for fear because he was Darius, and the world trembled at his feet and lived or died at his word!

A young, almost waif-like voice drifted across the waters. "Be not afraid."

Darius narrowed his eyes as he stared at the river. A small boat drifted across the waters coming directly towards him as if it were meant only for him.

"Come," the young voice ordered him.

Darius dismounted. He waded into the water to pull the craft closer to shore before glancing back towards the opposite shore. Much to his surprise, he saw a small figure draped in white standing there, beckoning him to return to that side of the river. The fabric of the other person's clothes seemed to shimmer in the moonlight; it made the person look almost unearthly.

He complied and instantly the craft pulled towards the opposite shore on its own. His hands gripped the sides until his knuckles were white; his mouth ran dry as soon as the boat touched the shoreline. He looked up to see himself being watched.

"Welcome, General. I've been waiting for you."

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Chapter 43

The small figure walked back towards a small grove of trees, not waiting for Darius to follow. Only after they had reached the trees did the person in white turn to look at him, smiling benignly as they did so.
+Darius was shocked at what was before him. Never in his life had he beheld such a person with such a strange appearance--long, flowing white hair, a face that was both young and old with a large jaw and overhanging brow ridge, deep-set eyes and a flattened nose. He sized them up against himself and was surprised that indeed the person before him was so very small in comparison.

 His eyes automatically searched for weapons on the other but found none. This person was not someone to be afraid of! This person could not even win a fight if given the chance! He looked more carefully and audibly gasped.

The person before him was a woman!

Finally composing himself he asked, "Who are you?"

Shaking her head, she said nothing but intently watched him.

Darius grew annoyed. "I'm Darius. This land I claim--" he stopped in mid-sentence as he was interrupted.

"This land is not for you, General. This land belongs to no one," the woman finally answered.
"This land was here longer than I have been, longer than time itself almost. You cannot claim it. It belongs only to itself. It has seen many people try to claim it over the centuries; many have lived upon it, many have died upon it. Still, it remains its own."

"Who are you?” Darius asked again, this time in anger.

The woman plucked an apple from a low hanging branch and held it out to him. "Apple?" She grabbed one for herself and lifted it to smell the rich sweetness of it. "I have waited for someone like you to come for centuries so that they can become a chalice.” She paused for a moment then said,  “My chalice."

"What are you talking about?" Darius said as he knocked the apple from her hand. He snaked out his sword from its sheath, and shook it before her face.

With one hand she softly pushed it downwards then turned her back on him and walked away. "I have no name, Darius." She threw a glance over her shoulder at him and smiled at his shock as he heard her call him by name. "I was born before such things were needed. The Parisii, who live inside of these walls--" she indicated the earthenworks behind her, "call me the One as they have for centuries although I have had many names over the centuries. To them I am their protector, their finest dreams that their legends and myths are based upon, their nightmares when things are at their worst. They think I am one of the ones they call the Sidhe." She turned to fully face him again. "I am and have been, many things, General, but, most of all, I am immortal."

Darius brought up the sword again, uncertain as to just what this woman really was and why she talked to him in such a manner. He nodded and began to speak but was interrupted.

"You have come a long way, Darius. You have been the cause of nearly an ocean of blood and thousands of deaths. You have plotted and schemed to kill even those you have loved if it got you want you most desired. Your heart is one that is easily read." She sat on the soft grass near the base of the tree and patted the earth. "Sit."

"How do you know this?" he roared at her, the fear rising once more in him. "Are you a sorcerer? A witch?" He stumbled backwards away from her a few steps and stood there staring at her. "I have done what has been necessary to get me what I want in my life!" he began to explain.

She smiled once more and shook her head as she rose to her feet and approached him. "Ahhh, but which life, Darius? Your mortal one or your immortal one?" One hand reached out and placed itself on his chest. "What of the one of the spirit?"

At her touch, he screamed in agony and dropped to his knees before throwing her hand away from him. He ripped his tunic apart as he searched to see the blistered scorch mark left by her palm but found nothing despite the icy cold yet searing pain he still felt from it.

"What of peace, dear General? What do you know of it? You who have led those thousands that even now kill at your whim and are prepared to die for you--they are at least at peace somewhere in their souls, but you--" She squatted down to face him at his level. "You have no peace. Your soul is uneasy and questioning as to your purpose in this life.  Do you ever wonder what it would be like for all fighting between men to cease or for no man to die a needless death? Do you feel empty in your soul?  Are you looking for something to quench a thirst in you that you cannot name because you know it not?"
 
Again, he said in both amazement and a touch of anger that he could be so easily found out, "How do you know this about me?" His hand still rubbed at the spot where she had touched him. He was confused yet at the same time he knew that what she said was true about him. He had not known and did not know peace--had he ever known it in his lifetime?

"Only a man of war would know how much blood and pain it causes, Darius," she pressed him as she saw his confusion at her words. "Tell me, do you dream at night of the fallen? Do you wake up feeling unclean from the blood you have spilt on any given day? Do you want this to go on forever?” She waited for the power of her words to sink in then continued as she watched his every reaction and mood flicker over him and that was so easily read. “Do you not hear the cries of the hungry women and children left behind to stave all because of your lust and greed for something that really, ultimately, means nothing in this life?"
 
“Stop talking to me!" he screamed at her. All of the thoughts she spoke of raged about in his head. Images of thousands and thousands of silent battlefields full of the dead who bore silent witness to his lust for power and an empire that would last until the end of the world if he wanted it to be so danced before his eyes. With a swift backward movement, he raised the sword to strike. "Fight me. You cannot turn down my challenge!"  He could not tolerate to hear more of her words—it made him question his actions and that was something he did not or wanted to do.

She then laughed at him. "Will you take my head then, dear General, because I speak the truth? I can turn down your challenge to fight you because I do not fight any longer and haven't in centuries." Her eyes searched his as her hands raised up to hold back the impending blow from her fragile neck with a surprising strength. "I have waited for someone like you for centuries; waited, knowing full well that some day a man would come that could be used to carry on the work that I have begun here."

Pausing to catch her breath she then continued. "I have defeated more men with words than I could have ever defeated in battle--those men who, like you, thought to conquer but instead were conquered by their spirit. Is your spirit—your soul intact, Darius, or have you any soul at all?"

"I-I-" he sputtered then screamed, "No!" as she pushed his sword arm back even further then released it so that is it came swooping downwards in a deadly arc.

"You will be my chalice of peace; use it well and wisely through the centuries," she said as she looked at his steadily then gently smiled as the sword came whistling through the air before it cut her head neatly off her neck.

Darius screamed and dropped the sword, falling to his knees beside her body under the trees. "No!" he sobbed out. His voice softened to a whisper. "No...." But as he said the last word her Quickening overtook him and sent him staggering before drilling him into the ground.

Sparks and bolts of lightning licked and flew everywhere, catching both tress and the grass on fire into such an unearthly inferno of blue flames that he screamed out, "I'm blind! I'm blind!" as they reached into the depths of his soul.  Scrambling to his feet with his heels of his hands dug deeper into his eyes, in the hopes it would stop the blinding light that deeply penetrated into every part of his being, he wove around blindly unable to see anything but the light that filled him.

Every fiber burned with scathing pain; he could feel his blood seemingly boil in his veins and arteries, while his skin seemed to want to burst open from the strength of the Quickening. His heart pounded convulsively in his chest while his breath came in labored, ragged gasps as his muscles contracted in upon themselves. He wanted to die from the pain of it all--die so that he no longer could feel the torment or see the bloody images that raced and intermingled with his own as the woman's essence seeped into his own.
 

Finally, quietly, the quickening subsided. He fell hard to the ground and lay there, sobbing, unmindful of anything or anyone. Time passed and he soon got back up and returned to the body to look at it a final time. Much to his amazement, he found nothing there except a small pile of ashes that blew away in the night breeze and a single flower where her body had fallen. What had happened here? he wondered to himself. What has happened to me?

It was true. There was something different about him--the world looked newer than what he had ever remembered. He saw things he had never realized even existed--he felt dazed, confused, deliriously happy one moment and overjoyed at the beauty that surrounded him. But most of all, above all else he felt at peace. From his every cell came a single essence of well being and peacefulness, he noted with glee.

This was all he needed now. But there still burned in him, questions that required answers, and answers to questions that had yet to be formed. He was, in spirit, quiet and at rest. There were new things to replace all that he had been before and a new sense of urgency to teach others what he had only begun to know.

Peace.

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Chapter 44

A knife slit down the length of the tent, renting it in two pieces large enough for a man to slip through. Pulling the sides apart, Methos looked around for any signs of sentries before slipping unseen into the dark interior of the tent. Once his eyes adjusted to the darkness, he began to quickly search for that which he had come for.

Greyson.

He had seen from a distance Darius' departure from camp when it had occurred; had heard of the orders given by Greyson to the sentries to be told when the General returned, even if he was asleep. He had followed Greyson from a distance as he made his way to his tent. He’d followed him in such a way that his presence could not be completely felt and  close enough to make his immortal prey constantly stop to scan the area to see who might be out there because something told him that there was the possibility that another like him was lurking about. When that happened, Methos made sure that he slipped back into the deeper shadows so he couldn't be seen. He laughed to see Greyson's discomfiture, laughed at the long-range torture he was inflicting upon his adversary without him even having to come in contact with him face to face.
Greyson had made a fatal flaw in the placement of his tent within the camp, Methos realized as both Greyson and he drew nearer to it. Instead of being placed near the center of the encampment, he had chosen to have it placed to one side of it. All the better for Methos' plan to come in in the dark of the night and take Greyson's head. Quickening or not, the tent was placed far from any interference that may come their way when he killed his prey.
And that was all that Methos' asked for.

Except for one small detail.

Greyson's head.

Finally, he saw his victim and made his way to stand beside the cot where Greyson lay.  Something was wrong. Greyson didn't awaken at the nearness of his presence nor react to it at all. He swung around to peer into the dark corners of the tent but saw nothing. The hair on the back of his neck began to rise as he realized that he had been fooled. Somewhere, Greyson waited and probably watched him. And, somewhere, they would meet up to finish what had been started years before.

He thought for a moment then looked out towards the tent flaps then back towards the opening he had made.  Darius would be more punished by allowing his son to live. As long as Greyson lived, he would not know if Methos were waiting somewhere to claim his vengeance upon him for breaking his oath to him.  Methos could wait for centuries as he wanted to exact the toll he said he would—providing that Greyson lived as long as he intended to live. He preferred to meet Greyson on his own terms and circumstances as well as a place he had chosen to fight on.

With a decision made, he nodded quickly to himself then slipped back into the night the way he had came--unobstructed, unknown, and unseen. There would be other times, and other opportunities later if both of them survived. It was, after all, a matter of survival until the end of the Game, whenever that came and for however it took to get there.

He slipped back out into the night and disappeared.
_________________________________________________________

Morning came and with the dawn, came Darius back into camp.  He had spent the night under the trees on the island near where the lone flower had taken root where the other immortal's body had been.  The calm he had felt the night before still permeated him and was reflected in his actions that were as deliberate as they were controlled.

Greyson had waited all night for his father to return; when he saw him ride into the encampment only to head straight to his tent hr followed.  He dipped his head inside Darius' tent opening once he arrived and saw his father sorting his belongings as if he were getting ready to travel.  "Father?" he said, in inquiry of what Darius' was doing. "Plan on taking a trip?"

Darius up to that moment had ignored the signature of his son's presence but at the words turned and looked at him with a gentle smile crossing his lips. He nodded an affirmation to Greyson then turned back to gathering up a few articles of clothing. On occasion he burnished items of gold and gemstones that would be useful for bartering for the things he would need.  Quietly, with his back still turned away from the other man he said, "Assemble the men and tell them that they are released from any further duty.  The war is over."

A dark frown rapidly crossed Greyson's face and decided to stay there. "What are you talking about?  We are ready to fight until the ocean--the war isn't over!"

"It is for me." Darius turned and looked at the other man then sat on the edge of his cot. "I'm going away, Greyson.  I have to find some answers to questions that I don't have the answers to--answers that I thought I already knew but have since found out that I don't."

"You can't do that!" Greyson burst out loudly. "You can't leave!  The men need you to lead them to victory and to your empire--remember?"  He took a few steps closer and peered closely at the older man. "You look different--what happened last night?  Where did you go?" All color had drained from his face; all his hopes, dreams and ambitions melted away into the air like dust in the wind until nothing but an empty shell remained of them.

Darius stood and clapped a hand on Greyson's shoulder. "I can leave and am leaving.  The army doesn't need me anymore--they have you to follow." He gazed out towards the horizon through the tent flap, looking as if he were already searching for something that couldn't be easily defined by any standards. Bringing his eyes back to look at the younger man, he took in a deep breath of air and held it.  Looking at Greyson, it was if seeing him for the first time and truly seeing him for what he was.

"You can't do that to them!" Greyson emphatically said a second time as he threw Darius' hand off his shoulder. "You can't do that to me!"  He continued, his voice almost pleading. "I need you--we are to rule our--" He rapidly changed the tenses "--your empire for a thousand years or more!  We have all-- of the world within our grasp, Father.  We can have anything we want!"
<p>
Darius shook his head at the words. "I don't want it any more.  There are other things that need to be done--things that need to be rectified and places to go.  This is no longer my life."  He straightened himself to his full height then said. "And I no longer need you in any way--or want you.  You are no longer my son--I finally see you for what you are, Greyson and I cannot truly say that I like what I see."  His eyes narrowed even as his voice dropped. "I'm ashamed of myself for teaching you like I did. I could have done so much more for you if only I had known."

"Known?  Known what?" Greyson felt the emptiness being replaced by something else as his world collapsed around him.  The confession that Darius was ashamed of him stuck deep into his soul, forever changing it. He backed out towards the opening but paused as Darius spoke the last words he ever heard from him.

"You have your orders, soldier. Now carry them out," the older man ordered but Greyson didn't move out but stood by the opening, his face a chaotic mass of anger, pain, resentment and--hatred. Noting Greyson's hesitation, Darius put the full force of command into his voice. “GO!"

With a final look at each other, Greyson spun on his heel and retreated to carry out the final order.

Once he was gone, Darius returned to packing the remainder of what he was taking on his journey then left the tent after a final look around.  Within moments, he returned to pick up his sword that he had left behind intentionally only a few minutes before then disappeared into the day, never looking back at the army he had led until the past night or with any regrets as to his decision.

Epilogue

Paris

If this had been a military campaign, Darius thought to himself as he made his way to the chapel, then he had done all that could be done now against his one-time son. He had flanked Greyson by sending the runic message to MacLeod; now all he could do was wait to see the great wheel of his flanking motion come full circle to his aid when he needed it most. He knew his student well enough to know that he would come after receiving the message and had faith that Victor Paulus would be protected from Greyson. But at the same time, he knew that Greyson might go to where MacLeod was and try to counterattack any maneuvers that he himself had instigated from a distance.  He had been a good student –and a good officer who had learned his tactics perhaps too well, centuries ago.

Strike, counterstrike. Push and pull; strain until you think you will break.  Believe in one’s self  and believe in others.  Take risks when called for; leave the field when necessary if it would save lives.  All this, the priest knew and in his heart, he understood very well. And yet, his heart was troubled for all the loss of the innocents who had died so that a decision would be forced upon him.

Standing in a pool of light that came from one of the larger windows in the chapel, he genuflected in front of the cross that hung on the wall, crossing himself as he did so. The longer, darker shadows of the church held quiet his prayers within their walls as they had for centuries.  He stood then reflected more on what might happen should Greyson continue to play his games and toyed with him so he could prod him off Holy Ground and fight him.  Closing his eyes, he said a prayer for those whose lives had been lost at his behest centuries ago on both sides of a war that he had created and had both won and lost.  May God have mercy on their souls. Then he fell to his knees in a prayer for himself against what was to come.

Thy will be done.

Finis


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