Disclaimer: Highlander belongs to Panzer/Davis, I'm just playing with their toys
Chapters 1- 5
"...What the? Mud, I'm wallowing in mud... how... why..."
Oxygen seared through his lungs as he gasped for air, his heart springing to life in a furious flurry of activity as it tried to pump life back into what had been, a few moments ago, a dead body. Nausea overwhelmed him as he curled up into a ball; the familiar sensation of pins and needles coursing through his limbs as his body slowly regained its circulation. He fought to hold onto consciousness, as he tasted the disturbingly familiar metallic flavour of his blood in his mouth. For a few scary seconds he found himself wondering what century it was before he finally came back to his senses and he slowly became aware of the steady driving rain that drenched his face.
"Well, that explains the mud I suppose."
Giggling helplessly as he lay splayed in the dirt, he didn't bother to move as he listened to the soothing pitter-patter of the falling rain. body screamed with exhaustion as he tried vainly to gather his thoughts. Forcing his mind into the here and now, he squinted his eyes, peering through the rain in the hope of seeing something, anything, that would jog his memory.
Terror bubbled up through his exhausted body, dissipating the cobwebs in his mind as he slowly came to the realisation that he had no idea where he was. He scrambled quickly up on his elbows and glanced down at his clothes. With a sinking heart, he examined what was left of his sweater, even through all the mud he could clearly make out all the blood splatters. Ye Gods what a mess, somebody had definitely torn into him pretty badly. His sweater had been slashed more than once, leaving great big gaping holes in what used to be his second favourite sweater.
Gulping nervously, he tried to figure out what the hell had happened to him. That queasy feeling of impending doom that he was way too familiar with of late began to grow, this was not good, not good at all. Groping through his memory for answers, he still couldn't figure out how he ended up face down in the mud yet still managed to keep his head attached.
"Blood and mud... muddy blood... Ah well, another piece of knitwear bites the dust."
Cursing under his breath, he quickly scanned the surrounding terrain. He had awoken in some kind of clearing surrounded by what was obviously a piece of virgin territory. He was nowhere near Paris that was for certain; old forests like this one had been cut down centuries ago in France. He eyed the sturdy old oaks swaying in the rain and the dense, wild underbrush that encroached on the muddy clearing. He had definitely off the beaten track that was for sure; this was not an area that saw many nature walks.
"Yes Dorothy, I guess we aren't in Kansas anymore."
It was then that his eyes eventually rested on what he had known all along he would find - a head. There it was, nestled snugly among the soggy leaves, not a care in the world, its open eyes staring sightlessly back at him. He irritably wondered how the head managed to avoid getting mud on its face in the midst of all this sludge; there was no justice in the world these days.
"A head... a head... I thought I saw a head... you're losing it old man, you'll be winging it away with Tweetie bird if you don't get a grip on yourself."
Leaning forward to get a better look, he searched its features and waited for the penny to drop. Nothing happened, nada, no stirring of recognition whatsoever. It was the face of a complete stranger. He closed his eyes and willed himself to feel some kind of relief.
"Well isn't this a plus, we didn't actually kill any old lovers or long lost friends today, this is just looking better and better. Oh yes, I'm just sitting here feeling the sunshine, not a care in the world... dum di dum... di... dum... nope, I still don't feel any better."
Shaking his head in defeat, he pushed aside his growing feeling of unease. With a wry smile, he reminded himself that he hadn't felt guilt since the eleventh century, great one liner that, pity it wasn't true. Staggering to his feet he felt for the familiar weight that meant he was armed and therefore, in theory, safe. Oh hells, where was it? Where did he leave his... a dull gleam caught the corner of his eye and his eyes brightened in relief.
"Ah, there you are, come to Papa."
Tugging gently at the hilt, he tried to pry his Ivanhoe loose from it's muddy grave without damaging the blade. Suddenly, with a great slurping gulp the mud reluctantly loosened its hold. He staggered back, grinning in delight at his small victory. His sense of triumph quickly evaporated though as he noticed his weapon's dilapidated state.
"Damn it, it's going to take me an age to clean it. Why couldn't he have picked a nice sunny day when the ground was nice and dry. While he was at it, why didn't he pick somewhere a lot nearer civilisation... or more to the point, why didn't I pick somewhere a lot nearer civilisation, what the hell was I doing out here - having a picnic?"
Sliding his muddy blade into his even muddier overcoat, it suddenly occurred to him that though he had had a good look at the head, the rest of his supposed challenger was nowhere to be seen. Cursing softly, he started scouring the surrounding underbrush but came up empty, no body and no sword. Wracking his brains, no easy answer came to mind; he was still at a complete loss as to how he had ended up here. His memory, fickle at the best of times, had apparently decided to take a brief vacation, probably had run off to Bora Bora, bright little brain cells. He wasn't sure how much time he had lost but hopefully it wasn't too much, he hadn't had any significant memory loss for... for.... Well, a very long time anyway, over a millennium at least. It had been a small mercy that he had been grateful for but it seemed that the honeymoon period was over.
"Hello, my name is Methos and I'm over 5,000 years old. I may or may not know the secrets of mankind but I couldn't tell you either way because I also suffer from recurring bouts of amnesia that sometimes span entire centuries. But don't worry; I keep a journal so that if the worst comes to the worst I can look my own name up. Yes Joe, now you know the horrible truth, my journals are not for posterity's sake as you may have thought, but to make sure that I don't forget where I live."
A brief smile flitted across his face as he imagined the look on Joe's face as he explained the true purpose of his journals, it might just be worth the endless explanations in order to witness it in reality. But first things first, Joe's reaction to the true state of his mental health would have to wait. Uneasily he tried to figure out the most likely reason for current dilemma. Somehow he didn't think that he had just been tripping through the woods minding his own business when suddenly he just happened to stumble across a spare head. Why on earth had he been stumbling around in the wilderness anyway? Had he been following his challenger or had it been the other way around, it didn't seem likely that they just happened to bump into each other while wandering merrily through the forest one day.
He wandered back into the centre of the clearing and took a second look at the offending item. It was a young face, the skin still had the smoothness of early adulthood and his cheeks were still filled out with puppy fat. He must have been barely old enough to shave when he had met his first death. The fair hair and the strangely peaceful expression on the dead man's pale face gave the head an almost angelic air, though he of all people knew that appearances could be deceiving.
Sighing yet again he looked up at the sky, he figured that it wasn't much past midday but it would probably grow dark early because of the dense cloud cover. Searching the undergrowth for clues he realised that things weren't as bad as he feared. The flora was comfortingly familiar which meant he was still in Europe, he hadn't actually hopped continents. An Idea suddenly occurred to him and he quickly searched his pockets, his wallet was still there bit his mobile phone was nowhere to be found, well, that was one idea scrapped. He stood in the clearing and gazed at his surroundings. Try as he might, he couldn't shake the feeling that something was very wrong with this picture - and strangely enough it wasn't the bodiless head. Tilting his head, his eyes catalogued everything that was growing in and around the clearing. It really was a very unspoiled piece of wilderness; one could almost believe you were back in the days before the industrial revolution. Then, like a thunderbolt, it hit him.
"Of course, how could I be such an idiot... it's so obvious."
It was too perfect, too unspoiled, where was the scorch marks, the broken boughs? Even the weakest of quickenings would have left some damage. Swallowing weakly, he once again found himself staring at his nemesis, heads don't just pop out of thin air. Somebody must have dumped it here, why would they do that? If this was a set up, it was a remarkably elaborate one. He racked his brain for a feasible explanation, how would a scenario like this work to an enemy's advantage.
Yet another nasty thought sprang to mind, how could he be sure that the head belonged to an immortal? He eyed the head nervously. It would explain the lack of quickening marks, but why on earth would he kill a mortal? It still didn't explain the missing body. Checking the holster on his leg, he smiled in relief to see his gun was still there. Decapitations were messy and raised too many questions; if he had killed a mortal, he would have used a bullet, not his sword. Of course, that brought him back full circle. Could this be some kind of elaborate set up? Gods.... He really could do with a beer right now.
Rubbing his temples in frustration, he tried to make sense of the mess but his brain wasn't cooperating. All he knew was that he really needed to get a move on. No matter what way the cookie crumbled it definitely wasn't a good idea to hang around any longer than he had to. But what about the head? Should he just leave it there and hope for the best or bring it with him. Eventually he decided on a compromise, he would take the head and bury it somewhere away from the clearing so that he could retrieve it later. With that decided he leaned down and grabbed the head by the hair. It wasn't as if he had a choice, he didn't exactly have a spare plastic bag lying around. Fear warred with anger as he traipsed through the thick undergrowth. The dense trees blocked what little light there was and instead of the tree cover protecting him from the worst of the rain, it only served to make the downpour even more irritating as heavily laden branches drenched his face and poured down his back as he brushed past.
Railing against nature, he trundled on. He had never liked the rain... give him a desert any day. To make matters worse, he didn't have a clue about where the nearest piece of civilisation was- he was just going to have to wing it and find some running water. If in doubt follow the river, it was sound advice 5,000 years ago and some things never changed: where there is water, there are inevitably people. Vaguely he wondered if he should make more of an effort to move silently but shrugged the thought away. He was cold and wet and the noise of the downpour more than adequately covered any indiscreet sounds that he may be making. Besides, if there was an immortal about Methos would sense his presence long before he became a threat, and a mortal wouldn't stand a chance of sneaking up on him.
He may not be too fond of nature but when the chips were down, he'd bet that a man born into a tribe of bronze-age hunters could leave even the woodsiest mortal running around in circles. Nothing like a lifetime or two of picking berries to hone one's wilderness skills. With a wry grin, he wondered what the Boy Scout would think of that little piece of information; he'd lay odds that both he and Joe thought that he was born in some cradle of civilisation. It didn't seem to occur to them that he might be of less exalted origins.
Dusk was already falling when Methos eventually stumbled across a stream, it wasn't much but he decided to follow it anyway, hoping that it would lead to a river. Three hours later he hit pay dirt as the stream poured into a larger waterway, by this time the rain had eased off and the night sky was beginning to peek through the cloud cover. Methos began to sing tunelessly under his breath, his mood lifting as he picked his way along the bank.
"As I went into the woods one day... dum... de... dum... de... dum..."
A sharp crack broke the still night air and Methos froze mid step, hitting the ground a split second later as he realised he may have company. That's what you get for dropping your guard; maybe he should have added a song and dance routine too! The sound of hushed voices emanated from the woods and he crouched down as a flashlight blinked on, its beam directed at the riverbank.
"How many were they, two, more than two?"
He didn't think for a moment that they could be friendly, good guys didn't skulk in the woods in the middle of the night, unless they were him of course! Best-case scenario was that that they were poachers, which meant they were probably armed and nervous; the alternative was that they were another kind of hunter which meant that they were just plain armed and dangerous.
A whispered conversation was held in the trees and a moment later the flashlight blinked off again, straining his ears he heard an unfamiliar voice hissing in French.
"But I heard something I tell you, it could be him..."
"Stow it Rene, there was nothing there. Now move it, we have schedule to keep."
The second voice seemed to have an American accent, Midwestern if he had to hazard a guess. The voices drifted off into the distance and Methos found himself in a quandary: should he follow the voice of the two mortals or continue following the river. After a short inner debate, he decided to keep following the riverbank. Truth be told, he felt a bit wary of about embroiling himself in a possible conflict without knowing all the facts. Wearily, he picked himself up from the ground and proceeded to creep along the river.
The night was beginning to get old when an exhausted Methos eventually spotted a bridge. Warily he scanned the hinterland for any sign of somebody lurking in the bushes. When he was satisfied that nobody was going to jump out at him he slowly stepped onto the roadway - only to duck off it again as soon as he realised he was still carrying the damned head. Cursing furiously, he scraped a hole in the dirt with his dagger and unceremoniously dumped the head inside. Marking the spot with a stone, he ran back into the bridge again and knelt down to kiss the tarmac with aplomb. Smiling happily, he rose from his knees and proceeded to stroll down the road towards what he hoped was some form of civilisation.
The sky was beginning to pale with the pre-dawn light when he spotted the glimmer of artificial light in the distance. Taking a deep breath, he started up the dirt track toward the farmhouse about a half-mile off the road. Day had truly broken by the time he found himself in the farmyard; chickens roamed free around his legs and he nervously noted the sound of some very angry geese. Vicious little buggers they were, probably penned up because of the hens.
It was the slow creak that alerted him to the door. The first thing he noticed was the double-barrelled shotgun; the next thing was the determined glint in her eyes and the firm line of her mouth. She was seventy if she was a day but he was old enough himself to know that this was one lady who wouldn't hesitate to pull the trigger. Damn, why did he always have to bump into the smart ones? Just once, he'd like to meet one of those nice little old ladies who knitted. He'd never actually met one, but he had it on good authority that they existed.
"Chickens got your tongue, boy?"
It took a few moments for the words to sink in and a few more for the language to register.
"Bulgarian! How the hell?"
Well that explains the forest. He must be somewhere in the Balkan ranges.
"Well what do you know, home sweet home. Well, give or take a few millennia anyway"
"Well, boy, have you anything to say for yourself?"
Beady suspicious eyes glared at him over the barrel of the gun; there was no way she would miss at this range and she definitely looked like the meticulous type. Chances were he'd wake up to find her with a shovel in her hand as she dug his grave. No, death was not an option. Putting on his best wide-eyed little boy lost look he decided to tell her the truth. Well, sort of.
"Not much, really. Last thing I remember, I was in a club with a few friends in Paris. Next thing I knew, I had woken up in a forest. I didn't even know what country I was in until you spoke."
Well that knocked her for six! He could see her eyes widen as she digested what he said but they hardened just as quickly as he tightened her hold on the shotgun.
"Mighty handy that you happen to speak Bulgarian then!" she retorted.
The sarcasm in her voice was not lost to him as she widened her stance, raising the gun to aim.
"Damn! How the hell do I get out of this one..."
"It's what I do for a living, languages I mean, I'm a linguist at the Sorbonne."
The lie tripped easily off his tongue but she wasn't having any of it. He took in her appearance; she looked Slavic on the whole but... He switched languages.
"I also speak Turkish."
Bingo! He watched with satisfaction as her jaw dropped; he thought he saw a touch of the Tartar around her eyes, probably a grandparent. Not wanting to push his luck, he waited for her to speak first. Her head tilted to the side as her shrewd eyes took his measure, relief flooded through his bones as he noticed that her hold on the trigger relaxed slightly.
"So what brings you to my door?"
"It was the first door that I found," he answered truthfully, venturing a little smile.
"Somehow, I have the feeling that that was the first honest reply I've got from you."
Suddenly he didn't feel so relieved anymore.
"Relax, boy, I'm not going to kill you. Not yet anyway." A sly grin spread across her face as she lowered the barrel of her shotgun. "If you're looking for a phone you're fresh out of luck, can't afford to keep one."
"Directions and a bite to eat will do just fine." He looked at her with his best "eager" expression plastered across his face. If she invited him to her table chances are that she wouldn't kill him, Bulgarians are funny that way.
"You forgot about a change of clothes." She gestured at the bloodied remains of his sweater. .
Damn, he'd forgotten about that, no wonder she held a gun on him.
"Yeah, that too."
"Well, come in then, I've got some leftovers on the range "With that, she retreated back into the house, leaving the door open in invitation. After a moment of trepidation, he followed her inside.
The door led straight into the kitchen, the heart of any good farmhouse. A huge table dominated the room and an old-fashioned solid fuel range was giving off heat from the left wall, although he noted that she also had a more modern gas cooker by the sink on the right. Photographs of smiling faces dotted the white walls and a couple of herb plants graced the windowsill on the far wall. She gestured imperiously to a chair at the table as she busied herself with a pot that stood on the edge of the range.
A few minutes later, he was sitting in front of a rather large bowl of stew. "Do you want some bread with that?" A silent nod produced a loaf of rye with some cheese and butter. A few moments later a battered old teapot joined him at the table and after producing some milk and sugar she sat with him at the table to have her cup of tea. .
"There's plenty more in the pot if you want a cup."
Gesturing at the draining cups by the sink, she leaned back in her chair to have her tea, the shotgun propped against the table beside her. Snagging a cup from the draining board, he poured himself a cup of very black tea; it obviously had been standing on the range since he got up. She peered at him over the rim of her cup as she produced a pouch of tobacco from her pocket and proceeded to roll a cigarette: the anti-smoking lobby had obviously not made any inroads into this household. He smirked as he imagined some well-meaning doctor trying to convince this old biddy to quit.
He hesitated, it wasn't as if he had to worry about his health but he had given up smoking as soon as people in western society began to look upon it as a bad habit. Any sort of attention was bad attention as far as he was concerned, so there went his cigarettes. Her shrewd eyes pinned him to the chair as he continued his inner debate. Oh what the hell, when in Rome...
She pushed the pouch across the table with a knowing look and produced an ashtray before she took a box of matches from that cavernous pocket of hers. They smoked in companionable silence as she finished her tea; the only sound the slow ticking of the wall clock.
"I've got the hot tank on, you can clean yourself up while I find something you can wear, then you and I are going to have a little talk."
Pushing her chair back from the table, she led him to the bathroom upstairs.
"My tank isn't very big, so you'll have to be sparing with the hot water," she warned as the mounted the stairs.
He gave her a nod and with a grunt she left him to his bath. Ten minutes later, he was relatively clean and feeling much better about life in general, He was busy debating whether it was a good time to clean his sword when a loud knock interrupted his reverie.
"Clothes outside the door!''
He opened the door a crack and found a neat pile of clothing leaning up against it. A quick perusal of the items in question produced some dubious results. The original owner had obviously been a large man with a broad build, though he was about Methos's height. Using a belt, he hitched the trousers up and tucked in the shirt. Speaking of which, he really should ask her what her name was; somehow he didn't think the phrase ''old biddy'' would go down too well. While he was at it, he might as well bite the bullet and ask her the date. He quickly threw on the rest of the clothes and reattached the holsters for his dagger and gun. It was a good thing that she hadn't decided to frisk him. He didn't relish the idea of explaining why a ''university researcher'' was so well armed. After examining his overcoat, he decided it would have to do. There was no way he'd be able to hide his sword under the shirt. After wiping the worst of the mud and gore off he draped it over his arm and made his way down to the kitchen.
She sat on a chair by the range, the shotgun across her lap. Apparently she wasn't that convinced he was harmless. As he sat on the chair she pointed at, he noted that it was the one situated furthest away from her. This was going to be a serious conversation, then.
''My name is Kira Pendarova, perhaps you'd like to tell me yours.''
''Adam Pierson at your service.''
''Well Mr Pierson, perhaps you could tell me the whole story now that we're comfortable.''
''Oh yeah, I'm screwed, Tweetie here I come..."
''I don't know what you mean...''
''Cut the horse manure Mr Pierson, you arrived on my doorstep covered in blood. Your clothes are more hole than fabric, and you truly expect me to believe that it's all a blank?''
''Typical, the one unholy truth I was able to tell her and she thinks it's a lie."
''I swear to you Madame Pendarova, it's the God's honest truth.''
For a brief moment, Methos wondered if the whole ''madam'' thing was going a bit too far and with a sinking heart he had his suspicions verified as he watched her head tilt to the side. Her eyes narrowed in suspicion as they gave him the once over, he'd already become familiar with that expression on her face, it loosely translated as ''this young upstart has it coming''
''Yep, seems that the ''madam'' thing was laying it on a bit thick after all"
''Listen, if you don't believe me you can call the club, the owner is a friend of mine...''
''Yeah sure, she could do that, if she actually had a phone, you idiot. Get with the program, old man. There has to be some way I can convince her not to blow my brains out.''
''Madam'' Pendarova made herself comfortable in her chair as she wrapped her finger around the trigger, she wasn't exactly aiming it at him yet but the raised eyebrow told him that she was definitely contemplating it.
"Perhaps I should start with an easier question. Why are you carrying around that trench coat with you as if it is something precious? I hate to tell you this but no amount of mending is going to fix it. ''
''Well, speaking of attachments, you seem pretty cosy with that shotgun of yours.''
The silence that greeted that statement was deafening.
''Oh dear Gods, please tell me I didn't just equate my trench coat with her shotgun, what the Hades is wrong with me?''
Sheepishly he slouched in his chair as he waited for her to connect the dots, it didn't take too long.
''Let me tell you what you are going to do, Mister Pierson. You are going to slowly stand up from your chair and then you are going to ever so gently lay your coat on the table.''
The gun cocked as she rested its butt against her shoulder.
''All the better to blow your brains out with, m'dear.''
Laying his coat on the table with slow care, Methos quietly retreated to his chair, praying silently to whatever Gods were listening that she didn't take it into her mind to frisk him. A sword was hard enough to explain; he couldn't even start to imagine explaining a gun with a silencer attached, not to mention the dagger. Oh yeah, here be dragons.
"So tell me, Mr Pierson, are you actually going to tell me what you have hidden in the folds of your coat or am I going to have to peek for myself?''
This old lady was way too sharp for her own good. Slouching back in his seat, Methos ran a hand through his still-damp hair as he decided to bite the bullet (though not literally, he hoped).
''Various forms of weaponry, I'm afraid.'' The silence that greeted this statement was so deafening that it seemed to take on a life of its own. Methos plunged on. ''A double-edged broadsword, to be more exact.''
It was then that she did what he least expected her to do: she burst out laughing. The poor woman practically doubled over as tears of mirth poured down her cheeks. This had not exactly been the reaction he had been expecting but he wasn't about to start complaining; it was a welcome change to a bullet in the head.
''Madam... Madam... Are you okay?'' he asked cautiously as he leaned forward in the chair.
The old lady stood abruptly, waving her shotgun in his general direction as she strove to regain her breath. Methos leaned back in his chair as his eyes warily followed the barrel of the gun. This was definitely not good for his nerves. Pulling the coat to her, she felt in its folds until her hands found the sword. Dragging it halfway out of its scabbard she fixed Methos with a suddenly very serious stare.
''This is a very workmanlike piece of steel you have here, Mr Pierson. I assume that you know how to use it, and that it is not some unlikely form of fashion statement?"
Methos answered her enquiry with a short affirmative nod. With a sigh, she slipped the sword back into its scabbard and sat back down. Methos studied the changing expressions on her face as she struggled inwardly with the situation. Eventually she raised her eyes to meet his, taking her finger off the trigger and placing the shotgun on the table beside his coat.
''I think I'm going to need something stronger than tea before I hear this, Mr Pierson. Care to join me?"
Making her way over to the fridge, she grabbed a whiskey bottle off the top of it and returned to the table, unscrewing the cap as she looked enquiringly at her ''guest''. With a nod, Methos pulled his chair to the table and pushed his teacup towards her, it wasn't a beer but it was close enough. There were a few moments of comradely quiet as she reinforced their tea and they cradled their cups as they took a few sips.
''So... a sword, hmm?''
Both gazed into their cups as the clock ticked off the long seconds.
"Use it often?"
"I'm afraid so.''
''I knew you were going to say that.''
With a long swig, she finished off the spiked tea and reached for the bottle: time to move onto the unadulterated stuff. After pouring herself a generous measure, she gestured at his cup once again and he raised it for a refill.
''Is this a secret society thing or are you just plain crazy?'' she asked with a nervous laugh
''Neither, strangely enough.''
"Now, why doesn't that make me feel any less nervous?''
With a shrug Methos gazed at the old pictures on the wall as he tried to decide what to admit. An old grainy photograph of a couple caught his eye. Standing under a tree, they beamed blissfully at each other. Her voice abruptly interrupted his reverie. "T'was our wedding day,'' she said softly as she glanced at the photo. ''It wasn't long after the war, so no white dress. Couldn't get the material.''
It was a familiar story. Not a lot of luxuries during those years, not a lot of anything, especially in Eastern Europe. Methos turned to meet her gaze and with an inward sigh as he came to a decision. Time to spill the beans - he would just have to deal with the consequences later.
''This is going to be a very long story,'' he warned.
''I thought as much, it's alright, we've got all day.''
''I wouldn't bet the farm on that, I seem to be attracting a lot of trouble of late.''
With a chuckle, she stretched back in the chair, produced her tobacco pouch and proceeded to roll herself another cigarette.
''You'd better start talking fast, then,'' she answered as she took out her matches again.
" I suppose I'd better start out with the most pertinent fact. I'm immortal, I'm not the only one and I carry a bloody great big sword around with me because there are a lot of other immortals out there who believe that there should be only one... by the way, I don't suppose you could tell me the date...''
Three hours, a half a bottle of whiskey and an impromptu demonstration with a sharp blade later, he had told her as much as he was prepared to tell. He had decided that she didn't need to know his true name and had fudged around the whole issue of his true age. He also had come to the conclusion that she had enough to digest without throwing the watchers into the mix: from her earlier comment, she seemed to have an aversion to secret societies to begin with. All things considered, she knew all there was to know.
They both sat bleary eyed at the table, the comforting haze of the alcohol making the silence more amiable than it should have been.
"You never were truly afraid of me, were you?" she asked, smiling ruefully. "All that nervousness about my shotgun was feigned. Here I was thinking that as long as I kept my finger on the trigger I was safe." She pushed her chair back from the table and eyed the clock over the stove.
"It's nearly midday, Mr Pierson, and my son will arrive around two in his pickup. I could arrange a lift for you to the nearest town. It's called Travda and it has a train station, you could be on your way in no time."
"Not trying to get rid of me are you, Madame"
"Of course I am trying to get rid of you, Mr Pierson," she replied. "I haven't lived this long by being stupid, you know."
"A woman after my own heart."
A grin lurked on his face as he ducked his head and rummaged inside his coat until he found his wallet. After a few minutes' pause, he ripped open the lining and pulled out an Italian I.D. card and a MasterCard along with his emergency cash stash. All things considered, he thought it might be better if he didn't travel under the name of Pierson, so from now on he would be Senor Roberto Sabotini for this little adventure. Tucking his new identity into his jean pocket, he handed his Wallet over to Hira.
"Could you hold onto this for a while? If I don't contact you within the next few days, please mail it to a friend of mine in Paris, his name is Joe Dawson. The address is on a card in the wallet"
With a nod, Hira put the wallet into her pocket and rose from the table. With a disparaging look at the coat that lay there, she disappeared from the room only to return a few moments with a raincoat.
"It's not much, but it's better than that collection of rags that you call a coat," she muttered as she held it against him.
"Very fetching, I didn't know you cared."
"You don't have to wear it. you know," she grumbled as she laid it on the table.
"I'm sorry, Kira, I didn't mean to offend you," Methos apologised as he picked up the coat and tried it on. "You've done more for me than I could have possibly have hoped for." Smiling contritely, he peered at the lining and gauged that it would be strong enough to hold the harness.
"Could I ask for a needle and thread?"
Hira disappeared out of the room yet again and reappeared a few moments later with a sewing basket.
With a grateful nod, Methos set about salvaging the harness and scabbard from his old coat and sewing it into the raincoat. By the time he had decided that it was secure enough to hold the weight of his sword, it was already nearing two. Hira was bustling around in the yard and he could hear the geese kick up a fuss. Using his old coat as rag, he gave his sword a good rub down; a proper cleaning would have to wait. A few minutes later, his concentration was broken by the sound of an engine followed by the slam of a truck door. The sound of footsteps and low conversation grew closer as he quickly slid the sword into its new home.
"Josef, I want you to meet Adam, Adam this is Josef, my son. Adam had a bit of a mishap in the woods, Josef, and he needs a lift into town. That's alright, isn't it, dear?" Hira enquired as she bustled in through the door, her son ducking under the doorway as he entered after her. To say that he was a fine strapping fellow was putting it mildly: He was built like a house, well over six foot and carrying over 200 pounds. How on earth could someone as petite as Hira give birth to this monstrosity? Catching the glint in Hira's eye he guessed she knew exactly what he was thinking.
"Josef takes after his father's side of the family, don't you dear? " she said dryly as she watched Methos's expression with amusement.
"So they say," answered Josef breezily as he held out his hand to shake. "Nice to meet you, Adam, Maman has explained that someone had dumped you in the woods as some kind of prank. Doesn't seem like a very funny one, if you don't mind me saying."
"I'm a bit of the same mind myself, actually" answered Adam with a grin as he grasped Josef's hand, inwardly pondering what he would do to whoever had set up this particular "prank". He was thinking that something along the lines of the spectacular and bloody was in order, as soon as he remembered what actually had happened, that is. With an inward sigh, Methos smiled at Hira in thanks as he followed Josef out to the truck. He'd had to pay her back in some way when all this had blown over, maybe she could use a phone...
Methos jumped up into the pickup and slammed the door after him, rolling down the window as Hira neared the truck.
"You take care of yourself, Mr Pierson," she said with an enigmatic smile, putting her hand on the windowsill. "Don't be losing your head now." With a wink, she pulled away from the door as Josef started up the engine and reversed out of the yard. With a final glance back he saw her small, determined figure disappear back into the farmhouse.
It was a quiet journey; whatever had passed between mother and son before they had entered the house had seemed to leave her son disinclined to ask any further questions. It was with some amusement, as they arrived at Travda around three, that Methos noted the total sum of two words had been uttered in the cab during the entire trip: "we're here". A few moments later, Josef slowed down to a halt in front of what Methos presumed was the train station. With a sly smirk, Josef turned in his seat and fixed him with a steady look. What on earth did that old biddy tell him? It was enough to make an old man paranoid.
"There is a train bound for Sofia pulling in at five-thirty. The next one isn't due until the day after tomorrow so I suggest that you don't miss it."
Gods be damned, this boy looked way too knowing. All at once Methos felt very glad to be getting out of Dodge. With great alacrity, he jumped out of the truck and watched in bemusement as Josef sped off as if the hounds of hell were after him. Yep, that train ride was definitely looking very attractive. Methos stood on the pavement and contemplated the quickly disappearing truck as he turned slowly towards the train station. It was then that he got thwacked across the head with a very large stick.
"Where the hell have you been man, I've been climbing the walls since yesterday!"
With slow care, Methos turned and looked at his would be attacker as he cradled his spinning head.
"Joe, what the hell are you doing here?" he cried in amazement as he confronted a fuming Joe Dawson, who still waved his cane threateningly in the air.
"What do you mean what am I doing here, have you gone senile or something? It was you who dragged me down here in the first place. 'Mac has been kidnapped,' you told me. 'Quick, we don't have much time, we have to get to Bulgaria,' you said."
Methos smiled in amusement at Joe's atrocious imitation of his accent but then took a double take as he realised what Joe had actually said.
"What? Again? Since when?"
"Jeeze, you have gone senile, haven't you? That fossilized brain of yours has finally seized up. Since the day before yesterday, of course. Have you been hit on the head and lost your memory or something?"
"Funny you should say that..."
Disbelievingly, Joe stared at him in horror. "You gotta be kidding me."
"I'm afraid not," Methos replied with a resigned shrug.
"We're doomed," Joe declared flatly as he leaned on his cane.
"Maybe we should have this conversation elsewhere, Joe, people are beginning to stare."
"Oh yeah, like that is the height of our problems. What the hell are we going to do?"
"Well, I was rather hoping you would fill me in."
Joe looked at him as if he had suddenly sprouted two extra heads. For a moment, Methos thought he was going to start yelling at him again. No such luck,instead, Joe did something much more sinister; he began to laugh. Adam was beginning to think it was some kind of epidemic.
"Oh, that is rich" Joe wheezed, "Mister I-keep-my cards-so-close-to-my-chest-because-I'm-afraid-someone-might-figure-out-what-I-was-thinking wants me to fill him in on what is going on. How the hell do you suppose can I do that when you've been playing Mr. Mysterious for the last two days? There are exactly two things I can tell you, Adam, diddly and squat!"
"Breathe, Joe, I've heard that it helps."
"Don't you patronize me, you old sot! Mac's life is at stake here, or have you forgotten that - again!"
With a sigh, Methos rubbed the bridge of his nose and closed his eyes in resignation.
"Panicking isn't going to help him, though, is it? We have to figure out what we do know instead of fixating on what we don't. Let's start with the basics: is there anywhere around here we can get a beer?"
This time he was lucky enough to see Joe's cane coming and managed to jump out of range before he got his head caved in by three and a half feet of solid oak.
"Easy Joe, I think my brains are scrambled enough at the moment, don't you?" he muttered as he held his hands up in surrender. "I just need to sit down for a moment. I haven't slept since yesterday, there is a great yawning blankness where my memory should be, and I am in serious need of some downtime. Give me a break here, Joe."
Giving Methos a long, hard look, Joe relented and gestured across the road. "There's a tavern across the road, I could probably do with a drink myself. Let's go."
Five minutes later they were both safely ensconced in a nook, supping on their respective beers. For the first time, Methos took a good look at his friend and realised that he wasn't the only one to not have had much sleep over the last couple of days. Joe looked sick with worry and Methos felt that hard coil of tension in his stomach tighten. Joe wasn't the type of person who got worried easily - usually it took a fair amount of dead bodies before he got this stressed. This wasn't looking good.
"Listen, Joe, I know you've said that I didn't tell you much about Mac's capture, but I need somewhere to start from. Tell me what you do know, let's start with how we got here and maybe something will jog my memory."
With a sigh, Joe leaned back in his seat and combed a hand through his hair. "It started two days ago. I was setting up the bar for the lunch crowd when you came flying through the door and pulled me into the back. You told me that you had gone to visit Mac that morning and that when you arrived at the barge, you saw two guys throw his unconscious body into the back of a van and fly off. You also told me that the abductors had been well-dressed and mortal."
A glimmer of hope flashed in Methos's mind. " Mortal, did you say? Did I give you a description of what they looked like, age, hair colour, anything like that?"
"Nope, well-dressed was all you said."
"Ah well, what happened then?"
"Then you told me to pack a bag because you had a funny feeling that he was going to end up in Bulgaria."
"Oh, come on, I must have said more than that!"
"Nope, and believe me, it wasn't for want of me trying to pry it out of you."
An uneasy quiet settled upon the table as they both studied their pints moodily. All of a sudden, a gasp escaped Methos's voice as his head jerked up suddenly and he stared at Joe.
"Joe... where is my stuff?"
"At the hotel, why?"
For a second Methos thought about skirting around the question but reluctantly decided against it. Considering Joe's little tirade earlier about his less than forthcoming nature, honesty was probably the best policy. Especially as he was still within striking distance of Joe's cane, no sirree, he's not afraid of the big bad blues man. Rubbing his head at the memory, he gave a sideways glance at the stick that was now innocently leaning against the table. He was definitely getting very blasé about using that overgrown twig of his lately; maybe they should have a little chat about it when he was feeling a little lighter on his feet. It was starting to become a very worrying trend.
"Let's just say that I feel a sudden urge to reacquaint myself with the last few entries in my journal."
A slow grin spread across Joe's face as it dawned on him the import of Methos's words.
"Sheesh, why didn't I think of that?"
"Must be the stress."
"Ha, ha, ha, very funny, not."
"Come on then, finish up your pint Joe. We don't have all day, time's a-ticking, Mac's in danger and all that."
"Don't even start, you old goat."
With a grin, Methos downed the rest of his pint and stood up. Nothing cheered him up more than getting a rise out of the wily old watcher, except maybe getting a rise out of an even older highlander. He hadn't been lying when he once said he was easily amused.
Stepping out onto the street, Joe led the way to the Hotel. As he strolled along at a leisurely pace besides Joe's awkward gait Methos couldn't help but dwell on his memory loss. His mind awash with uneasy thoughts about a certain bodiless head, he wondered if of the events of the last few days would eventually come back to him. In the past, his bouts of amnesia had been pretty much a hit-and-miss affair.
Sometimes it came back as clear as a bell only a few days later, other times the most he could hope for were a few hazy recollections. His childhood was a jumbled mishmash of pictures, the strongest being his mothers pale, fine-boned face. He had no concrete memories of his first death, and couldn't be sure that the recollections he had of his teacher were reliable, either.
Then there were the times the memories never came back. To this day, he couldn't for the life of him remember a single day of the second century and, even worse, it had been the sixteenth century before he even realised there was a blank.
He had been reminiscing with a fellow survivor of the Bronze Age he had met up with in Florence when the conversation turned to old anecdotes about a certain Persian peacock who had recently taken on a new student. After a having a good giggle at picturing the old coot trying to explain the nature of the game to a clannish 16th century highlander, his companion began to chortle about the time all three of them had partied in Ramirez's palazzo in Rome for two straight months back in 168 c.e.
At first Methos assumed he couldn't remember the details because he'd been in a drunken haze for most of the time (Ramirez's parties back in those days being better described as drunken orgies) but ten minutes into the anecdote he realized that it was a bit more serious than a few pickled brain cells.
Smiling and nodding absently as his companion continued on with his story, he feverishly searched his memory. He had been living amongst the Gauls during the latter end of the first century, that much he was certain of, and he remembered the time he spent in Britain during the early 200's with perfect clarity, but everything between was missing.
A few hours later, after his old acquaintance retired for the night, he made a beeline to his study. Pulling a loose panel out of the wainscoting, he extracted the slim metal box he had stashed there the previous century. Breaking it open, he rifled through the journals within until he found what he was looking for.
Carefully, he leafed through the hide pages and absorbed the words; apparently, he had been married at least twice during that century. Once in Rome at the start of the century and another time in Constantinople shortly after his stay at Ramirez's. Two wives, whose faces he didn't remember.
He had proceeded to get very drunk that night. It didn't matter how descriptive his journals might be, nothing could replace a true memory. Even thinking about it now made him shudder - what if he woke up one morning and couldn't remember Alexa's face?
The thing was, he wouldn't have minded so much if these bouts of amnesia were more even-handed. There were a few years from his angry adolescence that he'd gladly elect to erase from his memory, like that time Kronos convinced him to attack one of Xerxes' supply convoys during that whole mess with the Greeks.
"How can we fail?" he asked. "If those squabbling Greek states with their mishmash of democracies and petty tyrants can thrash them, so can we."
Needless to say, they'd never come across a Greek hoplite before then. If they had, they might have re-evaluated the Persian army's capabilities. It takes balls to hold a line against a pissed-off Greek.
And while he was at it, there wasn't much he wouldn't give to forget that mess he had gotten himself into in Rome during the first century C.E. Uprisings really weren't his forte.
Then there was that crazy boat ride he took with those lunatic Irish monks. What the hell had he been thinking? He still couldn't look at a hull without having to resist the urge to heave. With a shudder, Methos dragged his mind away from that singularly unpleasant memory and into the here and now.
"Well, here we are, our hotel."
"I said that this is it, the place we're staying at. Adam, are you still with me?"
"Oh, yeah, of course. Let's go on up to our rooms then."
"Ookaaay. Adam are you sure you're alright?"
"I'm fine Joe, really. Well, other than the whole annoying memory lapse thing, that is."
The look on Joe's face told him that he wasn't amused.
"Alright then, moving swiftly on..."
Methos quietly stood just inside the door as Joe collected the keys, smiling wanly at the receptionist as she glanced in his direction. He was under no illusion as to what he looked like: death warmed up, and badly dressed to boot. Methos rewound that sentence in his head and snorted, shrugging his shoulders at Joe's enquiring face. Somehow, he didn't think that Joe would appreciate the joke; the whole horseman issue was still a touchy subject. For a brief moment he entertained the notion of explaining the pun "Death warmed up, death warmed up, get it..." No, definitely not a good idea now that he came to think about it... Following Joe down a short hallway on the ground floor, he put his hand out for his key.
"What room am I in?"
"Room eight, I'm next door."
With a nod, Methos inserted the key into the door that Joe indicated and entered the room. It was a simple affair but the bed looked extremely inviting. Gods, he was so tired. With a sigh, he dropped onto the mattress and leaned over the edge. Reaching underneath the bed, he retrieved the satchel he knew he would find there. Sometimes he was very grateful for being a creature of habit.
"That's where you keep it, under the bed. Jeeze, somehow I expected someplace more innovative."
Methos glanced up at Joe who was standing in the doorway with an incredulous look on his face. With a smirk, he straightened up and pulled the satchel onto his lap.
"What were you expecting exactly, some kind of cleverly disguised hidey hole? Give a man a break; it is a hotel room for crying out loud. Besides, sometimes it's better to hide something in plain sight. Take a seat, Joe."
With a snort, Joe entered the room and settled himself on the chair beside the dresser as Methos pulled his journal out.
"Alright then, let's find out what I've been up to..."
Joe watched the expressions that moved across Methos's face as he flicked through the pages. Eventually he couldn't take it any longer.
"What does it say?"
"It says that you were right, Joe, we're doomed..."
Silence reigned in the room for a couple of seconds as their eyes met across the room. Methos wished, not for the first time that day, that Joe would stop looking at him like that; it was beginning to make him annoyed.
"So how doomed are we?"
Pulled out of his reverie by Joe's question, Methos tucked his journal back into the satchel.
"I asked you how doomed are we Methos. Just a rough, ballpark estimation will do. I mean, are we talking about the usual 'I'm an evil immortal and I'm going to kill you' situation, or are we talking about 'I'm an ancient Zoroastrian demon who has come to bring humanity to its knees'"
Methos looked askance at Joe upon the mention of demons.
"I think we can safely cross demons off the list of things we have to worry about Joe. Don't you?"
"Hey, don't scoff, old man. You weren't there for most of it, remember?"
"Hmph, no chance of forgetting that little titbit of information since you remind me of it every chance you get!"
"No, I don't... hey... wait a minute... stick to the point, old man. I've had enough of the run-around in the last two days thank you very much. What the hell is going on, and who has Mac."
"Okay, okay, don't get your trousers in a twist. But I've got to tell you - you're not going like it."
"Just spit it out, let me worry about whether or not I'll like it."
"I'll give you a hint. There are two words and they begin with a W and a C. - and no, I'm not talking about a toilet."
"You've gotta be kidding me! Again? "
"Afraid so, the watcher's council strikes yet again. It seems they've decided that they have unfinished business with Mac."
"So what are we talking about here, some kind of faction within the council. 'Coz I've got to tell you, buddy, I don't buy the idea that this was officially sanctioned."
"From what I can make out from my journal entry, I tend to agree with you. There's a problem though, I seemed to have been unsure as to who to trust."
"So what else is new?"
"Sheesh, could you take it down a few notches Joe, it's not as if this is all my fault."
"Yeah I know, sorry about that man. I'm just a little bit tired, that's all. These last two days have taken a lot out of me."
"Okay then, this has what I've gleaned from my journal. Two weeks ago, I received a letter, along with a videotape, from an old watcher friend of Don's who goes by the name of Philip Turner. The tape apparently showed a couple of overzealous watchers "question" a very reluctant-looking immortal about the Methuselah stone. It seems that some of the watchers are still more than a little bit interested in Rebecca's little trinket."
"I don't understand. The stone is scattered all over the bottom of the Seine, isn't it?"
"It seems that our local neighbourhood hunters think differently."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, Philip said in his letter that these guys were under the impression that someone, or some group unknown retrieved it from the riverbed and then transported it to some Neolithic ruins in Thrace."
"Thrace, isn't that in Greece?"
"Part of it is, yes, but originally Thrace stretched along the whole Balkan Peninsula and that includes..."
"...Bulgaria. Okay that explains what we're doing here, but what has that got to do with Mac?"
"Well apparently Mac is in a position that is actually quite unique for him."
"Oh really, and pray tell, what is that exactly?"
"He is the bait."
"He's the WHAT?"
"Yeah, I know, funny, isn't it? Usually he's the target in these little melodramas."
"This isn't funny!"
"Oh, but it is, it's bloody hilarious."
"I'm afraid that you'll have to let me in on the joke, then, because I'm not getting the punch line."
"It seems that this week is the week for role reversals. Not only is Mac the bait, but Amanda has been elected the target, and yours truly is the one left holding the bag."
Understanding began to dawn on Joe's face.
"She's got the final piece."
"So where is she? Amanda, I mean."
"Well, that is the sixty-four dollar question. All I know is that she was last spotted in Buenos Aires about four months ago. At least, that's what the latest data in the watcher's files says."
"Found a way to get around the new firewalls they've added to the system, then," Joe observed.
"Wasn't that difficult, I'm afraid. You're going to have to hire a better class of computer nerd. By the way, why the hell hasn't Amanda a proper watcher?"
"Funny you should ask that. Ever since Mac over-shared with her about that whole incident with Horton, being her watcher has become a real bitch. She seems to take great pleasure in making their lives a living hell. Interpol has picked up three consecutive watchers since 1998 for suspicion of theft. She seems to find it funny to frame them for her activities. Anyway, nobody seems to want to volunteer for the job, and the powers-that-be have decided they didn't want to force anyone into the position," Joe explained.
"The really funny thing is that her little game of 'spot the watcher and frame him' has probably saved her life. Remember, you're not paranoid if they're really after you." Methos replied. "I've a strong feeling that they're as much in the dark as to her whereabouts as we are, hence their not so bright idea of kidnapping Mac," Methos said.
"Wait a minute, if they don't have Amanda's location either, how do they expect to tell her about their hostage?"
"As I've already said, not a very bright idea. I think that they had foolishly banked on being able to pry that piece of information out of Mac."
"Do you think he knows?"
"Perhaps, but somehow I don't think he'll be telling them either way, do you?"
Joe shook his head wearily as he leaned back into his chair."So where do we go from here."
"I'm not really sure. According to my journal, I made a few phone calls before I left Paris to people I know Amanda likes to hang out with. I gave them enough details to find us. If she's been seen then she should be on her way here, If not, well..."
"Well, there are still the ruins."
"Any idea of where exactly they are?"
"Funny that you should say that! I have a hunch that I was stumbling around in its general vicinity last night. Isn't life full of amazing coincidences?"
"Oh yeah, it's amazing Methos. Practically a miracle," retorted Joe sarcastically as he leaned back into the chair. "Now, can we get on with the rescuing?"
"Whoa, hold on there, Tonto. Mac might not even be there, you know. All we've got to go on are the few sketchy details that I scribbled in my journal. I'd prefer not to go charging in there until I'm sure I know what I'm getting myself into."
"So what do you suggest we do, sit around on our asses until the bad guys decide to send us an engraved invitation?"
"Did we hire a vehicle when we got here?"
"Of course we did, we hired a jeep. You parked it in the lane behind the hotel."
"Okay then, this is the plan. Let me get a couple of hours sleep and then we'll get a bite to eat. I'll root out my laptop afterwards and search the university databases online for some more accurate information about the ruins before we go and take a look-see."
"That's it? That's your great plan? Get some sleep and then go have a look-see?"
"Give me a break, Joe, I'm knackered. If I don't lie down soon I'll fall down."
"Alright, alright, I'll wake you at eight and we'll grab a few bites in the dining room."
Four hours later, Methos was awoken from a very pleasant dream involving a temple priestess and a sunny afternoon by a loud and insistent knock on the door.
"Adam, ADAM, get your lazy ass out of that bed and unlock this door! The kitchen closes at eight thirty, so if you want to eat you'll have to get a move on."
With a groan, Methos pulled himself off the bed and staggered towards the door.
"Keep you shirt on, I'm coming."
Unlocking the door, he pulled it ajar and blearily eyed an impatient Joe.
"Give me a few moments to clean up and I'll join you in the dining room. Order me a steak will you? I could do with the protein."
"Okay, then, but don't take too long. If we hang around here much longer I'm going to explode with frustration," Joe warned him.
"Tell me something I don't know," Methos muttered as he closed the door and made his way to the bathroom.
Fifteen minutes later, he joined Joe at the table looking and feeling a lot more awake. Helping himself to a bread roll, he buttered it liberally as he watched Joe's obvious impatience with amusement.
"Relax, Joe. As long as Amanda is nowhere to be found, Mac's head is safe so why don't you just count to ten and enjoy the meal?"
Tearing a chunk out of the roll, Methos chewed happily as he perused the room. Spotting a waiter he beckoned him over to the table and ordered a beer. Things were definitely looking up.
The beer arrived with the meal and Methos helped himself as he mentally went over his plan. He already had an idea of where to look for the ruins, but a quick look through Sofia's university databanks should clear up the details. The question was, what to do when they got there? Other than the vague details in the journal, he had no idea of what they were getting into.
Which reminds him, there was still the little problem of the journal entry he had chosen not to share with Joe. He figured that his friend had enough to worry about without knowing about the immortal that was in cahoots with the renegade watchers. The idea of getting Joe to come with him to Bulgaria had less to do with needing his help, and more with getting him out of the line of fire. Not that he was having much luck with that. The most he could hope for would be to get Joe out of this mess alive.
There wasn't much information on the immortal in question. He was a Frenchman who went by the name of Richard Valmont having dropped the prefix "De" during the French revolution. It wasn't a good idea to advertise one's aristocratic background in those days, especially with Robespierre's new executioner's toy - nothing like a beheading to make an immortal nervous.
The details of his first death were sketchy. Other than the fact that it happened in Constantinople during one of the Crusades in the eleventh century, nothing much else was known. There was no information about where he disappeared to immediately afterwards, and nothing on who was his teacher.
The next sighting of him was in Rome during the fourteenth century, where he lived for the following two centuries, after that he had moved back to France and had lived there ever since. He lived a quiet life, and there was no indication of him being a headhunter. By immortal standards, he was a model citizen.
All in all, he had absolutely no idea why an immortal with such a low profile would suddenly get himself involved in a mess like this - and that made him nervous, he hated an unknown.
He glanced up from his meal, only to find Joe eyeing him suspiciously.
"You seem very wrapped up in your thoughts there, something you haven't told me?"
"What makes you think that?"
"You've hurt my feelings, Joe, anyone would think you didn't like me."
"Yeah, yeah, you look real broke up. Stick to point, old man."
"It's nothing, Joe. I'm just a little worried about going after these guys without knowing all the facts."
"Are you sure about that? No nasty surprises in the woodwork that I should know about?"
For a brief moment, Methos's resolution wavered under Joe's intense gaze, but it was just a moment.
"No Joe, nothing else."
Finishing off his meal, Methos rose from the table and gestured in the direction of his room.
"I'll go on ahead and boot up my laptop, join me when you're finished."
Joe looked up at him questioningly, and a few heartbeats went by before he sighed and nodded.
"What ever you say, Adam."
Methos was at the door before he heard Joe call after him."
Turning around, Methos held his breath and raised his eyebrow enquiringly.
"When you're ready to tell me the truth let me know, I'll be all ears."
Closing the dining room door after him, he released his breath and shook his head in defeat. He was going to have to tell him the truth eventually, he knew that. It was just that he was hoping he would have a little more time before it came to that.
As soon as he got to his room he booted up his computer and logged into the Sofia university database. Checking out the latest archaeological digs, he eventually found what he was looking for. The database had identified it as a tomb, because it had the typical markers that identified tombs from that era, but if Methos's memory served him correctly, there might be more to this sight than a simple burial site. From what he could see of the photographs and diagrams of the site, there was a good chance that a temple was attached to the area as well.
"Three guesses as to where we'll find the psychotic watchers."
Saving the pages to his laptop, he did a quick check on his e-mail and was surprised to find one from Nick Wolf. Opening it, he quickly scanned the short message. The elusive Amanda had been found and Nick had apparently filled her in. She was due to arrive at Sofia Airport at midday tomorrow.
With a sigh, Methos weighed the pros and cons of the situation. Things were coming to a head way too fast, as far he was concerned. If only he knew what they were hoping to do with Rebecca's stone. Once again, he felt the panic rise in the pit of his stomach as he mentally ran into the brick wall that was his memory loss.
Too many pieces of the puzzle were missing. Joe had concluded from the journal entries that the reason he'd flown down to Bulgaria in such a hurry was to come to Duncan's aid. Methos knew better, as much as he was fond of the highlander, there was no way he'd fly down here without any back-up unless there was a very pressing reason. Pity he had failed to jot down what it was in his Journal.
In his mind he pictured the stone, the way the light fractured over its facets as it stood on the shelf in Rebecca's study. He had learned of the stone's supposed properties from her one evening back in the seventh century when she was in a rare, expansive mood. Pensively she had told him about her teacher's philosophies and beliefs, recounting the day he had made a gift of the stone before she left his protection on the eastern shores of the Black Sea. Methos wasn't sure if he believed all she said about the power of the stone, all he knew was that when the stone resurfaced in the late 1990's, desperation gave him a faith in it's abilities that to this day he couldn't understand. He had loved Alexa deeply, but she wasn't the first wife he had loved and lost. So why was it that when it was Alexa's life that was ebbing away, he had suddenly remembered it? Sighing, he reluctantly concluded that he might never know the answer to that question.
A knock at the door interrupted his reverie and Joe's voice wafted through the doorway.
"Adam, are you in there?"
"Come in Joe, it's not locked"
"Well, what did you find out?" he asked as he settled himself on a chair.
"To start with I've some good news for once, Amanda has been found and she's on her way here, she's due to arrive tomorrow. I've also been able to get my hands on some details of the layout of the ruins."
"Things are looking up then."
"So it seems."
"So why don't you look happy?"
"Call it my inner pessimist, but I'm not going to feel happy about this until I'm sure that we're all going to get out of this alive and in one piece."
"Whatever you say buddy."
"Right then, lets get a move on, shall we? The night isn't getting any younger you know."
With a flourish, Methos leapt from the bed, and stood waiting for Joe to reorient himself on his feet.
"Have you got the car keys on you?" he enquired as they made their way out into the hall.
"Yeah," Joe replied shortly. A determined look on his face as he pushed ahead into the reception area.
Five minutes later, they were safely ensconced in the jeep and on their way. Midnight was approaching by the time they made it to the bridge Methos had found the previous night. All things considered, he thought that Hira wouldn't appreciate two visits in one day, so he hadn't stopped along the way. Pulling over to the side, Methos perused the hinterland and made a decision.
"I'm afraid that this is as far as you're going Joe. I'm going in alone from here on in."
"WHAT? Oh no, no way, man. I'm coming with you and that's that."
"Look around you, Joe, there are no lanes, no pathways. There is no way you are going to be able to get through this underbrush even in the best of circumstances, never mind in the dead of night with who knows what lurking in the bushes. You're staying here, Joe, and that's final."
With a glare, Joe sunk into his seat and muttered something under his voice about annoying know-it-alls as Methos reached into the back and pulled out a torch. Getting out of the jeep, Methos glanced back at his companion.
"It's for the best, Joe. I'll be back as soon as I can but if I'm not here by dawn, get you ass back to Travda and wait for Amanda."
"This jeep isn't configured for someone with my disability, you know."
"Somehow I think you'll manage."
"I think I'd prefer not to find out all the same. You'd better be back before dawn Mister. Things are bad enough without having to rely on Amanda to launch a rescue mission!"
With a laugh, Methos shut the car door and crept into the trees. Moving as silently as he could through the undergrowth, he made his way towards the ruins, making better time than he had before because this time he knew where he was going. An hour later, he heard voices ahead and he hunched quickly as he slid silently forward.
"I'm telling you, Max, I don't like the fact we're relying so much on that immortal's information"
"Relax, Al. Rene's been his watcher for the last fifteen years and has vouched for him. It's all going to work out as planned. You shouldn't worry so much."
"Don't tell me to relax Max. You may not have read the Highlanders chronicles, but I have, and I for one wouldn't want to cross him - except of course WE ALREADY HAVE!"
"Jesus Christ! Keep your voice down."
"Who's going to hear me, the squirrels?"
"Don't forget we still haven't found out who killed that Jackson kid from the Viennese motherhouse. Still haven't found his head either. Could be a renegade immortal in the neighbourhood, remember?"
Methos winced from his place in the bushes. At least he now knew the poor bugger's name. Worriedly, he eavesdropped further to the two watchers' conversation as he settled himself down in his hiding place. It was definitely time to listen and learn.
"And who's to say that our "renegade" immortal wasn't Valmont?"
"The motherhouse in Paris, that's who, Al. Valmont was still safely tucked up in his Parisian apartment when Jackson was killed."
"Oh, yeah, and we all know how reliable those reports are. Just as reliable as ours have been of late."
"Oh come on Al, those old codgers don't have it in them to fake a report. They don't have the imagination and even if they did, why would they?"
"Maybe for the same reason that we did? Maybe we weren't the only watchers he contacted with this little deal of his? Maybe he's playing us against each other for his own ends?"
"You need to get a hold on that paranoia of yours, kid. It's getting out of hand."
"Yeah, well, finding a headless body will do that to you."
The watcher called Max grunted and leaned against a tree.
"Well all I can say is that it's a little too late in the day to start getting nervous. Buck up, pal, it's all or nothing at this stage."
"I still don't see how this crystal can grant immortality."
"Hey, nobody can figure out how an immortal is granted immortality' but they exist all the same."
"But what does Valmont get out of this deal? I mean, he already has got the whole immortality thing down, so why is he doing this?"
"Well, I heard a rumour that the stone is supposed to grant immortals invincibility, so maybe that's it."
"That doesn't make sense though. I've read this guys chronicle and he just doesn't seem the type who'd want to play at being Mr Invincible. He doesn't hunt, lives a quiet life, runs a small business. I mean, he's married for crying out loud, so why does he suddenly want to up the stakes?"
"Don't look at me, I'm just the hired help. That's between Valmont and Tribeau."
Methos mentally congratulated himself as he listened; now he had a name he could work with. Ah well, time to get on with it then. Silently he crept up behind the tree that Max was leaning against and waited for his opportunity - these two were going to go sleepy bye-byes for a few hours. Patiently crouching behind the tree, he waited for his opportunity as the two watchers continued to speculate.
"I still say we shouldn't trust him, Max."
"You know as well as I that what we think isn't worth squat, Al, so just can it."
"Fine, fine, be like that, I'm going for a piss."
"Watch out for the squirrels."
"Ha, ha, bloody ha."
Methos couldn't believe his luck.
"Oh, this is just too easy!"
With a grin, he took out his dagger and hit Max over the head with the pommel. The watcher sank to the ground soundlessly. A moment later, he heard movement in the bushes and Al poked his head out from behind a tree. Methos conked him on the skull and he folded without a word, the poor guy didn't even have time to zip up his fly. Rifling through their clothes, he took their weapons, wallets, mobiles and keys. Stripping them of their shirts, he ripped them up and used them to bind and gag the unfortunate watchers.
Peeking up through the branches, he reoriented himself from the stars and continued on his way. It wasn't long before he saw lights through the trees and the low murmur of many voices.
"My, my, these guys really are a bunch of night owls. What the hell are they up to, having a midnight feast or something? Maybe Hira was right about this whole secret society thing."
Crouching low, he slunk forward and settled down to watch the show. Tents dotted the site and a large campfire was lit in the centre of the camp. He counted at least twelve men around the fire and he surmised from the amount of tents, that there were at least twelve others he couldn't see. With a smirk, he realised that he had already accounted for two of them. Chances were, most of the others were on watch as well. After a few moments deliberation, Methos decided to take a tour of the perimeter.
Creeping back into the trees, he travelled clockwise, his eyes searching the trees for sentries. It was when he reached the east side that he felt it, the faint but steady buzz of another immortal.
Pausing for a moment to slide out his blade, he slipped forward and discovered a second, better concealed, encampment set back into the trees. The numbers were fewer but these men definitely seemed more aware of their surroundings. Their fire was banked and about half of them were watching the trees for any sign of intruders, rifles at the ready across their laps. These guys were not of the rank and file; they actually had a clue about what they were doing.
"I knew things were going too well."
It was then that he noticed one of the men disappear into a hole in the ground about three yards to the north of the fire.
"And I wonder where they've stashed the Highlander."
With a disgusted sigh, Methos retreated back into the trees and tried to figure out a game plan that wouldn't get him killed. He had hoped that he could get out of this without having to kill someone, but the heavily armed guards had just upped the stakes. There was no way in hell he would be able to disarm and incapacitate all of them without being caught.
There were seven men above ground, with the silencer on his gun; he figured that he could take out at least four before the rest figured out what was happening, and that he could take at least another two before they could duck for cover. That left one that could get down the ladder before he reloaded. With a shrug, he resigned himself to having to leap down after him and hoped there wasn't another seven waiting for him at the bottom of the ladder.
"Oh well, here goes nothing."
Attaching his silencer, he aimed and took out the three closest to the hole in quick succession. Two more he shot before they hit the ground for cover and another as he reached the top of the ladder. The seventh man crouched uncertainly behind the log that he had been sitting on five seconds previously.
It was then that he remembered the other two guns in his pocket; they didn't have a silencer attachment but beggars couldn't be choosers. Methos waited for the watcher to bolt, gun cocked to fire. The noise of gunfire was going to bring the other encampment running, so he didn't want to fire until he was sure of a direct hit.
A sharp scrape on the ground alerted Methos to his targets run for safety. He fired and watched as the watcher dropped like a stone. Methos sprang from the undergrowth and dashed for the hole, aiming his gun at the ladder as he arrived. A dim light shone from below and he jumped in feet first, gun at the ready. The underground chamber was empty except for a single chair that was occupied by a bound, gagged and very brassed-off Highlander.
"Hey, Mac, how's it going? life been treating you okay?"
Duncan glared balefully at his smirking 'rescuer' as Methos hacked at the bonds with his dagger and peered around the chamber.
"Well, well, well, what do we have here? Could it be - gasp - a temple."
Pulling the gag from his mouth, Duncan shakily stood on his feet and faced Methos.
"I never thought I'd say this old man, but you are definitely a sight for sore eyes"
"Aww, that just brings tears to my eyes. Now take this gun, we may have to shoot our way out of here."
"And where is 'here', exactly?"
"You, my fine young Highlander, have the dubious honour of being whisked away to the Balkan Ranges."
"And that is a bad thing?"
"Usually? No. As wilderness goes it's quite picturesque. Unfortunately for us, this particular patch of it has seemed to have acquired some nasty wildlife, so we better get going."
Without further ado, Duncan scrambled to the top of the ladder, gun in hand, and poked his head up.
"I hear voices."
"Well, get a move on, then! I really don't want to be here when they stumble across the bodies."
"You don't want to know. Now MOVE!"
Duncan leapt from the hole with Methos hot on his heels; they dove for the undergrowth just seconds before the cavalry arrived.
"What the hell? Search the perimeter, we've had a security breach."
"Security breach! It's a bloody massacre, Rene, they're all dead."
"I think I've already noticed that Jacques, why don't you go and make yourself useful and check on our guest. Everyone else spread out, I want to catch these bastards."
"Time to go Mac." Methos hissed at the Highlander as he made to slink away from the clearing. With a nod, Duncan followed him into the forest. The Highlander's night vision was better than most, but he suspected that Methos's was even sharper.
The next two hours were a nightmare of twists and turns as they strove to evade their pursuers whilst making their way out of the forest. Eventually, though, they hit tarmac. Spotting the jeep in the distance, they ran the last few hundred yards and jumped into the vehicle, gasping for breath.
"Well I'll be, you did it. You actually did it," an ecstatic Joe exclaimed as they fell into their seats.
"No need to sound so surprised, Joe. I'm not totally inept, you know!"
"Ooops, sorry, I didn't mean it like that old man, I'm just relieved that you both made it back."
"Ah, go on, admit it! You were just afraid you'd have to tackle the drive home behind the wheel." Methos teased as he turned the ignition.
"You got me!" Joe laughingly replied as he turned in the seat and eyed the Highlander slumped in the back seat, "You alright there, Mac?"
"I'm fine Joe, just a little bit wiped out."
Joe eyed the pallor of the normally healthy-looking Highlander.
"Well, just close your eyes and rest, then. It's a long drive back to town."
With a grateful smile, Duncan shut his eyes and dozed off within moments.
"Sheesh, he must have been exhausted," Joe muttered as he straightened in his seat.
Glancing in the rear view mirror at the sleeping form in the back seat, Methos had to agree.
Dawn had broken by the time they arrived at the hotel, and Joe shook Duncan's leg as they pulled into the lane behind the hotel.
"Rise and shine, sleepy head, we're here."
Mac muttered drowsily as he pulled himself together and jumped out of the jeep. "So, where are we?" he enquired as he took stock of his surroundings.
"We're in Travda. It's a pleasant spot, actually, has quite a few features of historical interest for such a small town. All in all, it's quite a nice place to be holed up in, couldn't do better if we tried," Methos replied.
"Been here before, then?" Duncan asked as he perused the street.
"A bit after my time, to tell the truth."
Duncan eyed his companion speculatively.
"Ask me no questions, Mac, and I'll tell you no lies."
Joe listened in on the brief exchange and made a note to bring up the subject again when Methos had a few drinks in him. He had a funny feeling that there was a tale to be heard.
Reception was empty, so Methos leaned across the counter and snagged their keys before they made their way to his room. Once safely inside, Duncan threw himself on the bed as Joe once again made himself comfortable on the room's only chair. Retrieving the laptop from the dresser, Methos nudged Duncan and sat on the corner of the bed as the Highlander reluctantly moved his foot.
"Oi! A few more inches here."
Duncan groaned but gave ground, pulling himself to one side of the bed as Methos leaned back against the headboard and opened the laptop, accessing the files he had downloaded the night before.
"Here we go!" he exclaimed cheerfully as he studied the diagram of the site. "Time to play 'lets spot the secret underground temple.'"
"What do you mean? You've already found it, remember? You just rescued me from its hallowed halls less than eight hours ago!" Duncan retorted, raising his head from the pillow to look at his fellow immortal.
"Ah, but there was something missing," Methos replied smugly.
"And what was that 'Oh, all knowing one?'" Joe asked mockingly.
"Why, the secret underground antechamber in which the Methuselah stone is displayed, on an altar worthy of its splendour, of course!"
"Huh? Okay, what have I missed?" asked a puzzled Duncan as he pulled himself up on the bed and looked over the other immortal's shoulder.
"You're not going to like it"
A snort of laughter came from the chair in response. "Just tell him, old man, before he tries to throttle it out of you."
Methos quickly filled the Highlander in on what they had discovered so far; including the fact that Amanda was on her way as they spoke.
"So that's why they were trying to get her whereabouts from me. We've got to head her off," Duncan said worriedly. "There is no way I want to let those freaks near her"
"Too late, Mac. She's due to land at Midday, and even if there were a way of heading her off, she'd fight us all the way. You know as well as I do, that the one thing that's sure to get Amanda's dander up is someone messing about with Rebecca's legacy. She may waver when it comes to other situations like this, but she was unswervingly devoted to her teacher. She won't stand for anyone trying to use Rebecca's crystal for something that her mentor would never approve of."
Duncan had to reluctantly agree with Methos's assessment of the situation. Amanda was on her way, come hell or high water.
"Well, I don't know about you guys, but I'm going to snatch a few hours sleep. I've a funny feeling that I'm not going to get any sleep once Amanda arrives," Joe announced as he pulled himself up from his chair and made his way to the door.
"Sweet dreams Joe," Methos called out after him as he entered the hallway.
"Right back at ya," Joe replied with a grin as he closed the door after him.
"Well, I better go down to reception and get myself a room," groaned Duncan as he swung his legs onto the floor.
"Hold on a minute, Mac, there's something I haven't told you yet."
Closing his eyes in defeat, Duncan leaned back on the bed.
"Do me a favour, old man, break it to me gently."
"I'll try not to upset your fragile constitution," laughed Methos, earning a glare from the exhausted Highlander.
"Just ge' on wi' it, will ya" he muttered, his accent broadening from fatigue as he slumped on the bed."
Methos briefly summarized Valmont's involvement with the renegade watchers and waited for the Highlander's reaction.
"Why haven't you told Joe about Valmont?"
"At this stage, I'm not very sure. I suppose I just thought that I had a good reason not to have told him from the start, and as I can't remember either way...."
"...You decided that saying nothing was the safest thing to do. We're going to have to tell him, you know."
"Do we have to?" Methos whined.
"Yes we do!" laughed Duncan as he dragged himself from the bed once more.
"Don't tell me, the Martians have landed and have announced that they, too, want the Methuselah stone."
"Nothing so exciting, I'm afraid."
"I hate to have to remind you, but you didn't exactly travel here on a passport and hotels are usually a bit of a stickler about that kind of thing when you're registering."
"Oh, for crying out loud!"
"Not to worry, Mac, I'm sure that Amanda will be glad to accommodate you once she's checked in."
"But that's hours away!"
"Well, you could always snuggle up with me."
"Not bloody likely!"
"I promise I'll leave your virtue intact."
"Your head won't be intact in a minute if you keep this up."
"Aw Mac, is this the way to speak to the man who just saved your... what the... what the hell are you doing!
"What does it look like, I'm stealing your duvet of course," Duncan grunted
"You can't do thaa... oof!"
Triumphantly, Duncan heaved the duvet off the bed, dumping Methos on the floor in the process.
"Ouch, that hurt you know."
"Serves you right, picking on a man while he's down."
Stealing a pillow for good measure, Duncan settled himself upon the floor.
"You're still wearing the bloody clothes you crawled through the woods in you know, the duvet's going to be a mess."
"So? You've got maid service haven't you?" Came the muffled reply from the floor.
"Oh, you've got all the answers don't you," muttered an irate Methos as he stalked into the bathroom to clean up.
"You better believe it," came the sleepy rejoinder, a chortle escaping from under the duvet as he heard the old man slam the bathroom door.
The sharp tang in his mouth that accompanied the buzz of an approaching immortal broke through his sleep, and Methos scrambled for his sword under the bed, colliding with a startled Highlander who had also awoken with a start on the floor. With a howl, Methos nursed his nose as he continued to feel around under the bed with his left hand.
"It's probably just Amanda, you know," Duncan pointed out as the pounding in his head began to abate.
"Never hurts to be cautious," came the short reply as Methos curled his hand around the pommel of his sword.
BANG, BANG, BANG.
Duncan groaned as the din echoed through his still-tender noggin.
"Methos! Methos, I know you're in there, I could feel you from down the hall!"
"For crying out loud, doesn't that woman understand the concept of a secret identity? I'm surprised she doesn't just post my name on the net," Methos grumbled as he stumbled over Duncan to get to door.
"You know she only does it because it guarantees you'll answer the door. That paranoia of yours is way too easy to play upon."
Glaring down at the smug Highlander, Methos wrenched open the door and found himself with an armful of Amanda.
"Oh, Methos," she sobbed into his shoulder. "Thank God you're here, you've got to save him!"
A small smile tugged at the corners of Methos's mouth; nothing like a millennia of practice to perfect the little-girl-lost routine.
"Relax, Amanda. As it happens, no cajoling is required on this occasion."
"It isn't?" Amanda exclaimed disbelievingly as she raised her head to look at him.
"One Highlander coming up!" He announced as he pushed the door fully ajar to reveal the grinning Scot.
With a squeal, Amanda abandoned Methos and threw herself at Duncan, hurtling them both onto the bed.
"I see that Amanda has arrived then."
Methos put his head out the door and discovered a hastily-clad Joe coming out of his room.
"Come on in, Joe, join the party," he said wryly as he retreated to the dresser and propped himself against it.
"Joe, darling!" Amanda exclaimed, extricating herself from Duncan as she rose from the bed and held out her arms to greet him.
With a grin, the watcher obliged her with a big bear hug.
"Hey!" Duncan pouted, sitting up on the mattress in protest.
"Hey yourself," Joe retorted, "Surely you wouldn't deny an old man a hug?"
"Heaven forbid," came the sly reply from the dresser.
"Oh honey, are you feeling all neglected? There, there, let Amanda make it all better," She purred, waltzing back to the bed and patting the put-out Highlander on the cheek as she perched on the bed beside him.
"Aww, how touching." Came the cynical observation from a grouchy Methos.
"Feeling old and bitter today, are we, darling" Amanda fired back.
"That's me every day, d-a-r-l-i-n-g," the elder immortal drawled.
"Okay, kiddies, let's play nice, shall we? We've enough on our plates as it is," sighed Joe as he plopped himself on the chair.
"Right, the Methuselah stone," declared Amanda, her mood transforming in front of their eyes as her attitude became all business. Methos had been right in gauging her reaction to the news that the watchers had their hands on it.
"Do you want the bad news first, or the worse news?" asked Duncan as he rose from the bed.
"I want the entire story," came the reply as she shrugged off her coat and settled on the bed. "Don't spare the details."
For the third time in twenty-four hours, Methos found himself recounting what had occurred the last few days, Amanda listening raptly as he described all the twists and turns.
"And you still don't remember how you ended up the clearing?" she asked, leaning back on her elbows.
"Not a glimmer," Methos admitted.
"This isn't the first time that this has happened to you, is it?" Amanda shrewdly guessed.
"I'm afraid not," was the sheepish reply.
"It's not?" Joe asked, as he turned and looked enquiringly at the Highlander, who just shrugged in reply.
"It's the first he's heard about it too, Joe," an exasperated Methos retorted as he watched the exchange.
"Speaking of first times to hear about it..." Duncan prompted, raising his eyebrows meaningfully and gesturing towards Joe.
With a sinking heart, Methos realised that Duncan wanted him to spill the beans about Valmont; he really wasn't looking forward to this.
"What's going on here?" demanded Amanda as she noticed the rising tension between her two immortal companions. "Come on, guys, give."
"Well... there seems to be an added complication," admitted Methos.
"I knew it, I knew it!" Joe cried triumphantly as he stomped his cane on the floor.
"Why don't you fill them in while I clean up," Duncan suggested as he disappeared into the bathroom.
Muttering mild expletives as he stared daggers at Duncan's back, Methos shrunk back against the desk and faced the other two.
"Any time today will do, Methos," prodded Joe impatiently.
"It's about an Immortal called Valmont, apparently he's involved in this whole mess."
"How, exactly?" Amanda asked curiously.
"Well, that's the sixty million dollar question, isn't it?" was the flip reply.
"The name doesn't ring a bell, I don't think this guy is very active in the game," Joe mused.
"You aren't wrong," Methos agreed. "Valmont is approaching his first millennia and he still can count all his challenges with his fingers."
"Now that's what I call a low profile," approved Amanda.
"Tell me about it. Frankly, I'm envious," the elder immortal replied. "I've never been able to keep that low under the radar, and it isn't from want of trying."
Joe leaned back in his chair and perused his two companions.
"So why should such a peaceable guy suddenly get involved in the kidnapping of such a high profile immortal such as Mac? I mean, I know about the Methuselah stone and everything, but that doesn't make sense either. If he's done his research, he must know that he has some pretty stiff competition for the crystal, mortal and immortal alike. Why would such a guy take the risk when so many thing could go wrong?"
"Maybe he isn't really that peaceable," suggested Amanda. "It could all be a subterfuge, pretending to be Mr. Nice Guy whilst all the time secretly plotting world domination!"
"A millennia is a very long time to pretend to be something you're not, Amanda."
"You seem to have managed it," she retorted as she slumped back on the bed.
"Could be a dark quickening," came the quiet suggestion from the bathroom door.
Methos turned and looked at the Highlander's troubled face.
"It's unlikely, Mac," he answered gently. "An immortal's response to a dark quickening isn't usually so controlled. He'd most likely be on a killing spree, not quietly plotting with a bunch of watchers."
Duncan nodded at Methos's assessment and disappeared back into the bathroom.
"I could have a chat with his watcher," Joe interjected. "Get some inside info. Maybe he's noticed something that hasn't made it into his chronicles."
"I think I could pretty much guarantee that, Joe," replied Methos darkly. "His name is Rene, and I'm afraid he is one of the renegade watchers."
"Jeeze, is there anything else that you've failed to mention?"
"Well, that depends. Does the name Tribeau mean anything to you?" Methos asked.
"There's an Alain Tribeau in research..." Joe suggested.
"Doesn't ring a bell," Methos said. "Is he new?"
"Not exactly, he was stationed in Istanbul during the time you were with us. I guess your paths just didn't cross."
"And there goes that uneasy feeling again," Methos muttered to himself.
"Care to spread that unease about?" asked Amanda sarcastically.
"I second that," a newly shaved Duncan added as he returned to the room and joined Amanda on the bed.
For a moment, Methos felt his temper rise to the fore but he suppressed it before it could show through the nonchalant fa·de that he was finding harder and harder to hold onto as the hours went by. How could he explain the terror of not remembering what you had eaten for breakfast the previous day, never mind whether or not you had killed someone? He now had a name for the boy whose head he had found; it didn't make him feel any better. Funny how he didn't feel anything for the seven men he'd killed last night, but the thought of Jackson's head made him cringe with guilt. It was the not knowing that was killing him. Looking at the expectant faces around him, he took a deep breath and waded in.
"It could be nothing..."
"Or it could be something. Come on, spill," Joe encouraged.
"It's just that... well... I can't help but remember that Valmont met his first death in Constantinople and wonder if there is a connection. Is there any way we could find out what Tribeau was researching there?"
"I could call a few favours in, see if I can discreetly get a peek at his work," Joe agreed.
"Can't we just hack into the watcher database again?" Amanda suggested, "I mean, it isn't exactly difficult, is it? The firewalls have more holes in it than Swiss cheese."
"And how would you know, Amanda?" demanded Joe. "And what exactly do you mean by 'we'?"
"Did I say that? Must be a slip of the tongue," a guilty-looking Amanda replied as she studiously examined her hands.
Joe glared around the room and noticed the blushing Highlander looking at an overly innocent looking Methos.
"I don't believe it! You've all been at it, haven't you? We aren't a public library, you know!"
Looking for all the world like three scolded children who've been caught with their hands in the cookie jar, the three immortals gazed at their shoes in response.
"And don't think that I'm going to fall for this 'I'm so contrite' act, either. What age are you guys anyway? I've read your chronicles but I'm beginning to think that they might have erred about your birth dates," exploded Joe.
"I've only done it in emergencies," protested Amanda.
"Oh yeah, and what kind of emergency is that, Amanda? Having problems avoiding all the immortals you've robbed over the years?"
"Calm down, Joe, we have enough on our plates as it is, remember?" Methos said soothingly.
Joe glared at Methos for a moment before slumping back into his seat and nodding his head in agreement.
"Okay, then," Duncan said carefully. "Getting back to Tribeau."
"The database doesn't cover research material," explained Methos. "Only the basic details of the still-active immortals; otherwise, the system could get too unwieldy."
"So, what do we do?" Amanda ventured.
"Well, I was thinking that a little overnight trip would do us good," Methos joked. "I've heard that Turkey is lovely this time of year."
"But what about the stone?" Duncan protested.
"What about it? The stone's useless until they get Amanda's piece. Let the watchers keep it nice and snug in the woods until we get back," replied Methos smugly.
"Man without a passport, here," Duncan reminded him.
"We'll report it missing in Sofia and get one reissued at the British embassy. You still carry a British passport, don't you?"
Duncan nodded in answer and stretched out on the bed.
"Well, I'll go get packed," Joe announced as he stood up. "We'll want to make a move before it gets dark."
"I'll be back in half an hour," said Amanda as she grabbed her coat. "I think poor Duncan needs something to wear that hasn't been worn for four days straight!"
"I'll go with you Amanda," Methos declared. "We don't want any renegade watchers to get their hands on you."
"I can take care of myself," Amanda protested.
"So can Mac, but it didn't prevent them from bundling him into the back of a van!"
"That reminds me... how did they get you, Mac?" Joe asked.
"Sniper rifle," Duncan answered shortly.
"Gets you every time," Methos commented wryly as he reached for his anorak.
"Leave your credit card here," Duncan asked Methos. "I'll take care of the reservations while you're gone."
Two hours later, they were on their way to Sofia. Methos travelled with Joe in the jeep while Duncan accompanied Amanda in her rented convertible. They arrived in Sofia just after 1 a.m. and made their way to the hotel at which Duncan had reserved rooms earlier.
"This is more like it," Amanda sighed as she entered the suite Duncan had reserved for her.
"You didn't exactly skimp with my credit card, did you?" Methos observed dryly from the doorway.
"Think of it as a reciprocal payment for all those times you've crashed on my couch," grinned the Highlander as he threw himself on the bed.
"I'd prefer to think of it as an advance payment for all those times to come," replied Methos mischievously as he disappeared from the doorway to the sound of Amanda's laughter.
The next morning was a flurry of activity as Duncan went to the embassy armed with the story he had concocted with Methos over the breakfast table. Methos spent most of the morning on the phone making some discreet enquiries of his own through his academic contacts about Tribeau.
Amanda had decided she needed to check out the local designer stores and dragged Joe along with her for "protection"-- one shopping trip with Methos was enough, as far as she was concerned. Five thousand years, and he still had no dress sense; she wouldn't be surprised if he dressed from a catalogue.
Duncan returned triumphantly at midday, his new passport safely stashed in his inside pocket. Methos confirmed their flight reservations for that evening and they both went downstairs to wait for Amanda and Joe in the restaurant. They had just picked up the menus when Amanda breezed into the room amidst a sea of bags with a very harassed-looking Joe in tow.
"Did we have fun?" Methos drawled as he looked up from his menu.
"Yes, thank you," came the prim reply as Amanda sat in the chair that Duncan pulled out for her.
Methos noted with humour Joe's silence as he joined them at the table and looked at the menu. The watcher belonged to the school of thought that 'if you had nothing nice to say, say nothing at all'. Tact really wasn't his forte; it probably had something to do with his inability to lie convincingly.
"How's it going there, Joe, pick up any bargains?" he asked as he beckoned the waiter.
"Oh, Joe wasn't in the mood for bargain hunting but I found a few things for him," Amanda interjected contentedly, "I even found something for Amy, a sweet little cocktail dress that will look absolutely divine on her."
Methos inwardly wondered if Amy would ever have the occasion to wear such a dress; watcher circles weren't exactly known for their opulent dinner parties.
"I fully intend to drag her out when I next come to Paris, that poor girl doesn't get out enough. All that lurking in the shadows can't be good for her social life," Amanda added. Sometimes Methos wondered if she were a mind reader.
"You may not realise this, Amanda, but you don't exactly have the greatest of reputations among the watchers. They might have something to say about Amy consorting with you," Methos snorted.
"Whatever do you mean, Adam?" Amanda replied, batting her eyes innocently.
"I mean that they are a bit nervous about letting you get your claws in another watcher. Yours seem to have a habit of ending up behind bars!"
"They do?" enquired Duncan, his face a picture of amusement.
Joe rolled his eyes and resumed looking at his menu.
"Besides," Methos continued, "Amy is my watcher and I'm quite fond of her, so hands off."
"If you're so fond of her then why are you ditching her at every opportunity," Amanda sulked.
"Just doing my part to keep her on her toes," he answered glibly. "Wouldn't want her to get sloppy, would we?"
"Well, your watcher is busy cooling her heels in Paris at this very moment, and she is not amused," Joe commented from behind his menu.
"You've been talking to her?" Methos asked.
"I phoned her yesterday morning, I didn't want her to worry."
"You didn't tell her what we were up to, did you?"
"And have her flying down here like a bat out of hell? No, thank you, I've got enough on my plate," Joe snorted.
"Oh, I almost forgot. This is for you, Duncan," Amanda pronounced as she produced a long, slim case. "I thought you might have needed a replacement until you retrieve your Katana."
With a surprised smile, Duncan accepted the gift. "That was really thoughtful, Amanda, thank you."
The conversation came to a close as the waitress arrived at the table to take their orders. The next hour passed pleasantly as they lingered over their meal and chatted, carefully avoiding the subject of their current predicament. It was nice, Methos thought, to talk about mundane things for a while. Reluctantly, they finished their coffees and retired to their rooms to pack for their flight.
The flight to Istanbul was uneventful and they arrived at their hotel at 8 p.m. without incident. Methos noted sourly that Duncan had managed to charge another suite to his credit card; he was really going to have to nip this in the bud. They met in the bar after dropping their luggage in their rooms and went over their options.
"I say we try a little bit of breaking and entering and see what we come up with," Amanda suggested. "The motherhouse's security shouldn't be a problem for me, we could be in and out within half an hour."
"There's that word again," Joe snickered. "Tell me whom, exactly, do you mean when you say we.""
"Well, I was thinking Adam and I would do the actual breaking and entering, and you and Duncan would keep the engine going in the getaway car, easy peasy!"
Duncan rolled his eyes as Methos and Amanda grinned at each other; those two were having way too much fun, as far as he was concerned!
"Right, then," Joe said briskly. "Time to get a move on. We'll take my car, I believe it's my turn to drive."
Without further ado, they collected their things and made their way down to Joe's car. The drive took them about an hour as they trawled around the edges of the ancient city until they eventually found what they sought.
"The Istanbul branch isn't exactly short of funds, are they," Methos observed as he surveyed the sprawling villa with its beautifully tended gardens from the hill above.
"Tell me about it," Joe agreed from the behind the wheel.
"We'll enter through the patio door," announced Amanda as she pulled on her small backpack.
"Whatever you say, Maestro," said Methos as he crawled out of the back seat.
"Good luck!" Duncan called out softly as they descended the hill and approached the grounds.
Creeping across the gardens, Amanda and Methos eventually came to the patio doors and Amanda produced some tinfoil and a set of lock picks.
"You know, these guys should really update their security systems. These circuit breaker triggers are child's play to circumvent," she whispered as she applied the tinfoil to the circuit pads and inserted the first lock pick, "I mean, look at this, no movement sensors, no video surveillance. Hell, there isn't even a deadbolt in this door."
"Sssh, don't complain. All the better for us, remember?" Methos whispered from his lookout point.
"I'm just saying, that's all," she muttered as the door opened.
Quietly, they slipped inside and looked around the quietened room. From the scattered couches and coffee tables, they surmised that they were in some kind of communal sitting room.
"Well, I guess we now know where the living quarters are," Methos commented as he eyed the room. "We'll have to be quiet until we get to the other side of the building, there are usually a couple of people living in-house in the smaller motherhouses."
Amanda nodded and peeked into the hallway, "All clear," she whispered as she crept out the door.
Making their way through the winding hallways, they eventually found the double doors that led to the library. Amanda checked for sensors and, finding none, tried the handle. The door opened smoothly. Amana arched her eyebrow at Methos who shrugged in response.
"Guess they weren't expecting to be burgled by a couple of pissed-off immortals," Methos suggested.
"You think?" Amanda replied archly.
The room was pitch black, the curtains closely drawn against the outside. The two immortals glanced at each other and produced their torch pens.
"So, where do we start?" Amanda asked as she swept the room with the torch."
"The office," Methos supplied as he made his way to the other end of the room, Amanda in tow.
The office door was also unlocked and Methos made a beeline towards the computer. "Check under 'T'," he ordered Amanda as he gestured at the file cabinets. "I'm going to have a look around in this computer."
"Got something," she exclaimed as she pulled out a file, "They look like permission slips for books he wanted to study, at least ten of them."
"Must be rare if he needed to have a permission slip signed, do they give the book titles?"
"I think they do, but don't ask me to pronounce them, These titles look like something you'd find on Rebecca's shelf and this looks like its been scratched by a chicken," Amanda says as she waved the slip under his nose.
"It's cuneiform," an intrigued Methos replied as he grabbed the slip from Amanda's hand.
"You mean, like ancient Babylonian?"
"That's exactly what I mean."
"What does it say?"
"A rough translation would be 'The Pool of Lights'," Methos answered.
"So what you're telling me is that we came here to find out about a stone, and what we've found is a reference to water," Amanda stated.
"So what do we do now?"
"Give me a look at the other permission slips," said Methos, holding out his hand.
Amanda handed them over and waited patiently as Methos surveyed them.
"Okay, this is what we'll do," he eventually said as he handed them back to Amanda, "None of these texts will be in the main library, they'll most likely be locked away in a vault in the cellar. I want you to go find them and bring them back here. I warn you, though, some of these pieces will be fragile and the cuneiform text as well as the ancient Egyptian one will most probably be on clay tablets. Think you can manage that?"
"Blindfolded," was the confident reply. "What are you going to be up to?"
"I'm going to try to hack into this computer," Methos answered.
Ten minutes later, he was cursing at the computer screen in frustration. Apparently the watchers didn't know how to secure a database but they did know how to password protect a library file.
"Come on, come on, it can't be that hard..."
Closing his eyes, he tried to think of a solution. Nothing came. He was still glaring at the screen when Amanda arrived back from her foraging trip toting a very full-looking backpack.
"How's it going, are you in yet?" she enquired as she lay the heavy backpack on the table.
"Nope," came the short reply.
Amanda craned her neck around the monitor.
"You're having problems with the password?"
Methos closed his eyes in response.
"Have you checked the desk drawers?"
Methos's eyes flew open. "They wouldn't be that stupid."
"Hmmm, Watchers, remember? Not so great on the follow through!"
Their eyes met over the monitor and with a curse Methos ripped open the top drawer. There, neatly taped on the side, was a list of passwords complete with their corresponding files.
"It's times like this, Amanda, when I could kiss you."
"You mean you don't want to kiss me all the time?"
"Don't ask questions you already know the answer to, m'dear!"
Crossing her legs as she perched on the desk beside him, she pulled a moue at Methos's rejoinder. Glancing at the screen disinterestedly, she noted the long list of titles he had pulled up on the screen.
"And we are interested in these because..." she prodded.
"...Because these are all the in-house dissertations written in the last ten years," he finished for her as he stole a floppy from the desk and inserted it into the drive.
"Did you find Tribeau's yet?"
"Still looking," he replied absently as he scrolled down the list.
Tapping her nails against the edge of the desk, Amanda let her eyes rove over the room as Methos continued searching.
"Duncan and Joe will be getting worried by now," she pointed out as her eyes came back to the computer screen.
"They'll live," Methos grunted as a title caught his eye. Double-clicking on the icon beside it, he gave a low whistle of appreciation as the page filled up with text.
"And we have a winner," he said triumphantly as he saved it to the floppy and pulled it from the drive. "We better make a move".
Quickly they slid through the house as quietly as they could and left the way they came in. Amanda took out her lock picks to close up behind them but Methos waved her off.
"Amanda, we've just helped ourselves to some of their oldest and most precious documents. I think they're going to figure out someone was here no matter what we do, so we might as well not bother."
"But it's sloppy," Amanda protested as he made to go, "Besides, if we lock up after ourselves it might take them a bit longer to realise they've been burgled."
Methos paused and reluctantly stopped.
"Make it snappy then," he relented as he eyed the gardens nervously, "I really don't want to hang around here longer than I have to."
Amanda nimbly relocked the doors and returned the sensors to their original state.
"There, that wasn't too long was it?" Amanda said cheekily as she danced past Methos and flitted across the lawn.
Rolling his eyes to the heavens, Methos ran after her, catching up as she reached the hedging.
"It isn't a race, you know," he said with some aspiration.
"You told me to make it snappy," she smirked, clambering over the foliage before he could think of a comeback.
"That woman spent way too much time with Rebecca," he grumbled as he followed her over the hedge and up the hill.
Together they trotted to the car, jumping into the back seat as Joe hit the gas.
"Did you get anything?" Duncan asked eagerly as they sped towards the city centre.
"We got his dissertation and some of his more esoteric source material, but we didn't pause to make sense of it all while we were there," Methos explained. "Anyone up for some in-depth reading and research tonight?"
A collective groan filled the car as Methos raised an eyebrow and smirked at his companions.
"My, my, we are an enthusiastic lot, aren't we?" Methos said, savouring their discomfort as he slouched back in his seat: one had to get one's guilty pleasures somewhere, after all. Personally, he was rather looking forward to it; anything that might help to fill in the gaps in his memory was a good thing, as far as he was concerned.
With cheerful indifference, he started to whistle under his breath as he watched the city roll by. Before long, they were pulling into the hotel parking lot and making their way upstairs to their rooms.
"Let's meet up in Duncan's suite in half an hour and make a start on this shall we," Methos said as he disappeared into his room to clean up.
"Hey! Why does our room get elected?" Duncan protested.
"Rooms Mac, you're the only one with a suite - remember?" Methos retorted as he popped his head out of the door.
"Like a dog with a bone," Duncan muttered to himself as he shook his head in defeat.
"Don't mind him," Amanda advised as she wrapped her arms around his waist. "Come and help me 'freshen up.'"
With a smirk, Duncan backed her into their suite and shut the door behind him, leaving Joe alone in the hallway.
"Just another day of breaking and entering, I suppose," he sighed to himself as he entered his room.
It was more like an hour before they eventually gathered together in the living area of Duncan's suite. Methos carefully laid out all the texts that Amanda had acquired from the vault before booting up his laptop and inserting the floppy.
"Right, then," he declared. "Amanda, you will work on the Latin and medieval French texts. Duncan, you'll look at the Greek and Egyptian texts, and I'll have a look at the Sumerian and Babylonian tablets. Joe will trawl through the dissertation."
"Yes sir!" Amanda muttered, picking up the Latin text by the corners.
"It's been a while since I've translated something this complicated," Duncan warned. "And my knowledge of Egyptian hieroglyphics aren't the best."
"Its better than Joe's, or Amanda's" replied Methos absently as he picked up one of the tablets. "Just ask me if you have any real problems."
The room fell quiet as they immersed themselves in their various texts; only the sound of turning pages broke the silence as the hours passed by. Eventually Joe groaned and put down the laptop.
"Time to raid the minibar I think," he pronounced, levering himself from the couch.
There was a mumble of assent from the room as they shifted in their seats and lay their research down.
"We could probably do with a summary of what we've read so far, anyway," Methos agreed. "I'll have a beer, Joe."
"We'll give you the honour of going first, then," smirked Duncan as he relaxed back into the sofa. "Seeing as you're so keen."
"Well, the good news is that for once the watchers have been studying a Sumerian text that doesn't refer to Gilgamesh. I swear if I come across another text referring to that jumped up tribal chieftain I'll go spare."
"Not fond of the adventures of Gilgamesh and Enkidu then?" Joe teased, setting a beer bottle on the table beside him.
"Oh please, the only reason that excuse for an immortal is still remembered is because he was too stupid to avoid getting caught reviving from the dead. In case you forgot, that little war he was famous for? He wasn't the victor, the idiot was creamed," Methos huffed.
"Oh no, we're not bitter at all," Amanda muttered as she accepted a glass of wine from Joe.
"Okay, so we all know now what the text doesn't say, care to tell us what it does?" asked Duncan, sipping his drink as he relaxed into the couch."
"Well, it's a story that involves quite a few disparate parts of Sumerian mythology," Methos explained as he opened his bottle, flipping the top behind him as he fell back into the armchair. "There is a short reference to the great goddess Nammu creating the earth from the Abzu - that's the primeval sea to you."
"Thanks for sharing that, now get on with the story will you?" Joe snarked.
"Well it goes on about the creation of Dilmun, which is a kind of Sumerian Eden who most historians assume refers to the modern area of Bahrain, along the eastern gulf."
"Would they be right?" Duncan asked curiously.
"Close enough," Methos admitted. "Anyway, according to this text, Dilmun had within its garden a spring that flowed from the Abzu and into a pond that the text refers to as 'the pool of lights'."
"Hold on, hold on," Duncan protested. "I may not be an expert on Sumerian mythology but I think I know enough to say that there aren't any references to a pool of lights, or a pool of anything for that matter."
"I'm right there with you, Mac, but that is what the text says," Methos explained.
"Is there more?" Amanda asked.
"Well, it goes on to describe the flood, and the granting of immortality to Ziusudra by An and Enlil, after which they tell him to stay in Dilmun. That much is pretty much the same as the usual translation of the myth, but then it diverges from the usual legend."
"Don't keep us in suspense then, tell us," Duncan urged.
"Well, apparently An and Enlil granted Ziusudra immortality through the use of a crystal stone, then told him to return it to whence it had come, once he grew tired of his gift."
"Let me guess, the pool of lights," Joe concluded.
"And we have a winner," smiled Methos as he took a sip from his beer. "Apparently though, Ziusudra was a naughty boy and didn't return the stone to the pool, but gave it to his son before passing away peacefully. An and Enlil were not pleased to say the least, and they hunted for Ziusudra's son but to no avail, for he had disappeared from their sight. Apparently, they appealed to Nammu for help in tracking the stone down and returning it to the pool, but she refused, saying that once something was created from the Abzu it could never be returned to it and thus uncreated, and so the stone passed onto the mortal coil," Methos explained.
"But why then is it called the Methuselah stone?" enquired Amanda.
"The passage of time," Methos shrugged. "It's no secret that whole tracts of the book of Genesis from the Bible were taken wholesale from the ancient Sumerian beliefs, right up to and including the flood. The order in which things occurred was changed around, and the names differed, but the basic stories stayed the same. If I had to guess, the stone was attributed to Methuselah in the later millennia because the name Ziusudra ceased to have any meaning for the peoples that knew of it. It wouldn't have been the first time this has happened, the Babylonian text more or less tells the same legend, except in their version Ziusudra is called Ut-napishtim"
"Don't you just wish sometimes that these old writers would just cut the crap, and stopped couching their thoughts in metaphor?" Joe complained, rattling the ice in his glass.
"Which reminds me, what did the mysterious Tribeau have to say in his little epic?" enquired Methos, leaning forward in the seat.
"To be quite honest, I don't know what to make of it. The whole thing is a rather long-winded account of some mystical waters secreted at some undisclosed location in France. They apparently have the ability to make things that were broken whole again. I thought it may have something to do with the "pool of lights", but as France is nowhere near Bahrain..."
"You may be wrong about there being no connection," interjected Amanda. "The Latin text I have refers to the Roman goddess Egeria. Apparently, she was a water nymph and the goddess's Diana midwife. The text tells of a Roman woman called Lativia who feared for her unborn child's life, and went to Egeria for help. Supposedly, a noblewoman who had been slighted by Lativia's husband had cursed her child to a life that was not whole. The story says that the pregnant woman appealed to Egeria for aid and she agreed to help. Giving Lativia a flask, she told her that it contained the stuff that all life was created from. She directed Lativia to go to the most northerly point of the Roman Empire, and find a pool of water to pour it into. Once she had done this, she was to bathe in the water for seven nights, and after the seventh night, her child would be forever whole."
"Let me guess: at the time the text was written, the most northerly part of the Roman Empire was France," Joe commented.
"It was written only a couple of years after the Romans conquered the Gaul's," agreed Amanda.
"What about the piece written in medieval French?" Duncan asked.
"Oh, you'll love this," Amanda exclaimed, as she smiled at Duncan. "It talks about Charlemagne's friendship with a French monk who bore the name of the great general Darius! Apparently they became fast friends when Darius helped one of Charlemagne's daughters back to health after she fell victim to a fever. It seems he cured her by bathing her in healing waters."
"I'm beginning to see a theme in all this," Joe said. "Pity Darius is dead, I'd love to know where these waters are."
"Actually, we do know," Methos admitted as he caught Duncan's eyes across the room.
"We do?" chorused Amanda and Joe.
"Yeah, we do," Duncan said as he laid his glass on the table. "Methos took me there when I was suffering from the dark quickening. It was how I was healed - how I was made 'whole' again," he added, with an ironic twist to his mouth.
Amanda and Joe both looked at Methos, who just shrugged in response.
"Well that's something you left out of your explanation of Duncan's recovery," Joe said wryly.
"I didn't even know there was a dark quickening to recover from," Amanda admitted, looking at Duncan enquiringly.
"You weren't in town at the time," Duncan reluctantly explained. "And by the time I saw you again, I had recovered and... well... it's not something I like to talk about."
"So... what did your research turn up?" asked Methos as he tried to direct the conversation away from what was obviously still a painful subject for Duncan.
Joe threw Methos a shrewd look, but said nothing as Duncan sorted through his notes.
"To start with, my pieces mention nothing about any waters, mystical or otherwise," he began. "The Greek texts both talk about a prophecy given by a Delphic Oracle during the fifth century B.C.E., it's basically a warning - 'Beware the Elder who seeks what cannot be, that which is done cannot be undone'."
"Well, that sounds ominous, if a little obscure," Amanda observed.
"'Obscure' is the word I'd use for just about everything we've read this evening," said Joe, grinning.
"What does the Egyptian text say?" prompted Methos.
"It's an account of the tributes received by Ramses the Great from a Babylonian king, nothing more than a list really. I've written out what the tributes were, but nothing jumps out at me. Here, take a look."
Duncan passed the sheet across the table to Methos, who read the list quickly.
"Nothing leaps out at me either," he admitted.
"So, can anyone make any sense out of all this?" Joe asked, grasping his cane before standing up to refill his glass.
"I could make a pretty good stab at it," Amanda said darkly. "Tribeau wants to make something that is unwhole whole, and we all know that the Methuselah stone isn't exactly in one piece at the moment."
"If he can make the crystal whole by dipping it in the waters, why does he need Amanda's piece?"
"Because, although the waters were created from the Abzu, it isn't actually the primeval waters," Methos mused. "The waters can fix that which is broken, but it can't create that which isn't there. The Methuselah stone is only the Methuselah stone as long as all pieces are connected. Without Amanda's piece, all you've got is a harmless piece of crystal. Darius could heal Charlemagne's child because she had it within herself to heal, the waters just gave her immune system a push. The same goes for Duncan, the waters could heal him of his dark quickening because he had his true self buried within."
"That makes sense I suppose," Joe acknowledged.
"So, what we're saying is that Tribeau and Valmont wish to gather all the pieces and bring them to the waters to rejoin them and make the stone whole again," Duncan concluded.
"That's pretty much it," Methos agreed.
"And the question still remains, why?" wondered Joe.
"I wish I knew, Joe," Methos muttered.
"I wonder if they know the location of the waters as well," Amanda said.
"Seeing that the fate of the Methuselah stone has been public knowledge for over half a decade among the watchers, but these renegades have only decided to make their move now, I'd guess yes. It was probably the discovery of the waters that caused this sudden flurry of cloak and dagger in the first place," Methos suggested.
"All this is giving me a headache," sighed Duncan. "How about we retire and continue this tomorrow?"
"Sounds like a plan," Methos concurred as he stood to go. "We still have a plane to catch tomorrow, and it would be nice to fly semi awake for once." With that, Methos accompanied Joe out of the suite
"Night, night," Amanda called out after them.
"Sweet dreams," Joe called back, shutting the door after him.
It was the harsh ring of the telephone that woke Methos the next morning.
"Good morning, Mr Sabotini, this is your wake up call. It's eight-thirty A.M.," said a soft, professional voice.
For a moment Methos looked confusedly at the receiver, then he remembered what passport he was travelling under.
"Umm, thank you," he mumbled belatedly.
Returning the phone to its cradle, Methos rolled out of the bed and headed to the bathroom. Twenty minutes later, he had showered and packed the few things he had brought with him. Toting his carryall, he made his way down to the dining room where Joe awaited him.
"Mac and Amanda not up yet?" he enquired as he sat down at the table.
"Oh, they're up alright," grinned Joe, "they just haven't finished 'freshening up' yet."
Rolling his eyes, Methos beckoned a waitress and ordered his breakfast. A quarter of an hour later it arrived, followed closely by Amanda and Duncan.
"Glad you could join us," Methos said dryly, sarcasm dripping from every word.
"Oh, don't be such a sourpuss," Amanda replied, smiling at the waitress.
Methos snorted and returned to his breakfast as Amanda and Mac ordered. Soon afterwards, their breakfasts had arrived and the table fell silent as they ate and sipped at their coffee.
"We'd better get a move on," Methos eventually said. "The flight departs at midday."
Duncan pulled out Amanda's chair and they all rose to leave; Methos, Joe, and Amanda walked on ahead to the car park while Duncan ducked upstairs to collect Amanda's and... well... Amanda's luggage. Ten minutes later, Duncan reappeared, dragging Amanda's many bags behind him.
"Oh honey, they do have bell hops you know," Amanda cooed.
"Probably couldn't afford one," Methos said gleefully. "With that amount of luggage, the tip would run into four figures."
With a glare, Duncan popped the boot of Amanda's rental and stowed the luggage. Unfortunately for him, there wasn't enough room, so he had to listen to Methos's roar of laughter as he opened the back door and heaped the rest onto the backseat.
"Sometimes that man is absolutely insufferable," he told Amanda, as he watched Methos get into Joe's car.
"Actually I was thinking it was a bit of a relief to hear him laugh," observed Amanda. "It's the first time since I've arrived that he's so much as giggled. I was beginning to get worried."
"You're kidding me," Duncan said as he pulled his seatbelt on.
"No, I'm not," answered Amanda soberly, "Haven't you noticed how off he's been; he looks like he's about to jump out of his skin. I think he's a lot more worried about his memory loss than he's letting on."
Duncan grew thoughtful as he listened to Amanda's worries. "Now that you say it, I think you're right. Should we try to talk to him about it?"
"I don't really know," responded Amanda. "Maybe we should just wait and see if he brings it up."
"Not going to happen," Duncan told her. "Methos never volunteers."
"You're right, I suppose," she sighed, pulling out of the parking lot. "Let's play it by ear, then. We could probably bring it up in conversation, see how he reacts."
"He's going to see what we're up to from a mile off," Duncan pointed out.
"Have you any better suggestions?" asked an exasperated Amanda.
"Let's have a chat with Joe first," Duncan replied. "He may have some ideas."
Amanda nodded in agreement. "Sounds like the best thing to do," she admitted, turning on to the airport road.
The flight back to Sofia was uneventful, and it was still afternoon when they landed.
"If we hire our cars now we could make it to Travda by tonight," suggested Methos as they strolled through the terminus.
"My, we are in a hurry," commented Joe.
"I just want to make sure they haven't been up to something while we were gone," Methos said fretfully. "We're too much in the dark as it is."
"You were the one that was so gung-ho about going to Istanbul in the first place," Joe retorted.
"That was when I thought we'd discover the connection between Tribeau and Valmont, but all we've found are more questions," he grumbled as he looked about for the car rental desk.
"Oh, for crying out loud," Joe said as he figured out what Methos was looking for. "The cars are rented around that bend."
"No need to be snotty about it," Methos sniffed, stalking down the corridor.
"See what I mean?" Amanda pointed out to Duncan as she made to follow Methos. "Way too touchy!"
"Well, Joe is a bit touchy too," Duncan said.
"Methos usually enjoys riling Joe up," Amanda pointed out. "He finds it hilarious, he told me so himself!"
"Hey! Standing right here, you know," Joe interjected.
"Sorry, Joe," Amanda called back as she walked off. "Duncan, have a chat with him, will you?"
And with, that she ran to catch up with Methos, who had just disappeared around the corner.
"Adam! Adam! Hold up!" she hollered, in a very unladylike fashion.
Methos halted abruptly and hung his head in exasperation. "It's Roberto, Amanda," he hissed lowly, as he furtively glanced at the rental desk. "I'm travelling under the name of Roberto Sabotini."
"Oops, sorry!" whispered Amanda, before raising her voice again. "ROBERTO ADAM SABOTINI, DON'T YOU DARE WALK AWAY FROM ME AGAIN," she complained loudly. Slapping him across the shoulder, she stalked away from him and approached the desk with an exaggerated swing of the hips.
"I've said it before and I say it again, that woman will be the death of me," he grumbled under his breath, but he couldn't quite suppress the smile on his face as he joined her at the desk.
"...Oh you know what men are like," he overheard Amanda tell the desk clerk in a low confiding voice. "They'll never let you have the final word."
Methos smiled widely at the clerk, who blushed deeply as she noticed his arrival.
"Been telling the nice young lady all my failings, have we, Amanda?" he asked rhetorically, leaning on the desk and winking at the clerk. He hadn't thought it possible, but the poor girl managed to go a shade redder.
"Oh, he's finally decided to have a conversation with me," Amanda replied in a singsong voice as she filled out her form. "Could you tell Mr. Sabotini that I'm not in the mood to speak with him? Oh, and tell him he'd better rent his own car, he'll travelling alone from now on!"
"Who, me?" squeaked the clerk, frozen with embarrassment.
"It's all right m'dear," Methos interjected in a soothing voice. "I think I caught all that, just pass me a form."
The harried clerk quickly produced a form and pen and made a quick retreat to her computer desk. Desperately avoiding their eyes, she pretended to be intensely fascinated with the bouncing ball in her screensaver.
"You don't think you might have overdone it?" Methos whispered as bent his head to fill out the form.
"Let's put it this way, do you think she'll now question you about why I called you Adam when you passport says your name is Roberto?" she mumbled back, signing her form with a flourish and trying to catch the eye of the reluctant clerk.
"Good point" Methos muttered, as the terrified clerk approached the counter again.
"Forms all filled out?" she asked nervously, picking the up the papers.
"Yes," Amanda and Methos cried loudly in unison, making the poor girl nearly jump out of her skin.
"Right then," she stuttered. "I'll just get the keys for you then, shall I?"
Two minutes later, they were on their way back to Duncan and Joe.
"You see? She didn't even ask us for picture I.D.," crowed Amanda as she jangled her keys.
"I defer to your superior guile," replied Methos, gracing Amanda with a sweeping bow as they rounded the corner.
"Oh, you're just saying that," Amanda replied with mock coyness, flicking an imaginary fan in response.
The duo collapsed into giggles as they approached Duncan and Joe, drawing amused looks from the throng around them. Joe watched them with a perplexed air as they drew nearer. Methos didn't look that stressed out to him - what was Duncan talking about? Joe looked questioningly at Duncan who just shrugged bemusedly.
"Hey guys, why the frowns?" Methos asked cheerfully as he pushed his hands into his pockets and sauntered up to them. "Did something happen while we were gone?"
"Just wondering what the joke was, that's all," Joe replied, with a fair approximation of nonchalance.
We'll explain it to you on the way to Travda," laughed Amanda as she linked arms with Joe and led the way to the parking lot.
Methos recounted Amanda's flustering of the desk clerk to Joe as they drove along the country roads, taking care not to leave out all her inflexions and mannerisms, as well as the look on the poor girl's face as she stood there in embarrassment. By the time he had got around to describing the bouncing ball on the computer screen, Joe was crying with laughter.
"Oh, man," he wheezed. "I'd love to be a fly on the wall when that girl takes her coffee break."
"That depends on whether or not she has regained her ability to speak," sniggered Methos. "It wouldn't be much fun if she couldn't share the pain, so to speak."
"Evil, that's what you are," Joe declared as he shook his head in response.
"Never denied it," Methos replied amiably.
The journey passed pleasantly as the two automobiles sped through the night towards their destination. When they arrived at their Hotel, dusk had just fallen and the stars had begun to peep through the evening light. As a group, they spilled into reception and made a beeline for the desk.
"Ah, good day, Mr. Dawson. Your daughter is waiting for you in the dining room," the smiling receptionist told Joe as he reached the desk.
All four froze. How the hell did Amy find them? Methos looked at Joe accusingly.
"Care to share, Joe?" he asked, with a false smile on his lips.
"I'm as confused as you," he said, glancing at the dining room door.
"Well, stop standing there like a couple of scared little boys and follow me," Amanda instructed as she sashayed into the dining room.
"Chop, chop," grinned Duncan. "Time to walk into the lions' den!"
Reluctantly Joe and Methos followed Amanda to meet their fate, pausing at the doorway as they spotted Amy's glowering face at one of the tables.
"Oh, boy. We're for it," Joe muttered, looking sideways at Methos's blank face.
"Smile, Joe, I hear it helps," Methos mumbled back as he strode forward.
"Ah, there you are," Amanda declared from her newly taken seat. "Aren't you going to join us?"
With a glare in Amanda's direction, Methos sat at the table and studied the silent Amy.
"Hello, Honey," Joe said nervously as he reached the table. "What brings you here?"
Amy threw a wallet onto the table in answer.
"Oh..." Methos uttered.
"Yes, oh," Amy said sarcastically.
"Whose wallet is it?" Joe asked, curiosity getting the better of him.
"Mine," Methos admitted sheepishly.
"Hira says hi by the way," Amy said flatly. "She hopes you didn't miss your train from Travda. Obviously, her hopes are dashed."
"I asked her to mail it to the bar," Methos pointed out.
"And who do you think ended up running it, while you took my father gallivanting around Eastern Europe," Amy retorted.
"I see your point," Methos answered quietly.
"Oh, you haven't even begun to see my point," Amy declared ominously.
Methos winced as she folded her arms and glared, while everyone shuffled in their seats. With a sigh, Amanda gestured at the waiter who was hovering around the table, and asked for some menus. Gratefully, her table companions immersed themselves in reading the entrées, as Amy's face got darker and darker.
"So, is anyone going to tell me what is going on here?" she demanded after the waiter left with their orders.
"We'll tell you all when we're somewhere a little more private," soothed Amanda as she took a sip of water.
"I want the full and unedited version," she warned, "no skirting around the subject."
"You're my watcher, not my keeper," Methos reminded her. "You're supposed to be observing and recording from a discreet distance, not demanding answers from me in person. In fact, you're not even supposed to talking to me! Non-interference, remember?"
"Don't you dare!" burst out Amy. "You gave up the right to use that excuse when you did a runner with my father in tow. As far as I'm concerned, you're the one who chose to ignore that 'discreet distance'! I was worried sick."
"Now, you just stop right there, Amy," Joe cut in. "I came along on this trip to track down Duncan, who if you may recall, happens to be my assignment."
"Oh, yeah," his daughter snorted. "And, of course, this is exactly how watchers are supposed to track their immortals, by traipsing around with a group of his immortal cohorts through the back end of Europe."
"Oh p-l-e-a-s-e," said Methos snidely. "You're just pissed because you weren't invited along."
"Damn right I am," she fired back.
Amanda tried unsuccessfully to wipe the smile off her face as she watched the immortal and watcher face off across the table.
"Are you two going to continue this cat fight all through the meal?" she enquired as she unfolded her napkin.
"What fight?" Methos asked with an innocent expression. "I'm just explaining to Amy why we shouldn't be having this conversation."
A noise that sounded suspiciously like a laugh came from behind Duncan's raised hand.
"You have something to say, Duncan?" asked Amy sarcastically. "Please, don't hold back on my account."
"Who? Me? Oh no - just a tickle in my throat," he said before he caught Amanda's eye across the table and broke up into gales of laughter.
"It's not funny," Amy protested. It was too late however; she could already feel the corners of her mouth twitching.
Joe had already averted his head as tried in vain to suppress the grin that was plastered all over his face. Even Methos was smirking. Eventually Amy caved and began to laugh.
"Alright, alright, you win," she conceded as she slumped into her chair. "I'll wait until we're somewhere more private."
"There's a good girl," said Methos with condescending approval, picking up his wallet from the table.
"Are you trying to start an argument?" Amanda asked exasperatedly. "The damage is done, Roberto, stop trying to avoid the inevitable."
"Adam," Methos replied lowly.
"What?" was the puzzled rejoinder.
"I'm registered as Adam Pierson here," Methos explained.
Amanda studied his face for a moment before answering in a low, measured, tone. "You know it may be a good idea to cut down on the alter-egos, Adam. Keeping it to one a day would make a good start."
Methos kept silent. He knew better than to answer when Amanda became cranky.
The meal was a tense affair as everyone tried to avoid causing another flare up between Methos and Amy, and the relief was palpable when they stood up from the table as the waiter cleared the table.
"How about I fill Amy in?" Amanda volunteered as they made their way to the lift. All things considered, she didn't think it was a good idea that Methos be left in charge of telling the tale, and Joe didn't look too eager to do it, either.
Upstairs, Methos disappeared into his room without a word, closing the door firmly behind him. With a sigh, Amanda waved everyone else into her room.
"What's up with him?" Amy asked as she sat in an armchair and looked at Amanda with a puzzled air. "I knew he'd be irritated, but this is ridiculous. He knew I'd be right on his tail the minute I found out where he was, it's my job."
"He has a lot on his mind," Amanda explained, as she sat on the bed beside Duncan. "Let me tell you what has happened up 'til now, and maybe you'll get a better picture of what is going on at the moment."
Amanda spent the next hour recounting the events of the previous few days, at Amy's insistence going into detail about what they knew of the renegade watchers. The whole affair with the Methuselah stone left her a little nonplussed, and she looked at Joe for confirmation as Amanda described what the stone's powers were supposed to be. When Amanda explained about Methos's bout of amnesia, her face went thoughtful.
"No wonder he's cranky," she mused.
"You'd better get used to it," Duncan advised. "His mood have been swinging like a yo-yo for the last four days, and I've a funny feeling he's not going improve until this has all been cleared up.
Amy nodded soberly as she stood up and went over to give her father a hug.
"I think I'll retire for the night, if it's all to same to you, Dad," she murmured as she kissed him on the cheek. "It's probably going to be a long day tomorrow."
MAINPAGE : 6 - 9 >>>
FICTION : BUFFY/ANGEL
FICTION : CROSSOVER
FICTION : E-MAIL ME