Disclaimer: Highlander belongs to Panzer/Davis, I'm just playing with their toys

Hamlet's Ghost

Chapters 6 - 9

Chapter Six

A soft knock on the door awoke Methos from his doze; the lack of a buzz told him that it was most probably either Joe or Amy. With a sinking heart, he rose from the bed. Somehow, he didn't think it was the grizzled-looking blues man. Cautiously, he opened the door and peeped out.

"Hey," Amy said softly as she stood in the hallway. "Can we talk?"

Methos padded back to his bed, leaving the door ajar in silent invitation. Sprawling across the mattress, he eyed Amy warily as she entered the room. Having Amy as his watcher was like having a double-edged sword. On the one hand, he knew he could trust her to turn a blind eye whenever the occasion asked for it. On the other hand, however, he didn't have the luxury of being able to give her the slip without there being repercussions. When you know your watcher's name, you worry about hurting their feelings.

"You're going to have to stop losing me, you know," Amy sighed, as she sat down. "If you don't, they'll just transfer me and you'll end up with another watcher.

"No, they won't," answered Methos with a small smile. "They've already tried other watchers. So far, you're the only one who's managed to last more than a week."

"All the same, it wasn't nice," she stated. "You have no idea how cranky my superiors get when I lose you."

"Objection noted," replied Methos. "But you've probably figured out by now that my having a watcher in tow at the moment is not a good idea. I don't want my whereabouts reported back to watcher headquarters; too many people have access to the records."

"They already know, Methos," Amy sighed. "They knew from the moment I booked a flight to Sofia. I'm sorry, but I didn't know what was going on. All I knew was that you had run off to parts unknown with my father. Hell, I wasn't even aware that Duncan had been kidnapped, never mind the rest of it!"

"Have you told them who I'm travelling with?" Methos said as he sat bolt upright on the bed.

"No, I haven't made a report since I've got here," Amy admitted.

"That's something, then," Methos mumbled as he swung his legs over the side of the bed. "You realise that you may have to lie outright in your next report? We are in a very delicate situation. We can't afford to let it get back to the renegade watchers that Amanda is here. Even as things stand, we may find we will have some surprise guests over the next few days. If Tribeau is worth his grain of salt, he'll no doubt know that I'm an acknowledged friend of both Duncan and Amanda."

"Time to move hotels, then?" Amy suggested as she watched Methos mull the situation over.

"That's not a bad idea. In fact, I'd go one further and suggest we move towns," Methos replied.

"We'll do that tomorrow, then," Amy declared as she stood up. "I'll let you get some sleep."

"Is that it?" Methos said with a slight smirk.

"Is what it?" Amy asked confusedly.

"Oh, I don't know. I think I was expecting a more robust conversation. Possibly even a few violent threats?" Methos enquired with amusement.

"I think we've done enough shouting at each other for one day, don't you?" Amy replied with a crooked smile.

"That must have been some 'chat' you had with Amanda," he observed wryly.

"It was pretty informative," Amy admitted as she put her hand on the doorknob.

"Described in full Technicolor vision, I've no doubt," Methos muttered.

"And surround sound," Amy agreed. "Want to talk about it?"

"There's nothing much to say, Amy," he said tiredly. "Lets leave it, shall we?"

Amy fixed the man, who was both her assignment and friend, with a good long stare before finally nodding and opening the door. "I'll see you in the morning, Methos. Goodnight."

Methos didn't bother to reply. What was there to say? It was at times like these he really missed Darius. He had been one of the few immortals left who would have listened to his worries without having a panic attack. Even Amanda reacted to his sudden appearance of weakness like it was the end of the world; 5,000-year-old immortals weren't allowed to be vulnerable.

Frankly, he was worried enough without having to see his fears reflected back through their eyes. Darius would have served him some of his awful concoctions that he had the nerve to call 'tea', and cracked jokes about all the predicaments he could get into by losing his memory. Within half an hour, he would have succeeded in putting it all into perspective for him. With a groan, Methos rolled over in the bed and hit the lamp switch. Things were bad enough without dwelling on friends that were no longer with him; it was time to go to sleep.

He had begun to drift off when he felt the buzz of an approaching immortal. Cursing softly under his breath, he reached for the pommel of his sword and waited. It was probably Duncan or Amanda wanting to have a 'chat'. There seems to be a lot of those going around at the moment. Straining his ears, he heard soft footsteps coming up the hall and came fully awake. They were coming from the wrong direction. Methos slipped off the bed and positioned himself beside the door; the footsteps had stopped, probably because the immortal had sensed his presence. Quietly, he positioned his hand on the door as he mentally went through his options...

"Oh, the hell with this!"

The door slammed against the wall as he wrenched it open and leapt into the hallway, blade raised in attack. He saw a flash of dark eyes as the other immortal came rushing at him, his sword held in a two-hand fist as the two blades met in a shower of sparks.

"Right, this is going to be a game of hack and slash then"

Methos struggled to disengage in the close quarters of the hall as his opponent tried to back him into the wall. Kneeing him in the balls, Methos took a step sideways as he doubled up and backed up a few steps. Taking advantage of his attacker's disorientation, Methos rushed him, forcing him back with a feint as he produced his dagger and sunk it into his leg.

With a cry of pain, the strange immortal slashed at his arm, drawing blood as he pulled back. A rush of sensation heralded the emergence of Duncan and Amanda from their room and Methos saw the look of surprise flash in his opponent's eyes. Methos tried to take advantage of the situation and sprung to attack yet again. In a flurry of feints and parries, they danced down the hallway towards the reception room.

"Any chance of getting your name?" Methos asked through gritted teeth.

The strange immortal remained silent as they spilled into the wider space, redoubling his attack as the receptionist screamed and ducked behind the counter. It seemed that the decision to move hotels was taken out of their hands. Duncan flew over to the counter to check on the poor hotel employee as Amanda watched the fight worriedly. Suddenly, Amy and Joe rushed onto the scene; both with hand guns at the ready.

"Since when did Amy start packing?"

The thought took a back seat as the other immortal got past his defences and slashed his leg. Cursing inwardly, Methos retaliated and succeeded in wounding his opponent's sword arm. With a cry of pain, his attacker backed up and ran for the door. Methos gave chase, running out into the street after him. The sharp report of a gun rang out and Methos staggered in pain as blood blossomed on his shirt and poured from his chest. The last sound he heard before he passed out was the screeching of a car.

When he woke up, he found himself being carried by Duncan and Amanda down the hotel hallway. "You can put me down now," he muttered as he struggled in their grasp. The two immortals dropped him like a stone on the carpeted floor.

"Thank goodness for that," Amanda said as she rubbed her wrists. "How on earth are you so heavy? Are you carrying iron bars in your pockets?"

"Wouldn't you like to know," Methos replied with a flash of humour as he dusted himself off. "Where's my sword?"

"Amy has it," Duncan explained as he gestured down the hall.

"Anyone get a look at our immortal's little helpers?" muttered Methos as he surveyed the damage to his clothing.

"Three of them, dark clothing, dark car, big guns," Duncan replied briefly. "I didn't get a very good look, I'm afraid."

"Could they be watchers?" Methos asked.

"They'd fit the bill," Duncan admitted.

"How's the desk clerk?" Methos said, as he looked over his shoulder towards reception.

"Relatively calm, all things considered. Joe is having a little chat with her as we speak," answered Duncan.

With a nod, Methos walked towards his room, turning around as he called back. "I think we may have to change abode. The local constabulary may have a few questions for us and personally I think that it may not be a good idea to be here when they arrive. It would be hard to explain why we would be the victims of a drive-by shooting in this neighbourhood, not exactly an everyday occurrence."

"I think you may be right" Duncan said with a grin as he glanced at Amanda.

"I'll start packing," Amanda agreed.

With that, all three immortals disappeared into their rooms to get ready to leave. Stripping off his blood-soaked clothing, Methos jumped into his shower to clean up. Dumping the wrecked clothes into a shopping bag, he dressed and packed, pausing only when he heard a knock at the door. "Come in," he called out as he zipped up the carryall.

"Woman with sword here," Amy called out as she entered the room, the Ivanhoe gingerly held out before her. "How on earth do you carry this in your coat without walking lop sided?"

"It's a secret, handed down from generation to generation. I'd tell you, but there's a whole initiation thing..." joked Methos.

"Been there, done that, have the tattoo to prove it," Amy joked back as she surrendered the sword to his grasp.

"Are you all packed?" he enquired, returning his sword to its place in his anorak.

"My bags are in the car," Amy replied as she turned to leave. "We're all gathering out back in the alley."

Picking up his bag, Methos followed her out of the room and down through the kitchens to the back. Everyone else was already there when they arrived.

"That wasn't Valmont," Joe volunteered as they strolled up to the group.

"I know, they have his photograph in the watcher database," Methos replied as he dropped his bag into the boot.

"This conspiracy is beginning to get a little crowded," Duncan sighed.

"So, who is he?" Amanda asked pensively.

"I don't know, but I think we can safely assume that he is in league with Valmont. Two immortals running around in the Bulgarian countryside with a bunch of gun-toting watchers is a bit of coincidence." Methos said in exasperation.

Amy giggled and the rest of the group looked at her in puzzlement.

"You've got something to add, Amy?" Methos asked snarkily. "Please, do share."

"Sorry," she apologised. "It's just... that would have been a pretty good description of us as well! You know - immortals running around in the countryside accompanied by a couple of watchers carrying guns?"

There was a few seconds of silence before Amanda began to titter and the tension broke in the air.

"Okay, then," Duncan laughed. "Lets not make any assumptions."

"But we could make some educated guesses," Methos pointed out, as he huddled in his anorak. "One way or another, I think it would be safe to assume that he is involved in this whole ridiculous situation in some capacity."

The sound of sirens rang in the distance and they instantly became alert.

"They took their time," Amanda observed.

"We have to get out of here - fast," Joe urged. "I convinced the desk clerk to 'lose' our details from the registry book, but there must have been witnesses to the whole debacle outside."

"But where do we go?" Amy asked as she helped Joe into his car.

Methos grinned evilly as he fingered his wallet in his pocket. "I think I may have an idea. I happen to be acquainted with a certain farmhouse owner not too far away from here..."

"Do you really think that is a good idea, Methos?" Duncan protested. "From your description, I got the impression she was a bit on the elderly side. We could be bringing a lot of trouble to her door."

"Don't worry about her!" Methos snorted. "It's us you should be worried about, that woman has nerves of steel."

"Right then," Amanda declared. "Off to the funny farm we go."

"I don't think we're going to be carted off by the men in the white coats just yet," Duncan told her.

"But I think we're getting there," Methos muttered darkly.

It never failed to amaze Methos how blind the authorities could be sometimes. Four rental cars pull out in a convoy and drive away from the scene of a crime, and nobody thinks to stop them. You'd have thought someone would realise something was very wrong with that picture. Methos shrugged the thought away as they left the streetlights behind and sped away through the dark, country roads. Never look a gift horse in the mouth, that was his motto - unless it was wooden, of course.

It was still the middle of the night when Methos pulled into Hira's yard, the other cars following closely behind. Making a mental note to dispose of some of the vehicles the following morning, Methos strolled towards the house as everyone got out of their cars. Suddenly, the yard was awash with light and Methos stopped in his tracks.

"Don't move a muscle! Oh... it's you."

Squinting his eyes as they adjusted to the yard light, Methos made out Hira's tiny form in the doorway. "Hello again," he said, as he moved forward, only to be greeted by the barrel of her shotgun. "I hope this isn't an imposition, but I was wondering if you could put us up for a couple of nights."

Hira looked at him in disbelief. "Do this look like a guesthouse to you, Mr. Pierson?" she demanded. "Do I look as if I serve bed and breakfast?"

Moving the gun gingerly out of his face with his hand, Methos gave a pleading look.

"Don't you try your games with me," Hira scolded as she caught the expression on his face. "That only worked before I knew your true age - so, act it!" Nevertheless, she lowered her gun and looked behind Methos at the small, assembled group. "Come on in," she sighed as she disappeared back into the kitchen.

Methos looked back over his shoulder and smirked. "Looks like we've got an invite," he said as he followed her into the house.

"I still think this isn't a good idea," Duncan muttered as he put his arm around Amanda and led her in, the rest of the group following closely behind.

The kitchen was warm when they entered. The banked fire in the range still giving off heat, as they arranged themselves around the table. Hira eyed them with some trepidation as she filled the kettle and put it on the gas.

"I'm sorry about this, Hira, but we needed a place to lie low in. We've got ourselves into a situation which would bring too much attention from the wrong people," Methos explained as he shrugged of his anorak, the others following suit.

"You'd better tell me exactly what is going on here, Mr. Pierson," Hira said as she settled into the empty chair at the head of the table. "If I'm going to help you, I'd like to do it with my eyes open." Methos translated what she said and silence reigned in the room as they weighed their options. Finally, Amy spoke up.

"I think we should tell her. I mean, she already knows about immortals, right?" The rest of her companions shuffled in their seats as Hira looked at them enquiringly.

"Why don't I make a pot of tea?" Hira eventually said to Methos. "Then you can tell me all." Raising herself from her chair, she laid the table and filled the teapot with the now boiling water. A few minutes later, they were all quietly sipping their tea.

"Hira, this is Joe Dawson, the man to whom I asked you to mail my wallet. That is his daughter, Amy," Methos said as he rested his cup on the table and gestured towards the two watchers. "Believe it or not, they belong to a secret society called 'the watchers'."

Hira looked at him askance. "I thought you told me you weren't involved in any secret societies, Mr. Pierson," she scolded.

"I'm not!" Methos protested. "Well, not much..."

"What did she say?" Amy asked.

Duncan repeated Hira's words in English.

"Lets just say that Adam is no longer a card-carrying member," Joe suggested.

"Anyway!" said Methos as he gave Joe a glare. "As I was trying to say before, Joe and Amy belong to this society who call themselves 'the watchers'. Their reason for existence is to watch and record immortals and supposedly never interfere. The other two are Duncan MacLeod and Amanda Darieux. They, like me, are immortal."

"I see," Hira said slowly. "Any chance that you're going anywhere with this?"

Methos told Hira what had transpired over the last few days, filling her in on the background of the Methuselah stone and the renegade watchers. Every once in a while, one of the others would throw in their two cents and Methos or Duncan would have to translate. The story meandered to its conclusion an hour later.

"You don't do things by halves, do you, Mr. Pierson?" Hira sighed, leaning back into her chair.

"We're really sorry about this, Mrs. Pendarova," Duncan said. "But we truly didn't have anywhere else to go."

"I suppose so," Hira sighed. "My son is going to have a fit. I don't mind telling you that he was very suspicious of your tale. It just seemed a little far-fetched; he didn't pry though, so you don't have to worry." Standing slowly, she eyed her 'guests' and came to a decision, "You'll have to double up, I'm afraid. I've a lot more room since the children have left home, but as I said before, I'm not a hotel."

Duncan smiled their thanks as Methos explained to the others what Hira had said. A half hour later, they were all assigned rooms and had brought their luggage in.

"We're going to have to get rid of some of those cars," Duncan observed as he joined Methos at the kitchen table again.

"That has already occurred to me," Methos admitted. "Maybe we could pull some of them off the road and throw some branches over them. That way we can retrieve them easily enough if we have to."

"Sounds like a plan," Duncan agreed as the rest of the group rejoined them.

"What plan?" Joe asked as he caught the tail end of the conversation. Duncan filled him in.

"It's still the middle of the night," Amy pointed out.

"The best time to do it," Methos countered.

"Where has our hostess disappeared to?" Amanda asked.

"She has already retired for the night," Duncan explained.

"Smart woman," Joe muttered.

"Methos and I can manage," Duncan said. "We're only getting rid of two of them. I think we'll hold on to Methos's and Amy's as they're more able for these roads."

"Thank goodness for that," Amanda said as she rooted in her purse. "Here are my car keys, I'm going to bed." Laying her keys on the table, Amanda left for her room.

"And here are mine," Joe announced as he produced his keys. "I'm going to take a leaf out of Amanda's book and catch some shut-eye."

"Night, Joe," Methos called out after him as he disappeared out of the room.

"I think I'll retire as well," Amy announced.

Duncan and Methos grabbed the keys and went out to the cars. Duncan took Amanda's car while Methos ended up tackling Joe's.

"Bloody typical, how on earth do you drive this thing?"

Squinting at the levers, he tried to figure out which were the accelerator and the brake.

"'Methos and I can manage' he says. Yeah, right, fine for him to say, driving around in Amanda's Corvette!"

Finally, he figured it out and backed Joe's car out of the yard. Driving the car about a mile down the road, he found a little dirt lane and pulled in, Duncan following closely behind. Eventually they stopped in a lightly wooded area and got out.

"It'll do," Duncan pronounced as he surveyed their surroundings.

"It'll have to," Methos muttered as he chopped a few branches down with his sword. Duncan winced as he thought of the damage it must be doing to the blade.

"It'll take an age to reshape your edge," he pointed out as he watched Methos hack away in dismay.

"Not as long as it would take to break these branches with our bare hands," Methos pointed out as he draped his spoils over the windscreen of Joe's car.

"You have a point, I don't suppose you could cut a few branches for me as well?" he enquired.

Methos gave him a dirty look.

"Well, there is no need to ruin two blades, are they?"

With a groan, Methos set about cutting down the extra branches and leaned against Joe's car as Duncan covered Amanda's car.

"All done," Duncan eventually pronounced.

"About time!" Methos grumbled as he started down the lane. "Come on, I'd like to get some sleep tonight."

The two walked in silence down the lane and onto the road. It was obvious to Duncan that Methos didn't want to talk but he couldn't forget what Amanda had said earlier that morning.

"So, how are you?" he probed.

"Just peachy," Methos answered shortly. "Change the subject."

Duncan took the hint and remained silent as they continued down the road. They were about 300 yards away from the farmhouse when they came across a van.

"That wasn't here when we drove past earlier," Duncan observed.

"Looks like we have company," Methos agreed as he pulled out his gun.

As one, they ran for the house, their pace quickening as they heard the sound of gunfire. Methos held Duncan back as they approached the front gate.

"Let's not announce ourselves just yet," he advised in a whisper. "A little bit of stealth sometimes goes a long way.

Duncan hesitated for a moment, then nodded his assent. "The shed on the left side of the house is quite low, how about we clamber up on top and get ourselves a birds'-eye view?"

Grinning in response, Methos followed Duncan as they circled the farmhouse. Sidling up the back of the shed, they felt the presence of another immortal.

"Amanda?" Methos mouthed to Duncan. Duncan shrugged in response and peered down. The yard was ablaze with light and Joe's form could clearly be made out standing at the door, gun cocked at the ready. A disembodied voice wafted up from beneath them.

"I'd advise you to put that gun down, Mr Dawson, or I may have to hurt you."

"Oh, yeah? You and whose army?" Joe demanded.

The sound of guns being cocked broke the air as several grim-looking mercenary types suddenly ran into the yard.

"Me and my big mouth," Joe exclaimed, as he backed into the house only a split second before they opened fire.

"These guys have definitely been watching too many gangster films," Duncan muttered, watching in disbelief as the gunmen peppered the house with bullets. Chunks of plaster flew, the windows exploding in a haze of gunfire. "That's it, I'm going down," Duncan declared as he leapt off the building.

"Duncan, wait," Methos hissed. "Damn it all to hell, why doesn't anyone ever listen to me?" Taking a few moments to take in the situation, Methos watched as Duncan leapt into the fray. Thankfully, Duncan was light on his feet and the gunmen were reluctant to use their guns in such close quarters for fear of shooting one of their own.

The mercenaries were at a severe disadvantage in hand-to-hand combat and Duncan's expertise was formidable, but the enemy were many and Duncan was one. Methos decided to even the odds and open fired. Three were down before someone realised that the herd was beginning to thin.

"Fall back," one of them called out. "We're under..."

A well-placed bullet silenced him as the others deserted the yard; Methos noted that the presence he had felt earlier had faded also. Leaping from the roof, he ran for the house, banging at the locked door as Duncan gave chase to the gunmen.

"Open up, it's us!" he roared, He heard the bolt slide back and Hira's face showed through a crack.

"They're gone?" she queried, peering into the yard.

"For now," he answered briefly, glancing over his shoulder as he heard Duncan join them.

"I got one more before they made it to the van," Duncan explained as he struggled to regain his breath.

"Your young friend has been shot," Hira said as she widened the crack in the door and let them in.

"Young friend..." Methos started, his voice drifting off as he took in the scene before him. Joe was sitting in a chair, his face frozen in horror as he watched Amy moan with pain on the floor. Amanda had propped her head up on her lap, and was applying pressure to the wound in her stomach, but it was obvious from the blood that seeped through Amanda's fingers that Amy was in big trouble.

"It was a ricochet, the bullet is still inside her," Amanda said as she looked up.

"Shit," Methos muttered as he knelt to examine the wound. "We're going to have to get her up on the table so I can get a better look."

Amy's eyes fluttered, but she didn't speak. Her breath was coming in short rasping gasps and Methos began to worry. Silently, the three immortals lifted Amy onto the table, closing their ears to Amy's cries of pain. Duncan and Amanda looked quietly on as Methos tried in vain to both staunch the wound, and assess the damage.

"How bad is it?" Joe asked hoarsely, his face taut with fear as he looked on.

"Pretty bad," Methos admitted. "The bullet has perforated her stomach and she's losing a lot of blood."

"Is she gonna..." Joe's voice gave way before he could finish the sentence.

"She needs medical attention, but she should make it," Methos replied, trying to sound reassuring as he took a first aid box that Hira had handed him and proceeded to bind the wound.

"Can't you do it? You patched me up that time in Paris," Joe asked.

"I had my old medical instruments at hand in Paris, Joe, and she's going to need a hell of a lot more attention than I can give her from this first aid box."

Joe bent his head in acceptance as Methos tied off the binding. The room was fraught with tension, the only sound the running of the tap as Amanda washed the blood off her hands. Hira hovered at the other end of the table, her eyes following the conversation even though she didn't understand the language. Methos looked up and caught her attention.

"Where are the nearest medical facilities, Hira? A hospital or clinic would do." He asked.

"How about a doctor's surgery office?" she enquired.

Methos shook his head. "She's lost a lot of blood, Hira. She's going to need a transfusion."

"Khaskovo would be where the nearest hospital is, but they are going to ask questions if you arrive with someone with bullet wound," Hira told him.

"We don't need to bring her there, we just need to pick up a few supplies," Methos explained as he looked at Amanda in silent request.

"I'll get my coat," she said, as she slipped out of the room for a moment, returning quickly with her coat on and an armful of bedding. Raising Amy's head gently, she put a pillow underneath it and draped a blanket over her. "I'll take Duncan with me," she said as she pulled the coat closed over her bloodstained blouse. "Just in case I need a translator."

Methos grabbed a notepad from his luggage and hurriedly wrote out a list after asking Joe what blood type Amy was, passing it to Duncan as he threw his coat on. They left without further ado; they both had seen enough death in their lives to know that time was of the essence.

Hira sighed as she patted Joe gently on the shoulder; watching a loved one suffer while one looked helplessly on was a pain she could well understand. Her husband had passed on three years earlier and she still remembered vividly the agony she went through as he slipped further away day by day. Her eyes caught Methos's across the room. From the haunted expression on his face, she guessed that she wasn't the only one acquainted with death in the room.

The hours passed slowly as they waited for Amanda and Duncan to return. Amy had slipped totally into unconsciousness and Joe seemed to have sunk into an almost unnatural silence. Methos stayed by Amy's side, his fingers glued to her pulse as he watched the rise and fall of her chest while Hira cleared up the glass and draped the broken window with a few blankets to keep the worst of the chill out. Dawn came and went, and eventually they heard the distant sound of a car. Joe struggled to his feet and made for the door, sinking against the doorjamb in relief as he saw Amanda jump out of Methos's jeep.

"Do me a favour, Hira," Methos asked quietly. "Boil me some water, I'm going to need to clean up.

Chapter Seven

It was messy, and Methos would have preferred the safer environs of a surgery theatre, but he eventually got the bullet out without too much extra damage done. It was the repairing of the stomach wall that had made him sweat, but at least the kidneys and intestines were intact. Eventually he was ready to sew up the wound, it was a fairly neat stitching job, even if he said so himself. Quickly, he checked her pulse, it was strong and steady. The blood and saline I.V.s was neatly done by Duncan, his experience as a medic in previous wars showing through.

Lets move her onto something more comfortable, shall we?" Methos suggested as he proceeded to wash up.

"Is she okay?" Joe asked as he approached the table and took Amy's hand in his. "She's still not conscious."

"It's the anaesthetic," Methos assured him as he dried off. "She should come around in a few hours."

Duncan and Hira conversed quietly in the corner and Hira disappeared upstairs. "She went to dust off an old camper bed of hers," Duncan explained. "We're going to set it up in the sitting room beside Joe so that we don't have to move her upstairs. It is one of the few rooms that still has its windows intact.

"All the better for me," Joe agreed. "That way I can keep an eye on her."

For the first time, Methos took a good look around him. "This house took quite a beating," he observed.

"Poor Hira," Amanda said. "The place is wrecked."

Duncan didn't comment but the look on his face said it all. He didn't actually come out and tell him, but his whole expression practically screamed ' told you so'.

"Lets see if there is anything on the farm that we can use to patch these window's up," Methos said as he made for the door. "It'll probably be a few days before we can get a glazier out here. We're going to need a body detail too, there are few in the yard"

"Don't forget the plasterer and decorator," muttered Duncan.

"Yeah, those too," sighed Methos, as he looked around the room, wincing as he noticed the damaged photographs on the wall.

It was then that Hira reappeared in the room. "Could one of you help me set this contraption up in the other room," she asked as gestured behind her. "I'm not as young as I used to be, I'm afraid."

Methos winced yet again as Duncan glared at him, he'll never hear the end of this.

"What did she say," Amanda enquired curiously.

"She needs some help setting up the bed," Duncan said.

"That's my cue then," Amanda said, going to help Hira.

"Hira, where do you keep the tools and shovels," Duncan asked. "I'd like to board up the windows."

IF Hira thought it was strange that he needed a shovel to fix the window, she didn't mention it. "I have some window shutters in the shed on the left," she volunteered. "I haven't had a need for them in years, not since Josef put the double glazing in. The tools are in there too."

With a nod, Duncan made his way out into the yard, Methos following reluctantly behind. He knew he was going to get an earful from the Scot and he wasn't looking forward to it. They made it to the shed before Duncan finally spoke.

"We shouldn't have come here," he stated.

"We didn't have much choice," Methos countered. "There was nowhere else we could go at such short notice."

"All the same, I think we should leave as soon as Amy is well enough to move." Duncan replied, as he rooted around in the shed for the toolbox.

"They're going to come back Mac." Methos retorted. "It doesn't matter whether or not we're here. If we leave, we'd just make it easier for them to harm Hira - and they will hurt her, Mac, they're not going to believe that she knows nothing."

"We could take her with us," Duncan suggested.

"Take her where, Mac?" Methos asked. "No, I think we should stay put, at least we're in a defensible position."

"It's a farmhouse, Methos," Duncan said exasperatedly. "Not a fort!"

"Well someone obviously forgot to tell that to those guys last night," Methos shouted. "Because that looked very like a full scale attack on the walls! These guys are going to war, Mac. I think its time we do too, don't you?"

The shed fell quiet as Methos struggled to contain his temper, while Mac looked at him disbelievingly. Eventually Duncan gently spoke up.

"Feel better now?"

Methos laughed in response. "A bit," he admitted. "Sorry about that, I just didn't see this coming, you know? How the hell did they find us so quickly?"

"Could we have been tailed from the village?" Duncan asked as he puzzled on the question.

"We would have noticed," Methos replied. "Their headlights would have stood out for miles in the countryside and the roads are too dangerous to travel without them."

Duncan nodded in agreement. "What then? We couldn't have been bugged, could we?"

Methos stood upright as a thought suddenly occurred to him. "Amy," he breathed.

"No way," Duncan protested. "There is no way in hell she would have brought this upon us."

"Not knowingly," Methos said. "But the watchers knew she was coming out here to find me. They could have bugged her in Paris, or even when she arrived in Sofia."

"The rental car," Duncan concluded as understanding dawned in him.

"That would be my guess," Methos agreed.

"You think you could do the windows by yourself?" Duncan asked as made for the yard. "I want to check this out for myself."

"I think I'll muddle through," Methos said wryly as he watched Duncan's disappearing back.

He had started on the upstairs windows when he heard a triumphant cry from below. Looking down from the ladder, he noticed Duncan hold something small aloft.

"Got it!" he called across the yard. "It looks like your basic tracking device, works on a radio signal I think."

"Give Amanda a look," Methos suggested from his perch. "It's more her area of expertise."

"Shouldn't we destroy it?" Duncan asked uncertainly.

"Why, they already know where we are, Methos pointed out as he descended the ladder. "But it might come in useful later."

A smile hovered on Duncan's lips. "Have something in mind, do we?"

"Lets just say that the next confrontation we have, will be on ground of our choosing," Methos replied with a grin. "Go on in, I'll finish up the windows. We can do the bodies later."

It took Methos another half an hour to board up the rest of the windows. Tucking away the tools and ladder away in the shed, he pulled the bodies in there for later and followed Duncan into the house. The kitchen was a buzz of activity as Hira was bustling around the room preparing a meal while Duncan and Amanda were arguing at the table.

"They have to be near, Duncan, this bug's range doesn't go very far," Amanda said. "It's an antique for God's sake, made in the U.S.S.R.!"

"We have to wait Amanda," Duncan pleaded. "We're not ready."

"And when exactly will we be ready, Duncan. When they come back and finish the job?" asked Amanda. "Half of us here are mortal. Believe it or not, we were lucky last night. Amy could have died, so could have Joe and Hira. Do we wait for the next hail of bullets? I say we strike now."

"What has got into you, woman?" Duncan asked disbelievingly. "This is not you."

"You forget Duncan, the reason Amy is lying unconscious right now is because they're after me," Amanda reminded him. "Even I have my limits, I say we finish this now."

"Children, children," Methos broke in, a smirk on his face. "Lets say we settle this peacefully."

Duncan rolled his eyes at this pronouncement and rose from the table. "There is nothing to settle," he insisted. "I'm saying that we shouldn't rush in there half cocked."

"That's not you said when you jumped off the shed last night!" Methos pointed out.

"That was different!" Duncan explained.

"No it wasn't," retorted Methos. "Amanda has a point, if we don't bring the fight to them, they'll just bring it to us again. They're not going to give up."

"Lets do it then," said a voice from the doorway. "I want those bastards dead." They all turned to see Joe walk into the room, the lines on his face etched deep from worry.

"Hey Joe," uttered Methos. "Has Amy come around yet?"

"Not yet," Joe replied as he sat the table. "So, what is the plan?"

"Well, from what I can make out, it's pretty much a go in there with guns blazing affair!" Duncan said in exasperation.

"Oh, I think we can come up with something with a bit more panache," Methos interjected as he leaned against the kitchen counter.

"Like what?" Duncan snorted. "A few petrol bombs perhaps?"

"Actually, that isn't a bad idea," Methos said thoughtfully.

"I was being sarcastic!" Duncan said.

"Well, you know what they say, sometimes the best ideas come about by accident," Methos commented placidly.

"Well, that is settled then," Amanda declared. "We're going after them."

"What about waiting until we know all the facts?" Duncan asked as he looked at Methos accusingly.

"I think our time just ran out, Duncan its time to act." With that, Methos disappeared upstairs to clean up.

"I'll check on Amy," Joe said as he tried to struggle to his feet, only to be prevented by Amanda's hand on his arm.

"Sit down Joe, you look worse than Amy. I'll check on our patient while you take a rest."

Duncan watched Amanda leave and then turned his attention to Joe. "Do you really think this is a good idea, Joe?"

"I think that none of this is a good idea, Mac," Joe sighed. "But they're the cards we've been dealt, so we have to deal with it, I suppose."

The sound of dishes being moved caught their attention, and they both turned to look at Hira.

"Here, let me help you with that," Duncan proposed as he rose from the table.

"Thank you, Mr MacLeod, the silverware is in the drawer over yonder," Hira replied as she pointed at a dresser.

"Please, call me Duncan," he said as he placed the plates on the table. "I think we should be on a first name basis after all that has occurred, don't you?"

Hira smiled in reply as she continued to prepare the meal. The table was set by the time Amanda and Methos rejoined the group and they all sat down to eat the stew that Hira had made.

"Its lovely, Hira," Amanda declared in Turkish.

"Thank you," Hira replied quietly.

"I see you two have discovered a common language," smirked Methos. "I didn't know you spoke Turkish, Amanda."

A little something I picked up in the early nineteen hundreds," she shrugged.

"What else did you pick up?" Methos asked devilishly.

Amanda wrinkled her nose in response and Joe tried to smother a laugh. Duncan's eyes softened in response, it was good to see Joe begin to relax. A muffled sound came from down the hall and Joe's head shot up.

"Amy..." he said

"I'll go check," Methos volunteered, as he deserted the table and went into the living room. An I.V. bag was on the floor when Methos entered, he quickly glanced at the camp bed and noticed Amy's eyes flutter.

"Hey, there," he said softly as he crouched beside the bed.

"Hey, yourself," she whispered back. "And I'm telling you now, if you say even once that you told me so, your head won't be safe."

"Glad we got that cleared up then," smirking, he felt for her pulse.

"Where's Joe?" she asked.

"Right here honey," said Joe as he entered the room and hurried to the bed.

"Hi," she replied as she tried to raise her head, only to fall back again with a groan.

"Easy now," Methos scolded her as he looked at her bandages. "We don't want to tear the stitches."

"Whatever you say 'Doc'," she said, as she closed her eyes in pain.

"I've got some painkillers," Methos told her. "I suggest you take them, you'll feel a little bit groggy, but it will take the edge off."

Amy nodded in reply and Methos gave her some codeine through the I.V. drip.

"Ooh, that was quick," she slurred.

"The joys of modern medicine," Methos said with a smile as he stood and left father and daughter by themselves.

"How is she," Duncan asked as Methos rejoined them in the Kitchen.

"Conscious," he said as he sat at the table. "Her pulse is steady and her stitches are holding. She should be okay."

Amanda left out a sigh of relief. "Well that's a bit of good news, at least. How about we discuss making sure this doesn't happen again?"

"We attack just after dark," Methos told them. "No mercy, these guys don't seem to know the meaning of the word anyway."

"In other words, you want to blow them up," Duncan said coolly.

"Pretty much, yes," Methos admitted. "The softly, softly approach doesn't seem to be working."

"We'd still have the immortals to worry about," observed Amanda.

"They we can handle the old fashioned way," Methos replied. "I just want to even the odds a little. I'm just a little sick and tired of tripping over watchers at every turn."

"Right then," Duncan relented. "We move tonight."

"But first," Methos added. "We have a few bodies to take care of."

The other two immortals groaned and Hira looked up from her meal curiously. Methos hurriedly explained what was going on.

"You can bury then in the back field," she told them. "It's never ploughed."

Methos smiled his thanks as they left the house. Quickly, they stripped the bodies of their guns and ammo and buried them, Methos noted that there was only three; he must have just winged one the night before.

"What about the guy you got on the road last night," he asked of Duncan.

"I rolled him into the ditch," Duncan explained. "Nobody will find him before we're gone.

Methos decided to take him at his word and made for the house. "Time to make some petrol bombs then," he declared."

Amanda and Duncan looked at each other and shrugged.

"What do you think? Is he going over the deep end?" Duncan whispered.

"No more than I am," Amanda muttered back. "At least he isn't taking it out on us!"

Duncan decided not to mention the shouting match in the shed earlier on. They caught up with Methos in the yard and all three stepped into the Kitchen as one.

"Hi," said Joe as he supped from a cup at the table. "Amy has dozed off so I thought she'd be okay for a while."

"Sleep is the best thing at the moment," Methos agreed as he took off his gloves and shrugged off his jacket." The codeine should keep the pain at bay for a few hours yet, so she should get a good nap."

Joe looked at him shrewdly from over his cup. "Not to mention the fact that it helped her to nod off in the first place, I've had some experience with those kind of painkillers myself, remember?" Joe tapped his prosthetics and looked at Methos knowingly.

"I thought it was for the best," Methos admitted. "The first couple of days are the worst, I thought she'd be better off if she was out of it."

"I can live with that," Joe replied as he turned his attention to his tea.

Methos turned his gaze to Hira. "I was wondering if you have any glass bottles stashed away, Hira. We have need of them."

Hira looked at him sharply, her eyes narrowing as she studied his face. "I have a few under the Kitchen sink," she told him. "I also have a canister of diesel and rags in the tool shed."

Methos just nodded in reply, he knew that it was useless to deny what he was up to. "Lets get started then," he told Duncan, as he rooted under the sink and found the bottles.

The two immortals brought the bottles with them as they went to the tool shed. Amanda cried off, telling them she was in desperate need of a bath.

"Besides," She added. "Two bomb makers are more than enough!"

Dusk was coming when Methos and Duncan returned from their 'activities' in the tool shed. Amanda sat in wait in the kitchen, her backpack slung over the back of her chair.

"So, what's the plan," she asked archly.

"I was thinking about keeping it simple," Methos said. "Leave the bug here so they don't know we're on the move, have Joe stay here armed with the ammo that we liberated from the bodies - just in case. Set fire to the watcher's camps with the petrol bombs, finish off anyone stupid enough to stick around to see what is happening and challenge any immortal that gets in our way."

"Glad to see we've thought this through, then," observed Duncan sarcastically.

"Hey, whom do I look like?" Asked Methos. "James Bond?" It'll work, and that's all that's needed."

"I'll go and tell Joe, then," said Amanda, disappearing into the living room as Methos placed Joe's guns and ammo on the table. A few moments later, she was back. "Joe said he was okay with that, he doesn't want to move from Amy's side, anyway."

"I figured as much," Methos admitted. "Lets move then."

They decided to take Methos's jeep, making their way through the roads until they came to the spot that Methos and Joe had parked when they had rescued Duncan. Jumping out, Methos opened a zip up bag he had stashed under the driver's seat.

"Stick these in your pockets" Methos directed them, as he handed them both a couple of bottles before he zipped the bag up once more.

Silently, they crept through the forest, avoiding the sentries as the moved in on the first camp.

"You two take the larger camp, I'll take the smaller one" hissed Methos as he peeled off and headed for the archaeological site before Duncan could protest. Sliding through the undergrowth, he ignored the cries of confusion caused By Duncan and Amanda behind him. Slowly, he approached the dig, keeping a wary eye out for the buzz of another immortal. He had thought that if there were one squirreled away in the neighbourhood, the din Amanda and Duncan were kicking up would bring him running.

Pulling one of the bottles out of the zip up, he crouched low and peered into the camp. It was a mass of confusion, men were shouting conflicting orders as they panicked and ran for the other back. One of them obviously had a head on his shoulders, as he smelled a rat and called out to them to come back, but they were heedless, running head long for the other camp, guns at the ready. They were probably afraid of a repeat of the other night, he surmised and they weren't far wrong.

Lighting the rag that was stuffed into the bottle, Methos lopped it into the camp. The bottle smashed, splattering the lit petrol over two tents. A blazing form came screaming out of a tent and rolled on the grass. Someone was barked orders to the few remaining guards, trying to get them under control, but Methos threw another petrol bomb before they had time to organise. By this time, five tents were ablaze as well as a few trees; it was obvious that many were beginning to become overpowered by the heat and flames. Methos threw another petrol bomb for good measure and then started to pick off the few that were still on their feet with his gun. They broke, within moments the camp was empty of live bodies, though they were quite a few dead ones lying about.

Cautiously he entered the camp and headed for the underground temple that he had rescued Duncan from a few days before. Slipping down the ladder he covered his mouth with a handkerchief to filter out the smoke, he didn't think that now was a good time to pass out from smoke inhalation. He nearly tripped over a body at the foot of the ladder, reflexively; he checked for a pulse, there was none. Moving slowly forward he squinted through the smoke and made for the altar, nothing there.

On a hunch he rounded the altar and looked at the back wall, running his fingers gently over it, he searched for a seam, it didn't take him long to find it. Taking a step back, he perused the wall, there had to be a pressure point or lever somewhere. The wall was too smooth and flat to hide a lever, so he decided it had to be a pressure point. Inching his finger over the wall, he probed and pushed. Then, all of a sudden; the wall gave, swivelling backwards into a darkened chamber. Methos rooted his flashlight out of his pocket and turned it on. Immediately the beam was reflected onto all the walls of the room, it's light caught and thrown back out again by the fractured pieces of crystal that lay on a crude little altar in the centre of the chamber.

With a cry of triumph, Methos ran forward and started to put the pieces into various pockets. Glancing around to see if there was anything else worth taking, he note of in the room. With exception of the crystals, the cupboard was bare. Deciding that it was best not to loiter, he sprinted back to the ladder and made his way above ground. The moment that he put his head above ground, he felt it, the prickling sensation of another immortal approaching. Not for a minute did he think it was Amanda or Duncan, there was no way in hell that either of them would come within range without signalling, not in this situation. Slithering out of the hole, he gently pulled out his sword and waited, squatting down as he tried to catch a glimpse of the other immortal through the smoke as he tied the handkerchief more firmly around his face. The soft pad of footsteps came from his right and Methos twirled to meet his opponent.

It was Valmont, frozen mid-step as he realised he had lost his advantage. Not wanting to give him time to recover, Methos rushed him, engaging his sword before Valmont had an opportunity to attack to advantage. The swordplay was fast and brutal. Methos not giving an inch as he pushed Valmont back into the smoking embers of the tents. Valmont by now was coughing furiously as he was forced to breathe the smoke directly in. The handkerchief was doing its job, keeping the worst of the smoke from Methos's lungs as he pressed his attack. Distantly, the thought occurred to Methos that he shouldn't be doing this; he should be looking for a way to merely disable Valmont so to get some answers out of him. But somehow he couldn't bring himself to pull his gun and shoot him. He wanted this to continue to its fateful conclusion; this bastard's head was his.

Methos put all the weight of his body into his blows, forcing Valmont to work hard merely to hold ground, his breathing became more erratic as the smoke began to get to him, his parries more clumsy. Finally, Methos slipped through his defences and ran him through. Pausing a heartbeat, he pulled his sword free as Valmont dropped to his knees.

"Its not what you think..." Valmont rasped out.

"I don't care," Methos whispered, as with one, final, stroke, he decapitated him.

Many people talk about sensations that hover between pain and pleasure, and Methos would admit that he had come across a few of them in his time, but a quickening was definitely not one of them. A quickening was one thing, and one thing only, pure unadulterated pain. Gods, how he hated them! Praying that this wouldn't be a bad one, Methos held his ground as Valmont's quickening fizzled and flashed as it rose from his body. For a short second, it just seemed to just hover there, the disembodied essence of Valmont's life force, when all of a sudden, it coiled like a snake and slammed into him. Oh shit, it hurt. All that anger, all that rage beating against his mind as Valmont launched one, final assault. It seemed that it would last forever, but at last, it ended and Methos's body was once again his own.

The quickening had finished off what he had started with the petrol bombs; the campsite was a disaster zone of ash and smoke, the trees blazing hotly around the clearing. Praying inwardly for rain, Methos staggered to his feet and made a fast retreat into the forest, he definitely was not up to another confrontation just yet.

The next hour was a time he had no wish to repeat ever, ever repeat again. Trying to make it out of a forest full of homicidal watchers while recovering from a quickening was not his idea of a picnic. Eventually, though, he reached the road, peering at his surroundings, he figured he was about half a mile away from the jeep. Taking a deep breath, he took off at a canter, not stopping until he found it. Jumping into the driving seat, he hunkered down to wait for Duncan and Amanda.

The sky had begun to lighten with the first fingers of dawn, when Methos began to get worried. That slow sinking feeling, that was beginning to feel like a second skin, settled on him as he watched the sun rise. Amanda and Duncan weren't coming.

Cursing under his breath, he started the engine. It was official, he had come to the end of his patience, these bastards were going to pay - in every painful way possible. Putting his foot to the pedal, he sped down the road to the farm.

Chapter Eight

Joe was waiting for him in the yard when he screeched to a halt in front of the farmhouse. His face darkened when he realised that Methos was alone as he approached the jeep when Methos leaped out.

"Where are they?" he asked, leaning heavily on his cane, as he looked Methos full in the face.

"Not sure," He replied through gritted teeth as he sidestepped Joe and headed into the house.

"What do you mean, you're not sure?" Joe shouted at his disappearing back.

Methos didn't bother to answer, stalking through the kitchen without even glancing around; he headed to his room and pulled out his laptop. Luckily, he had a modem, so getting online wasn't a problem. Deciding that he might as well run up the bill in the enemy's name, he rooted out the mobiles that he had 'liberated' from the bodies the day before. He was about to connect the one that wasn't locked, when it suddenly occurred to him that the mobile's phonebook and text messages might have some handy information.

Cursing at his stupidity for not checking earlier, he rooted through the stored phone numbers, jotting them down on the back page of his journal. He was about to check the text messages when he heard a roar from the bottom of the stairs.

"If you don't get you arse down here, you old fart, I'm going to come up there after you, and let me tell you, me, trying to negotiate these steps, not pretty!"

With a groan, Methos grabbed his things and descended the stairs. "Hey, Joe."

"Don't you 'hey' me! Spit it out!" Joe demanded.

"We split up, we attacked, I made it back to the jeep, they didn't. Satisfied?" snarled Methos, as he opened up his laptop on the kitchen table.

"They have them?" asked a stunned Joe.

"That would be my guess, yes," he said absently, turning his attention to the mobile.

"Then what are you doing here sitting down?"

"Two things; one: trying to find out where they would be hiding, now that both of their camps are smouldering heaps, and two: trying to find a place where I can pick up some heavy duty weaponry so I can blow them to pieces," replied Methos, counting off his fingers as he spoke.

Joe blinked at the visceral edge to his voice, but ploughed on nevertheless. "Won't they still be in the forest, guarding the stone?"

Methos reached into his pockets, and threw the crystals onto the table.

"I see," Joe said slowly, levering himself onto a chair. "What can I do to help?"

Flipping his journal to the back page, he showed Joe the phone numbers he had jotted down. "Feel up to making some phone calls? I got those from one of yesterday's bodies."

With a nod, Joe pulled out his mobile and proceeded to dial the first number while Methos turned his attention to the text messages. There was a reference to a meeting at Drakva St, but little else except short meaningless chitchat. The sound of footsteps from the hall broke his concentration. Looking up, he caught Joe motioning Hira to be silent as she walked into the room. Methos tuned into the conversation Joe was having on the phone.

"Yes... thank you... sorry for wasting your time..." with a grimace, Joe hung up. "You'll never guess who that was!"

"No, I probably wouldn't," replied Methos, rolling his eyes. "Now, spill."

"Interpol!" Joe told him, shaking his head in disbelief.

"Oh great, that's all we need," griped Methos. "I don't suppose you found out which department you were speaking to?"

"Well, he asked if I had a theft to report, so I'm guessing they deal with grand larceny and so on. I mean, somehow I don't think you would call them if you had your clock radio stolen!"

Methos snickered. "I suppose that's one way of trying to track down Amanda!"

For a moment, there was a look of puzzlement on Joe's face before he realised that this was Amanda they were talking about. "I thought she'd given that up of late."

"By and large, yes, but she still likes to do the odd job, especially if she thinks it's challenging," Methos explained. "Also, as you went to such pains to explain to me before, it's a good way to dispose of any errant watchers!"

"Yeah," Joe chuckled. "I'd forgotten that."

"Well, I think that we can conclude that he was ringing them on a fact finding mission, and that we don't have to worry about being suddenly surrounded by special police."

"Here's hoping," Joe sighed as he dialled the next number. He was only on the phone a few seconds before he rung off. "Mother house in Istanbul," he explained as he saw Methos's enquiring look.

"Not the guys we want to chat with," Methos said in understanding.

Joe picked up his phone yet again, then hesitated. "I hate to have to ask this, but why do you think they're still alive?"

"For the same reason they kept Duncan alive last time, Joe. Because we have something they want."

As one, they both looked at the crystals scattered across the table.

"They don't look like much, do they?" Joe observed.

Methos shrugged in answer and attached the mobile to his modem. Tapping in a search, he waited for the corresponding pages to come up. Joe continued down the list of numbers, phoning up various countries in the process.

"I'd hate to see this guys phone bill'" he muttered to himself as he rung off yet again. "That was the motherhouse in Russia, in case you were wondering."

"How many does that make it?" asked Methos, looking up from his laptop.

"Eight, in all," Joe replied. "These guys seem to have infiltrated the watchers in every corner in the globe. So - what are you up to?"

"I'm sourcing some 'materials,'" Methos said grimly.

"Hmm," Joe smirked, as he rang the last number on the list. A few moments later, he handed the mobile to Methos. "It's Bulgarian," he whispered.

Taking the phone off Joe, Methos put it to his ear. After mouthing a few platitudes to the person on the other end of the phone, he rung off. "That was a property rental agency for Khaskovo," he told Joe as he handed Joe back his phone. Pausing for a second, he quickly tapped in a new search into the laptop. "And hey, presto," he muttered, looking at the map that downloaded onto the screen.

"What do you have?" Joe asked.

"A map of Khaskovo, the text messages on the mobile mentioned a meeting. They gave a street as the address, Drakva Street to be precise, and here it is, in the eastern quarter of Khaskovo. What are the odds that the rental agency we were just talking to has some property on their books from that street?"

"I don't think I'll take that bet, if it's all the same to you," laughed Joe.

"Anyway," Methos went on. "I think that this is as good a place as anywhere to start our search, don't you?"

"So I'm invited along this time, am I?" Joe retorted.

Methos studied Joe's face a moment before answering. "Yesterday, Duncan said we should leave here and take everyone with us, I refused. Now I'm beginning to think he was right."

"What?" Joe teased. "You're actually admitting you might have been wrong? The world must be ending or something."

"Well... you do have a horseman in the room!"

"Oh man," groaned Joe. "Don't give up the day job, your sense of humour sucks."

"Apocalyptic, is it?"

Joe winced and shook his head. "This is just getting worse and worse..."

"Hey, did you hear about the one when death walked into a bar..."

"Okay, okay, stop already! Can we get back on track, here?"

"You started it!"

"How old are you? Twelve?"

It was Hira's cough that interrupted them; watcher and immortal both turned to look at her.

"Are you alright, Hira?" Methos asked.

"The young lady is a bit restless," she explained. "She wants to get up, I think, but as we don't share a language, it's hard to tell."

"I'll go check on her right now," Methos promised as he stood up.

"What did she say?" Joe enquired.

"Amy has woken up," Methos explained. "I'll go talk with her."

"I'm coming with you," Joe said, getting to his feet. "We probably should all be having this chat together, anyway."

Methos nodded and headed for the living room, Hira and Joe following close behind. Catching Amy trying to get out of bed, he strode across the room and gently pushed her back onto the mattress. "You, m'dear, are not going anywhere."

"But I'm feeling much better," Amy protested.

"That's the drugs talking, believe me," Methos told her. "If I hadn't put enough painkillers in you to down a rhinoceros, you'd be screaming in agony right now."

"Thanks for the pep talk," she grumbled, wriggling uncomfortably in the camp bed.

"I'm just telling it as it is, Amy. You're in no condition to be mobile," Methos sighed as he sat on an armchair.

"I'm going to go out of my mind, just lying here," she pointed out to him.

"Like father, like daughter," Methos grumbled. "You two are the worst patients I've ever had. And coming from me, that's saying a lot!"

"Well, the least you can do is prop me up a bit, maybe then I could read a book or something."

"We'll see. Firstly, though, I think you need to be brought up to date." Quickly, Methos filled her and Joe in on what had happened since she was shot, including the fact that he'd taken Valmont's head.

"Oh my God, do you think they're alright?" Amy asked worriedly.

"For now," Methos reassured her. He then turned to Hira and explained what had transpired. Hira gave him a long hard look and then stood up to leave.

"Where are you going?" Methos asked.

"To pack," Hira replied shortly. "That is what you were going to ask me to do anyway, wasn't it?"

Smiling at Hira's astuteness, Methos nodded.

"I knew I should have shot you," she grumbled as she left the room.

"Trust me, it wouldn't have worked," Methos laughed.

"Maybe not, but it would have felt good, I'd wager," she retorted from the hall.

"What was that about," asked a puzzled Joe.

"She's just a little bit cranky, that's all," Methos explained. Looking at Amy, he contemplated having to move her. He'd have preferred to leave her be, but it wasn't an option. Maybe he could jerry rig a stretcher and lie her down in the back of the car. There'd be room if he put down the seats of her S.U.V. He eyed the camp bed, if he took off the legs... another trip into the tool shed, then. He was beginning to really hate that place. "I wonder if Hira can drive," he thought aloud.

Shaking his head, he stood to go. "Be back in a few ticks," he said. "I just have to get some tools.

It took some doing, but an hour later, they were ready to go. It transpired that Hira could drive, so she was put in charge of the S.U.V. and Amy, while he and Joe took the Jeep and the luggage. The drive to Khaskovo was uneventful and they made good time.

Methos contemplated booking a few hotel rooms, but decided against it. Carrying Amy through the Foyer might raise too many questions; they would have to camp out in the cars. It was probably better that way anyhow, considering Amy's condition it made sense to have a fast pair of wheels under her. He doubted she would survive running for cover if they were caught out.

"My, my, this is going to be very comfy," grumbled Joe as they pulled out of sight into a lane.

"I promise, I'll put you up in the swankiest hotel I can find once this is over," Methos said as he turned off the engine.

"So, what do we do now?" Joe asked.

"We wait for dusk," Methos replied. "And then we pay a little visit to an Army barracks at the other side of town."

"Going shopping, are we?" Joe asked astutely.

"Trust me," Methos smirked. "There is going to be no exchange of monies on this little trip."

Methos found the armoury without much trouble, knocking out the token guard with ease. Rifling through the soldier's pockets, he found the keys and let himself in. Quickly, he filled up the sack and lugged it back to the Jeep. It was a bit awkward getting back over the wall with his booty, but he managed to get back to the jeep before he'd been gone twenty minutes.

"Done this before, have we?" Joe teased, peeking into the large sack while Methos put his foot to the pedal.

Methos didn't even bother to answer as he made his way to the eastern quarter of the city, peering at the street signs as he cruised along. Eventually he found the street he was looking for and pulled to the side. Taking the bag from Joe, he pulled out a few canisters and put them in his pockets.

"What are those?" Joe asked curiously.

"Knockout gas," Methos said shortly as he pulled out two automatic rifles and a half dozen clips. "One for you, one for me," he explained as he pulled out his prize catch.

"You stole a bazooka?" Joe cried disbelievingly, as he stared at the contraption.

"I find that it settles all arguments," was the reply. "Don't worry, Joe, it's a last resort."

Joe looked at Methos suspiciously; he hadn't forgotten that crack he'd made back at the farmhouse about blowing them 'to pieces'.

"Relax Joe, I'm not about to go all Rambo on you. It's not really my style. Besides, I'm going to leave this with you, anyway. I'm not going to use this thing while I'm still in the building, after all."

Lastly, Methos pulled out a few gas masks; hanging one around his neck, he gave Joe one and put the rest in his backpack. "All set then," he pronounced, starting up the jeep and turning onto Drakva St.

They were only half way down the street when Methos felt the presences of other immortals. Looking out the window, he spied a house with all the blinds pulled down. Pulling the jeep to a halt, he jumped out and turned to Joseph. "Listen, Joe, can you manage getting this car to go if you have to?"

"Just about," Joe admitted. "Does this mean I'm the getaway driver?"

"Seems so," Methos grinned as he put a clip into the automatic. "Well, here goes nothing."

Making his way across the street, he took a canister out of his pocket, pulled the pin and lobbed it into the ground floor window. Hearing shouts, he put the mask on and crawled in through the broken window. With satisfaction, he noted the unconscious bodies as he moved into the rest of the house. Moving to the foot of the stairs, he paused as he heard movement from above. The gas had obviously lost its potency by the time it reached the top of the steps. Gun in hand, he slowly crept up the stairs and stepped onto the landing.

The buzz of other immortals became stronger as he made his way down the hall, and for a moment, Methos thought this was going to be easy. Well, you know what they say about famous last words.

"Freeze, you bastard!"

Pain blossomed as a bullet embedded itself in his shoulder, and with a curse, Methos threw himself back onto the stairs and fumbled in his pocket, his hand curling around another canister of gas as he heard feet running toward him. Pulling the ring, he tugged it out of his coat, letting go as another bullet hit him in the gut. Praying that he'd be the first one to reawaken, he lost consciousness.


With a gasp, his eyes flew open, his lungs screaming with pain. Pushing an unconscious body off his legs, he staggered to his feet and looked around. The house was silent and Methos sighed a breath of relief, moving up onto the landing once more, he homed in on the quickenings that he had sensed before.

Spotting the open door that his attackers must have leapt from, he approached cautiously, gingerly pushing the door wide open before he entered. The room was some kind of study; it was also deserted. Methos looked around in puzzlement, where were they? It was then he noticed that one of the bookcases was at an odd angle to the wall. Moving closer, he noticed a space behind it.

Giving the bookcase a nudge, he smiled as the bookcase swung forward on a pair of hinges. Looking into the darkened passageway behind, he rooted around in his backpack and produced a torch. Shining it into the dark, he smirked as he noticed the two sleeping beauties within. Pulling their unresisting bodies out of the passageway, he opened the window and threw them out. He knew they were going to be pissed when they revived and saw the state of their clothing but he really didn't have the time for niceties.

Giving the study one last look, he spotted the laptop on the desk and decided to take it with him. After a moments pause, he pulled the desk drawer out and looked. No such luck, this time he'd have to break the passwords the old- fashioned way.

He ran out of the house, fully aware he was running out of time before the watchers awoke. Wincing as he noticed the state of Amanda's and Duncan's bodies on the pavement, he lifted Amanda into a fireman's lift and sprinted across the street. Throwing Amanda into the backseat, he ran back for Duncan. Cursing and damning, he lugged the Scot's inert form to the jeep and propped him against Amanda. Throwing himself into the drivers seat, he gave Joe a dirty look as he heard him chuckling under his breath.

"Okay, what's so funny then," he demanded.

"You mean, you don't know?" chuckled Joe. "It's not every day I see Amanda thrown out a window!"

Methos smirked. "Yeah, that was funny, wasn't it?" Turning the key in the ignition, he pulled out and drove off at a respectable speed. They had just arrived in the town centre when Methos felt the two immortal quickenings grow stronger. With a splutter, Duncan came alive, his body immediately on the defensive.

"Hey Mac," Methos commented cheerfully. "You're really going to have to cut down on these kidnappings, it's beginning to get old."

Mac opened his mouth to answer but was interrupted by Amanda's resurrection.

"Damn, I'm never going to get used to that," Joe muttered.

The first comment that came out of Amanda's mouth was predictable. "What in heaven's name happened to my clothes?"

Joe laughed as Methos cringed in the drivers seat. "Sorry about that, unavoidable I'm afraid," Methos explained, keeping his eyes studiously forward so that she couldn't read her face.

"What was unavoidable, exactly?" Amanda asked suspiciously.

"Well... I was rather stuck for time... and... and," Methos replied cagily.

"And what, Methos!" Amanda demanded.

By this stage, Joe was doubled up with laughter in the passenger seat. "Oh man, I can't listen to this."

"I had to throw you out the window, okay?" Methos mumbled.

"You did what?" Amanda screeched.

"I'm guessing that I followed her down," Duncan said sarcastically, taking a look at his own clothes.

"Oh, look," Methos said brightly as he pulled into the lane he'd left Hira and Amy. "We're here already." Jumping out of the jeep before either Amanda or Duncan could say anything more; he tapped on the window of the other car, waking Hira from her doze. Gesturing at her to roll the window down, he leaned against the car door. Refusing to glance at the jeep as he heard his fellow immortals jump out, he smiled at Hira when she got the window down.

"Hell there, everything alright?"

"Just fine," Hira answered. "I see you were successful."

"That remains to be seen," Methos muttered under his breath as he heard footsteps draw near.

"Oh my goodness, Amanda, what happened to you?" Hira exclaimed.

Amanda gave Methos a glowering look before dazzling Hira with a saccharine sweet smile. "Apparently, Adam has never heard of this great new invention called the stairs, so he decided to use gravity instead!"

Wincing at the dire threat inherent in Amanda's words, Methos opened the back door of the SUV and checked on the sleeping Amy; automatically he checked her pulse. Finding that it was satisfactory, he pulled the blanket closer around her ears and shut the door.

"Oh, and another thing Adam," Amanda continued as Methos turned to face her. "Thanks!" With a grin, Amanda threw her arms around him, enveloping him in a surprisingly strong hug.

"You're welcome," uttered a surprised Methos. "I think?"

"Oh, come on," she chided as she pulled back. "You didn't seriously think I'd be that angry with you? The search and rescue was greatly appreciated, honey, believe me. Now, lets see if we can't locate a nice hot shower."

"I'm with you there," chimed in Duncan, examining his clothes in disgust. "And the thanks comes from me as well, though I think I'll skip on the hug if it's all the same to you."

Methos rolled his eyes and pulled a map out of Hira's glove compartment. "It's the middle of the night, Amanda, it's a little late to be booking a room. It looks like we're in for a night under the stars - want to pick out a spot?"

Amanda glared at him as he held out the map. "There must be somewhere we can go, Adam," she insisted. "Maybe Hira knows somewhere." Switching to Turkish, she poked her head into the car and asked her.

"Well... my daughter lives about thirty miles due east of here," she said doubtfully.

"Well, that's where we're going then," Amanda declared brightly as she crawled into the car with her. "Off we go!"

"Eh, Amanda, I don't think this is a good idea. Remember what happened to Hira's house when we stayed," Duncan pointed out.

"Oh, don't be silly," dismissed Amanda. "That was different, this time they have no way of tracking us. Come on, Duncan, hot water awaits."

Duncan looked at Methos, his face full of misgivings, but the elder immortal just shrugged in response and climbed back into the jeep. "I still don't like this..." he muttered as he squeezed in beside Amanda.

Once again, they were on the move, Hira leading the way through the Bulgarian countryside until, eventually, they pulled into the driveway of Hira's daughter's home.

"Give me a few moments to speak with my daughter," Hira asked, getting out of the car as the porch light came on. "I don't want all of us to descend on her at once." The door opened as Hira approached the house, revealing a petite woman who had more than a passing resemblance to her mother. A short heated conversation took place on the doorstep before Hira turned and nodded.

Duncan helped Methos carry the sleeping Amy in through the door as Amanda smiled and made her hellos. Hira's daughter watched anxiously as, gently, they rested the makeshift stretcher in the living room, Duncan tucking the cover around her. A movement behind her skirts caught Methos's eye, and his heart sank as he spotted the little eyes of a child peep into the room.

"Oh shit, I never thought of that..."

Methos prayed that Amanda was right and that they wouldn't be having any visitors. He didn't think he'd be able to look Hira in the eye if anything happened to her grandchildren. Averting his gaze, he sat down on the couch. "We have to talk, this has to stop."

"They've already got my piece of the crystal, Adam," Amanda said with a sigh as she sat down beside him. "I know that it was stupid to keep on wearing it, but I've always done so..."

"It's not going to do them much good, Amanda," Methos replied with a grin. "Because they don't have the rest of it anymore - I do!"

"Let me guess - a secret antechamber to the secret underground temple!" said Duncan with a grin.

"What can I say, when I'm right, I'm right," agreed Methos.

"So what is the plan?" asked a sleepy Amy.

"Oh, you've joined us, have you?" said Methos teasingly.

"Sort of," Amy replied. "I'm still a bit groggy."

"It was a good question, though," added Joe. "What are we going to do?"

"Well, I was thinking that we'd go to Sofia tomorrow and pick up a few things, I managed to liberate a laptop while I was rescuing Duncan and Amanda but I'm going to need a few things to decrypt it." said Methos. "Also, I think we should rent a property, hotels are out of bounds from now on. Plus I think that Hira should go on a long holiday out of the country, all expenses paid - and bring her daughter and grandchildren along with her."

"The sooner, the better," Duncan muttered.

Amanda explained to Hira what Methos had proposed, it took some convincing but she eventually reluctantly agreed.

"Splendid, so, where do you want to go?" Methos asked.

"Well... I always wanted to go to Venice," replied Hira with a small smile.

"Venice it is then," Methos said. "We'll arrange a passport for you at Sofia as well as a new wardrobe, I don't think it is a good idea to go back to your house."

Hira nodded in agreement and went to join her daughter who had already disappeared into her kitchen.

"Well, then, maybe we should bunk down for a few hours," Joe suggested.

"Not before I get that shower," Amanda said as she made for the bathroom. "See you in a few."

"You know, I was thinking that we should call in a few favours from some of our 'older' friends." Duncan said, looking at Methos questioningly.

"I think you mean some of your 'older friends, Mac," said Methos archly. "I have exactly one Boy Scout in my telephone book and that's you."

"Okay then, I'll take out my phone book and make a few phone calls tomorrow." Duncan said as he made himself comfortable in an armchair. "In the meantime, I'm going to catch a couple of winks sleep."

"Now that sounds like a plan," Methos agreed as he stretched out on the couch and closed his eyes. "See you at first light."

Chapter Nine

Breakfast was quiet; everyone was too groggy to make idle conversation. Hira's daughter, whose name they discovered was Rosa, was busy bundling her children into their clothes as Hira bustled around the kitchen making sure everyone had something to eat. Eventually, though, they were all ready to leave and were on their way to Sofia before eight. Hira had decided to drive in her daughter's car, so the journey was a little less cramped than the previous night.

They arrived in Sofia just after midday. Methos had already booked flights for Hira and her family on the phone that morning and Amanda volunteered to pick up a few things for them, so Duncan elected to accompany Hira to the passport office, her family in tow.

Methos robbed a telephone booth of its phone book and rejoined Joe in the jeep. Leafing through it until he found the letting agencies, he tore out the page and started the engine, pulling out into the traffic.

"Tut, tut, tut, petty theft and vandalism, what are we going to do with you?" Joe said with a smirk.

A weak laugh came from the back. "Don't do that," Amy protested. "It hurts too much."

"Drugs wearing off, then?" Methos asked with a smirk.

"If this is the moment where you tell me 'I told you so' again - don't," Amy warned.

"The thought never crossed my mind!"

"Yeah, sure it didn't," Amy muttered.

A few minutes later, Methos parked in front of the first letting office on the list. "This shouldn't take long," he promised as he got out. "Be back in a moment." He was as good as his word and he was back in the jeep with a lease and a new set of keys within ten minutes.

"Did you get somewhere nice?" Amy asked hopefully.

"Actually, I did," Methos replied. "We might as well make ourselves comfortable while we're plotting."

Joe snorted as Methos turned on the engine and proceeded to make his way to the rendezvous point that he and Duncan had arranged earlier. Amanda and Duncan were already there when they arrived.

"Hira has already gone on to the airport," Duncan said as he walked up to the car window. "Did you get someplace?"

"Yep," Methos answered. "Follow me."

Half an hour later, they pulled into the drive of a villa that was situated in the leafy outskirts of the city.

"Very nice," Amanda approved as she got out of the car. "I take back all I said about you having no taste, Methos."

"Why, thank you, Amanda," said Methos sarcastically.

Within ten minutes they were all safely ensconced in the house. Duncan and Joe propped Amy up in the couch while Amanda picked up her car keys again and went shopping for a few essentials for the house.

Methos made himself comfortable in the study and proceeded to make a long list of calls to those he knew in the I.T. business. Eventually, he got hold of the name of a supplier in Sofia who specialised in the kind of computer equipment he was hoping to get his hands on. A quick phone call later and he made arrangements for the equipment to be dropped to the door, no questions asked.

Satisfied he had done all he could do until the equipment arrived, he went to check on Amy's dressings. "This looks good," he said approving as he inspected the wound and bandaged it once more. "You should be able to move around, with care, in the next few days."

"Days!" Amy protested. "But that's ages."

"Oh, stop being such a cry-baby. Believe me, there is a big difference between days and ages - and I should know," he joked.

"Hey, I know what we could do to pass the time," Amy said slyly. "I could fill in a few gaps in your chronicles. You know, sit here quietly, not moving a muscle, taking notes as you tell me what really happened during that visit to Rome in the first century - set the record straight and all that."

"Nice try," Methos replied dryly.

"It was worth a go!" Amy answered with a grin.

It was at that moment that Amanda breezed in with her usual truckload of shopping bags. "Food and toiletries!" she announced breezily as she dropped them on the floor.

"All that?" said Methos as he eyed the bags doubtfully.

Amanda rolled her eyes, picked up the bags again and headed to the kitchen, "Men!"

Methos looked at Amy in bewilderment.

"Hey, don't look at me, I'm with her!"

"Traitor," he accused as she burst out laughing.

"Realist," she contradicted him. "If it was up to you, we'd all be hanging around in this house with no soap or bread!"

"I'm not that bad."

"Near enough, I'm your watcher, remember? I've seen your shopping trolley, no wonder you eat out all the time."

"Nitpicker!" he grumbled as he stood.

"Running away, are we?"

"Damned right! Now I remember why I prefer the pleasure of my own company... "

The doorbell rang and Methos went to answer it. His package had arrived. Paying the guy at the door, he retreated into the study and set the equipment up. Soon he had a decryption sequence running for the laptop. Hoping that this would work, he left it to do its job and joined Amanda and Duncan in the kitchen.

"Hey guys, how's tricks?" he asked cheerfully, helping himself to one of the sandwiches on the table.

"I made a few calls," Duncan told him. "The de Valicourts should be here by tomorrow morning. I told them to shake off their watchers before they did so - that is, after I told them what a watcher actually is," he added with a grimace.

"Joe is not going to be happy," observed Methos.

"Joe can live with it," corrected the old watcher as he entered the room. "Desperate times and all that."

"I'm glad to hear it," said Duncan with relief. "I wasn't looking forward to telling you."

"Well, now you don't have to," Joe said comfortably as he took a sandwich and started munching.

"I'll bring a plate into Amy," Amanda said, heaping one with sandwiches and disappearing into the living room.

"So, any luck hacking into the laptop yet?" Duncan enquired.

"The program is still running, we should have a result within the hour," Methos told him as he slouched into his chair.

"Good, then maybe we'll have some answers to this whole mess," Joe sighed. "This situation is beginning to get on my last nerve."

"Right there with you," Duncan muttered. "Being kidnapped twice in the one week is not my idea of a good time. It's positively embarrassing."

"How did they get you this time?" asked Joe.

"I think it was some kind of tranquillizer dart," Duncan replied. "Whatever it was, it was pretty powerful, I actually had a headache for a full hour after I woke up."

"Sounds nasty," sympathised Joe.

"You know, I never figured that out," mused Methos. "How is it that an immortal can take a bullet and wake up right as rain a few minutes later, but dope them up on drugs and it takes hours to wear off?"

"I think it has something to do the fact that we can regenerate more efficiently when we are 'dead'," Duncan ventured. "I mean, I've noticed that when I'm wounded during a challenge, it takes me a while to heal. If I die in the process, however, I wake up totally regenerated."

"I suppose that's as good a theory as any other," Methos admitted. "It also proves that not only is there an immortal involved in this charade, but he's most likely in charge. Only an immortal would know enough about our physiology to realize a tranquillizer would be more effective than a bullet in keeping us quiet for any length of time. A mortal would need that amount of breathing space to take down three immortals simultaneously."

"That's an awful lot of supposition," observed Duncan.

"Oh, I've not even started," replied Methos grimly. "I don't believe that they were merely attempting to kidnap us in the first place, but kill us in one fell swoop. The only reason I believe we're alive is that they expected us all to attack together, not split up and hit both camps concurrently. When they realised they hadn't caught us in the one net, they switched to plan B."

"You know, that makes a scary kind of sense," Joe said. "Watchers killing immortals - I thought that had ended with Horton."

"Not killing immortals, Joe," Methos corrected. "Just putting them under long enough for one of their pet immortals to come along and finish the job. My guess is that Valmont was lurking somewhere out of sensing distance, just waiting for the signal to come in and collect our heads. It would have worked too; if we hadn't split up we'd probably be fish bait by now."

"I suppose that it's a good thing that you took his head, then," said Duncan.

"Joe told you about that, I suppose," Methos said, with amusement.

"He may have mentioned it while you were playing with your new gadget," admitted Duncan.

"It was rather stupid of me, I know," Methos said with a sigh. "I suppose I should have taken a page out of their book and captured him instead. I'm afraid that I let my anger get the best of me."

"All things considered, I think we'll let you away with it, this one time," said Duncan with a grin.

"Nice to know," replied Methos with an answering grin. "Well, I'd better go and check on my 'gadget', it should have cracked it by now." With that, he rose from the table and made his way back into the study.

Sitting down to the laptop, he smiled with relief as he noticed that the 'gadget' had indeed succeeded in decrypting the password. Logging in, he quickly scrolled down the document files. As nothing jumped out at him, he decided to start from the top.

Immediately, he hit pay dirt: inside was a long list of names. He recognised enough of them to realise that it was a list of watchers. The strange thing was that he recognised too many of them. Almost to a man, all the watchers were from the research departments; hardly any of them were field agents.

Usually, in his experience, the watchers that were more likely to go renegade were from the field. Personally, he could understand that; anyone would be sickened if the had to watch an immortal such as Caspian, for instance. These watchers, however, probably hadn't seen a real immortal since their training days. It explained their bad field skills, if nothing else.

He racked his brains to come up with a reason for the predominance of researchers. The only reason that seemed logical was that it had something to do with Tribeau being their ringleader. It made a kind of sense that he would recruit from those watchers he was most familiar with - his fellow researchers.

With a shrug, he decided to leave the whole thing to Joe; it was really his problem anyway. Moving on to the next file, he groaned. It was yet another reference to an ancient text. He very nearly skipped on to the next file when a phrase caught his eye. If he wasn't mistaken, the list of tributes to Ramses that Duncan translated in Constantinople had also mentioned this 'key of Ihmotep'. With a sigh, he read on.

Within moments, he began to giggle as he read about the amazing adventures of Ihmotep the Great while he strived to recover the key created by Tefnut, the water goddess. He had actually known the wily old architect back in that long ago era and he remembered their many conversations with fondness. There was no denying that the man had been a genius, he'd been the Leonardo De Vinci of his day. Not only was he the first to design and build a pyramid, he had also had been a formidable artist, Mathematician and philosopher.

The thing is, Indiana Jones he wasn't! The thought of the stout old architect diving to the bottom of the Nile and wrestling a crocodile in order to retrieve this fabulous key was bloody hilarious. The nearest that old fart got to taking a dip in the Nile was when he took a bath. Methos supposed he shouldn't be surprised. After all, Egyptians had worshipped him as a God in later generations. Compared to that, this was small fry.

It was the appendage at the bottom of the page that really caught his eye, however. It was a short description of the key. With a start, Methos realised that the description fitted the Methuselah stone exactly. Quickly, he did a few mental calculations in his head. Yes, the figures fit, there was about a three hundred year gap between the death of Ramses and Rebecca's first death. Somewhere along the line, the stone made its way from the royal Egyptian treasuries and into Rebecca's teacher's hands.

It was the descriptionion of the stone's powers that really made him sit up, though. Apparently, even Rebecca didn't know the full extent of the stone's abilities. Not only did it have the power to hold back the ravages of time in a mortal, it also could be used to find the 'eternal waters' that flowed within the 'garden of the Gods'. The Sumerian account of the 'pool of lights' in the 'Garden of Dilmun' sprung to mind, the similarities were too many to dismiss.

It was the last piece of information that made him nervous. According to this, the stone really was a key. Whoever held it could literally enter the Garden. It did make a kind of twisted sense - if the Ziusudra of legend was supposed to have returned the stone to the waters, he would have needed a way to get in.

It was as if the carpet had been suddenly pulled from under his feet. Here he had been thinking that the worst he was up against was an immortal that wanted invincibility, but now he realised that the stakes were much higher than that. Someone wanted to get hold of the power to change the fabric of reality. The possibilities were endless; anyone with access to the pool of lights could literally recreate the world in his own image.

Methos shuddered. What sort of lunatic would want to play that kind of game? The only immortal he knew that was that power mad was Kronos, and he was long dead. It was all a legend, of course; there mightn't be any thing to it. For all their talk, no one had ever actually seen the stone perform any of its supposed magical abilities. But then again, the waters in France were no myth; he had actually seen with his own eyes how they could heal.

In the end, Methos came to the conclusion that he couldn't afford not to take it seriously. Even if it weren't true, the fact still stood that there was someone out there who believed that it were - and that someone was crazy enough to do whatever it took to get what he wanted.

With a sigh, Methos clicked onto the next file. It was a list of properties. Methos noted that the building in Kraskava was among them; also, there were properties in Bahrain, Egypt and France, as well as one here in Sofia. Making a metal note to check the latter property out as soon as possible, he went on the next file.

It seemed to be a journal of some kind, a mish-mash of dates, places, and erratic thoughts. Unfortunately, it wasn't signed. He tried to make sense of it, but didn't make much headway. One sentence did stick in his mind, though. 'The last preparations have been made, all we need now is the key'. It was then that Methos thought that carrying the stone's pieces around in his pockets might not be such a good idea. It was definitely time to dig a hole and bury them.

Moving on to the last file, he grinned evilly as he realised what it was: a list of all their financial holdings, bank account after bank account, complete with pass codes and amounts. A picture of the state of Hira's home popped into his mind and, suddenly, he knew what to do. This would need a little of Amanda's expertise, though. Poking his head out of the study door, he hollered her name and went back to his seat.

"No need to shout so loud, Methos," Amanda admonished as she entered the room. "I was just across the hall, you know."

"Believe me, all will be forgiven once you take a look at this," Methos promised as he gestured at the laptop.

"Is that so?" she said, rounding the desk to take a look at the screen. Methos looked on in satisfaction as her eyes rounded in disbelief. "This is a hell of a lot of money, Methos."

"So it is. Looks like Hira is going to be a very rich woman!"

"There is nearly a hundred million British pounds here," Amanda replied. "I wouldn't advise that you give it all to her, it would be too overwhelming."

"You may have a point," Methos admitted reluctantly. "How about we give some to Amy and Joe as well? Seeing as Amy took a bullet, I'd say that she deserved some compensation, and Joe would never have to worry about his retirement again."

"Now that sounds like a plan," Amanda said as she grabbed a chair and sat down beside him. "I presume you didn't call me in here to look at all the pretty numbers. I'm going to have to set up a few Swiss bank accounts first to place the money into. Why don't you go and join the others while I let my fingers do the talking?" Without further ado, she pulled the laptop in front of her, plugged in a phone and went online.

Reluctantly, he let her get on with it as he joined the others who were in the living room.

"What's Amanda up to?" Duncan asked curiously as he entered the room.

"Oh...just a little banking!" Methos replied with a grin, throwing himself into an armchair. "Spreading the wealth, so to speak."

Duncan raised his eyebrow enquiringly. "Care to share the joke?"

With a self-satisfied smirk, Methos quickly filled them in on the Bank accounts.

"Oh my God, you shouldn't have!" gasped Amy.

"Actually, I think it's perfect," replied Duncan, grinning. "Karmic justice at it's finest!"

"Hear, hear," joined in Methos.

"I don't know about this..." said Joe, unsurely. "It's a lot of money."

"Just enjoy it, Joe," Methos advised. "Put it to good use, you could buy out your club from the watchers for a start. Things might get a little sticky in that department when this whole mess leaks out. It would be better if you cut your dependency on them financially."

Joe nodded at this. He had to admit, it did make a lot of sense.

"All that money..." Amy said wonderingly. "Wow!"

"I'm afraid that's all of my good news," Methos warned them. "I've also found out a few things that you're not going to like."

"How bad is it?" Duncan asked.

"If we're going to give any credence to the legend of the stone, very bad," Methos admitted.

"Oh dear," muttered Amy. "Of all the times to get shot."

Amanda paused at the door as she looked into the room. "What's wrong? I leave the room for a few minutes and when I come back, you all look as if someone had died. Did I miss something?"

"Those bank accounts weren't the only things I found on the laptop," Methos explained as he gestured for her to sit. "I also found out something new about the stone's supposed properties."

"Something tells me I'm not going to like this," Amanda sighed as she made herself comfortable. "Carry on, then, tell us the bad news."

Ten minutes later, the room was shrouded in a stunned silence.

"Now that I wasn't expecting," remarked Duncan, at last.

"They're crazy!" burst out Joe. "They're out of their tiny minds, I tell you. What the hell could they've been thinking!"

"I warned you that Valmont was secretly plotting world denomination," Amanda half-heartedly joked. "Though, I didn't have something on this scale in mind when I said it..."

"But they can't do anything without the rest of the stone - right?" asked Amy uncertainly.

"Exactly," remarked Methos grimly. "I think we can assume that even if we decide to lie low for a while, these guys are not going to go away. They've got too much invested in this. No matter what we do, they'll always be willing to take it that one step further."

"What exactly do you mean by that?" Joe asked.

"What I mean is that, if these guys truly believe what the legends say about the origin of the stone, there is no telling what lengths they are prepared to go to, not when they think that they can fix it all later with just one sweep of the hand. Think about it, they could launch a full-out assault, no holds barred, all the while believing that if anything goes wrong, they can magic it right once they've got what they wanted - they could be capable of killing half this city without blinking an eye just to get to us."

"Christ, he's right," Duncan said softly.

Methos decided to get down to the brass tacks. "First thing we'll do is dump the rental cars, we'll worry about the consequences later. They might have taken note of our number plates the other night when they attacked Hira's farm. They also might be keeping tabs on all the car rental outlets, so I think that it might be better idea to buy a couple of vehicles this time 'round. I'm thinking an SUV and a small minivan would be smart choices.

"Then we have to bury what we have of the crystal, I suggest we each take a piece and bury it separately, not telling each other our location - that way, if one of us is captured and tortured we can only give up our respective pieces. It also might keep us alive a little bit longer if they think they might need leverage - it worked before."

"You've really thought this through, haven't you?" Amy said dryly.

"Nothing like a sharp dose of terror to get the synapses firing," admitted Methos as he sunk back into his chair.

"Okay, then," Amanda announced, galvanising herself out of her chair. "Duncan and I will be on car disposal."

"I'll buy our new ones, then," suggested Methos. "I think I'm the only one here who is carrying a second set of identification papers anyway, it might buy us some time if they think to check for any recent car purchases. We really don't know how far their reach extends."

"But we've got all this money now," Joe protested. " How about I buy them?"

"Forget it, Joe - though you can always write off my bar tab, if you're feeling generous," Methos said with a smirk.

"Done!" said Joe promptly.

By the time Methos was ready to leave the house, Amanda and Duncan were already gone. Putting his hands into his pockets, he felt the sharp edges of the stone fragment within. Quickly, he looked around the kitchen: where could he hide them in the meantime?

Suddenly, a thought struck him. Looking under the kitchen sink, he found a large bottle of bleach and unscrewed the top. Forcing the shards through the narrow opening, he quickly screwed the top back on and was on his way. "I won't be long, watch your back," he called into the living room before he closed the front door behind him.

Taking a bus, he soon found himself back in the city centre. It didn't take long to stumble across a car dealership which had what he wanted. Telling the dealer he'd be back to collect the SUV the next morning, he drove off in his new minivan. He was driving down one of those 'trendy' streets when he noticed a little shop that specialised in new age products. A devious thought entered his mind; it wouldn't hurt to have some kind of decoy, would it?

Pulling in, he ran into the shop and looked around. By the counter, he spotted a small display case full of quartz crystals. Calling over a shop assistant, he pointed out a few pieces that were the right shape and colour and soon he was on his way with his new purchase snuggled safely in his inside pocket.

It was already a full house when he arrived back at the villa. Joe and Amy were comfortably established in front of the satellite television while Amanda and Duncan were busy cooking in the kitchen.

"What's for dinner?" he asked, trying to sneak a look into the pot.

"It's a surprise," Duncan told him, slapping his hand away.

Methos shrugged, perching himself in the kitchen counter as they buzzed around him. "Want to take a little trip later on?" he asked him as he watched Duncan lay out the table.

"What? To bury the crystals?" Duncan asked.

"No, after that," Methos replied. "I found an address for a property in Sofia while I was browsing on the laptop. I thought we might go for a look."

"I'm in," Duncan agreed.

"I am, too," Amanda chipped in. "You're probably going to need my skills anyway - unless you were planning to use that bazooka you have stashed in your boot," she added pointedly.

Oh, I forgot about that," he said sheepishly as he jumped off the counter and sat at the table. "Was it a problem?"

"We managed, it's in the garage now," Duncan told him.

"That's all right, then," Methos said breezily. "We'll take it along with us, just in case - what's for dessert?"

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