The Mortality Game

Rogue Knight

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Author's Notes: This is a crossover with the Clint Eastwood, "Dirty Harry" films, but I don't think its necessary to have seen the Dirty Harry series to enjoy the story, but just to make sure, some basic information on Dirty Harry: During the seventies and into the early eighties Clint Eastwood starred in a series of movies about a San Francisco police inspector named "Dirty" Harry Callaghan, a two-fisted cop who doesn't play by the rules, best known for his tight-lipped one-liners and huge .44 magnum revolver. Its traditional for Dirty Harry's partner to belong to some minority group, and in five films, three partners were killed, while another two were seriously injured.

Introductory data out of the way, on with the story.

Chapter 1

"Behold, I show you a mystery: we will not all sleep, but we will be changed..."--1 Corinthians 15:51

I am Connor Macleod of the clan Macleod, born in the highlands of Scotland, four and a half centuries gone. I am not alone. From the dawn of time, there have been the Immortals. We are cursed with the inability to age, and gifted with the power to heal any wounds, even those that leave us with the appearance of death. True death can come only by decapitation. With death comes also the loosing of the power that preserves us, that which we call the Quickening. If one of us kills another, he takes this power into himself, and gains strength by it. That is what we live for. The Game of death, single combat with edged weapons, began before even we can remember, and must continue until only one remains. The legends of our kind speak of a Prize, power beyond imagining, that will be granted to this last warrior. The time of the final battle is near. Soon, it will be finished. Until then, the Game continues.

Once in a very great while, a warrior is reborn to immortality who seems chosen for greatness, whose skills and prowess are great enough to forever alter the balance of power in the Game. This is the tale of one such man...

San Francisco, 1981

Harry Callaghan regained consciousness suddenly, with a gasping intake of air. He blinked his eyes a few times to clear his vision, picked up his .44 magnum from where it lay at his side, and carefully sat up.

He was in a warehouse, the only light coming in from the grimy skylight overhead. Blood was everywhere, and he was the only thing moving. He let his eyes adjust to the dim illumination and scanned the room. By the closed door, a few feet to his right, lay his partner, Joachin Mendoza. Joachin was dead, three bullet holes in him, lying in a pool of his own blood. He'd been a good cop, and about as close to a friend as Harry'd had since Digiorgio bought it. Before him, arranged in a semi-circle about twenty feet from him, were eight members of the Mad DragonZ gang. The DragonZ were the latest in a series of street gangs to try and fill the power vacuum left in the drug trade after the Anaconda went down. Harry and Joachin had gotten an anonymous lead directing them to this warehouse in connection to some recent cop killings. An obvious trap. Harry cursed at himself for a while for his stupidity, his failure to save his partner. Then he stopped. Guilt wouldn't bring Joachin back. At least he'd gone down fighting. Not all of the dead DragonZ were brought down by Harry's Magnum.

This thought reminded him that he'd fired the entire cylinder before going down. He reached for the speed loader on his belt, and noticed something that brought him up short.

In all this excitement, he'd forgotten about the seven bullets that had gone into him before he'd hit the ground.

He looked down at his chest. He was covered in his own blood, but the skin was unmarked. The bullets that should have killed him left no trace on his body.

For the first time in his life, Dirty Harry felt fear.

Chapter 2

"Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy...prowls like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour."--1 Peter 5:8

Two days later, Harry was still alive. Damned if he knew what was going on, but until he found out, he'd be playing by the old rules, the ones he'd learned growing up on the streets. They'd kept him alive then, they should do the same now.

Rule 1: Never stand still. A moving target is harder to hit. A stationary target is a breathing corpse. After he'd gotten out of the warehouse, he'd been in constant motion. He'd gone back to his apartment without allowing himself to be seen, collected a few thousand in cash that he kept in case of emergencies, some spare clothes, and a box of .44 magnum rounds, stuffed it all into a nondescript gym bag, and vanished into the night.

Rule 2: Trust no one. For two days he'd been avoiding everyone he knew, and everyone who knew him. With the publicity he'd been getting recently, ever since the "Dead Pool" murders, hiding was more difficult. People recognized his face, and his tall body tended to stick out in a crowd. He'd spent most of his time hiding out in an old abandoned factory he remembered from his youth. The company had sold off all the machinery and abandoned the building when it had gone bust thirty years ago, but legal wrangling had left the structure standing until no one could remember its original function. As far as most people were concerned, it was just one dingy eyesore among many. It the perfect hiding place.

Rule 3: Survival first. Anything else is secondary. He'd cut himself off from his work and his small circle of acquaintances, and left no evidence of his survival. The few newspapers he'd been able to get his hands on said it looked like he was dead. That could cause problems, but they could be dealt with later. Right now he had to know what was going on. He had a hunch that any publicity he got now could be serious trouble. Staying alive and ahead of whoever was gunning for him had taken up his whole attention for the last two days. He knew from experience that when dealing with unknown quantities, those who erred on the side of caution lived longer, and his miraculous survival was very much an unknown quantity. So he'd been running fast and hard, trying to stay at least two steps ahead of whoever had attacked him in the warehouse. He shuddered at the memory. He was a tough-minded man by nature, with long exposure to life's rough side, but being jumped by a sword-wielding nut minutes after being gunned down and recovering intact had left him shaken.

"Surprised, Callaghan?" Dirty Harry looked up at the speaker. He was standing on a catwalk across the room, some ten feet above the grimy warehouse floor, a big man, tall and muscular . He was asian- looking, wearing his hair in a pony-tail down his back, with a mustache that connected to his sideburns over his unshaven chin. His clothes were all battered denim, and he wore a trenchoat despite the warm weather.

All of this was noted by Harry in passing, but most of his attention was grabbed by the large and unusual sword he held loosely at his side. The hilt alone was two feet long, capped by a large leaden pommel. The blade was slightly longer, thick and heavy. All in all, it looked like some giant kitchen knife.

"Who the hell are you?" Callaghan snarled at the man even as he was reloading his pistol.

"I am the instrument of your death. I am the one who arranged for you to come here, the man who leads these pathetic street punks. I am the man who will shortly take your head." The big man leapt over the railing, rolling to break the fall and coming up with his curious blade in a two-handed grip. He charged Harry, screaming "There can be only one!"

Dirty Harry didn't stop to ponder the bizzare battle-cry. He just pumped three .44 magnum loads into the guy's chest. The crazy swordsman fell backwards as the bullets hit him like a freight train. He lay in a puddle of his own blood, gasping a while as his lungs tried to function in spite of the massive damage done to them, his blade still held in limp hands. His lungs shut down at last, and he became very still. Harry had seen enough corpses in the past to recognise one now. The maniac was mortality-impaired.

Harry walked up to the guy for a closer look. As he drew closer, he became aware of an odd sensation, a pressure that seemed to be building inside his head, making him nauseous. He had closed most of the distance between them when the sensation suddenly grew in intensity. Harry leapt back even as the dead man gasped air into his recently perforated lungs and swung his broadsword in a clumsy slashing arc. The swordsman got to his feet and came at Harry again, swinging visiously, but without precision. Harry evaded his fierce blows and ran for cover behind a stack of crates. The guy kept coming, more cautiously now, weapon held before him.

"Give up, Callaghan," he growled at his prey. "You can't do anything to me with that toy." He dived behind a support post as the S&W revolver fired again.

"Easy, Callaghan. What do you think you can accomplish? Why not just give in?"

"Screw you, asshole. A good man's dead because of you. Now it's your turn." Callaghan popped up from behind his cover and fired, hitting the man in the head. He went down, but the pressure inside Harry's skull remained.

"If you had been luckier, Callaghan, you might have learned about our powers. As it is, I'm about to take your head." The man who would not die rose again, lifting his blade. "Now your head is coming away from your neck, Callaghan! It's over!" Harry fired his last bullet into the man, and ran like hell for the door.

After three days, he figured it was time to experiment. He started by cutting his arm with a knife. In seconds the wound had healed. Next, he pushed the blade clear through his hand. Within a minute of his withdrawing the blade, the hole was gone, healed with a spark of blue fire. He proceeded, in the interests of science, to shoot himself in the foot. The boom of the Magnum rattled the warehouse windows, and was followed by a long string of profanity that kept them rattling. Then the pain was gone. The foot, which had had a two-inch hole blown straight through it, was intact, again with a flash of blue energy.

"Well, I might as well try it," muttered Harry, as pointed the revolver's barrel at his chest. This time the gun's report was followed only by silence.

Harry gasped in a lungful of air as he came to. "Damn." He said to himself.

After five days, someone found him. He was surprised to see that it wasn't the swordsman from the warehouse, and even more surprised to see that the man had a sword anyway.

Harry was sitting in a little alcove eating a meager lunch, food he'd purchased on a rainy night while wearing a hooded slicker to hide his face, when he felt the pressure in his head again. Seconds later, the factory door burst open and a slender man with a long-bladed saber in his hand strode in.

"I am David Mann of Virginia. Face me, whoever you are."

All right, David." Harry stood, drew his gun, aimed, and fired. Three large wads of lead going through it at an incredibly high rate of speed turned Mann's head into jelly, and spattered most of it on the walls and ceiling. Harry reloaded and holstered his gun before he realised something: The pressure was gone. That was the last rational thought he had for a while, as blue lightning began to flow from the dead man's headless corpse and lash Harry with waves of burning energy.

Dirty Harry pulled himself up from the floor, his brain numbed by the flaming river of thoughts, feelings, and fragmented memories that had surged through him. His body, on the other hand was more aware and alive than ever. His senses were heightened to the point where he could hear the voices of the couple arguing in the apartment across the road, and see the individual grains of dirt on the floor across the room. He felt brimful of energy, ready to jump over buildings or wrestle bulls. He felt reborn.

Now he applied himself to an examination of David Mann's headless body. The clothes were of fine make, elegant but durable, cut to give the wearer freedom of movement, and there was a hidden sheath in the coat's lining designed to conceal the saber. The pockets contained five hundred dollars in small bills, and a valid driver's license and American passport, both bearing the dead man's face and the name "Jacob Marley" with an adress near Golden Gate Park. Harry pocketed the cash without qualms. The man had come to kill him, after all, and he wasn't going to need it any time soon.

"I guess we can die after all. Just got to do it right. Now if I only knew what the hell that lightning was." Harry now turned his attention to the sword. He was no expert on antiques or edged weapons, but he was quite capable of recognizing the letters "CSA" stamped on the blade. And judging by the quality and the wear, this sword was an authentic Confederate officer's sword, not a replica. An authentic nineteenth-century sword, maintained in excellent condition, carried by a man whose ID gave one name while he introduced himself with another. Yet one more piece of evidence to support Dirty Harry's conclusion that some pretty strange shit was going down.

Chapter 3

"So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the teachings we passed on to you..."--Second Thessalonians 2:15

By all accounts, Inspector Callaghan was more than capable of taking care of himself, a fact borne out by the fact that he'd been a cop for some twenty-odd years, and outlived several partners without awakening his latent gift, but he was still vulnerable as long as he remained ignorant of the realities of the Game. MacLeod knew that young ones in urban areas didn't last long as a general rule, and he had a nagging suspicion that Callaghan's murder had been set up by someone with an eye towards head- collecting. If Connor got to him first, Inspector Callaghan could be trained, and would cease to be a wild card. The Highlander felt that he could make the cop into a formidable warrior, hopefully one who would be worthy to defend the Prize from men like the Kurgan.

Ramirez' legacy, he mused. The charge of standing against the darkness passed on to the next generation, a precaution against my own failing. I think I know now why you came to me, Spanish Peacock.

Connor MacLeod had been roaming the streets of the bay city regularly for the past few days, concentrating his search on the rougher parts of the city. Eventually, he found what he was looking for: An abandoned factory near Jonesborough Hill, a structure that faded into its grimy surroundings to the point of being invisible. >From here Connor's keen senses detected the Quickening of another Immortal, too weak to be an old one. What brought him up short was the fact that, while relatively weak, the Buzz was considerably more powerful than that of newborn Immortals he had encountered in the past. If it was Harry Callaghan, then the Inspector was either a prodigy of unheard-of inborn power, or he had somehow managed to take a head. Connor hoped for the former. If the man he sought had already been brought into the Game, Connor's plan to train him could become very complicated.

He stood on the street outside the decrepit building pondering these things, so distracted that for a moment, he forgot that if he could feel an Immortal, that Immortal could feel him. The moment was brief, but it was long enough for Dirty Harry to put a bullet through MacLeod's chest.

Callaghan emerged from the building, thrust the saber through MacLeod's heart in the hopes that it would keep the man dead, and dragged the Highlander's inert body inside. The whole process had taken about seventy seconds, and any witnesses there might have been said nothing to the police.

Connor MacLeod regained consciousness with dried blood all over him, a freshly healed bullet hole in his chest, and a very deep thrust wound that had recently pierced his heart. He was lying on a dirty floor, looking up at a lanky, leather-faced man who held a bloody sword in his left hand and an enormous revolver in the other. The Masamune katana lay on a table across the room.

"OK, punk," the man growled. "I want some answers, and I want 'em now. You can start with what the hell happened to me in the warehouse. Then you can tell me why all you sword-swinging nuts are gunning for me." The man with the gun looked like death himself, only harder-eyed and meaner.

Connor matched him immediately to the photographs of Harry Callaghan he'd seen in the newspapers. "You cannot die, Callaghan. Accept it."

"Why? What's so special about me?"

"Its not just you. You're only one of many Immortals, and to the best of my knowledge, none of us knows the reason why. We simply are."

"If we can't die, then why are people trying to kill me?"

MacLeod tried to pull himself up into a sitting position, but stopped when the sword's point pressed against his throat. It had been decades, maybe centuries, since the Highlander had been at such a disadvantage, and he wasn't at all used to the feeling. "There is one way to kill one of us permanently: decapitation. But you'd already figured that out, hadn't you?"

Dirty Harry nodded slightly. "Some clown came in here a couple of days ago, looking to whack me. I blew his head off. How'd you know?"

Connor tried to repress a shudder at this news. Such a breach of the Game's rules was something all but the most ruthless of warriors would shrink from. Only extreme ignorance could excuse Callaghan for using a firearm to take a head. Connor brought his mind back around to answering Harry's questions. "You know that feeling you get whenever one of us is close to you? The pressure in your head?"

Callaghan nodded.

"What you feel is the energy we call the Quickening. That's what preserves us, and that's what passes from a dead Immortal to the one that kills him. When you took this man's head, you absorbed his power, and became a good deal stronger than a new Immortal should be."

"So that's why you guys go around with swords looking to chop each other's heads off? This power?"

"There's more to it than that, Callaghan. According to the oldest of our legends, we are all part of a vast Game, a tournament in which there can only be one survivor. This last one will recieve the Prize, a gift of power beyond imagination."

"So you're not fighting just for some power, you're fighting for a lot of power. Heartwarming."

MacLeod found himself sympathizing with Ramirez more and more as the conversation went on. "Some fight so that they can claim the Prize, but many others just fight to survive."

"Which kind are you?"

"I fight to keep the Prize out of the wrong hands. Some of us are evil, probably beyond your ability to imagine."

"I doubt that. I've had some experience with evil."

"I've had over four hundred and fifty years of experience with evil. If certain of our kind live to claim the Prize, mankind will suffer an eternity of darkness. My teacher sought me out so that I could be trained to stand against that darkness, just as I sought you out."

"So you, Russel Nash, or whoever you are, want to teach me how to fight against the forces of evil and save mankind."

"Something like that."

"You know, I'm inclined to believe you, just because no one could make up such an idiotic story by themselves."

MacLeod smiled. "It's more than that, isn't it, Callaghan? When you took the head, you took the man's memories. You're not consciously aware of them, but they're there, and they say I'm telling you the truth."

"Whatever. I'm going to let you up now, but I'm keeping these swords, and if you make one wrong move, I'm blowing your head off."

"Fair enough." Connor rose, and surveyed his ruined clothing. "The first thing on the agenda is to get to a better safe house. I need some new clothes, and you need the protection of Holy Ground."

"Holy Ground?" Harry looked up from his packing. Luckily, both swords fit in his bag.

"I'll explain on the way."

Callaghan followed Nash out to where the guy had parked his car, keeping his coat hung over his gunhand, muzzle pointed at Nash, and wondered if he'd finally gone crazy.

Chapter 4

"Devil with a devil damn'd firm concord holds."--John Milton

Chang had spent a long time achieving his current exalted status. He had been a Tong warior in China three hundred years ago, smuggling opium until a British-backed rival orginization gunned him down as part of a very hostile take-over.

Chang had been much luckier than the other Tongs. For one thing, he didn't stay dead. He also had a large piece of luck with his first encounter. The other Immortal was a Buddhist monk, not a headhunter. He had brought Chang to the Shaolin temple, where he undertook to train his new apprentice in the arts of Kung Fu developed there, as well as the important facts of Immortality.

Chang learned quickly, and his teacher at last offered him a choice: He could becme one of the Shao Lin monks, remaining on Holy Ground for as long as he wished, kept safe from the perils of the Game, or he could go out into the world, as his teacher had been doing when they met, and seek to do good works. Chang smiled, and asked if his teacher would come with him if he chose to leave. The monk said that he would come part of the way, and Chang found this agreeable.

He waited an entire day after leaving Holy Ground before taking the monk's head. The Quickening fed his strength, and his ambition, and when he returned to the Tong, it was with visions of ultimate power dancing in his head.

He took to the opium trade again with relish, and played the Game energetically, taking the heads of all Immortals he encountered. When Chinese began to cross the eastern sea to build the great railroad in the far land of America, Chang went with them. San Francisco became his base of operations, and he became the uncrowned king of all the Chinese in California.

Years went by. Opium was supplanted by marijuana, heroin, and cocaine, but Chang always remained in control, a hidden puppeteer behind the Tong leadership. By the sixties, with drug use on the rise, he decided it was time to come out in the open again. By the late seventies, Chang openly controlled all the Tong on the west coast.

Now, he was consolidating his power, crushing the mafia, the yakuza, and the Russians out of the business. Even with most of his energies focused on mortal power and wealth, Chang had not neglected the Game. Indeed, among the few who kept track of such things, he was accounted one of the deadliest Prizefighters in the western U.S. He had known that Inspector Harry Callaghan was a potential Immortal for months, ever since barely escaping arrest during a drug bust the detective had led, and had decided that taking his head would bring down two birds with one stone. Callaghan would almost certainly have interfered with Chang's expanding organization sooner or later, and if he were allowed to mature as an Immortal, he could pose serious trouble.

Chang had seen in Callaghan's steely eyes a look of contained feral rage, a burning fire of warriorly spirit within the cop that promised swift vengeance to any that opposed him. Yes, "Dirty Harry" had potential. Far better to nip that potential in the bud than have to deal with it in full flower at the time of the Gathering. So he had engineered the trap.

But somehow he'd failed. Callaghan had slipped through his fingers, owing, Chang admitted, to his own lack of caution, and had subsequently vanished. Also vanished was one of the Immortals Chang kept tabs on: David Mann, current alias Jacob Marley. A young and overly bold Immortal, but a fairly good swordsman. Chang had a very unsettling hunch that the two circumstances were not unrelated. If Mann had decided to train Callaghan, not very likely, but possible, then Callaghan's odds of surviving had increased dramatically. If, on the other hand, Mann had tried for Harry's virgin head...Chang didn't like to think about the implications.

The master of the San Francisco underworld reached across his imposing desk and touched the intercom button. "Get me Elijah," he ordered.

Chang had found very few people he could rely on over the course of three centuries, and Elijah the prophet was one of them.

"You called, Chang?" Elijah stood now in the doorway of Chang's elegant office. The underworld spymaster was a lanky man of imposing height, whose ebony skin and coal-black silk suit seemed to drink in light, while the sunglasses he wore constantly, his only affectation, seemed to shine with their own luminescence, so fiercely did they reflect the ambient illumination.

"I did. A week ago, I ordered your network to locate Harry Callaghan. I want results." Chang frowned at his chief retainer.

Elijah, like Chang, was Immortal. He had no memory of his true name, or indeed any of his history prior to 1803, when he was sold into slavery on the west coast of Africa, and shipped to America. Sold in the slave markets of the north to a Southern planter, he was given the name Elijah, and set to work farming tobacco. His agelessness marked him as the years went by. Other slaves regarded him with superstitious awe, while his master, far from a religious man by nature, began to suspect super-human forces at work, and sought to kill the unnatural slave. The attempt failed, and Elijah took his revenge. "I assure you, Chang, that my men are doing their utmost to find this man." Elijah's tone was suave, soothing.

Elijah had killed his master in 1834, and promptly fled for the wilds of the western lands. He spent time among the Indian tribes of the plains, and the rough adventurers of the frontier. He made his way at last to California in 1840, and remained there.

When Chang found him, Elijah was a clever and ruthless man, whose primary skill was accumulating information to be sold to the highest bidder. Chang recognised the man for what he was, and considered taking his head, but ultimately decided that a live spy was better than adead one. Chang tought Elijah about Immortality, and their long partnership began.

"You are clearly not doing enough. I want this man found, Elijah. Found quickly. Do not fail me." Chang was not about to be soothed by his lieutenant's soft words.

As Chang grew in power, he took Elijah with him. The spy became a leader of spies, building and maintaining a vast network of informants over the course of years. His skill in the arts of killing was substantial as well, and Chang frequently used him as his personal assassin.

"I do have other news for you, Chang." Elijah sat opposite his master in a leather-upholstered chair. "As you will recall, my people have been monitoring the movements of Connor MacLeod."

Chang nodded. He had been pondering challenging the Highlander while he was still on Chang's turf. "What of it?"

Elijah leaned forward in his chair. "MacLeod has disappeared. My people lost track of him today. He can no longer be found in the city."

Chang glowered at his lieutenant. "This may prove to be very bad news indeed, spymaster. I trust you are attempting to rectify it."

"Indeed, Chang. My people are reviewing our records of the Highlander's previous movements in this area. We hope to discover any bolt-holes he might maintain in this viscinity."

"Attend to it personally, prophet. I want his whereabouts known, and I want to know whether Callaghan is with him."

"It shall be as you say, Chang." With that, Elijah rose, bowed, and exited.

Chapter 5

"A life lived long brings greater pain
Than any briefer span,
For sorrows multiply with joys
And with sunlight comes rain."--Brad Ellison

When the Spanish came to California, they constructed a series of missions, to serve as both havens for weary travellers and bases for the missionary priests. Many of the old structures are now historic landmarks. Others are forgotten, lost to memory, fallen into ruin. The Highlander had long known of one such, and had maintained it to serve as his chief refuge on the west coast. Now, it served as Dirty Harry Callaghan's training ground.

"Hold!" Connor shouted at his pupil, who was advancing overambitiously in spite of his extreme disadvantage. "If you want to live, you need to be able to give ground sometimes."

"Tell me again why I can't just shoot any punk that comes after me." Harry stood with the deceased David Mann's sword in his hand, facing MacLeod. He had proven to be a quick learner, but his native belligerence was proving to be a handicap. He simply would not retreat.

"We've been over this before, Harry." Connor was nearing the edge of his patience. "The Rules are ancient, and are held sacred by all but the most depraved. Break them, and you make yourself fair game for anyone, and the others will have no compunctions about breaking rules to take you down. We all hunt renegades."

Connor lunged abruptly as he finished his speech, nicking Harry's belly with the razor-edged Masamune steel. He would have disemboweled his student had not the former cop leapt back adroitly, taking a defensive stance, left leg back, saber held out before him at a forty-five degree angle. "Better." Connor nodded. "Eventually, you may get good enough to survive on your own."

Now it was Harry that lunged, his saber cutting MacLeod's exposed wrist, causing him to loosten his grip on the katana. Harry thrust the straight blade of the saber into his teacher's right shoulder, and kicked the samurai out of his hand. "Eventually." Callaghan scooped up the ancient Japanese blade and handed it to Connor, who had recovered from his injuries.

Connor promptly jabbed the curving blade into Callaghan's chest.

Harry surprised him by remaining upright, mustering his will, and performing the mind-bogglingly painful task of extracting the Japanese sword from his body. He then managed to execute a do cut, slicing Connor's abdomen open. The Highlander gasped in pain, grasping his gut in an effort to keep his entrails internalized, and fell over.

Harry speared him with his sword. "Can you use crossbows?"

Connor winced, speaking though the pain. "Muscle...pow...er...only." Connor threw a feeble kick at his unsuspecting pupil, hooking his knee and bringing him down. Then he drew the sword out of his body, slashed Callaghan across the lower back with his katana, severing the man's spinal cord, and passed out. When he recovered a few seconds later, Harry was just beginning to heal his paralysis. Connor kicked him in the head, and retrieved both swords. "You're making progress, Callaghan. Its good that you're not holding back in practice." Connor kicked his student again, feeling some ribs break under his boot toe. "But you're still pressing to hard, over-extending yourself. You have no concept of self- preservation." Connor rolled Harry over with his foot, then stomped his gut. "We'll work on that later. Right now, its time for dinner.

_________________________

"You, Callaghan, are reckless, brutal, and utterly lacking in refinement." Their practice session over, the Highlander and his pupil now shared a dinner of canned chili taken from Connor's store of survival rations cached in the ruined chapel. They ate in the same courtyard they had reddened with each other's blood, next to a steady fire beneath the stars. "You remind me a lot of myself, actually," Connor continued.

"Yeah?" Harry looked up from his tin bowl.

"I was actually much worse. I was born in the Scottish Highlands in 1518. I was killed in a battle with a rival clan, but I wouldn't stay dead. My neighbors decided it was black magic, and ran me out of the village." Connor stared into the dancing flames, his grey eyes filled with memories.

Harry let out a low whistle. "So you were on your own?"

Connor nodded. "For months. They had bound me to an ox- yoke, and were stoning me in the middle of the village. My own cousin Dugal, the man I'd looked up to, admired since I could walk...He took the lead in beating me. If not for Angus..."

Harry was fascinated in spite of himself. "Angus?"

"Aye. Angus. He was another cousin o' mine, of about an age with Dugal. The two of them took a great hand in th' raisin' of me. They even rode into battle with me on that day..." Connor's voice began slipping into a Scottish burr as he receded into his own past. His cold eyes were thawed, now. "But Angus didn't take th' villager's part in it. He dragged Dugal off me, and demanded that I be banished, rather than killed. Before ah left th' village, he gave ma' sword back tae me."

Harry watched in awe. The steel-hard man who'd spent the last weeks pumping him full of ways to kill a man with a blade, the grim and sarcastic sparring partner...This man was now almost on the brink of tears as he recounted his history. "What happened next?" Harry asked.

"I wandered the moors alone. Th' cold an' no food tae be had killed me a few dozen times over, those days. It took me a week just tae get loose o' that damned yoke. After that, ah' made mah' way as best ah' could. It was winter then, and maest o' th' crofters were to puir tae feed themsels, say nothin' of some wanderin' stranger come out o' th' snow."

Connor sighed deeply, and in that sigh Harry heard the voice of a hundred fearful voices turning away a starving man, felt the chill of a thousand chill winter winds. Connor looked up, then, and Harry saw in his face the look of a man who had walked through to the gates of hell and back.

"If not for Heather and her father," Connor continued after a long pause and a large swallow of his Glenmorangie whisky, "I might be out on that moor yet." His voice had returned to its normal unplaceable accent. "They gave me a place to sleep, warm food. They brought me back to health, and they asked no questions. He was a blacksmith, living several hour's ride from the village he worked for. His home was a ruined keep, and his one treasure was his daughter." Connor sighed again, and this time Harry felt the trace of golden locks, crystal blue eyes, a smile that could warm a man more than any fire. "His daughter. Heather. She cared for me until I regained my strength, and then asked her father to make me his apprentice. When he agreed, I thought I could never be happier. I was wrong."

Connor stirred, spooned more chili into his bowl, and took a long pull from the bottle of Glenmorangie at his side. "The happiest day, Harry, was when she agreed to marry me. This was about a year after I had come to them. Her father granted his blessing, and we were wed in the springtime. The only thing to mar our happiness was her father's death that winter. It hit us both hard, for he had become my father as well. Even so, life went on. Then, five years after I had fallen in battle for the first time, a man came looking for me. He was called Ramirez. He had heard of my exile, and realized the truth about me. He sought me out so that he could train me."

"Why did he do that?"

"Ramirez made it his life's work to keep the Prize out of the wrong hands. To that end, he sought out young Immortals, training them to survive. He told me that if the Prize fell into the wrong hands, mankind would suffer an eternity of darkness."

"Is that why you went looking for me? To set me on the straight and narrow, the way Ramirez did you?"

"The charge is heavy. If I die, who wil carry on after me? You, Harry, have a great power. It is your responsibility to use it well."

"What if I turn out to be a bad apple?"

"I know your record. You're a man who hates criminals, and there aren't any worse or more dangerous criminals than the ones we fight. If I'm wrong, and you do turn out to be a mistake on my part, I'll hunt you down and kill you without hesitation." The coldness of Connor's gaze left no doubt in Harry's mind as to his sincerity. "Time for bed, Callaghan. We have another hard day's work ahead of us tomorrow."

And with that, the two men extinguished the fire, and went to their sleeping bags.

Chapter 6

"The race is not to the swift, or the battle to the strong."-- Ecclesiastes 9:11

MacLeod and Callaghan were fencing in the courtyard of the ruined mission when they felt the presence of another. Swords in hand, the two men went towards the gate, from which the sensation emanated.

Before the fallen walls of the old church stood a man, black of skin and clothing, his eyes covered by reflective sunglasses. He stood easy in the shade of a large tree, a dark- bladed rapier and heavy Kukri knife leaned against the trunk. He nodded at the two men. "You were extremely difficult to find." He remarked.

"Who are you?" demanded Connor, standing with katana ready even though he stood on Holy Ground. Strangers with swords were almost always trouble.

The dark man seemed almost not to have heard him. "My employer has unfinished business with your companion, Harry Callaghan. He wishes you to deliver him into my keeping."

"Who is your employer?" Connor asked.

The stranger responded with an off-handed flick of the wrist. Connor didn't even see the knife until it buried itself into the crumbling adobe wall with a thunk. It was a narrow-bladed throwing dagger, and impaled on its slender length was a business card, marked with only one word inscribed on it with ancient Chinese ideograms: 'Chang.'

"What does your boss want me for, and why is he sending his flunky after me instead of coming himself?" Harry snarled, his hand tightening on the saber-hilt.

"Will you deliver your companion to me, Highlander?" the dark stranger's voice had an edge to it now, and his hands were almost resting on the hilts of his weapons.

"Your boss can either come here himself to collect me, or you can try to bring me back. Either way, you'll have to kill me," Harry growled.

"That, Callaghan, can be easily arranged. Come, leave your sanctuary and face me in equal battle, and we shall see if your bold words mean anything."

Dirty Harry didn't pause to think about the offer. He just charged.

Connor cursed inwardly. This was going to be messy.

Harry lunged furiously at the lanky man with a force that would have laid him open, but the blackened steel of the man's rapier deflected the slashing blade. He parried with his heavy-edged Ghurka jungle knife, aiming the blow at his enemy's neck. Harry ducked and countered with a thrust, his blood-hungry warblade ripping at his opponent's flesh. Blood oozed from a shallow wound in the elegantly clad killer's leg. He back-stepped, smiled, and saluted with his rapier.

"Impressive, Callaghan. Perhaps this will be more sporting than I thought."

"Who are you?" Harry growled at the man before him, crimson- edged saber held at the ready.

"Elijah. With that knowledge, will you die satisfied?" The swift thrust of the dark rapier was parried by the Confederate steel, but the follow-up cut from the Kukri held in his left hand bit into Harry's side.

The former cop did not recoil, but counterattacked. Too near his adversary for a good swordblow, he struck Elijah in the face with his brass-guarded swordfist. The enemy fell back, and Harry lunged, raking the ribs of his enemy with his ravenous steel.

Elijah swept the air with a horizontal rapier slash, which Harry ducked, thrusting in reply. The kukri came down, to be deflected by Harry's saber. Harry straightened, and used his upward momentum to make a sweep for the other man's groin. Elijah twisted, preserving his most vital organs, but losing his balance. Harry dealt him a solid kick to the ribs, and he toppled.

Harry came at his prostrate foe without any show of mercy. His blade bit deep in the other man's body, rending his left shoulder with savage force. The fallen man dropped his heavy-bladed knife from his numbed fingers, rolling away from the fury of of his intended victim. He got to his knees in time to meet Harry's next blow, a savage head-taking cut, with a clumsy rapier parry. The blow was deflected, but the slender sword-steel lacked the strength to hold against the blow. The dark metal snapped, and Elijah was left with only a hilt-shard to defend himself.

He stood, dove around Harry, and rolled across the ground to reach his kukri, which he switched to his right hand as he stood up again.

Harry tried to use his now-superior reach to wound his opponent's blade-arm, but Chang's assassin parried the stroke. Harry tried again, and again was repulsed. Elijah was unable to attack because of his foreshortened striking range, but this also meant that he could focus on making his defense impregnable. Harry tried a desperate gambit. Engaging the much heavier blade of his enemy with his own sword, he closed the distance between them and tried for a body thrust. He failed.

Elijah wrenched his knife, and the saber was bent past the breaking point. He thrust the hilt-shard of his rapier into his target, and pulled back.

Harry sank to the ground, one broken sword in his hand, another in his gut.

Standing at the gateway of the mission courtyard, sword in hand, Connor watched tensely. Custom stronger than law forbade his interference until one or the other of the combatants was dead. His kinsman, Duncan, might have bent the rules and intervened, but not Connor. He could only watch, hope, and if neccesary, avenge.

Harry mustered his willpower and pulled the broken blade from his body. Hilt in each hand, he faced his foe. He almost leapt back into the fray, but some small voice of sanity penetrated his blood- lust benumbed brain. He heard Connor's voice telling him "'If you want to live, you need to be able to give ground sometimes.'"

Harry Callaghan, who had never retreated in his life, fell back now. First time for everything, he thought as he made tracks for the safety of the mission.

Behind him, Elijah gave pursuit, but was delayed by Harry's throwing of the sword-hilts in his general direction.

Harry won the race to Holy Ground, but Elijah had built up a good deal of momentum. He sailed past the crumbled wall of the courtyard, and straight into the arms of Connor MacLeod.

Elijah wrenched free, and turned to run, but Harry's fist stopped him in his tracks. When his vision cleared, he was lying on his back, glasses broken, looking up at his intended prey, who was pointing a very large handgun at him.

"Okay punk. Do you still feel lucky?" Harry growled at him.

Chapter 7

"Take...The Sword of the Spirit..."--Ephesians 6:16

The spymaster and assassin known as Elijah the prophet lay on Holy Ground, battered and bewildered. Above him stood a man with cold fire in his eyes and a Smith and Wesson model 29 .44 magnum revolver in his hand. All things considered, Elijah did not feel particularly lucky at the moment.

"Okay, slimeball," Dirty Harry adressed his prisoner through clenched teeth. "Here's the deal. I ask you questions, you answer them. If I don't like the answer, or if I have to wait too long to hear it, I put a bullet into you." He pulled the hammer back. "Now let's get started. Who are you working for?"

Elijah couldn't believe this. A crazed infant, not yet out of his mortal lifespan, was holding a gun to him on Holy Ground? "You can't be serious, Callaghan. This is Holy Gr-" KER-- BLAM!!! Elijah was interupted by the report of a high-powered handgun. He let out a scream as the massive slug blasted its way through his kneecap, leaving a blood mess in its wake.

"That was wrong answer number one. Number two gets your right knee. Holy Ground may keep your head on your shoulders, and it may keep my sword in its sheath, but there's no rule says I can't non- fatally wound you with a gun."

Connor walked over to them. "Harry, what do you think you're- "

"Shut up, Scotty. I don't tell you what to wear under a kilt, you don't tell me how to conduct an interrogation." Harry turned back to his moaning subject. "Try it again, Shmuck-face. Who's your boss?"

Elijah groaned. "His name is Chang. He is the most powerful drug dealer on the west coast, and he is Immortal."

"This Chang the same guy that tried to whack me in the warehouse a couple of months back?"

"How should I know that?" No sooner were the words out of Elijah's mouth than Harry had put a bullet through his right knee.

"Hey, Connor. If you blow an Immortal's balls off, will they grow back?"

Connor, seeing no way to halt his student's irregular methods, decided he might as well play along. "Never tried it. This guy looks like a good test case, though."

Elijah whimpered and tried to curl up into a fetal position, but was inhibited by the trauma to his legs. "Yes, he's the one. He wanted to kill you before you got dangerous."

"Well he screwed that up. Where is he now?"

"Now? Well I'm really not-" Harry, death in his eyes, cocked the gun again and pointed it directly at the spy's genitals. "Think carefully, bozo," he snarled.

"Ten-story building about a block from Golden Gate Park. Its called the Donovan Building. Chang runs his organization out of it. There's an office setup on the first floor to serve as a cover. Second floor is a gym and training area. Next three floors are drug processing facilities. Six through eight are storage, nine is where his top lieutenants have offices, and on top is his office and apartment. That all I know, honestly!"

"Okay. Now listen up. You're going to be tied up, and I'm going to hold a gun to your head. You will lead us to this place, and we are all going upstairs to have a chat with your boss. Got it?" Elijah's frightened nod was answer enough.

Connor suddenly applied a throat hold to the prisoner's neck, causing him to pass out. He then bound the man with strips of his clothing. "Harry, don't you think we need to talk about this?"

"What's to talk about? This asshole's been trying to kill me, he got my partner killed, and he's running the drug business in this city. I'm going to go and kill him. If you want, you can come along, if not, sit here on your ass and play the bagpipes, or whatever it is you do."

"You have no plan, no backup, and damn little intelligence, and you're going to charge single-handedly into the fortress of a drug kingpin and assassinate him? You're crazy!"

"What planning do I need? This guy is going to keep after me until one of us buys it. Might as well force a confrontation now as later. Unless you think I'm not up to it?"

"Harry, you are my best pupil. In a very brief span of time, you've absorbed an incredible amount. Your combat skills are superb. But this Chang is clearly dangerous, and he has many allies."

"Does that mean you'll be coming after all?"

Connor laughed in spite of himself. "You, Dirty Harry, are without a doubt the craziest bastard I have ever met. But God save me, I think you might have a chance. Yes, Harry, I'll come with you. First, however, there's something you need."

"What's that?"

"A sword, idiot."

"Shit! I forgot all about that!"

"Luckily, Callaghan, I happen to have one handy. Come with me." The Highlander led the Inspector over to his supply hut, and opened a locked door on the side. Within, were three or four long oilskin-wrapped bundles. Connor studied them for a moment, then picked one up. He let slip the protective wrapping, revealing a brass-hilted saber not unlike the one that Harry had recently lost. This sword, however, lacked the markings on the blade, which was also more curved than David Mann's weapon had been.

"This, Harry, is an enlisted man's cavalry saber of the Confederate States of America. It once belonged to a student of mine, a very dear friend."

"Who was he?"

"His name was Jacob Freeman. I recruited him into my cavalry unit during the war, and taught how the Game. When he took his first head in 1864, I spent three weeks making this blade for him."

"Three weeks?"

"This, my student, is no ordinary sword. I forged it in the ancient Japanese style, although the blade is of a European shape. The steel is folded one hundred and fifty times, the edge differentially heat-tempered to make it as strong as possible. It will take a razor-sharp edge, and hold it. It will bend without breaking, and cut without catching. If well cared for, this blade will last a thousand years with almost no sign of wear."

"If it was a gift to a student, why do you have it now?"

Connor's gaze became overcast. "He...died. During Prohibition. I was on hand to recover the weapon. The owner...He was beyond any help."

Harry took the sword-hilt reverently, and held it to the light. Along the edge, he saw the same wavy cloud-like patterns that decorated Connor's katana. "I'll do my best to take care of it."

"There is one thing, Harry. One thing you must swear upon this steel before you can be master to this blade."

"What's that?"

"You must swear to never...never take the life of an innocent mortal."

"I swear it," said Harry.

Now Connor turned back to the small armory, and produced a much smaller bundle. "That is a one-handed weapon, and with a one- handed sword it is best to carry a secondary blade. This," He unwrapped the bundle as he spoke, revealing a long Scottish dirk, wonderfully crafted. "This was also a gift. Heather's father presented it to me on our wedding day. He had forged it with his own hands. The steel is true, and it carries great virtue. Use it well."

Harry accepted the long dagger with his left hand. "Is there an oath for this weapon, too?"

Connor pondered for a moment, then answered, "You must swear never to show mercy to an evil Immortal."

"I swear it."

"Good. Now, if we're going to be storming the gates of hell, we'd best get to it. Ah, our trusty guide seems eager to show us the way to his master's lair."

Faced by two armed and grinning madmen, there was nothing the bound Elijah could do but whimper to himself.

Chapter 8

"I looked, and there before me was a pale horse! Its rider was named death, and hell was following close behind him."--Revelations 6:8

They met with their first resistance as they tried to pass through the doors. Three shooters moved into the entranceway, and ordered them to leave. Harry responded by drawing his .44 and ordering them to get out of the way. The shooters pulled their guns, Beretta nine millimeters. The first one died before his pistol cleared, the second was delayed when Elijah got shoved into him, driving both men to the floor.

Connor, armed with a Colt .45 1911A1 that Harry had insisted he bring, took down the third with two shots to the chest. Harry dispatched the survivor on the ground by firing a couple of shots straight through Elijah's prone body.

The two men charged into the room with guns at the ready, and the office workers dove for the ground and stayed there.

"Head for the stairs!" Harry shouted.

"Why not take the elevator?"

"Elevators are death traps. Hang on..." They had crossed the office space to the wall where the three main elevators and the stairwell opened out. Harry opened the doors, hit all the buttons, and closed them again.

"What was that for?" asked Connor.

"If Chang's guys try to use the elevators, it'll slow 'em down. Come on." He kicked the stairwell door open, and headed in gun first.

Connor followed.

The two men went up past the next two floors without meeting any resistance, but the group of thugs on the fourth floor landing made up for the former paucity. Six men, two with handguns, three big ones with knives, and one with a shotgun. Harry dove back, pushing Connor behind him, barely avoiding the 12-gauge blast. He poked his head around the corner and returned fire, dropping one of the gunmen.

Connor went in low, putting three hollow-tipped bullets into the shotgunner's torso, but took a bullet in the leg as a result.

Harry pushed his sprawled form back around the corner and pistol-whipped one of the knifers that had gotten too close. The other two lunged at him, and one was laid low by Harry's dirk, which he thrust into the man's eye and through to his brain. The other got in a good slash into Harry's left arm.

Connor, leg healed, put a bullet into the man's head, and he fell, bloody knife dropping from nerveless fingers. The Highlander emptied the rest of his clip into the other gunman, drew his sword, and split the prone knife man from the nave to the chops.

The two men reloaded, cleaned their blades, and charged upward. On the next landing were a pair of men, one with a crossbow, the other with a machete and shotgun.

The crossbowman put a bolt into Harry's chest, taking him out of the battle until it was pulled out. Connor ignored the man as he cocked and reloaded his bow, a time-consuming process, focusing on the man with the double-barrelled shotgun. The buckshot tore into Connor's leg and he toppled in pain, shots going wild. The man leapt at him, slashing with the knife for Connor's throat. The Immortal threw up his arm, guarding his neck. The heavy blade rent his flesh to the bone, spraying blood across his attacker's face.

Connor fired the Colt again, and this time the bullet went true. The thug's brains splattered on the wall behind him as a hollow-pointed .45 hit him at point-blank range. Connor dragged himself up with tattered limbs, doing his level best to ignore the hideous pain. Then he remembered the crossbowman.

The man was covered with his partner's blood and grey matter, one half of what appeared to be an Immortal-killing team, whose quarry appeared to be more dangerous than he'd been led to believe. He was shaking badly, and his pants had a spreading wet patch on the crotch. Even so, he had somehow managed to fit another bolt to his weapon and cock it, and now pointed it at Connor. For a second that seemed like an hour, the wounded warrior and the frightened killer stared at each other, both frozen. Then they both moved.

Connor saw the trigger-finger tighten and rolled to the side. The bolt drove into Connor's left shoulder, where his neck had been a moment ago. Connor kicked out with his undamaged right leg, catching the nerve cluster on the side of the other man's thigh with the toe of his shoe.

With a howl the assassin dropped to the ground, crossbow flying out of his grip.

Connor pulled a short-bladed dagger from his sleeve-sheath, and put it into his enemy's throat. The man gurgled as he choked on his own blood. Connor wiped his incarnadined hand off on the corpse's ragged T-shirt and dragged himself over to his fallen comrade. Harry had taken the barbed quarrel through his solar plexus, and toppled backwards down the two steps. Connor mustered his lessened strength and gripped the short thick missile with his blood-greased fingers, and yanked it out. Blood fountained as the quarrel came out, tearing Harry's flesh out with it's cruel hooked barbs. Connor waited.

About five minutes later, Harry gasped in a lungful of fresh air, wincing as it hit his still-tender lungs. He coughed up a little blood, dragged himself up, and cursed.

"Nice to see you too, Harry. Now come on. You have better things to do than lie there on your ass."

"Screw you, you kilt-wearing bastard. Help me up." Connor stood on his newly-healed legs and offered his still-sore left arm to his friend. Harry took the bloody hand, and hauled himself to his feet.

"While you were napping, I had to take down the death squad by myself."

"Any trouble?"

"Nothing I couldn't handle. Now let's go. The whole building's after us by now, and these stairs aren't exactly a safe place."

"What we need," said Harry, "--is a new plan. Come on." The two bloody fighting men jogged past the fifth floor, and reached the sixth. Harry stopped. "Sure hope that punk was telling the truth about this floor being used for nothing but storage. Come on." And with that, he kicked the door in, and headed through with his revolver at the fore.

Connor swore in Gaelic, and followed after. "Mother of God!" He gasped, as he passed the portal and beheld what lay beyond.

The entire level was a single open space, filled with shelves, containing more illicit narcotics than the Highlander had seen in the entirety of his four-and-a-half century existence.

"This is some shit, all right," said Harry. "This Chang's got enough supply to meet the demand of the entire state for the next year."

"Even if you include Berkeley?"

"This punk's got to go." Harry had seen first-hand what drugs could do to a person, time and again. Friends of his childhood blowing their brains on dope, guys he'd known in Jonesborough Hill who'd had potential to be great men, and had thrown it all away for nothing but the dubious pleasure of sticking a needle into their arms and injecting poison into their blood. And the man he was here to kill was selling the stuff wholesale. When it was Harry's neck on the line, he'd been pissed. Now he was in a state of rage that could only end with blood. "Come on, Macleod. We've got an asshole to decapitate." Harry set off for the window across the warehouse level, where he could see the landing of a fire escape. With a building full of criminals trying to take their heads off, the best way to go up was to think outside the box.

Connor kicked the window out of its frame, headed through it and started up the rusty metal stairway. The two men headed up the side of the building with gun in one hand, sword in the other. The seventh and eighth floors, also devoted to storing Chang's unholy merchandise, was passed without incident. When they reached the ninth, they came to a sudden stop. "Looks like we've run out of fire escape," said Connor.

"Our boy probably has a helicopter on top to take care of fires. We'll have to go back inside." Harry checked his cylinder as he spoke, replacing expended rounds.

Connor was still refilling his clip as Harry burst through the window. Connor followed suit, and the two of them rolled across the floor oblivious to the yelling of the floor's denizens.

Coming up out of his roll, Harry came up and fired a pair of shots into the sceiling, sending the men in business suits diving behind their desks. This floor, he remembered, was where Elijah had said Chang kept his chief lieutenants. These were executive-looking men in business suits who gave the impression of having been paid very well by crime. The Immortals headed for the stairs, and no man lifted a hand to stop them. Harry and Connor headed up the stairs, blew the lock off the door to Chang's sanctum, holstered their guns and drew their swords, and burst in.

"Welcome, my friends. I hope my employees did not inconvenience you too much. Now we can speak undisturbed." Before them stood Chang, larger than life in silk robes, custom-made battle sword in his hands. Beside him stood a familiar dark figure, ragged but in good health, cutlass in his hand.

"And I, Callaghan," snarled Elijah, "...have a great deal to speak to you about."

Chapter 9

"There can be only one."--Tak Ne, also called Juan Sanchez Villa- Lobos Ramirez

Four Immortals stood in the vast room, swords drawn. Connor MacLeod of the Clan Macleod, swathed in a ragged and bloody trenchcoat, katana in his hands, steel glistening in the light of the full-length windows that spanned the entire surface of the west wall.

By him was "Dirty" Harry Callaghan, visage streaked with gore, saber in one hand, dirk in the other, stood like death on a pale horse by the stairwell on the room's southern end. Before these two were Chang, centuries-old Tong warrior and narcotics kingpin, a bizzare but deadly-seeming battle-sword in his hands, and Elijah, his chief lieutenant, who lounged against a huge mahogany desk, heavy cutlass in his hand. All was still.

"We came all the way up here for a fight, Chang," Harry growled. "You going to just stand there?"

"Very well, young Callaghan. Let us begin." Chang smiled as he shifted into motion, a glittering-edged blur as he headed towards his quarry. Elijah went into motion as well, sweeping his sword at the Scottish warrior, his blade clashing against Connor's samurai blade.

Chang's office was huge, its decoration ornate but sparse. Between the stairwell on the south end of the room and the desk on the northern wall was a large open area free of obstructions. Behind the desk ran a wall, presumably separating the office from Chang's apartment. It was in the open ground before the desk that the four swordsmen ranged in their lethal dance.

Chang used his sword like a foreshortened naginata,slashing and jabbing with the broad blade in an effort to keep Harry off balance and out of striking range. The drug dealer lunged in suddenly, chopping downward, and recovering from the parry by striking with the heavy leaden pommel that capped the two- foot hilt.

Harry took the blow on his left temple, and turned his fall into an ukemi roll, coming up in a defensive crouch.

Chang moved in for another attack, but this time he was met his a counterstrike.

Harry parried with his saber and thrust with his dirk for his enemy's belly.

Chang recoiled away from the Highland steel, and launched a kick that fell short.

On the other side of the room, Connor MacLeod was moving rapidly against his foe, cutting time and time again, seeking the weak points in the dark warrior's guard.

Elijah, on the other hand, was focused on making his stance impregnable, aided by the bell-guard that protected his entire hand.

Connor made a kote strike at Elijah's wrist, but the ancient steel skidded uselessly off of the handguard. Elijah lunged, nicking Connor's left shoulder, but in the process he over-extended, leaving himself vulnerable to the Highlander's fierce kidney strike. Elijah gasped, and writhed out of Connor's grasp, rolling across the thick carpeting to safety.

Chang was faring better than his henchman, but not greatly. The policeman he had tried to murder scant months earlier had fulfilled his worst fears, becoming a strong and savage warrior.

Harry cut at Chang's legs with his saber, a blow that came too close for comfort, and followed up with a dirk thrust that almost slipped through Chang's guard.

Chang managed a clumsy block, and threw a kick at Harry's sternum. The kick landed, and Harry was driven back.

Connor closed the distance between himself and his prey, lunging with his katana in a one-handed grip, aiming the point for Elijah's torso. The assassin side-stepped, and punched with his metal-wrapped right fist, striking Connor's jaw. The Highlander remained unsteadily on his feet, bringing his sword up in a chudan no kamae stance, pommel held a fist's space out from his navel, left hand at the bottom of the grip, right hand just below the guard.

Elijah sidestepped again, lunging.

Connor parried, and riposted with a strike that peeled some flesh from Elijah's left arm. The wounded man screamed out his agony, and dived behind the massive desk, smearing the hand-carved wood with his crimson blood. The Highlander was right behind him.

Harry engaged Chang's massive head-taker with the dirk, and dealt the gangster a vicious slash across the face and torso. Blood seeped over his visage as Chang pulled back, bellowing in rage and pain. Harry came at him again, dirk extended before him, saber haeld over his head like the coiled tail of a scorpion.

Chang swung his sword in huge scything motions, blows utterly devoid of finesse, blows that left him dangerously open.

Harry timed his rush for the beat of time just before the backswing began, thrust his long dagger into Chang's right bicep, and dragged the saber's blade across his foe's chest. Chang responded with a savage left-hand punch to Harry's shortribs, shaking himself loose from Harry's lethal embrace.

Shifting his heavy sword from his right hand to his left, he swung with a feral abandon, beating Harry's clumsy parry aside and biting savagely into the cop's left shoulder. Harry's arm went numb, and the dirk fell from his deadened fingers as the blood drenched his left side.

Connor stood on the blood-slick desk, the Samurai in his hands. Before him, crouched behind a revolving chair, the clearly outmatched Elijah was huddling in on himself, doing his level best to hide behind the cutlass blade.

"When you get down to it," Connor was saying, "you're nothing but a coward."

"Damn you, Highlander!"

"You were willing to challenge Harry when you thought he didn't know how to fight, and you were pretty brave with your boss beside you. But once you strip away all your attitude and your unfair advantages, you're nothing but a pathetic little shit who pisses his pants when things get dangerous. Come on, you gutless worm. Come out from your hiding place and fight."

Elijah threw the chair at Connor, dislodging him from the blood- covered furniture on which he stood, then leapt for him with cutlass held high.

Connor rolled over and parried, engaged blades with Elijah, and performed a disarming twist. The cutlass was launched across the room, and Elijah was left unarmed, clutching his injured wrist with his left hand. Connor rose to his feet, sword ready for blood.

Elijah did the only thing he could: He ran like hell for the nearest exit.

Harry was now fighting a losing battle. His left arm still useless, in spite of his Quickened healing abilities, he was doing his level best to fend off the berserk Chang, who was fighting like a man possessed, striking high and low, left and right, blade and pommel. Harry had no respite, and he was nearing his breaking point.

Chang launched a furious lunge, and Harry pushed the blade aside, only to be bowled over by the force of Chang's impact. The detective went flying, barely maintaining his grip on the saber's hilt as he skidded across the carpeted floor. Chang was right on top of him as he rolled to the side and got his feet under him. Things were looking grim.

Connor threw himself after his fleeing prey, the samurai sweeping a deadly series of shining arcs as the ancient blade sought after the blood of the unrighteous.

Elijah reached the door to Chang's apartment and began fumbling with the knob. His hands were slick with blood, and the polished brass was slipppery. Connor was upon him, screaming a Gaelic battle-cry, katana coming down towards Elijah's head. The fleeing man dodged, running from the hungry steel.

Connor thrust at him but missed, the sword piercing the wall and sticking. Elijah threw a punch at the Highlander's head. Connor caught the fist as it neared him, and threw his own blow.

Elijah was thrown back by the impact, staggering across the room. Connor rushed at him unarmed, and struck him a mighty blow. Elijah retreated until he stood with his back to the full-length window. Connor launched a final kick. The glass shattered. Elijah was gone.

Harry was feeling better now, though he still couldn't move his left arm much, and he was keeping Chang more or less at bay. He found himself giving ground in his efforts to stay alive, until he found himself backed up against the desk. Chang struck. Harry parried. The Confederate saber was wrenched from his grasp, sailing overhead to strike the ground behind the desk.

Chang grinned. "There can be only one, Callaghan." The massive battle-sword came up for the killing blow.

Harry dove to the side as the desk splintered from the impact of Chang's savage blow. Showered by splinters, Harry rolled to the side. His saber was on the other side of Chang, and he cast about for something, anything, which he could use to defend himself. His eyes fell on the fallen cutlass, a few feet way from his hand.

Chang pried his lethal steel from his ruined desk, and moved towards his fallen prey.

Connor peered out through the shattered glass. On the sidewalk below, Elijah the prophet was a bloody mess. He hadn't recovered his life yet, and from the looks of him, it would be a while. To all intents and purposes, the man was out of the battle. Connor turned to the other battle going on, the fight he'd forgotten about during his own struggle.

Chang came down hard with his deadly blade, and came near to laying Harry's guts open, but the downed fighter rolled aside at the last minute, taking the dropped cutlass into his grasp, rolling back over as he brought the heavy curved blade out in a vicious cutting arc. Chang's face spurted blood from a brutal cut laid just above his eyes. Harry kicked up, knocking Chang to the floor, and stood. His shoulder was healed now, and he launched a two-handed blow at his prostrated, semi-blind enemy.

The cut fell true and accurate, but Chang shifted position, not much, but enough that the brunt of the blow struck his shoulder rather than his neck. He howled. Harry left the cutlass where it was, stuck in the bone, kicked Chang's custom-forged killing tool aside, and scooped up his own sword.

Chang moaned as Harry stood over him, poised to deliver the blow that would free Chang's soul of its fleshly bonds. "Shut up, you piece of shit. I don't want to hear your whining."

Chang looked up from the blood-stained carpet, hatred in his eyes. "Will you kill me, Inspector Callaghan? Commit cold-blooded murder? How does that suit you, officer of the law?"

The sweep of the blade passed easily between the vertebrae, slid cleanly through the soft flesh of the neck, and left a deep cut in the expensive carpet.

"Suits me just fine, prick." Harry snarled at the dripping head as it rolled over to rest at his feet. The eyes were still unclouded, the brain still functioning. Chang blinked once, then did nothing. Harry kicked the grisly relic out of the broken window, then toppled to the ground as the Quickening began.

As the blue soul-fire engulfed his student, Connor smiled, a sad, grim smile. Dirty Harry was a warrior born, and by his hand he had felled a powerful enemy. Now to the victor went the spoils. He was fierce, ruthless, and merciless, a killer to his core, but Connor had seen the fire in Harry's eyes when they had entered the drug storerooms, the anger as the man had talked about the killers he had spent his life hunting as they sat by the campfire at dinner. Harry was a man on fire for justice. He hated evil, and pulled no punches in dealing with it. Connor had chosen well. Congratulations, Ramirez, you Spanish, Egyptian, whatever kind of fool you were. I'm following in your damned footsteps. Hope you're happy. Of course, Highlander, the answer came back to him. Do what you can, while you can, with what you have. You have kept faith with the charge entrusted you. No man can do more.

Chapter 10

"I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith"--2 Timothy 4:7

Elijah vanished without a trace, and with him presumably went any wealth that Chang had amassed over the centuries. The SFPD, when they came to investigate reports of gunfire, and a man who'd fallen from a ten-story building, found plenty of corpses, one missing a head, and a lot of drugs. What they didn't find, however, was any trace of eyewitnesses, financial records, or forensic evidence. The discovery of presumed-dead Inspector Harry Callaghan's fingerprints on the tenth floor were baffling, but ultimately turned up no leads. No arrests were made as a result of the discovery, but the mayor told the press that 'A great deal of good has been done by the heroic men, and women, of the SFPD.' Chapter 10

Meanwhile on Fisherman's Wharf, two men walked and talked and ate. One was a grim man of medium build, with shaggy brown hair and cold grey eyes. He was wearing a long overcoat despite the climate. Alongside him strode a tall, weathered man, his hair a steely grey, his face like old leather. In his hand was a long gym bag. "So, Harry," the first man was saying. "What are you going to do now?"

His companion finished chewing his food before answering. "I've got my new identity set up, all legalities taken care of. Birth certificate, drivers license, whole deal. Now I figure I'll head out on the road for a while, see if I can't find someplace to settle down. If I can't, I'll just keep moving."

"How are you for money?"

"About $100,000 in cash. Chang had some loose change stashed in his desk, and I figured he didn't need it anymore. I won't have to find work for a while. What about you? What're your plans?"

"I'm heading back to New York. I have a business to run, and I've been away too long."

"Maybe I'll drop in sometime. Or is that against the rules, too?"

"Nothing wrong with old friends seeing each other, Harry." Connor grinned. "And I'm the oldest friend you've got. Maybe you'll make others among our kind. Mentors, allies, even students of your own. Just remember: There can be only one."

Harry frowned. "If it came down to just the two of us, would you take my head?"

"That's what I asked Ramirez."

"What'd he say?"

"Nothing." Connor took a bite of his sandwich, washing it down with a swallow of Coke.

"And you let him get away with that?" Harry frowned again.

"Listen Harry. The Game has gone on for countless centuries. It may go on for millenia. And even if the Gathering is right around the corner, there are enough true enemies to fight that friends probably won't need to worry. One or both of us will probably die well before the final battle."

Harry finished masticating the last of his hot dog. "And if not? Is the Prize worth killing a friend for?"

"I don't know," Connor answered. "And I don't think I ever will know, not unless it is put to the test." A look came into Connor's eyes that Harry had only seen once before: When the Highlander had told his story at the fireside. A haunted look, sad, whistful, and perhaps a little bit afraid. "I lost touch with religion when the village priest and his...His pupil, burned my mother for heresy and black magic. I lost religion, but some prayers I still say daily. One of them is that I never need to face a friend at swordpoint. So far, God seems to have listened."

Harry put a massive hand on Connor's shoulder. "I'll be seeing you, Connor. Don't lose your head."

Connor grinned. "If I could survive teaching you, Dirty Harry, I can survive anything. Take care of yourself."

And with that, the two men parted, comrades-in-arms in the battle that was their life.

The End

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