The lightning faded, leaving Duncan MacLeod panting and trembling in its wake. He managed to focus his eyes, and saw Joseph Kell's body lying a few yards away in a spreading lake of blood. The head lay another ten feet beyond it.
Time to go.
Perhaps the Watchers would deal with the body, or perhaps the police would find it first -- in which case there'd be some trouble. Duncan realized that he didn't care. The danger was over, Connor was avenged...and his ghostly presence was gone. That phantom assistance that had helped him win the battle, that had held him up through this hellish night, was utterly gone. Duncan felt hollow.
He walked carefully around the spill of blood, encountered the head, and irritably kicked it. It went skidding away into the darkness. He bitterly hoped rats would find and eat it.
Away, now. Down the stairs...
The stairwell seemed blurred, and it took him a moment to realize that the illusion was caused by tears. He blinked them away rapidly and started down the steps. The blurring was replaced by a sudden vision: Connor screaming in pain as the blazing gash in his throat widened.
God, how long before I stop seeing it?
Duncan took another step downward, biting his lip. The vision flickered persistently at the back of his mind. Connor screaming...
He flinched as a bizarre thought stabbed him. "How can a man scream when his throat has just been cut clean through?
Another step. The question nagged, unanswered. He felt about desperately for some logical explanation.
I only imagined I heard it. I wanted to scream myself.
But that ghastly sound had surprised him, as imagination couldn't. He'd never expected to hear Connor sound like that, and he'd heard the man cry in pain many times in their long centuries together.
I couldn't have imagined that! The sound was real.
But that brought back the same question. How can a man scream when his throat's been cut?
He took another step. Another memory flashed at him.
It was the morning after they'd defeated Slan Quince and Duncan had hauled Connor out of the river. They were back at Duncan's place, where Connor was changing into some borrowed dry clothes and grumbling at the poor fit; Duncan's clothes hung on Connor's lighter frame like a tent, and Duncan was twitting him about it.
All in a moment, Connor stopped joking and turned serious. "Duncan, there's something I need to tell you. Hell, I've got to tell this to somebody..."
"I'm here." Duncan sat down beside him, patient and attentive.
"It goes back a ways. Fifteen years ago, when I first met Brenda..." Connor paused to bite his lip.
Duncan rested a comforting hand on his shoulder, remembering how little time Connor and Brenda had enjoyed together.
Connor took a deep breath and went on. "That was when I killed the Kurgan."
"The Kurgan? It was you?!" Duncan hadn't heard that before. Of course Connor never boasted of his kills, but... "The Kurgan! He was a damned legend!"
"For good reason." Connor's eyes slid slightly out of alignment, as they often did when he grew introspective. "I got a Quickening that must have blacked out half of New York City. So fierce...it picked me up and threw me around like a leaf in a hurricane. I saw things, felt... I thought I'd burst from the power of it. Afterward, I thought it was the Prize itself that I'd won." He threw Duncan an aching look.
"...I understand." Of course. If he'd thought that was the Prize, then Connor would have thought he was the last, that Duncan was dead. "That's why you didn't call or write for so long."
Connor shivered and went on. "I gained...gifts. I could change my body, have children, age and die if I wanted to."
"Then why didn't--" Duncan stopped himself fast.
"We tried. It turned out that Brenda was infertile. That's when we started talking about adoption. But she didn't live long after..."
"I'm sorry, Connor."
"To this day I don't know how much of all that, what I thought I'd gained, was illusion -- or whether it faded with time. But there was another gift, one that didn't fade." He turned to look at Duncan, as if wondering how he would take this. "I got psychic ability. If I concentrate, I can read minds."
"You-- Then-- But why--" Duncan clamped down on the million questions he suddenly wanted to ask.
"It was hard to control. I'm still not sure I've mastered it, I think there's more... And it certainly doesn't make me all-knowing." Connor gave two syllables of a bitter laugh. "It never occurred to me to look for other Immortals, not until Kane got out of Nakano's cave and took someone's head -- and I saw the effects of the Quickening. That's when I knew I wasn't alone, it wasn't over, this wasn't the Prize, and..." For an instant a fierce tenderness blazed out of his eyes. "--and there was a good chance you were still alive."
"That phone call..." Duncan remembered. "I wondered why you sounded so strange."
"I had to deal with Kane, first. And then there was Alexandra, and John..."
"My new wife, and adopted son. One reason I adopted that boy is that I think he's a pre-Immortal."
"Damn! You were always better at sensing that than I was... But if you thought he was a pre-Immortal, why did you still think the Game was over?"
"I couldn't be sure, didn't know if this was a new chapter in our history, or what. Then I learned about Kane, and I knew."
"...Was it a relief, or...?"
"Yes," Connor sighed. "I really didn't like the idea of being the only one, being alone..." He shook himself. "But when I took Kane's head, I got something else. He'd taken Nakano's Quickening, got his power of illusion -- and now that's mine, too."
"Power of illusion?"
"I can cast illusions." Connor held out one hand, palm upward. A sudden flame danced on it for a few seconds, then vanished. "Like the psychic ability, it's hard to control -- takes practice. I've barely begun learning about it yet."
"That's incredible! I know another Immortal who can do something like that. Her name's Cassandra--"
"I know," Connor answered roughly. "I went to her for training."
"You--" Duncan gulped. How had Connor met Cassandra? Through his psychic ability?
"But never mind that; it's the psychic ability that matters now. Duncan, someone's after me."
"Yes, but I can't tell who. His mind is...like a shattered mirror. I can't get a grip on it. The only coherent thought I get is his malevolence. He specifically wants me, and he'll hurt anyone I care about to get at me. There've been odd accidents, people I knew getting killed in strange ways... I have reason to fear for John and Alexandra."
"Do you want me to help?"
"No, I want you safely distanced from me. You may not see or hear from me for awhile, Donncaidh."
"I understand," Duncan said again. He reached out a hand. After a moment's hesitation, Connor took it.
"For awhile, I thought it was Slan Quince." That inward-turned look was back on Connor's face. "But when I got close enough to see him, focus tightly on him, I knew that was wrong. Slan was vicious and cunning and willing to hurt his victim's loved ones, but not this intelligent-- and he didn't have that 'shattered mirror' feel. It wasn't him. Whoever it is, he's still out there."
"Ah, Connor, how can I help?"
"By keeping your head, little brother." Connor's hand closed tight on Duncan's.
...And Duncan could still remember that grip.
Another step downward. He was right. It was Kell who was after him. Kell, whom he couldn't defeat in his own body...
Duncan shivered again, remembering Connor's presence in his mind, in his body, raising him up and guiding his arm, striking the blow that finally -- finally! -- took Joseph Kell's vicious head. And now that presence was gone. Gone with Kell's Quickening.
Duncan paused to blink away tears again. He wondered why, now, he'd thought of that long-ago conversation.
The answer jumped at him.
Had Connor finally mastered it? Had he learned how to send thoughts as well as receive them?
Was that how I heard the scream?!
He leaned against the handrail, staggered by the thought.
He sent it to me! Along with his knowledge, his memories -- so sharp, so clear, I've never gotten that from a Quickening before... And his presence! Psychic power... That means I've got it now.
He closed his eyes, deliberately dropped into meditative state and tried -- carefully tried -- to feel the presence of people outside on the street.
Try something easier. Try someone I know...
He deliberately thought of Joe. Faithful friend as well as Watcher. Keeper of the best bar in town. Imagined Joe laughing, smiling, playing Blues...
It didn't happen. There was no sense of connection, nothing but images dredged up from memory.
Duncan took another step. This didn't make sense. He should have received the psychic power the way Connor had, with the Quickening.
Wait. He said the Kurgan's Quickening was so fierce...
No. Connor's Quickening hadn't picked him up, hadn't tossed him around like a hurricane, hadn't given him any illusions of...
Power of illusion...
Duncan stumbled and almost fell down the last few steps.
Power of illusion?! Oh my God!
Duncan shook his head hard, realized he was on the bottom step, and took off running. He had to get back to that rooftop, fast: had to be certain. The wild drive through the streets passed in a blur. He could never afterward remember parking the car, opening the door, running up the steps to the apartment and then the rooftop.
Connor's body was gone.
Of course. The Watchers...
There was no wreckage, no sign that a Quickening had taken place. There was no blood, and the rooftiles were dry.
He stared at the spot where he knew -- knew! -- he'd killed his best friend barely an hour ago, desperately trying to think of some other explanation.
The Watchers, their clean-up squad...
Then a rush back to his too-damned-temporary apartment, grabbing the phone with shaking hands, stabbing at the numbers, wondering what the hell he'd do if Joe didn't answer.
But the phone picked up and the familiar voice replied. "Mac?"
There wasn't time for amenities. "Joe, where's Connor's body?"
A maddeningly long pause. "At Sandberg and Sons Funeral Home. It's one of ours. I wanted to ask you about the funeral."
"I need to see him. Now."
"Mac, please. You don't want to do that."
"It looks pretty bad. You don't want the details."
"Yes I do! What happened to his body, Joe?"
He could hear Joe taking a deep breath before answering. "It was smashed almost beyond recognition in the fall from the roof. The face is the worst. Mac, you really don't want to see it."
Beyond recognition?! "Fall...from the roof..." For an instant Duncan thought he would faint. "Joe, he died on the rooftop. He didn't fall."
"Then it must have happened during the Quickening. You've seen that power darken the sky, lift a house..."
"I don't remember him falling." But he hadn't seen the body after the Quickening, only picked up the sword near his feet. He hadn't looked, had taken great care not to look. How could he know? "...Thanks, Joe," he remembered to say as he fumbled the phone back onto its cradle.
The resulting silence pressed on him. Duncan sagged on the couch and rested his face in his hands, mind whirling. There had been no wreckage, no blood on the roof, and the tiles were dry. The Watchers might have accounted for that... But would they have bothered to sweep up all the glass shards, wash and dry the roof, if they had found Connor's body on the ground below? It was possible, but...
There was another possibility, something so monstrous that Duncan couldn't believe it. No! No, Connor, you couldn't do that to me...
Connor had never again spoken of Alexandra and John. Were they dead, and nobody had mentioned it? Connor had gone into Sanctuary for ten years, but had he done that out of despair at Rachel's death or to distance himself -- and thereby his pursuer -- from his wife and son?
What would Connor not do to protect his family?
Torture a friend?
Almost blindly, Duncan reached for the phone again.
"Mac! Are you all right? --Oh, stupid question! Look should I come over there? Bring you something?"
Duncan winced, thinking of Joe's honest kindness and concern -- but then remembered that Joe had once kept secrets too, like the little fact that the murderous Horton was his brother-in-law. Family, again. "No, it's all right. Just answer me one more question. Are Connor's wife and adopted son still alive?"
"Just a minute..." Sounds of a computer muttering to itself. "Got it. Yes, they're alive and well -- and living off his considerable investments. Of course, they haven't heard from him in ten years... Oh dear God, somebody's going to have to break the news to them."
"I'll do it," Duncan heard himself say. "Leave it to me. Please, Joe."
"All right. Is there anything else I can do for you?"
"Not now. Later." Duncan hung up the phone and leaned back on the couch, grinding his teeth until his jaws hurt, blackly furious at Connor. You cold-hearted bastard! How could you do that to me?! ...And why?
The 'how' part he could dimly understand, now that he thought of it. In a city of this size, there was no problem stealing a suitable body from the morgue. Or maybe not stealing: just presenting the right papers from a medical school, wanting cadavers for autopsy-training. Hadn't Connor once mentioned funding a medical school? So take the body, dress it in the right clothes, smash it convincingly and behead it, then leave it on the ground below a certain rooftop...
The rest was harder to understand. Psychic power...power of illusion...'I could change my body'... But enough power to counterfeit a Quickening? Enough to transmit energy into another living Immortal's body? Enough to possess that body, walk in it, fight with it? And why?
More memory swelled to the surface. Connor's first death had come at the age of eighteen, Duncan's at twenty-eight. I was always physically stronger than he was...and he'd just spent the last ten years in Sanctuary, not moving, not exercising. He looked so haggard... He was in no physical shape to take Kell, much as he tried...and he didn't have time to build himself up, not after Kell revealed himself, forced his hand...
It made a horrible kind of sense. And it brought up another reason why Connor could have gone to Sanctuary; in those last ten years, had he kept enough awareness to practice his psychic powers, master them? It would take only a simple illusion to make those bastards miss with the needle, not give him the drugs... Had he used Sanctuary as Duncan had used monasteries, to maintain his body while he concentrated on practice, and practiced, until...
What was Connor capable of, after ten years of concentrated practice?
And had he truly not contacted his family in all those years?
It would be easy enough to find out: call Joe one more time and ask a few more questions. Did Alexandra actually divorce Connor, or were they just separated? Had she remarried, or seriously dated anyone else? Did she and her son show any unusual attention to psychic phenomena?
No, better not ask. Joe was worried enough about him already; questions like that would bring him high-tailing it over here with a bottle of good Scotch and a sympathetic ear. Duncan needed to be alone right now, to think all this through. Besides, he'd know the answers to those questions soon enough, when he went to visit Alexandra and John.
What he needed now was to know why Connor had tricked him like that, made such effort to put him through such hell. And there was only one person on Earth he could ask.
This is insane, a corner of his mind told him, as he got up and went to look for a candle. He found one in the kitchen, stuck it in a candle-holder and brought it back into the living room. He placed it on the coffee-table, lit it, turned out all the other lights and sat down on the couch. It took long moments to calm his breathing, concentrate on the flame, and slide into the meditative state. It was easy to visualize Connor's face, easy to send the message to that image.
Connor, Connor, you can't have gone far. I know you can hear me. If you could possess me then, you can hear me now. Connor, talk to me! Connor, Connor...
Long moments passed, and nothing happened. Duncan slowly began to accept the idea that he was fooling himself, blinded with grief, clutching at straws...
And then Connor was there. Not an image, just that same sense of Presence.
"Connor, damn you, talk to me!" Duncan shouted aloud.
God, I'm tired... that familiar voice answered in his mind.
"You should be, after what you did to me!"
"Sorry? You're sorry?! You made me think I'd killed you! How could you do that to me?!"
Duncan realized there were tears running down his face. The pain was breaking out of him with a vengeance. He could feel that Connor sensed it -- and flinched -- but he couldn't stop. "My friend, my teacher, my brother -- why did you put me through that? If you wanted to use my body, why didn't you just--fucking--ASK me?!"
That feeling of Presence gathered its strength, turned grim and resolute.
Donncaidh, what would you have thought if I had said I've become a sorcerer? That I have powers that frightened Cassandra? That I can not only sense thoughts but transmit them, even transmit power? Think, little brother: what would you have answered if I had asked to possess your mind and body, and take them into battle with Kell?
Duncan had to stop and think about that. The only form of Possession he'd known of, before this, was demonic. He thought of the Dark Quickening, and of Ahriman. He shuddered. "I...would have thought you were mad," he admitted. "And if I'd believed...I might have panicked."
Even if you hadn't, you would have been frightened, would have resisted. In combat, that might have meant an instant's hesitation -- and that would have gotten you killed.
Duncan could imagine it. If he'd been anything less than totally willing, in that last battle with Kell... "Why like this?" was all he could think to ask, remembering again that hideous image of Connor's head falling back.
This was something you could understand, accept without question. When you thought you'd taken my Quickening, you took willingly every impulse I gave you -- didn't resist, even unconsciously. You took it all, and so you won. You survived.
Duncan remembered the light blazing from Connor's throat -- and then took the next step, to the very next memory.
"I felt you...leap at me. Your mind, your memories, your knowledge..."
"And your presence! You were THERE, Connor!"
Duncan pressed his hands to his face, remembering that. He'd held himself open, heartbroken, wanting everything he could take of Connor, the last he would ever have of his oldest friend. He could feel Connor watching, very tired, achingly compassionate, and loving him. "So when were you going to tell me the truth?" Duncan whispered. "How long were you going to leave me suffering?"
I meant to call you as soon as I recovered my strength. A few hours. I didn't expect that you'd guess the truth, try to reach me like this, so soon. ...God, I'm tired. You don't know what that took out of me...
Duncan decided that he really didn't want to know, not yet. "When will I see you again?" he asked, distantly noticing that his hands were shaking.
When you come to see Alex and John. I'll be there, but I'll have a different name -- and I won't look the same.
"You said you could change your body..."
I can. I will. There was a sensation of a weary chuckle. You realize, this is a priceless opportunity to change identities. Even the Watchers won't think to look for me.
"Not for a few centuries, anyway." Duncan realized he was smiling, even as the tears dried on his cheeks. "Connor... I meant what I said on the rooftop."
I know, Donncaidh. And I love you, also. --Tired. Can't hold-- With that, the sense of Presence winked out like a dying spark.
Duncan sat staring at the candle for long moments, waiting for the riot of his feelings to subside. All this was too much, too soon. Connor dead. Connor alive. Connor a sorceror.
This is, if any of this was real, if he hadn't gone mad with grief, if he wasn't so tired and shaken that he was hallucinating. That would be all too easy. And I didn't think to ask where he was, Duncan realized. Didn't even ask for a phone number...
Yes, he'd tricked himself. He could so easily have said: "If you're too tired for psychic work, just pick up the phone and call me." Even an exhausted man could do that much. Just a phone call, and Connor's voice, would have proved his reality.
I didn't think of it because, somewhere, I knew it wasn't real...
"Too much," he groaned, and watched the candle flicker with his breath. No, he couldn't deal with hard reality right now. What he needed was a stiff drink, then a good twelve hours' sleep. He'd sort all this out in the morning.
He was reaching for the candle when the telephone rang.