Disclaimer: Connor MacLeod, Juan Ramirez, Highlander, and associated characters are the property of Thorn/EMI Panzer/Davis. The novel "Dracula" is written by Bram Stoker and publishing rights belong to Penguin Books. All other characters appearing in this story and the "A Kind Of Magic" storyline itself are the property of the author.
Author's Notes: I am a great fan of the original Highlander movie, but am not so enamoured with the movies that followed it. Even Endgame did not appeal to me as I am not overly familiar with the television show, although I have seen a few episodes and enjoy Adrian Paul's work as Duncan. Nonetheless, for the puposes of this fiction, I am using mainly the original movie as a reference point, and will draw on that alone for inspiration. I do realize that some of the Immortal rules have been changed in the series. For example, calling the sensation two immortals feel when they encounter one another The Quickening. That term has been reserved for the effect when an immortal is beheaded in the series. Once again, I'm going by the first film where Ramirez informs MacLeod that "the sensation you are feeling is The Quickening!"
I am treating this story as a kind of prequel to the first movie, and to the novel by Bram Stoker.
This story is dedicated with all love and admiration to my mother, of the Clan Fraser.
Chapter 1: Hold Fast
Author's Notes: I am a great fan of the original Highlander movie, but am not so enamoured with the movies that followed it. Even Endgame did not appeal to me as I am not overly familiar with the television show, although I have seen a few episodes and enjoy Adrian Paul's work as Duncan. Nonetheless, for the puposes of this fiction, I am using mainly the original movie as a reference point, and will draw on that alone for inspiration. I do realize that some of the Immortal rules have been changed in the series. For example, calling the sensation two immortals feel when they encounter one another The Quickening. That term has been reserved for the effect when an immortal is beheaded in the series. Once again, I'm going by the first film where Ramirez informs MacLeod that "the sensation you are feeling is The Quickening!"
I am treating this story as a kind of prequel to the first movie, and to the novel by Bram Stoker.
I am treating this story as a kind of prequel to the first movie, and to the novel by Bram Stoker.
This story is dedicated with all love and admiration to my mother, of the Clan Fraser.
June 3 - 1895
The man known to the world as Alfred Nicholson stood there, in an open field, and consulted his pocket watch. It was now fourteen minutes past eleven o'clock. Whoever it was that had secretly summoned him here was now almost a quarter of an hour late. In the distance, the burning lights of the great metropolis of London could be seen, even through the thickening fog that had enshrouded him. The full moon shone brightly even through the growing haze, and he reached into his pocket and removed the letter which had summoned him here from New York. He unfolded the letter and, to the accompanying musical lilt of the crickets in the field who appeared to be his only companionship, he read:
I know your secret. It is imperative that you meet me in the field owned by the Wick family, alongside Ford Court Road in Birmingham, on the outskirts of London, on June 3rd of this year at eleven o'clock in the evening. I will await you at the end of the footpath that intersects the field. I do realize that you now live in America, but it is my understanding that you have the means to travel abroad. Please, I beg you, do not refuse me. I can assure you that I mean you no harm, but do remember this...
I know your secret.
I know your secret. It is imperative that you meet me in the field owned by the Wick family, alongside Ford Court Road in Birmingham, on the outskirts of London, on June 3rd of this year at eleven o'clock in the evening. I will await you at the end of the footpath that intersects the field. I do realize that you now live in America, but it is my understanding that you have the means to travel abroad. Please, I beg you, do not refuse me. I can assure you that I mean you no harm, but do remember this...
I know your secret.
The envelope had no postmark on it and was hand-delivered to his doorstep. Nicholson folded the note in two and shoved it back in his pocket. The letter was not signed by the same hand that had written the letter, but was rather stamped with the wax seal of the Clan Fraser, and to the man known as Nicholson, that deserved some attention. The entire affair screamed of a trap, but for what purpose he could not yet attain. It was far too subtle to be any of his past foes. Nonetheless, the time for this supposed rendezvous had come and gone. It was now twenty-five minutes past the hour. Somewhere in the distance, a loon called out in the night. The lonely sound sent shivers down Nicholson's spine.
"Enough of this," Nicholson muttered to himself as he began his long trek back to town. From there he would catch a train back to London in the morning, where he could hopefully drum up some business so that this trip to London wouldn't be a complete waste of his time. It was at that moment that he felt it, that familiar sensation that always gripped him by his very spine, that set his every nerve ending on edge. He was no longer alone. He was among his own kind once again, and if all went as it normally did, only one of them would escape with their heads this night.
He froze as a figure stepped from the roiling fog clouds, invoking a rather ghostly appearance, on the other side of the field. Nicholson squinted as he tried to make out the face of the man who had finally deigned to show himself. The newcomer was dressed much like himself, although his overcoat was coal black, not grey like his own, and wore a long black scarf around his neck which billowed in the wind, obscuring the lower portion of his face.
"I'm sorry I'm late, but I had to make certain that you had come alone."
Nicholson was annoyed. He hated games almost as much as he hated to be kept waiting. "Who are you?"
The figure slowly removed the scarf that partially hid his face. Still, in the darkness, with the fog and mist clouding both their senses, Nicholson could not make out the facial features of the newcomer. The voice did seem familiar, but he could not place it.
"Don't you recognize me, MacLeod? I'm not sure if I should be offended or not."
The time for pretense was over. Whoever this was in front of him now, he knew that Alfred Nicholson was, in actuality, Connor MacLeod.
But who was this before him now? This was no immortal he had ever encountered before. And yet, he still could not shake the eerie feeling that he knew this person, but from where he could not say. The figure on the edge of the field threw his scarf to the ground and began unbuttoning his overcoat as he continued speaking.
"You still haven't guessed my identity, Connor MacLeod of The Clan MacLeod? Did the letter I sent you not give you so much as a clue? You certainly aren't the same young man I once knew." Connor took a step back as, from beneath his overcoat, the newcomer removed a menacing looking claidheamh mor as his Gaelic ancestors once called it, now referred to in English as a Claymore. A two handed sword that, when used properly in skilled hands, could be a devastating weapon. Connor couldn't help but admire the sword, so much like the one he had used in centuries past, the one that proudly proclaimed his surname ‘MacLeod' on the hilt just below the blade. It was the type of sword that he had first gone into battle with, the type of sword that he had trained under Ramirez with, and finally, the type of sword he had marked his beloved Heather's grave with... so very long ago.
Without another word, Connor released the drawstring that had held his coat closed. He had been in this situation many times, and had devised a simple drawstring method that allowed him to open his coat with one quick motion and allow him almost instantaneous access to his own weapon of choice. In a flash, the dragon-handled katana was in his hand, the nearly indestructible blade glinted still in the little moonlight that remained. His blade he had inherited from his oldest and best friend, Juan Sanchez Villa Lobos Ramirez, former chief metallurgist to King Charles The Fifth of Spain. Ramirez was his mentor, his teacher, and in many ways, his savior. The blade was far shorter than his opponent's claymore, but Ramirez has taught him well, and he had learned that with enough skill he could defeat anyone - even the dreaded Kurgan when his time came - with the sword he now held in his hand. He would give no ground to this man. Connor spun the weapon in his hands, testing it. As always, the balance was absolutely perfect and the weapon almost sang as it cleaved the air.
"I don't know anyone named Fraser. Don't be a coward," Connor called out, his tone fairly dripping with annoyance. "Tell me your true name."
Finally, the man stepped forward. As he did so, he was bathed in a pool of moonlight. Connor's eyes widened with a mixture of shock and amazement as he lay eyes upon the face of a man who was supposed to have died hundreds of years ago, a man he had known since before he had ever learned that immortals existed. He had hair as black as the night that surrounded him. Cut short as it was, it accentuated the lean angles of his face and the neatly trimmed beard that now framed his features, making him appear older than when Connor had last seen him, leant him an almost demonic appearance. His eyes were still dark brown, almost black themselves. The scar that ran along the right side of his face was barely visible, but there was no mistaking the identity of the stranger now.
"My name is Donald Fraser, of The Clan Fraser. I'm sure you remember my face, Connor. We haven't seen one another since 1531. Three hundred and sixty four years, MacLeod. Three and a half centuries and neither of us have aged much since that time."
Connor MacLeod had seen more than most men in his time on Earth. Born in Glen Finnen in the year 1518, he had lived many lifetimes and seen many wondrous miracles. Despite that fact, he almost fell to the ground, his legs suddenly becoming weak, as he watched his old acquaintance draw closer, claymore in hand. He was used to faces from the past coming back to haunt him, but here was a true ghost of a time long gone standing before him now.
"This cannot be..." Connor stammered, "the last time I saw you was... before the clan war. How...?"
"Indeed, MacLeod. Do you remember the first time we met?"
"Aye, I do remember. It was the highland games."
Without warning, and with a speed that nearly caught Connor off guard, Fraser leapt forward, slicing through the air with his sword. Connor blocked the thrust with his katana, and their swords sang out as the metal clashed upon metal. Blue sparks arced through the air between their swords. Now that they were close, Connor looked into the eyes of the young man he once knew. It was, without a doubt, the eyes he had looked into that fateful day at the highland games, and he cast his thoughts back to that time...
August 4 - 1531
"I dinna care about wrestling matches. This is stupid!" Connor was only 13 on that day, and yet he could remember it as if it were yesterday. It would be several years before he would experience the fatal blow that would make him immortal. Neither he nor Donald Fraser had changed all that much in the years since that time. Behind him, his mother was quick to put a reassuring hand on his shoulder and squeeze.
"Connor, you have been challenged by a Fraser. You know as well as I do that you carry the honor of the entire clan on your shoulders." At that moment, Connor's older cousin Dugal stepped from the crowd.
"Aye, Connor. You need not worry about that Fraser lad. I hear he's a full year younger than yourself. You'll show him not to mess about with the MacLeod's. Mind my words, lad. We MacLeod's have no use for The Frasers. Now you fight like I taught you, and we'll show those buggers just who's the better clan."
Connor managed to flash a confident smile, but inside his emotions betrayed him. He had no wish to fight. His mother and cousin led him through the crowd, but Connor wished he could simply disappear into the lush forests of Scotland and go riding on his horse. Summer was in full bloom, and everywhere there was a tapestry of greens, reds, and yellows. He had admitted it to himself, but he had yet to admit the fact to anyone else, he was not a fighter. He did not enjoy it, even if it was a Fraser he was fighting. The feud between the two clans was becoming even more agitated lately, and some said a clan war would not be far off. If that were the case, all the men of the clan would be called to fight, even young Connor.
All about him the throngs of Scotsmen celebrated their culture. Fighting in a ring was not an actual event of the games, but it was an unofficial pass time in which the men of the different clans tested their strength and worked out their aggression toward one another. Sometimes, Connor admitted to himself, events like the caber toss, tossing 4-stone weights, the hammer throw and the sheaf toss, were not enough for men who enjoyed brutal physical workouts. If Connor was to have his way, he would much rather listen to the pipe and drum bands or the fiddlers that played almost constantly during the games. Better yet, he would rather make friends with some of the young lasses that performed the Highland Dancing for the spectators. Instead, he was forced to fight with some boy he had never met, sometimes there was just no justice in the world.
As the crowd parted before them, Dugal whispered in Connor's ear. "Are ye scared, Connor?" Dugal always asked him that question in times of stress and Connor always gave the same answer.
"No, Cousin Dugal... I'm not."
"Good man yourself," Dugal replied as he pushed Connor toward the makeshift ring. Connor adjusted his kilt and stepped through the crowd. The faces in the crowd flashed by him as he approached. Some of the faces were familiar - his kinsmen - there to cheer him on to victory. Others were unfamiliar, and scowled at him. No doubt, these were members of other clans - probably the Fraser clan - there to goad him into defeat. Connor could not tell if it was the scowling faces or the fact that he carried the honor of the MacLeod clan on his shoulders, but he suddenly felt rather weak in the knees. From the opposite side of the ring, young Donald Fraser stepped forth, and Connor recoiled slightly in amazement. While Connor was never a large boy, Donald Fraser fairly towered over him. The young boy with the hair as black as the night and the large brown eyes smiled wickedly and beckoned to him. A deep scar ran down the right side of his face, making him appear even more threatening. To Connor it appeared that Donald was all arms and legs, there would be nowhere to hide in the ring from him. Conversely, Connor had not yet hit his growth spurt, and was far shorter, and of a smaller build than his opponent.
"Christ, I'm going to be killed," He mumbled to himself.
The closer Connor got to his foe, the sicker he felt at the idea of fighting him. There was no purpose to this, nothing to be gained other than a false sense of pride. He looked across the ring toward Donald. The young man fairly towered over him. The young boy sneered and charged across the ring at him. Connor, caught off guard by the sudden attack, tried to raise his arms to defend himself. Seconds later, he felt himself pushed to the floor of the ring, and Donald was on top of him, punching him in the stomach.
Connor expelled all the air from his lungs as punch after punch rained down on him. The sounds of the crowd began to assault him along with Donald's punches. A tidal wave of rambunctious cheers for Donald and shouts of encouragement for Connor filled his ears. A burning pain ravaged his chest. He would have to do something soon, or he would be completely beaten without ever lifting a finger in his own defense, much to the shame of his fellow kinsmen.
Suddenly, the beating stopped, and twelve-year-old Donald Fraser stepped away. When he spoke, he was completely out of breath. "Get up. I don't want to win like that. When I beat a MacLeod, I want to earn the victory."
Connor slowly rose to his feet. "Thank you."
"My entire clan is watching me, MacLeod, and they're watching you, too. I suggest you defend yourself."
Connor pulled himself together and managed to throw a punch, but he was weakened by the earlier attack, and Donald dodged easily. Connor tripped and fell to the ground. He shielded himself, ready for the pain that would come when Donald capitalized on his fall, but it never came. He looked up, and saw Donald's hand outstretched toward him. "Today just isn't your day, MacLeod."
Connor took his hand and rose to his feet. Much to his kinsmen's dismay, Donald refused to fight any longer, stating that his opponent was probably sick. Connor was actually thankful to the boy, and exited the ring area. His own kin scowled at him disapprovingly. It was a day that would take many years to live down, the day when a MacLeod lost a wrestling match to a Fraser a year younger than himself. Still, Connor was pleased with his opponent's actions. He had acted with honor, and he appreciated honorable people. If the clan war came to be, he hoped he would not have to fight against Donald Fraser, although he knew that such an outcome would be highly likely. Connor's thoughts faded back into the present...
Connor pushed with his blade against Donald's and forced him to take a step backward. As Donald retreated, Connor stepped back two paces himself and spun around, moonlight reflecting off the katana blade as he did so, attempting to attack from Donald's left flank. He was almost pleasantly surprised to find his attack expertly blocked by Donald's own sword. His old sparring partner had certainly learned the art of swordsmanship well.
"You always were a tough one to beat, Donald."
Donald smiled at the comment. "And you, Connor, were always rather short."
Connor pulled back once more and performed a thrust maneuver with his sword. With expert skill, Donald parried. Connor tried the same thrust once again, and once more Donald parried. As they battled, Connor watched as his old acquaintance began to smile broadly, as if this were yet another game taking place in the highlands of their beloved Scotland. Donald was truly enjoying the moment.
"What do you want, Donald? Do you want my head? You won't find me nearly as easy to beat this time."
Fraser actually laughed at that. "MacLeod, you always were overly serious. Can't you ever just relax and enjoy the competition?" As if fate meant to punctuate their comments, their blades clashed loudly. "The clan wars are over, Highlander. They've been over for centuries. You and I are all that's left of our kind."
Donald swung the claymore in a wide arc, Connor just managed to duck underneath it in time, and thought he felt the blade slice through a few hairs on his head. As Fraser followed through with the swing and attempted to regain his balance, Connor leapt forward through his foe's defenses and extended his leg in a vicious kick. His boot impacted with punishing force on Donald's chest and the younger Scotsman staggered backward. MacLeod was further impressed when he noticed that Donald never lost his grip on his claymore, and slashed the air wickedly as he stumbled in order to keep Connor from capitalizing on his moment of weakness. Donald may have been in peril temporarily, but the smile on his face continued to blossom and he began to chuckle in amusement.
"What are you laughing at, Donald? There have been others who didn't take me seriously... they lost their heads," Connor said as he jumped high in the air and landed within two feet of his old acquaintance, thrusting and slashing with the katana. At this point, Donald actually did break out in laughter.
"Highlander, I must admit, I've missed competing against the likes of you."
Connor stopped the fighting for a moment and stared at Donald quizzically. As their eyes met, Donald began laughing even harder. The laughter was infectious, and Connor also began to laugh.
"If I wanted to kill you, Connor, I would have done so already."
"You mean you would have tried, Donald. As you can see, I didn't go down so easily this time."
Donald gave his old friend a daring look and swung his claymore around once more. Connor blocked it with his katana. This time, the two resumed their sword fight as they fought back the laughter brought on by shared memories.
"You know, the only reason I ever challenged you was because my father put me up to it. I had nothing personal against you or your clan. My father was trying to force me to share his hatred of The MacLeod's, but I'm my own man and I always will be."
Connor barked out his words between guffaws. "It took me years to live that down, you rotten bastard. It was bad enough that you had legs as long as a bloody giraffe."
Fraser leapt backwards, out of range of Connor's devastatingly fast sword strikes. "Know this, Connor. I have no interest in the prize. I never have. I just thought it would be appropriate to introduce myself in the same manner as when we first met, fighting of course. It's good to see that you have not forgotten your heritage, Highlander. I hear you are a man of honor, and that is what I need right now."
As they battled, it became more and more obvious that Donald would soon become overwhelmed by raucous laughter. Connor was equally amused, and before long, the two men were laughing so hard they were on their knees in the middle of the field, swords thrust into the ground. "Honor? If I'm so damn honorable, why do I feel I owe you this?" Connor's gloved fist shot out with the speed of a cobra strike and connected fully with Donald's chin, causing him to spin and fall to the ground, where he lay there staring up at the sky, laughing and rubbing his jaw simultaneously.
"I suppose you do owe me that, my friend. I hope that punch means the books are finally balanced."
Connor also dropped to his back on the ground and together the two men stared at the moon. "Aye, Donald. It does. We're even."
"Good, because your punches hurt like hell."
For a time, the two simply lay there silently, remembering old times and laughing. Finally, the laughter died down and they were silent. It was Connor who spoke next.
"Donald, what happened to you? You disappeared after that day."
Donald Fraser propped himself up on his elbows. "I disappeared? I suppose I did, Connor. More than you know, in fact. I am, by trade, a hunter, or at least I was then. I was the greatest hunter in the clan. Even when we first met, my talents were recognized. That's how I got this." He traced his finger along the faint scar that ran the length of his right cheek from just below his eye to where his beard began. "From a cougar when I was only ten years old."
"In the next few years, I began to spend more and more time deep in the woods, hunting for food for the entire clan. While I was gone, our clan chieftain began listening to the advice of an outsider. A huge man that aggravated the differences between our peoples, a man I believe you know."
Connor nodded as he recalled that fateful day that changed him forever. "The Kurgan."
"Yes, that's him," Donald replied. "In 1536 the war broke out. I was not there, and I wish I had been. The Kurgan was a demon-spawned bastard and I would have stood up to him, even if the Macshimi refused to."
Connor smiled as he heard Donald use the term Macshimi, the traditional Gaelic term used to refer to the chieftain of The Fraser Clan. It literally meant "Son Of Simon" - meaning Simon Fraser, a great hero in the history of the clan.
"As I said, I was not there. I was deep in the woods for well over a year, hunting and trapping. It was my calling in life. When I returned, The Kurgan was gone. The war was over. I had heard of your death at The Kurgan's hands and in my own way I mourned you. You were an honorable man and your death was a waste. I never forgot that day we fought. I just couldn't beat you senseless without you putting up a proper fight. That's what animals do, and I'm no animal."
Connor chuckled. "It's funny, I thought the same thing about you when you stopped the fight. It was the honorable thing to do. It was embarrassing for me, but you could have continued to beat me. You wanted a fair fight, when you could have won easily. But... how did you...?" He paused as he searched for the right words.
"How did I become an immortal? Trust me, Connor, I would have rather it never happened, but it did happen, eleven years later in 1547. I was the chief hunter at the time, but I fell and injured my leg as I was attacked by a bear deep in the woods outside Keith, where I grew up. The beast took a bite out of my throat and it was over quickly. I awoke hours later, alone and very frightened. My wounds had healed. Imagine my surprise."
"I think I can relate to that."
"Yes. You of all people would be able to. I wandered for some time, until I ended up in India. While I was there, a man who turned out to be a Thuggee Assassin taught me how to fight and use a sword.
"A good job he did of it, too. There's still one thing you haven't told me."
Donald grunted. "Yes. I haven't told you why you're here."
Donald stopped talking at that point and a somber look crossed his otherwise handsome features. He simply stared up at the blazing moon that fought to cut through the clouds of fog. Connor let the silence continue as long as Donald wished it to. Something was suddenly weighing heavily on his mind.
"Come on, MacLeod. Let's get back to town. This ground is cold and damp, even for spring," Donald said as he sat up and leapt to his feet. Connor reached out and grabbed him by the wrist.
"You didn't call me from across the ocean to discuss old times. Why am I here?"
Worry lines creased Donald Fraser's brow as he took a deep breath, summoning the strength to say what needed to be said. "I'm getting married this summer, MacLeod, and I need your help... in more ways than one."
An hour later, the two immortals were sitting by the fire in The Horsehead Inn, where Donald was staying that evening. The owner of the Inn, one Mister George Wallace, appeared to be a good friend and confidante of Donald's. He was of Scottish ancestry, and claimed to be a distant relative of the great Scottish hero and revolutionary, William Wallace. Soon, they were warm by the fire and being served bowls of stew and sourdough bread smothered in butter and jam.
"You've been fairly quiet in the past hour, Donald. You say you need my help. How?"
Donald took a moment to swallow his food and began to tell his tale. "As I said earlier, I have no interest in the prize. Immortals waste their time in killing one another. I simply removed myself from the competition because I have better things to do with my life. In the years since Scotland, I have only taken the heads of four other immortals. I spend most of my time in the jungles of South America. I'm actually responsible for mapping some of the far corners of that continent. I keep a small apartment in London and return once a year or so. Most of our fellow immortals don't even know I exist. Last year, I was making my annual visit to England, and it was then that I met Moira, a school mistress, originally from Scotland. As I told you, we're to be married this summer."
Connor smiled broadly. "Congratulations!"
Donald's face was not so bright, and Connor instantly knew why. "That's one of the reasons I called you here, MacLeod. You are the only immortal I could ever trust. The only one who thinks like I do and believes like do - like a Scotsman. When I learned of what happened to you, I tried to keep track of you, and was successful to a degree. I learned that you eventually married, yourself. A woman named Heather... from Glencoe, I believe."
A wistful look passed across Connor's face as he recalled her beauty, her strength, and her sense of humor. She loved him and he loved her, so much so that his heart was nearly shattered forever as she died in his arms, she an old lady by that point, and he still a young man.
"Heather..." he whispered her name reverently. "I called her my blossom."
"You loved her deeply. I can tell."
Loved her? What an understatement, Connor thought to himself. Heather was his heart and soul. She loved him, and Connor had felt that half of him died with her. "Words... don't quite describe what I felt... what I feel for her."
Donald nodded in complete understanding. "What you feel for her, I feel for Moira. She has captured me heart, MacLeod. Still, I worry about our future. I can't give her any children. Should I tell her? I won't grow old and she will. What it that like?"
Connor thought of it for a moment. Seeing his precious Heather grow weaker and weaker with age while he remained strong and vital. Only one word could accurately describe it. "Torture. It's a special kind of torture that only beings like us can experience. Heed my words, Donald. I remember an old friend of mine, the man who took me under his wing and taught me about life - his name was Ramirez - he urged me to leave Heather. It was for my own good. I didn't listen, but there were times that I almost wish I had. My life with Heather was bliss, but watching her die... almost killed me in a way a blade never could. We both wanted children. Perhaps, if I had left her, she would have found love with another man, one who could give her love and children. I was selfish, I couldn't live without her. If you truly love this girl, you will have to be strong, stronger than you've ever been in the past, stronger than I was." Connor recalled the events of his own past, of Ramirez, telling him of his undying love for his third wife, the Japanese Princess Shakiko. Perhaps the greatest curse for an immortal was the fact that they still loved, perhaps even more strongly than other men and women, and it broke their hearts to see their mortal mates grow old and die.
"You'll meet her tomorrow," Donald said, breaking Connor out of his reverie.
"Yes, Connor. I didn't bring you here just for advice. You and I, we are the last remnants of a Scottish heritage that exists now only in history books. I have great respect for you and your accomplishments, MacLeod. I was hoping that you would be my best man. Wouldn't our fathers spin in their graves if they could see us talking like this now? "
Connor laughed aloud and reached out to shake Donald's hand. An immortal is always shadowed by the specter of death, no matter where he may go. It would be a pleasant change to assist in a wedding between two lovers. "I think your father would be proud of you, Donald. I know I am."
"As I am of you, MacLeod." They shook hands, the last surviving members of that particular clan war had put the feud to rest at long last. It was then that Connor caught a glimpse of something else in Donald's eyes. Concern perhaps?
"What is it? What haven't you told me?"
Donald paused and exhaled loudly. There was indeed something else bothering him. "I'm not sure what it is. A while ago, two weeks I suppose, I sensed something when I was in the city with Moira. It made me sick to my stomach. It was something like what we feel when we encounter another immortal, the quickening, but this was different. I felt dread. I felt cold. It was as if the devil himself were reaching into my soul and touching my beating heart. It passed within a few minutes. Ever since then, I have felt as if I am being watched. I'm a hunter, MacLeod, I know how to spot someone who is following me, and how to track down prey, but I have detected nothing. I feel as though the grim reaper himself is nipping at my heels, and I can't explain it. I need your help to find out just what it is that I have uncovered.
"Don't worry," Connor told him. "You must do as the Clan MacLeod motto says, 'Hold Fast'. Whatever it is, we can get to the bottom of it together, for old times sake."
Donald nodded and set his chin in determination. "And as the Clan Fraser motto says, 'Je suis prest'... 'I am ready', or at least I will be with your help.
Connor rose to his feet and poured himself another bowl of stew. He searched his friend's eyes for some time. He knew that it would take something very dark to frighten a man who spends most of his time in a wild and untamed jungle. Suddenly, a cold wind blew the windows on the other side of the room wide open and the curtains billowed in the wind. Lesser educated individuals would blame a ghost, and even Connor MacLeod felt yet another chill shoot up his spine. Was it an omen of some sort? To him it didn't matter either way.
"If it's my help you need, Fraser, it's my help you'll get."
In the city proper, yet another man who had seen countless ages pass him by was considering the nature of the quickening, although he had no idea what it was truly called by those who experienced it. He stood upon the roof of the a non-descript building overlooking Governor's Row in Whitechapel and despite the lateness of the hour he cast his eyes about for signs of life. There was not even a hansom cab in sight. Anyone with any sense had long since locked their doors and retired for the evening. Somewhere in the distance, perhaps across the common, the Westminster chimes sounded midnight. The foggy streets of east-end London after dark were not a place for the timid.
The grimy streets, tunnels, warrens, and back-alleys of London formed a complex maze that, to the uninitiated, could just as easily be a deadly jungle of brick and mortar where the lowest form of human being could be lying in wait - somewhere in the shadows just out of sight - waiting for the innocent stranger to come their way. A brief flash of movement, a few seconds of struggle, and a life could be lost, all for a purse containing a few pound notes.
Piano music drifted into the air through the open windows of one of the many pubs in the area. Within a few hours, the working class men would pour out of the building, having spent what little money they had on ale, and the working girls would appear on the street corners to court them while freak shows and entertainers would set up to entertain them. Above the masses an immortal of another kind watched it all happen with fascination. In all the world there had never been a city like London, and he truly marveled at its complex and often ugly nature.
He had been alive for so long, he sometimes almost forgot his true name. He wrapped his cloak about him as he eyed a small black cat cross the street below. A black cat. Wasn't that an omen of bad luck? He thought he had heard that somewhere long ago. Many have thought of him over the years as the ultimate omen of evil tidings.
Born in Sighisoara in the year 1431 as Vlad Tepes III, future ruler of Wallachia, he had long ago given up his title and his mortality. Now he adopted the title he had been given when he was made a member of the Holy Order Of The Dragon to defend his country against The Turks... Vlad Dracula. And instead of being a member of a royal family, he now bore a different title - The Lord Of The Undead. He had spent the last several nights searching for his prey, to try and recapture what it was that had captured his attention so completely, but it was not there this evening. He turned and broke into a run across the rooftop. Strangely enough, his shadow seemed to have a life of it's own, and moved of it's own accord, following him at a leisurely pace. As he neared the edge, he leapt into the nothingness and wrapped his cloak around him. As he did so, his very visage changed from that of a handsome man in his thirties to a gruesome bat-like creature, his skin changed from a taut and healthy pink to a leathery grey. As he spread his arms, the cape had disappeared and leathery, bat-like wings could be seen growing underneath. He was, for all intents and purposes, more animal than man. A flock of bats joined him as he flew through the air, high above the rash of humanity.
Within moments, he had traveled across half of the city and alighted on yet another rooftop not far from The Carfax District. This building was one he actually owned, one of three in the city. He intended for there to be many more, at least ten, especially in the area of Carfax. As he climbed in the third storey window, his skin reverted once more from leathery to a normal, human appearance. There were no furnishings on this floor, but the two floors beneath him were decorated with the finest chairs and beds of the period. Neither he nor the building's one other occupant ever used them. As he descended the staircase, there was no sign of life in the building. It was as if it were frozen in time, as if no one had lived there. A thick sheet of dust covered everything inside. He reached the ground floor and opened a door that led into even more darkness as he was assaulted by a musty aroma. He had no need of a lamp, for the darkness was his ally and he could see without trouble. He quickly descended the stairs to the crudely dug cellar, where she awaited him.
"You are back early, My Lord."
He removed his cape and cast it to the floor, which was covered in the dirt of his home land of Wallachia. She was sitting with legs crossed on the earthen floor, her voluptuous form barely covered by a silk wrap, revealing skin as white as the pure driven snow - a result of hardly ever leaving the decrepit basement area. One lone candle burned beside her. He was surprised, she normally liked to keep the place perfectly dark. He admired her form as she opened her seductive crystal blue eyes to look at him, her face framed by perfectly kept tresses of black curly hair.
He was a dream come true to her. With shoulder length hair the color of the night, a long, but not ugly nose, full lips that pulled back into a feral smile when he lay eyes upon her, a strong chin, a well-toned, perfectly fit body, and an animal magnetism unlike anything else she had ever encountered, he was her ideal lover. She thought of him as every woman's ideal lover, and she was fully prepared to share him with every woman on Earth if need be, as long as she got what she wanted from him.
"You are usually just getting started by this hour. I take it things have not gone well?"
He moved over to her and smiled, revealing perfectly white teeth. He dropped to one knee by her side and blew the candle out. His shadow followed him across the chamber seconds later. They were now in complete darkness. Somewhere in the inky blackness, something moved - perhaps a rodent or a spider. It was of no matter to the duo. It was he who controlled the lower creatures of the night. Lord Dracula sat beside her and slowly wrapped his arms around her, caressing her body freely and somewhat crudely.
"My prey is not out this evening. I can tell these things. I can feel his presence somehow. It grips me when he is near, there is something about him... a power that I have never felt before. Alas, I have grown bored of waiting."
She leaned back against him, guiding his hands down over her hips where she wanted them to go. She was practically purring with contentment at this point. "And his woman? Have you seen her?"
"Yes. She is staying with a friend for the evening. He is not there, and I cannot find him."
She moaned as he began pleasuring her. "And you still... want her?"
"I admit, Hecate my sweet, that I was captured by her from the very moment I saw her. Underneath her veil of proper Scottish schoolmistress turned English socialite, there is a conquest like no other. But I'm not sure who intrigues me more, the woman, or the man she is with. The power within his body, it is a palpable thing. I can almost see the aura about him."
"MMMMMM.... it is a power you may be able to take from him and use for your own purposes." She was becoming short of breath now as she wriggled and squirmed underneath his ministrations. Hecate was his lover and his companion, but she was also a witch with powers unlike any other. She was mortal, and must remain mortal in order to master her talents. Were she undead, as he was, her powers would be of a different kind, and would be of no use to him. He had found her when she was only ten years old, homeless on the streets of Athens. He had sensed something different about her almost immediately, a latent affinity for black magic. And here she was, about to start selling herself on the streets at that tender age. He rescued her from her first customer, and took her under his wing, giving her access to all the ancient incantations and books he kept in his extensive library. She was convinced that he was Satan himself, and he never made any attempt to correct that assumption. She worshiped him and assisted him in gaining his darkest desires. Now, at the age of twenty-one, she was a full grown woman, and his constant partner.
As she gave in to her own climax, he let his own thoughts drift once again to the man whom he had encountered mere days ago. It was during the day, and he was on his way to perform some business relating to his purchase of yet more real estate in London, when a severe pain gripped his very being and nearly doubled him over with pain. He hadn't felt sick in centuries. He looked about for the cause of this malady, and that was when he saw the Scotsman, dressed in a ceremonial kilt sporting the red and black tartan he recognized as belonging to The Fraser Clan. He was fascinated by the aura that surrounded this man, and resolved to find out more. He soon forgot himself, however, when she caught his eye. A woman of such beauty, her supple body restrained by a corset and yet he could tell she was aching to break free. He resolved then and there that he must have her.
As Hecate relaxed in his arms, spent for the moment, he picked her up and moved across the floor to the coffin that lay there. To truly survive, all he needed was to sleep in the dirt of his home land, but the floor was hard and rocky, so in a twist of irony, he slept in the very coffin his own boyars had buried him in at the island monastery of Snagov, back in the year 1476. He closed his eyes and concentrated as Hecate curled up in his arms. As he had done every night for the past week, he would attempt to enter the woman's dreams. He was in mental contact with her, almost a form of telepathy, seducing her in her dreams. With every passing evening she gave herself to him more and more, even if it was just a dream. As he felt her consciousness begin to entwine with his own, he learned her name... Moira.
Chapter 2: Heart, Faith, and Steel
Moira Chisholm groaned and rolled over in her bed as she felt him once again envelop her very soul with a kind of warmth she had never before experienced. As she slept, the young Scottish beauty licked her lips seductively and threw her head back on the pillow. Whoever he was, this man she had dreamt of so many times during the past few nights, he was giving her the most erotic dreams she had ever experienced. As always, he came to her dressed in some form of armor that she did not fully recognize. The armor was of a crimson red color, and composed of a metal that gave it an almost corrugated look. In her dream she appeared much as she did in the waking world - long red tresses of hair falling about her shoulders, framing a seductive, slender face, blue-green eyes, and a perfectly shaped nose just above full, red lips. In her dream she gazed down at her own body and noticed that she was not wearing the clothing she might customarily wear in her day to day life, but was instead clad in a silken dress, colored the same fiery red as her hair, that was nearly see though. And yet, she did not make any effort to cover her body with her hands. She found it nearly impossible to be modest in the presence of her fierce dream warrior.
He removed the helmet he wore and she gazed upon his handsome features. The long black hair, which she just noticed for the first time as having some light brown highlights to it, the piercing dark eyes that seemed to look straight into her very essence, the slightly long nose and the thin lips that she had felt caress her entire body in past nights was revealed to him.
Every morning for the past few days she would awaken, fully rested and yet bathed in sweat as if she had been exerting herself all night, and she would grasp at the quickly fading memories of the dreams, but it was akin to grasping a cloud, and the memories faded until the next night. All that remained was the image of the handsome warrior in the crimson colored armor and she wondered why she was dreaming thus. At times, she felt horrible and wicked, she was to marry the handsome Scotsman who had whisked her off of her feet only a few months ago. He, too, had an intense sexuality about him, borne of living a hard life as a cartographer and tracker in the jungles of South America. In times past, she had found herself dreaming of him, and their wedding night when they made love for the first time. Now, she was dreaming of this warrior prince whom she had never met and because of the intensity of these dreams, she felt as if she were cheating on him. Breaking Donald’s heart was something she thought she could never do, but she was glad she didn’t have to choose between the true love of her life and this man of her dreams, she had no idea who she would end up picking. Perhaps she was having these dreams because she was getting married in a few short weeks, and she would never know the touch of another man. Yes, that must be it. She let the powerful nature of her dream-like state take full control.
Even now, in her dreams, all memory of the man she loved in the waking world was pushed aside as he removed his armor piece by piece and she crawled toward him across the sprawling four poster bed on her hands and knees, a sultry leer on her face. It was as if she had no control over her body whatsoever, and while this frightened her, it also excited her, because the warrior before her now had complete control, and she trusted him implicitly for some strange reason. Now, he was completely nude before her, standing at the edge of the bed and eyeing her hungrily.
She reached out and caressed his strong, hairless, chest, revealing her ample cleavage as she leaned over to touch him. With a sudden and somewhat rough flash of movement, he reached out and grasped her by the wrist, causing her to gasp in surprise, and then laugh playfully as he moved her hand across his body and simultaneously moved closer to her. With his strong hand guiding her own, she ran her hand all across his chest, feeling his pectoral muscles flex at her touch. Then she moved up and touched his throat and down again across his strong shoulders, all the while gazing deep into the deep pools in his hypnotic eyes. Finally, he guided her hand downward, past his waistline, and she marveled as she felt the hardness between his legs. She giggled like a wicked schoolgirl as she squeezed him there, and he pulled her close. She arched her back, pushing herself against him. Now, his hands were softly caressing her shoulders, his breath on her neck as he leaned in and inhaled her scent. Something grasped at her memory, something about her neck, and how vulnerable it was, but she quickly dismissed it as his hands moved ever downward, kneading her buttocks and then gliding back up to her waist. She glanced downward again, and suddenly found that she was fully nude. Now their flesh pressed together, and she felt a brief cold wave pass across her body. He was virtually freezing to the touch, but he soon warmed as he grew nearer to her own body.
Her warrior lover began to lightly kiss along her neck as he pulled her nude form closer to him, so that their bodies were now seemingly as one. She felt him kiss and nibble his way along her neck, up to her earlobes and along her jaw line. She gasped as he ran his tongue downward and onto her full round breasts, darting into her cleavage. Together, they fell backward onto the bed. She closed her eyes and allowed him to do as he wished to her, and an animalistic growl escaped her throat. She felt him on her body, seemingly everywhere at once. It seemed as though there were a hundred mouths pleasuring her body as he entered her, making her bite her lip and moan. The need that knifed through her entire body only intensified as she felt him inside her. Before long, they had found an incredibly satisfying rhythm, and she knew he would be able to keep this up for hours. Tiny lights exploded inside her head as wave after wave of pleasure washed over her as the endless currents in the ocean might do so. As she bucked and writhed underneath his body, she found she could only utter one phrase.
“The blood is the life...”
The pleasure seemed endless for Moira. She gave herself over completely to the orgasmic sensations that now ruled her body and let her basest instincts take over. Above her, she felt him moving in perfect time with her undulating body and she forced her eyes open to look at him. He was magnificent. He was the epitome of the perfectly dark, completely nameless, lover. He looked down at her, his eyes somewhat glassy with his own pleasure and his lips pulled back into a cruel sneer.
He continued on mercilessly, thrusting into her like a battering ram. Still, she held him tight by the shoulders, digging her nails into his back and jerking uncontrollably. He had grasped her tightly by her full hips and had increased his pace even more. The passage of time lost all meaning as she felt yet another climax grip her body and refuse to let go. She gazed up at him once more, trying to say... something, but her voice failed her as it always did. The only recognizable words that she could utter were always the same.
“The blood is the life...”
As she watched him, entranced by his pure masculine beauty, her brow creased as she noticed his lips pull back into a full blown sneer. As he did so, she watched in horror as two fangs began to appear from above his gum line. The appearance of these new canine-like fangs caused her to forget the pleasure he had given her, and she cast about looking for a way to end this nightmare. As she looked around, she realized that she was no longer in her bedroom, surrounded by incense and candles and being made love to by a warrior, but instead in a tomb of some sort, perhaps even a grave. Now, as the denouement was at hand, she saw him for what he truly was. The fangs were quite long by now, the eyes blood red. He was centuries old, a decrepit old man with thinning white hair and disgusting grey skin. His breath was rank and the palms of his hands covered in a hair so thick that it could almost be animal fur. All at once she knew that this was his true self. At the very second that she realized this, he opened his mouth wide and clamped his teeth down on the tender skin of her neck. As he did so, she yelped in pain and jumped up in bed, now fully awake. She looked around her bed chamber, but saw nothing out of the ordinary.
The sun had risen, but it seemed as if she had just gone to bed. Her vision was somewhat blurred from sleep, and she thought she saw the shadow of a man move across the room, a shadow cast by an unseen source. When she opened her eyes again, there was nothing. She clutched at her neck as she remembered the final moments of her dream, there was nothing, no puncture mark of any kind, not even a blemish. As she fought to remember the dream she had been having, it slipped away. The harder she tried to remember it, the more she forgot. Within minutes, she had forgotten it entirely, and she could only remember a feeling of great physical pleasure. She wiped the sweat from her brow and got out of bed, only to find that her legs were not at all strong beneath her. Was she getting sick? She hoped that was not the case. Her beloved Donald would be arriving for breakfast with the friend she had mentioned, Connor MacLeod. Donald had traveled to the country for the night to summon him, and she hoped that his old friend would join them in celebrating their love. Moira shook her head as she once more tried to recall the dream. No, she could not. It was lost to her. She could only hope that she would arise so well rested and satisfied every morning when she was married.
Donald Fraser and Connor MacLeod entered the home of Moira’s friend and maid of honor, one Miss Amanda Oglivie, in London. Being of a wealthy Scottish family, Amanda owned the entire building, and rented the one next to it out to travelers. It was decorated with many comfortable settees and chairs, the blue couch in the main sitting room fairly covered with plush pillows and lacy doilies, as befitting the feminine tastes of the landlord.
The two men had spent the remainder of the evening talking of old times and childhood mischief, and before they knew it, they had talked the evening away and the sun was rising. They had caught the first train at Birmingham Station, bound for the city, with time to spare. Due to the long night, the gentle rocking motion of the train, and the fact that they had a car all to themselves, both Donald and Connor fell into a deep sleep in their seats and did not awaken until the conductor shouted across the platform that they had arrived. Connor, for one, slept better than he had expected to, dreaming often of his beloved wife Heather. The brief discussion the two men had engaged in last night over loving a mortal woman had dredged up feelings he hadn’t experienced in many a year. As they hailed a carriage to take them to Amanda’s home, he felt a wave of melancholy overtake him. Heather’s birthday was nearing, and as always he would light a candle in her memory. Still, he wanted nothing more at that moment than to hold her in his arms once more. To make love to her down by the shores of the loch, and to hear her sweet laugh that always removed the weight from his heart. Alas, it was not to be. Heather existed only in his heart now, and the sugary sweet pleasure that her memory brought was always accompanied by a dull ache in his heart. Before this wedding was to take place, he needed to talk to Donald at length about the pain an immortal feels when he takes a mortal mate. All at once, his spirits lightened as he entered the Oglivie home, which was bright and cheerful. When the owner, Amanda, came running down the stairs to greet them. She had an exuberant personality that radiated from her smile. Her hair was cut to shoulder length, of a reddish-blonde color, and her face could have been taken from that of an angel portrayed in a stain glass window. He couldn’t help but smile at her pleasant nature.
“Donald! You’ve brought your friend,” She exclaimed happily as she hugged him tightly.
Donald hugged her tightly and smiled, and then turned to face Connor. “Miss Amanda Oglivie, may I introduce Connor MacLeod of The Clan MacLeod. He and I....” He paused as he smiled wickedly at MacLeod. “He and I have a lot of history between us. I have asked him to be my best man, and he has agreed.”
Amanda nearly jumped up in the air with excitement and turned to face Connor. He found her innocent and friendly nature disarming and his smile broadened as he took her hand and kissed the back of it gallantly. “A pleasure to meet you, Miss Oglivie. Any friend of Donald’s is a friend of mine.”
Amanda bowed her head slightly, as if she were embarrassed, and her cheeks flushed slightly. “Ohhhhh, Donald. You didn’t tell me your friend was so handsome... and charming as well.”
Donald cast his jacket and the leather garment bag which concealed both his own and Connor’s swords in the coat closet before turning to take Connor’s own overcoat and reply to her generous comments. “I wanted to give you the pleasure of finding out yourself, my dear. Perhaps you can persuade Connor to make this a double-wedding?” He teased. In response, her cheeks flushed to an even deeper color of scarlet and she jabbed him in the arm playfully.
“You devil! You embarrass me! I have a good mind to tell your fiancee.”
“Ah yes, when do I get to meet the future Mrs. Fraser?” Connor interjected
“I was hoping she would be down by now.” Amanda replied. “I’ll go to her room and fetch her for you. I wouldn’t want to keep two such handsome men waiting for long.”
Amanda giggled and darted up the stairs as fast as her flowing skirt would allow her. As she did so, Connor and Donald stepped into the sitting room. Connor gazed around the room, taking it in. It was impeccably decorated and well kept. Three silver plated trays on a circular table in the corner contained bacon, eggs, and toast. Connor was famished, and talked as he piled the food on his plate.
“She seems to be as taken with you as your fiancee,” Connor said through a mouthful of eggs.
Donald snickered as he stepped up to the table beside his old acquaintance and surveyed the food. “Amanda is young and naive. She thinks I’m some kind of wild adventurer who travels to the darkest corners of the Earth and comes out alive. I think she was equally taken with you.”
“As you said, she’s naive. I admit she is a very sweet girl, much like Heather was. There’s no way anything could come of that, Donald. It hurts far too much to open my heart to anything like that anymore. We need to discuss your situation some more.”
Donald had filled his plate and moved to a chair by the window, gazing out at the street beyond, which was becoming busier by the moment. Soon, the streets would be teeming with life. “So now you would try to dissuade me from marrying, MacLeod? I thought you were happy for me.”
Connor moved over to the window with Donald and took another fork-full of eggs and some toast. “I don’t want to talk you out of it, Donald. I know from experience that such a task would be impossible if you truly love her. As I told you last night, my own mentor, Ramirez, he tried to get me to leave Heather. I didn’t listen. There was, and still is, no other man I respect and admire more than Ramirez. If he couldn’t get me to listen, there’s no way I can make you listen to me. But there are some things we need to discuss. You love this woman, but someone needs to prepare you for what will happen as time takes it’s toll. Imagine the worst pain you have ever felt, Donald. Whatever it is, the pain of losing her will be even worse... a thousand times worse. And it’s not the kind of pain that’s over in a minute, it’s the slow agony of seeing her grow older and weaker as the years pass, and knowing that she will die while you will live.”
“What can I do, Connor? Stop loving her?”
“No. I know you can’t do that. You just have to make sure that you can be as prepared as possible for dealing with the pain that will follow. It’s a dull ache that will be heavy on your heart for the rest of your time on Earth. Like Ramirez, I was shattered when my wife died.”
“MacLeod? Nothing can be said to change my mind. I appreciate what you’re doing. It’s what I asked you to, to prepare me for the trials that lie ahead. But here is the one thing that is certain. It’s worth it. I love her.”
Connor cast his gaze out the window at the now busy street. “I know.”
At that moment, Amanda entered the room once more, followed by another woman, who Connor knew must be Moira. He shook his head slightly in appreciation for her beauty. Now he knew nothing he could say to Donald would change his mind. Like Amanda, she was a strikingly beautiful woman, but unlike Amanda, she wore an aura of sensuality about her. Somewhere in her history, Moira had lost the exuberance and innocence of her friend and replaced it with a worldliness, a tough exterior that told everyone she was not to be trifled with. She had known pain somewhere in her past, of that he was certain. Despite her worldly exterior, she beamed as she caught sight of her future husband.
“Donald, my love,” She cried out with glee.
“Aye, lass. Did you miss me?”
“Only as much as I would miss breathing,” She replied as they embraced. Amanda moved over to Connor and entwined her arm in his, the both of them watching the lovers.
“We had better marry these two soon. I don’t think they can last much longer,” She giggled. Connor chuckled at her remark. After a lingering kiss, Donald’s future bride eyed Connor.
“Donald, we’re being rude. You haven’t introduced me to your friend.” Fraser started to introduce Connor, but Moira stepped closer and extended her hand. “Donald’s passion causes him to forget his manners. Are you the often discussed Connor MacLeod?”
MacLeod’s eyes widened with surprise. “I am, but I didn’t know I was the topic of conversation.”
“Donald has spoken of you many times, Mister MacLeod...”
“Please, call me Connor.”
She gave him a completely genuine smile. “And you may call me Moira. Yes, Donald has spoken of your several times. It appears he has great respect for you and when he mentions you, there is almost a touch of awe in his voice. Tell me, what is it you do for a living?”
Connor smiled enigmatically. “A bit of this and a bit of that. Lots of different things, really.”
“Oh, a man of mystery. I like that,” Amanda interjected, squeezing his arm.
They all shared a laugh at her comment before Moira continued speaking. “I’m glad you’re here, Connor. I know my fiancee has lived a very solitary life, spending most of his time deep in the jungles and all. When we started talking about getting married, I asked him who he would want as a best man. His answer was almost immediate. He said he wanted you, and no other. Any friend of Donald’s will be treated as family in my presence. Welcome, Connor.”
MacLeod bowed slightly to her. “The honor is mine.”
Moira turned to Donald and whispered in his ear conspiratorially, all the while looking at Connor. Donald nodded his head and smiled as he listened. When she was finished, Donald clapped his hands together. “Of course! I almost forgot! Connor, I have something for you. You’re going to have to wear it this afternoon.” He walked over to the closet and removed a large box, handing it to MacLeod.
“What is it?”
“Open it and find out,” Moira responded.
He eyed them suspiciously as he slipped the box open and began to move aside the delicate paper lined the box. As he did so, his gaze fell upon a fabric he had not seen in many years. He reached in and pulled it out, holding it up for them all to see. It was an old fashioned Scottish kilt, adorned with the tartan of The MacLeod Clan, and not the traditional tartan, but the altered version his father had created in defiance of his son’s banishment from the clan and the village of Glen Finnen. The only other kilt in existence with that particular tartan was his own, and that he had safely stored away in his hidden war room in New York.
“I... don’t understand.”
Fraser laughed as he reached into the closet and produced another box, from which he produced another kilt, this one sporting the ancient red and black hunting version of The Fraser tartan.
“You’re going to need that where we’re going.” They all laughed as if they were in on some joke of which Connor was unaware.
“Starting this evening, you and I are going back to our roots, MacLeod. For one night only, we’re going home.”
Vlad Dracula lay in his coffin, his eyes wide open as he pondered the mysteries of life... and the mysteries of death. In the library on the main floor, Hecate was even now perusing the many books and tomes he had gathered over the years, searching for mention of powerful beings such as the man he had encountered days ago. Surely, he surmised, if one such man existed, others would also exist. Perhaps they formed a coven of some sort. He knew that if this were true, they would have left an imprint on the sands of time, and it would be recorded somewhere. If it was as he suspected, and the Scotsman was not alone, Hecate would find a reference either in the history books or in one of the many books of black magic he had gathered.
As he rested, he wondered if he might venture out once more and lay eyes upon the Scotsman’s woman... Moira. Many believed that The Nosferatu could not venture out during the day, but this was an error. In fact, he could indeed go outside during the day as any normal man, but his powers were very weak, and he did not enjoy being vulnerable. Still, it might be worth it to lay eyes upon Moira once more. He recalled with great pleasure how she had given herself to him the previous night. She assumed it was only a dream, but he knew better. It was as real a lovemaking as if they were in the same room together. She had been as glorious a lover as he knew she could be. She had borne his mighty strength and sexual prowess with the great skill, giving herself to him completely. He licked his blood red lips as a lusty gleam entered his eyes. He had ordered Hecate to lay out his clothes for the evening - a fashionable blue and black silk shirt, black dress pants, a dark blue overcoat and a top hat. Tonight, with one felled swoop, he may be able to take the power of the Scotsman and the body of his woman, fulfilling his never ending lust for both sex and power.
He smiled, but the smile was without any genuine good tidings. He was merely pleased with himself. In his own way, he wished his Boyars were alive to see him now, but they as dust now, dead for centuries. Only his hatred and only his needs - for both revenge on humanity and the satiation of his own pleasure - were strong enough to survive the grave. He had given them everything. He gave them order. He gave them roofs over their heads. He gave them security. And yet, they betrayed him on the battlefield, and he died... at least he died to this life. He closed his eyes as the darkness encroached on him, swallowing him...
October 24 - 1476
Vlad Tepes whirled around, his face as reddened with the blood of his foes as the armor he now wore, his long dark hair flowed wildly in the strong winds that carried the familiar stench of the dead. He was once again what he was born to be, the ruler of Wallachia. Now he found himself in the role of defender, and he relished the opportunity to hand out death to those who had defied his God-given right to rule. On the battlefield near Bucharest, he watched as The Turks retreated back to their homeland, powerless before the bloodlust of the prince of death and the army he commanded. He stared straight into the darkening sky and yelled triumphantly, sounding almost animal-like as he did so.
Behind them, silhouetted by the crimson sun as it dipped slowly below the horizon, were the impaled - those that had defied him. Over ten thousand bodies comprised what had been named by an invading as The Forest Of The Impaled. Many were still alive and struggling for life. Among their tortured numbers one could easily see that the population included men, women, and most horrifically, children. All had been traitors in one way or another, and he was merciless in handing out their punishment.
The Forest Of The Impaled would also work to his advantage in battle. As always, The Turks, even with their fierce nature, were disgusted and uncharacteristically frightened by the gruesome scene behind Lord Dracula and his army. For if Tepes would do such a thing to his own people, what could he possibly do to them? Unlike past occurrences, however, this particular army of Turks had not retreated, but the sight had disturbed them enough to befuddle their tacticians, and dull their attack as one would do to a sharp knife with a stone. Before long, the battle was over, and he had successfully defended his country once more. He had been robbed of his throne in the past, only to regain it through his sheer strength of will. From now on, he would never be denied.
But something was dreadfully wrong...
As the triumphant cry died on his lips, he turned to face his loyal Boyars, those that ruled the regions beneath him. There was something behind their eyes, each and every one of them. It was the look of deceit. Immediately he knew that he had trusted the wrong men. How could it not be so? He had made them Boyars himself, only after impaling the corrupt Boyars of the past. He had bought their loyalty by giving them the lands of past Boyars, which they ruled under his dictates. Of course, it had just dawned on him now, that if they could be bought so easily, they could eventually turn on him as well.
They descended upon him like the jackals that they truly were. Formidable warrior that he was, there was no way even he could resist all of them. Again and again they stabbed and slashed at him with their swords, which were already stained with the blood of many a Turkish Warrior. As the blades gutted him, he smiled at his underlings. The irony of the moment did not escape him. Here he was, his own blood mixing with that of the hated Turks on the ground beneath him and on the swords of his own men, and he swore that he would not cease to be on this day.
“The blood is the life...” he muttered as the coppery taste of his own lifeblood spilled over his lips. Even as those final words passed over his lips, he knew that his hatred would carry on beyond the grave. He would rise from his own death and become immortal, wreaking havoc on the world by drinking the blood of the living to replace that which he had lost on the battlefield protecting his beloved home. If this betrayal was his reward for defending his country in the name of God, he would forever dedicate himself to the powers of darkness, and the crucifix would be to him as a bullet to a mortal man. He would live on, embracing shadow and preying on mortal men.
In Constantinople, The Sultan proudly displayed what was said to be Lord Dracula’s head on a pike for all to see. The Wallachian ruler who was said to impale thousands of his own subjects for the smallest infractions of his laws, the man who was said to dine among the dying and the dead as his executioners skinned victims alive and he drank their blood from a jewel-encrusted goblet was at long last dead. Those in power, however, knew the truth. The head on display was NOT Dracula, but rather the head of some unknown Wallachian Boyar who had fallen in the battle. The peasantry would not know the difference. In truth, Dracula was buried at the island monastery of Snagov, which Tepes had often visited and patronized. Three days after his burial, Tepes had ceased to be, he was now replaced by The Lord Of The Undead - Dracula.
When he had struggled out of the coffin he was buried in, he had made his way back to his castle, which had been vandalized and looted, the many servants having long disappeared. Only his most loyal gypsy warriors - The Szgany - still awaited him and served him. They especially worshiped him now, superstitious people that they were, as he had seemingly returned from the dead. From that point on, he would prey on nearby towns such as Bukovina, taking newborn babies from their cribs as they slept for his meals, and taking their women in their beds as they slept, satisfying them sexually as their own husbands never could. When he tired of a particular woman as a lover, he would do away with her, draining her body of her precious blood. The peasantry feared him as they never feared him during his lifetime. No one dared go near his aging castle, with its crumbling embattlements, to seek revenge, for it was always well guarded by his warriors. Those that attempted to make their way through the thick forest that eventually grew up and around the courtyard walls never even made it to his gypsy bodyguards, but were instead mysteriously ravaged by wolves.
And yet, he, too, could love the right woman. If only she had the strength to bear his needs. An image of yet another past love flashed through his mind’s eye. The Countess Bathory, whom he had made like himself through the act of drinking his blood. No... now was not the time to think of his lost loves when he would have another so soon...
He opened his eyes once more as he heard the cellar door open. Hecate was coming to him, hopefully with information that he could use.
“I have discovered some things of note, my Lord.”
He sat up in his coffin and looked at her admiringly. She was, as always, a vision of pure sexuality. The single lamp she held in one hand illuminating her hourglass shaped figure as she held a thick, dust covered book in another. She moved across the floor to him and sat at his feet. As she spoke she ran her finger along the lines of text in the book so as not to lose her place.
“This man you have encountered, the Scotsman. I think I may have found something very interesting that may pertain to them. There are several references in the books of black magic that you have given me, four in total, to men and women that hold a great power within them, a power that seems to give them eternal life. There is no proof of their existence, like you their coming is marked by superstition and rumor. But as we know you exist, why couldn’t they? I have consulted the history books, looking for references in both art and text to men and women who have seen many different eras, and there is some anecdotal reference to support this, but these immortals seem to be adept at covering their tracks. If a researcher did not know exactly what to look for they would surely never discover these facts.”
Dracula picked up the book and examined it. “And how do you know that this is the type of person I have encountered? Immortals have been hinted at since the beginning of time with Zeus and the Gods Of Olympus.”
“One piece of information gives this theory credibility, my Lord. It has been witnessed by a scant few that these immortals, when they encounter one another, experience a sensation much like the one you described. Sometimes the sensation can be quite violent.”
This certainly captured Dracula’s attention. “And what is their purpose? Why has nature... or some other force, made these select few the way they are?”
Hecate shook her head, causing her long locks of coal black hair to fall past her shoulders.
“I know not, my Lord. All I can be sure of is that it seems that these few sometimes hunt one another and battle amongst themselves. It has been witnessed on occasion, and those encounters were recorded by mystics, priests, and witches in their journals, much like today’s policemen would gather first hand accounts of a crime from witnesses."
Dracula looked puzzled. “They are immortal, and yet they can kill one another? How?”
“If this purely anecdotal evidence is to be believed, they battle with swords. When their heads are removed, there is a violent and spectacular display of mystic energies. For what purpose, no one seems to know. I have read two first hand accounts of this collected in the journal of some novice warlock.”
Dracula almost laughed. “Death by beheading. It seems these rumored immortals and my kind have something in common.”
The Lord Of The Undead tossed these thoughts about in his mind. It made more sense than any theory he had personally come up with. He made a note to himself that when he went out this evening, he would be sure to take his own sword with him. It was a magnificent blade with a heavily ornamented hilt, belonging to the family line that ended with him. He had defended Wallachia with it on many occasions, slaying Turkish soldiers by the dozen. In past centuries, no warrior was more feared than Vlad Tepes. He had been schooled in the arts of swordsmanship, battlefield tactics, and even in courtship, since he was a very young boy. It had been hundreds of years since he had taken life by any other means but his own hand, but he could still wield a sword with precision when called for. He had made up his mind. He would take the woman, Moria, tonight. He had waited long enough. And if the Scotsman were to interfere, he would find himself minus his head.
Connor shielded his eyes as the blindfold was removed. All around him, he heard the giggles of Moira and Amanda and the gentle, well meaning, barbs of Donald as they led him down the street.
“I feel like a fool,” He told them as they helped him step up onto the curb and round a corner.
“You look like a fool, MacLeod,” Donald said jokingly. “But trust in us, this will be worth it.”
After a brief nap, a bath, and an excellent lunch of roast chicken, Donald insisted that Connor put on the kilt which they had prepared for him. Donald’s earlier comments, about going back to their roots, had puzzled him, but Fraser merely smiled enigmatically whenever Connor asked what was going on.
“Trust us, you’ll like it,” Amanda told him.
Finally, with the blindfold removed, his eyes adjusted to the light. The sun was now descending and the shadows were growing longer as evening approached. Connor found himself before a giant oak doorway on a busy street. He and Donald looked quite out of place dressed in their Scottish regalia. A sign over the door said “Ciad Mile Failte” - Gaelic for “A Hundred Thousand Welcomes”. It was then that he noticed the heavy pounding that came from inside the blue and white building.
“Well don’t just stand there, MacLeod,” Donald told him teasingly. “Open the doors.”
Connor reached out and took the handles of both doors. He tensed as he pushed them open, and all at once he felt as if he were truly in an earlier time. The building served as a dance hall, and the sweet sounds of a ceilidh rushed outside and flowed over him like warm, cleansing, water. A virtual symphony of violins, known in Scottish culture as fiddles, sang out to greet him. A smile erupted on Connor’s face so wide that he feared his face might split as he listened to the throng of fiddlers pour their hearts into one of his favorite tunes... Scotland The Brave. On the stage at the other end of the hall, he saw that the army of fiddlers were accompanied by a man playing the piano and even a few guitarists. All the musicians stomped out the beat with their feet as they played. It had been many years since he had been to a ceilidh.
The main floor of the hall was a sea of color as dancers of all kinds, clad in the many beautiful tartans of his homeland, whirled to and fro. Some were engaging in classic Highland dancing, while others whirled about coupled together, each face bearing its own smile of joy. He recognized many of the tartans. Among them were Camerons, Stewarts, Campbells, MacDougalls, MacEwans, Shaws, Urquharts, and of course Chisholms and even a few Frasers. He had always wanted to see this, the different clans gathered together, without the feuds, embracing their culture and the country they adored. Donald was soon by his side, an arm around Connor’s shoulder in a brotherly manner.
“I told you we were going back to our roots, MacLeod. Now let’s celebrate my wedding and skip the wrestling match this time around. What say you, Highlander?”
A tear of joy ran down Connor’s cheek as he soaked up the mighty strains of Scotland The Brave. He could barely find his voice. “Aye, Donald. Let’s kick up our heels.”
They entered and closed the doors behind them. The celebration had just begun and would last for hours. The music was very loud, and they had to yell to hear one another, so Donald had to shout that he would get Connor a drink. He disappeared into the crowd only to return shortly thereafter with a glass of whiskey for each of them. Soon, they were all on the dance floor, Donald with his wife and Connor with Amanda, reveling in the ancient music of their homeland. The musicians were accomplished, and they moved from jigs to reels to marches to strathspeys with grace precision. Donald was right, Connor thought to himself, it did feel like they had gone back in time to their roots - to where everything began for both of them.
They entered and closed the doors behind them. The celebration had just begun and would last for hours. The music was very loud, and they had to yell to hear one another, so Donald had to shout that he would get Connor a drink. He disappeared into the crowd only to return shortly thereafter with a glass of whiskey for each of them. Soon, they were all on the dance floor, Donald with his wife and Connor with Amanda, reveling in the ancient music of their homeland. The musicians were accomplished, and they moved from jigs to reels to marches to strathspeys with grace precision. Donald was right, Connor thought to himself, it did feel like they had gone back in time to their roots - to where everything began for both of them.
Although Connor feared that Amanda might be taken with him, he put those fears to rest for the moment and embraced her as they danced. The smile that blossomed on his face when he had first opened the doors to the hall had not faded, and he noticed that his face had begun to ache. A genuine smile was not something he was used to. Soon, they switched partners, and Connor danced with the lovely and extremely seductive Moira. Her fire-red hair whirled about her as they moved, and he knew that it would be very easy for a man to love her. He prayed that she and Donald would have many happy years together.
The passage of time was now alien to them all, and after a few more glasses of whiskey Connor found himself acting as carefree as he ever had in childhood. He and Donald soon found their way onto the large stage area and began what could have been the world’s worst performance of the Highland Fling as everyone watched, laughed in amusement, and cheered them on. Meanwhile, the sun had long set, and Lord Dracula was now riding in a cab up and down the streets of London, waiting for the sickening sensation to strike. He had disguised his sword by placing it inside a hallow walking stick which he sometimes used for decorative purposes. There was no sign of the powerful Scotsman on the street tonight. Instead, he ordered the driver to take him to the sight of the Oglivie home. There he would take up a position on the rooftop of the building across the street. If he could not find the Scotsman tonight, he knew full well that the woman would return before long. He payed the driver and disappeared down into an alley.
With far greater strength than that of a normal man, Dracula easily climbed the wall of the building across the street from where his prey would return. As he passed a flower pot set in a window sill, the potted plant withered and died. He removed the top hat and pulled the sword from its hiding place inside the walking stick. He then sat on the tar paper roof and remained perfectly still, almost in a hypnotic trance, watching the building across the street which was as of now shrouded in darkness. Somewhere in the distance, a dog howled. It was not as frightening a sound as the wolves he commanded, but he smiled nonetheless as he listened. He, too, felt the hunger, for both sexual release and for living blood.
Two hours later, he witnessed a cab pull up outside the house, and two lovely women stepped out. The driver escorted them to the door and waited until they were safely inside. He listened intently, and heard the strains of their conversation as if he were standing close to them. They giggled continually, mentioning something about how the men would never tire of the celebration that continued even now. The one he knew as Moira yawned and replied to her friend that she had rarely been up this late in her entire life, and she would soon be asleep on her feet if she did not lie down. As the cab pulled away Dracula concentrated a moment, and as he did so, his body dissolved into a green mist. The mist flowed over the edge of the building and down to the street level, where it crossed the now empty street and began to flow up along the sheer wall, a virtual scientific impossibility, and to the roof of that building. Once there, the green mist then gathered together and took shape, becoming solid. After a time, the mist had become Lord Dracula once more.
He waited patiently as he listened to the rooms below. Moira was undressing, and then putting on her nightgown before climbing into bed. He waited until the light in her room went out, and then he alighted silently on the small terrace outside her bedroom window. The frosted glass door that led to the terrace opened of it’s own accord as he approached. Moira appeared to be fully asleep. He moved across the floor to her bedside, his shadow taking it’s time following him, and as he did so, her eyes opened and her gaze met his. Moira’s eyes widened as she looked upon him in the flesh for the first time. He knew what she must be asking herself. Was this still a dream? He picked her up in his arms and with great strength ripped her sleeping garment from her body, revealing her beautiful naked form to him. She gasped, but she did not speak. He exerted some measure of mental control over her, but very little was needed, as she still assumed that this was the same dream she had been having for a week.
His eyes burned red as he pressed his body to hers and they fell to the bed together. Within heartbeats, his lips pressed to hers, and their tongues sought each other out. She moaned, practically into his mouth, as he guided her warm hand between his legs. As in the dream, she squeezed and rubbed him there, and he growled like an animal.
All at once, he stopped. The sickening feeling once again enveloped him, and he knew that his other prey was nearing. He wasn’t sure what excited him more, the fact that he was near to taking the Scottish beauty, or the fact that her powerful mate was nearby. On the street below, another cab pulled up to the curb. Connor and Donald leaped from it, laughing all the while. The two men entered the Oglivie home and once inside began to dress in their everyday clothes.
“What can I say, Connor? I didn’t even know the women-folk had left, I was having so much fun. Moira will have my head in the morning, that I guarantee.”
Connor chuckled. “You need fear her more than any immortal I know, Donald. She’ll tame you I imagine.”
“Did ye have a good time tonight, my friend?”
“Aye, Donald. I did. Being your best man is turning out to be something of a blessing. I had no idea how much I would enjoy a night like tonight.”
Suddenly they both felt it, and nearly doubled over with pain. Connor now knew the sensation that Donald was trying to describe to him earlier. It was like some twisted, nauseating version of the Quickening. Even an encounter with The Kurgan did not make one feel as sick as that. As with a standard Quickening sensation, it passed within seconds. Connor and Donald looked at one another with alarm.
“Get our swords,” Connor hissed, trying not to wake anyone in the house. Donald rushed to the closet and tore open the garment bag. He tossed Connor’s katana to him and hefted his mighty claymore as well. Suddenly, the air was split by a blood curdling scream. They barely recognized it as Moira’s strangulated voice.
“MOIRA!” Donald screamed her name and began a mad dash up the stairs. Connor was already half way up, taking them two at a time. Unfortunately, he had no idea which door led to Moira’s room. Donald shoved his way past Connor and charged for a door at the end of the hallway. Once again another scream split the air, causing Connor to wince. Donald kicked the door open and the two immortals ran into the darkened room. As they did so, they were struck with the scene that lay before them. Moira lay there, fully nude and streaked with blood, though there was no obvious sign of a wound. Even her lips were stained with blood. They watched as the shadow of man, a shadow that seemed to have no source, moved across the room and out through the window. Amanda also entered the room at full stride and screamed as she lay eyes upon the gruesome scene.
“Make sure she’s all right,” Connor shouted to Donald. “And then follow me as quick as you can. I’m going after whatever that was.”
Donald moved across the bedroom to his fiancee’s side and noticed that the only marks or lesions on her body were two tiny pinpricks on the side of her neck. Blood streamed from the holes.
“Dear God! How the hell will you catch, let alone fight, something like that?” Donald asked as he and Amanda began to pull the sheets back over Moira's body.
Connor shook his head as he ran to the terrace. Above him, there was a green mist flowing up the wall toward the roof. It disappeared within seconds. MacLeod began climbing a trellis that ran up the side of the wall as he commenced his pursuit. He truly did not know what kind of man or animal had assaulted Donald’s fiancee, but he knew that he had to give some words of reassurance to his friend. Unbidden, the words of his mentor- Ramirez - leaped to mind.
“With heart, faith, and steel.”
The chase had begun...
Chapter 3: Nosferatu
Connor summoned all his strength and heaved his body up over the rooftop edge of Amanda Oglivie's home. At the very same instant that his feet alighted on the shingled roof he performed a perfect Iai Do, the art of drawing the katana sword smoothly and quickly into the first strike, or ready position, as it is sometimes called. His eyes widened with surprise as he witnessed the already distant figure of a well dressed man with a walking stick leaping across the rooftops. The individual had to be the one responsible for assaulting Donald's wife, Moira, the nauseating quickening sensation they had felt earlier, and for the trail of green mist that he had seen flowing up the side of the building. Whoever he has, he was not a normal man, for no normal man could travel so far so quickly. Cautiously, Connor took in the gaps between the buildings. It was a great distance, but not an impossible one to jump. He slid the katana smoothly into the sheath at his left hip - the traditional resting place for such a sword - and broke into a full run.
As he neared the edge, he was frantically making the calculations in his head regarding when to jump and how much strength his legs would require. He was not afraid of falling to his death, but he was afraid of losing his quarry if he was to miscalculate the jump and topple to the hard ground beneath. At the last possible second, he leaped with all his might, and prayed that his judgement hadn’t been flawed by his truly heroic intake of whiskey earlier in the evening at Donald’s side. Whether it be luck or skill, MacLeod hit the neighboring roof running, and nearly skidded to his knees as he did so. He looked up to see that the dark figure in the distance was merely standing there, looking at him, almost as if he were daring Connor to catch up to him. MacLeod didn’t even break stride as he continued onward toward the edge of the next roof. As he leaped as high as he possibly could, the chill of London’s early spring air biting at him as he did so, he noticed the figure once more turn his back and begin to run. Connor felt as if he were running straight into a trap. He hoped that heart, faith, and steel would be enough to gain an advantage over his foe this night. He had told Donald it would be. Now, he was starting to doubt it.
Within a few minutes time, Connor was on the rooftop where his prey had been standing and watching him earlier. He cast his gaze around, peering into the inky night. There was no sign of the stranger. Desperately, MacLeod willed his breathing to slow to it's normal rate and strained his ears to listen for any signs of life. There were none. Whoever it was that had violated Moira had disappeared, almost literally, into thin air. Fate interceded at that moment, for the violent quickening sensation once again gripped him, and he knew the man he sought was nearby.
"You can't hide from me," Connor called out into the empty night. "I know you're out there."
MacLeod's eyes couldn't register the brief flash of movement that passed him, it had been so fast the human eye could not truly make out the distinctive shapes, but he heard the strange man pass him by, and felt the rush of cold wind. Connor felt himself pushed backward a few feet by the sudden gust and found himself teetering on the edge of the rooftop. As he flailed about for something to grab onto for support, he dared to glance downward. He was high above an alley filled with trash cans and refuse. Immortal or not, the fall would definitely hurt. On the edge of his sight, he witnessed the stranger running once more and leaping to yet another rooftop. Connor forced the weight of his entire body forward and he fell to his knees toward the tar paper rooftop, gasping for air. Some inner force within him screamed at him to get up and continue the pursuit. Damn it, where the hell was Donald, anyway?
MacLeod once more broke into a full run in the direction he had last seen his foe. Was this his goal? To tire him out in the chase before attacking? Whoever this was, he was no standard immortal. He had powers beyond what a regular immortal being would have. He reasoned that this was the cause of the sickening sensation that accompanied the quickening he and Donald felt when in the presence of this being. Whatever the truth was, he knew he wouldn't find out until he overcame his foe. Once again he caught a glimpse of the stranger in the distance, and he doubled his speed of pursuit. Trap or not, Connor had no choice but to continue on.
The further Connor ran, the more his surroundings changed. He could hear, and smell, the river Thames getting closer. The buildings were becoming more and more shabby looking, grimy in fact. Still, the stranger managed to stay well ahead of him. Soon Connor would have no more strength with which to run, let alone fight. Donald was perfectly correct in asking just how in the hell one catches, and fights, someone like this. MacLeod looked ahead and saw the stranger, standing there on a nearby rooftop, seemingly waiting for him.
Connor stopped this time, waiting to see what the reaction from his foe would be. The well dressed stranger did nothing but lean heavily on his walking stick and look on at Connor with a slight bemusement. Conserving his energy as well as stalling for time, MacLeod approached the man slowly, keeping his sword hidden for the moment. As he made the final leap to the stranger's perch - a slanted rooftop with a rusty weathervane at it's very peak - he glanced downward toward ground level and made a guess at his location. A hansom passed beneath him, and he surmised that he was indeed heading further east. A glance at a road sign confirmed this, saying that the street below was Upper Swandam-Lane, not the best section of the city to find yourself in late at night. He approached the stranger cautiously, every muscle taut.
"You are not the man I was expecting to give chase," The stranger commented through lips that formed a thin, cruel, smile.
"You'll just have to deal with me. You injured a woman back there. Do you deny it?"
The dark stranger made a great show of acting as if his feelings were hurt.
"Injured? She is not injured. I have allowed her to enter a new world if she chooses to do so. A world filled with infinite pleasure and eternal life. It is what I do as surely as a wolf howls at the moon. Would you deny me the very thing that allows me to continue being?"
"If it means protecting that young girl's life, I would."
The stranger reached for the heavy handle of his walking stick and gave it a sharp twist. As he did so, he pulled on it and allowed the cane to fall away. The handle of the stick was really the hilt of a long broadsword. Moving on pure instinct, Connor once more drew his katana in a perfectly executed Iai Do. The stranger watched with fascination and admiration as he did so. He noticed, with some surprise, that Connor held the sword in both hands with the right hand nearest the blade. There was only a finger's distance between the index finger of the right hand and the guard at the end of the hilt. His left hand held the lower part of the hilt away from the blade, his left hand's little finger lay just beneath the hilt of the sword, acting as if supporting the entire sword's weight. In years past, Dracula had been schooled in many types of warfare, and he could not fail to notice that the execution of drawing the sword and preparing for first strike was absolutely perfect. He also took notice of his pursuer's strange accent. It was an odd combination, but at it's root he could hear the Gaelic influence. Like his friend, he was Scottish. He was assuming that his pursuer was the Scotsman he had encountered before, but this was someone new. The two had seemingly put aside the feud that existed between their kind and formed some kind of an alliance.
"A Scotsman wielding a Katana, that's not something you see every day."
Connor smirked with honest amusement at the observation. "A man who can turn into mist isn't something you see every day, either."
Dracula's eyes narrowed as he examined the sword in Connor's hands. "Do my eyes deceive me, or is that a Masamune blade?"
"It is." Connor was surprised by the stranger's astute knowledge of swords, but refused to show it.
"I'm impressed. And you wield it with the soul and skill of a warrior born. But is it not a katsujinken sword? According to the legends it must be used to preserve life and protect. You are using it as a satsujinken, a sword used for killing, pure and simple. If the legends were true, a sword created by Masamune would resist such use. Are you a simple killer? Is that all you are?"
Connor's reply was immediate, for he had long ago learned the legend of The Masamune blades, and he had long ago reasoned why such swords would not rebel against such use.
"I am far more than you could imagine. By killing you I am preserving and protecting life. The life of that young woman you just assaulted, for instance. Masamune would approve, I have no doubt. As would the sword's original owner, who was the finest man I ever knew."
Dracula knew that his best offense at this time would be to continue to try and rattle his opponent by making him angry and to take him off guard with his knowledge. He continued speaking as he raised his blade. Both he and MacLeod began to circle one another warily, the tips of their blades mere inches apart. Each man was careful not to slip and fall on the angled rooftop. Thankfully, the weather had been dry, and the roof was not wet. One slip, and either man would instantly lose any advantage he might have, which would result in certain death at the other's hands. The situation had become so tense, the threat in the air was palpable. They both knew that they were seconds away from an inevitable clash. "And what about the ridiculous head hunt you and your kind participate in? Would Masamune approve of you taking heads with it?"
Connor was amazed. What else did this strange being know? "I fight to keep mankind from being subjected to an eternity of darkness. Masamune would, I believe, see things as I do."
"I AM an eternity of darkness," Dracula said, his voice dripping with menace as a sudden gust of wind howled nature's agreement.
"Then that makes you my enemy."
"I may be your enemy, but I do not fear you. I, too, know how to use a sword." Dracula slashed at the open air around Connor.
"I can see that," Connor replied, doing his best to act nonchalantly, as if he had seen it all before... and from far better than his current foe. In truth, few men outside of The Kurgan were as blatantly evil as this stranger standing before him. He examined the sword in Dracula's hand, and for the first time he noticed the crimson colored hilt. On it there was an intricate design and in it's center was the image of a winged dragon. "What does that emblem mean?"
"To armies of Turks that have long turned to dust, it has meant death... their death. Now it will mean yours."
"You'll excuse me if I insist on making you earn the killing blow."
Dracula took in the sight of this dark Highland warrior. There was a certain presence about him that made even The Lord Of The Undead somewhat respectful. Vlad could almost hear the din of the Scottish bagpipes playing this man's fanfare as he entered battle. Like his friend who bore The Fraser tartan, he was surrounded by a powerful aura that one could almost see, an aura Hecate had told him he could take for his own.
"You are excused."
The two immortals lunged toward one another.
Donald and Amanda shared a worried look as Moira finally began to settle into a fitful sleep. Much to their surprise and alarm, Moira had begun crying out in some foreign tongue neither of them could recognize. As much as Donald wanted to join Connor in his chase, he would rather die than leave Moira in her current condition. She held his hand tightly, and although she spoke in some strange tongue, her eyes pleaded with him to stay by her side. Nothing, including the dark powers that were at work this night, could drag him away.
“Hang on, Connor.” He whispered to himself as he clutched her small hand tightly and held it to his chest. Amanda had summoned a doctor, and it wasn’t until he had arrived and given her a sedative that her eyelids began to droop. As her head fell back on the pillow and the doctor stepped outside, he kissed the back of her hand and placed it by her side. He set his jaw and reached for the claymore that he had leaned up against a dresser set against the nearby wall. Amanda stepped in front of him as he moved toward the terrace.
“Donald, what is going on? Where are you going? Moira needs you! I’ve never seen you use a sword before, and your friend Connor had one, too.”
Donald placed his left hand on her shoulder in an attempt to reassure her. “Amanda, I won’t lie to you. What I’m doing now, I’m doing to protect Moira’s life. That I can tell you for sure.” As he finished speaking, a shadow passed over his face that Amanda had never seen before. Donald was usually so carefree and jovial, always ready with a smart remark, it was frightening to see him so cold and severe. It seemed almost as if his blood were literally boiling. He gently eased her out of the way and made his way to the terrace and looked up to the roof. It was a long climb.
To catch up to Connor and the being that attacked his fiancee, Donald would have to move quickly. In fact, he would need to move faster than humanly possible. He hated leaving MacLeod alone to deal with whatever had attacked Moira, and a wave of guilt washed over him as he imagined arriving too late to help Connor catch this strange creature. He would feel even worse if Connor was somehow injured by this macabre being. It was time to use a skill he had discovered and honed over the past two centuries in the jungles of South America. On the street below there was a stray cat. Donald closed his eyes and reached out... his spirit connected with the spirit of the animal in a way no other immortal had taken the time to learn. All at once, the agility, speed, and balance of the lonely feline enveloped his very essence. Amanda watched as Donald made a standing leap of over twenty feet straight up and scaled the remainder of the trellis hand over hand. Seconds later, he was on the roof. When he reached the top, he scanned the entire area with vision abilities that a normal human could never have, but a feline could.
If only Connor knew about his abilities, he would have been far more amazed at his old adversary than ever. All immortals knew that they could sense the soul of an animal in general, but only he, who had spent so much time among animals rather than hunting and killing in the game immortals played, had learned how to harness each animal’s strengths and abilities for his own use so completely. Far in the distance, he saw two shapes moving on a distant rooftop. It was Connor and some other man. A man holding a sword. He reached out and sensed even more cats in the alleyways below him. Together, they doubled and redoubled his strength and agility. He gripped the handle of his claymore tightly and began to run in leaps and bounds toward the scene. There were a few tricks the thuggee had taught him which he would now employ on the man that attacked his fiancee.
Connor was taken aback at the speed and skill with which his foe attacked. The malevolent being swiped at MacLeod with his sword, and the Highlander just barely managed to sidestep the attack and execute a koshi nage, or hip throw. Dracula, too, was amazed at his foe’s fighting skills. He hadn’t been treated this roughly in centuries, with the possible exception of the battlefield in Wallachia centuries ago. Even then, no one had dared to throw him around with such skill and expertise. Fortunately, Dracula was as well trained as MacLeod, and rolled with the throw. Even though the roof was heavily slanted, he managed to keep from losing his balance and skidding down the rooftop to the ground below. As he rose to his feet, he knew that if he were truly mortal, he would be breathing heavily at this point. The Scotsman was a fierce fighter.
“You fight well. This is obviously the result of extensive training.”
For his part, Connor was breathing rapidly, but not heavily. He was in excellent physical condition. To survive in the game, to gain the prize, one had to remain in the best possible shape.
“I told you I’d make you earn the killing blow.”
“Indeed you did. I respect you for that, but it will only delay the inevitable.”
Dracula charged toward MacLeod, his sword whistling as it cut through the air. The Lord Of the Undead found he was truly enjoying this encounter. Killing had become so very easy for him, there was no challenge in it anymore. He was especially surprised and almost thrilled when MacLeod performed a Shomen Uchi-type strike. With his leading foot drawn back to a cat stance (with nearly all of his weight on the back foot), his back knee bent slightly, and front foot up on a ball, the katana was drawn directly back over Connor’s head so that it pointed vertically down. Then, as he stepped back to the initial stance, the sword was brought directly over MacLeod's head and at his target, slicing through Dracula’s defences.
Dracula actually gasped as Connor brought the sword down with all his might. Given the circumstances and bent low as he was, the Masamune blade would penetrate at the back of Vlad's neck and exit through the Adam’s apple. There were very few mortals that could threaten him in this manner. There were also very few things in this man’s world that could truly destroy a vampire. A beheading was one such method of dispatching him forever, especially if followed up with a thrust through the heart. He had no doubt that this Scotsman would certainly make sure he was dead with a skilful strike through that vital area.
At the very last second, Dracula managed to move aside a few inches, and the katana blade ripped into his shoulder and back. Dracula cried out in pain and shock as the sword sliced into his tendons. He hadn’t felt agony like this since he had been executed on the battlefield by his own traitorous Boyars. At that very same instant, he rammed Connor full on in the mid-section. All the breath was expelled from Connor’s lungs as the pair tumbled backward. MacLeod scrambled for a foothold but found that he could gain no purchase. Together, the two combatants began sliding down the side of the roof.
Seconds later, the battling duo felt nothing but air beneath them as they reached the edge of the rooftop and toppled toward the unforgiving ground. Connor flailed wildly, trying to grasp the roof’s edge, and at the last second felt the tips of his fingers scrape along the gutters. As Dracula fell to the ground, Connor managed to hang on, literally by his fingertips. Unable to secure his position, MacLeod lost his grip and fell himself.
Dracula was just getting to his feet as Connor landed hard on his hip only a few feet from him. MacLeod’s eyes widened to the size of saucers as pain shot through his entire body. Despite the agony that lanced through him, he cast about looking for the katana as Dracula stumbled across the alley for his own sword. Even as the vampire’s skin and muscle began knitting itself back together, MacLeod’s bruised hip bone was healing itself. Dracula picked up his sword and reached back with his left hand to feel the gash that Connor had taken out of his shoulder and upper back. His tainted blood had poured freely from the wound for only a few moments, and had already died off to a mere trickle. Still, pain knifed through him. The Scotsman’s blade was razor sharp, but there was something else. It was almost as if the sword, or perhaps its owner, was imbued with some mystical energy that could affect even him.
Having lost his edge, Dracula decided to retreat until he could once again regain his full energies and fight from a position of strength. He noticed a doorway in the darkened alley and charged through it. Connor struggled to his feet and limped after him. He paused momentarily to read the faded sign over the door. It read: “Bar Of Gold”. He had heard of this place. It was an opium den of the vilest kind. The chase had just become more difficult, for every kind of criminal and thug resided within these walls.
“Merde,” Connor swore in French as he tried desperately to fill his lungs with air. The atmosphere inside the building was like that of another planet and just as breathable. Thick plumes of brown opium smoke swirled around him. The occasional oil lamp hanging in an alcove along the bare walls gave the toxic clouds the appearance of ghostly apparitions. After their encounter on the rooftops, everything that was Celtic in Connor’s blood set the hair of his neck standing up. His people and his heritage consisted of great superstitions, and this strange being seemed to have stepped straight from the most frightening tales of Scottish lore ever told around the hearth. The rooms were filled with bunk beds, stacked three high. An occasional filthy sheet hung from the ceiling, trying to give the appearance that the main floor was broken up into apartments of some kind. From each bed, a pair of dead eyes stared at Connor, all of them dulled severely with opium. They were no threat to anyone, save themselves. None of them could even have remembered Dracula’s passing.
With every nerve ending on edge, exertion induced sweat dripping from his brow, and his eyes and ears fully alert, Connor moved slowly inside. A creak of the floorboards somewhere to MacLeod’s left caught his attention. He whirled in the direction of the sudden noise, ready to strike. There was nothing there. To his right, he thought he saw a shadow pass across the wall. Again he turned and reared back with the katana... there was no one to be seen except for the drunkards and addicts that lined the bunks. He knew his prey was near, he could feel the quickening in the pit of his stomach. But where?
MacLeod stepped forward cautiously, trying to make as little noise as possible. His eyes flitted in every direction as he tried to get a sense of his quarries whereabouts. Suddenly, there was a rush of movement behind him, and he turned to face his attacker. It was not the being that attacked Moira, but rather a man of Asian decent, wearing a bright red robe and holding an oil lamp in his left hand, a perturbed look on his face.
“No more room,” He shouted in broken English “You go now! Come back tomorrow!”
For one vital second Connor relaxed as he lay eyes upon the opium dealer, feeling that the situation had almost become comical. As he did so, directly behind him a man sat straight up in the top bunk, red eyes boring into MacLeod’s back. It was only the petrified reaction of the Asian den owner, who witnessed the red eyes, the fearsome countenance, and the unnatural manner in which the newcomer sat straight up, that alerted MacLeod to possible danger from behind.
For one vital second Connor relaxed as he lay eyes upon the opium dealer, feeling that the situation had almost become comical. As he did so, directly behind him a darkened figure sat straight up in the top bunk, red eyes boring into MacLeod’s back. It was only the petrified reaction of the Asian den owner, who witnessed the red eyes, the fearsome countenance, and the unnatural manner in which the newcomer sat straight up, that alerted MacLeod to possible danger from behind. Connor pivoted on his right foot just in time to see Dracula leap from the bed with such ease that he almost seemed to be flying, the katana blocking a killing blow to his own neck by mere seconds and inches. The Asian gentleman screamed in fright, turned tail, and ran out a small doorway covered with lengths of beads. Connor had no doubt that despite the foul nature of this man’s enterprise, he would summon a constable from some nearby street corner to deal with these two maniacs battling with swords. For the moment, Dracula and MacLeod were left alone to fight with only the opium addicts looking on in a bewildered state, wondering if the events they witnessed were real or some drug induced dream.
“I tire of this, my friend. It is time to end our encounter,” Dracula said, an air of respect now entering his voice.
“You want to end it? All you have to do is kill me,” Connor replied.
“My very thought, indeed.”
Once again, the still night air was broken by the clashing of their blades. Forward and back they battled, each one gaining no lasting advantage over the other. Connor back stepped and pivoted once more, holding the katana lightly but firmly in his right hand as he spun around completely with the blade fully extended. Dracula barely managed to step back himself before MacLeod’s sword ripped out his stomach. He countered with his own series of thrusts and slashes, but MacLeod continued to protect himself with the skill of a warrior born.
As they continued onward, Connor forced Dracula down a series of old wooden steps, their middle almost worn through with the ceaseless traveling of opium lovers over them, and out into a back alley. Perhaps, Dracula thought, he was wrong in engaging this Scotsman in a sword dual. Yes, he had once been the greatest warrior ever born, but his existence had long ago taken a different path. He hadn’t even held a sword in many a decade. These Scotsmen battled constantly with swords, and that gave his foe an edge. It was an edge that Connor was beginning to employ in full force. Dracula continued to be forced backward and down the darkened alleys of London. Perhaps it was time to use the skills he had honed over so many centuries. Skills that he alone had mastered.
As their blades clashed, gleaming dully in the moonlight, Dracula finally felt the katana blade swipe at his hands and rip his own sword from his grip. It clattered to the ground somewhere out of sight. With a rush of speed that surprised even Dracula, Connor was upon him, pushing him up against a cold brick wall with the katana blade pressed tightly against his neck.
“Where is your bravado now that you are disarmed?” Connor asked.
A wet laugh escaped Dracula’s lips.
“I am not disarmed. I simply have weapons that you are unaware of.” Dracula’s lips pulled back to reveal long sharp fangs. The appearance of such an unnatural and feral looking visage momentarily took MacLeod by surprise. He froze, his eyes wide with wonder and more than a bit of fear. That was all Dracula needed. The Lord Of The Undead reached out with an iron grip on Connor’s right wrist. As he did so, he opened his mouth wide and clamped his jaws down with all the force he could muster at the base of MacLeod’s neck. Connor hadn’t screamed in such terror and pain since that day in 1536 when The Kurgan first killed him on the battlefield.
MacLeod stumbled backward and fell to the ground. It felt as if his neck was on fire. Dracula merely stood there with pieces of Connor’s ripped flesh between his lips and crimson blood streaming down his chin. Connor tried to get to his feet and use the katana, but it was of no use. Unable to maintain his grip, he dropped the sword to the ground. The bite Dracula had inflicted on him had taken more than a physical toll. There was something else to it. Connor found he could barely even lift his arm. Dracula actually smiled then, his appearance all the more frightening as he chewed on Connor’s flesh and licked the precious blood from his lips. The sight nearly made MacLeod sick to his stomach.
Dracula moved almost nonchalantly now, as is he had already won the battle, over to where Connor’s sword lay. He picked it up and spun it in his hands. The cruel smile on his face showed that he appreciated the weapon on a level which only a warrior could understand. He was now standing over Connor, holding his foe’s own weapon.
“What do you think? You weren’t expecting that, were you?”
“What are you?” Connor asked as he winced with pain, gripping his right shoulder in an attempt to stop the bleeding. He struggled out of his jacket and pulled his shirt open. To MacLeod’s amazement, the wound was barely beginning to knit itself back together. There was something about the bite that even his immortal nature was having a hard time dealing with.
“I am... Nosferatu.”
Connor watched as Dracula lifted the blade high over his head, ready to bring it down with all his might on Connor’s head. He hadn’t expected to die in such a manner. Of all the places and in all the situations he had imagined, this was not it. Here, in a dark urine-stained alley in London’s east end, at the hands of some twisted blood thirsty creature, he would finally die. It wasn’t so bad, he supposed. At long last, he would be reunited with Heather and that overdressed haggis, Ramirez. MacLeod said a quick prayer and readied himself to die. Just as Dracula was about to bring the blade down, a shadow moved across the rooftops above.
A silken cord, so thin that it was invisible to even Dracula’s eye, descended and looped around Vlad’s throat. As if some invisible force had grabbed him, Dracula was suddenly pulled backward. Connor looked up, it was Donald. Fraser tightened the cord and pulled back on it with all his strength. Dracula did not need to breathe, but if the cord tightened much further, it could sever his neck from his head. Both Connor and Dracula had heard of the strategy, but had never actually seen it in use. It was a Thuggee tactic, employed by their religious stranglers, known as phansigars. The mark left on the victim’s throat was known and feared the world over as The Mark Of Kali.
Connor summoned all his strength and leaped to his feet. As he did so, he kicked at Dracula’s hand and knocked the katana from his grasp. From above, Donald let out an eerie, frightening wail known as The Call Of Siva, and descended upon them. The mournful wail was intended to strike terror into the hearts of those that they attacked, and though Dracula was the very embodiment of fear, even he was unsettled as he struggled to be free of the ever entangling cord. Donald’s claymore sang he leaped, Thuggee war cry on his lips. Dracula barely managed to avoid the long blade of the claymore as he ducked and dodged, ripping at the cord around his neck.
“So you’re the devil-spawned bastard that attacked my wife!” Donald was practically foaming at the mouth with anger.
“Donald! Be careful! He’s more than he seems,” Connor called to him as he leaned over to pick up the katana.
“He’s a dead man. He just doesn’t know it yet.”
Dracula had finally ripped the cord from his throat and dropped it to the ground. “I am more dead than you know,” He hissed. “You will not stop me from taking the woman. She is practically mine already.”
Donald’s attack was savage, and the skill with which he used the claymore impressed even Connor. Without his sword, Dracula could only barely dodge the thrusts and swipes that Donald made. The Scot was truly incensed, and rightly so, at the molestation of his fiancee. Ever so slowly, Donald’s attack forced Dracula further and further into a corner. The ex-Wallachian Ruler was without means to defend himself from a sword now that his own was out of reach. There was only one thing left to do... retreat. Now fully cornered, both Dracula and Connor watched as Donald brought the heavy blade of the claymore down over his head. There was no room to escape. Dracula would probably be cleaved in two by the blow. At the last possible second, Dracula’s eyes flashed red and his very being dissolved into a cloud of bats.
“What in the name of all that’s holy...?” Donald whispered reverently as the countless bats squealed and skittered away into the night. Filled with the natural human compulsion to be filled with disgust at the sight of bats, both Scotsmen shielded themselves as the black cloud flew past them. Somewhere in the distance, the a policeman’s shrill whistle cut through the night air. Here in the maze of dark alleys, footfalls were drawing ever closer. Donald tore his gaze away from the cloud of bats that grew smaller and smaller in the distance, now barely a speck on the moon, and ran toward Connor. He was immediately alarmed when he saw the blood flowing from the wound at the base of his neck.
“Are you all right?”
Connor gritted his teeth as he returned the katana to it’s sheath. “I think I’ll be okay. I’ve never felt this kind of pain, though.”
“Shouldn’t it be healing itself by now?”
“Yes. I don’t know why it isn’t, except that whoever or whatever that was is not natural. My immortal nature is having just barely keeping it in check.”
Donald returned his own claymore to its resting place at his side and supported Connor with his arm around MacLeod’s waist. “Lean on me. I’ll get you out of here before the police arrive.”
Connor stopped suddenly as something caught his eye. It was Dracula’s blade, the one with the dragon crest emblazoned on the hilt. “Wait! Take that with us. It might prove useful.”
Donald ran over and picked up the blade, tucking it into his belt before returning to MacLeod’s side. The shrill whistle and footfalls were almost upon them now. Shadows were moving fast all around them. The police were closing in.
“How will we get out of here?” Connor asked.
“Leave that to me,” Donald replied as he once more summoned the agility of nearby alley cats and leaped high in the air, taking Connor with him. Together, they alighted on the rooftop from which Donald had made his entrance and made their way west. As Connor leaned heavily on Donald for support, he was amazed to see his old acquaintance leap from perch to perch with ease.
“How are you doing that?”
Donald didn’t answer until they were several blocks away and had dropped to the street below. Donald hailed a hansom and once they had climbed inside, he told Connor of his skills.
“I told you earlier that I had no interest in the game. That’s true, and due to my continuing contact with every form of beast and animal in the jungles of the world, I have found that I can take on some of the skills and abilities of the animal kingdom, as long as they are nearby. Most immortals know that they can sense an animal, and maybe they can syphon off some of its abilities to a certain degree, but I have found that if one spends enough time at it, they can perform the same task with to a much greater degree. I can leap with great agility if a cat, or perhaps even a monkey, is nearby. I can run with great speed if a horse is nearby. Immortals can be so much more than they are, if only they could stop fighting amongst themselves."
“Unfortunately, we are born to this life of violence,” Connor sighed.
“Not me, Connor. I will not let them suck me into that.”
MacLeod shook his head as he recalled the events of just a few moments ago, as he attacked the malevolent fanged being with an unequaled ferocity. “Donald, my friend, you already have been.”
“That’s different. I’m protecting the woman I love.”
“Yes, that’s true. We are all protecting something. A woman we love, a mentor, or even all of mankind, it doesn’t matter.”
They spent the rest of the drive in silence. Twenty minutes later, they had arrived at the Oglivie home. Donald payed the driver, and they went inside. Connor took a seat in the drawing room and peeled off his bloody shirt while Donald went upstairs to check on Moira. The shirt was crusted with his blood, and the wound Dracula had inflicted was still bleeding somewhat. At that moment, Amanda came down the stairs, her eyelids heavy with weariness. When her gaze fell upon Connor, she immediately started, her eyes becoming wide again. She ran to him and began examining the wound.
“What happened to you? What was that thing in Moira’s bedroom? Did it do this to you?”
Connor smiled reassuringly and took her hand in his. “There’s nothing to worry about. We chased it off. All I need are some bandages.”
She took comfort in the warmth of his smile, and she ran to get some bandages. When she returned, she said nothing. She knelt beside him and cleaned the brutally ripped flesh before applying the dressing. Occasionally, Connor caught her glancing at him, and she blushed when his eyes met hers. Was it possible this young girl had a crush on him? In her own way, she was much like his beloved Heather. So young, innocent, and yes, beautiful. He knew it could never be, but he was flattered just the same. As she finished applying the bandage, he took her hands in his and their eyes met.
“Don’t worry. Donald and I will protect you, but there can be nothing more than that. Do you understand?”
“Don’t you like me, Connor?” She asked innocently.
He smiled once more. “Aye, Heather, I do.”
Her brow crinkled slightly. “Connor, did you just call me Heather?”
Connor closed his eyes and recalled her beautiful face, it was indeed much like Amanda. “I’m sorry. I was married once, Heather was her name. She died years ago. You... remind me of her.”
Amanda leaned in and kissed him on the forehead. “I feel safe in your presence for some reason, Connor MacLeod, and I think if you gave me a chance I could open up that heart you have sealed shut. You’d better use your heart, Connor, or eventually you’ll forget how.”
He kissed the back of her hand and smiled. Before either of them could say anything else, Donald came down the stairs and unintentionally spoiled the moment. He announced that Moira was still sleeping, though fitfully. The doctor lived only a few minutes away, but suggested that a blood transfusion in the morning might do her a world of good. He and Connor shared a quick look, and Connor understood its meaning. A blood transfusion from Donald, with his immortal genes, might help her fight the effects of whatever the cruel being had done to her. He wondered just how the two of them would truly defeat such a creature. As always, the words of Ramirez echoed across the ebb and flow of endless time, resounding in his ears as if the overdressed Egyptian was standing at his shoulder.
“Sometimes, MacLeod, the sharpest blade is not enough.” Connor got to his feet with Amanda’s assistance and walked over to the bookshelf. He picked up a dictionary and leafed through it until he reached the letter “N”. He read:
“Donald, you take care of your wife. I’ll be back tomorrow or the next day at the latest,” Connor said as he put his jacket back on and made his way toward the door.
“Where are you going?” Both Donald and Amanda asked at the same instant.
“We can’t defeat this creature by simple use of swords. We need information. I’m going to get that information from an old friend I can trust. Don’t take your eyes off your fiancee, Donald. Not for an instant.”
Donald stiffened visibly. “Of that you can be sure.
“Be careful, Connor.” Amanda called to him, but Connor was already out the door.
By dawn, Connor was traveling by horseback through a deep woods far outside London. The wind was whipping at his hair as he pushed the magnificent animal to go faster and faster. By mid-morning, he had eased off somewhat, and the horse entered a clearing in the woods at a slow trot. Here in the deep woods, it was a welcome sight to see the roughly circular shaped clearing appear. A small cottage seemingly appeared out of nowhere as well as he moved through the woods, and yet Connor knew that it would be there. It was a simple home with approximately five or six rooms and heavy stone walls. A steady swirl of smoke rose from the chimney on the far right corner of the roof. In many ways, it reminded Connor of a incident long in the past...
April 27 - 1536
Connor felt the heavy weight of the beam tied to his hands and shoulders as he stumbled through the Donan Woods just outside Glen Finnan and knew it to be a physical manifestation of the spiritual burden he carried within. How in the name of God had he survived the battle against the Frasers? The Black Knight had run him through. No one should have survived that. And now here he was, stumbling through the woods tied to a heavy beam, exiled from his home until the day he died.
How could they have turned on him like that? His cousin Dugal, whom he regarded as a brother and looked up to as if he were a God, had personally beaten him many times over as they drove him from Glen Finen, his name was now associated with all that was unholy. Only Angus had saved him from being burned at the stake for supposedly being in league with Lucifer. Now Connor wondered, for all his good intentions, had Angus truly done him a favor by saving him from the mob? If this was his fate, he would have rather died. Connor had never asked for this fate. He should have died on the battlefield like a Highlander should. In fact, he would have been happy to do so.
Night had fallen, and all around there was an opaque blanket draped over the world. Not even the stars had come out to guide his way this night. Somewhere in the woods, a dog, or perhaps a wolf, howled his delight with the coming of night. A chill ran down Connor’s spine. How would he survive out here? Fear, despair, and panic threatened to overwhelm him. He was without food, a home, family, or even one friend in the entire world. His lip quivered as he fought back streams of tears.
Some force spoke to Connor then, willing him to rise to his feet and continue moving on. As he stumbled through the blackness, he suddenly noticed a single pinprick of light in the distance. The light flickered slightly, as if it were from a flame. MacLeod began making his way toward it. He fell many times over roots and shrubs, but he was coming closer to the source of the light. Suddenly, the thick woods opened up into a circular cut clearing. He looked toward the sky, and for the first time this night he saw the stars winking down at him. In the middle of the clearing there was a small home, blazing light from a fire inside shone through the windows.
The front door of the small home opened and a beautiful young woman with the darkest hair Connor had ever seen framing a set of jade green eyes walked out to greet him. Connor had spent many a time in The Donan Woods, and he had never before come across such a place. MacLeod wondered if he were asleep and dreaming, or even dead from exposure. She extended her hand to Connor and smiled at him. Her smile enveloped him with a warmth even the fire could not match. Just then, Connor felt a similar sensation to that which he had experienced when he was wounded by The Black Knight in battle, a sensation he would soon know as the quickening. When she spoke, her voice was the most soothing tone he could ever remember hearing, almost hypnotic.
“Welcome to my home, Connor MacLeod of The Clan MacLeod.”
“You know who I am?”
Her smile continued unabated as she moved around him, untying the bonds that joined him to the burden he carried. Connor was struck by the symbolic nature of the removal of the heavy beam, and somehow he knew that his own emotional burden had been lifted somewhat, and that perhaps this was a new beginning for him.
“I do know who you are, Connor.”
Was this the much rumored witch of The Donan Woods? She was supposed to have lived there for over 400 years.
“Who are you,” He asked.
She took him by the hand and led him into her home. The fire was blazing, there were warm looking wolf skins on the bed, and nicer looking furniture than he had ever seen in all his years. He was in no position to refuse the unspoken invitation, and followed her inside.
“My name is Cassandra.”
Ever so gently, as if she were handling a newborn child, she eased Connor into a plush chair. She began to massage his aching muscles and he felt his strength already beginning to return.
“Are you a witch? Did you bring me back to life?”
Her response was a laugh which was all at once musical and understated. “Some call me a witch because I have knowledge that others don’t. I didn’t bring you back to life, however. Another power is responsible for that.”
“It is not my destiny to tell you that. That task will fall to another. I await birth of the Highland child born on the winter solstice. While I await his coming, I will gladly help you on your way to meet your destiny.”
She had fed him, helped to ease his aching body, and told him nothing of his immortal nature. As she had said, that task fell to another... Ramirez. Still, she had appeared as if an angel of mercy, and helped to guide him on his way. He had never forgotten Cassandra or the kindness she had shown him. Cassandra had been around for many centuries, and she had special knowledge indeed, of arts both holistic and magical. If anyone could give MacLeod the information he sought on the Nosferatu, he had no doubt it would be her...
As Connor approached, the front door of the cottage opened and a solitary hooded figure in a simple blue dress emerged. In many ways, it mirrored the first time he had met this legendary figure who was almost as much his savior as Ramirez. MacLeod got down off the horse, making sure not to put undue strain on his shoulder, which had hardly healed at all since the night before. He felt it once more, the quickening, and he knew he had managed to find the right place, and the right person.
The figure that emerged from the house pushed back the hood to reveal a face with exquisite beauty and those familiar jade green eyes that one could tell had seen a lot of pain over many, many centuries.
“Hello, Cassandra. It is good to see you again.”
“Connor MacLeod of The Clan MacLeod. To what do I owe the honor of this visit?”
MacLeod reached into his coat and removed a sword, not the katana that he normally used, but instead the broadsword he had managed to liberate from Dracula. He proffered it to her so that he held the tip of the blade, and the crimson colored hilt with the dragon crest emblazoned on it was the first thing her eyes would fall upon.
“I need your help.”
The piercing green eyes darkened somewhat as she noticed the dragon crest. She reached out tentatively and ran the fingertips of her right hand across the crest. She whispered something then, and to MacLeod it sounded like “Nosferatu... Dracula.”
“Come in, Connor. We have much to discuss.”
Chapter 4: Haggis Returns
Cassandra handed Connor a cup of tea, which he gladly took from her and drank deeply. The tea was flavored with just a hint of lemon, warming his insides and making him grateful for it. After a long night of riding through the woods, he was chilled to the bone, and the ache in his shoulder where the creature that identified itself only as "nosferatu" had bitten him with frightening and ferocious looking fangs only seemed to worsen with the cold. Eventually, the wound had become a small nugget of agony that fairly pulsed with his own heartbeat, sending jolts of pain along his arm and across his chest.
When Cassandra became aware of his wound, she drenched a cloth in water and cleaned it for him. Strangely enough, it began to feel a little better. When he asked why the simple cleaning had done so much to alleviate his pain when he had performed the same cleansing ritual hours earlier to no effect, her reply caused him to raise an eyebrow.
"Quite simple, Connor. This water I soak the cloth in is holy water, blessed by a Priest."
It had been countless years since he had lay eyes upon Cassandra, but she, like himself, remained wholly the same. As she finished dressing his wound once more, she washed her hands and took a cup of tea for herself. As she sat across from him in a heavily cushioned, hand-carved wooden chair, she reached over and took the sword from him once more. She held it with a sure hand, and her eyes took in the entire blade, her gaze once more falling upon the decorative crest embedded into the hilt.
"You may not know this, but this sword has a twin. It is part of a matched set. I hadn't expected to lay eyes upon it again. In truth, I had hoped it was lost in the currents of time. It is disappointing to know that it the man who bears this dragon crest still walks the Earth."
Connor eyed her curiously. "So, you are familiar with this creature?"
She nodded in the affirmative, and Connor could have sworn he could see her shiver slightly. "I can't say I have had the pleasure of meeting him personally, but I do know the crest, and I know what it represents. Its owner is not to be taken lightly, I assure you."
"I need to know, Cassandra," Connor told her. "This thing has attacked the fiancee of a friend of mine."
"The owner of this sword is indeed a man, Connor, or at least... he used to be. In fact, he is older than you are."
Connor's eyes lit up with understanding. "Then he is an immortal."
Cassandra's head inclined toward him slightly, indicating that he was on the right track, but not entirely correct. "He is not an immortal as we are, yet he shares many traits with our kind. Ramirez never told you about them, Connor. Perhaps even he did not know of their existence. Juan Ramirez wouldn't have associated himself with such killers, of that I am sure."
She continued on, but rose to her feet and began to pace the length of the cabin as she explained herself. "Like us, they are immortal, and like us, they have certain weaknesses that can be exploited. Theirs is a dark source of power, one fueled by hatred and all things evil. This particular sword once belonged to Prince Vlad Tepes III Of The Holy Order Of The Dragon, former King Of Wallachia."
Connor was silent, his eyes intent on the incredibly knowledgeable woman before him. She took his silence to mean that he knew nothing of the individual of whom she spoke.
"I'm not surprised you haven't heard of him, Connor. All of the accounts of his rule have been heavily censured, for they were unspeakable. Allow me to give you some background before I continue so that you may understand. Wallachia was founded in 1290 by a Transylvanian named Radu Negru, also known as Rudolph the Black. It was dominated by Hungary until 1330, when it became independent. The first ruler of the new country was Prince Basarab the Great. He was a direct ancestor of Dracula. Dracula's grandfather, Prince Mircea the Old, reigned from 1386 to 1418. Prince Mircea was unfortunate in battle, and after one too many losses to The Turks he was forced to pay tribute to them. He and any descendants would be allowed continued rule over Walachia, but only as puppets of the Ottoman empire."
Connor shrugged. "Such were the fortunes of war in any era. How does this give birth to such a creature?"
Cassandra smiled. "Patience, Highlander. It will become clear." She continued on with her story.
"The throne of Walachia was not necessarily passed from father to son. The prince, or Voivode as was his title, was elected by the country's Boyars, a title given to the nobles that owned most of the land. This caused much in-fighting among family members. This included assassinations, and other forms of backstabbing both clandestine and otherwise. Eventually the House of Basarab was split into two factions, Mircea's descendants, and the descendants of another prince named Dan - whose descendants were called the Danesti.
In time Mircea had an illegitimate son, who was called Vlad. He was educated in Hungary and Germany. Vlad served as a page for King Sigismund of Hungary, who became the Holy Roman Emperor in 1410. Sigismund founded a secret fraternal order of knights called the Order of the Dragon. Their mission? To uphold Christianity and defend the empire against Turkey. Because of his bravery fighting Turks, Vlad was admitted to the Order. The Boyars started to call him Dracul."
A hint of recognition lit Connor's eyes. "Dragon," he muttered.
"Yes, it can mean dragon. Vlad's second son would be known as Dracula, or son of the dragon. But Dracul can also mean "devil". And so it came to pass that Dracula's enemies would call him "son of the devil".
An odd chill ran down Connor's spine, much as the chill he saw pass over Cassandra moments earlier. He gestured for her to continue, for he found the history lesson quite fascinating, if soul chilling.
"Eventually Sigismund made Vlad the military governor of Transylvania," Cassandra continued. "It was a post he held from 1431 to 1435. During that time he lived in the town of Sighisoara. This is where the man you met, Vlad III, was born in 1431. Records I have unearthed indicate he had an older brother, Mircea, and a younger brother, Radu the Handsome. Their mother may have been a Moldavian princess or a Tranyslvanian noble. No one knows for sure. It is said that she educated Dracula in his early years and doted upon him constantly. Later, he was trained for knighthood by an old boyar who had fought the Turks.
In 1447 Vlad II was murdered. There are different stories about how he died - he may have been tortured and burned, or even buried alive. It was a brutal time in a brutal country so any of that is possible. With their father dead, Dracula and his brother Radu in Turkey at the time, and too young to yet take the throne, a member of the Danesti clan, Vladislav II, was given the Wallachian throne. It goes without saying that after such battles, the people of the country didn't enjoy having a Hungarian puppet in charge of Wallachia. So in 1448 they fetched Young Vlad III and gave him an army. He was seventeen years old when he first saw battle. Radu apparently chose to remain in Turkey because he had grown up there, and apparently remained loyal to the sultan. It is at this point that Dracula III came to power, and the story of his frightening reign truly paints a picture of demon."
Connor sat there, enraptured by Cassandra's storytelling ability. She paused and walked over to a bookshelf on the other side of the room. She removed a thick leather-bound book and opened it. Connor merely sat there appreciatively as she thumbed through the pages. Finally, she seemed to come across that which she sought, and crossed the room once more, handing Connor the book.
"Is this the man you encountered?"
Connor was amazed. The page featured a reproduction of a painting from centuries past. It was a man's face. The strong jaw line, the dark shoulder-length hair, the longish, though not ugly, nose - it was indeed the man he had encountered only a few hours ago. There was no doubt.
"Yes. This is him."
She nodded. "Then believe what I tell you, Connor, that this man has committed such atrocities that even the devil himself would appreciate Dracula's dark soul. With the help of his Turkish army, Dracula seized the Walachian throne. His first reign was short, however, lasting only two months before he was overthrown and forced into exile in Moldavia. In 1456, Dracula invaded his own country of Wallachia once more. The invasion was successful, and he once again ruled. This was Dracula's true reign of terror. He quickly established his capital at Tirgoviste and soon after becoming ruler, Dracula invited many beggars and others - the old and the infirm and the poor - to a banquet at his castle. They made many toasts to their ruler, when finally Dracula asked them if they would like to be without cares, lacking nothing in the world. Of course they responded that they would indeed. In response Dracula had the castle boarded up and set it on fire. Everyone inside was burned alive."
Cassandra heard Connor's sharp intake of breath. "Dear God."
"He was just getting started," She replied. "Dracula liked to set up a banquet table and dine while he watched people die. His favorite form of execution was impalement. Have you ever seen someone impaled, Connor? It is one of the most gruesome deaths anyone could imagine. Most often Vlad had a horse attached to each of the victim's legs, a sharpened stake was gradually forced into the body as the horses pulled. Great care was taken so that the stake was not too sharp, lest the victims die too quickly. Normally the stake was inserted into the body through the buttocks and was often forced through the body until it emerged from the mouth. Vlad's victims sometimes endured for hours... sometimes even days. Dracula liked to impale many people at once, arranging the stakes in intricate designs. He also had people skinned, boiled alive, impaled, and chopped into pieces while he ate a fantastic repast. His cruelty was not limited to men, either. He killed women and children as easily as anyone else. It was said that Vlad felt as if he were imposing his own moral code on Wallachia, and yet he himself kept a mistress. He did not practice what he preached."
Connor shook his head as he tried to take it all in. Even with his diseased soul, even the Kurgan would be taken aback by Vlad Dracula's crimes against humanity. He had to wrench himself back to the present as Cassandra continued on, telling Connor of Dracula's mistress.
"By all reports she worshipped the very ground he walked on. Once, when Dracula was particularly morose, the woman told him that she was pregnant with his child. Vlad warned the woman not to joke about such matters but she insisted that she spoke the truth. Dracula had the woman examined by his matrons to determine the truth. They found of course that the woman was lying. Dracula's response was to draw his knife and cut her open from her groin to her breasts while proclaiming his desire for the world to see where he had been. He then left the woman to die in agony."
"He is truly the son of the Devil," Connor interjected, the look on his face aghast.
And there was even more, as Cassandra continued on about Dracula's crimes. "By the time he was deposed in 1462, it is said that he had killed between 40,000 and 100,000 people. I suspect that the true number is even higher. He always thought up some excuse for these executions. He killed merchants who cheated their customers. He killed women who had affairs. Afterwards, he would display the corpses in public so everyone would learn a lesson. It's said that there were over 20,000 bodies hanging outside his capital city."
"In 1462, Dracula attacked the Turks to drive them out of the Danube River valley. In response, Sultan Mehmed II retaliated by invading Wallachia with an army three times larger than Dracula's own. Vlad was forced to retreat to his capital. He burned his own villages and poisoned wells on the way so that the Turkish army wouldn't have any food or water."
When the sultan reached Tirgoviste, he saw a scene that sickened and frightened him, quoted forever in history as "the Forest of the Impaled". He could not continue the battle. Vlad Dracula III was, somewhat surprisingly, killed soon afterward. Some say he was assassinated on the battlefield by his own boyars, or was accidentally killed by one of his men."
By this time, Connor had finished his tea, and was listening intently to the story of a wicked ruler and his lust for blood. It was a horrific tale of wanton death and destruction, and a loss of life in such numbers that to even contemplate it gave Connor the beginnings of a headache. Still, he didn't quite understand.
"He is a devil. That much is clear. But... how did he become immortal?"
"No one truly knows the truth other than Vlad himself. It is said that soon after his death, Dracula's castle was ransacked by the villagers. Shortly after that, there were sightings of a man answering the description of Vlad Dracula appearing in nearby villages, only at night, killing men, women, and children by sucking the blood out of their bodies. The rumor has it that somehow, through his deep feeling of betrayal by his own Boyars, that his hatred caused him to somehow forego the grave. It is said he rose again, not dead, and not alive, but rather undead. From that point on, he would infect anyone that drank of his blood, making them dead to this life, and his disciple of darkness."
Connor nodded in understanding. "Much as drinking from the chalice in Christian religions means that the disciple gains everlasting life through God, drinking of Dracula's blood results in everlasting life... though The Devil."
The look on Cassandra's face was grim. "To answer your question more directly, Connor, he became immortal through sheer force of will, fed by the power of pure hatred and evil. Now, he walks the Earth seeking conquest. I, for one, believe in these rumors. There is much evidence to support it, and if anyone could survive the grave with the help of the powers of evil, Vlad Dracula could. Among his the powers he has as The Lord Of The Undead, he can appear as a mist, or take the form of some lower creatures like the bat and the wolf. It is said he has the ability to appear and disappear at will. He also has some kind of hypnotic effect on women."
She hesitated before speaking again. What she was about to suggest ran against her nature. "Perhaps it would be wise to contact Duncan for assistance?"
Connor nearly leaped from his chair. "No. I don't want Duncan anywhere near this creature. This... Dracula... is powerful and without mercy. Duncan is not yet ready to encounter this kind of evil. I have an ally, an old friend from Scotland."
She smiled. "You mean Donald Fraser."
Connor was amazed. "How did you know of him?"
"I know many things, Highlander," She replied.
"Your Undead King seems to have attacked Donald's fiancee, Moira."
A look of alarm passed across Cassandra's beautiful face. "Connor, if she has tasted of his blood, you must act now to save her. Let me tell you another short story, about a woman Dracula loved after he became a vampire, and what became of her. She was The Countess Elizabeth Bathory. She was born in 1560 and having been brought up in the Carpathians, was almost a neighbor of Dracula's home country. In her early days she was, by all accounts, an intelligent and highly educated woman. She married when she was only fifteen years old, but for most of their marriage she was left in isolation in one of the many castles the family owned. Her husband died horrifically and mysteriously in 1604. Some attribute the death to a mysterious stranger answering Dracula's description.
At that point, Bathory's life became an obsession for inflicting horrible tortures upon others, mostly young girls. Bathory's first concern upon arrival at one of her castles was to establish a suitable place for a torture chamber. Unlike her mysterious lover who only appeared at night, however, it seems that most of the torture was inflicted by a retinue of sadistic old crones that she had enlisted to serve her. Her tools of torture included branding irons, torches, knives, razors and custom-made silver pincers. Sometimes she would indeed participate in the torture but as royalty she would most often howl instructions from her throne."
"Her victims were often beaten beyond recognition. They had their fingers cut off with scissors or were hauled naked into the snow where they would be drenched with buckets of water and left to freeze to death. It was even said that she would have peasant girls brought to her bed so she could bite pieces of flesh from their shoulders and faces and that she bathed in the blood of virgins. Her political connections spared her life for a time, but she was eventually hunted down and brought to trial, after which her mysterious lover disappeared. As punishment, Bathory was sealed alive behind a castle wall. If this woman - Moira - has tasted his blood, she, too, could develop a taste for the brutal as the Countess did. She could become one of the Undead."
Connor sat back in the chair and stared toward the ceiling. It was a lot to take in all at once. He had not heard such a fantastic tale since the day Ramirez had taken him out behind his home and told him the history of the immortals, and of the far off day when The Gathering would take place. Cassandra merely stood there, waiting for Connor to respond. She knew that as he processed this information, he would begin to realize exactly what kind of danger Donald Fraser's fiancee could be in. Cassandra was only too willing to help with Connor's mission to protect the young woman for she, too, had suffered much at the hands of men. She had become immortal when the man known as Methos stabbed her with a sword while he and the other Four Horsemen raided her village in the Arabian plains, killing every living thing.
The immortal Methos then went on to tell her that he and his fellow Horsemen were Gods and that he could kill her and bring her back to life as often as he liked. He and the Horsemen kept her as a slave, a slave whom they beat and habitually raped until she finally escaped. Although her escape was allowed by Methos, who had come to love her, Cassandra still did not appreciate the brutality of men like Dracula.
"You said he had weaknesses. I need to know what they are," Connor told her.
She pulled her chair close to his and sat down opposite him, a hushed conspiratorial tone creeping into her voice and manner. "Listen carefully. I will tell you all I know."
"Don't leave me... please."
Donald's felt a soul wrenching agony grip him as he squeezed the hand of his wife-to-be, Moira Chisholm. He was lying in bed next to her, connected to his fiancee by a tube that the doctor had set up between them. The blood transfusion was just completed, and his immortal crimson colored blood flowed quickly from his arm into hers. The improvement in Moira's condition was almost immediately noticeable. Even under heavy sedation, the radiantly beautiful woman would sometimes sit straight up in bed and begin speaking in that strange tongue that sent icy fingers of fear crawling across Donald's flesh. Moira would tear at her nightclothes, almost as if she needed to be nude - as if they were choking her somehow - until Donald gently eased her back into a deep sleep. That, at least, had stopped for the moment. Her eyes would meet his during those fits of insanity, and he knew that she was pleading with him not to leave her side. From that moment on, he lay by her side. There he would stay until Connor returned with the information he sought. And from there, he would leave her side only long enough to kill the being that attacked her.
The Doctor, a kindly middle-aged gentleman with a thick grey mustache named Von Hagen, nodded encouragingly as the color flowed back into Moira's face for the first time since his arrival. He had recognized that Moira was suffering from some disease of the blood that had infected her, but he knew not the origins of the ailment. He also had no idea that Donald's immortal blood was probably also doing wonders for fighting the disease that had been inflicted upon her. He asked her a few simple questions, his voice heavy-laden with a Dutch accent.
"Very goot, Missus Chisolm. You haff improfed greatly. Do you recognize your surroundings?"
Moira looked around the room. "Of course. I'm in my room in Amanda's home. I must admit, the last few hours are lost to me, however."
"Very goot," He said again. "And of course you recognize Mister Fraser, your husband-to-be?"
She squeezed his hand tightly and gave Donald an adoring gaze. "Of course, Doctor."
"Aye lass," Donald said, squeezing her back and lowering his head to kiss her forehead. "You'll not be forgetting me that easily. I won't allow it."
The doctor reached out with his hand and counted off the seconds as he checked Moira's pulse at her wrist. "You haff much improfed, Missus Chisolm. I think the crisis has passed for now." Both Donald and Moira let out a sigh of relief. He reached out with both his arms and held her tight.
"When will we know when she is completely out of danger, Doctor," Donald asked.
Von Hagen removed his glasses and wiped them clean with the material of his jacket as he considered the question. "It is too soon to tell, Mister Fraser. I have never seen a disease uf the blood like this. I vill check back on her tomorrow. In the meantime, if there is an emergency of some kind, Missus Chisolm knows how to reach me." He bid them good day and made his exit. His prognosis did nothing to reassure Donald, and when Amanda appeared in the doorway, she too appeared concerned. She had said little since the attack when she witnessed Donald and Connor disappear out the window with swords in hand, pursuing the being that had done this to Moira. He and Connor had returned sometime later, and Connor had been fearfully injured in the battle. All of this must have struck the young woman as completely unorthodox, and yet in her concern for Moira she had said nothing.... yet. Donald prayed that she would have the good sense to put the matter off until the crisis had passed and Moira was safe.
He patted Moira's hand as she drifted into a light doze and crept out into the hallway as silently as possible to speak with Amanda. They both made it a point to speak in hushed tones.
"Do you know what is wrong with her, Donald? If you do you must tell me. I was her friend before she ever met you."
"I swear, Amanda, I have nothing but the vaguest idea of what is happening. When Connor returns we'll know more I'm sure."
"Do you think the danger has passed as the doctor said?"
He rubbed his temples as he tried to concentrate through the sleep deprived haze his mind was fighting through. "I don't know. The doctor seemed to be unfamiliar with Moira's illness."
"I agree. That's why I'm going to try and visit some other doctors and get other opinions. I just hope someone will see me."
He reached out and hugged her tightly. "You're a good friend, Amanda. Moira is lucky to have you, and so am I."
"Oh, stop it you Highland rogue. I'll return when I have more information." She hugged him once more and disappeared down the hallway. He heard her retrieve her cloak from the hall closet and close the door behind her as she left, catching an early morning hansom cab. He was alone in the house with Moira. That was good, he thought. No one would be around to see if he needed to use his sword to defend Moira. He retrieved his claymore from downstairs and placed it by the bedside within arms reach. He eased back onto the bed beside Moira and placed his head on the pillow. As he lay there his eyelids began to flutter, and exhaustion set in to replace the adrenalin high he had experienced all night. As he drifted into a light sleep, he began to dream of a time long past...
August 4, 1560
Donald performed the strike again, hefting the heavy claymore in two hands as he spun, pivoting on his right foot and slicing toward the empty air before him. Beads of sweat crisscrossed his lithe form. He was hot, hotter than he had ever been in his life. The weather in this cursed country was far warmer than that which he had grown accustomed to, even though he had been under Kamir's tutelage for the better part of four years. The sun was setting now in India, and as always his heart ached to see the sun dip below the horizon in his true home of Keith, back in his beloved Scotland.
Yet again he performed the sword strike to perfection.
Donald threw his claymore to the ground in frustration. Kamir was a fierce warrior, but the man was impossible at times. Donald felt that if he heard his instructor shout ‘again' one more time, he would slice Kamir's head off personally. Even as the sentiment entered his mind, he dismissed it as frustration and discomfort with the balmy Indian weather.
"Enough," Donald shouted. "I've performed this strike perfectly for two days straight. What more do you want?"
Saying nothing at first, Kamir moved across the sand and picked up Donald's claymore. He passed it from his left hand to his right, testing its weight. Donald sat down on the ground, wiping the sweat from his forehead and breathing heavily while watching his instructor. Finally, Kamir leaped into the air with the claymore in his right hand, pivoting as Donald did and slicing the air. The tip of the claymore whisked past Donald and tore a strip out of his red silk shirt, the one Kamir had given him months ago.
"As you can see," Kamir told him, his English tinged with an Indian accent. "When one performs this strike, the body is turned sideways, which makes the attacker less of a target, while extending his reach considerably. Considering your height and the length of your arms, it serves you well to perform this strike until you no longer have to even think about its execution. You will simply perform it by instinct. I teach you the fighting arts of The Thuggee for one reason and one reason only, Fraser, because I am indebted to you. I wish to see you live and live well. Like me, you are immortal, and other immortals will seek your head."
Donald shook his head as he recalled the incident of only a few years ago. How he had stumbled into a battle between Thuggee and British soldiers in Calcutta. If there was one thing Donald had in common with The Indians, it was a shared dislike of The British, and when one of the Englishman was about to run Kamir through from behind, Donald made his move and saved the man who was destined to become his teacher. Was it just destiny? Or was it the immortal quickening that he had felt which drew him to Kamir's side? Donald had no idea that Kamir was the chief priest of Kali and a very important individual in the Thuggee dynasty. Because Kamir was a man of honor, he took the young man on as a student, much to the dismay of his Thuggee brothers. It didn't matter that Kamir was already an immortal, and wouldn't have been killed by the blow, Donald was untutored in the ways of immortals, and saved a man from being killed from behind because he felt it was the right thing to do. Kamir recognized this as an honorable trait. Besides, more and more British would be flooding into India over the centuries, and Donald was a kindred spirit in his hatred for the English. Kamir could always use another honorable warrior against British invaders.
"Not me, lad," Donald replied. "This game you immortals play is ridiculous. I want to travel. I want to see the furthest corners of the world. I want to go where it's wild and untamed. I want to track animals through the wild. It's what I was born to do."
Kamir uttered a chuckle. "You may find that difficult with immortals dogging your every step, looking to take your head and receive your quickening."
"They'll have to find me first," Donald replied.
"I know you cannot stay here forever, Donald. Your destiny lies along a different path than mine. Before you leave me, allow me to pass on some of my deadliest knowledge to you" He said as he rooted in his pockets for something. Donald watched intently as Kamir pulled his hands out and wove a silken chord around the first two fingers of each hand. The skill with which his Indian tutor manipulated the nearly invisible chord, it appeared to be dancing in the rays of the setting sun.
"I thought you teaching me sword fighting was passing on your skill."
A cruel smile passed across Kamir's lips. "There is more than one way to take a head," He told Donald. "This length of chord can be the deadliest weapon of all. It is employed in assassination, strangulation to be precise. It is employed by men such as myself, we are called ‘phansigars' in my mother tongue. One of the reasons I survive in the game is because I have more than the sword as my weapon. No one expects it, and no one sees a simple length of chord as a particularly deadly weapon, and yet I can loop it around your neck and sever your head from your body in seconds given the opportunity. I will teach you the technique as my final repayment of my life debt to you."
Donald rose to his full height and eyed Kamir as he looped the chord and made it dance to his will. Yes, this could prove to be an excellent weapon...
Donald awoke once more, his lips forming a knowing smile as he remembered his old teacher. Moira still lay curled up in his arms, sleeping peacefully. With his free hand Donald reached into his pocket and removed the silk chord from his pocket, and then he looked over to his claymore. He twirled the chord around his fingers as his jaw stiffened at the thought of that creature attacking his fiancee. Yes... if his claymore failed to remove the creature's head when the time came, he would use the fine silken threads to pop its head from its neck like a champagne cork from the bottle. He would wait until Connor returned with the information they needed, and then the hunt would begin.
"My Lord! What has happened to you?" Hecate was as surprised at her lover’s sudden appearance and manner as she had ever been. Usually, when Dracula came home after the night was over, his face was imbued with color, rather than its normal ghostly white. His mood was usually upbeat. Not so on this night. Dracula did something he almost never did, he used the front door. The Lord Of The Undead stumbled inside their home and slammed the door behind him, his right hand clutching his shoulder as he fell to his knees.
"Take me... downstairs," He whispered.
Hecate obediently helped him to his feet and guided him down the steps into the cellar. They made their way across the dank basement floor to his coffin, and in it he lay down.
"I need to rest," He told her, and then shut his eyes, giving the appearance that he was indeed a corpse. Hecate left his side but for a moment, rushing upstairs to find the proper books that gave her the knowledge she sought. The healing potion recipes she had discovered would prove useful. She concocted a special salve for the wound on his shoulder, and applied it even as he ‘slept’. Five hours later, Dracula sat straight up in his coffin and found the young girl sitting by his side with an anguished look on her face.
"Thank the spirits," She said. "I was becoming worried for you."
Dracula reached up and touched the area where MacLeod had sliced his shoulder open. His flesh had healed, and there was only a mild tender area there now. If he still dreamed in his sleep as mortal men did, he would have thought the whole evening was a figment of his imagination. He recalled the events of the past hours, his intended sexual conquest of the woman called Moira, the sudden appearance of her husband and his decision to drink her blood rather than take her sexually, followed by the pitched battle with not one, but two immortal Scotsmen. He had only prepared for battle against the one, and two proved to be more than even he could handle.
"My sword - my family’s sword - I lost it. Where is the other one?"
Hecate answered immediately. The entire inventory of the house and its location was cemented in her memory. "In the study, My Lord."
"I will have need of it. The Scotsman, he has recruited another of his kind to assist him in protecting his wife. Together, they proved too much for me."
Hecate looked stunned. Dracula nearly forgot that she saw him as The Lord Of Darkness himself. How could he be dispatched by two mere men? He raised his eyebrow in indignation.
"These are not normal men. They are immortals, both of them. They have been practicing their swordsmanship for hundreds of years. I found myself outnumbered. I will need an equalizer if I am to take the woman and the power of these immortal warriors by taking their heads."
She scanned his eyes for some inkling of his plan. "What are you suggesting, My Lord?"
Dracula rose to his feet and took her by the hand, leading her up to the main floor. He guided her into the library and removed a dusty old copy of a book with the title ‘The Complete History Of Map Making In Europe’. It was, in fact, a false cover, bound with such an innocuous title to discourage others from reading it. In point of fact, it was the most powerful book of sorcery he had ever come across. While he himself could not perform the spells due to the fact that they had to be cast by someone with a beating heart, he knew Hecate - with her special talents for the magic arts - could. He leafed through the pages searching for the appropriate spells. When he found it, he handed her the book.
"I have need of assistance in the battle against these two immortals. I will need you to carry out this incantation."
Hecate studied the writings on the page before her. As she did so, her eyes widened with surprise. "I.... I had no idea you had access to such powerful sorcery." She paused, her sensual mouth hanging open with shock as she continued to read.
"This spell will... will summon..."
"Demons," Dracula finished the sentence for her.
She looked at him with amazement in her eyes.
"You are correct, Hecate my sweet. If you perform this spell, you will summon two demons from the pits of Hell. Two demons that will serve my will. That, I think, will even the odds sufficiently. In fact, it will tip the odds in my favor." Dracula’s lips pulled back into a sneer, revealing his sharp teeth. Hecate was not so sure of herself.
"My Lord, I feel I should point something out to you."
Dracula eyed her suspiciously. "What is it?"
"This is a very powerful spell as you well know. Summoning demons... it is rarely done. There is a reason it is rarely done. The forces of magic, like the forces of nature, seek balance. If I were to summon two servants for you from the netherworld, I cannot predict how the forces of nature would seek to even the balance, but I can assure you of this, there will be balance. When I perform this spell, something else will happen somewhere to even things out."
Dracula had already considered that, and he was ready to accept the risk. He reached out and squeezed her shoulder gently. "Perform the incantation," He whispered.
She nodded in resignation. Hecate, for all her skills as a sorceress, had never performed such a powerful spell before. In fact, she was not even aware that this book of magic existed in Dracula’s library. Obviously, he was still keeping some secrets from her. But now the moment was at hand, she would be summoning demons from the acidic pits of Hades for her lover to command. Part of her was very afraid at the thought of direct communication with the powers of Hell, and yet another part of her was incredibly excited at the power she was about to wield. As always, she went upstairs and unlocked one of the bedroom doors, Dracula following close behind. They stepped inside.
The luxurious room may have at one time been a proper bedroom, but had since been converted by Hecate into the room where she cast her spells. A pentagram was painted in red on the floor, a candle at the each of the five points on the star. She lit each candle, and the heavy scent of wax filled the air. Dracula remained off to one side as she removed her clothes and, now fully nude, stepped into the pentagram and sat cross-legged in the center. The young woman dipped two fingers into a bowl of reddish liquid and smeared the substance across her exposed chest. Vlad found it to be an especially erotic sight. She then raised her hands to her sides, palms facing the ceiling, and began to recite the incantation under her breath. Dracula looked on appreciatively.
All around the house, the winds seemed to pick up. Before long, they were howling wildly. A flash of lightening streaked across the sky, but there was no thunder or rain. Hecate began to tremble as she recited the spell. The very air around them seemed charged with electricity. Dracula never found her more beautiful than she was right now, nude, fairly trembling with power, and lost in the spells of the black arts. He had to fight hard to resist the temptation to take her. Doing so would not only ruin the spell, but cost the young girl her life as well, and he needed a mystic with a beating heart to perform these spells, she was of no use to him were she undead as he was.
Finally, Hecate fell silent and her hands rested on her thighs. Her chest was heaving with exertion. "It is done, My Lord."
Despite his command of the darker forces in the world, even Dracula started slightly as he heard a slight thumping sound on the main floor below them. Silence followed, and then the thumping began again. Dracula recognized it as heavy footfalls. A second set of footfalls followed the first. The sound was getting closer. Something was climbing the stairs. Hecate rose to her feet and moved to the doorway, which she opened. As she did so, the set of footfalls grew ever louder, and Dracula smiled as the fruits of her labor became evident. The grey-skinned demons entered the room and regarded both Vlad and Hecate with a wary eye. Dracula was immediately impressed. Oh yes, these would do very well indeed as his foot soldiers.
They had grey leathery skin and faces reminiscent of bulldogs. Like normal humans, they had two arms, which were brimming with muscles, and two legs, but those legs were more like that of horses than humans. Their mouths were filled with rows of sharp fangs, and drool escaped their crusted lips. Their eyes were dead - black as the night and without life. Like dogs they sniffed at Hecate, and then in Dracula’s direction. Dracula smiled.
"Yes. They will do nicely."
While Donald lay by Moira’s bedside, holding her hand and stoking her hair, he fought the despair which threatened to claim him. He was a Scotsman, and by God he would not allow some otherworldly creature to take his wife from him without a fight. All at once Donald was yanked from his private reverie by a sudden clap of thunder and a blast of lightening that seemed to pass very close to the bedroom window. The deafening clap of thunder didn’t even rouse Moira, but it certainly garnered Donald’s attention. There were no clouds outside, and no rain. What had caused the thunder? Suddenly his body stiffened as he heard the sound of heavy footfalls on the ground floor. He knew Moira was out at the moment, trying to solicit different medical opinions on Moira’s condition, and the footfalls were heavier than hers would be. These belonged to a man with heavy boots.
Donald rolled out of Moira’s bed silently and retrieved his claymore from the closet. He crept out into the hallway and down the stairs into the sitting room, which was darkened by the curtains he had pulled earlier. Donald listened intently. There was a slight chuckle coming from around the corner. Someone was in the house. He cast about with his senses, but could not detect the quickening he felt in the presence of another immortal, nor the twisted version he felt when in the presence of his fiancee’s attacker. Nevertheless, that did not mean that there was no danger, it could very well be robbers of some kind.
Fraser pivoted on one foot and made his way around the corner, his claymore clearing the way. He was surprised when strong hands gripped him by the wrists and twisted, using Donald’s own momentum against him and pulling him even further into the middle of the room. Donald lost his footing as he was yanked forward. A large form, silhouetted in the darkness, moved quickly as it pulled Fraser’s claymore from his hands, leaving him defenseless. The Scotsman tried to right himself, but instead stumbled to the floor, landing hard enough to knock the air from his lungs. He heard his own sword cut through the air and the shadow moved toward him. Out of instinct, he closed his eyes, he did not want to see his death at the hands of his own blade. And then the most interesting thing happened.
The blade stopped a mere hair's width from his neck.
A deep voice addressed him. "Who are you?"
"You’re in our home, stranger. I’ll answer no questions from the likes of you."
A savage kick found its way into Donald’s stomach. "I have the sword. Now tell me your name."
Donald sighed with frustration. "I am Donald Fraser. Now, who are you?"
Again, the disembodied voice chuckled with amusement. A figure stepped from the shadows. It was a man dressed in the garish leather garments Donald recognized as that belonging to the Spanish Courts from years gone by. The mustached stranger dropped the sword and offered his hand instead, assisting Donald to his feet.
"I am Juan Sanchez Villa-Lobos Ramirez, and I’m wondering what I’m doing here... when I should be dead."
Chapter 5: Battle In The City Of Shadows
Connor was weary and hungry as he returned to London the next morning. He rode on a fresh horse supplied by Cassandra. He yearned for a hearty breakfast and a nap, if time allowed, before getting down to the business of destroying this vampire he now knew by name, Count Dracula, that threatened his friends. With the information and special weapons supplied by Cassandra he now knew that there was hope for Moira. In his coat pocket he carried two crucifixes about the size of his palm. Cassandra was quick to point out that vampires care not for this, the most recognized symbol of God, and was equally quick to point out that the crucifix was not a potent weapon against the evil of the Nosferatu. The sight of the crucifix could ward off a vampire, for they found the cross impossible to look upon, but it caused them no further injury. She also made a point to remind Connor that only a crucifix depicting the body of Christ attached to the cross would prove useful in providing protection against Dracula. Nothing else would suffice.
Connor also carried a handful of Eucharistic wafers in a leather pouch. The wafer, being a symbol of the body of Christ, is taken during communion of the Eucharist. If Connor or Donald could fight their way close enough to Dracula and place a wafer upon Dracula's skin, it would burn his flesh as surely as fire. In fact, fire itself was an excellent weapon against Nosferatu, but MacLeod was wary of using blazing fire for fear that it get out of control. In a separate leather pouch he carried a small amount of garlic. Cassandra had explained to him that garlic had been used since ancient times as a healing agent, and like the cross could be used to ward off Dracula's kind, for they found the taste, smell, and the very presence of garlic objectionable. It wasn't a surefire method of protection, but it was better than nothing.
Finally, she had supplied him with four wooden stakes, ash to be precise. She had informed him that his sword, as wielded by an immortal, was imbued with a type of energy that could kill Dracula if one were to cut his head from his neck. In order to make sure that Dracula remained a corpse he would have to drive the ash stake through the heart of his foe to ensure that he remain impotent for all time. Rifles and revolvers had no effect on the vampire whatsoever. Connor hoped that with these weapons combined with his katana and Donald's claymore they could put an end to the menace of Dracula once and for all. They had some time to prepare for the battle, but not much. There was much lore spread about the vampire and their powers over the centuries, one being that they cannot go out in daylight. Cassandra was quick to refute that. Vampires could indeed move about in the daylight, though they were very weak in comparison to the night, when they were at their strongest. It was unlikely Dracula would attempt anything drastic until nightfall.
He had finally arrived at Amanda's home, where Moira and Donald were staying, and as he checked his pocket watch he saw that it was after ten o'clock. The streets were teeming with life and he glanced about to make sure no one was watching him. From inside the house he could detect the by now familiar quickening he felt when Donald was near. That was good. If he was inside, there was likely nothing amiss. He gathered his overcoat around him to conceal his katana (the broadsword Dracula had used he left with Cassandra for sake keeping) and rapped on the door with his gloved hand. Donald answered the door. Connor was struck by the look on his friends face.
"Madainn mhath," He said to Donald, bidding him good morning in Gaelic.
Donald offered him an enigmatic smile. "Madainn mhath," He returned. "Ciamar a tha thu?" He asked, asking how Connor was and his eyes falling upon Macleod's wounded shoulder. By now, the bite Dracula had inflicted had healed completely thanks to Cassandra's ministrations. She had told him of what would happen to a normal human when they receive a bite from a vampire, and he had seen some of that when Moira had been bitten by the monster. Thankfully, a transfusion of Donald's immortal blood seemed to have negated the effects. Connor's own immortal nature combined with washing the cut in holy water seemed wiped any trace of the vampire's bite from his body.
"Tha gu math, tapadh leat,""Ciamar a that cúúisean?" MacLeod asked, wanting to know what was wrong.
Donald took a deep breath and gathered himself. When he answered, it was in English. "We have a visitor. He claims to be an old friend of yours. A very old friend."
Donald stepped back from the doorway and gestured for Connor to enter, which he did. He could detect no other immortals other than Fraser. Donald led Connor through the entryway and down a short hallway, past the stairs, to the kitchen. When Connor entered the room, he fairly stopped in his tracks, and his mouth fell open in shock. The man who sat there, pouring wine from a carafe and chatting amiably with young Amanda, could not be who he seemed to be. Amanda looked up as Connor entered and the stranger's eyes locked with Macleod's. The mustached newcomer looked Connor up and down before nodding appreciatively.
"You've done well for yourself, MacLeod. I'm very proud of you. It's good to see you again."
The entire room was whipped into chaos as Connor, fueled by rage and dismay, tugged at the drawstring on his overcoat and in a blur of motion the katana was in his hand and at the ready. Donald leaped back in surprise as Amanda shrieked and darted for the corner. The newcomer remained perfectly still except for a brief pause to drink more wine.
"Just who in the hell do you think you are? You can't be who you seem. This is a trick."
"Connor, what are you doing?" Donald shouted in alarm. "I thought he was your friend."
"This man is not what he appears to be," Connor began, looking the newcomer square in the eye. How dare whoever this was impersonate his mentor, Ramirez? To MacLeod, it was blasphemy.
"I see you've taken good care of my old sword. I'm honored," Ramirez replied calmly.
Connor shook his head. This couldn't be happening. It had to be some trick of Dracula's to confuse them. While it was true that this person sounded and looked, and even dressed, exactly as Connor remembered him, it had to be an expert forgery of some kind.
"Do not toy with me, whoever you are."
Ramirez, if that's who he truly was, laughed heartily at MacLeod. The situation was balanced on a knife edge. If Connor chose to, he could behead Ramirez in the blink of an eye and end his resurrection before he had even learned how it had happened. Still, it felt so good to see his old pupil again that he couldn't help but laugh.
"Highlander, please, calm down and allow me to prove that I am the same person you remember."
Connor's thoughts were racing. "How could you do that?"
Ramirez smiled broadly revealing those rows of perfect teeth that MacLeod knew women immediately found attractive. "What if I were to share something with you that no one else could know about except you and I?"
Macleod's grip on the katana handle remained tight. "If you can, please do."
Ramirez rose to his full, and impressive, height. He paused only to take another drink of wine and moved the chair to the middle of the kitchen floor. He then sat down once more and made the motion with his arms as if he were rowing a boat. Finally, he proceeded to do the last thing Connor could have expected. He began singing. As the deep baritone voice came rushing back to him, MacLeod could hardly believe what he was hearing.
"B-A-L-A-N-C-E... balance," Ramirez sang the very words that Connor remembered from his very first encounter with the former chief metallurgist to King Charles the fifth of Spain. The two men were alone, out on the loch, in a rowboat. Ramirez proceeded to unbalance Connor and send him plunging into the deep cold waters, only to find that he could not drown. It was then that Connor found out that he could not die. He was immortal. It was the first step into a greater existence for MacLeod. Only the two of them were there back then in Glencoe, there wasn't another soul around, aside from Heather, for miles. Ramirez turned to his former pupil and continued.
"You called me a liar, MacLeod, because you thought I was Spanish, but I was born Egyptian. You called me a Haggis. I had no idea what that was, and when you told me, I believe my response was, and still is, ‘how revolting'."
Connor shook his head slightly in an attempt to clear his thoughts. Behind him Donald smiled. Amanda also shared their joy. It couldn't be, and yet it was true. No one else on Earth could possibly know the details of that encounter. Somehow, perhaps due to some arcane magic of Dracula's, Ramirez had been returned to them. What was it Ramirez had told him behind the house in Glencoe when asked why immortals existed?
"Why does the sun rise? Or are the stars just pinholes in the curtain of night? Who knows?"
Connor had no choice but to admit it. This was indeed Juan Sanchez Villa-Lobos Ramirez before him now. Instinctively, he lowered the sword and dashed toward the elder man, embracing him in a bear hug that threatened to break his former mentor's ribs, tears of pure joy falling freely. Connor had always felt guilt at not being present when Ramirez had died at The Kurrgan's hands. He eventually realized that the old man had arranged for MacLeod to be away when the battle occurred, for he was not yet ready for the encounter with such a powerful foe. As he hugged his oldest friend tightly, he could suddenly imagine that he was back in Glencoe, training with Ramirez as Heather looked on and occasionally got a hearty laugh out of Connor's fumbling with a sword.
"I've missed you, old friend," Connor could barely whisper. Donald and Amanda looked on, both fighting back tears at the sight of the emotional reunion. For his part, Ramirez patted his friend on the back and nodded sagely.
"I know you have, MacLeod. You've learned your lessons well. You no longer smell like a dung heap."
Connor broke the embrace and stared into his friend's eyes and through the tears of joy he began laughing at the shared memories. Ramirez also broke into raucous laughter, slapping MacLeod on the back. Suddenly, Connor realized that he was still holding the katana, the sword that originally belonged to Ramirez. He immediately dropped to one knee before him and offered the sword with both hands.
"This belongs to you. I return it with my thanks."
Ramirez shook his head. "No, Highlander. The sword is yours. You honor me with your choice of weapon. Masamune would be proud to know that the weapon continues on in the hands of a noble warrior. Now please, get to your feet. You embarrass me. Though I do wonder, what happened to your own sword?"
Connor rose to his feet slowly, placing the katana slowly into it's scabbard. He had never truly thought of what Ramirez would think of him using his katana after his death. It was intended as a tribute to the finest man he had ever known, but now, to have it actually given to him, meant more than his mentor could know.
"I used it..." He paused as he felt the pain of lost love return once more, as fresh as it ever was. "... to mark Heather's grave."
Ramirez looked to the floor uncomfortably as he remembered the fresh-faced young girl Connor had so adored. He had urged Connor more than once to leave Heather, for his sake as well as hers. Ramirez knew, however, that Connor could never leave his wife. MacLeod lived to make Heather happy, and she lived for him. He always knew it, but he had to try. He was almost glad he had failed to separate them. Heather's love for Connor made him into the man he was today. Silently, he said a prayer in her memory and then returned his gaze to MacLeod, placing a hand on Connor's shoulder.
"I grieve with you, my brother."
Sealing the pain away as best he could, Connor managed a limp smile. Sharing the pain with someone like Ramirez, someone who knew exactly what it was to lose the love of your life to old age while you remained forever vital, as he did with the Japanese Princess Shakiko ages before Connor's birth, managed to lessen it somehow.
"So tell me, MacLeod, what have you done? Why am I here?"
Before Connor could reply, Donald chimed in. "Perhaps we three should go for a walk and discuss this... in private." The three glanced toward Amanda, who looked for all the world like a cat with its fur bristling. She was still mostly in the dark as to what was going on, and yet she had handled herself with an excellent presence of mind during these times of crisis. To be excluded now was an insult, but the less she knew, the less danger she was in. She raised her chin defiantly.
"How dare you, Donald Fraser? I am just as much a part of this as you are. I care about Moira and you... and Connor," She glanced to the floor, perhaps with embarrassment, as she said his name. Did MacLeod notice her blushing as well? Donald took the young girl by the hand and smiled his dashing, rogue-like smile.
"My dear, what we don't tell you is for your own good. Besides, I need someone I trust to be with Moira in case she wakes. We won't be gone long, I promise."
Reluctantly, Amanda agreed, but Donald knew that before too long the headstrong and intelligent woman would start piecing things together, and she would have to be told everything. With a final glance toward Ramirez and a smile at MacLeod, she retreated to Moira's room, where Donald's fiancee was resting comfortably.
"Christ, that woman is a handful," Donald whispered.
"And she has an eye for brooding Scotsmen I think," Ramirez returned as he nudged Connor in the side. Connor was too happy to be reunited with his friend to be angry at the comment. Within a half hour, they had found Ramirez some old clothes belonging to one of Amanda's borders that reflected the current period and they left the house to take a walk among the seething humanity of London. MacLeod and Fraser made sure to secret their blades away under their long overcoats as they dressed. Ramirez found it hard to concentrate on the discussion as he marveled at the city London had become, his eyes flitting this way and that as he took it all in.
"The last time I was through these parts there was nothing but a path through the woods and some huts," He commented as they passed the House of Commons.
Connor chuckled as he tried to draw the conversation back to the situation at hand. He steered them down a side street as they talked.
"We've encountered another type of immortal," He told him. "When he is near, there is the familiar quickening sensation, but it's distorted, much more violent and sickening than anything any of us have encountered before. He appears to drink blood to survive and has strange powers I have never seen. Donald and I saw him dissolve into a cloud of bats. He grew fangs and attacked me, his bite wouldn't heal properly until Cassandra washed it with holy water blessed by a priest. He attacked Donald's wife, Moira."
"Yes, he told me about her before you arrived," Ramirez added.
"When I went to see Cassandra, she told me who this man was. He is, or he was, Vlad Tepes III of The Order Of The Dragon... Count Dracula." Ramirez stopped walking as he heard the name. It took Donald and Connor a moment before realizing that the elder man was a few paces behind him with a worried look on his face.
"You know him don't you?" Donald asked, already knowing the answer from the look on Ramirez' forever handsome features. "You know the man who assaulted my fiancee."
Slowly, Ramirez fell back into pace with his friends, speaking in a hushed tone as a group of children playing on the sidewalk passed them. "I know of him, Fraser. His cruelty to envoys and ambassadors was legend. I won't speak of it now, but we were aware of one another. Let's leave it at that for now. I had thought he was long dead." Connor thought that Ramirez was being strangely tight-lipped about his past with Dracula, but was unwilling to push the subject at this point.
"We're not that lucky," Connor muttered.
As the trio emerged from the narrow side street, both Donald and Connor stopped dead. Ramirez knew the looks on their faces well, for though his own quickening was now a part of the Kurrgan, he had seen the look many times before. Another immortal was near. He glanced across the busy street. Directly ahead of them was a small church, a group of morning doves alighted on the parapet above. Suddenly, the flock dispersed and disappeared over the rooftops.
"It looks as if we are being summoned," Donald said. "He wants us to come to him... in there." He pointed toward the small Anglican church across the street, St. George's Church.
"Then let's not disappoint him," Connor added, reaching out with his index and middle finger to touch the hilt of his katana as if it were a good luck talisman.
"Holy Ground," Ramirez returned as they darted across the street, avoiding hansom cabs and carriages as they did so. "Where we cannot fight."
"Neither can he," Connor returned. "It's neutral ground.
Ramirez took the lead, swinging open the heavy oak doors as they approached. Connor and Donald reached into their coats, gripping the handles of their swords tightly but keeping them hidden. The church appeared empty except for two figures at the front, standing at the altar and regarding with keen interest a stained glass depiction of Christ sitting on a throne, surrounded by children. Underneath the image was a caption: 'Suffer the little children unto me...". As sunshine filtered in brilliantly through the glass design, Connor and Donald looked to one another and nodded. It was definitely him, but he was not alone. Dracula was clad in a dark blue suit, while the female at his side was wearing a very tight black dress that hugged her ample curves. MacLeod and Fraser stepped inside while Ramirez closed the doors, which creaked on their hinges as they shut, announcing their presence. He also deigned to remain at the back of the church, hidden in the darkness of the vestibule for the time being.
Sensing their presence, Dracula turned to face them, a broad but emotionless smile on his face. The woman also turned, revealing herself to the immortal pair. Both Donald and Connor found it hard to take their eyes from her sensuous form. She was dark and sensuous, with a Mediterranean look to her features.
"Gentlemen, thank you for coming as I knew you would. Allow me to introduce my familiar, Hecate."
Connor nodded in her direction and feigned disinterest, although inside he knew any man, no matter how strong, would find her an impossible temptation to resist. He knew Donald probably felt the same way. As he looked around, MacLeod could see why Dracula had chosen this church, there were no images of the cross with the body of Christ anywhere in sight, only artistic representations of the cross without the son of God.
"What do you want?" Donald asked.
Dracula frowned. "You insult me. I have what I want. I have Hecate by my side, no matter how rude you are to her by refusing even to acknowledge her, and I have your fiancee. It is only a matter of time before she comes to me of her own free will."
Connor sensed Donald reaching for his sword and stepped in to grab his friend's wrist tightly, keeping him from trying something he might regret on holy ground.
"You miscalculate, Count Dracula. We have made sure that your tainted blood hasn't infected Donald's fiancee," He said as he turned back to Dracula, who made no attempt at disguising his amazement at the mention of his true identity.
"You are a resourceful group, aren't you?"
Connor moved in close to Dracula so that he need only speak in a whisper to be heard clearly by the Count. "I know all about you, the former despot of Wallachia. You were betrayed by your own people. You can't win this, I won't let you."
Dracula regarded the young Scotsman before him. "And who are you to stop me? You know so much of me, do I get the pleasure of your name?"
Just then another voice rang out through the church, Ramirez had made his presence known and was making his way down the aisle between the pews toward them. "He is Connor MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod. Born in Glenfinnen, on the shores of Loch Sheil, he was driven from his home in 1536, and he cannot die. He is not someone you want to anger, and he is also under my protection, Vlad, as are his friends."
Dracula's eyes widened in something akin to shock combined with recognition. Connor, Donald, and Ramirez reveled in it. "Ramirez? Is that you? What are you doing here? Do you mean to tell me you are one of them?"
"I once was, Vlad."
"That explains why I detect nothing from you as I do your two friends."
Ramirez continued as if Vlad had not spoken. "You and I always managed to keep a healthy distance from one another, Count. You know of me, as I do of you. Now, do yourself a favor and return to your hellish homeland while you still can."
Even Hecate seemed amazed at the presence of the newcomer. She turned to Vlad, never taking her eyes from Ramirez. "It is the balancing of nature I told you about, my Lord. He is nature's way of balancing the spell. I can see the aura about him myself, he was... is... a powerful being."
Donald's ears perked up. "Spell? What spell?"
Dracula smiled enigmatically. "You will find out soon enough, Scotsman."
Connor's patience were rapidly running out. "You want to finish this? Fine, then. Let's finish it. All we have to do is step outside."
Dracula shook his forefinger at Connor as if he were an errant child. "This will finish at a time and place of my choosing. Until then, Hecate and I will appreciate the fine artistry of this house of worship. Until me meet again, my immortal brethren, make Moira comfortable for me. Hecate and I will have many uses for her. I will appreciate her for all eternity."
It took every bit of willpower at Donald's command not to remove his sword from its sheath and behead the foul being before him as he spoke those last words. And as Dracula squeezed the young girl about the waist, letting his hand stray downward to her firm buttocks and squeezing them, causing the once alluring and now disgusting woman to lick her lips, he was tempted to behead her as well. Normally, Donald was not a violent man. He had never sought the Prize. In fact, he had done his best to stay out of the game altogether, for taking life was not heroic or in any way pleasurable to him. He enjoyed the hunt, not the kill. But in this instance, he found himself actually craving the sensation that came when he felt his blade slice through sinewy muscle tissue and even bone. Luckily, both MacLeod and Ramirez stepped in and restrained him.
"Come on, Donald. Let's go," Connor whispered.
As one, the trio backed out into the street as Dracula and Hecate returned their gaze to the stained glass windows. As the doors to the church swung shut, Vlad turned to Hecate and she snapped her fingers. From the rectory off to the side of the altar, the two demons Hecate had summoned entered, their heavy footsteps echoing loudly through the deserted church. Dracula turned his attention to them.
"Did you get their scent?" He asked them.
The lead demon merely nodded in affirmation.
Dracula was pleased. "Good. When night falls, kill them. All three of them."
Connor, Donald, and Ramirez as one felt the hair on the back of their necks stand up as they slowly watched the sun dip below the horizon. They all knew that as the seconds ticked by, leading to the eventual nightfall, Dracula's attack on them was growing ever closer. They had taken certain steps so that they were not caught completely unaware, but there was truly no way of knowing how the attack would unfold. Only Ramirez seemed particularly upbeat while Connor and Donald paced the floor of the drawing room.
"Are you having fun?" Connor asked, dismayed.
"I'm alive, MacLeod. Whatever Vlad has done has given me a chance to live again. I don't know when I'll shuffle off this mortal coil again, so yes, I am enjoying myself after a fashion. Don't take offense." Ramirez was sitting on the couch, sharpening the cutlass Donald had given him to fight with. It had belonged to the first immortal Donald had ever killed in battle, and he had kept it as a tribute to the fallen man. Ramirez instantly took a liking to the sword, and took it as his own, for, as he had said, the katana now belonged to Connor. As the hours dragged on, Connor managed to steal a quick, if fitful, nap and eat a hearty lunch of roast beef. After a time, he made his way back into the drawing room and sat beside his old friend and managed a smile.
"What's on your mind, MacLeod?"
"You're free. Free of the game. Free to live your life and have children."
Ramirez nodded in understanding. "I'm not free yet. We still have to deal with your Wallachian nemesis out there."
"When we first met all those years ago, I said some things to you I should apologize for."
"Oh? Like what?"
"I told you I hated you. All you said was it was a perfect place to start."
Ramirez shrugged his shoulders. "It was. I was being honest."
"And I was being an ungrateful barbarian. You should have beheaded me then and there for my actions."
Ramirez stroked his mustache as he sat staring thoughtfully into space. "There is nothing to apologize for, MacLeod. You once asked me a short time afterward, if it came down to just us two, would I take your head? The answer is no. I would not. I could not, MacLeod. I never had a son, until I met you."
Connor extended his hand in friendship, and Ramirez took it and shook it firmly.
As the fog from the river Thames rolled inland and enveloped the city, the air grew cold and damp as the darkness fell. Connor had draped the garlic across the window and the door to the terrace in Moira's room should Dracula attempt to enter that way and he had handed out Eucharist wafers, a cross each, and an ash stake to the his comrades. Donald was particularly morose as the fog descended upon them like a blanket.
"I don't know, Connor," He began in a hushed tone. "How can I protect Moira against the powers of this creature? He'll keep coming and coming until he gets what he wants, my fiancee."
"Take heart, Donald," Connor replied. "There are three of us, and only him and his woman. I suspect Cassandra would say she's some kind of witch."
Donald shook his head in the negative. "No. No, Connor. That meeting in the church today, that was no simple warning. I'm a hunter, my friend, with centuries of experience. It was some kind of setup, but to what purpose I have no idea. He had some alternate purpose for luring us in there. I just can't figure out what it is."
"Whatever it is, we'll deal with it, Donald. I promise."
Ramirez stood to face Donald, his face a mask of confidence. "MacLeod speaks the truth. We will defeat Vlad."
Donald looked as if a thought had just occurred to him. "Ramirez, you were dead. Now you're alive. If I fail. If I should die, if Moira should die, what is the afterlife like?"
Ramirez chuckled with amusement and then his face grew deadly serious. "No man can pass from this life to the next and possibly describe it with mere words. Just know this, with a heart like yours, the afterlife will be pure contentment, where your loved ones embrace you forever." Connor couldn't help but be heartened, thinking of his precious Heather, waiting to embrace him in the afterlife, but if he could help it, he wouldn't be seeing her yet... not yet.
"I will be in torment for all eternity if I cannot save Moira."
Just then, somewhere in the distance, something howled in despair. The trio looked toward the window but could see nothing, the streets were deserted. "It could have just been a dog howling," Connor said. All about them was now silent.
Donald reached out with his senses, enhanced and attuned to animals after centuries in the jungles and woods of the world. "That was no dog."
"Be on your guard, gentlemen," Ramirez warned.
Moira sat bolt upright in bed, her eyes wide as she heard the howl of the creature in the streets. Beside her, Amanda had fallen asleep in her chair as she tended to her best friend. Moira knew, deep in her being, that her dream lover was near. Clad almost entirely in black, Dracula's form coalesced atop the Oglivie home from the green mist he had scattered himself into. The only splash of color in his wardrobe this evening was the royal blue tie around his neck and the crimson hilted sword that hung at his belt, the twin to the sword lost in the first battle with the immortal he now knew as MacLeod. He reached out with his senses. Yes, she was near, he could practically taste her from outside. While his demon-spawned assassins distracted, and hopefully killed, the two immortals and their friend, he would take the woman and make her his for all eternity, his to use as he wished, and he did so wish to use her in many different ways. Even now, he felt the familiar sensation that always accompanied the presence of the immortals.
Silently, Dracula leaped to the terrace and alighted soundlessly. He stopped instantly when he saw the garlic draped across the entrance to the terrace. He flinched, but forced himself to step forward, the elegant french doors swung open at his command. He would be far weaker in the presence of the dreaded garlic, but there was time enough to take the woman and make his escape while his foot soldiers occupied the immortals. Dracula could just make out the form of Moira under the sheets. He moved across the floor toward her. As he did so, his lips pulled back into the feral sneer and he bared his fangs. Once more, an animal howled in the distance. His teeth longed to pierce flesh and his mouth hungered for living blood. Unable to restrain his boundless lust for one more second, Dracula's eyes flared red and he growled deep within his chest. He reached out and ripped the sheets from the bed.
Dracula had never known such a howl of fury in his lifetime, but it escaped his lips as he pulled back the sheet to reveal... a series of pillows arranged to resemble a sleeping human form. In the tenants building next door, Amanda started as Moira gasped in response to her dream lover's terrible screech of fury. Earlier in the day, Connor, Donald, and Ramirez had moved Moira and Amanda into the tenants building and arranged the bait for whatever it was that hunted her friend. Moira tried to run for the window, called by some inner instinct to the man that haunted her dreams, but Amanda barely managed to restrain her. While it was true that she had been cured of the disease that had infected her blood when Dracula had first attacked her, the vampire still maintained a strong mind connection with the young woman, and she moved as though hypnotized, with no will of her own.
In the next building the trio of Connor, Donald, and Ramirez shared a knowing glance as they heard Dracula's scream pierce the night air. Together, they bounded up the stairs and kicked in the door of Moira's room. Dracula stood there, but not the man they had met earlier in the day, but a vile, six foot, leathery-skinned, bat-like creature that barely resembled the man they had seen earlier in the day. The only true way to tell that this was the same creature was by looking in the eyes. They held that same spark of pure evil. That, and the crimson sword the bat creature held in its hand. When he spoke, it was with a decrepit voice, straight from the grave. The winds howled behind him as he literally began crawling up the wall, flashing his sword.
"Whereeeeeeee issssssss sheeeeeeeee?"
"Where you will never find her," Donald spat, Claymore at the ready.
"Leave this place, Vlad," Ramirez added.
"I willllllll have herrrrrrrrrr, and I will have your headsssssssssssss."
"Do your worst," Connor replied as he spun the katana in his hands.
The very walls themselves shook and began to crumble around them. Connor, Donald, and Ramirez formed a circle with their backs to one another as they awaited whatever was in store. With a sudden deafening crash the walls crumbled completely and Dracula's demon soldiers charged into the room. Moira's three defenders were stunned at the grotesque nature of Dracula's assassins. Even Ramirez, who thought he had seen it all during his thousands of years of existence, including a rebirth hundreds of years after his second death, was near panic when he witnessed the grey-skinned beings tear their way through the walls. These beings certainly did not exist in the afterlife he knew. These creatures could only originate in one place, the sulphuric pits of Hell itself. Given his wealth of experience, the Egyptian was the first to snap to his wits, and he galvanized the others into action. Demon or not, these creatures would have to be killed.
"MacLeod! Fraser! Go!"
As the dog-faced demons stepped into the room, each grabbed a baseball bat sized piece of wood from the wreckage and began swinging it like a club. Dracula's eyes locked with those of Donald Fraser's, and the two men leaped for one another in a shared hatred, Dracula slashing with his broadsword and Fraser slashing and parrying with his claymore.
"Donald! Be careful," Connor shouted over the din as he and Ramirez leaped to face the demon assassins.
"You just take care of his henchman, Connor. I'll see to this bastard!"
Connor attempted to shout a reply, but was cut off as his chosen foe began swinging his makeshift club with great strength and more than a little skill. It took everything Connor had to avoid the blows in the narrow room. A quick glance behind him revealed that Ramirez had not lost any of his swordsmanship as he quickly found his way through the creature's defenses and slashed at the demon's right forearm with the cutlass supplied by Donald. Surprisingly, the strike did not sever the demon's arm, as it was intended. The grey skin of the creature was surprisingly tough, and although Ramirez' blade did penetrate the tissue of the hell-spawned creature, the cut was not very deep. The creature, they noticed, did not bleed. They realized simultaneously that the only way to defeat them may be to hack them to pieces. Connor ducked to avoid a swing by his own foe and executed a series of rapid counter slashes at the chest of the demon. As with Ramirez' attack, the razor-sharp katana blade did not penetrate very deep, and the creature did not bleed.
"We need more room," Connor shouted.
"Let's see if we can't get them outside, Highlander," Ramirez shouted back.
Nodding in agreement, Connor sidestepped another blow and lashed out with a kick to the area of the demon's chest he had cut only seconds before. The creature recoiled in pain. So it could be hurt, after all. Taking advantage of the momentary weakness, Connor continued slashing the air with the sword in his right hand, and reached down to grab the back of a heavy wooden chair in the other. With all his strength he threw the chair at the demon and struck it full in the chest once more. The creature was knocked backward once more and out through the hole in the wall it had entered in. Connor ran with all possible speed toward the terrace, the very same terrace he had followed Dracula through during their first encounter, and began climbing the trellis on the wall.
Ramirez, hearing the call, swiped at the nearby curtains with his cutlass, severing them from their position. The demon swiped at him with his club, but Ramirez managed to block it before it struck him in the stomach, possibly disemboweling him. The creature snarled and pressed his club against Ramirez, who summoned every ounce of strength within him to keep his footing against the pressure the demon brought to bear. As he did so, he reached out with his left foot and snaked it between the demon's legs. When he performed the leg sweep, he took the creature's feet out from beneath it, sending it sprawling to the floor with a thud that rattled the beams of the house. With a quick flurry of motion, Ramirez reached out and grabbed the curtains he had severed from their purchase and tossed it over the demon, ensnaring it and confusing it momentarily. As the creature flailed, Ramirez dashed for the terrace and began climbing the trellis. That left only Fraser doggedly fighting Dracula, who remained in his bat-like form. As he passed Fraser, he slapped him on the shoulder to get his attention.
"Come on, Fraser! We need more room!"
Fraser never took his eyes from Dracula's. "You go on! I'm going to show this piece of trash what clàidhmhaireachd truly is!"
Ramirez was worldly, but he had no idea that clàidhmhaireachd meant ‘swordplay', although Connor had heard the shouted reply, and worried that Donald was breaking one of the cardinal rules Ramirez had taught him. "Never lose your temper." Striking out of anger left one off balance and easy prey when not thinking clearly. Of course he didn't blame his old acquaintance for being angry, but it would do him no good in their current situation. Nor would it do Moira any good. Fraser leaped forward and sliced the air with his claymore as a mighty war cry escaped his lips. Dracula raised his sword in time to block the blow, and the two men faced one another, their faces only inches apart, both men wanting the same women and each knowing only one would get his way. Donald took in the fearsome visage of the undead creature, and, filled with revulsion, spit in Dracula's face.
As Connor alighted on the now familiar roof of Amanda's home, he looked down to see Ramirez halfway up and coming fast. The two demons chose that moment to reappear, the one Connor had momentarily bested leaping, almost as if from the sky, and landing hard on the roof in front of him. The other also practically flew into their midst, leaping from inside Moira's room and onto the trellis, only a few feet from Ramirez. Connor wanted desperately to help Ramirez and Fraser, but found he could not. His path back to Dracula had been cut off. Forced to think of his own survival first, Connor performed the Iai Do as the monster watched with some form of fascination. Then the battle was rejoined as MacLeod spun the katana in his hand at dazzling speeds, moving ever closer to his foe. With inhuman speed, the demon dodged from side to side as the katana blade cut the air mere hair widths from its body. Connor pulled back and held the sword with his right hand, arm bent slightly at the shoulder, the tip of the blade pointed forward, his left hand extended outward toward his demon foe, fingers splayed apart.
Ramirez held on to the trellis for dear life, kicking at the demon that deftly climbed after him. He was breathing heavily, cursing his age and his lack of an immortal nature. If this creature injured him, or even killed him, it would be forever. Ramirez could accept death, he had experienced it more than once, but being maimed or crippled for the rest of his life, that was an unthinkable torture for him. He had lived his entire lifetime, several lifetimes in fact, as a whole and hearty being that embraced life. He did not want to live out the rest of his days as a person that needed to be cared for and coddled. Driven for the first time in years by fear, he let go of the trellis and fell earthward, cutlass extended, blade pointed downward. The demon, who had thus far only experienced Ramirez running from it, was caught off guard by this attack. Concerned as it was with climbing the trellis, and catching up to Ramirez, it was more than a little surprised to look up and see the Egyptian toppling downward, blade extended. With no defenses up and the weight of Ramirez and his fall behind it, the point of the cutlass pierced the chest of the demon and extended out through its back with a sickening sucking sound as the grey skin attempted to heal itself. Ramirez and the demon were face to face now as the gremlin had practically caught Ramirez as a child catches a doll. Then, the demon did something that surprised Ramirez even more. It spoke.
"Did you expect me to fall?" It asked in a gravelly voice, filled with disdain and the pain of a thousand centuries.
"No. I expect you to die," Ramirez countered as he began twisting the blade in the creature's innards, causing it to wail with agony. Unable to hold on, the creature fell back to the terrace. Ramirez scrambled for a handhold, and found one. The creature fell as he remained where he was. Luckily, he managed to maintain his grip on the sword and pulled it from the demon as it fell. Already, the creature was stirring and trying to rise to its feet. Ramirez began to climb once more.
Above them, MacLeod circled his chosen foe, his left hand outstretched before him, the katana in his right hand, pulled back so that the blade was pointed straight at his foe. It was a classic stance, and one his opponents rarely seemed to survive. The demon charged MacLeod, swinging its club ferociously. Connor let it come. Utilizing skills borne of training under Ramirez, Connor waited, his eyes registering every move the demon made while looking down the length of his arm, gauging time and distance. As Ramirez pulled himself up over the edge of the rooftop, he watched as Connor stood there unmoving. Then, at the last possible second, there was a glint of moonlight on metal, a quick blur of motion, and the whistle of the katana blade slicing through the air. The movement had been too quick to see with the naked eye, but its effects were apparent. Connor stepped back as the creature recoiled in agony, screaming to the heavens. The demon's right arm and the club it held fell to the shingled roof at Connor's feet and nearly half of the creature's torso had been ripped open. Both Connor and Ramirez could see that the innards of the being consisted merely of a mass of tissue with no blood and no vital organs they could detect. The demon was literally a mass of flesh given life itself.
Connor's demon foe keeled backward, flailing in agony much as its twin had when Ramirez ensnared it in the curtains earlier, and a strange radiant light began to emit from the creature's insides. The thing was obviously in pain, it might have even been trying to regrow its limbs. Ramirez stepped in behind Connor and the two shared a quick glance. Despite its disgusting nature, it was pitiful to look at as it flailed about.
"Put it out of its misery, MacLeod, and out of ours," He said as he patted Connor on the back. Connor nodded in agreement and raised the katana high over his head. He brought the blade down three times, slicing the being's head from its neck, its other arm, and the remainder of its torso. It was an ugly task and a repulsive sight, but it was the humane thing to do. After the third cut, the demon stopped moving. The being began to emit a foul odor, like rotting eggs, Connor thought to himself, and the demon's body dissolved into dust and began to blow away on the wind. Just then, the second creature leaped from the trellis onto the rooftop and released a roar of despair as it witnessed the death of its kin.
"Time to run, Highlander," Ramirez shouted as he broke into a run for the nearest rooftop. Connor hesitated.
"What about Donald?"
"Come on! We won't do him any good if that thing kills us!"
As always, Ramirez was correct. The creature began its charge toward Connor, its horse legs carrying it far quicker than a human could run. Connor broke into a full bore run after Ramirez.
Beneath them, Dracula and Fraser continued their battle, neither truly gaining the advantage on the other. As Donald slashed and thrust at Vlad with his claymore, Dracula managed to block and spin about in counter-attack. He was not restrained in any way by his non-human form. In fact, he may have been even quicker and stronger now. By this time, the room was in a complete shambles. Every stick of furniture in the room had been destroyed, including the bed. Two gaping holes in the wall yawned open on either side of the room, the glass in the windows had been shattered. Dracula, for his part, was impressed with the Scotsman's skill. He was every bit the swordsman MacLeod had been in their earlier encounter. Their swords clashed together resoundingly.
Donald pressed forward relentlessly, much as he had done when he rescued Connor from the vampire in the ally behind the opium den originally. His fury over the assault on the woman he loved by this foul being left him incensed. It was that rage that blinded him so, the very mistake of fighting when angry that Ramirez had warned Connor about years ago, that led to his downfall. Dracula had seen it coming, and he was more than willing to allow it to happen. As their blades clashed together, Dracula led the Scotsman further and further into one corner of the room, an area just two feet away from the hole in the wall made by one of his demon assassins, allowing Donald to believe he was cornering the vampire. As Donald swung the mighty claymore with all his strength in a killing blow, Dracula sidestepped the arching blade by using his powers in this form to adhere to the wall as an actual bat might be able to. Dracula climbed the wall with amazing speed as Donald swung. With Dracula out of the way, the blade of Donald's claymore embedded itself firmly in the exposed beams that supported the wall with a loud thump.
Donald's eyes widened in shock as he pulled at the handle of his claymore. The blade was stuck tight in the exposed wooden beam. In less time than it took to draw a breath, Dracula alighted on the floor behind him, now back in his human form. The Lord Of The Undead paused to savor the moment as Donald realized that Dracula was now behind him.
"Do it," Donald hissed. "Kill me if you can!"
Dracula possessed the strength of many men, and with a mighty shove, he sent Donald careening across the room and skidding into a corner. The Scotsman landed in a heap, his claymore still embedded in the wood on the far side of the room. Slowly, relishing the moment of victory, Dracula crossed the room toward Donald. Tepes rubbed the area around his neck with his left hand as he approached.
"Do you have any idea how much that strangulation attempt of yours hurt?"
"What do you care?" Donald replied. "You dish out the pain to others, women and unarmed men, but you can't take it, so it seems. You're not a man, you don't have the spine to be a man."
"I am more than any man," Dracula replied.
"And you're far less."
Dracula lowered himself to one knee, holding the tip of the sword to Donald's throat, and leaned in close to his foe. "Your fiancee will know the difference between us, that I assure you."
Donald smiled as, unknowingly to Dracula, he slowly reached into his pocket. "Yes. I think she will."
With that, Donald reached out and placed one of the Eucharist wafers on Dracula's throat. It was only at this close range that he could have managed it. At the touch of the holy object to his throat, Dracula's skin began to burn and he recoiled in pain. Before Donald's eyes, the man once again reverted to beast. Donald leapt to his feet and realized that Dracula was not reverting into his bat-like form, he was turning into a decrepit old man with a face crawling with wrinkles and yellowing hair. Was this his true self? There was no way of knowing. Dracula gurgled in his throat as he clawed the Eucharist wafer from his throat and threw it to the floor. Smoke was rising from his skin. Donald ran for his sword and grasped it firmly by the hilt, putting all his weight behind him as he pulled hard on the blade in an attempt to dislodge it. At that moment, another voice interrupted them.
Fraser whipped around to see Moira standing in the doorway, her eyes wide with fear and Amanda by her side, trying with all her might to wrench Moira from the room. His fiancee would not budge. It was as if she was pulled magnetically to the scene, to the man that assaulted her. Perhaps she was. That was when her eyes fell upon the vampire in their midst. There was a look of recognition in her eyes, and a look of terror. At that moment, the full memories of Moira’s dreams turned nightmares flooded back into her mind’s eye. This was the ancient, foul old man that her dream warrior had always turned into before the love making was over. She was repulsed by his form. Donald was heartened. Dracula had only managed some kind of bewitching spell on her. She did love him after all, as perhaps Donald had always known deep in his heart of hearts. She loved him as much as he loved her.
Unfortunately, that moment in time, that split second of distraction, was all Dracula needed. Seizing the moment, he swung the sword with all his might. Donald never even saw it coming. The blade sliced cleanly through his neck tissue and bone, removing his head from his body and sending a virtual wave of spurting blood across the far wall. Amanda screamed and fainted on the spot. Moira, however, turned over a new leaf. She, too, screamed in terror, but instead of fainting and recoiling, her fear turned to pure rage at seeing the man she loved cut down so cruelly by this thing that haunted her dreams and she broke into a full run at her fiancee’s killer. The only thing that impeded her from reaching him was the sudden blast of energy as Donald’s prone form fell to the floor and his quickening erupted from his body...
... and flowed into Dracula.
Chapter 6: Die By The Sword
"Only be sure that thou eat not the blood: for the blood is the life; and thou mayest not eat the life with the flesh." (Deuteronomy 12:23)
Vlad Dracula shuddered uncontrollably as the mystic energy pouring from Donald Fraser's corpse arced through the air and enveloped his own undead form. To him it seemed as if every cell in his body -- from every pour in his skin to every nerve ending -- was quivering with orgasmic bliss. The power of the energy exchange lifted Vlad high into the air as the maelstrom enveloped him. He felt as if he were the eye of some mystical tornado. Beside him, Fraser's corpse also drifted lazily into the air while the dismembered head, still bearing a look of complete shock at being struck by Dracula's sword, lay in the corner. Dracula had experienced many things in his time, the agonizing sensation of death at the blades of his Boyars, the endless rush of sexual bliss that accompanied the taking of countless Wallachian women in their beds followed by a feasting on their blood, and yet none of it came close to the sheer bliss that he felt now. He tried to speak and found he could not. Only a dull roar escaped the vampire's lips. In his mind's eye, memories he knew were not his own flashed by as if he were looking at life through someone else's eyes. Instinctively, Vlad knew that these were Donald Fraser's memories. The Scotsman's entire life flashed before his eyes.
He witnessed the woods outside of Keith in Scotland, lush and green in mid-summer. He saw a cougar slash at Donald, barely missing the young boy's eye and leaving a scar that he would carry for centuries. He saw Donald rushing another young boy in a makeshift fighting ring surrounded by shouting Scotsmen. Later he would think back to that moment and recognize the young boy across the ring as a teenage Connor MacLeod. He witnessed Donald returning home to Keith, only to be told that The Fraser's had gone to war with The MacLeod's, and his old foe Connor had been killed. He saw Fraser training under the blazing sun in India at the hands of a Thuggee warrior. He saw all of this and so much more.
As if Vlad were actually present to witness the events, he witnessed Donald's first meeting with Moira Chisholm, how the beautiful young woman immediately captured Fraser's eye and his heart. He saw how Donald exuded his rogue-like charm and swept the young beauty off her feet... with the help of centuries worth of life experience. He saw Donald approaching Connor in a field on the outskirts of London, asking him for help against an evil he could not identify. And finally Vlad saw the final moments of Fraser's life, as he pulled desperately on the handle of his claymore in an attempt to free it from the wooden beam in which he had accidentally lodged it. And the last second of his existence, turning around only to see Dracula's blade slice through his own neck. Tepes flinched as he experienced the death of his foe only moments after he himself had taken it. As the quickening reached the end of Fraser's life, the last tendrils of energy lashed out of Fraser's body and into Dracula's. With the event over, the fiery blue storm ended and Dracula fell to the floor in a heap, breathing heavily.
The quickening was unlike anything any other immortal had ever experienced. He was, as Cassanda had told Connor, unlike the immortals who participated in the game until only one remained. His power came from a far different -- and far more malevolent -- source. The quickening was not meant to be passed into a vampire. The effects were... quite unexpected. Dracula forced his eyelids open and gazed around the room. Something was different, but he knew not what. Across the room, lying prone in the doorway, was the form of Amanda Oglivie. Only a few feet from her was the woman whom he desired more than any other, Moira Chisolm. Apparently she had been blown off her feet by the violent quickening Vlad had received. She appeared to be stunned. Perhaps she had struck her head on the wreckage strewn about the room. On the opposite side of the room lay Donald's dead body.
Vlad shook his head, trying to clear it. He couldn't quite pinpoint what was wrong with his vision and he was completely out of breath. All at once it came to him. He knew what was different. He was out of breath. He hadn't taken a breath in centuries. Slowly he pulled himself from the floor and looked about the room, somewhat dazed. When one became Nosferatu, one's view of the world took on a completely different slant, literally and figuratively. When one became a vampire, a person's outlook was based on death, not life. But also, when one became a vampire, the world was a far stranger looking place than seen through the eyes of the living. Suddenly, even in this darkened room, everything seemed to be vibrant and radiating color. As Nosferatu his vision was rimmed in deep reds and black. Now all the colors of the living world assaulted his eyes to the point where it almost hurt his head. He rubbed his eyes and the pain soon passed. He filled his lungs with the night air and exhaled slowly. Scents he had long forgotten flooded his senses and for the first time in centuries, Vlad Tepes III laughed heartily. Whatever was in these immortals had made him mortal once more. He no longer craved living blood.
Vlad moved across the room and picked up his sword from where he had dropped it. With no threats left to him, he sheathed it. As he did so, his eye caught the Eucharist wafer that had burned his throat. Could it be possible? Tentatively he knelt and reached out to the wafer he had pried from his skin. As a vampire, even the slightest touch of such a symbol of God could burn him. With uncharacteristic fear, he reached out and snapped up the wafer in his hand, closing his fist tightly around it and waiting for the pain. There was none. Again, Vlad laughed heartily. He was immune to the traditional weapons that had been used against him for so long.
As Moira struggled back to consciousness he looked across the room at her and realized that while his vampire tendencies were quieted, his lust for this woman was not. He rose to his feet once more and walked toward her as she struggled back to the land of the living, which, for the first time in centuries, included him. He looked down at her, licking his lips with anticipation. Then, something within him that began in his chest and spread out to his furthest extremities, began to claw at his innards. Vlad doubled over, his eyes wide with fear. As he did so, his gaze fell upon the curtains that now lay on the floor. They were of a royal blue color with a gold trim. Before his very eyes, the deep blue of the curtains turned to a mottled grey and the trim appeared to be almost red. The air that filled his lungs only moments ago was expelled, and his chest heaved no longer. Whatever it was in the immortal Donald Fraser that brought him back to the living world was only temporary. Even now he felt it return, the lust for blood. If that were the case and he could not keep his mortality, then he would at least be able to keep the woman he desired more than mortality. Moira slowly picked up her head and looked up at the figure standing before her through half open eyelids. Dracula smiled once more, but this time without joy and baring his fangs.
"Finally, we will be one. As we were in your dreams."
Both MacLeod and Ramirez felt it best to not look behind them, and yet both couldn't help but cast a quick glance over their shoulders at the beast chasing them. Only moments ago Connor had destroyed one of the demons Dracula had summoned to kill them, and the slaying of the beast only managed to enrage its twin into a bezerker fury. Now the deadly being was nipping at their heels, carried by its powerful horse legs and snarling from its bulldog-like mouth. Connor could almost smell the demon's foul breath as it closed in on them. Now it was chasing them over the rooftops of London and the duo was running out of room to flee. Soon they would be approaching the river Thames, and once there they would be cornered. Something had to be done and quickly. They had to lose this being in the deserted back streets of London. Seeing his chance, Connor eyed a clothesline strung out between two buildings, across an alley, halfway between the ground and the rooftops. Apparently the occupants of the building set their wash on the line from the windows above.
"Come on!" Connor grabbed his oldest friend by the wrist and led him toward the edge of the building. The demon reared back, about to lunge for them. Ramirez couldn't help but shout in surprise as Connor pulled them over the edge. Thankfully, he was as quick as ever and saw the clothesline before it was too late. The demon that chased them, expecting the duo to leap to the next rooftop, propelled itself through the air with its powerful legs and over their heads. MacLeod and Ramirez reached out and, thankfully, grabbed hold of the makeshift clothesline. As soon as the weight of the two men fell upon it, the anchor for the rope of the far wall gave way and they swung in a wide arc backward toward the opposite wall, the wall of the building they had just leapt from. Thankfully, the one remaining anchor did hold, and the pair received no more damage other than a bruise or two when they came to a dead stop against the faded grey wall with a resounding thud. It wasn't the easiest way to get to the ground, nor the safest, but it was better than the alternative, which was a brutal death as the demon leaped upon them. They had managed to survive with a little luck. Connor looked down to the ground. He estimated that it was now only about ten or fifteen feet away. That was when the second anchor for the line gave way and the two toppled the rest of the way to the street, landing in a tangled mess of clothing.
"You do remember that I'm NOT immortal anymore, MacLeod?" Ramirez hissed as he extricated himself from a pair of wet trousers that had been hanging on the line.
Connor rose to his feet unsteadily and was about to voice an apology when the demon above them let out a mournful roar. It wouldn't be long before it realized where its prey had gone. They looked to one another in clear understanding. Now was not the time for bickering. They looked about, taking in their surroundings. The streets appeared to be deserted, as most Londoners had long since retired for the evening. What illumination existed came only from the naphtha lights along the road, as the moon has been obscured by fog and clouds. Only in such sections of the city as Whitechapel would there be throngs of people at this hour, and they wished to avoid bystanders at all costs. Somehow they should be able to lose their pursuer in the maze that was London.
"This way," MacLeod whispered.
Together, they ran with all possible speed down the cobblestone street and around the corner. Above them, the demon looked down upon where they had originally landed, realizing where its prey had gone. Although the creature was completely under the control of Dracula and Hecate, it did have a rudimentary intelligence. It could think for itself. It didn't drop to the ground as MacLeod and Ramirez had done, but instead remained on the rooftops, wisely searching the area from the high ground. The pair ran quickly, their footfalls echoing off the walls of the buildings on either side of them, trying to keep hidden from the beast's sight by concealing themselves under overhangs and awnings. As they rounded another corner, Connor almost tripped over a young woman, disheveled and dirty. She was weeping openly and clawing at a patch of mud. Despite their precarious situation, MacLeod knelt at her side.
"What is it?"
She looked up at him with bloodshot eyes. "Pardon me, sir. I don't mean to be in yer way. I went and managed to lose a sovereign on my way home. T'was all me husband made this week and now I can't buy food for tomorrow. He'll be ready to kill me come morning, and me wee ones will be hungry again."
Connor half smiled as he reached into his pocket and removed a handful of pound notes, handing them to the young woman.
"Eat well and go home. Now," He commanded. The young woman's eyes reddened further as tears began streaming down her cheeks once more. She rose to her feet and hugged Connor tightly, somehow ignoring the fact that both men were openly brandishing deadly swords. MacLeod had to pry her hands from his neck, she had hugged him so tightly.
"Please, go," He urged.
Clutching the money tightly, the young woman disappeared into the night. Ramirez cast a glance at his old student, his eyebrow arching in amusement.
"Oh, shut up and run," Connor replied to the unspoken jibe. MacLeod looked up at the street sign on the corner. They were on King Street. The demon was forcing them further and further away from Amanda's home. Connor was beginning to think that this was exactly Dracula's plan, force the men away from Moira's vicinity so that he might strike and take the woman for himself. Suddenly, he was very glad that Donald had remained to defend the woman he loved. From somewhere above, the mournful cry of the demon wafted down to their ears.
"Time is short, MacLeod. Let's be off," Ramirez said as he broke into a full run once more. Connor paused for a moment to look toward the sky, straining his sight in order to make out any sign of their pursuer. Through the fog he thought he saw a shadow moving. Another mournful cry, this time much closer, convinced MacLeod to be on the move again. Together, the pair raced down the streets of the labyrinth that was London, occasionally trying one of the myriad doors along the street, only to find them locked tight. All around them the windows betrayed no light. The people of this district were in their beds with the covers pulled over their ears, blocking out the violent sounds of the night. The streets were desolate and still. The doorways, passages, and staircases that would normally be teeming with civilization were without life. In a city of thousands, they were alone.
A few paces ahead of him, Ramirez stopped and ducked into an arched entryway, signaling for MacLeod to follow. The Highlander followed his mentor through the archway and into another alley. The rooftops were their only horizon now. Together the pair darted along the narrow footpath which was barely wide enough for them to run two abreast. Ahead of them there was only a deepening fog. The pair stopped running and strained to listen past their hearts beating loudly in their ears for signs of the demon. There were none. All was silent.
"Where are we?" Ramirez whispered. Connor shook his head.
"I don't know. We were running so fast through the fog, I'm not sure where we are now."
At a more measured pace the two began to creep forward into the fog. In the distance MacLeod could barely make out any shapes except for a great opening yawning before them. A trickle of water could be faintly heard. As they continued on, they realized they were entering a tunnel, the entrance of which was an oval shape. They stepped cautiously inside. In here, it was damp and the brick walls were slick with moisture. Connor then realized where they must be.
"This is the Sutton Tunnel. It connects Perceval Street and Corporation Row to Spencer Street by running underneath King's Square and The City Gardens. We're probably underneath the streams in the garden right now. If we follow this to the end, we'll come out only a few streets away from Donald."
Ramirez nodded. "We may have lost our demonic friend, then. At least we can hope so."
The two walked briskly but without running along the darkened tunnel. Everything about this night and their adventure was eerie, causing the hair on Connor's neck to stand straight up and an icy tingle to shoot up his spine. The sooner he was back at Donald's side, the better he would feel about the situation. As they continued on, they came across a door set into the far wall of the tunnel. MacLeod felt that it may lead to a set of stairs that would take them to the streets above. Ramirez tried to open it, but it would not budge. Resigned to their only choice, they continued on through the winding tunnel.
"At least there's no damned fog down here," Ramirez whispered in an attempt to add some levity to the situation.
"No," Connor added. "But there may be something worse."
Before the last word had left his lips, two figures approached them from the darkness, the shadows clinging to them like lovers as they moved. MacLeod and Ramirez grasped the hilts of their swords, which they had hidden beneath their coats when they entered the tunnel should they encounter and frighten regular folk. They were only a little surprised that it was not more demons, but scum of a more Earthly variety.
"Ere now! What've we got 'ere? Two lads out for a walk at this hour?" The voice that came from the fog was cold and gruff, but it was no demon. He was, in actuality, a greasy and disheveled middle aged man with no teeth and a long greying beard. His companion was a burly individual with deep, coarse, black hair and olive skin -- perhaps from the Mediterranean. His dirty face looked mean and merciless as he produced a butcher's meat hook and a long knife.
"You gentlemen probably didn't know that passing through this 'ere tunnel after dark means you must be payin' a toll, a toll which we two collects." The lead individual also produced a long and sharp looking knife, already stained with the blood of some unlucky individual who either could not or would not pay the criminal's toll.
"We have no money," Ramirez said in a hushed voice. "Be on your way."
The leader of the duo chuckled. "No money, M'Lord? Now that is bad news. If you don't have the money, then we're gonna have to cut you two gents."
MacLeod and Ramirez shared an annoyed look. This had gone on long enough. Both men reached into their coats and removed their swords. With one glance at the deadly blades both men began stammering in fear.
"Perhaps you didn't hear me," Ramirez countered, waving the tip of his cutlass in the air.
"Enough said, guv. We'll be on our way now," The leader remarked as they turned tail and began to run. Connor and Ramirez followed, waving their swords in an exaggerated manner. They were almost beginning to enjoy themselves when the dire seriousness of their circumstances rushed back to the forefront of their thoughts as the two criminals emerged from the other side of the tunnel. As they did so, the demon that had pursued MacLeod and Ramirez leaped from above and howled eerily. Ramirez and Connor managed to duck back around the final bend in the tunnel before being seen, so that they could only hear the sickening wet sounds of the demon ripping the criminals limb from limb and the strangulated cries of the victims. Connor, unwilling to leave even those morally bankrupt individuals to the mercy of the demon, was about to run out and try and save them when he felt Ramirez' strong hand on his shoulder to restrain him.
"No, MacLeod. It's too late. There's nothing we can do," He cautioned in a hushed tone. Connor merely nodded and pressed himself to the damp brick wall, daring not even to breathe. As the seconds passed they seemed like hours to the pair, forced to remain still and listen to the grisly murders. Finally, all was still. Unseen by Connor, the demon's face was now reddened with human blood, it's body streaked with gore and entrails. As the demon knelt over the dead bodies, it turned them over and regarded them carefully in the deep fog. It knew that these were not the humans it sought. Somehow the scent of the humans it had been given back at the church earlier in the day had led it here.
The demon looked over its shoulder into the murky tunnel. MacLeod and Ramirez held their breath as Connor peeked around the corner into the fog. He could barely make out the silhouette of the demon slowly and silently making its way into the tunnel. He immediately pulled his head back around the corner and tried as hard as possible to become one entity with the wall at his back. The creature took a few more steps inside, sniffing like a dog at the air. Neither MacLeod nor Ramirez dared to move or even breathe. The demon took one more step closer to the bend... then another... then another. One more step and it would be able to see Ramirez and MacLeod from their hiding place. Connor could feel his heartbeat racing, the sound of his pulse in his ears so alarmingly loud he couldn't help but wonder how the demon could fail to hear it. Cold beads of sweat dripped from his forehead. He gripped the handle of his katana tightly, ready to strike. The demon sniffed at the air once again...
...and finally turned and walked away.
Apparently it had decided that its prey had somehow made their escape. With no further instructions, it would return to Dracula's home in Carfax and await further orders. It was several moments before Connor and Ramirez deigned to breathe aloud. Connor and Ramirez both stepped out into the open air. Other than the nearby caterwauling from an alley cat and a passing hansom, there was no sound. In the distance, the demon could be seen leaping to the rooftops once more.
"That was close, MacLeod," Ramirez said as he sheathed his sword. "Vlad is more dangerous now then when he was ruler of Wallachia. He commands the dark forces rather than serve them himself." Just then, a thought occurred to Connor.
"I'm going to follow it. You get back to the house."
Ramirez didn't look pleased. "I should come with you, then."
Connor broke into a run across the gardens. He would have to move quickly if he wanted to keep pace with the demon. "No. Donald needs help. If I follow the demon back I might be able to take Dracula by surprise if he gets away. If we know where he sleeps, we can put an end to him forever."
Before Ramirez could reply, Connor disappeared into the fog as the demon had. He glanced down at the bloody mess at his feet and grimaced. This demon possessed strength unlike anything he had ever encountered. He could only hope that Connor would be careful. Tired from the chase, Ramirez could only manage a light jog back in the direction of Amanda Oglivie's home. Connor was correct, with Donald left alone in Dracula's presence, his life was at stake, as was the life of everyone in the house. As he ran, his thoughts raced back to the distant past, to the first time he had ever heard the name Vlad Tepes Of The Order Of The Dracul...
February 24, 1462
"Hide, hide! I wish you to hide yourself," Ramirez had no idea what was going on in the mind of Matthias Corvinus, ruler of Hungary, as he nudged and prodded his old acquaintance toward the highly decorated changing screen he had erected in the far corner of his state room.
"Your Highness, have you lost your senses? Why are you doing this?" Ramirez had arrived in Hungary only days ago and he was not interested in matters of espionage. King Corvinus had kindly granted Ramirez special access to his library at Buda. The King was a true Renaissance thinker, a champion of learning and science, and his library was one of the finest in all of Europe. While it was true that Corvinus was somewhat brutal in his administration of justice, his punishments were mild compared to some of his neighboring rulers, and the Carpathians had always been a fierce and brutal part of the world. Even now, wars raged on the borders of Hungary. Wallachia was being invaded by The Turks, and if that country fell, Hungary would probably be next. Ramirez had no use for such politics, however. He was beyond that. He merely wanted to find and translate some rare text books on the art of metallurgy.
"I wish for you to watch what transpires here, Ramirez. Please do not argue with me. I value your opinion greatly."
Ramirez took up his position behind the changing screen somewhat unwillingly. "But why, Highness?"
Corvinus raised his index finger to his lips, indicating that Ramirez be silent, and then spoke himself in a hushed, almost reverent, tone. "The Turks may have taken Wallachia. Their ruler, Vlad The Impaler, has fled to Hungary. He is being escorted here even now. Please, Ramirez, watch, listen, and above all be silent."
Just as King Corvinus took his position back in his state chair and folded his arms across his chest, the massive doors swung open and three men entered. From his hiding place, Ramirez watched events unfold. Two of the men that entered he immediately recognized as the king's royal guards, who stood to either side of another man whom he assumed to be Vlad The Impaler. He had only heard whispers of the Wallachian ruler who was said to impale and torture thousands of his own people to enforce his strict laws. Such tales were always exaggerated, Ramirez knew, by enemies of the ruling state. As he watched Vlad enter flanked by armed guards, he regarded the newcomer with an appraising eye. He appeared to be in his late thirties or early forties, possessed of a regal bearing, long brown hair, and thin lips. His body was lean and strong. Ramirez guessed that the rumor of Vlad personally leading his troops into battle and being a fierce warrior was true.
"Vlad, ruler of Wallachia, what news do you bring me?" Corvinus asked with an air of indifference.
"I require the assistance of Hungary, Your Highness. The Turks have invaded Wallachia with an immense army. I was forced to flee. If Sultan Mehmed's forces do not take my country, my brother Radu will. I need your help to return to my country and wipe them all from the face of the Earth!"
Even as he spoke, Ramirez could hear the lust for Turkish blood in the Wallachian despot's voice. He had only begun to plead his case to Corvinus and his speech had already reached a fever pitch.
"And why should Hungary lend it's aid in a fruitless and ill thought out venture such as retaliating against this vast army?" Corvinus asked. Vlad's response was immediate and forceful.
"These Turks have taken my very homeland away! I have given the people of Wallachia a home and I take care of them! They want for nothing because of me!"
Corvinus stroked his goatee thoughtfully as he listened. "No one is poor in your country, Vlad, because you have burned or impaled all those without possessions. Is it not true that The Turks attacked you in retaliation for your assault on them in an attempt to drive them from the Danube River Valley?"
Ramirez watched as Vlad became more hostile than ever at the accusation. "How dare you speak to me in this manner! I am a ruler, just like you!"
"I was elected to my position, Vlad. The people chose me, while you rose to power through armed conflict. I admit, I am no candidate for canonization, but at least my rise to power was legitimate."
Vlad took both Corvinus and his guards by surprise when he spat at the feet of The King. "You will not assist me in retaking Wallachia? Fine, then. I will raise my own army and I will do it myself if it takes me a century. And when I do retake my throne, you can be sure that I will have a dull stake with your name on it." Clearly, Tepes had gone mad with bloodlust. It happened sometimes to warriors that had seen too much battle on the front lines. He was soon to find out that Vlad Tepes III was consumed with bloodlust and madness nearly all his life.
The guards forcefully restrained Tepes, gripping him tightly by each arm. Ramirez was surprised when Tepes shifted his weight and performed a body throw, flipping the guard on his left flank over his hip and sending him sprawling to the marble floor. Ramirez was about to draw his katana and intervene on Corvinus' behalf when the other guard managed to restrain Vlad with a rather devious joint lock on his arm. The King sat and watched the entire exchange with disinterest. When the skirmish was done and the guards had restrained Vlad, Corvinus rose to his feet and looked Vlad in the eye.
"You were always a dangerous foe, Vlad, but you are almost equally dangerous as an ally. In many ways, I would rather deal with Sultan Mehmed II than you. He signaled to the guards with a wave of his hand. "Put him in a comfortable cell. He will be there for a long time."
Tepes wailed incoherently in a language Ramirez did not understand as he was dragged forcibly from the room. As the doors to the state room shut, Ramirez cautiously stepped out from behind the screen, his eyes wide with wonderment.
"What did you think of my neighboring ruler, Ramirez?" The King asked.
"He is mad," Ramirez replied.
"Ride with me, old friend," Corvinus said as he gestured for Ramirez to follow him through a side door to the king's personal quarters. "I will show you just how mad he is."
Intrigued, Ramirez mounted his horse only moments later and was riding along side the king and a battalion of his best warriors towards the Wallachian border. A few hours later, they had arrived and dismounted. Ramirez could not believe what his eyes showed him. On to the horizon there was nothing but death. On his retreat from Tirgoviste, Vlad had burned his own villages and poisoned wells so that the pursuing Turkish army would have no food or water to sustain them. Dark smoke billowed into the sky, almost blocking out the sun as the crops burned and the peasants tried with everything they had to fight the inferno. Beyond that, Ramirez could barely make out something else on the horizon, what appeared to a vast forest of trees with no limbs.
"What is that?" He asked, pointing toward the horizon.
Corvinus sighed heavily. "Those are the many stakes arranged for those Vlad impales. At last count, my spies indicated that there were over 15,000 people dying and rotting on those putrid stakes. There are thousands more as you go further toward Tirgoviste. Even The Turks cannot be as hateful and despicable as Vlad Tepes Of The Order Of The Dracul... Vlad The Impaler."
"Dear God," Was Ramirez' muttered reply. "Do you mean...?" He could not finish the question. Fortunately, Corvinus answered without further explanation.
"Yes, my friend. As we speak, there are thousands upon thousands of people impaled on those stakes you see. I am something of a crusader against the Ottomans, but I would prefer even them as my neighbors than Vlad Tepes."
For the entire ride back to Corvinus' castle Ramirez remained silent. He had seen many wars over the ages but he had never seen anything as haunting as that. Even war had its moral code that must be followed or men sunk to the level of beasts. Perhaps, Ramirez thought to himself, his was a code that was becoming more and more outdated. When mankind should be moving forward, wars raged across the globe and the battlefield had only become more violent. Now, even the peasants who looked to their rulers for protection were vulnerable to torture and violent death. Things seemed to be getting worse, not better. Or was his immortal nature simply causing him to see mortals in a new light? With their short life spans they had always been brutal and violent, was Vlad any different from the other tyrants he had seen? For some reason, Ramirez believed it to be so. There was something unspeakably evil about what Tepes had done to his own people, and he was sickened by it.
Hours later night had fallen and Ramirez sat quietly in the library at Badu, scouring the many shelves for the texts he sought. When he found them, he sat down at a giant oak table and attempted to read. After only a few minutes of trying, however, he shut the book and stared out the arched window at the moon. He could not rid the sight of the burning villages and the thousands of impaled souls from his mind.
He glanced over at his katana blade, resting in its scabbard on the table...
... Ramirez had no idea what had brought him to Vlad Tepes' cell, but nonetheless his feet had somehow managed to take him there. Behind the bars, Vlad lay asleep on a small cot. How could one individual create such chaos and death and still sleep soundly? Surely, Tepes was insane. Filled with disgust at the evil being, Ramirez drew the katana and held it over his head. All he need do is strike, bringing the blade down between the iron bars, and he would rid the world forever of this madman. He hesitated, looking for some sign that he should spare this life.
"Do it..." Came a voice from nowhere. It took Ramirez a moment to realize that it was Tepes who spoke. His eyes remained shut and he appeared to be asleep. Had Ramirez dreamt it?
"Do it..." The voice repeated.
Ramirez lowered the blade, saying nothing. Only the look in his eyes, as cold and hard as flint, betrayed his hatred for this cruel being.
Finally Vlad opened his eyes. "That's what you were sent here to do, was it not? You are the king's assassin, are you not?"
"I am... my own man," Ramirez replied stoically. In the back of his mind, he had to wonder. Was that why Corvinus had shown his the carnage that followed Vlad's rule? To subliminally urge his old acquaintance to kill Tepes? In this way, he could rid himself of Vlad completely through some 'mysterious assassin' and accept no blame for it himself. Thereby not enraging Tepes' brother Radu, who may have taken control of Wallachia from his brother and with whom no love was shared, but would avenge his family name nonetheless.
"You would do well to rot in this cell. It's better than you deserve," Ramirez replied.
"I will return to power," Vlad countered as he rose to his feet from the cot and approached the bars of his cell. "And when I do my people will fear me, as will the Turks and the entire world."
Sickened, Ramirez turned and walked away from Tepes, who continued calmly taunting his self-appointed executioner. "You are a worm. You're without the backbone to kill an unarmed man. Never show your face in Wallachia, worm, for I will impale you without mercy."
Ramirez would never lay eyes on Vlad Tepes or return to Hungary again. The next day, Tepes was moved from his cell to a holding place in the castle tower. As royalty, he commanded a certain amount of respect from the peasants whose responsibility it was to be Dracula's caretaker. He innocently inquired as to the identity of a stranger he had encountered and described his assassin from the previous night. The stranger was well known to the King's entourage, and Tepes learned the name of Juan Sanchez Villa-Lobos Ramirez for the first time. He resolved to kill the meddlesome man when he regained power in a most vile way, but it was not to be.
In the tower Tepes remained for four years until he was allowed to move into a house. As time passed, he ingratiated himself with the Hungarian royal family and eventually married into it. But he was still the same cruel being that he always was. He impaled small animals for amusement, sometimes even pretending that it was the coward Ramirez on the stake, until his brother Radu died in 1474. Tepes' brother had served as a puppet leader for the Turks, and the sultan put one of the Danesti clan, Basarab the Old, on the Wallachian throne. In 1476 Dracula retook his throne and drove Basarab out of the country. Dracula was once again Wallachia's ruler and free to make the world tremble before his might, not to mention hunt down and kill the man he knew as Ramirez. It would be a short rule, however, as the Turks retaliated a few months later. Tepes died on the battlefield near Bucharest...
Ramirez was wrenched from his reverie when as he approached the home of Amanda Oglivie. The streets were quiet and there was no commotion about the house. Thankfully, there were no constables walking the street at the time of the attack. But for Ramirez the silence did not bode well. As he eased the front door of Amanda's home gently open, he saw that all inside was dark. He drew his sword.
Carefully, he moved inside and scanned his surroundings for any sight or sound. The air was still. Then he noticed it, a muffled sound from the second floor. He cautiously made his way up the broad staircase, careful to avoid any creaks in the floor. For a man as large as Ramirez, he could be surprisingly light-footed. When he reached the top of the staircase, he could just barely see the door to Moira's room in the darkness, the room where the battle had taken place. The door was half open, swaying in the breeze. He still could not make out the sounds that emanated from the room, but he could tell that it was a living being making them. In his gut he feared the worst. He edged his way down the hallway, eyes flitting this way and that, alert for any attack.
Moments later he found himself at the threshold of Moira's room. He peered through the opening in the doorway. Wind whistled through the room due to the fact that the terrace doors had been ripped from their hinges, not to mention the gaping holes left in the wall where Dracula's demons had made their fearsome entrance. Had it really only taken place less than an hour ago? It seemed like years to Ramirez. Throughout the room broken furniture was strewn across the floor.
Ramirez summoned his strength and his courage, edging the door the rest of the way open and leaping inside. With his blade at the ready, Ramirez scanned the scene. His heart sank as his eyes fell upon the corpse of Donald Fraser, beheaded. The wall behind him had been virtually painted with Fraser's blood as it escaped his body. His sword remained embedded in the wooden beam where he had accidentally lodged it. Immediately, Ramirez knew what had befallen MacLeod's old acquaintance. He had struck in anger and lost his sword, freeing Dracula to strike at his neck. The old saying occurred to him, live by the sword and you die by the sword. From what Ramirez knew of Fraser, he never sought out conflict or the bloody swordplay that always accompanied immortal life. He didn't deserve this death. His brow furrowed with concern as he took in the sight of the nearby walls, scorched as if with fire. Ramirez' practiced eye recognized the telltale signs of a quickening when he saw it. Donald's quickening, his very essence, had exploded forth from his body. But had it actually passed into Vlad? He was frightened to imagine it. He could see no one else.
Again, he heard the sounds that had garnered his attention. He pivoted on his left foot and turned to face whatever was hidden behind the door. Reaching out, he grasped the doorknob and pulled it shut. His eyes widened with shock as he saw the form of Amanda Oglivie, sitting on the floor in her nightdress, which had been smeared with blood. Whose blood Ramirez could not tell. She was sitting there with her back to the wall, her arms crossed over her chest, hugging herself tightly and rocking back and forth in shock. There was evidence of tears that had left a trail down her cheeks, but now her eyes were dry. She had cried herself out. Ramirez felt agony for her. She was muttering to herself under her breath and didn't even seem to notice him. Slowly, he placed the sword in its sheath and knelt at her side. Ramirez removed his gloves and with the gentleness of a mother's touch he reached out and took the girl's chin in his strong hands, directing her gaze toward him. Her vision seemed to clear, and for the first time she noticed him. He smiled at her, and this seemed to mean the world to the young girl. She actually managed a weak smile back at him.
"Amanda, are you injured?" He asked in a soft voice. Were MacLeod present, he probably wouldn't recognize his old mentor's tone. She took a minute to gather her thoughts, swallowing hard.
"I... I don't think so," She stammered.
Now for the difficult question. "Amanda, where is Moira?"
At that question, Amanda's head sank back against the wall and she stared vacantly at the ceiling, tears welled up in her eyes once more. Once again he demonstrated uncharacteristic gentleness and scooped the young girl up in his arms. He had to get her out of this room and away from Donald's body. She eagerly swallowed into his touch, burying her tiny form in the safety of his arms and chest. The young girl was like a rag doll in his arms. Choking back tears, she finally answered his question as he carried her downstairs and sat her on the love seat, pouring her a glass of wine to calm her nerves.
"He took her."
As if a heavy weight had been placed on his chest, Ramirez sat back in his chair for a moment. He felt defeated. Fraser was dead and the woman he had died to protect was in the hands of Dracula. Connor had recounted the story of Vlad to both Donald and himself as they waited for nightfall, and of the Countess Bathory who became his lover. Now Moira had perhaps been lost to that fate as well. All this could have been prevented had he merely possessed the strength to kill the bastard in his cell centuries ago. There and then he resolved to make it his personal mission to destroy Vlad as he should have done when first he heard the name. He would not allow another young woman to die at Dracula's hands, only to be reborn to a life of eternal darkness. He wondered where MacLeod was at that moment and if he was all right. There was no way he could leave Amanda's side. The poor girl was hysterical, but as soon as she was well, he would hunt down Dracula and end his vile existence. Amanda's voice interrupted his unspoken vow.
"What are you? What was that creature? What was Donald? Will Connor be all right?"
Ramirez wondered how he should answer the first three questions. Until he could satisfactorily summon the proper words, he could only answer her final inquiry.
"Connor will be just fine," He said as he lazily ran his fingers through her hair to soothe and relax her. He silently finished the thought. For if he comes to any harm due to Dracula's actions, no power on Earth will stay my hand.
High above the sleeping populace of London, Dracula alighted on the domed rooftop of St. George's Anglican Church, carrying Moira Chisholm in his strong arms. For her part, Moira was disgusted by the bat-like creature her dream warrior had turned into, and yet she clung to him like a long lost lover. She could not explain it logically. Her heart belonged to Donald Fraser, and she knew that this wicked creature was the man who had invaded her dreams. Inside, she was screaming in terror, wanting nothing more than to run from this hideous man, and yet all she could do was look lustily into his eyes as if she adored him. It was as if she had no control over her own body, as if she was looking through someone else's eyes. How dreadful, to not even be allowed to mourn the man you love. She had not even shed a tear for Donald yet, and she felt her soul become a well filled with the deepest despair. And yet when Dracula addressed her, her mouth drew into a playful smile. What was he doing to her?
"Finally, I have what I have always wanted. You," He told her as she watched him revert to human form. He was indeed a handsome man in this form, but she knew that this was not really him. If she could, she would hurl herself from the roof to the street below, gladly joining her beloved Donald in the afterlife, but she could not move except toward him. She realized she was speaking, and she strained to listen to the words coming out of her mouth.
"I am yours, My Lord. Take me. Take my body as my gift to you."
Dracula's breath came in short gasps now as his lips pulled back into a sneer, revealing bared fangs. Moira could only watch as his lips clamped down hard on her exposed neck, piercing her flesh. The demon may have had control of her, but she could not help but cry out in pain and shock. She felt his hands guiding hers toward his lean body, so much like Donald's, she remembered. As if they possessed a life all their own, Moira reached out and touched that familiar warmth and hardness between his legs. Instead of exciting her, this time it repelled her. Still, she continued onward, rubbing him in the manner she knew he enjoyed.
Dracula's hands explored her body freely and crudely. As he clawed at her clothing his fingertips explored her most private places, the pair began levitating in the air, some six feet from the dome they had been standing on. Dracula sucked at the wound he had opened on her neck as Moira stripped him of his clothing, revealing his nakedness to her, all the while levitating in the air. Her will was not her own, and it frightened her to no end. She felt as if she were going mad. Once again, her body betrayed her as Dracula ripped her clothing from her body forcefully. Impatiently, she wrapped her legs around his waist and guided him to her. As he entered her, a single tear escaped to betray her true feelings.
Things only got worse as Dracula pulled back from her neck, revealing his bloodied lips and chin. He then proceeded to run his own fingertip across his chest and cut himself open. His diseased blood poured openly from the wound. As the vampire began thrusting toward her, lost in his own pleasure, he held her head to his chest, and her tongue shot out, beckoning the blood from his body into her mouth. Moira swallowed greedily.
"The blood is the life," She moaned. Dracula howled in pleasure as she joined him in the drinking of blood.
It had taken him some time, but he finally recognized the katana MacLeod had used in their duels. It was the same sword Ramirez had used when he appeared in Vlad's cell centuries ago, intent on killing him. With the newfound side-effects of the quickening that he had received, he knew that killing Connor MacLeod would only bring him more orgasmic bliss from the addictive rush he experienced when he received a quickening, and it could possibly make him mortal again, even if it only lasted for a short time. Perhaps Hecate could help him find a way to make it last longer. There were a lot of things he would love to do were he unaffected by the symbols of God. As an added bonus, he knew the death of MacLeod would also serve to enrage and injure the self-appointed protector of good named Ramirez.
Chapter 7: A Kind Of Magic
Author's Notes: Due to stronger than usual sexual content in this chapter involving two different sex scenes (which I admit I tried to write with the greatest of taste), I must caution younger readers and stress the rating on this story, especially this chapter, which should be considered rated R. Please consider yourself duly warned.
As Dracula's remaining demon-assassin vaulted across the rooftops of London, Connor Macleod desperately tried to keep the beast in sight as he breathlessly gave chase while still making every effort to stay out of the demon's line of sight. Finally the demon came to a stop on a rooftop in Carfax, at Purfleet, and took up a position there, acting almost as if it were standing vigil over the street below. MacLeod couldn't have been more relieved that the demon's trek had finally come to a halt, for even though he was in excellent physical condition, keeping pace with the supernatural beast was becoming more and more difficult. As the demon stood at the edge of the rooftop, swirling mist and fog ringing around him like a veil, Connor stopped to catch his breath around the corner, willing his body to become one with the flat surface at his back so that he might not be noticed by the bloodthirsty creature. After a few moments of labored breathing returning to some semblance of normalcy, Connor dared to peek around the corner and up toward the heavens where the creature lay in wait. To his amazement it was still just standing there, oblivious to all and as motionless as a stone gargoyle. There were no other figures at street level that Connor could see.
MacLeod tucked the katana into his overcoat and dashed across the street with all the speed he could muster. The demon made no notice of anything on the street below. Connor tried the front door of the building the demon sat perched on top of. It was locked, nor was there any light inside. He looked about, looking for some other means of entry. A few feet above the doorway there was a window that was slightly ajar. MacLeod was by no means an expert climber, but after three tries he managed to leap high enough to grasp the windowsill by the tips of his fingers and pull himself up with great effort. Extending one hand he managed to open the window further and wiggle his way inside. It was by no means a dignified entry, but it would have to do. A few seconds later he was inside, on a stairwell leading to the second floor of Dracula's home. There was no sound other than the slightly eerie whistling of the wind coming in through the window. Cautiously, MacLeod began making his way up the stairs, stopping instantly whenever his feet caused the stairway to creak and listening for any sound of pursuit, or of anything else in this seemingly deserted old house. When he reached the second floor Connor stepped out into what appeared to be a rather impressive library.
He looked about, taking in the decor in what little light managed to peek through the window, casting long shadows throughout the entire house. In here there was a deep smell of leather, not surprising, Connor thought, when he saw the leather covered chairs on either side of the oak desk. MacLeod moved over to the bookshelves, examining the selections to be found there. There were many ancient books about the Carpathians and the bloody history of that region, some books on the art of warfare, and quite a few selections on London and its properties. Aside from that, there were also books on philosophy, world religions, science, and art, including the collected works of Shakespeare. Vlad Dracula was apparently a well read individual.
Moving over to the desk, Connor slid the top drawer open, wary of anything he might find inside. Much to his surprise, there were only more papers, mostly legal documents from the looks of them, affixed with the wax seal of the dragon that identified Dracula's bloodline, the same image Connor noticed on the hilt of Dracula's sword. If MacLeod didn't know better, he would swear that he was in just another foreign noble's Victorian home away from home. There was nothing particularly sinister or out of the ordinary here except the inordinate amount of dust that covered everything like a blanket of neglect. Connor's own hidden war room in New York City was more foreboding than this. Silently he slipped off a glove and began looking through the papers that belonged to Vlad Dracula.
Many of them comprised a series of correspondence between Dracula and a law firm in England, telling of his intentions to buy more properties in the city, at least nine more. Another was the deed to the very building he was standing in, claiming the owner was indeed Vlad Dracula, supposedly the fourteenth of a royal line dating back centuries. Connor understood the ploy well. He had been assuming other people's identities for centuries himself, usually that of children who died at birth, his own legal name was Alfred Nicholson. Dracula merely pretended to be his own sons century after century, changing only the title, Vlad the 14th to Vlad the 15th, and so on. In the wilds of the Carpathians, who would ever know the difference? As former ruler of the land, Vlad was free to change any official records he wanted with impunity. The two immortals really did have something in common other than endless centuries of existence. Nevertheless, he vowed to help keep Moira safe from Dracula, and he would do just that.
Putting the papers back where he found them and putting his gloves back on, Connor continued his search throughout the building. He moved out into the hallway and opened another door. This time his breath was taken away by what he saw. The room was bare but for a pentagram painted on the floor in red and a series of unlit candles spread about the room. A foul stench teased his nostrils when he opened the door. Now this was more along the lines of what he was expecting. Surely, some form of black magic was performed here, perhaps even the magic that resurrected his old friend Ramirez. Connor remembered that he still had some Eucharistic wafers in his pocket from the battle with Vlad back at Amanda's. He removed them from his pocket and stepped into the room, scattering them about the pentagram, taking care to place one at each corner of the design. As he did so, he noticed the wafers began to eat away at whatever substance had been used to paint the pentagram on the floor, and soon it had disappeared completely. The deed done, he exited the room once more, closing the door softly behind him. He continued his search through the second floor. There were several bedrooms, expertly furnished and yet as dusty and unused as the library, perhaps even more so. When he reached the end of the hall there was one final door, which when opened revealed another set of stairs which he surmised led to the roof.
Connor drew his sword.
As silently as possible, MacLeod ascended the stairs, sword at the ready. When the darkness enveloped him, he removed a set of matches from his pocket and lit one. He could clearly make out a door at the top of the stairs. He blew out the match and slowly turned the handle, easing the door open. The night air greeted him as he stepped out. His heart nearly stopped with fear as he saw the demon standing at the edge of the rooftop, luckily facing away from him and overlooking the street below, just as he was when Connor had last seen him from the street below. Thinking back to his old friend Donald, he managed to think like a hunter and judged the wind before stepping out into the open. He was currently downwind from his demonic foe. He would have to strike now, or lose his best chance to rid the world of the vile creature. He edged his way forward, closing the door gently behind him and gripping the katana handle with both hands. Not even daring to breathe, he moved ever closer, ready to strike. He lifted the katana high over his head, poised to strike just as the wind shifted and Connor was suddenly no longer downwind. He watched as the beast twitched in recognition, realizing that the scent of its prey was suddenly overwhelming.
With inhuman quickness it whirled on him, its dead eyes growing wide at the sight of Connor MacLeod, one of the humans it had been specifically created to destroy, standing directly behind it. Too late, however, as MacLeod rushed forth and the katana blade sang out, slicing through the air and cleaving through demon flesh. The strike was textbook perfect, with no wasted movement, slicing through the demons neck with little resistance. Suddenly unattached, the demon's head slid from the rest of its body and fell to Connor's feet, eyes still wide in surprise as it rolled past him. The demon's body soon followed, toppling like a marionette with its strings cut. As before on the rooftop of Amanda's home, the beast instantly began to dissolve before Connor's eyes, leaving behind a putrid smell as its body turned to dust and was swept away by an uncaring wind, exactly the fate its twin had met.
Connor let out a loud sigh of relief as the last of the demons was killed and kicked at the mass of dust that had once been the demon, helping to disperse it on the wind. It was now obvious to him that the demon, having lost the scent of its prey, had returned to Purfleet to await new orders from its master, but Dracula was not here. That bothered Connor to no end. Had he sent Ramirez back to Amanda's only to meet up with Dracula? He hated to think that he had made the wrong tactical decision. Everything in his being screamed at him to get back to Amanda's. As the last of the dust disappeared on the wind, Connor ducked back inside and down the steps into Dracula's home. He would return to Amanda's, content that he could come back here and slay Dracula another time. As he descended the steps to the ground floor and made his way to the front door, he sensed another rush of movement somewhere in the darkness behind him.
He was not alone.
He was in the anteroom that led to the main house, where visitors would be welcomed and their coats and hats taken. Pretending that he was unaware of the movement, Connor readied the katana at his side and made his way casually to the front door. The banshee wail that split the silence of the room startled him, but he still managed to glance back to see the shadow moving toward him at speed in a craven attack. Perhaps it was even another demon summoned by Dracula, MacLeod mused. Instinctively, Connor dropped to one knee and thrust the katana out behind him, under his left arm. Hecate impaled herself on MacLeod's blade before she even knew what had happened, her scream of attack crescendoed into a wail of agony as the blade punctured her chest. Connor grimaced as he realized he had just killed a woman. It wasn't a new experience for him, for female immortals had sought his head in the past, but the Celtic code bred into him as a child still rankled... women were not to be injured by men. Like the demon that he had killed on the roof, Hecate's face was a mask of surprise as she looked down at the blood-stained katana blade that she had literally impaled herself on. Crimson blood began to spill freely from her lips.
"I'm... sorry," Connor whispered, his voice catching in his throat.
Hecate said nothing until she grabbed the katana blade that had impaled her and pulled it from her body. Blood flowed copiously from the wound as she pulled the sword free, pooling at her feet. Freed from the blade, she made a desperate lunge for MacLeod, arms outstretched, as if to choke the life from him.
"Kill... you," were the once beautiful young woman's final words. Connor shook his head in disgust as her chest stopped rising and falling and her eyes closed. This was not how he wanted to deal with an innocent young mortal Dracula had somehow corrupted. An ever expanding pool of blood spread across the floor as he checked for a pulse. Finding none, he said a small prayer for her soul and, tucking the katana from view beneath his coat, left Dracula's home.
The night sky was starting to brighten. Soon, brilliant rays of sunshine would begin to peek over the horizon and break through the crust of fog that enveloped London at night. He had no idea where Dracula was and that realization disturbed him greatly. He walked a few blocks before hailing a passing hansom and directing it to Amanda's house. If Connor had remained at Vlad's Carfax home for only a few more minutes, he would have seen the Lord Of The Undead leaping high over the rooftops, accompanied by his new lover, taken in force from her own home only hours before, returning after a night's lovemaking, all against her will.
Dracula and Moira alighted on the rooftop of his home, hand in hand and fully nude, their clothes left behind hours ago. Even now, the diseased blood that flowed from Dracula's body into hers was destroying her blood cells, damning her forever to seek the blood of the living to survive. Even worse for her was the fact that she didn't seem to be in control of her own senses any longer. Inside she screamed in agony for her lost love, Donald Fraser, a dashing Scotsman who died protecting her. Her mind was still processing what she had witnessed back at Amanda's home when her lover was beheaded by the man whom she now flew through the air beside. A form of energy the likes of which she had never heard of burst forth from Donald's body and flowed into Dracula, and she wondered just what it was that been contained in her husband-to-be. She mourned him, no matter what he truly was, and now she was a puppet to Dracula's will, making love to him over and over as they hovered high above the city, crying out in ecstasy and yet in her mind she was repulsed by him. She endlessly professed her love for him when they both knew that if given half a chance she would kill him with her bare hands for what he did to the man she truly loved. It was a form of torture she had never considered before, to lose control of her body while still retaining control over her mind, wanting to scream in fury and yet have her body betray her with a smile and words of undying love. Dracula stopped instantly the moment he set foot on the rooftop, his eyes scanning the area and his nose twitching as he sniffed the air.
"What is it, my love?" She asked as she alighted beside him. Vlad dropped to one knee and examined the very spot where the demon had been beheaded by MacLeod, sniffing at the remnants of odor left behind by the being's decaying body.
"Something is wrong," was his only reply as he took her by the hand and led her into the house. Despite her horror at whatever Dracula had done to her free will and to her lover, Moira marveled as she stepped into the darkness of the house and descended the stairs at his side. Though there was little in the way of illumination, she could see perfectly in the darkness. Her vision was now composed mostly of reds and blacks and some orange, but that just increased her ability to discern light from shadow in the oppressive blackness. She knew she was changing into something different, something other than human, and there was nothing she could do about it. It was then that her enhanced senses detected a new smell, somewhere in the house. Instinctively she knew what it was... fresh human blood.
Dracula uncharacteristically hurried down the stairs to the second floor and sniffed at the air as Moira did. He then broke into a run down the stairs to the first floor, Moira at his heels. He froze as he reached the bottom step and his eyes fell on Hecate's bloodied body. He ran to her and cradled her prone form in his arms, her blood staining his naked body. Moira moved in close on the other side, despite the fact that her mind screamed at her to run from the horrid scene.
"Who is she?" Moira asked softly.
"Her name was Hecate," He answered softly, tears welling in his eyes. "She was my companion, my witch, my lover. She was to be your lover as well. MacLeod must have found this place and killed her. Now you will never know her love."
If Moira had any compulsion to run before, it had tripled after hearing Dracula's last statement. She was to be lovers with this woman as well as Dracula? What other things did this beast have in store for her? How many others would she have to degrade herself with? Still, her body betrayed no fear. Suddenly Dracula recoiled in shock, his eyes wide and his mouth hanging open.
"What is it, my love?"
Dracula was breathless. "She lives. Hecate lives. The essence of her being is fading quickly, but it is still there, just very weak. I can sense it."
"But what can we do?"
"She is beyond mortal medicine. Any doctor would have proclaimed her dead already. There is only one way to save her. We must make her one of us... undead. She will be unable to perform her magic for me any more, but I am unwilling to lose her. I love her too much for that, as you will come to love each other."
Yet again she was unable to betray her revulsion, her mouth speaking words she didn't mean. "As you wish, my lord."
Dracula reopened the wound on his chest that he had opened earlier in the evening for Moira, and his diseased blood poured forth. With great care he maneuvered himself so that he was leaning over Hecate's face, and Moira moved in against her own will and cradled the young woman's head against her bare breast and opened the dying Hecate's mouth. She could plainly see Vlad's arousal once again. Blood flowed from his chest, nearly black in color, and droplet after droplet fell into Hecate's open mouth. Moira picked the younger girl up in her arms and carried her up to one of the bedrooms as Dracula looked on approvingly, following a few steps behind them. Immediately, Dracula's diseased blood went to work on Hecate's own body chemistry. Eventually she stopped breathing completely, as Moira had done only hours ago. Even as Moira lay Hecate down on the dusty four poster bed and Dracula stepped inside the room, his former witch began to stir. Like a hungry panther Dracula moved across the room and crawled onto the bed on all fours beside the two women he desired more than any others in this world.
Hecate's first sight as she opened her eyes was the beautiful Moira looking down at her, a sultry look in her eye and licking her lips. Dracula moved in beside them, his hand coming to rest on the back of Moira's head, applying just enough pressure to guide her lips toward Hecate's. Moira had never even considered kissing another woman before this point, and rarely kissed other men, wanting to save herself for marriage. Many times she had kissed her beloved Donald, though, and as her lips met Hecate's, she felt the best way to keep from going insane was to look at things analytically. Hecate's lips and skin were far softer than Donald's. The sensation wouldn't be entirely unpleasant to her if not for the ugly circumstances that surrounded everything.
"That's it," She told herself. "Look at it from a calculated point of view. Don't concentrate on this nightmare you're living or you'll lose your mind completely."
As if from far away, looking down on someone else's body, Moira was vaguely aware of Hecate's tongue invading her mouth, and of her sending her own tongue out to greet it. The two women continued kissing greedily, tongues engaged in a sexual swordplay that could only have one result. Against her will, Moira's hands began exploring Hecate's voluptuous form freely, starting at her neck and down over her large breasts, kneading them softly and making Hecate moan into her new lover's mouth. She was also plainly aware of Hecate's own hands exploring her body, down over her hips, to her inner thighs, and between her legs. Were she fully in control of her body, she would have jumped a mile when Hecate's thumb and forefinger grazed her clitoris for the first time. Moira was then aware of one other happening, Dracula was slowly insinuating himself between the two women he had corrupted with his diseased blood, melding into their joining, all three tongues crossing now in a lecherous three way kiss. Hecate's hand that had been kneading Moira's breasts moved over to grab Vlad by the waist and draw him ever closer into the coupling. Moira also felt her left hand come away from between Hecate's thighs and grasp Vlad firmly by the buttocks, drawing him fully in and making the joining complete. Both Moira and Vlad lowered their heads to Hecate's supple breasts, each taking a nipple for themselves. Hecate exhaled loudly in ecstasy, almost panting with joy. Deep in her soul, Moira screamed with rage at the man who had arranged all of this, stolen her will and forced her to perform for his sexual pleasure. Moira screamed until she could scream no more. Finally, there was nothing left but a passive resistance.
"Forgive me, Donald," She whispered in her tortured mind and shut off her conscious self as the menage a trois continued.
MacLeod warily opened the door of Amanda's home, the katana safely hidden away. He made his way into the living room where Ramirez sat, the young Amanda's head resting on his lap. The Egyptian was stoking her hair softly. Amanda appeared to be sleeping. Ramirez raised his finger to his lips to indicate that Connor be silent, and he slipped out from underneath her, replacing his lap with a pillow. He escorted Connor into the kitchen. MacLeod had never really seen the softer side of his mentor centuries ago, and it struck him as comforting to know that Ramirez had a strong fatherly instinct even after all this time.
"It took me hours to get her to rest and I don't want her waking up now," He told MacLeod in a hushed tone.
"Where is everyone else? Moira and Donald?" Connor asked. The look in Ramirez's eyes said everything. Still, Connor needed details.
"I'm not sure, MacLeod. When I returned from the Sutton Tunnel, Moira's room was nearly destroyed. I found Fraser up there... beheaded." He pointed upward, indicating the bedroom where they had battled Dracula and his demons hours ago.
Connor's head sank in sorrow, his shoulders heavy with the burden of responsibility and perceived failure.
"There's more, Highlander, and it won't be easy to hear."
With as much detail as he could manage, Ramirez told Connor what he believed transpired while they were gone. It appeared that Donald attempted to strike out at Dracula and embedded his blade in a wooden beam exposed by the demon's entrance crashing through the walls. Taking advantage of the moment, Dracula struck, beheading his foe. Ramirez then went on to tell of the scorch marks along the wall, the telltale signs of a quickening passing from one immortal to another, leading him to believe that Donald's quickening was now a part of Dracula. Finally, he told MacLeod of Dracula abducting Moira after the battle, as witnessed by the frantic Amanda. Connor didn't know what disaster to start dealing with first. How would he handle the removal of Donald's body? How should he go about rescuing Moira? What would Vlad do to her when he discovered what Connor had done to his witch? And what of the poor, lovely, Amanda, who so reminded him of his beloved Heather? He balled his fists with rage as he imagined Donald's quickening, his very essence, now a part of Dracula's malignant soul.
"You needn't worry about Fraser's body," Ramirez spoke up, practically reading MacLeod's mind. "I'm well practiced in this kind of thing. I did my best to clean up Moira's room and board up the holes in the walls, then I gave Amanda something to help her sleep while I removed his body to a cemetery under cover of darkness. Don't worry, I removed anything that could identify him, including his clothes, and wrapped him in some blankets. There was a new grave there, just filled in a day or so ago, I dug it up and placed him there before filling it back in. It's not the best possible solution, but the best we can do under these circumstances. I'm... sorry for the loss of your friend, MacLeod. He seemed a good man."
"He was a good man," Connor mused. "A good Scotsman. He deserved better than this. He wanted no part in the game. He wanted to live a lifetime with Moira. He asked me for help, and I failed him."
Ramirez placed a soothing hand on his friend's shoulder. "You didn't kill him, MacLeod, remember that. Vlad killed him and he took Moira. But there is still a chance to save her, and only the one chance. A transfusion of your immortal blood would kill the disease that Dracula has infected her with. It would return her to normal, immortal blood is the only true cure."
"I have to save her, Ramirez. I gave Donald my word that I'd help keep her safe."
Ramirez gave him a reassuring smile. "And together we will keep her safe, MacLeod. Mark my words." Even as those last words faded Ramirez added his own unspoken oath. I had the chance to stop him centuries ago and I didn't. No more people will fall to Vlad's bloodlust, even if it costs me my life.
"I know where he sleeps, but we can't attack during the day even if he is weaker. There would be too many innocent bystanders, and too many witnesses." They both knew that the sight of immortals and vampires battling to the death was not an option. Even in these enlightened times, the smoke from the inquisitions still hung in the air, not to mention what the local authorities might do.
"Then it's a waiting game," Ramirez replied. "Until night falls." The two fell into a mournful silence as they remembered their fallen immortal comrade. Connor was particularly sullen at Donald's loss. The Scotsman was the last tie to his past, to memories of a life he treasured and yet was completely lost to the passage of time.
The silence in the kitchen was broken by the sudden entrance of Amanda, who ran to Connor's side and embraced him tightly, tears falling down her cheeks.
"Connor! Thank God you're safe!"
Here she was, in his arms again, the woman whose spirit so reminded him of his beloved Heather. "Don't worry, Amanda, I'm safe. I'm sorry I wasn't here for you tonight. I'm so sorry." Unbidden images of his own return to his Glencoe home to find it destroyed by the Kurrgan, Ramirez beheaded, and his own wife in tears, tortured his soul.
"What are you and Donald, Connor? I must know. I have a right to know."
"Choose your words carefully, MacLeod," Ramirez muttered. Sensing that some privacy was needed, the Egyptian excused himself and returned to the living room. Lost in her pleading gaze, neither Connor nor Amanda could pay much attention to his departure.
"What I am, Amanda, is so strange that I still have a hard time believing it."
Without warning, Amanda kissed him breathlessly. Connor had fought hard against the mutual attraction between them, for he dared never to let someone into his heart again, not after Heather. Fate deemed otherwise, for Connor was a loving, caring man, by nature, never truly comfortable with the solitary life forced upon him by his immortal stature. Somehow he knew that Heather was looking down on them now, smiling upon the affection this young girl bestowed on him.
"I want you to have your children, Connor," Heather had told him on her deathbed.
"They would have been strong and fine," He had replied. Like Heather, Amanda was strong and very beautiful. After all he had been through the past few days, dealing with Vlad Dracula and his lust for blood, the innocent love of a young woman was like a life preserver tossed to a drowning man on stormy seas. He could resist her no longer, pulling her close and returning the kiss with equal passion. For now, there was nothing he could do about Dracula or the lost Moira. He would revel in the light of Amanda for the time being, because the darkness that followed Dracula threatened to consume him. They broke the kiss for only a moment, as he began kissing his way down her neck. She chose that moment to ask again.
"What are you?"
He pulled away to look at her, wondering if he had any right to lie to her now. "I am Connor MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod. I was born in Glen Finnen, on the shores of Loch Sheil, in the year1536, and I cannot die. I am immortal, as Donald was."
Much to his surprise, she only smiled and placed her soft hands on both his cheeks, holding his face only inches from hers. "Whatever you are, I know this: you engender more trust than anyone I have ever met. You're honest, you're kind, and you're handsome, and I feel safer in your arms than anywhere in this world. It's like a kind of magic." Connor could say nothing. It was indeed a kind of magic, but there were many types of magic in this world. He had seen much of Dracula and Hecate's evil magic over the past few days, and not nearly enough of the magic that transpired between two people in love.
The sun had come up, and Dracula would remain in his home until nightfall, for he dare not encounter them in the day when his powers were weak. This woman's touch felt too good, too reassuring, not to give in to it. The battles and the strategy would have to wait. Now was a time for healing, and for love. Gently he scooped her up in his arms and led her upstairs to her room. Lost in the safety of each other's arms, their lovemaking was spectacular, blocking out the entire outside world. Only once, as he lay on top of her in bed, her arms encircling his neck and drawing him into her, did Heather's face flash into his mind's eye. Rather than feel guilty, he did indeed see her smiling down at him, sitting on the steps of their Glencoe home. After that, she was gone from his mind for a time, replaced by this beautiful woman in the here and now. As he gently maneuvered Amanda so that she was straddling his lap, he watched her intently - mouth slightly open, eyes clenched shut in joyous orgasm, and hair thrown back across her shoulders. He suddenly knew he had rediscovered a pleasure he had not known in what seemed like endless ages. Amanda didn't even notice the single tear of happiness that escaped his eyes, rolling down his cheek and lost in a pillow, before he too threw his head back in rapture.
A kind of magic, indeed.
Vlad lay in his coffin in the basement of his home with his lovers cradled in each arm. They slept contentedly after their passionate menage a trois, which he found completely intoxicating. Hecate had been particularly lustful, brought back from the edge of the abyss and given a second chance at existence through his diseased blood. As always, both women performed exactly as he wished them to, doing whatever he wanted in the bedroom. Still, he knew that Hecate was the only one of the two women that was truly enjoying and participating with abandon. He could still sense Moira's resistance to his will. Her body was his, but her mind was still her own. Nonetheless, he knew he would eventually break down her mental barriers and the redhead would be his as much as Hecate was. It was only a matter of time. He lay there with his eyes wide open, staring into the darkness and contemplating events of the past few days. Things had not gone as well as Dracula had hoped. MacLeod and Ramirez had managed to destroy the two demon assassins Hecate had conjured and now that she was like him - undead - there was no chance of the spell working any longer. The best she could hope for was mixing healing potions that required no skill at witchcraft. Worst of all, MacLeod and Ramirez were still alive and knew his weaknesses, it was highly possible that MacLeod had even been in his home. Now more than ever he saw the need for owning multiple homes throughout London. Indeed, although taking Hecate as an undead lover pleased him, it was not MacLeod's place to slay her and force the decision on him. He would have to answer for his crimes.
Carefully, he probed Hecate's mind, willing her to awaken. Seconds later she stirred and opened her eyes. She smiled when she lay eyes upon her lover and the newcomer to their relationship.
"My Lord," She whispered. "The woman is... energetic, to say the least. You chose well. I cannot believe you have denied me this existence for so long. I should be angry with you."
Dracula laughed softly. "Hecate, my sweet. You know I needed you alive to perform spells. I did what I did to save you. I could not bear to be without you."
Like a cloud passing over the sun, Hecate's face grew serious, her eyes dark. "I remember my last moments in my other life. I was down here, awaiting your return, when I heard a noise upstairs. It was MacLeod coming down the stairs. I didn't know how he got inside, and I didn't care. I just knew I felt rage at seeing him invade our home, and I waited in the shadows until I could attack him from behind. That was when he ran me through." She touched the area on her chest where the katana blade sliced through her body, an area now perfectly healed.
"I need my revenge on MacLeod, My Lord. Will you allow me to take his head?"
Dracula shook his head. "No, sweet Hecate. Both you and Moira are too precious to me to risk you in battle against these men. They are fierce warriors and they know the weaknesses of the nosferatu. I will not put you at risk again, nor sweet Moira."
Hecate looked displeased. "Then how do we deal with them, My Lord?"
"I will deal with them, love. I'm going to write a note that I want you to take to the east end pub known as The Stern And Wheel. I warn you, it is not a place for ladies. You may be called upon to use your new strength to defend yourself, all I ask is that you be subtle about it."
"And who do I deliver this note to?"
"There is a man there, he never leaves, he goes by the name Allia. You will give the note to him and return here at once."
She looked at him warily. "And what will the note say?"
He paused before answering as Moira stirred in her sleep. Gently, he reached into her mind and willed her back into a deep sleep. He did not want her to hear of his plans just yet. When he was sure that she was in deep slumber, he answered. "It is a letter to summon my Szgany warriors. They are even more fierce with a sword than MacLeod and his friend. I should have relied on them from the beginning, I suppose. I will lead them tonight on a mission to destroy MacLeod and take our revenge on Ramirez."
Hecate kissed him deeply before the pair moved silently from the coffin, leaving behind the sleeping Moira and ascending the stairs to the house proper. Once there, Dracula wrote the note and affixed the seal of the Dracul to it, ensuring its authenticity. He gave it to Hecate and sent her out into the mid-morning crowd, her pale skin and face well covered to protect her from the sun. As she left, Dracula returned to the basement and pondered what fun things he could do to pass the time with his remaining lover.
As Connor awoke and dressed himself some time later, he descended the stairs, careful not to look down the hallway toward the now locked door where Moira was abducted and Donald was killed. Ramirez awaited him in the living room, where he had been all morning sharpening swords. The look on his face when he eyed MacLeod was a mixture of amusement and disapproval.
"Before you say anything, I know what I just did was wrong," MacLeod offered.
Ramirez stroked his mustache thoughtfully. "The final battle is near, MacLeod. I admit I trained you to live a solitary life, but in this instance I don't think any less of you for seeking some pleasure with such a beautiful young woman. Where is she now?"
Ramirez handed the katana to Connor, cleaned and sharpened. "Whatever happens, MacLeod, we have to ensure your survival. You have an even bigger duty, to face the Kurrgan when the gathering comes. When night falls, I will lead the attack on Dracula's home, not you. I want you to act as my backup only."
Connor shook his head. "No. If he were to use his powers on you, you'd be dead, or worse, undead. His powers can't affect me."
"Can't they, MacLeod? Before Fraser died, he told me of the bite Vlad took from your neck, that it wouldn't heal. If you fall to Dracula, all of eternity may be damned when the Kurrgan has no one to face him when the gathering arrives. No, I am far more dispensable. I am no longer immortal. The Kurrgan has my quickening already. In this time, I know no one apart from you. I should be dead. My time is passed."
Connor was slowly becoming agitated by Ramirez's fatal attitude. "No! You do know someone in this time. You know me, you old haggis. I wouldn't normally say this, but I've missed you. I don't want to lose you again and I'll be damned if I'll let Dracula take you from me."
Ramirez couldn't help but smile at his protege's loyalty. "We have had a second chance together, you and I. We have fought together, MacLeod. We've said things that needed saying, things that people normally wouldn't get the chance to say to loved ones that have passed on. You've thanked me for passing on my knowledge to you, and I've lived to see you become the man you are, a student to proud of - a son to be proud of. I think that's really why I was brought back, to close the book on our relationship. You are no longer my student and I am no longer your teacher."
Connor could only smile, but it was a smile tinged with sorrow and regret.
"No one wants to live forever, MacLeod, especially not me."
Resigned to the logic of his mentor's arguments, Connor rose from the couch and poured himself a glass of scotch, turning and raising the glass to Ramirez. "To you, my oldest friend. There was never a braver man in history. Tonight we will enter the final battle with Dracula, and tomorrow we will begin a new adventure, the adventure of the rest of our lives."
"I'll drink to that," Ramirez replied.
Hecate was surprised that she encountered only one man at the Stern And Wheel pub that accosted her, making overt sexual advances. Perhaps it was her black eyes that scared the rest of them off, or perhaps the loose fitting clothing she wore to disguise her shapely form, she did not know, but a simple shove with her newfound strength sent the man flying across the room and succeeded in discouraging any others from approaching her. When she asked for Allia at the bar, she was directed toward a back room. It was a dingy, poorly lit area with one cot and a dresser, above which hung a cracked mirror. Her enhanced hearing could plainly make out the scurrying of rats behind the walls even over the piano music that filled the bar. She waited for five minutes before Allia entered, an olive skinned man with a long black beard and mustache, wild and unkept. He was wearing only a pair of long underwear, and even those were ragged and stained. In his hand he held a wicked looking curved dagger. His size was impressive, as she judged his height at over six feet tall, and his body was hard and muscled. As it turned out, Allia was a representative of the Szgany in London, their local chieftain. When he saw the seal of the Dracul on the note she bore, his eyes widened and his yellowed teeth were revealed in a cruel smile.
"You understand that my master wants these men, especially the one called MacLeod, dead by sunrise tomorrow."
Allia smiled again. "I will gather my band and we will be ready. By tomorrow morning he will have this MacLeod's head on a plate. That I guarantee."
Chapter 8: Princes of the Universe
The day was passing interminably slowly for MacLeod and Ramirez. The two old friends exchanged stories and memories from years and even centuries gone by. For Connor it was almost cathartic. In the past few hours he had managed to feel the love of a good woman and the companionship of a friend he thought he would never see again. It was almost enough to make him forget the fate that had befallen Donald and his fiancee Moira, but even reveling in his old friend's company didn't make time pass any quicker. They both knew that when night fell they would be facing death itself.
It was just before noon when Amanda appeared at the bottom of the stairs, refreshed by sleep and renewed by Connor's generous lovemaking. When Ramirez looked at her knowingly and Connor fell silent as he lay eyes on her, she blushed slightly and looked to the floor. Wise gentleman that he was, Ramirez chuckled slightly and picked himself off his chair, rising to his full and impressive height. Pecking the young girl on the cheek lovingly and half whispering "It's nothing new under the sun, my dear." Nothing more was said about it.
Without another thought, she moved to Connor's side and kissed him lightly, which he returned gratefully, but not overtly. He had always kept most of his physical expressions of love behind closed doors, not only thinking overt public displays were in poor taste, but also keeping his relationships with mortal women under wraps so that no enemy of his could use the knowledge to their advantage. For the remainder of the day she was not far from his side, the two often touched hands, stoking them discreetly as a sign of affection. Once he caught Ramirez watching them and noticed that the Egyptian made no signs of disapproval. In fact he seemed to smile at the sight of the two lovers.
For his part, Ramirez was also dreading the night to come, and he refused to let either of his companions in on his doubts and fears. Ever since his mystical resurrection as a result of Vlad's black magic he had wondered just what his purpose in this time would be. His first memory was that of standing in Amanda's sitting room and wondering just where, and when, the hell he was. He was no longer immortal, and free to live a life. But what kind of life? This was not his time, and as talented as he was at adapting to changing times, this was something of a shock even for him. He had been thrust into this time from beyond the grave. He hadn't seen it progress naturally over the years. He was truly a fish out of water here in Victorian England centuries after his death.
What friends did he have now beside Connor? The only people who would know him were a handful of other immortals, all of which would either be glad to see him and yet too busy with their own lives, or enraged at the sight of him and ready to enact revenge for some defeat at his hands ages ago. What would he do if some immortal enemy learned of his existence in this time? Surely there were still some. The Kurrgan immediately leaped to mind. He would hunt down Ramirez just for the fun of it, and to further demoralize MacLeod. He wondered what it would do to his protege to see his old friend once again die by the immortal's blade. Just knowing that there were immortal enemies out there that could seek his head ensured that he could never take a mortal wife or have children of his own. His mind reeled at the thought of what the Kurrgan would do to his children. Connor, of course, would seek revenge, and perhaps get killed before the gathering ever began. His words to MacLeod earlier echoed relentlessly in his mind now.
"Who wants to live forever?"
His time was long past. He had only one use in this time. He would defeat Vlad Dracula, and he would probably die doing it. At least that way he could die with honor, not as a grizzled old man, alone and unwanted. He set his jaw with determination. That would be just fine with him. Suddenly he realized that Connor and Amanda were speaking to him.
"I'm sorry, MacLeod. What were you saying?"
Connor's face was a mask of concern. "What's wrong? You look upset."
Ramirez flashed his trademark smile, the one that had melted the hearts of countless maidens over the centuries. "No, not at all. Nothing is wrong. I've just made some decisions. Everything is fine."
Connor didn't like it. Ramirez was being very fatalistic since the death of Donald. He hoped that it wouldn't effect him later on when the sun fell below the horizon. He had already insisted on leading the assault on Dracula, which could easily get him killed. Those kinds of thoughts led to disaster in battle. Silently, Connor made a pledge to do something about it if they encountered Dracula and Ramirez was acting strangely. He would knock Ramirez unconscious and fight alone if he had to. He would not let fate steal his best friend from him again.
As suddenly as his mood had darkened, Ramirez brightened once more. "We will battle this evening, MacLeod, but until then we have our lives to live. I would like to spend some time with my greatest pupil and his lovely companion. What do you say, Highlander? Will you take me out on the town?"
MacLeod broke into laughter at the request of his old friend. It was contagious, and Amanda followed suit. Why not live before you die? Besides, it would help take all their minds off of the lost Moira until nightfall. Sitting in the old house worrying over something they couldn't do anything about would only drive them all slowly insane. The trio gathered their hats and coats and left the house. In what might have been an unwise move, but was seen as a symbol of their acceptance of life, both Ramirez and MacLeod left their swords in the closet.
For a long time they walked the streets of London, pointing out the glories of the age to Ramirez, who looked on wide-eyed at his surroundings, almost childlike in his wonderment. They took him to an inn and bought him dinner, a succulent roast pork with a full plate of vegetables and a stein of ale. Connor and Amanda acted almost as a married couple, walking arm-in-arm and laughing at everything together. Ramirez cleaned his plate and ordered a second helping, claiming he had rarely eaten so well. Even after a second plate of roast trimmed with vegetables, he had two pieces of apple pie for dessert.
When the meal had concluded, Ramirez walked over to the man playing an upright piano to entertain the customers and sang an old tune from his childhood, daring the man at the piano to try and figure out the key he was singing in, as it changed almost constantly. Ramirez was many things, but he was no talent as a singer. Connor still twinged slightly when he recalled Ramirez singing on the loch the day he had shown MacLeod that he was immortal. Eventually all eyes in the place were on Ramirez, and they all seemed to find him utterly charming. After a time, they had all figured out the words and sang along with him. As they left the owner thanked them for the entertainment and invited them back any time they wished.
The next stop was a visit to one of the cinema houses in London. It was a scientific marvel, projecting filmed events of real people on a screen, even splicing different events together so that a man who appeared to be standing in an open field one minute was standing on busy train tracks the next. Even Connor had never seen the cinema before, and both he and Ramirez looked at one another in a shared awe at how civilization had advanced since their first meeting. Back then, Connor never thought he'd ever leave Glencoe, preferring to live and die there. Now he was in London watching this marvel. How he wished Heather could be with them to enjoy this, and as he wished, he squeezed Amanda's hand tightly. As the situations became more risque and ribald on the screen, Ramirez laughed harder than ever. Apparently his taste in humor leaned more to the adult side. Amanda was shocked at some of the things she saw at first, which only made Ramirez laugh harder, causing Connor and Amanda to once again follow suit and break out in riotous fits of laughter. By the time they left the cinema, all their stomachs were sore from laughing.
Their final stop was at the Lyceum Theater, which had an afternoon showing of Shakespeare's The Merchant Of Venice. The play was written as a comedy, so was it his imagination, or did Ramirez let a tear escape his eye as Shylock performed the "Doth not a Jew Bleed" speech?
Something was going on in the Egyptians mind, that much was clear to Connor. Ramirez had seen so much in his life, he felt touched by those words in a way Shakespeare could never have intended. Wrong someone, and they will seek revenge. In the eyes of many immortals, he had wronged them, and they would indeed take revenge upon learning that he was again among the living.
Shuttered windows and doors were opened to illuminate the room as Gratiano uttered the final words of the play.
Ramirez was the first to his feet, clapping wildly for the performance. In fact, no one had thought to give a standing ovation until they saw that one lone man was on his feet cheering for the actors. Connor and Amanda both got to their feet as well and joined him. Soon the entire room was on its feet, whistling and clapping. The actors returned to the stage to take deep bows, their faces aglow. It was clear that they were not used to such an enthusiastic response. Connor took Amanda's hand as he led them outside. His joyous mood clouded over as he looked to the darkening sky. There was little daylight left, perhaps two hours, maybe three at the most. Ramirez and Amanda also looked to the sky, their faces dire.
"We'd best get back, MacLeod. Time is short." Connor was deeply saddened. He hadn't wanted the day to end. It was as close to perfect as he could hope for. But like all good times, they pass quicker than you wish, especially for an immortal. Not for the first time, Connor silently cursed the ceaseless and unyielding passage of time. Still, he had promised Donald that he would take care of Moira, and tonight may well be his last chance to make that promise reality.
"Fine. Let's go," He replied as Amanda hailed a hansom, his tone tinged with bitterness and resignation.
They were back at Amanda's home in less than an hour and the sky had darkened even more. MacLeod and Ramirez wanted to be underway before dark, so they had little time. Already Amanda was demanding that she be allowed to accompany them. Neither man would hear of it. In fact, Connor had taken the liberty of hanging garlic across all the windows and doors to her bedroom, arranging crucifixes bearing the body of Christ at key positions throughout the room, and placing his remaining Eucharist wafers at the entrances to the windows. When he was done arranging her room Connor shut the door behind him and took the key from his pocket to unlock Moira's room, the room where Donald had died.
A cold shiver ran up his spine as the door creaked open and he stepped inside. His eyes scanned the room. Most of the debris had been removed and Ramirez had done an admirable job of boarding up the holes in the walls. It was the first time since Donald's death that he had dared venture inside. His gaze fell upon the scorch marks along the wall in the far corner. He walked over to the area and knelt to examine the it. Yes, these were the telltale marks of a quickening. Connor nodded in understanding. From his pocket he removed a small vial filled to the top with clear liquid. He would no more let Donald's quickening remain with Vlad than he would kiss Dracula's ass. He performed one final act with the vial before leaving the room and locking it behind him once more. Hopefully it would prove a nasty surprise for Dracula when the time came.
"Promise me you'll stay in your room until we return." Connor demanded when he returned downstairs.
"I want to go with you! I don't want to lose you the way we lost Donald... or Moira." Her eyes welled with tears as she spoke the name of her friend for the first time since her abduction. It was almost as if she had blocked out the memory until this point. Perhaps she had to some degree. Connor smiled and kissed her on the forehead.
"Don't worry. We'll be fine. When this is over, I'll take you on a trip back to Scotland and show you my old home. Would you like that?"
Choking back tears, she nodded and managed a limp smile. "Now please, Amanda, promise me you'll stay in there until we come back." Again she nodded. He kissed her once more, this time on the mouth.
"That's a good lass."
She took his hand, and then Ramirez's also, who was standing behind them at a discrete distance. "Come back safely, both of you. God be with you."
"I have a feeling he is. He isn't with Vlad that's for sure," Ramirez remarked, causing Amanda to smile ever so slightly.
He kissed her once more and then the two old friends tucked their swords beneath their coats, making for the exit. It was dusk. Night would be upon them soon. Amanda watched them as they retreated down the street until a hansom passed, which they hailed. The minute they were out of sight she closed and locked the door. She sighed heavily and ran to her room, closing that door behind her and locking that as well. As she collapsed on the bed she broke into tears, her eyes reddening as she prayed to God to watch over the man she now realized she was falling in love with.
Ramirez ordered the driver to take them to Purfleet, and both men sat there in silence for a time, watching the last rays of sunshine disappear over the horizon. They had only a short time left. Connor patted the katana handle beneath his jacket, secure in the knowledge that the ritual he had performed back in Moira's room would prove enough to destroy Dracula and hopefully save Donald's very soul.
"What's on your mind, MacLeod?"
Connor looked out the hansom window toward the sidewalks they whisked past. The crowds were thinning as night fell. Victorian England after dark was not a place for the timid, as they had found out during their unfortunate trip through the Sutton Tunnel. There would be few, if any, bystanders to worry about now.
"I was just thinking of Donald... and of Moira. What has he been doing to her all day while we were enjoying ourselves?"
"What choice did we have, MacLeod? Should we raise our swords high and charge his home in midday? All that would do is get us arrested and possibly thrown in an asylum. It might even get us or Moira killed. The time was ours to spend as we saw fit. No one, not even Moira or Donald, would think any less of us for enjoying it rather than lamenting those lost to us."
MacLeod turned so that he locked eyes with Ramirez, and his eyes reflected a burning desire for revenge, fueled by a growing hatred for the lord of the undead.
"I will make him pay for what he has done." The brooding look in Connor's eyes left little doubt that he meant what every word he said.
"Careful, MacLeod. Fighting in anger is what killed your friend. He told me of your battle with Vlad in the alley behind the opium den. He handled himself with great skill and nearly beheaded Vlad then and there, but when his anger got the best of him later on, Vlad bested him. You can't allow that to happen to you. You are our best hope for the prize, MacLeod. You and men like you -- born to be princes of the universe, nothing is beyond your grasp unless you lose your head. Please, don't lose your head tonight, MacLeod, or I'll be very upset with you."
MacLeod smiled once more at Ramirez's dry humor. As they neared Purfleet, Connor told the driver that this was close enough and they rolled to a stop.
"Come on, you old Haggis. There's a young girl who needs our help."
As they dismounted the carriage, the sun disappeared beneath the horizon, leaving only a smoldering reddish-orange glow across the sky. There was no one about as they turned the corner and headed toward Carfax. The old house loomed before them. There was no illumination coming from inside the house. It appeared deserted even though both men knew that it was not. They drew their swords and briskly walked toward the house, eyes flitting this way and that in search of danger. An owl hooted the arrival of night.
"Do you feel anything?" Ramirez asked. Connor knew that he was referring to the twisted quickening he felt when Dracula was nearby.
"No." It was disconcerting, not knowing Dracula's whereabouts. There were at least two vampires in there now, Moira and Dracula, he should have been able to feel them. The pair had reached the front door, and still nothing. Somewhere above them, on the roof perhaps, there was a flicker of movement, like a candle flickering in a breeze. It lasted only a second. Both MacLeod and Ramirez stiffened as they sensed it and looked up to the heavens. Ramirez looked to MacLeod, the look on his face asking if Connor felt anything resembling a quickening. Connor shook his head in the negative.
"What was that?" The Egyptian asked in a whisper.
"I don't know. It wasn't Dracula, that I can tell you."
Again there was the barest flash of movement, this time visible as a form leaping from the rooftop of Dracula's home to yet another nearby rooftop. The duo strained their eyes as they looked into the ever darkening sky. Nothing. They could hear the footfalls above, but they could not see anything. The footfalls were retreating.
"Let's go," Connor whispered as they began to give chase, listening intently for any sound and looking to the sky for anything they could make out. Above them there was the sound of a flock of birds, no doubt nesting on a rooftop, cawing loudly and breaking into flight, disturbed by whatever was up there. The figure was moving further and further away. They increased their speed to match its pace.
"We are being led by the noses, my friend," Ramirez said as they continued their chase.
"What choice do we have if we want to save Moira? We have to find Dracula." They both knew that there was indeed no choice if they wished to save her eternal soul. The chase continued throughout the streets, and they now realized that whoever it was up there was making just enough noise to let MacLeod and Ramirez know where he or she was headed. They were indeed being led by their noses. As they rounded another corner, they both came to a stop as they realized their location. They had been led to the docks facing the Thames. A massive schooner was docked nearby, rising and lowering slightly on the gentle waves as the tide rolled out. They both realized that this was Vlad's choice as the scene for their final showdown.
Well above and several hundred feet away from the scene, on a warehouse rooftop overlooking the docks, Dracula, Moira, and Hecate stood, watching the scene unfold with the enhanced vision that came as part and parcel of being undead. The women were dressed in matching red wraps that highlighted their ample curves. He was dressed in a black suit and tie with matching top hat and gloves, the cane that housed his sword in his right hand. He draped an arm around each woman, drawing them close.
"They are so desperate to find their lost Moira, they will follow any clue."
Hecate nuzzled her lovers neck, almost purring. "Why can't I have the Highlander's head, my lord? After what he did to me, I think I deserve a measure of revenge."
Dracula was adamant. "No. I will not risk losing you or Moira to them. They are both powerful and they know our weaknesses. Under no circumstances are you to get involved, Hecate my sweet. I want you to stay here and keep Moira company until I return with their heads."
He stepped away from them and toward the edge of the roof. Hecate looked to Moira and moved closer to her, wrapping her arms around the woman's waist and pulling her close. For her part, Moira's face was expressionless. Dracula could not summon all his powers to fight the immortal and his friend and still control Moira's will so completely, making her say and do as he wished. He looked back at her, noticing that her face showed neither concern nor hatred. She seemed basically emotionless.
"Do you have a problem with that, Moira my love?" Hecate took Moira's earlobe in her mouth and tugged on it lovingly, and this got no reaction as well. When she answered, her voice was flat.
"No, my lord. You must do as you feel necessary." He nodded. It seemed that her will was finally giving way. For now, he was happy that she was not resisting him any more. He returned his attention to the scene below. MacLeod and Ramirez had just scrambled onto the docks, chasing the sounds from above.
MacLeod and Ramirez cautiously made their way onto the docks, swords at the ready. The fog that always seemed to accompany Dracula had begun to roll in over the water. Ahead of them there were a few sailors dressed in thick black woolen sweaters moving crates, and they made sure to keep their swords down and well hidden as they passed them by. They had just passed by the ‘sailors' when they ceased moving the crates from one spot to another and removed their jackets and sweaters, revealing more ornamental leather and cloth outfits, drawing wickedly curved swords seemingly from nowhere. The metallic sound that echoed throughout the otherwise deserted docks as they drew their blades from their scabbards instantly drew the duo's attention. Connor frowned as he realized that they were now deep in Dracula's trap. From the description Cassandra had given him, he knew that they were Dracula's gypsy warriors, the fierce fighters known as the Szgany. That's when he felt the quickening grip him and things went from bad to worse.
>From above Dracula descended toward them. He landed soundlessly and drew his sword from the cane by twisting on the handle. "Keep the Highlander busy while Ramirez and I discuss old times," he commanded.
"No," Connor exclaimed as he raised his sword and broke into a run for the vampire. He was more than a little surprised when he felt Ramirez's powerful hand grip his shoulder and push him backward.
"Leave him to me, MacLeod," he said as he approached Dracula. He knew the Szgany had not been ordered to kill MacLeod, only to keep him busy. Dracula wanted the pleasure of killing the Scotsman for himself, and that was something Ramirez wouldn't allow. Connor raised his sword as the Szgany approached him, coming out from their hiding places behind crates and from underneath the pier. All together he counted nine of them approaching and encircling him, cutting him off from his friend.
Dracula bowed deeply to Ramirez. "I told you I would hunt you down one day and kill you, Ramirez. It took centuries, but at last here we are."
"You have no honor, Vlad. You never have. You have always needed an army behind you to do your dirty work. You can't even have a woman without taking her by force. You're vile and you need to be removed from this Earth."
Vlad was visibly incensed. "I have Moira. That's all I need."
Ramirez took up a fighting stance, blade at the ready. "You need a lesson in honor, pendejo, and I will provide it. It's a lesson you won't soon forget, that I guarantee."
Dracula also took up a fighting stance. Seconds later they were locked in combat.
"Damn him," Connor thought to himself. How dare Ramirez decide to take on Dracula alone? He had prepared a final surprise for Vlad, and Ramirez, with his martyr complex, had prevented him from using it. He tensed his body. Fighting his way past these warriors to Ramirez's side would not be easy, but it was a task thrust upon him. There was no choice. He performed the Iai Do and assumed the fudo no shisei, -- immovable posture -- completely aware of the fact that he was surrounded.
Two of the gypsy warriors facing him lead the charge while another attempted to hack at him from behind. Connor's speed with the blade stunned even these experienced fighters. It was a fairly simple strike-thrust attack, moving from initial stance to draw the sword hilt back and slightly to one side. From there MacLeod pushed off hard with his back foot. At the same time he extended both arms and drove his body weight and shoulder into the thrust. As he moved forward, the slash to his back from his rear opponent missed completely, and the thrust penetrated the defenses of the attacker on his left, virtually impaling him. He fell to the dock soundlessly as the attacker on the right was thrown off by the sudden forward move and nearly stabbed his partner attacking from the rear.
Spinning on the ball of his lead foot and withdrawing the blade from the body of his first victim, Connor performed a fluid turn that landed him directly behind the attacker on his right, which he grasped by his course black hair and pulled backward with all his strength, onto the tip of his waiting katana blade. The sword speared through his adam's apple, causing a gurgling noise to erupt from his throat. Connor, still holding the fallen Szgany by the hair, shoved his prone, bleeding, form forward into the waiting arms of his comrades. And then there were seven. As two more approached, careful of the wicked katana blade, Connor turned and leaped up onto one of the crates they had been loading just as they thrust at him, missing by inches. He kicked one of them in the jaw as he leaped up onto a higher crate and two others started climbing after him. He would have to make it a running fight if he planned on surviving this night.
The Szgany attempted to surround his elevated position, but Connor slashed at the air around them in a circular motion, keeping them at a safe distance. Nearby he saw a rope hanging from the mast of the docked schooner, he leaped for it and with little difficulty his gloved hand grasped it tightly. His blade sang as he swung away over their heads. He landed safely on the pier behind them and they ran as one to meet him. At least they didn't have him surrounded now. MacLeod slashed at some nearby crates, freeing the netting that held them together. He waited until the last possible moment before reaching out with his left hand and pulling the netting free, casting it toward the oncoming throng of gypsies. The two that led the pack were immediately caught up in it, tripping over the net and falling to the dock. MacLeod winced as he saw teeth flying from the mouths of both men. At least one of them was knocked senseless by the fall. Left with little choice, Connor continued his retreat. All the while, his heart sank as he was driven further and further from Ramirez and Dracula.
"You had your chance to kill me, Ramirez. I was defenseless and you held all the cards. Why did you come to my cell that night?" Dracula asked as he playfully tapped the tip of his blade against Ramirez's.
"I was shown your handiwork that day, Vlad. Corvinus took me out to the border and showed me what you had done to your own people. Knowing what I stand for, he probably hoped I would assassinate you."
Vlad's face was a mask of mock sadness. "And you couldn't bring yourself to kill an unarmed man. How touching."
Ramirez tentatively swiped at the air around Vlad with his sword. "I'm no man's puppet. Besides, history records that your own noblemen did the job for me. How despised you must have been by your own people."
Vlad sneered in disgust. "My people served under me as was their place. Only my underestimation of their massive greed led to my downfall. Even that wasn't enough to put an end to me. I rose again after three days..."
"That sounds familiar," Ramirez quipped as the two began to circle each other, muscles tense.
"I have nothing whatsoever to do with God, I assure you. As I was saying, I rose again and lived on for centuries, taking my revenge on the men, women, and children of Wallachia."
"And it all stops here and now. Your reign of terror ends tonight, Vlad."
Vlad practically flew across the dock at Ramirez, who just managed to bring his blade up in time to block. Their faces were inches apart. Ramirez watched as the sharp fangs extended from beneath his gum line and his eyes flashed red.
"Don't call me Vlad. Call me by my one true name. I am... Dracula!"
Ramirez's reply was a simple counter, a quick jab to the stomach and a shove, pushing the vampire backward with all his strength to put some distance between them. Dracula charged again, very much the aggressor in the battle, and Ramirez ducked a swipe to his chest. Undeterred, Vlad followed through with the swing and fluidly whirled around once more, this time with an attack to the legs. Ramirez had to leap high to avoid the blade, as it was aimed more or less at his knees, but he managed it just barely. More than ever he wished he had ended this vile being's existence centuries ago, as he realized he was outmatched now. Without an immortal healing factor he was at a great disadvantage. He hoped that the strenuous swordplay he had engaged in over the centuries would be enough to guide him through this battle and overcome his foe.
The second Ramirez landed on his feet he leaped forward, the blade of his cutlass a blur as he performed slash and thrust maneuvers, forcing Dracula back toward the wall of the warehouse. Dracula barely managed to block the attacks and counter with his own, a series of perfectly executed spinning attacks that helped him maintain his ground.
"I won't behead you, Ramirez. You're going to watch as I kill MacLeod and his essence flows into me. He will be a part of me until the end of time. There is an unseen side effect when I behead an immortal, it makes me mortal for a time, immune to the weapons that normally harm a vampire. Imagine the havoc I could wreak if I take enough immortal's heads. Perhaps I will even be able to control the transformation after a time, who knows? Fortunately, you aided my plans unwittingly. My gypsies will tire MacLeod out, and then he will be mine."
More than ever, Ramirez wished he were immortal again so he could summon the breath to tell Vlad to shut up. Instead, he remained silent, wisely choosing to conserve his wind. He pushed Dracula's blade away from him and summoned all his strength and speed as brought the blade down over his head and felt it rip flesh from Vlad's left shoulder down to his stomach. Dracula stumbled backward without making a sound, slashing wildly at the air and keeping Ramirez from pressing his advantage.
"A pity you don't talk as well as you fight, pendejo."
Dracula's eyes flashed red once more as he maintained his position, realizing that he was playing by the rules, and there was no need for that. He was the lord of the undead, a representation on Earth of all that was unholy. He had no need to play by codes of honor. As Ramirez had pointed out, he had no honor. Why not use that to your advantage? As Ramirez ducked underneath Dracula's blade and thrust his blade at the vampire's heart, Dracula, sword and all, dissolved into green mist and enveloped Ramirez completely. Ramirez began to choke as some unseen hand gripped him by the throat and squeezed.
Above them all, Moira's mind suddenly snapped back to full alertness. Perhaps it was the fact that Dracula was so engaged in battle at the moment that he had few resources left with which to control her mind. Perhaps it was seeing Donald's friend in such a dire battle. She had no idea. The fact remained that for the first time since Donald was killed and she was abducted from her home by Dracula, her mind was her own. Perhaps it had been for some time, and she didn't realize it. After all, she had practically shut her mind down to keep from going insane. The shock of sudden freedom of thought both thrilled and worried her. With her mind her own again, what was she to do? What would Hecate do if she realized that her mind was once again her own? What would Dracula do?
It only took seconds to decide that it made no difference. Moira had wanted, more than anything else, to have her thoughts be her own again, to be in control of her body again so she could put an end to this nightmare. She flexed her fingers, testing the control of her limbs. She had more power than she could ever imagine. She was stronger and quicker than a dozen men. As the realization hit her, Hecate, who had been nuzzling her neck and giving her small kisses as they watched the fight below, suddenly tensed as she noticed that something was wrong.
"What is it?" Hecate asked.
Moira turned to the brunette and her lips pulled back into a sneer, revealing the vampire's fangs.
"Don't you... ever...touch me... again."
With that, Moira unleashed a very unladylike punch to the jaw of the woman she had just made love to hours ago. Hecate flew through the air, not so much injured as she was stunned by the sudden turn of events. She landed on the warehouse rooftop almost fifteen feet away. As she shook off the blow and her eyes focused once more, she saw Moira flying through the air at her, fangs bared and eyes red, the very image of an avenging lover. Anguish, pain, and a desire for pure revenge masked her otherwise stunning features. Hecate barely managed to grab Moira's wrists as her hands reached for the former witch's throat in a blatant attempt to throttle her.
"Well now, the bitch has found her strength of will. Let's see how far it carries you. If I kill you, he will be all mine once more." Together, the two women ascended straight up into the air, a good twenty-five feet over the nearest rooftop, locked in a battle all their own. Hecate unleashed a powerful kick to Moira's stomach, sending her flying in the opposite direction, but the young Scotswoman used the inertia to turn in mid-air and careen back toward her foe, screaming with a fury that frightened even Hecate. For the first time she realized the pure anger and rage released from Moira as a result, not so much of what they did to her, but of what they did to the man she loved. If hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, perhaps even hell cannot contain the fury of woman so incredibly wronged. For the first time since she had been taken in by Dracula, Hecate felt true fear.
Connor had whittled the Szgany's numbers from nine down to five. His speed enabled him to keep his distance from his remaining foes, but that also meant keeping his distance from Dracula and Ramirez. He was now two docks away from where he had started. As another Szgany foolishly charged toward him as he stood at the edge of the pier, Connor merely sidestepped the gypsy warrior and unleashed a brutal strike to the man's back as he ran into mid-air and toppled toward the water, blood spurting from the gash Connor had given him as he ran by. He probably would have survived the fall if not for the fact that his neck impacted with the deck railing of the schooner below them, surely breaking it. Four remained. He had survived only by staying on the move and using everything in his surroundings as a weapon. As he neared another schooner he saw another opportunity, if only he could lure as many of the Szgany as possible to follow him.
He ran for the edge of the dock and leaped over the water. He scrambled to keep his sword in hand as he landed on the deserted deck, as he had almost dropped it. Unfortunately, only two of the Szgany followed him onto the deserted decks while the remaining two wisely stayed behind as backup. Connor would have to be quick. He ran to the other side of the ship and searched for the ropes that held the boom in place. As the two Szgany ran after him, Connor waited until the precise moment, resisting the urge to run. As the last possible second he brought the katana down onto the ropes lashed to the boom and gave it a shove. Many a man had been knocked overboard, unconscious, and even killed by a wildly swinging boom when the wind would shift on the open sea. The Szgany probably should have considered themselves lucky. Assisted by Connor's shove, the heavy boom swung wildly in their direction, impacting with their chests and sending them sprawling. It was enough, as it gave Connor more than enough time to get to them before they recovered their wits. Two clean slashes later and both were dead, their blood staining the decks.
Undaunted, the two remaining Szgany leaped onto the decks after Connor, who was beginning to tire of their dogged determination to kill a man they had never met. Connor wanted to end this battle as quickly as possible. At least two of the Szgany were merely unconscious and not dead, and he would rather be long gone when they awoke. Taking the initiative rather than continue to flee, he charged toward them, katanta blade flashing. MacLeod positioned himself between the two, a dangerous place to be, he knew quite well. He brought the blade down again and again hacking and thrusting at one foe to his right, while merely blocking the attacks of the Szgany on his left. It wasn't long before he saw his opening. By offering almost no offense to the gypsy on his left and simply maintaining a minimalist defense, the Szgany quickly grew cocky when MacLeod intentionally left an opening in the defenses on his left flank. Out of the corner of his eye he saw it coming, the thrust that would kill him. He remained still for what seemed like ages, but was in reality only fractions of a second. He had maneuvered the foe on his right side into the perfect position.
At the last possible second, Connor side-stepped the thrust, but not quite in time. He knew that there was a possibility that he might lose some flesh in this attempt, but it would be worth it to end the battle now. Surely no mortal man could survive the blow. He cried out as the Szgany's blade ripped flesh from his left flank, just above the waist. His blood gushed wildly from the gash the sword had taken out, but from the surprised look on the face of the gypsy to his right, the plan had worked. By sidestepping the thrust, he had tricked the Szgany on his left into killing his comrade on Connor's right. MacLeod cried out with agony as he whirled around and beheaded the gypsy on his left before the Szgany even realized that he had impaled his comrade and not MacLeod.
Clutching his side, MacLeod began to climb back onto the dock once more, not even pausing to look at the destruction he had wrought. He had no time to appreciate the fact that he had just defeated nine of the fiercest warriors that ever lived. Ramirez had definitely trained him well. He only hoped there was time left to thank him for it. He was far away from the battle now, and he would be slowed by the wound he had just received. He hoped it would heal quickly for there was no time to waste. He ran with all possible speed toward the scene, hoping against all hope that he would be in time. When he was only a hundred feet away, he saw Ramirez, enveloped in a green mist, his eyes bulging from their sockets as he was choked.
"You were always weak, Ramirez," Dracula's mist-form hissed.
"You were always an ass, Vlad," Ramirez gasped.
Tired of the game, a portion of Vlad's body become solid for but a moment, his right arm bearing the sword. He thrust it deep into Ramirez's torso while at the same time Ramirez thrust his cutlass into Dracula's shoulder, the same shoulder he had injured moments earlier. The green mist disappeared as Dracula became solid once more, taking his physical form in order to remove the sword from his shoulder and staggering backward into the shadows. Ramirez actually laughed out loud as he dropped his cutlass to the ground and realized that Dracula's blade had penetrated his chest and exited through his back. This was the way he wanted to die. He convulsed twice and fell to his side on the dock, smiling the entire time. MacLeod had witnessed the entire exchange, and his cry of anguish at seeing his best friend run through echoed to the heavens.
Forgetting his own wounds and the danger presented by Dracula, Connor ran to Ramirez's side, tears streaming down his cheeks. He gently scooped his former mentor into his arms. He still couldn't believe that Ramirez was chuckling to himself. He appeared to be in no pain.
"No tears, Highlander," He said under his breath. "This is the way it should be, the way it was always meant to be. I've softened him up... now you must finish him... for us all."
MacLeod was openly weeping now, cradling his oldest friend in his arms.
"I don't know if I can do it without you. I don't know if I even want to."
Ramirez coughed up blood on Connor's chest. "You can do it. Perhaps no one else can. I trained you... and you have surpassed me..." He paused once more to cough up blood. "You have done well. You are generations being born and dying. One day soon you will have power beyond imagination... when you win the prize. When that happens you will hear my voice one last time."
Connor held his friend close and cried out in anguish until his throat was raw. "Don't leave me," He whispered meekly, a plea to the fates not to take Ramirez from him a second time.
"Don't worry." Ramirez added, his voice becoming weaker and his eyelids growing heavier. "I will look after Heather until we meet again, MacLeod. Until that time, enjoy your life, enjoy Amanda. No more tears..." With his remaining energy he removed his glove and traced the fingertips of his right hand across MacLeod's cheek. "Connor..."
Ramirez uttered his final word as something within him sighed... and then he was gone. Somewhere out on the water a loon cried it's lonely call. His eyes rolled back in his head and his body went limp, but the smile remained. His existence on this Earth was over... again. Connor held Ramirez's lifeless body close to his and felt hot tears burning his cheeks. He willed them to stop. It was Ramirez's dying wish that there be no more tears. Sadly, he could not keep them from falling. The tears continued to fall unabated. He would have sat there for a hundred years, mourning the greatest man he had ever known, allowing time to flow around him like the ocean around a rock outcropping. He surely would have if not for the quickening he felt once more, and the nearly imperceptible sound of a blade cutting through the air.
Some survival instinct cut in as he heard the blade approach, and Connor winced as he dropped his old friends body to the ground and rolled away. Dracula had approached from the shadows, allowing himself the time to recover from the wound inflicted by Ramirez, and picking up the fallen cutlass from the dock where his foe had dropped it. The blade was perfectly aimed at Connor's neck, and would have instantly beheaded him had he not moved. It was a cowardly attack, and Connor vowed to make him pay for every wrong he had committed. He set his jaw and choked back the tears. He would grieve another time. He would get his revenge now.
Dracula pressed his attack after catching MacLeod off-guard. Connor blocked attack after attack, but like a vulture picking at carrion, a few attacks managed to make their way through his hastily set up defenses and took nicks out of both his forearms, his left wrist, his right thigh, his lip, and several cuts along his chest, reducing his shirt to bloody ribbons. MacLeod suddenly realized that he was being pushed into a corner. Dracula took that moment to gloat, ceasing his attack for but a moment and lewdly licking some of the blood from his blade.
"My kind have a saying... the blood is the life..."
Connor wiped the blood from his lip nonchalantly.
"My kind also have a saying... there can be only one..."
As he spoke, Connor slipped the vial he had used earlier from his pocket, only now it was half full. He flipped the stopper from the vial with the thumb of his left hand. As Dracula smiled triumphantly and moved in on the cornered MacLeod, he threw the vial at Vlad, emptying its contents. Dracula recoiled in agony as the holy water sprinkled all over him, causing small burn holes to appear along his body, giving off the smell of burned flesh. The lord of the undead screeched in horror.
This time the battle renewed with Connor as the aggressor. Summoning his fading strength, Connor pressed his advantage, knowing Vlad's final surprise was yet to come. Dracula stumbled backward trying to defend himself, but MacLeod kept coming, the image of Ramirez's last moments of life seared into his mind's eye. Ironically, Ramirez did help to defeat Dracula in the end, as the vampire backed away from Connor, he practically tripped over the fallen Egyptian. He looked downward to the corpse lying there, and managed to step over it without falling, but that was all Connor needed. He leaped forward, through Dracula's defenses, and performed a textbook atemi -- or strike -- with the katana straight through the vampire's heart.
The pain Dracula felt was not only physical, it was mystical. The remainder of the holy water that had been in the vial Connor had used to anoint the blade of his katana, as instructed by Cassandra days ago. It was only an educated guess on her part, but Connor was desperate. Thankfully it performed as she expected. Vlad convulsed violently, and then cried out as Donald Fraser's quickening erupted from his body. Connor watched as the stream of energy soared out over the water. Was it his imagination, or did the head of that wisp of energy resemble his old friend's smiling face? Seeking an immortal, the quickening -- the very essence of Fraser -- sensed Connor and shot toward him faster than the eye could follow. It hit MacLeod like a physical blow, knocking him backward and releasing his hold on the katana, which toppled backward with Dracula, who landed on his side facing Ramirez's corpse, the smile etched forever on the Egyptian's face, practically mocking the fallen lord of the undead.
Only moments before, the female vampires dueled in the air high above Connor and Dracula. Moira found she was losing her ground to the fierce Greek woman who served as Dracula's original consort. The two soared wildly through the air, exchanging blows that would crush a normal man's skull. Hecate kicked Moira in the mid-section and reached out with both hands to grasp her throat. She couldn't choke the air from her, of course, but she could crush the windpipe as a prelude to even nastier business. Moira retaliated with a series of punches to Hecate's jaw. Hecate didn't seem fazed by the power of the punches. Moira had to face facts, she was not in her element here. Only days ago she was a schoolmistress, engaged to a Scotsman named Donald Fraser. Fighting for her life was something new for her.
At that second, on the docks below them, Connor's katana blade pierced Dracula's heart. As Dracula went into seizures from the attack, Moira and Hecate felt shock and agony overwhelm them. It seemed worse for Hecate, perhaps due to the supernatural powers she had already possessed making her hyper-sensitive to her lover, and she went rigid and wide-eyed with shock as the sword entered Dracula's body. Moira knew that it was now or never. She summoned all the strength given to her by her vampire-like state and balled it up into her fist. She unleashed a textbook roundhouse right to Hecate's jaw that was so powerful, Hecate's lower jaw detached from her head and the young girl's body was sent careening through the air. Moira watched as Hecate's prone form lost altitude quickly, eventually disappearing between two buildings. A crashing sound followed as she impacted with the trash cans in the distant alley.
Forgetting her fellow vampire, Moira looked down upon the scene. She watched with glee as whatever had erupted from Donald and flowed into Dracula now erupted from Dracula and flowed into Connor. Somehow she knew that her husband's soul was safe at last. Connor was knocked backward by the quickening, falling to his back as the blue and white storm enveloped him. As she watched him lying there, she felt another sensation overwhelm her... bloodlust.
He was easy prey, and she now craved human blood. Her vampire nature was taking over completely. Soon there would be nothing of her true self left. Moira tried to resist it, but was as helpless to resist as the opium smokers of the city were to their particular vice. Overwhelmed, she descended to the ground beside MacLeod, licking her lips.
Spent by the passing of the quickening, Connor could only look at her with worry in his eyes. Would he now have to fight Moira? He hadn't even delivered the killing blow to Dracula yet. Given time, a great amount of time, Vlad would recover. To truly destroy a vampire, so Cassandra had instructed him, one must stake the vampire to the ground, behead it, and burn the severed head. His job was not done. Moira got to her knees beside MacLeod, who tensed his muscles, waiting for the inevitable. Moira bared her fangs and leaned over him, her eyes red and glowing as if lit from within. She opened her mouth wide... he could feel the tips of her fangs on the flesh of his skin... and then she stopped. Her eyes reverted back to their normal color and the fangs receded. When she spoke, MacLeod recognized the voice as that belonging to the woman he had met days before.
"Help me... please say you'll help me... as you helped Donald."
He nodded. "I will. I promised Donald I would."
She stood and extended her hand. "Then we must hurry. I'm fighting every urge I have to drain you of every drop of blood in your body."
As he took her hand and got to his feet, Moira began to shake and shiver, her eyes changed color back to red and she began howling at the moon. There wasn't much time. He took hold of her and held her tightly as she squirmed to be free from his grasp. She was literally at war with herself. MacLeod looked over to where Dracula lay, the katana blade piercing his chest. Like Ramirez, he too was smiling, but this was a smugness Ramirez never exuded.
"You are faced with a choice. Save the woman or finish me."
"You're not going anywhere. I'll be back for you. Enjoy the feeling of my sword in your chest, it will soon be cutting through your neck." Connor said as he spat at the vampire's body. The gob of spittle landed on his chest. Dracula struggled to get up but failed, slumping to the dock by Ramirez, a worried look on his face. He would indeed still be there when MacLeod returned. He was held motionless by the sword.
Moments later, MacLeod had gone, disappearing into the darkness, carrying Moira in his arms. Dracula once again tried to get to his feet and failed. He swore in his native tongue, and still Ramirez smiled at him. If he could do one thing with his remaining strength, it would be to cut that smile from his dead face. It would be hours before dawn. MacLeod had plenty of time to save Moira and return to behead him. He refused to let it end like this. Suddenly he heard a faint rustling of cloth and felt a rush of movement. Was it his imagination, or was something approaching him from above? When he saw Hecate approach even the lord of the undead was unnerved by her appearance. She was completely missing her lower jaw and blood completely covered the front of her dress. She could not speak, but the agony in her eyes spoke volumes. They had both been defeated. The jaw may regenerate itself, but he was not sure. He had never seen a vampire disfigured in this manner.
"I need you to remove the sword," He whispered.
She nodded and gripped the handle. Blessed as it was with holy water, the flesh on her hands began to burn. She did not relent. Dracula groaned in agony as the blade began to dislodge from his body. Hecate's face grimaced with pain as smoke began to rise from her hands and her flesh turned black. Still, she did not relent. Hecate began to emit a strange gurgling noise as she approached her tolerance for pain. Finally the blade came free and she pulled it with all her might. The katana flew from Dracula's body, spurting even more blood across the docks. The sword landed in the shadows by the warehouse, far from the scene thanks to Hecate's strength. The minute it was removed from his body Dracula felt a bit better. He did not kid himself, though. The Highlander had delivered a near fatal blow. It might take him years to recover. Moira was lost to him, at least for now. But he was immortal and for immortals there was always a tomorrow. As Connor had for Moira, Hecate lifted her love up in her arms and retreated back to the house. Within two hours they were both sealed in coffins and being shipped back to Wallachia via ocean-going vessel.
He told Amanda to summon the doctor immediately and not to take no for an answer, no matter the time of night. It was the direst of emergencies. He carried her to the living room and lay her on the couch. In his mind he begged Donald's pardon for removing her blood-stained clothing and dressing her in one of Amanda's nightdresses. He also took a moment to change into new clothes for himself. Thankfully his wounds were already mostly healed. The doctor arrived a half hour later, disheveled and slightly disoriented but with doctor's bag in hand.
Without explaining why, Connor instructed that a blood transfusion be performed and the doctor complied. Barely an hour later Moira began to stir. The moment she opened her eyes and her gaze met Connor's and Amanda's, she broke into tears. It could take years for her to assimilate what had happened. Both Connor and Amanda took turns holding her. The mental anguish she was in would be horrific, and MacLeod vowed that he would look after her, both physically and financially, for as long as need be. Doctor Von Hagen was somewhat perplexed by her behavior, but Connor explained that she was stressed from the disease which had also taken Donald without warning. He leaned over her, taking her pulse and examining her eyes.
"Ah, Missus Chisolm, it is goot to see you haff finally beaten zis disease uff der blood which nearly consumed you. I am sorry for the loss of your fiancee. He was a good man and luffed you greatly."
MacLeod thanked the doctor for helping to get her out of danger and escorted the him to the door, paying him a good sum to keep the events of the past few days secret.
"Uff course, Mister MacLeod, doctor/patient confidentiality is a requirement in my profession. But with your permission, I would like to courier the results uff my findings to a colleague uff mine who specializes in diseases uff the blood, keeping the names uff all parties out uff it of course. Dr. Van Helsing may be able to find a cure for it some day."
Connor agreed on the condition that their names be left out of the record. He thanked the doctor again and sent him on his way. He ducked his head into the sitting room to see that Amanda was calmly rocking her friend to sleep. He took that opportunity to return to the docks, intent on finishing what he had started, only to find Dracula gone. He found his sword lying in the shadows not far away. The docks were strewn with bodies and smeared with blood. It was a nightmarish scene. When the dock crews showed up at dawn they would find a shocking sight. He cared little about that. Mortals had come across the aftermath of immortals clashing for centuries. The police would be summoned and, at a loss for an explanation, would chalk it up to some kind of war between rival opium dealers or some such thing. Tentatively, he approached Ramirez's body.
He rolled his old friend's corpse over, and the smile was still there. He did not cry as he eased the Egyptian's eyelids shut. He would not let his friend die without a proper burial. With great care he picked Ramirez up off the docks and carried him over to a set of crates covered in canvas tarpaulin. He wrapped the body in it and tied it with rope. He then found some heavy stones and and tied those to the body. Before he cast Ramirez over the docks to his watery grave, he said a small prayer for him.
"No tears." He bid farewell one last time and Ramirez was forever lost in the murky waters. Connor picked up his friend's fallen cutlass and made his way to Carfax, still intent on seeking revenge. He found Dracula's home deserted. For the first time he found the cellar and ventured into it. There he found nothing but some candles and earth. He realized that this was where Dracula and Moira spent most of their time. MacLeod struck a match. No one noticed the solitary figure leaving Purfleet as Dracula's former home burst into flame.
As dawn began to break, Connor returned to Amanda's. He had spent hours walking the streets alone in thought. He knew now that Donald's quickening was in him, freed from an eternity in Dracula. Even now he realized that he had inherited much of Donald's knowledge about hunting and fighting. It would serve him well when the gathering began. He felt relieved that he had liberated his friend's essence, but sorrow still threatened to drown him. Amanda rushed to the door when she heard it creak open.
"I thought you had gone back for him," She whispered, careful not to wake Moira.
"No. I went back to bury him." Amanda held Connor close as they both wept for their lost friend. After a time, he would make love to her again, but for now he was content to just be with her. As they sat in the kitchen eating breakfast, she expressed her worry for Moira.
"She might never be the same again. This will haunt her for a long time."
Connor nodded. He had already resolved to take them both on a trip back to Scotland to revisit their roots. "I'm fairly sure she will never be the same again, but she can become strong again, like the woman she was... only with a broken heart, which can rarely be healed."
She took his hand in hers, clutching it to her heart. "And you Connor, you had a broken heart when you came here. Have I helped to heal it?"
He genuinely smiled for the first time since the battle and kissed her. "Perhaps a broken heart is never healed. There is always a scar, but I think mine has at least been mended."
One day later...
In a grungy home many blocks away from Amanda Oglivie's home, Felicia Morgan returned to her home with her two young boys. As always her husband was away at work. She had just enough time to fix dinner for him. Felicia still hadn't spent the entire wad of money given to her by the strange man who had nearly tripped over her several nights before when she had lost her husband's pay for the week. It would take her a long time to spend that amount. She was clawing at the mud and crying like a baby at the time when the kind man gave her a second chance at life. Only later on did she recall that he and his companion were carrying swords. Nevertheless she felt indebted to him, especially now.
Felicia had discovered that she was pregnant once more, and she felt in her bones that it was a girl. She wanted to find the man and ask him what his mother's name was, so that she might name her infant in honor of his family, but instead she would continue a long-standing tradition of naming in her own family. If indeed she gave birth to a girl, she would name the baby after her mother, and the infant would grow to adulthood and carry on the family tradition, ensuring that the name Rachel would survive into the future...
Three days later...
Aboard the ship Hercules, bound for the Carpathians, Hecate awoke suddenly. Beside her, Dracula slept. She awoke due to his mental distress, that much she knew. She had applied the most powerful healing potion she knew of -- the only skill left over from her time as a mortal witch -- and yet the wound inflicted by the hated Connor MacLeod still hadn't healed properly. She could sense that Vlad was in pain, his essence was fading quickly. Her potions were not powerful enough to save him from a wound this severe, they had merely prolonged his suffering.
She forced her way free from the sealed up coffin and broke her lover's open as well. Inside, Dracula was whiter than ever and trembling violently. The wound in his chest had only begun to heal. She felt powerless to help him. The move to England was too soon, she knew that now. They needed more than one safe haven in a heavily populated world such as London. Before leaving on the Hercules she had arranged with a law firm in the city to send a broker to their castle in Wallachia, a man named Renfield they had dealt with once before. She sensed something within the man. He seemed as if he might be susceptible to their way of thinking under his veneer of complete civilization. Carfax Abbey interested her in particular. It was barely intact and out of the way, near the edge of Purfleet, rotting and forgotten. It would be a far more suitable home for them. She took him in her arms and cradled him. Although her jaw hadn't regenerated, her eyes spoke for her. She wanted him to survive. She wanted to assist in any way she could.
"I... die... again," He muttered.
She refused to believe it or to give in to what MacLeod had wrought. Hecate was near tears. She shook her head.
As she began to weep, a thought entered Dracula's mind. Perhaps there was a way out, a way to continue on across the ages. It would pain him to no end, but he knew he had to survive. His hatred for MacLeod and his need for revenge was stronger than the love he felt for any woman. He was always, first and foremost, loyal to himself. The look in his eyes communicated his wishes. She nodded in understanding. The drinking of diseased vampire blood gave life anew. Unfortunately a great amount would be needed to heal his mutilated body.
With savage strength he reached out and grabbed Hecate by the neck, pulling her to him. What shocked Hecate most was the pain as Dracula's teeth ripped into her throat. Her diseased vampiric blood gushed copiously from the wound and Vlad drank greedily. He held her tightly as she instinctively struggled to break free. He instantly felt refreshed by the vampire blood. The cure for his ailment was right before his eyes the entire time. He continued chewing on her flesh and drinking her blood as the life essence drained from her. When he was done draining her blood from her body, he ate over half of the corpse and discarded the rest in her coffin. He knew now that he would survive. It might still take him years to fully recover, but he would indeed survive thanks to Hecate's sacrifice. No matter, he was skilled at biding his time...
And in the year 1986...
He had dared to show her what no one other than a very select few had laid eyes upon, his secret war room that housed all his mementoes of times gone by. Brenda Wyatt was clearly closing in on his secret. She had discovered that the true Russell Nash had died at birth. It was becoming much harder in this era to disguise his true identity. In many ways she reminded her of his beloved Heather, and then later of Amanda, whom he had spent three short months with helping to assist Moira back to a reasonable state of mental and physical health. They had discussed marriage, but Connor would have none of it. She knew his reasons why and understood completely. When Kastagir showed up at their home calling him away to attend to another immortal threat, it proved to be the end of their relationship, though he kept in contact with them both for years. It was always the same old story. An immortal's lifestyle always battered traditional relationships to pieces. Back in the here and now, he watched as Brenda circled the room, her mouth agape at the stunning display before her. He had to be amused by her first comment upon entering such an impressive display.
"Are the claymores real?" Obviously, Brenda's mind was still operating in it's usual mode. When she heard what he had to say, everything would change.
"I've been alive for four and a half centuries... and I cannot die."
"Everybody's got their problems." She was clearly not believing a word he said.
"What are you going to do with that?" She asked with trepidation, seeing the knife in his hand. Had he brought her here just to kill her?
"Take it." To his surprise, she did. He was about to take a drastic risk, but no greater than he had with a select few women in his centuries-long life span.
"I am Connor MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod. I was born in 1518 in the village of Glen Finnen, on the shores of Loch Sheil, and I am immortal."
What followed next was a whirlwind of sensation for Connor. Holding his hand over her own, he forced her to thrust the knife into his chest. They fell to the floor, and within seconds of realizing that he was unharmed, they made passionate love. In Connor's mind images of all the women he had loved in the past flashed before him. As before when he was in love, he swept it away and embraced her.
Hours later as Connor slept, Brenda rose from his bed and donned Connor's robe, breathing deeply of his scent from the terrycloth. As quietly as possible she made her way downstairs to the war room and crept inside. She simply couldn't quiet her fascination with ancient swords, especially those belonging to this fascinating man. She moved over to where the claymores lay and picked one up. It was very heavy, but she took it with her as she sat on the circular couch that ringed the room. She noticed writing stamped directly into the metal just above the hilt. It read:
Author's Notes: First and foremost, I must thank my beta reader, buddy, and fellow Highlander fan, Charlene Edwards for untiring assistance with this story. When this fic was but a twinkle in my eye, I ran the idea across a few friends and she was the one who picked up on it, sharing the same zeal for a Connor Macleod/Vlad Dracula encounter that I did and infusing me with the get-up-and-go to give this genre a try. For your tireless efforts to make me look more talented than I really am, I thank you. I hope I've been successful in the eyes of the readers at keeping true to the original Highlander spirit. Thanks to all who read the story and enjoyed it. Your words of encouragment were as vital to me as a dragon-handled katana to a certain brooding Scotsman we all know. The final post in this story is a Connor MacLeod/Vlad Dracula/Donald Fraser timeline, with dates and style taken from the excellent a href="http://affiliates.thethreshold.com/connormacleod">website and are used with kind permission. I highly recommend it to all fans of the TRUE Highlander, Connor MacLeod.
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