Storming the fortress
Sorry for the delay in writing this chapter. I originally had a different Immortal fight, and it didn't really work. I gave up after a while and just left it lie, before I changed how I planned it
to go completely. I think it works better. The final chapter is nearly done.
"Oh, no," whispered Ryan.
Even though the storage room was hardly larger than a jail cell, Batman slipped silently into a dark corner, quickly enough that even the two Immortals who knew he was there weren’t sure where he’d gone. The metal door swung open with a clang, and three Immortals filled the doorway.
"No one gave you permission to take her again," the leader snapped, before noting that the female Immortal was no longer tied down. He blinked suddenly, but didn’t back away. "Ryan?" he said incredulously.
Batman glanced back at the young Immortal he had escorted here, wondering how he would handle himself in an emotionally charged environment.
Ryan had his weapons out and pointed towards the group, his face a mixture of disbelief and hatred. The female Immortal named Cassandra had moved behind him, though her body language said that it was a ruse to imply weakness. Disarmed as she was, she was confident in her abilities. She obviously had another weapon at her disposal.
"Why?" Ryan asked, his voice laced with pain.
They pair obviously had a history together, since the newcomer recognized the Immortal in the dim light. Batman judged from Ryan’s voice and tense stance that they were not particularly close, but there had been some level of trust between them. Batman stayed still and steady in the corner, content to observe until the instant violence erupted.
The newcomer swallowed, his eyes flickering to the side. Whatever he was about to say, was more for the ears of those behind him, than for Ryan and Cassandra, Batman noted.
"Why what, Chessman? Why did I accept the most gracious invitation to come to Gotham? Simple. I survive. It’s what I do."
Batman watched as Ryan shook his head. "You bastard, Methos."
The Immortal called Methos sighed, and raised a hand. Instantly, the two behind him drew weapons. Not swords. Guns.
"You were too young to be of any interest to the Master, Ryan. But now you are here, you can be given as a prize to someone who pleases him. Put down your weapons; they will do you no good here," Methos said, though Batman detected a hint of regret in the man’s voice.
With only a faint whisper of silken material to herald the movement, two quick, lethal strikes of surgical precision left both of Methos’ associates falling to the floor with broken necks. Hearing the snaps, Methos spun around, but Batman was already back in the deep shadows.
Ryan took the opportunity to place his wakizashi against the Immortal’s neck. Methos stiffened and swallowed nervously, but turned back around to face him.
"You appear to have had a slight reversal of fortune," Ryan said through clenched teeth.
"Kill him," snapped Cassandra.
"I am sorry for what has happened," Methos said, his voice strained.
Batman watched the scene unfold like a spectator at a sporting match.
"So you said when you came and raped me alone last time," Cassandra snapped, her voice rising. She focused on Ryan. "He’s your enemy," she said, in a voice with an odd echoing quality.
Batman felt a rush of hatred towards the older Immortal, before he analyzed the feeling. It was not the first time he had been mentally manipulated, and though uncomfortable, he recognized that his will was being imposed upon. No stranger to mind control attempts, he brought forth his training with a fakir in the Himalayas. Running through the meditation technique in his mind, he forcefully banished the alien sensation.
Ryan however, seemed to be more affected by her voice. He snarled at Methos, whose nervousness escalated.
"I did no such thing. Just calm down, Ryan," he pleaded.
Cassandra didn’t stop though. "You hate him. You need to kill him."
"Ryan!" Methos squeaked. "Listen to me!"
"Kill him," Cassandra ordered.
Ryan’s knife flashed.
Cassandra’s expression of hatred vanished, replaced with one of shock. She looked down to the knife sticking out of her chest before Ryan wrenched it out again. Cassandra began to lose her balance, then keeled over, dead.
Batman was impressed despite himself. Ryan hadn’t even turned around. His eyes were still focused on Methos.
"Thank you, Ryan," Methos began before Ryan jabbed the point of his sword against the man’s throat, hard enough that a moderate trickle of blood ran down the older Immortal’s adam’s apple.
"Don’t think you’re out of it, traitor. I just wanted to be clear-headed when I cut off your head," he snapped.
Methos took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "You need to leave here. Quickly. Take her and go."
Ryan shook his head. "Not before you tell me what’s going on."
Methos sighed deeply. "There’s no time."
"Take the time."
Methos swallowed once more. "The final ritual is tonight."
Ryan blinked with confusion. "What ritual?"
Methos pursed his lips. "An entire family of Immortals is going to be sacrificed. Then, we ride. There are going to be terror acts all over the world for decades to come."
A sinking pit of dread settled in Ryan’s stomach. "A family? From where?"
Methos frowned. "Indiana, somewhere. Three pre-Immortal children and a handful of Immortal adults."
"Morgan?" Ryan whispered.
"Is their name Morgan?"
Methos nodded. "You know them?"
Ryan turned to the shadows in the doorway. "We have to save them!"
The Batman detached himself from the dark corner and bodily picked Methos up and slammed him face first into the wall, holding him steady and secure. "What of her?"
Ryan looked down at Cassandra, who was starting to stir. He was torn between helping her and saving his adoptive parents. "I, um, can you take her outside? The Morgans are my parents!!"
The Batman stared at Ryan for a moment, before reaching down to his yellow belt. He deftly extracted a pair of miniature devices. One, he gently pushed into Ryan’s ear, the other he clipped to his collar. Finally, he withdrew a green eyemask and passed it over. "Stay hidden. I’ll be in touch. Be ready to put this on at my signal. What of this one?"
Ryan looked at the mask with a hint of confusion, but took the offering. He reached behind him and drew his Glock. "Disarm him. He’ll need to lead me there."
"Are you insane, Chessman?" Methos wheezed as the vigilante deftly disarmed him.
"How would I know if I was?" Ryan retorted.
The unlikely pair moved through the building in silence. The single time Methos tried engaging in conversation, Ryan ground the barrel of his gun into Methos’ neck. The ancient Immortal took the hint, and stayed mute. They took a circuitous route, avoiding other Immortals, but in less than ten minutes, they reached a security door. With a gesture, Methos said, "This is it."
The room beyond was immense. It was obviously an ex-factory floor. The ceiling was six stories above the floor, with metal walkways and observation posts ringing the walls at each level. In the very centre was an oblong observation platform, with eight suspended paths leading off to the lowest walkway. The manufacturing equipment had been removed long ago, but the walkways and platforms surrounding the hanger-like space provided a huge number of vantage points.
Vantage points that were used. Hundreds of Immortals stood on the observation walkways, most standing alone, a small percentage in groups of two or three. Ryan instantly felt the tension in the room. Immortals were by nature and necessity solitary creatures. Not even the most powerful of the race could force such a large number to co-habit without stress.
On the centre observation platform, stood a man. His features were so old as to be almost alien. Neither tall nor short, neither slender nor stout, he carried himself like royalty.
"The Master," Methos whispered, gesturing towards the figure.
Ryan pushed his senses to the limit, sorting out the hundreds of Immortal signatures he felt. Even this close to Methos, he easily located The Master’s aura.
Ten thousand years was a conservative estimate. He could have been twelve thousand. But as â€˜long’ as his Quickening was, it was far brighter than Ryan expected. "He must have taken over three thousand heads," he breathed.
Methos nodded. "Now do you see? There isn’t one of us who could stand up to him. Not me, not either MacLeod, not Grey, or his father. Cassandra couldn’t even stand, let alone fight. Even Darius would have fallen, and he was the greatest warrior I ever met."
Ryan swallowed, the enormity of his self-imposed task becoming painfully apparent. Three walkway levels beneath him, on the stained concrete floor, a group of seven figures were herded out into the middle of the chamber.
"There they are, Ryan. What are you going to do?"
Ryan licked his dry lips. "How could I stop it?"
Methos raised an eyebrow. "You could challenge The Master. You might buy them an extra few minutes of life," he said condescendingly.
Below them, The Master took a deep breath, and began to speak. Next to him, another Immortal picked up a microphone. Artificially amplified, she translated the ancient language; a story echoed up throughout the massive room.
"In the beginning, there were many gods, and each sought dominion over all.
"One by one, the gods fell to each other, the victor consuming the essence and power of the vanquished. For ages, the gods battled, until only two remained. Finally, Illehakra, the god of battle, skill and power vied with Mushesha, the goddess of knowledge, wit and tactics. The pair struggled over eons, neither managing to gain mastery of the other. Finally, Mushesha, worn down and exhausted, executed her final gambit. She knew that in their current forms, neither could completely vanquish the other. So she allowed Illehakra to strike her down, before clutching at her opponent’s soul.
"For one single instant, the two were joined as one. With her dying breath, Mushesha shattered her essence. In doing so, she rent her foe’s own in an identical fashion. Many thousands of godly shards rained down, scattered over all the lands of the earth, and all over time. As each shard landed on the fertile ground, it took the form of a human baby, to grow and learn. To live, die, and then live again. To wander the earth, experiencing all.
"Each of us has some portion of the power of the two combatant gods. Some of us are stronger than the others. Some of us are wiser, or more cunning.
"Mushesha’s last desperate gambit forced the invincible strength of a pantheon to be divided amongst us all. We instinctively recognize and respond to the spark of divinity in each other. This is why we battle, this is why we slay each other. To the last of us belongs the power and knowledge of the two gods. That one being shall have all Mushesha’s knowledge and all of Illehakra’s skill.
"I shall be that being.
"But that time is long in coming. Still today, there are new avatars appearing as babes all over the world. Until the last one is found, we shall act as one, bringing the entire world under our dominion.
"Bring forth the sacrifice."
Ryan’s breath caught in his throat. Opposite his vantage point, his parents and siblings were herded out to a raucous applause from a sizable minority of the gathered Immortals. Most observed in emotionless silence. He cursed under his breath and took two steps towards the spiral staircase leading down before Methos grabbed his elbow.
"Think, Ryan! If you go down there with a gun, you won’t last long enough to challenge anyone!" he hissed.
With a growl, Ryan jerked his arm out of the older Immortal’s grasp and almost flew down the stairs. He tried holstering the weapon at the small of his back, but in his frenzied flight, the weapon fell from his fingers. He didn’t even spare it another thought.
His descent down through the levels drew a great deal of attention from nearby Immortals. Quickly, a hushed whispering spread throughout the throng.
Ryan reached the concrete floor just as his family was forced into a tight circle. His mother Lois was trembling with fear, but kept her arms protectively around a young child, no more than seven. His father’s jaw was clenched tight, and he stood in front of his family, between them and The Master.
More Immortals were observing the apparently suicidal young Immortal. As Ryan ran across the concrete floor, The Master stalked his family, walking slowly around them in a circle.
Over his labored breathing, Ryan couldn’t hear The Master’s voice, though he understood the basics, when his father defiantly stood in front of the young girl.
"Leave them alone!" he yelled, panicking at the thought of his entire family being slaughtered in the next minute.
Instantly, silence descended. The Master turned to face the young Immortal, who slowed his frenzied sprint.
"Ryan?" his father blurted.
Panting slightly, Ryan tried to give his family a reassuring smile. "It’s okay."
"Oh, it is far from okay," The Master’s translator responded. "Your life is forfeit, Immortal." She nodded to a group of guards.
Half a dozen Immortals drew closer, ready to subdue on command.
Ryan sneered at them. "Do you bark and roll over too?" he snapped, fighting to regain his wind.
The Master shook his head and held up a hand. He spoke quietly, which was then translated as, "Wait. I do not recognize you." He glanced between Ryan and his family. "These are… You belong to this family?"
"They raised me," Ryan said sharply. The translator quickly obliged.
A wide grin was his only response.
"I challenge you," Ryan said, with more conviction.
The translator sighed softly before speaking to The Master. He spoke back to her, a wide smirk on his face.
"Of course you do. To save your family. How quaint."
The Master strolled towards him as the translator continued. "You actually wish this? To challenge me?"
"No I don’t wish to challenge you!" Ryan spat back. "Let them go and I won’t need to."
A few moments of silence reigned, before The Master began chuckling softly. At his cue, the laughter was taken up by a few of the closer, younger Immortals. He replied, and gestured towards the centre platform.
"Very well then, let us proceed," said the translator.
With that, the ancient Immortal turned away from Ryan, and walked over to one of the staircases leading up to the floating platform. Halfway up, he turned back to face him, with an expression that simply said, "Well?"
Studiously ignoring his father’s warnings and mother’s frantic pleading to the contrary, Ryan slowly walked to the base of another set of stairs up to the platform. Once there, he took a moment to look around, desperately searching for an imposing figure in black.
Nothing. Not that seeing nothing meant that he wasn’t around somewhere.
With his heartbeat reflecting his near-panicked state, Ryan drew his blades, and shrugged himself out of his jacket. The Master smiled humorlessly and brought his own sword to bear. It was a long-bladed weapon, of a design Ryan didn’t recognize. The long edge glistened in the artificial light, while barbs along the back edge of the blade gave the young Immortal shivers.
Ryan climbed up onto the raised platform in the centre of the factory and carefully took guard. "Where the hell are you?" he whispered into his microphone.
"Right here," replied a deep voice in his ear piece. "We are nearly in position. Delay for as long as you can."
Ryan swallowed past the thick lump in his throat. The Immoral in front of him had a Quickening so bright it was almost painful. "I reckon I can give you five seconds. Maybe ten if I’m lucky."
"You’ll be fine. Put the mask on now."
"Huh? Everyone here knows who I am!"
The responding voice sounded almost amused. "The lenses have light amplification. Once the lights go out, you will have good visibility for a battery life of two hundred and seven seconds. We’ll cut the lights at the right moment."
"Excellent, that may extend my life by another five or six seconds," Ryan grumbled as he aligned the lightly adhesive mask to the skin around his eyes. Several Immortals nearby shuffled nervously at the action. Obviously those who had lived in Gotham at some point in the past twenty years.
"Given the weapon he uses and the fact he is right handed, lead with a head-high combination, then fall and roll to your right," the voice continued, ignoring Ryan’s cynicism.
Ryan blinked. He was facing perhaps the most powerful Immortal in history, one with over two hundred times his own lifespan. Plan A had been to just block everything coming his way for as long as possible, while waiting for the Batman to respond. Plan B was fairly similar, except that it involved doing a bit more running. Plan C featured no defense at all, just lots of running. Actually taking the offensive was not even in the alphabet. "You’re kidding, right?" he asked, pushing the mask tight over his eyes.
"If your sword catches on one of the barbs, step closer to him rather than pull back," the voice said, ignoring the question.
Muttering a quick prayer to the heavens, Ryan steeled himself, raised his wakizashi to his face in salute, and then with a warbling cry designed to still his own fear, launched his attack.
As he expected, The Master easily picked off each of his four attacks, not a single one even getting close. Ryan took a leap of faith, and dove to his right, rolling over his shoulder and up onto one knee, finding himself under his opponent’s sweeping blade. Had he remained where he had been, he would have been disemboweled.
As it was, The Master fell to one knee as his blade encountered nothing. Ryan was about to leap forward with a desperate thrust from his kneeling position when the voice in his ear shouted, "It’s a feint!"
Ryan caught the attack before it began, rose into a crouch and almost skipped away, putting as much space between his opponent and himself as the platform would allow. "Got any more advice?" he hissed.
"Attack faster. Keep your rear leg taut."
"Faster, right," Ryan wheezed. He carefully stepped in a circle to his right, testing the platform.
The point of the long sword came thrusting straight at his face. Instinctively, Ryan threw up his blades to deflect, pushing the attack past his left ear. The Master simply twisted the blade, catching the wakizashi on one of the wicked barbs, and pulled.
Trusting his ally’s tactic would prevent him losing the sword, Ryan buried his instinctive reaction and stepped forward. He followed the maneuver with an upward push of his blades, keeping the longer sword well away from any vulnerable parts of his anatomy. Almost immediately, Ryan found himself staring into the surprised eyes of The Master. He briefly imagined that his own eyes reflected the surprise too. He certainly hadn’t expected to last this long.
The Master responded first. Ryan felt the shock of a knee connecting with his groin a half second before the blinding pain followed. Fighting the urge to curl into a ball, Ryan staggered back and lashed out blindly with his combat knife. It whispered through the air, missing everything.
A sharp kick knocked the knife from his hands. A flash of a blade opened a deep wound along his ribs.
Ryan collapsed back in agony and rolled away, clutching both hands to the hilt of his remaining weapon and pressing his left elbow against his bleeding side. With unshed tears filling the mask and blurring his vision, he tried assuming a battle stance. It wasn’t much consolation that he had managed to last nearly twenty seconds.
The Master grinned nastily at him, before calling forth his Quickening. Unprepared for the sudden sensory overload, Ryan fell to his knees, clutching the back of his neck with his left hand. He couldn’t stand. He could hardly move. "Cut the damn lights already!" he wheezed.
Amid the pain of his Quickening responding to The Master’s aura, a faint buzzing ended with a slight tap at his throat. Ryan clutched at his jugular, finding a dart buried in the skin. He brushed it away in a panic.
A flash of nausea swept through him. He was defeated, kneeling almost helplessly in front of his enemy, and still he was being attacked by another. It just wasn’t fair.
It wasn’t fair at all.
Anger quickly replaced the nausea. Fury replaced the anger. His vision grew long, as though looking through a tunnel.
Time seemed to slow as The Master took two great strides towards him, sword raised for a final swipe.
Ryan growled deep in his throat. His fury turned the forlorn despair into determination in an instant. He firmed his grip on his suddenly heavy blade and roared with all the pent up anger, aggression, fear and frustration he felt in his heart.
Though it felt like he was moving through quicksand, his wakizashi arced around at waist height. It almost struck home, only hard blocked at the last instant. Slowly, The Master’s expression turned into one of surprise, but Ryan had already pulled back and swung again, only halfway through his warcry.
As heavy as his blade was, it appeared that his opponent’s sword was heavier by far. It almost seemed to drift lazily through the air as Ryan slashed at The Master’s arms, legs and face. Deep gashes appeared on the Immortal’s limbs and cheek, much to his surprise. Step by step Ryan pushed forward until suddenly, there was no more platform.
Ryan ignored the scenery as he gently floated down towards the ground. He reached out and grabbed a handful of The Master’s clothes with his left hand, and focused completely on swinging his smaller sword blade repeatedly at his opponent’s face and neck. The larger sword, suddenly a liability, was discarded, and a pair of desperate hands clutched at the wakizashi’s blade, trying to force it away.
The pair hit the ground below with a thump. A head rolled grotesquely away.
Ryan looked down at his trembling hands. The adrenaline being washed from his system set him shaking like paint mixer. The sensation of his sword’s blade passing through the neck of his opponent belatedly register on his consciousness. He replayed the final few seconds of the fight through his mind, trying to make sense of the unexpected rush of strength and speed.
Unbidden, the voice of his teacher, Duncan MacLeod resounded in his mind, words from history. Words from a time before Ryan had ever killed another Immortal.
We may look human, but we are different. You already know this. You were one of the few who knew this even before your First Death. But you do not, you cannot, fully understand. You will learn who you are, you will learn of your birthright, but only when one of our kind is dead by your hand alone.
Ryan shifted his gaze to the body of the man he had just decapitated. It had been a fight he had believed he could not win. Indeed, it had been a fight that he was not winning, until the final, desperate gambit.
Feel the power in the air grow as your opponent lies before you. Feel the pressure on your skin as the tension builds. Feel the immeasurable weight of the world press down on your shoulders.
Ryan watched dispassionately as an azure glow surrounded the Master’s corpse. Around him, wearing expressions of shock and disbelief stood perhaps half of all current living Immortals, looking down at the young one who had just killed the oldest.
We Immortals are cursed; we who live on indefinitely while all around us those we love succumb to Time’s grasp. Our lives are filled with pain and regret.
Ryan drew a shuddering breath, and let it out with a pained sigh, knowing that nothing could stop what was to come.
Your opponent lies dead at your hand. He was an evil man, whose crimes marked him as deserving of death. This is his final gift to you. Take it, accept it. Welcome his power, his strength, and add it to your own. Remember him always, for he was perhaps the greatest of our kind who ever lived, but now and forever, he shall be a part of you.
Ryan sank to his knees, the emotional release of survival overwhelming him. The realization that he would live another day flooded his thoughts, and he almost wept with relief. The tip of his wakizashi dragged and scraped along the floor, the bloody blade leaving an odd crimson trail on the concrete.
We Immortals are blessed, for our potential is unlimited.
In the still, silent air surrounding the crowd, a zephyr drifted lazily around. It ruffled hair and clothes as it grew into a breeze. Paper, discarded cigarette packets and other assorted trash blew away as it evolved into a gust. Immortal bystanders were pushed off balance as it blustered into a gale in moments. Outside the solid building, vehicles tilted and swayed as it continued to increase in strength, until only concrete buildings stood firm against its power as the oldest Immortal on the planet finally expired. In the eye of the storm, Ryan Chessman knelt alone.
Prepare yourself as the maelstrom builds. Know it, and you shall understand it. It is pain, it is strength. It is terror, it is joy. It is death and destruction. But most of all, it is the very essence of life. Taste it as the lightning arcs above your head, as it lays waste to your surroundings.
Azure ribbons began sizzling along the edges of exposed metal objects; dumpsters, stairwells, and window frames. Showers of sparks cascaded down where the bright, jagged tendrils of power earthed themselves on anything unlucky enough to be in their way. As far as the eye could see, inanimate objects bucked and flexed.
Machinery flared to life, alarms sounded. Light bulbs exploded in showers of sparks and glass. Further and further away, the tempest spread. Entire city blocks lost power as the ancient Immortal’s cadaver released its pent life force into the world.
The entire city trembled as the earth itself quivered and heaved under the onslaught.
Raise your blade in supplication, as your opponent’s power begins to flow into you. Scream as your fingers char; howl as your blood boils in your veins. Revel in the raw strength, for you are Immortal!
Unthinking, Ryan spread his arms and drew them together, clasping his hands around the hilt of his sword and held it aloft overhead. The first bolt struck the young Immortal’s sword, acting as a conductor, filling every cell in his body with more power than he had ever felt in his relatively short life. Ryan’s hair stuck out as his eyes opened painfully wide at the sensation, an order of magnitude beyond anything he had ever experienced. With one final breath, he let out a howl; the sound of a soul in agony, the sound of a warrior victorious in battle, the sound of a challenge overcome. A sound as old as the earth itself. A sound as young as a new born babe.
This is who you are Ryan. This is your birthright.
Not a single Immortal in the crowd was standing amid the incredible lightning tempest. Those few with the strength to keep themselves from cowering watched in awe at the young Immortal as he painfully absorbed more than a hundred centuries of power.
Over and over, Ryan felt his body buffeted and abused by the raw energy slamming into him. One strike would stop his heart, while the next would restart it.
For a lifetime, Ryan howled in agony and joy. Strength unbidden flooded his muscles, infused his bones. Flashes of times past, images of millennia flickered across his consciousness as more and more bright blue lightning struck him.
Finally, after an eternity, the thundering rain of energy slowed.
With one final hoarse scream, Ryan flung his arms apart.
The world exploded.