If someone had told Duncan just how hard it was going to be to learn the new exercise, he doubted very much that he would even have begun. Now is was a matter of pride. His sparring partner looked to be in his early sixties but looks had always been decieving.
Take Duncan, a handsome man in his mid thirties? Not even close. His long dark hair was pulled back into a pony tail, left ear held a small silver earring, all adding to the impression of a thirty-something man who yearned for a wilder youth perhaps? A closer examination of this glistening bare torso, taut muscles flexing as he swung a wooden practice sword in carefully controlled arcs, would give no clues to age with its lack of scars. His current lack of proficiency with a sword technique betrayed the fluid grace of years handling a sword. No, looks were definitely deceiving when immortals were concerned. Duncan was finding his 400 years of experience handling a sword almost to be a detriment in the new technique.
His teacher sighed softly as their swords met gracelessly in what seemed like the fifth such blunder in this hour alone. His pupil was skilled, that was sure. None of his predecessors had gained mastery of the moves in less than a human lifetime, yet here was a mere stripling of an immortal picking the basics up in a matter of months. Deciding that lessons should end for the day, the teacher swiftly disarmed Duncan with a flick of his sword and after stepping closer, swept his feet out from under him in a decisive final move.
From the ground Duncan panted slowly, feeling gratful that their sparring was with wooden swords. While it remained so his head was safe. His teacher, while honorable, had little patience. Duncan had heard stories of the older man taking the head of a student that he deemed “had no further purpose” and would (in his opinion) only bring disgrace to the sword kata he taught. Glancing up he saw a hand offered.
“Were you any lesser man, your head would be mine, and with it your power. For now let it remain where it is and let it ripen as any other fruit… ” the teacher grinned, “I will return for it when its a little more seasoned”
“Oh, will you now?” Duncan quipped, bouncing to his feet and working kinks out of his neck with his left hand. “I dont suppose you could give me an approximate century, and I’ll make sure to leave the country.”
Both men laughed, shook hands and headed toward the locker room of the gym. Half an hour later they met in the lobby carrying kit bags. Duncan had changed into blue jeans, cowboy boots that definitely seen better days yet fitted like a second skin, white tshirt and had his black leather jacket was slung over his shoulder. His teacher had returned to the plain brown monks habit, sandals with rope belt knotted securely. An antique silver cross hung from the belt by a small chain, his only possession given that the habit belonged ultimately to his order. His silver hair was tied back with a small leather thread to keep it from exploding out of all control. One brother had shown a picture of the scientist Einstein to him once and he’d laughed at their common haircare problems.
“So, Brother Aleric can I offer you a ride back to the church or are you going to claim the walk to be, uhhh, bracing again?”
The older man smiled and laughter lines formed, “Oh I think I could do with the exercise. Maybe after you get through the next couple of years of training you might give me a workout enough to warrant riding in your car. Until then, I’ll walk.”
“And if the car ride were to include lunch and the opportunity to educate me further?”
Aleric thought for a moment and turned to follow Duncan, “Well now, since you put it that way, lead on.”
Duncan turned and pointed a car remote, pressed the button and waited for a response from the nearby BMW. Nothing. He pressed the button a second time then slapped himself in the forehead, “wrong car” he laughed and walked around the car park trailed by the older monk for a few minutes before he tracked the correct BMW z4 down. The car in question was just as blue, just as shiny and just as new and expensive as the first had been. Duncan knew he’d not live this incident down for at least a century if he knew his teacher: milliseconds after returning to the community of brothers the story would be circulating and as stories do, most likely expanding in scope. First it took 10, then 20 perhaps even an hour and three levels of parking lot before they found the right car. For a moment he considered petitioning the Pope and having light hearted mockery and gossip ruled a mortal sin.
“So, own up, you never did tell me when … but I heard that you were once made Pope?” he asked Aleric.
The monk looked sharply at Duncan from the passenger seat of the car, “Now who told you that?”
“Well, is is true?”
“As a matter of fact, I was. Well, anti-pope for a spell. That was back in … ” Alerics eyes misted over as he dug through memories, “back in 1102 I believe. Short lived though and I never got to really enjoy the role before they caught up with me, put my eyes out and locked me in a dungeon. I conveniently died and was forgotten.”
“So there’s no use in asking you for papal favours then?”
“Oh no my son, none what so ever. Now if you need strong hands and willing ear I can offer those any time. By they way when was your last confession?”
Duncan frowned as he made a left turn cutting into the path of a large truck carrying melons. The driver began shouting obscene French phrases that Duncan only caught the first half of, but the hand gestures filled in the rest. Were any of his suggestions even legal or for that matter anatomically possible?
“Confession. Yes. Must get around to that. 21st century and you havent managed to automate it? I cant just send you an IM sometime?”
“No you cant. An auto-responder sending me regular emails ‘its been 38 milliseconds since my last confession’ doesnt have merit in the eyes of God, Im sorry. Come in person and we can talk. I thought we were making quite good progress, and then that business in North Africa happened, and you just faded out of sight.”
The Paris traffic distracted Duncan for the next few minutes as he navigated among bicycles, pedestrians and the occasional suicidal Fiat driver. Eventually they pulled up on a small cobbled street next to a bakery. Wooden tables and chairs amounting to little more than benches sat outside in the sun. Previous patrons wineglasses and dinner plates were being cleared by an overweight friendly looking gentleman with a vicious comb-over hairdo.
The man looked up as Duncan and Aleric approached, the cheery greeting bringing a smile to his face. Bushy gray eyebrows above sparkling grey eyes raised as Duncan pulled out a bundle of Euros, “We’ll take a bottle of house red, cheese and some of your fresh bread”
The baker, Henri, bustled off with his arms full shouting to people inside to assemble Duncan’s meal. It arrived a leisurely time later after the two men had settled themselves in for an extended French lunchtime, beginning with a light hearted arm wrestling match (that Duncan had lost conclusively) and a game of “I spy” with the caveat that everything had to be spelled in Latin (much to Duncan’s dismay, and loud complaints that Aleric was cheating since he favoured the Latin mass above all else). The wine was obviously cheap but complimented the meal and both men agreed later that the bread was what they had come for. The crust was perfect, crispy without being hard enough to break a tooth. The centre was still warm from the oven yet butter didnt immediately melt into an oily stain when applied. Theology aside, debates over whether bread in heaven would be leavened or not, they agreed between mouthfuls that this was probably a taste of the age-to-come right here in the here-and-now. The cheese was a heady little number, pungent with a sharp tang. Duncan joked that it reminded him of the smell of old socks but Aleric would hear nothing of it.
After lunch, savouring their final glass of wine and enjoying the afternoon sun, they settled back into comfortable talk of ages past. Duncan was still trying to gauge exactly how old Aleric was. There had been hints that he might have known prominent tenth century clerics, had seen the “great schism of East and Rome first hand” in 1054 and had been one of the rival Popes in the eleventh. Further back than that he hadnt managed to get the older man to admit to however. Duncan made a mental note to ask Joe if he knew anything, with added mental highlight pen and coloured post-it so that he wouldnt forget. The Watchers must have known of Aleric and have observed his steady clerical career over the centuries. They’d known of Darius and their oath of non-interference had lead to his death when the rogue watchers had murdered him. Who watches the watcher? Who guards the guard? Who keeps an eye on the secret society to make sure it doesnt come off the rails – an even more secret society. Duncan shook his head at that thought. Ultra-clandestine meetings in secret undreground bunkers between shadowy figured who know nothing of each other’s names or lives but the secret club identities they were given? No it was crazy. The Watchers were secret enough and after Horton’s rogue activities had brought open conflict in their ranks they’d cleaned house.
House being a relative term of course. How much house a clandestine, multi-celualar, decentralized organiztion had was debatable. The last thing Duncan had heard there had been a number of mergers between Watcher cells, grafting of branches back into the main trunk and a cross pollination of disciplines. Some business had happenned State-side that he had over-heard Joe talking about once, along with the bombing of a Watcher office in London. All that had wrapped up months ago though and the Watcher HQ had been moved to Geveva to a historic old part of town he knew he’d like to visit sometime. Just put that in their stuffy old pipes and smoke it! He knew they’d scurry around like an overturned anthill if he marched in there one day – one of the immortals they were charged with watching and chronicling, one of the immortals that shouldnt know they even existed, marching in and saying “take me to your leader”. Duncan grinned at the thought.
Aleric looked over, “Hey now, I know my jokes arent that good. What’s so funny?”
“Oh, nothing, just thinking about visiting some friends of mine and seeing the look on their faces as I arrive unannounced.”
Aleric grinned, “That reminds me of a time in 1746 when a deputation came in from Rome…”
Two men sat inside the cafe talking, occasionally glancing outside at the monk and his long-haired friend. A lumpy bag sat under their table making it uncomfortable to sit and relax – knees twisted off to the side and nowhere really to put their feet – but neither was there for leisure. Both carried themselves with an alert on duty air. One reached under the table, to pull a small hand-held device out of the bag. It was a shade larger than a man’s outstretched hand, perhaps eight by three inches, with an LCD screen taking pride of place on its upper side. Below the screen were a number of buttons with various functions including a prominent red power button. The device booted up and took the man through a standard disclaimer screen before settling down on a plain map-like display. The device had little more memory than a squashed hamster so it didnt contain detailed maps only major highways and the occasional landmark. What it did have, however, was a pair of lightly pulsing dots about 15 feet (if he read the scale correctly) to the south east of his current position (marked with a small arrow).
The man played with the buttons in a way that obviously frustrated his companion who finally took the tracking device from him and began a lesson in hurried, hushed tones. He scrolled a cursor into view on the screen letting it hover next to one of the pulsing dots and a popup window on the screen offered the option to drill into specific data files on the signature it was reading. He pressed the ‘enter’ button and ran down the display quickly – aproximate age of the target, bio-electric signature, computed unique asset number and a field at the bottom of the screen for personal notes that read simply “priest”.
The trainer powered down and handed the device back to his novice companion who restarted the exercise, powering up, moving the cursor around and settling on the other blip on the screen. He gasped as he read the bio-electric potential a hint of fear creeping into his eyes. The long haired man casually drinking wine outside was way too strong for his liking. The trainer offered hushed counsel, assuring him that it was the point of the exercise to observe and record this sort of information and the tracker would be his friend at times like this. “Live to fight another day in cases like these,” he was told, “though we have methods for targets like him – but now is not the time with civilians present”.
The tracker slipped back into the bag quietly as the Baker approached to clear their table. Civilians. The trainer tried to stifle a laugh, they were all unaware of the sugar coated life that they lived, unaware of the battle raging around them. Unaware that immortals and those like himself who preyed on them were moving among them at all times. He finished his glass of wine handing it back to the Baker with a polite “Merci”.
After delivering Aleric back to the church Duncan took time for himself, visiting a number of bookstores and junk shops. He was amazed what people threw away sometimes. Even more amazing was the assortment of things that they tried to sell as supposed antiques. His eye, trained over 400 years, was able to spot almost at a glance what was worth his time and money to clean up and what was truly junk. Today was a bad day – the stores held nothing of interest – and as he came out of the last of them the weather had the temerity to begin turning to rain. He loped back to his car, the right car this time, his jacket collar pulled up and head down trying to dodge big fat raindrops. In the process he managed to bump into a gentleman who smelled of soap (a rare thing indeed, given that it was a Paris street) who was munching on the last of a waffle and an old lady carrying groceries. He appologized for a few backward steps trying to make ammends verbally to her for the rain and dust caked bagette while not making too much of a scene. Duncan never noticed the two alert military men in a car across the street drinking coffee.
The rest of the day passed without incident. No old ladies, no bagettes, no baps, buns or bagels and certainly no waffle-men. Just a leisurely read with a fresh cup of coffee and croissant. Duncan spent his evening sanding and painting a section of the roof of his home – a barge parked on the river Seine – and finally turned in at 10:00pm sharp.
Sometime around 3:00am two shadows took form outside, black clad men with wicked looking swords on their backs and utility belts around their waist. The faces and bodies were covered in a fluid body armour that sucked in light, attracting the shadow all around them, inviting anyone who cast a glance their way to just slide-on-by: nothing to see here officer. One figure held the tracking device and made clipped hand gestures indicating that their quarry was inside the barge and that his partner was to enter through the door at the far end, but to keep his eyes and ears open. They both expertly picked the locks on the doors and slid inside without alerting the occupant a fact that left the rookie feeling profoundly relieved.
The long haired man was asleep with one pillow pulled vertically and his arm protectively over it. They waited silently, allowing the tracking device to take the required readings at close quarters and upload the data via satelite back to HQ. Once complete they waited until the sleeper changed position turning obligingly onto his back. The trainer motioned the rookie to draw his sword and do what they’d come for. He did so, taking up position at neck level, preparing to sever the head and take the quickenning. His partner stopped him angrily motioning for a killing blow to the heart not to take the head.
Joe Dawson pulled up in a battered Citroen that was rivialling his old Chevy for rust and dent accumulation. He applied the old rule, “park next to something expensive” as he pulled in next to Duncan’s new BMW. Joe shook his head. Life as a watcher didnt pay anything better, yet it restricted him to living and working whatever job was available near to where his assigned immortal chose to make his life. It was sickenning at times how the immortals, even the altruistic ones like Duncan, ammassed wealth and invested it lifetimes ago letting them lead a playboy life of the independently wealthy. Even the fabled “Watchers pension plan” was little more than a joke in today’s age of inflation and index-linked 401-K plans. He wrestled both prosthetic legs out of the car and with the aid of a walking cane wandered over to Duncan’s barge looking for signs of habitation. The morning sun glinted off portholes stealing from him the opportunity to get a glimpse from afar so he sighed and took the direct approach. He had long-since violated the Watcher oath to not get involved. He and Duncan had even become friends over the recent couple of years, at least he liked to think that was what they were, so it hit him hard when the door to the barge swung open at his first knock and the smell of spilled blood reached his nose.
The steps leading down into the barge werent made to be handicap accessible. He navigated them slowly, they were steep and the treads narrow. Rain had made them slick and he didnt want to add a head injury to the ‘todo’ list of items, or have it reported in the Watcher’s chronicle that his last act as Duncan’s Watcher was to fall ass-backward down some steps. He reached the bottom and of the steps and looked around the living area of the barge. To his left was a countertop that doubled as a bar and on the right center of the room was a wood-burning stove offering heat and friendly light in the colder nights of the year. He maneuvered around the stove, past the couch immediately to its left and up the last couple of steps to the area nominally reserved as a bedroom. As he approached the smell got worse and he could hear flies buzzing. Blood and something else, a slight acrid smoky tang, with added ozone for emphasis.
Joe felt his stomach rise to his throat as he saw the body of Duncan MacLeod laying on the bed. He was dead. An ex-immortal. Ceased to be. Pushing up the proverbial daisies. What bothered Joe wasnt the gaping chest wound – he’d seen far worse in his tour in ‘Nam – it was the slight decay that had set in. Immortals were meant to rise again in moments after a death like this. Flies never buzzed. He turned away and covered his mouth and nose with a hand. Morning sunlight through a nearby porthole glinted as he turned his head. Was that a slendar needle poking out of the corpse’s hand?
Joe stepped in with curiousity piqued. The body was laid out on its back with arms and legs spread. He recognized the pose as being something that DaVinci would have sketched but doubted that the killer was artistically inclined. He corrected himself, no, the killer had a sense of style and art and Duncan’s body seemed to be the macabre medium he’d chosen. There were other needles sticking out of the body – one in each palm, and one through the sole of each foot. The symmetry was striking. As he rose from examining the feet Joe caught sight of the line of needles that ran up the center of Duncan’s torso, with one at forehead level and if his guess wasnt mistaken, a final eleventh needle in the crown of his head. Whoevever had placed them had been precise and sickeningly thorough.
A crackle of electricity alerted him to something deeper that was wrong. A tiny electrical arc had formed on the leftmost palm, cracking between needle tip and skin. As he watched Joe counted two further electrical discharges between random needles and skin explaining the smell of ozone hanging in the air around the body. In all his years as a Watcher he’d never seen anything like this … this abomination. The horror of the situation sank into him and he lost his fight to keep stomach contents inside himself.
As he straightened up he noticed what looked like blood on the wall. Smears. Shapes. No, it was letters. The sick f___ who’d killed his friend, who spent precise moments inserting needles all over him and laying the body out like this, had written a message on the wall in Duncan’s blood, and with a sick sense of art, had composed haiku
We will come for you:
Nocturnal dance of the dead
— legion of the damned.
Joe sat down in the safety of his bar later that afternoon in a state of shock. He had locked the barge using a spare key but didnt know what to do with the body, with Duncan. Everything screamed at him that he would soon walk through the door of the bar to share the bottle of Scotch that was rapidly dwindling. Joe poured himself another generous glass trying to make sense of things. He knew Duncans habits, knew roughly speaking, which immortals were active in Paris at the present time and none had been sighted anywhere near the barge. His eyes and ears – Watcher field agents – had reported seeing Duncan working out with Aleric, eat lunch with the old man, and driving him back to the church. Had he somehow done this, this thing to Duncan?
Joe slammed the empty glass down on the table with enough force to echo off the walls of the bar. Great accoustics when semi-filld with people and a live band was playing but alone the place held the chill of a morgue. The only thing more depressing than drinking alone is to be the bar owner in an empty bar, drinking alone.
He ran a hand through his spiky grey hair and sighed. Whoever was sick enough to have pulled this off obviously planned to be back. “Legion of the damned” didnt register in any of the online searches he had performed. As good as Google had become, the Watchers still hadnt offered the company access to their priceless archive of books to scan. No. The tactile feel of a book in the hands was infinitely preferable to calling in outside consultants. For deep research he would have to fly to Geneva, which meant closing the bar for an extended period. It meant leaving Paris. It meant leaving Duncan’s body in the barge. Tears finally broke through and Joe leaned forward letting his head rest on the cool surface of the table as he sobbed over the loss of his friend.
Someone was calling his name. Yes, his name, spoken in feminine tones yet lacking a certain amount of the soft caring feminine touch he would have expected. Cracking an eye open Joe saw a woman’s hand on his shoulder. Nails were neatly trimmed but lacked nail polish and in a couple of cases were chipped. The hand had a strength to it despite its size. He suspected he knew its owner but the fog of sleep and whiskey still lingered. The hand moved out of his line of sight. Strangely enough this line of sight was straight along a solid wooden tabletop. He roused, lifted his head slightly and wavy, mousy brown (almost but not quite blond) hair bobbed into view as the owner of the hand lowered herself to tabletop height to stare at him. The eyes were bright and alert, the set of her brows determined, lips drawn into a thin thoughtful line. Nowhere was there makeup.
“Joe Dawson…” she said
The tone was that of a soon to be ex-wife. Joe was pretty sure that he hadnt married anyone in the hours since he’d … he frowned … what had he done? It all came crashing in on him, cutting through the fog.
“Joe’s dead? No, I dont think so” the woman poked him experimentally in the ribs with a finger.
Joe wriggled away, a semi-sleepy annoyance coming into his voice, “No, Joe’s not dead. You will be if you dont stop that though.”
“Pah. Ive heard better threats from my ex-husband. Get up. Come on, get up.”
Joe sighed and fired a quick prayer to any saints that might be listening for patience with the woman he was facing. He remembered who she was – Mary Culver, army officer and disgraced watcher. She had phoned him just before he’d gone over to check on MacLeod saying that she would be in town for a few days on her way to Geneva. He hoped that the trip would see her stripped of office just so she wouldnt annoy him any further.
Grabbing his cane Joe stood and made his way out of the bar to a back room where he washed his face in the wash basin. Cold water brought him perspective. Mary could be a pain in the ass, and sure she’d lost her immortal, but she wasnt evil. Just somehow lacking in social graces, challenged in some areas of the feminine arts, a tad too forward and blunt. She had been married to a passionate but ultimately adulterous Italian man the last time he’d caught any news on her.
“So, Mary, the divorce came through then?” Joe offered
“Obviously. See – no ring. And why would I mention my ex husband anyway, if he wasnt an ex?”
Joe sighed. It was going to be a long night.
“So tell me Mary. How did you get in here anyway? I know that I locked up earlier.”
The mousy haired woman fell silent. “Umm, well, you know how it is…”
Joe looked at her sternly and she held his gaze for a few moment. “What? You invited me earlier. You knew I was coming.”
“Yes, but I never gave you a key.” Finally he had the annoying harpy on the tip of his spear, “you let yourself in – I’ll bear that in mind. Useful talent in a field agent. Have you ever met Amanda?”
Mary turned away, looking around the room. “Bacardi. You have to have some around here dont you?”
“Dont change the subject. Have you met her?”
Mary started rummaging behind the bar, behind his bar, looking for the elusive bottle. “Amanda – stunning to look at and will take not only your breath away but your wallet as well?” she asked.
“Thats the woman.”
“Then, no, never met her. Sounds like my kind of gal though. Ahh, here it is. Get a glass we have some drinking to do.”
Joe woke the next morning with a vicious hangover. He was on the floor, fully clothed, in the store room. Across the room the door was open and he could smell something greasy being cooked. Struggling to his feet he made his way back out to the small kitchen to find Mary frying bacon and eggs. Fresh orange juice was ready for him along with a small bottle. He picked it up and read the label with little more than a grunt of approval before opening it and tossing a pair of green pills into his mouth and swallowing them down with a healthy dose of the juice. Between the pills and a cooked breakfast the headache should … he corrected himself: the headache was cooking the bacon, and until he got her onto the plane to Geneva there would be no end to trouble. He could feel it.
Mary looked no worse for wear while Joe was suffering a hangover for the both of them. How was this possible? He saw the empty bottles theat they’d consumed. He couldnt remember drinking them per-se but the evidence was certainly there in front of his eyes. How could she get away scott free? He added it as an annoyance to the growing number on the mental stack. For now a steaming plate of bacon and eggs, with toast fresh from the toaster, was waiting on the bar. He could hear it calling his name softly.
“This is good bacon. Where did you get it?”
“Well, I know a man down at the market and, well, he owed me a favour or two…”
Joe shook his head, “Dont bother. I’ll take this in the spirit it was offered. Thanks. Now, we have some business to discuss.”
While Joe drove from the bar to the church where Aleric and his brotherhood were presently serving, Mary chattered on about various items of gossip. Much was happening in the ranks of the Watchers, at least as far as the personal lives of some of the more prominent ones, and she seemed to be connected to the main flow of the juiciest stories. She seemed unaware of the traffic or the rain. Lost in a world of her own for the time being. The decision to move the Watcher’s HQ to Geneva was made at the highest levels but wasnt without a number of voices of dissent. During the move, at least the way that Mary told the story, certain … artifacts … went missing from the collections. She wasnt clear on precisely which items these were but Joe was sure that they would turn up again and be offered back, for a price.
What intrigued him were some of the stories of department mergers. He had heard the rumours, of course, but the mergers brought some threads of research to light that had been hidden from the wider society of Watchers for centuries. Once she begain explaining it was obvious why: witches, werewolves, vampires … mythic creatures yet so too were the immortals he knew to be absolute fact. He made up his mind to sit with some of the researchers and dig into the stories some time.
His branch of the organization, watching and chronicling the rise and fall of immortals, hadnt been the only one hit in recent histilities. It had almost come to war with the immortals yet he knew that the Watchers had prevailed, stronger than ever. It shocked him to hear that a bomb blast had destroyed an archive of the Watchers in London taking with it their seniormost research staff. Who ever knew that mythic creatures could hold a grudge? He shrugged mentally, still making the encouraging “umm” and “ahh” sounds to keep Mary talking.
For her part, Mary was bored. The stories of watchers and their kin were fine but it didnt occupy her full attention. She studied Joe taking care not to be noticed. The longer he saw her as an annoying, mouthy little thing the better. His guard would be down and she’d be able to use those moments to great advantage.
She let her mind and perception wander as they travelled. First taking in all the knocks and bangs of Joes beaten up Citroen. Then she ranged out to the cars around them, noticing their relative speeds and the look on each driver’s face. She gave them imaginary stories, a past and a future where their lives intersected hers for this briefest moment in traffic. She tried, and for the most part failed except for the most obvious, to gauge their emotional state from what she perceived. Her perception lost focus and the cars, the street, became liquid flow governed by equations of state that she couldnt bring immediately to mind. She tried chaos theory as a way to predict the occasional traffic jams that occurred for no reason. All the while prattling on about what she knew of Watcher politics and schemes. Joe seemed happy enough to listen and she welcomed the time to herself, to her thoughts and to her perceptions of the world around.
What had begun as a 30 minute drive to the church ended as nearly an hour of fighting traffic. Joe seemed tired when they eventually ascended the steps to a small historic church. Something was weighing him down. Mary concluded that a visit to the priest would do him good, a chance to cleanse his aura or whatever it was that went on in the scary little confessional booths. She entered the church and looked around. It seemed wrong compared with her previous ideas of what a Catholic church should be. This one was plain. The floor had been smoothed by the passage of thousands of feet over the centuries. Wooden pews had small edge mouldings. No, she corrected herself, not mouldings – those were far too new – these were hand carved and probably worth a fortune. She would raise the issue with the priest – “usedpews.com” might be a good fund raiser for him. At the centre of the front of the church, directly down the aisle from where they had come in, was an alter with carved wooden crucifix on it. As she looked around, allowed the room to speak to her, allowed her perception time to soak in the nature of the room and its usage, she could feel the faith of the ages throbbing through the place like a heart beat. In addition to the sense of rooted faith, there was a more tnagible presence here. She didnt dare call it deity as naming it would have brought up too many deeper issues but the presence was strong.
As her perception ranged on the level of the intangible she became aware of another presence approaching along the edge of the room. Larger than human yet compressed into a body that size. The traces she felt echoed all around it for all to sense yet Joe didnt seem to be reacting. His presence in this realm, on the intangible level she was perceiving, was minor. It was the background microwave radiation of the universe beside the living star that was approaching them. With an effort of will she slipped back to the more mundane as a man approached them with hand extended in friendship. He was old! White hair and wrinkles suggested the latter end of a normal human lifetime but a glance into his eyes told the story of many such lifetimes lived to the fullest. This must be Aleric – the immortal – whom they were seeking.
Joe turned to her and introduced the approaching monk, “Mary, this is Brother Aleric.”
“Obviously” she noted forgetting that Joe knew nothing of her perception. To his ears she was dismissive to the point of blunt discourtesy.
“Joe Dawson and Mary Culver I presume?” the monk asked as he shook their hands, “Welcome. Let me offer you some tea.”
They followed him back to a communal dining hall. Aleric bustled around the kitchen bringing water to the boil and making a pot of tea. Once they were all seated he asked, “So, what can I do to help? I assume this has something to do with the death of Duncan?”
Joe looked surprised, how had he known? “Why, yes! How did you …”
The monk waved a hand as if to dismiss the suspicions with a gesture, “I spoke to two police officers this morning about the whole affair. They took my statement and assured me that I was in no way a suspect in the investigation. I was a witness and the last person to see him alive, so they told me, but I wasnt under investigation.”
Joe frowned, “I never mentioned this to the police. In fact only a handful of people actually knew anything had occurred at all.”
Mary’s mind was drifting as the men exchanged hurried words. It was obvious to her that the police knew more than they were saying. She tuned back in to the conversation as Aleric’s face fell, “then the men I talked to?”
Joe shrugged, “Whoever they were, they werent police …”
Mary chose that moment to drop a badly timed “Well, obviously…” in and both men looked shocked. In fact all three seemed shocked, Mary for their reaction, and the others at her outburst.
“And you knew our names. I dont recall Joe mentioning mine to you when he called earlier.”
Aleric nodded, “they mentioned that you would be here later to follow up. Who were those men and how do they come to know so much?”
Joe recounted his part in the tale – finding the body, the needles, the fact that Duncan was still dead, and finally the haiku. At this Aleric looked shaken. He confessed that he’d never heard of something like this, that his life had been cloistered, and that these sorts of crimes rarely befell a member of his order.
Mary was frustrated. Joe and Aleric were dancing around their respective secrets. If tickets could have been sold it would have rivalled Bollero. She sighed and let her mind drift as they played their word games. Briefly she probed the sparkling aura that surrounded Aleric and got an immediate reaction, it rang in her perception like a bell. He looked up, meeting her gaze. “You have masked yourself cleverly my dear but I perceive you now. Its clear you’re something you’re not admitting to.”
“Obviously. And so are you.” breifly she turned to her companion, “Joe get things out in the open, this is driving me wild here.”
Joe was shocked as she cut across his careful stories, the half truths building together into a cohesive whole that left his true identity unspoken. Did the idiot woman want to blow the watcher’s cover? Was it any wonder her immortal wound up dead, and she never noticed? Aleric’s attenion was fixed on her though. His eyes blazed despite the cool exterior.
“Aleric, we know that you and MacLeod are both immortals. We know that you should re-animate after a period of death. This is different though. Duncan is dead and remains stubbornly so. Can you help us understand this, or to bring him around?”
The monk looked pained, “No. This is beyond my years of experience. If what you’re saying is true, these needles might prove to be the key. I know of only once man, one immortal, who can help your friend but I am afraid that since the Chinese invasion of Tibet he has gone to ground. No-one ever truly knew his name and he’s older than most if not all of us. If you have the resources, start looking for The Chinaman and I think you’ll get somewhere.”
Joe looked relieved to have a definite lead, even though it wasnt the one he was hoping for. It was someting. Now to get the bad taste out of his mouth over what had to happen next. “Mary, ” he started, “I think that we need to travel together on the next leg of your journey.”