It was a dark and stormy night and Duncan was cold. He had been driving on a highway through the desert. Sunny. Warm. The roof had been down and the radio on. For no apparent reason it began raining, there wasnt a cloud in the sky. At first the water had been warm so he let it fill up the car. He activated the whirlpool and jets under the dash, beside the seats and in the doors had turned the car into a rolling hottub. He undressed and began swimming around – why have an olympic size hottub car and not make use of it? The sun set. Well, no, didnt so much set as collide with the moon, ricochet off a mountain range and land in the corner pocket. The olympic size hottub car continued to drive itself along the green of the pool table.
The water raining down turned cold and Duncan huddled near the water jet from the passenger door craving its warmth. In the distance, close to the giant eight-ball, he saw lightning and heard thunder. The car – hottub – turned toward the flashes and was soon in the midst of the storm. The water in the car turned icy cold so Duncan swam over and asked the nodding rottweiler dog on his dash to drain it. Water leaked away leaving Duncan naked and shivering.
It was a dark and stormy night and Duncan was cold. Lightning flashed nearby biting a hole into the green of the table. Another flash, nearer ths time.
Duncan woke up, sweating in the cool night, with the distinct impression that he’d just been struck by lightning.
He tried to slow his breathing and racing heart; get his emotions in check. There was a commotion outside. Shouting. He pulled on clothing and grabbed his sword as a precaution. Outside the tent, it was a clear cool night, and Duncan felt a slight chill against his skin. He grabbed the nearest person.
“What’s going on?”
The man was shocked, “You didnt hear it? Gunshots! Three of them if I wasnt mistaken. Rang out clear like small thunderclaps. Came from over there.” the man pointed.
Duncan followed the lead running ahead of the few brave souls who were looking for the cause of the problem. He felt the beginnings of the tell-tale buzz, as he ran, so it was moving too. Leaving the scene? He picked up the pace. Ahead he could see a man kneeling, a UN solider, touching the ground. As he approached the man stood and looked around.
“What’ve you found?” Duncan asked.
Duncan looked closely, the uniform said “Lancaster”.
“What’re you doing here?” He asked Lancaster.
Nigel looked the tall security guy in the eyes, “I was on duty, walking the perimeter. Bill – Private Bailey – was returning from the latrine. Ironically, he was meant to relieve me.”
“Did you see who shot him?”
“Where’s the body?”
“How the hell should I know? I know as much as you – there’s blood on the sand … ” Nigel paused and pulled out a handheld device, “Hold on.”
The screen lit up his face with an eery glow. He punched some buttons, read the screen, turning to get his bearings, then shut it down.
“He’s heading toward the wadi and has the body with him.” he said.
“Who?” Duncan demanded.
Nigel paused, should he?
“Who has the body Lancaster?”
Nigel turned and begain running. Duncan caught up and in breathless broken sentences demanded to know what Lancaster knew.
“Alright. Its another UN guy – Conwel.”
“Young guy? Mud stain on his uniform the other day?” Duncan asked
“Yeah, how did you…” Realization dawned, “You were the one who attacked him?”
“No, he was using that thing – that gadget – was stalking me. He attacked me in the woods.” Duncan corrected. As they ran he could feel the buzz increasing in intensity, they were gaining on the young soldier.
The ground was rising ahead of them, sparse trees beginning to cluster. As the path became steeper the trees became denser. Small branches whipped past their faces as they ran.
Duncan felt the buzz suddenly increase and could almost imagine the scene: young Bill realizing that he wasnt dead. Staring at Conwel. Conwel staring back with the look of a hundry predator. The buzz subsided as shots rang out ahead. Had the bastard shot the newly reborn immortal?
Duncan picked up the pace but knew he would be too late to save Bill. Lightnight flashed between the trees. He heard groaning, a slow building howl. A chill crept into his gut turning quickly to an ache that wriggled around to the base of his spine. As the trees thinned the ache shot up his back to ride his shoulders. With sword drawn he burst out of the tree line and into the moonlight.
Conwel was on his feet with a sword hanging limply in his hand. The body of Private Bailey was on the ground a few feet away to Duncan’s left. An eery, unnatural groaning filled the air. The wadi. Conwel stood between Duncan and the edge of a cliff overlooking the dry stream. Nigel arrived moments later.
There was a shout, Scottish accent, “Put the sword down. We have no quarrel with you.” The small Scottish scientist – Smith – was advancing on Conwel’s position. The soldier looked up, the sword shifted to a ready position.
“Put the sword down. I am unarmed.” Smith raised his hands, still advancing. As he neared Conwel dropped to an aggressive stance. Duncan watched with a sinking feeling, if the idiot scientist didnt turn back he was going to lose his head.
Conwel lunged. The sword glinted in the moonlight cutting a clear downward arc. I abruptly stopped, held flat between the palms of Mary Culver. Where the hell had she come from? Smith was on his ass behind her. Gazes locked she wrestled Conwel for control of the sword, a contest of stregth and leverage, which she seemed to be winning. She plucked the sword out of his grasp and tossed it over the edge of the cliff above the wadi.
“Bitch!” Conwel screamed, launching a kick that caught her in the side. She fell back and he pressed the advantage, raining blows down on her, forcing her toward the cliff edge. One last blow and she teetered. He grabbed her by the throat.
“Now die.” he spat in her face and pushed her off the edge.
Mary’s scream was lost in the howling groan of the wind.
Duncan didnt think. He advanced on Conwel while his back was turned with sword held in a high ready position. At the last moment the young soldier turned and dropped making a bid for his own sword some feet away. Duncan pressed the attack dropping some potentially painful cuts on the young man but not scoring any substancial hits either. Conwel met Duncan’s blade with his own, a jarring impact that resonated in the bones of his arm. Swords locked and both men stared at one another with open hatred for what the other represented. Conwel finally broke the standoff with an impressive push that staggered Duncan back a pace giving him time to regain his own footing.
They circled. Feint and parry the follow on attack, to and fro testing one another’s defenses. Duncan felt off his game. Something wasnt right in the fight – he was holding the young man at bay but wasnt pressing in to the attack like he once had. As much as he desired the quickenning he also knew how much it would cost him if the fight ended on a premature note and he was nursing a wound or two at that point in time. His diminished self may take a long while, if ever, to heal. He realized he’d been fighting a defensive posture since the start. Blows rained down on him and were turned away with relative ease but he lacked the aggressive follow-through as a mistake would cost so much more if the fight didnt go his way. What was worse, he could feel fatigue beginning to drag his arms down.
It seemed like he dropped his guard simply from fatigue. His sword moved with a lazy grace but the guard was sloppy. Conwel pressed it. In his eagerness for a second quickenning he over extended himself and with a flouish Duncan disarmed him sending the sword flying back toward the treeline. He spun with his sword tracing a glittering arc in the moonlight, an arc that sliced from right hip to left shoulder. Conwel toppled and the sword came down for the final blow: cleanly severing the neck. Small sparks from an electronic device in the severed vertabrae showered the ground as Conwel fell.
The quickenning was so welcome – like coming home – painful but the thing Duncan had been craving for weeks. It was like exercising hard and eating a meal afterward – no matter how badly prepared the food was bound to taste like 5-star cuisine. As repeated electrical arcs slammed into his body he felt strength returning. Cuts across his body sparked and closed. He was back.
Things finally subsided and he found himself on his knees breathing in ragged gasps. His sword tip was embedded into the ground in front of him and he had both hands on its hilt to support himself. Without any warning pain erupted. Something metallic projected through his chest. The tip of a sword. The sword had missed his heart, in fact it wasnt even on the right side. In the split second it took to register how wrong the sword stroke was, the sword was moving in a lateral direction slicing through his chest. It finally withdrew once it had bisected his his heart. Duncan collapsed forward into the dirt, dead.