The Gathering For Dummies
The Holy Ground Highlander Forum Midweek Challenge
Archivist’s Note: The stories and vignettes offered here from various Forumlanders have not been edited or changed other than having a spell-check performed and being reformatted for this website.
The Challenge by Leah CWPack
The Gathering For Dummies by vixen69
Blood Ritual by Ghost Cat
MID-WEEK CHALLENGE: THE GATHERING FOR DUMMIES
This week's challenge comes to us courtesy of GhostCat!
Write a short scene or story involving an unexpected advantage or disadvantage of Immortality. It can be serious, silly or just plain inconvenient. It can be something we have always suspected, or something we never would have imagined; but it *should* be something that has never been addressed in official canon.
Remember: If you want your entry archived, place "MWC" in the subject line of your posting before your title.
MWC: The Gathering for Dummies
Posted By: vixen69 <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Date: Friday, 22 February 2002, at 11:11 p.m.
(Me again. Been away, like, forever with computer problems. Genevieve, again. I guess she just likes MWC's.)
Immortality and Me, or The Condition my Condition is In
(Part of the Genevieve Fowler "The Gathering for Dummies" series, an ongoing project involving scientific, cultural and personal essays, which I leave in the mailbox of the poor guy who's currently my Watcher, and pretends he doesn't know that I *know *. A full copy of which will also be left to Joe Dawson in the event of...you know. It's just my little part to advance their knowledge--and give them the *inside* view. And no, no one asked me.)
Don't hate me because I'm beautiful. (Hate me because I'm an ego-maniac!)
Or MacLeod or Methos or Amanda or any of the rest of us for that matter. We can't help it. Believe it or not, from my research into what makes Immortals tick, I've determined that there are definite aberrations in our makeup which would tend to account for the general tendency among us to appear...well...cute. I know that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and all, but in most cultures, sociologists have made the determination that a youthful and healthy appearance generally defines what is considered physically desirable, and as luck would have it, that's just what we Immortals have got. But it goes much further than a simple "Bright-eyed-and bushy-tailed" complex. Right beneath that wrinkle-proof, blemish-free, bruiseless epidermis we happily wear, a number of other factors combine to produce the appealing physical specimins that we are.
Take, for example, weight. It is rare to find an Immortal who is overweight. It may be presumed, of course, that the lifestyle we *enjoy* (namely, keeping ourselves battle-ready) makes it necessary for us to stay very, very fit. But the truth of the matter is that our nature has rendered most of us into metabolic dynamos. Consider, for a moment, the dynamics of muscle-building. The very nature of muscle-building activity actually involves the breaking down of the muscle tissue and its subsequent, tougher, rebuilding. Immortals, however, heal very quickly. This causes us, essentially, to be almost perfectly anabolic--we build muscle mass with less effort. And as any dieter will inform you, more muscle mass equals a higher rate of metabolism. Thus, we burn calories like crazy. Not that a nice, brisk, aerobic, hour-long, sweaty, bloody swordfight isn't a pretty good calorie-burner all by itself. We tend to keep fat off. What does that mean for the pudgy Immies out there? Well, they probably were heavy before they met their first death. Hey, everybody knows that once you've *gained * weight, it's harder to get rid of it. But underneath the flab? Probably abs of steel. And also--our lifestyle? Makes for some really crappy eating habits. You know, eating on the run. Literally. And angst-eating.
Also, our bodies happen to be literally brimming with helpful hormones--and a few not-so-helpful ones. If you've paid attention to the "Reverse aging now" type spam in your e-mail inbox, you've probably heard of the wonderous hgh. The "human growth hormone" is, as the blurbs (and some of the legitimate research data) will inform you, useful in maintaining lean muscle mass and increasing fat metabolism. What is not as frequently pointed out is that it also is a contributing factor to healing and collagen production. We Immortals are simply juicy with it, and since we don't age, our levels don't decline. We also, for that matter, are juicy with DHEA and testosterone (even female Immortals, believe it or not), which has a definite impact on our physiques, generally contributing to a broader-shoulder, slimmer waisted, more athletic appearing build. Many female Immortals, it might be noted, are taller than average. These hormones also account for us generally being...oversexed.
That's what I said. A look at the Chronicles of most Immortals, myself included, will probably attest to the fact. (This, of course, is anecdotal evidence, and should be treated as *supporting * information, only. And an interesting read.) If it seems like Immortals are more likely to...socialize, there are definite hormonal reasons contributing to this tendency. I'm sure that any Watcher having noted this tendency may have presumed that, once again, the lifestyle itself (in addition to factors such as having no fear of venereal disease or unwanted pregnancy) had the biggest impact on our behavior, but in all honesty, the lifestyle can totally cramp a person's...um...*style*. Being Immortal doesn't exactly make you want to *open up* to other people and get vulnerable with them. We do it in spite of the risks. Tells you a little something about our biological urges, no?
But speaking of biological urges, one thing which I have noted is that I have not necessarily been able to isolate the presence of any hormone that might account for the ability of Immortals to *sense * one another, although the possibility of there being some type of pheromone has occured to me. My own research, however, tends to rule out that possibility in favor of the theory that the, for want of a better term, "energy field" which is generally referred to as the "quickening" actually contains the factor that makes this recognition possible. As a scientist, I shy away from things that smack of mysticism and intangible, almost-impossible-to-prove, folk-lore explanations, and yet I find myself attempting to find *any * parallel with ordinary human studies. So far, I've seen some interesting information about "orgone", but for obvious reasons, am loath to pursue that avenue. In terms of the tendency of Immortals to fight, however, may possibly be attributed to elevated levels of dopamine, and...for reasons I've not yet determined, wildly fluctuating serotonin cycles. We are moody little so-and-so's, and should probably all be on Prozac.
But nonetheless, we *look* marvelous.
MWC: "Blood Ritual"
It had been a long time since last Methos had taken an apprentice; there was something in his nature that found that level of trust to be…uncomfortable. But even the Eldest Immortal’s suspicious mind hadn’t been prepared for his redheaded student to fly into a rage without warning. Sheila had lashed out, stabbed him viciously and disappeared almost before he hit the ground. All because he had made a comment about her getting migraines at the most inconvenient times. Completely uncalled for he thought to himself, rubbing a point over his heart where only the memory of a mark remained, but damned good aim nonetheless. He’d be better off letting her cool off than looking for her, or so he convinced himself. In fact, I need a drink.
Methos headed down to the Bonded Blade, which wasn’t too far away from his campus apartment anyway. The events of the day must have muddled his concentration, for he didn’t even notice the Feel of another Immortal until almost too late. He was just about to open the door to the pub when someone reached out from behind. A strong but feminine hand held shut the door; brightly enameled nails glinting like claws. An equally feminine body pressed close, blocking his escape. A familiar voice whispered, “You don’t want to go in there.”
Methos sighed aloud, “Cassandra my dear, I’m really starting to get tired of this. If you want to fight, just come out and say it.”
Cassandra backed off a step, and the two stood face to face in the small alcove. “Why must you think that everything is always about you? Sheila’s in there.”
“So that’s it; the fact that I’m the one who’s teaching her just sticks in your craw, doesn’t it? Well, it wasn’t my idea; she asked me. In fact, the little minx bribed me with a mead recipe. Otherwise I never would have done it.”
It was Cassandra’s turn to sigh. “You don’t even know what kind of trouble you’re in.” She paused, seemingly changing the subject. “Sheila hasn’t taken a head yet, has she?”
“No, but she hasn’t lost hers either.”
“Have you ever wondered why most female Immortals are taught by other women?” Cassandra ignored his too casual shrug. “It isn’t widely known, but until she takes her first Quickening, a female Immortal is a full blooded woman in every sense. With an emphasis on the word blood.”
Methos blanched visibly; “You mean…”
The witch’s smile was far from pleasant. “That’s right. We’re dealing with an Immortal-level case of PMS. Every male with even the smallest scrap of survival instinct got out as fast as they could. The only one left in there with her is one very brave, very mortal bartender, whose only immunity is the fact that he’s serving her drinks and, if he’s smart, chocolate. I say again, you do not want to go in there.”
“Immortal PMS? How come no one has ever heard of this before?”
“Historically speaking, the problem usually didn’t last long enough to be noticed. Some poor fool of a man usually opened his mouth at the wrong time…” she made a quick cutthroat gesture, shrugging at the same time. “Problem solved.”
“Then why did you stop me? Why didn’t you just let the problem solve itself?”
“Don’t think it wasn’t tempting. I’m not doing this for you; I’m doing it for her. This girl deserves a chance to survive, and that means having a good teacher. The gods only know why, but she believes that’s you. Which means you have to stay in one piece long enough to finish the job. Now, I’m going in there, alone. If you follow, that’s your own business; I take no responsibility for your safety.” With that, she pushed past him, stepping confidently into the room.
Inside, the place was just as empty as she had predicted. She noted with relief that there was a sword on the rack, but that didn’t mean that the young Immortal couldn’t be dangerous. There was a distinct smell of chocolate shooters in the air and a great many empty glasses lined up on the bar. The normally imperturbable Dave kept glancing nervously at the door; he nearly melted with relief at Cassandra’s entrance. Sheila, in the meantime, was orating loudly; not noticing, it seemed, that she spoke to an audience of one (now two).
“There can be only one…now if that isn’t a steaming pile of macho, chest-thumping bullsh*t, then I don’t know what is. The whole Gathering concept must have been put together by a man! If women had been in on this from the beginning, we could have found mush, err, much more beneficial uses for the idea of Immortality than turning it into one long ‘I bet I could beat you’ swordfest.” She paused, waving a serrated steak knife she had picked up from one of the tables for emphasis. “And don’t get me started on the whole swords thing! A bunch of Freudian penile overcompensation if you ask me. ‘Mine’s bigger.’ ‘Oh, yeah, well do you know how to use it?’— Eternally immature.”
Dave took the opportunity to try grabbing away the knife, backing off quickly as Sheila turned her attention his way. “You too, eh? Men are always underestimating women. The Fairer Sex they call us, meek and mild. Yeah right. They even accuse us of being afraid of the sight of blood. Bull! The average healthy woman sees more blood in her lifetime than the greatest warrior would ever see in battle. And coming out of her own body, too. Just once I’d like to have one man bleed for five days straight and see how he’d react. Ha! Then we’d really see what he’s made of.”
“Are you quite finished yet Young Lady?”
Sheila’s joy at being joined by another member of the Sisterhood fell abruptly as soon as she saw the look on the witch-woman’s face. “Ah, Cassandra! I didn’t—“
“Exactly, you didn’t. And if someone a little less sympathetic had walked in on your Men Are Pigs rant, you wouldn’t have had a scrap of warning or preparation. Not to mention you’d probably be a few inches shorter.” The younger F’Immie had the sense at least to look suitably chagrined. Cassandra might have been able to bring everything under control then and there, if another figure hadn’t stepped forward.
“I heard the whole thing, and I have only one thing to say about it. If the maternal hand of the female Immortal lay upon the world ‘from the beginning’ as you say,” Methos’ voice dripped sarcasm, “then I don’t think we’d have ever gotten out of the caves. It’s hard to lay down the foundations of Civilisation when you have to walk on eggshells once every turning of the moon.”
Cassandra sighed, rolling her eyes toward the heavens. “I thought I told you to stay outside.” Her gaze moved back and forth between mentor and student, both equally stubborn in their own way. “It’s quite obvious you two are going to end up ripping each other apart once a month; there’s only one solution I can see. I will offer to take her in during the worst of the Curse, a joint apprenticeship.” She turned to face her former enemy, her offer coldly formal. “Five days out of every month; for all the rest she is yours. Until her training is complete, or the Blood Curse is lifted.”
Methos was livid. “Absolutely not. I forbid it. You’d undermine my teaching; turn her against me every chance you get.”
Cassandra’s voice was still as cold as ice. “You’re going to handle this yourself, then?” Methos raised himself to his full height, his pride offended. “Yes.” She quirked a brow at him; “You want to take her right now?” He deflated visibly, “Ah, no.”
Meanwhile, Sheila rode the hormonal roller coaster. Her righteous indignation had evaporated, and now she cried like a child listening to parents fighting over her. She was more confused than anything else, and right now she wanted nothing more than to be left alone with a good book and a box of Midol. It was with great relief that she heard someone speaking to her instead of about her. “Come on Sheila, let’s have some Girl Time. I think Death by Chocolate is still open.”
The two women walked out hand in hand, and the tension in the room lifted as soon as they left. Methos dropped wearily into a seat at the bar. “Fin du Monde. The whole bottle.”
<center>§ § §</center>
Fortunately, Cassandra knew the cure for modern PMS: a generous dose of chocolate was followed by several hours of therapeutic shopping, before the pair finally settled down in Cassandra’s hotel suite. The final stage of treatment involved complete and total relaxation, as evidenced by the soothing music and sweet-scented steam escaping from the bathroom.
While Sheila let her tensions melt away, Cassandra had her own project to work on. From various bags and parcels, she produced the necessary equipment. She carefully unrolled a small woven-grass mat. Ideally, this type of ritual should be done in contact with the earth; hopefully this would be enough. On top of the mat she placed two shallow silver bowls. In the centre of one bowl, she placed a pure white candle; a red candle rested in the middle of the second bowl. With a single match, she lit both candles. Finally she reached into another bag, a tiny silk bag, and pulled out two locks of hair: one red, one black. The red hairs she had obtained just now, from Sheila’s brush. The dark hairs were one of her most ancient possessions. Cassandra had held on to them through the ages, dreaming and planning of someday using them. She had never imagined that they would one day end up part of a healing ritual…of sorts.
When the candles were burning brightly, she touched the black lock to the flame of the white candle. As the hairs burned, the witch recited all the names that Methos had used over the millennia; by Sympathetic Magic and the power of Naming, she imbued the plain white candle with an identity. It took a great deal of effort and self-control not to contaminate that identity with the concept of “enemy”, for that would desecrate the healing magic. When the Naming was complete, she did the same with the red candle; the recitation was equally thorough, including Sheila’s full name, her nicknames, even Internet screen names; all formed a part of one’s full identity. The preparation was done, now the difficult part would begin.
Cassandra sat on the floor, getting as close to the earth as possible. She drifted into a half-trance, gathering power. With solemn words, she called upon the Moon, which governed change and all things that run in cycles. She called the Earth, the Mother of us all. Slowly, carefully she lifted the red candle, still lit, and held it above the white. For a moment the two flames touched, intertwined, became one. Their subjects were joined in that moment, more deeply even than the bond between student and mentor. Like blood from a wound, the red wax dripped and flowed into the white. The witch ended the ritual with these words: “By his promise, and by her need, let trials be shared, and pain be eased.” Though the air in the room was completely still, the candle flames flared and suddenly went out. Cassandra’s body sagged with exhaustion.
A little while later, Sheila stepped out of the bathroom, wrapped in a robe and towelling her hair vigorously. In contrast to her earlier black mood, she seemed positively cheerful. “I don’t know what you put in that bath, but I haven’t felt this good in years.”
Cassandra rose fluidly from her position on the rug, hiding her temporary weakness. She turned toward the other woman with a smile. “I added some herbs to the water along with the bubble bath, but that isn’t the only reason for your recovery.”
Sheila finally noticed the remains of the ceremony; she frowned slightly. “What have you been doing?”
“I took one of your suggestions from this afternoon. You said that if a man could bleed as a woman bleeds, he might begin to understand her better.”
“I remember saying a lot of things today, but none of them were nearly that eloquent.” In her mind Cassandra’s words combined with the evidence on the floor; leaning closer, she saw the five red drops floating serenely in a pool of white wax. “You didn’t!”
Cassandra shrugged, “Well, he did say he was going to handle this problem himself. Now he will, just not in the way that he imagined.”
<center>§ § §</center>
Back at the bar, Methos was trying to explain the day’s events to a concerned, yet amused MacLeod. “I don’t get it, MacLeod. In five thousand years I had never heard of this; the Watchers don’t know about it. Have you ever heard anything like this from Amanda?”
“Nooo,” Duncan began carefully, “but then again, she was already a fairly, um, mature woman when we first met. It’s not exactly something that comes up regularly in conversation either.”
“What about your young storyteller, have you noticed anything about her?”
“It’s not as if I routinely search her bathroom, you know. Debra has her moods, but it never occurred to me that it might be… you know. The Curse.” Privately, though, Duncan wondered if this revelation might explain the author’s recent meltdown. He was about to mention this when suddenly Methos doubled over in his seat as if hit in the gut. His eyes were wide with shock and a low moan escaped from his lips. Duncan reached out to steady his friend, concerned by the sudden change. “Are you all right?”
Methos waved off any assistance, stubborn as ever. “Nothing,” he gasped, “just a cramp.” With great effort, he got to his feet; “Think I’ll just walk it off.” As he stood up, his eyes grew even wider, if that was possible, and an expression almost like panic flickered across his face. “On second thought, I think I have to make a pit stop.” He rushed to the washrooms in an odd, half-stumbling gait and it almost looked as if he was holding on to the front of his trousers. Duncan slowly shook his head, wondering how many times Methos’ poor liver had to repair itself every day.
Duncan waited for a very long time, torn between concern and a nagging suspicion that the Old Man had slipped out the back door. Suddenly Methos burst from the back of the pub, running as if pursued. As he passed the bar he called over his shoulder, “I gotta go; pay for my drinks, will you?” Having seen that trick too many times, MacLeod grabbed Methos by the shoulder, halting his headlong flight. “Where are you going?”
Methos pulled away quickly, “Gotta get to a pharmacy. Or something like that.” Duncan almost thought he caught a few words after that, something about “that damned witch,” but he couldn’t be sure. “Are you going to tell me why?”
“Not in a million years!”