Square One

The Holyground Highlander Forum Midweek Challenge

Archivist’s Note: The stories and vignettes offered here from various Holyground 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
One of Life’s Little Mysteries by Titania CWPack
Coming Home by bookmom
Walking the Mountain by Wain


Posted By: Leah CWPack <bizarro7@aol.com>
Thursday, 18 October 2001, at 7:43 a.m.

Your assignment, should you decide to participate:

Your challenge, should you decide to participate, comes to us courtesy of a suggestion by Hayden.

Here's the premise of your short story, poem or scene:

An Immortal character returns home (to his or her country of origin)and runs into a surprise.

Good luck, and remember to put "MWC" in the Subject line if you want your entry to be archived online.

MWC: "One of Life's Little Mysteries"

Posted By: Titania CWPack,(better late never) <rthogan@urx.com>
Thursday, 18 October 2001, at 6:51 p.m.


Dublin- 1808

Fitzcairn carefully exited the Duchess’ residence at daybreak, careful to secure the box concealed in his cloak. Fitz wore a lazy smile upon his face certain that the lady he had just left would sleep far into the day allowing him plenty of time to find a suitable hiding place for his newly acquired treasure.

“Good day, my lady” Fitz warmly greeted a lady as he tipped his hat. Her escort quickly hurried the lady along when it became apparent that the gentleman was devouring the lady with his gaze.

Fitzcairn giggled as he turned from the lady to the street in front of him. His progress was halted however when he bumped into his conscience.

“MacLeod! What in bloody hell are you doing here?” Fitzcairn rudely greeted his friend.

“Saving you from a beheading, you dolt.”

Fitz made a noise at his friend while rudely brushing past him and continued on his way. MacLeod quickly stepped in front of him again.

“ And just where do ya think you’re goin’?” the agitated Scot asked his friend. “The Duke’s house is back that way.” MacLeod twirled his friend so that he was now going back the way that he had come and gave him a little shove in the right direction.

“I know where the man lives” Fitzcairn answered while turning his back to the Duke’s residence “I’m trying to escape from it, not run to it, you stubborn Scot!”

“Fitz, man, we both know that what’s in that box dossna belong to you. It belongs to the Duke.”

“We also know that the Duchess belongs to the Duke but she didn’t mind being in my possession.” Fitz stated as he smiled at the memory of the night of passion he had shared with the Duke’s other property.

“Now we both know there’s no accounting for Her taste. Remember that horrible horse she bet on last week?”

“MacLeod! I am certain that you are not comparing me to that broken down hag!”

“If the harness fits…”

The two men were interrupted in their insults by the alarm cries that were coming from the Duke’s residence.

“Quick! This way!” Fitz shouted as he tried to pull MacLeod into the street.

“Nay, this way!” MacLeod exclaimed.

MacLeod won the tussling match. He and Fitzcairn ducked into an alley moments before the Duke’s guard stormed the street.

“Fitzcairn, we have to get rid of this now!” MacLeod emphatically pointed to the box.

“But MacLeod, this can get me back on top, pay off my debts….”

“Now Fitzcairn.”

“All right, but I’ll get you back for this.”

“You always do.”

MacLeod led the two men through the busy city, carefully avoiding the Duke’s guard. Finally they reached the brothel district.

“MacLeod I need a place to hid this box not my…”

MacLeod quickly cut him off. “If any one can find a place to hid this ,Amanda can.”

“The lovely Amanda has been reduced to this squalor, how tragic!”

“Fitz, she has not ‘been reduced to this squalor’. She owns all the brothels on this block.”

“I always knew she had a good head for business”.

MacLeod entered the largest building on the block. Fitzcairn admired Amanda’s business venture and property while MacLeod inquired as to the owner’s whereabouts. He was impressed with the lavishness of the paintings, the quality of the furniture and the beauty of Amanda’s employees. As he was about to touch the arm of one of the more exotic beauties a voice interrupted him.

“Ahem. Didn’t you see the sign?” Amanda gestured toward the huge sign in the parlor that stated “No Free Samples”.

“Who said that I was sampling?” Fitz grinned at her. “It’s so good to see you again my dear.”

“Fitz dear, how can you possibly say that when you left me in such a predicament last time we meet?”

“Amanda my dear, how was I to know that when you said the man was a pirate, you were being serious!”

Amanda smiled at him and he knew that all was forgiven, for at least for now.

“Duncan tells me that you need a favor.” Fitzcairn nodded affirmatively. “You need to find a nest for a precious pet is that it?” Again, Fitzcairn nodded in the positive, however he noticed the look of money lust in Amanda’s eyes. “I know just the spot. Now if you’ll just give me the box….”

“Not bloody well likely!”

“Fine than. Find your own hiding place, but don’t come crying to me when you lose your head!” Amanda gave a large man sitting unnoticed in the corner a nod and he immediately tossed Fitzcairn out into the street.

MacLeod tipped his hat to Amanda, sighed deeply and went to retrieve his friend.

“Fitz, is that thing you stole so important to you that you’d risk getting killed rather than letting Amanda skim some gold?”

“MacLeod you wouldn’t understand, you have none of the poet about you. You always think with your head not your heart. You…”

“They’re love letters!” MacLeod shouted! “You stole…” Fitz shushed him. “You stole love letters from the Duke, but, why? There are much more valuable things…” Fitz looked at him like he was a dumb post. “Oh, you stole your own love letters.” Fitz nodded.

“MacLeod, if that dolt of a husband found out about me he’d turn out that poor precious creature. I may be somewhat of a cad, but I’m not prepared to be a husband!” Fitz confessed.

MacLeod looked at him incredulously. Then he began to laugh. He laughed so hard that tears ran down his cheeks.

“I hardly find this amusing MacLeod.” Fitz stated exasperated.

“All of this, just so you don’t have to marry one of your conquests, oh Fitz! Far be it for me to keep a man from staying single. Let’s find a place for your treasure.”

Together the men walked to the potter’s field and found a quite corner. There they buried the box.

“The Duke won’t think to look here.” Fitz said satisfied.

“The Duke won’t sully his boots here, let alone look for anything. I’m sure it will be safe.” MacLeod reassured his friend.

A shadowy figure from behind a tree watched the men leave. “Not for long.” The figure said.

When the men were out of sight the shadow stepped into the light revealing Amanda. She quickly dug up the box, certain that it contained jewels, gold or some other wealth.

* * *

During the night Fitzcairn began to doubt the safety of the box and decided to move it to a safer spot. He snuck away from his apartment before MacLeod woke, determined to find the perfect spot for his box.

His horror upon finding the hiding spot desecrated was beyond measure. Whoever had the box held his very single future in their hands! There was only one person cruel enough to do this to him.


* * *

As Amanda was returning home with her prize, her mind ran wild with thoughts of the delights inside. “Rubies…no, not Fitz’s style, but this is the mark of the Duchess. Maybe these are her rubies!” Amanda squealed with delight at the prospect of having the Duchess’ jewels in her possession. “What’s better is that I didn’t even have to steal them myself.”

Unfortunately, Amanda’s glee was short lived. As she rounded the drive to her home she saw the Duke’s guards exit the brothel next to hers.

“Drat!” She exclaimed. Quickly searching for a hiding place on the street, Amanda’s eye feel upon the statue being erected to honor Horatio Nelson.

“Well, Admiral, maybe now you can pay me back for saving your hide.” Amanda placed the box in the foundation of the statue. Glancing around to make sure no one saw her, she placed the lid on the box and casually walked away.

* * *

“Fitz, I dunna know what ye’re talkin’ about.” MacLeod tried to explain as his friend smashed him into the wall for the fifth time.

“You lying, thieving son of a …”

MacLeod smashed his fist into Fitz’s face before he said the unforgivable.

“Oh MacLeod. What will I do? Whoever has holds that box holds my future as well.”

“Ah, dunna fuss. I know exactly who has it. And you do to if ye’d think with your head once in a while instead of your heart.” MacLeod looked at him expectantly.


* * *

“Now boys, I’m sure I don’t know what you’re talking about. Why would I want Fitz’s filthy little box anyway.” Amanda eyed the two men nervously; cursing the fact that it was Hugh’s day off.

The two men just looked at Amanda. She knew they knew she knew where the box was so she confessed to following them and then taking the box. As Fitz stepped forward to strangle her she squeaked, “Don’t worry. It’s safe.”

“You better show him.” MacLeod prompted.

“Oh, alright. But see if I help you to again.” Amanda pouted as she exited her home.

* * *

“Oh no.”

“’Oh no’ what Amanda?” demanded MacLeod.

“It was…I just…oh dear…”

Fitz and MacLeod both took a step toward her.

“There’s a statue over it!” She blurted out.

Fitz’s eyes rolled to the back of his head. MacLeod looked at her incredulously.

In her defense Amanda stated “Well, at least now no one will find them.”

* * *

Dublin- 1966

The television news report in Duncan MacLeod’s hotel room told him all he needed to know and more.

“Tonight the city of Dublin is reeling at the horror of the act. The question on every Dubliner’s mind is ‘who would want to blow up the famed Nelson’s Pillar and why’.”

MacLeod stared at the television numb struck. “Oh Fitz, tell me that you wouldn’t not after all this time.”

Attempts to reach his friend were futile. Duncan’s fears were put to rest the next day when the Irish Republican Army claimed responsibility for the destruction. However his fears were quickly resurrected when Fitz rang him later that afternoon.

“MacLeod, my good man. Up for an adventure eh? Meet me at the Boar’s Pub in half an hour.”

* * *

The Boar’s Pub had not changed all that much since the last time MacLeod and Fitz had shared a pint here over 150 years earlier. As MacLeod nursed his Guinness he watched the pub crowd, wary of onlookers. When 45 minutes passed by MacLeod grabbed his coat and exited the pub.

“Psst. MacLeod! Over here.” A disembodied voice called out to him.

Turning around looking for the source of the voice, MacLeod’s eye fell upon Fitz hiding in the pub’s alley way dressed incognito, or attempted to at any rate.

“Fitz, where the devil have you been? This is the last time I sit warming a bench for you…”

“Shut up, MacLeod! I’ve finally done it! I’ll have my letters by morning!” Fitz began to do a jig of happiness.

MacLeod looked around to make sure no one had noticed the spectacle.

“Fitz are ye daft? The Duke’s been dead for over a hundred years, no one care’s if you slept with his wife?”

“MacLeod, don’t you see? Now I can sell those letters to a museum and make some real money! They should be worth a pretty penny don’t you think? The story of a royal affair of old…historians will pay handsomely for such a prize!” Fitz ended his triumphant spiel with a huge grin.

“Fitz.” MacLeod began with more than a note of exasperation in his voice. “Do what you must, but leave me out of it.”

“MacLeod, don’t you see? I already have. I blamed the Irish Republican Army!”

When MacLeod returned to his hotel room, the last thing he wanted to do was watch the news but he felt some overwhelming compulsion to see if his friend would finally lose his head.

“Authorities have implicated the Irish Republican Army in the destruction of Nelson’s Pillar. The have also arrested a crazed English man who was trying to break into the base of the statue…”

MacLeod turned off the television. He stared at the screen and started to laugh until tears ran down his cheeks.

* * *

London- 2001

MacLeod sipped his coffee as he reread the newspaper article in the Times. His sad smile grew into a broad grin as he imagined how Fitzcairn would react to the historians claim that the mysterious box was a time capsule and meant to last a thousand years. MacLeod’s grin turned to laughter as he reread the line “how could these people have known the statue would be blown up?”


Author's note:

This story was based on a newspaper article from Oct. 9, 2001 about a mysterious 200 year-old-box that was found in the base of Nelson't pillar. Who else could be responsible, but an Immortal and his friends. :)

MWC: Coming Home

Posted By: bookmom <slblack@idirect.com>
Friday, 19 October 2001, at 10:39 a.m.

Sorry, my muse couldn't incorporate the country of origins thing. Tessa was too insistent, so I let her have her way.

MWC Coming Home

Mac sighed and tossed back the rest of his drink. Almost home, he thought. He was on the last leg of his journey. The flight from Paris had been routed to Chicago since New York was snowed in. They had just taken off and he was now able to recline his seat to a comfortable angle.

Warm thoughts of Tessa flitted through his mind. It was his birthday on Wednesday. He wondered what she had planned. Every year she surprised him with something new. He couldn’t wait to snuggle up with her in front of the fire. That was what cold weather was for, snuggling.

He smiled to himself, as he thought of the brooch that he had his friend make for her Christmas present. It was the symbol for infinity or forever, as he liked to think of it. It was gold, inlaid with alternating, emeralds, diamonds, and rubies. It would look smashing on her new black dress. She would have her hair pulled up with a few sexy tendrils framing her lovely face. He imagined dancing with her, kissing that long elegant neck, and whispering his love to her, knowing he was sending delicious chills through her.

Vaguely he heard the flight attendant asking his seatmate if he was comfortable. He drifted slowly into sleep, the tinkle of his lover’s laughter echoing in his mind.

The flight attendant noticed that one passenger had not heard her announcement. Walking down the aisle, she took note of the sleeping man. Long dark hair fell about his face softening his handsome features. She remembered how sophisticated he looked in his ponytail. He’d worn it resting on the back of his neck, verrry sexy. Either way, the guy was drop dead gorgeous.

He shifted in his seat and she thought she heard him whisper something like “tess”. She wasn’t sure. She almost didn’t want to disturb him he looked so peaceful. “Sir, sir?” Duncan felt a hand shaking his shoulder lightly. “We’re landing soon. You need to put your seat up.”

Duncan didn’t want to wake up. He had wrapped himself up in Tessa’s love. “Tess, Tess? Je t’aime.” he muttered.

The flight attendant smiled gently as warm brown eyes met her own. “You must have dozed off. Pleasant dreams I take it?” He nodded, stretching. “Good, let me help you put your seat up.”

He let himself into the studio, hoping to find Tessa. She wasn’t there. He crossed into the living room calling out to her that he was home. He heard her answer from the kitchen.

“Mmm, that smells…” He never got the chance to finish the sentence. An Immortal presence washed over him. Mentally he cursed himself for leaving his sword case in the studio.

Quickly running into the kitchen, he caught sight of Tessa rubbing her temples.

“Tess, are you alright? There’s another Immortal here. Get in the car and go to the…”

“Duncan,” said Tessa slowly, “I don’t think you need to be worried. There is no one else. It’s me who you are feeling.”

Shock and elation filled him, Tessa Immortal? How could that be? He had never felt any pre-Immortal presence from her.

“One moment I’m fine, the next I hear you, then feel this tremendous pain: a headache that’s not quite like any headache I’ve had before. Is this what you feel every time?” she asked.

“After a while, you adjust to it,” he answered her distractedly. Wonderful thoughts of them being together forever swirled around inside his head, just like Robert and Gina…

“Sir, sir?” Duncan felt a hand squeeze his shoulder gently. He opened his eyes. “We’re landing soon. Your seat needs to be in the upright position.”

MWC: Walking the Mountain

Posted By: Wain <wamba@fast.net>
Sunday, 21 October 2001, at 2:40 p.m.

April, 1980

Jin Ke walked across the field that separated the main road from the wall. The full moon cast his long and uneven shadow on the ground before him as he moved with careful steps. The bright moonlight would make it harder to avoid detection as he scaled the wall, but this was the night and there was nothing that could be done about it. Still, he had hoped for overcast skies.

He shifted the backpack on his shoulders and ran his hands over the smooth, cold wall. Nights were chilly in April around the city of Xian, although sunny days were pleasant enough. The spring weather had been his excuse for joining the ranks of tourists visiting Emperor Qin Shi Huang Di’s terra cotta soldiers, which had been discovered a few years earlier.

The top of the wall was covered in barbed wire, and he moved carefully over it to avoid snagging his clothing and skin. In the shadow on the other side of the wall, Jin Ke paused, looked for guards, and wondered what besides the spring weather might have drawn him to Xian after so many years. Morbid curiosity, perhaps, at hearing that so many artifacts produced during his mortal lifetime had been unearthed; or a desire to stand triumphant and enduring near the remains of the emperor he had tried and failed to assassinate.

A week had passed since he first visited the site. Surrounded by other tourists, lost in memories and paying only slight attention to the guide, he had wandered by trenches filled with life-size statues, each different in dress and face, each modeled with exquisite care. Near the middle of the widest trench, he had come to attention, his pulse pounding in his temples. He had gone back the next day and the next, always stopping to gaze down at the same figure.

Crossing the moonlit courtyard and heading under the corrugated metal roof that covered the excavation site, Jin Ke swung his backpack from his shoulders and pulled out a flashlight. He retraced the steps he had taken on the previous days, past the important figures, sculpted larger and more imposing than they had been in real life, and across to the smaller, less important figures. Then he dipped under the handrail that ran along the walkway, stepped to the edge of the trench in front of him, and dropped down inside it.

He made his way along a row of clay soldiers and stopped in front of a short figure, holding his breath as he scrutinized the face in the flashlight’s beam. The terra cotta man was shorter than the flesh-and-blood person Jin Ke had known. He touched the deep crow’s feet at the corners of the clay eyes; he ran his fingers along the creases that ran from nose to mouth. The sculpted man was older than Jin Ke remembered, but was certain he recognized him: his father.

Jin Ke’s father, a quiet poet, improbably dressed as a foot soldier.

§ § §

Third Century BCE

Jin Ke’s earliest memories were of his father’s face, the stern face that disciplined him when he skipped his lessons, the encouraging face that nodded as his boyish fingers wrapped around a brush and made their first clumsy attempts at writing.

His father’s eyes danced with excitement when he told his wife and Jin Ke that he had been invited to the royal court of the State of Qin to serve as a minor official. His eyes were proud when Jin Ke’s little sisters were born.

As the years at court went by and Jin Ke was no longer a child, he began to notice something new in his father’s face—apprehension and fear at the mention of King Ying Zheng, crowned at the age of thirteen. He caught snatches of whispered conversation between his father and other courtiers, whose eyes grew wide as they spoke. Ying Zheng wanted to be king of more than just Qin. If the grand scale of the King’s newly begun tomb was any indication, he wanted to be emperor of all of the warring states.

Jin Ke’s father tried to keep the tension out of the family’s private rooms. He came home most days with a smile and presented his wife with a short poem, either one of his own or one from the great masters. He helped Jin Ke with his lessons. He told his three daughters bedtime stories.

"Once upon an time," he would begin, "there lived a loving mother with three daughters, Paotze, Tao, and Zhang. One day, she had to leave them to care for their Po Po, their grandmother."

Jin Ke remembered his mother and father telling him the same story when he was still their only child.

Cradling three heads against his chest and shoulders, his father would continue, "Their mother said, ‘Lock the door and open it to no one while I visit your Po Po.’ And the three girls locked the door. But at sunset, there was a knock at the door and a high, scratchy voice that said, ‘Let me in, granddaughters! It’s your Po Po, and I want to give you a hug.

"They wanted a hug so much that they let her in. Zhang lit a candle, but Po Po blew it out and said it was time for bed."

"Why did Po Po blow out the candle?" Jin Ke’s littlest sister would always ask, even though she knew the answer.

His father’s eyebrows used to lift dramatically at this point. "So the girls wouldn’t see that it wasn’t really their Po Po, but it was Lon Po Po, the Wolf disguised as their granny. But Zhang was very smart, and she knew it wasn’t their Po Po.

"Once in bed, Zhang felt Lon Po Po’s tail brush against her leg, and she asked him, ‘What is that, Po Po?’ and what did the Wolf say?"

Jin Ke’s sisters would answer in chorus, "It’s hemp I brought to weave a basket with, a basket for you."

"All of my daughters are as clever as Zhang." And he would tell them the rest of the story, how clever Zhang saved her sisters by tricking the Wolf into allowing them to gather gingko nuts for him, gingko nuts that would make him live forever, and then they lured him into a basket to hoist him into the gingko tree and dropped him to his death.

Jin Ke would smile over his studies as he listened to his little sisters play Lon Po Po, squabbling to see which one would get the part of Zhang. One day he overheard the oldest of the girls, Da Mei, say, "King Ying Zheng is like the Wolf, with big eyes and a long nose."

The similarity was more than physical. The more he thought about Da Mei’s innocent remark, the more Jin Ke found that the King was very much like the wolf in the story. Beneath the King’s appetite for power and his desire to dominate the neighboring states was a willingness to pray on the defenseless. Jin Ke heard of the King’s increasingly ruthless methods and saw fear in the faces of those at court. While studying the parts of the Confucian Analects that described one’s duty to the state when an unsuitable ruler was in power, he asked his father what they would do about Ying Zheng.

"Nothing, Jin Ke; now is not the time," his father said.

He took ever more daring ideas to his father, who would answer, "You try too hard. You can’t make your plans succeed by forcing them when the time’s not right and you’re not ready."

In the end, Jin Ke’s father forbade him to associate with anyone who wanted to curb King Ying Zheng’s ambitions. Frustrated by inaction, he dared to disobey his father. His father’s last words to him still rang in his head, "You are no longer my son, Jin-Ke. You never were."

§ § §

April, 1980

Jin Ke bowed to the clay figure before him, a silent apology for the rash actions of a very young mortal man who had broken the most fundamental law of his world by leaving his family to pursue a foolish dream. He had seen his father only once again, on the day that he returned to Qin to assassinate Ying Zheng. Jin Ke had asked where his family was; assured that they were no longer at court and would therefore not be in danger, he had proceeded with his plan.

It had been a plan that required an accomplice and measure of daring. Since no one but the King was permitted to carry weapons in the audience chamber, Jin Ke had hidden a knife inside a carved wooden map case carried by his accomplice. It would have taken only a moment to withdraw the knife from the case and strike at Ying Zheng, but Jin Ke caught sight of his father, pale and frightened and pressed against the wall of the audience chamber, there at court where he shouldn’t have been. Jin Ke had faltered, giving the king time to draw his own weapon.

Jin Ke unzipped his backpack and removed a stick of incense, a plate of food, and a hundred yuan bill. He placed them at the feet of the statue of his father. Reaching into his bag again, he produced three porcelain wine cups and three sets of lacquered chopsticks.

The hesitation in the audience chamber twenty-three hundred years earlier had cost Jin Ke his mortal life. More than that, it had cost him his peace of mind; no matter how hard he had tried, he never found out if his family had suffered because of his attempt on the King’s life. The mute terra cotta before him proved nothing except that Jin Ke’s father had not been put to death—at least not right away. Perhaps disowning his only son had been his salvation. How had the sculptor found him? Had he been allowed to remain at court and grow old there? Had he been sent to toil with the other half million men who built Ying Zheng’s tomb? What had become of Jin Ke’s mother and sisters?

For two millennia their fate had haunted his dreams. Jin Ke knew nothing of what had become of his family, but he knew a great deal about the King and what he had been capable of. Ying Zheng went on to conquer all of the warring states and crown himself Qin Shi Huang Di, first Emperor of China. He built the Great Wall of China, standardized the alphabet and units of measure, and developed a common currency. And he was condemned by history as the emperor who burned books, buried scholars alive, and murdered his enemies without mercy or compunction.

Jin Ke felt that this place was close enough to a cemetery so that he could perform the rites of Qing Ming. There was no grave to sweep, so he brushed the dust away from his father’s head and shoulders, then tidied the earth around the booted feet of the statue and laid a bunch of flowers there. He took a flask of wine from his backpack and poured it into one of the wine cups. He bowed three times, then spilled the wine out on the ground. He took a lighter from his pocket and used it to light the incense and burn the money.

With another bow, he repeated the silent apology and walked away from the statue. His father was right; Jin Ke tried too hard at the wrong time. With the benefit of two thousand years of experience, he knew that there were better ways of usurping tyrants—insinuating yourself into their good graces, making yourself indispensable, waiting for the weak spot to make itself apparent.

Rising from the trench, Jin Ke felt a warning vibration in his bones; an Immortal was near. The other Immortal was standing close enough to have witnessed the ceremony that Jin Ke had waited more than two thousand years to perform.

"Jin Ke," the Immortal said. Jin Ke brushed the dirt from his knees and waited.

"Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Jacob Kell, and I’ve been looking for a man of your abilities."

Jin Ke nodded for him to continue.

"I’m about to embark on a great undertaking, but I can’t carry it out alone. I need someone who understands loyalty, someone who can instill it in younger Immortals."

"A lieutenant," Jin Ke said.

Kell nodded affirmatively. "Young people today understand so little of loyalty and discipline. I have two with me now, and they’re such a handful."

Paotze and Tao, no doubt, Jin Ke thought. What will you do if I take clever Zhang’s part, Lon Po Po?

"What is your great undertaking?" Jin Ke asked.

"Revenge for my father’s murder."

"An Immortal?"

"His name is Connor MacLeod."

Jin Ke shrugged one shoulder and said, "Why not take his head yourself? Wouldn’t that be better revenge than having someone do it for you?"

Kell took a step closer to Jin Ke and lowered his voice. "I don’t want his head. What I want is to destroy everyone and everything he loves. What I want is for Immortality to become a curse to him." Kell glanced back toward the wide trench crowded with terra cotta soldiers. "I would think that a man who traveled so far to perform an act of filial piety would understand."

Jin Ke narrowed his eyes. He managed not to open his mouth in surprise at Kell’s comment about his father and tried to dismiss it as an educated guess.

Kell continued, "I’m building an empire, Jin Ke. I need foot soldiers in glorious war for justice. I need to be powerful enough so that I’m around to watch MacLeod suffer for eternity."

Jin Ke surveyed Kell’s expensive clothes and asked, "And rich enough?"

"If you’re going to live forever, why not be as comfortable as you can?" Kell said, baring his teeth.

The better to eat you with, my dear, Jin Ke thought.

"You don’t have to decide right away," Kell said. He picked Jin Ke’s backpack up and handed it to him. "We can meet tomorrow evening and discuss it. I’m sure that I can make my offer interesting enough."

Jin Ke smiled and said, "Why wait until then? We can discuss it over breakfast."

With his arm, Kell made a sweeping gesture away from the structure that housed Qin Shi Huang Di’s army of clay soldiers.

As the two men left Jin Ke asked, "Do you like gingko nuts?"