Topical Application

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.

Contents

The Challenge by Leah CWPack
Uncommon Bonds by Storie
The Lesson by Wain
Out of the Blue by Robin
Of Heaven and Hell by Celedon
Old Friends by Ysanne
Chains of Memory by Ghost Cat

THIS WEEK'S MWC: TOPICAL APPLICATION

Posted By: Leah CWPack <bizarro7@aol.com>
(IP: 208.24.179.208)
Date:
Wednesday, 18 April 2001, at 11:35 a.m.

Who says we don't follow the news?

This week's challenge, should you decide to participate:

Compose a short story or scene involving one or more of the HIGHLANDER characters, and incorporating the two elements:

A) Slavery

B) cell phone

Any mood will do. As always, if you wish to have your entry archived, remember to put "MWC" in the subject line of your posting.

Good luck!

MWC: Uncommon Bonds

Posted By: Storie (My first MWC - I hope I'm doing this right.) <storietown@yahoo.com>
(IP: 1Cust69.tnt2.elizabethtown.ky.da.uu.net)
Date:
Wednesday, 18 April 2001, at 4:15 p.m.

Uncommon Bonds

The smile did not mask the grief in Methos' eyes. "Would you like to tell me about it?"

She drew herself back from wherever she had been and met his gaze head on. "What's there to tell? My best friend is dead and it's my fault." She lowered her head into her hands.

"Stay with me, now," Methos encouraged. He wanted to touch her hair, offer reassurance, but for her to even speak to a man after all she had endured was surely torment enough. He braided his fingers into one white-knuckled fist. "Just start at the beginning and tell me what happened. There's no hurry. There's no more danger. You're safe now, and we've all the time in the world. So…you called a toll-free number advertising a trip to Marrakech…"

She sniffled, smeared away tears with the back of her hand. "I just wanted to do something exciting on my own. Jessi was always the one to try new things and tell me about them. I was never allowed to try anything by myself. I got so tired of living in her shadow. I got tired of not being taken seriously. You don't know what it's like to be sixteen years old for two hundred years! You're always too young. You never know enough about anything. Jessi was twenty-five at her first death, so her age was perfect for whatever she wanted to do. She found me and took care of me from the moment I became immortal. We were like sisters. But she's not my mother, and I told her so. I called the number because I just wanted to get away."

She glanced at Methos. His expression morphed fierce-compassionate-angry-sad, but there was no judgment in his eyes. Offering the shadow of a smile, he nodded. "Go on."

"They told me I didn't need money. I would work on the cruise ship during the trip in return for my room and meals. When I arrived, they would evaluate my skills and give me a job with their company. I was guaranteed a position."

Methos winced. "You didn't tell Jessi…"

She shook her head miserably. "I knew she'd explain all the reasons I shouldn't go. Or she'd detail everything that was wrong with my plans, and then tell me how I could accomplish what I wanted to do, only better and faster and easier…and then insist on going with me. And I can take care of myself, I mean, it's not like I don't know how to use a sword! So I stopped by the university on my way out of town to send her an e-mail. I knew by the time she checked her messages, I'd be well on my way."

"But she came after you."

"I didn't know it was all a lie! I didn't realize…how could I have known…" She shuddered into broken-hearted sobs. Unable to suppress his sympathy any longer, Methos draped his arms around the girl, holding her in defiance of personal regrets that had haunted him since the dawn of time.

When the tears subsided Methos called for a nurse, who brought a mild sedative for the young patient; perhaps sleep would spare her the nightmares she had suffered during the waking hours of the previous week.

As he exited the hospital, Methos dug his cell phone out of a pocket and keyed in a number. The call was answered promptly.

"It's me, Joe. You were right, they were both here. Tell Amy that Jill is safe, but she had already been forced into slavery and she's been through a lot. She's going to need friends and time to recover. Local authorities are investigating the organization, but it's bigger than they are. These 'travel agents' are luring young women from all over the world to various countries where they can be traded and sold like livestock.

"Jessi…" Methos swallowed hard and forced out the news…"was beheaded attempting to rescue Jill. By a mortal. Since there was no one to claim her body, she has been buried locally in an unmarked grave." Methos turned off the phone and closed his eyes against the too-late taunt of tender memories, breathing in an exotic perfume that wafted across the centuries …

MWC: The Lesson

Posted By: Wain <wamba@fast.net>
(IP: maxtnt01-280.abepa.fast.net)
Date:
Thursday, 19 April 2001, at 9:16 a.m.

The room was furnished sparsely but elegantly: a bed, an antique glass-fronted case filled with books, a small leather sofa, vertical scrolls of calligraphy hanging on the wall and, in a position that permitted clear view of all those who came through the door, a large, square rosewood table and chair.

Jin Ke sat at the table, which was covered in a soft and snowy expanse of very expensive rice paper. His hand poised over the final character he was writing, dressed simply in a black tee shirt and pants, Jin Ke quite resembled a scholar. He contemplated what he had already written, then dipped his brush into a porcelain saucer of jet-black ink. Holding the brush nearly vertical, he stabbed lightly and decisively at the paper, pushed the bristles slightly to the left and then dragged them right, and finally trailed the bold stroke down into delicate, ragged point.

A deep warning vibration told him that another of his kind was approaching. Jin Ke placed his brush into its stand and waited. Cracker Bob knocked as he was opening the door. He was dressed, as he nearly always was, as a homage to the anti-heroes of Kubrick’s "A Clockwork Orange," ready to cruise the streets with his droogs in search of krasny devochkas. Jin Ke considered his own garish jacket, draped over the arm of the couch. Jacob Kell promoted such outlandish dress to foster a unity of sorts among his followers, and Jin Ke found it politic to display that unity.

Bob sauntered over to the desk and looked at the rice paper. "What’s it say?" he asked.

Jin Ke translated freely, "In governing, the wise man keeps his people’s hearts empty, their bellies full, their ambitions weak, and their bones strong. He always makes the people to be without cunning or desire, and the crafty afraid to act."

"Did you write that?" Bob queried.

Jin Ke replied, "Lao-tse," nodding his head to a Sung dynasty bronze incense holder that represented a man astride a water buffalo.

Bob laughed. "Lao-tse rode cows?"

"It symbolizes the triumph of philosophy over the savage and animal instincts of man," Jin Ke explained, suppressing a disapproving twitch of the muscle under his right eye while lightly outlining the flanks of the bronze beast with his index finger. He turned to Bob. "Are you ready for your lesson?"

In reply, Bob stripped off his fur vest and began unlacing his jackboots. He dropped a careless and nearly disrespectful bow. Jin Ke stood and bowed in return. Without further preamble and without warming up, Bob began to move through the most recent of the dozen or so forms that Jin Ke had tried to teach him over the past two years. Bob had never persevered long enough to achieve a level of mastery in any single form in any of the martial arts. Such a restless and impatient man, Jin Ke thought, would be overwhelmed by boredom in only the life span of an ordinary mortal.

"Stop there," Jin Ke interrupted, and Bob froze. The older Immortal approached the younger, and nudged his foot into wider stance. Bob wobbled and nearly lost his balance.

"Hey!" he complained. "You’re trying to knock me over!"

Jin Ke took a slow breath and released it before answering, "That foot is supposed to be empty, remember? So if I move it out into the correct position, you shouldn’t lose your balance, because there should be no weight on it." Bob nodded as he remembered.

"Will you please go back to ‘box opponent’s ears’ and begin there?" Jin Ke requested.

Bob complied. Jin Ke was careful to use only some of the names of the movements that he taught Bob. The vivid and beautiful names "embrace the moon" and "golden cock spreads his wings" had reduced Bob to giggles and bawdy remarks. "Knife-hand blow" and "strike with fist" were more suited to the mindset of Jin Ke’s student. The Chinese Immortal reminded himself that teaching this young and foolish boy insured the boy’s loyalty. At the same time, keeping Bob busy and out of Jacob Kell’s hair for a short time lent the appearance of loyalty to Jin Ke.

"Place your heel on the ground," Jin Ke corrected. "And lead with your dan tien; don’t lunge with your upper body. There will be no strength in the blow unless you lead from your center."

"How long did it take you to perfect this one?" Bob asked.

Jin Ke paused; he wasn’t sure Bob could appreciate the answer. "I’ll let you know when I have."

Bob opened his mouth; a look of protest was on his face. The ringing of a cell phone drew his attention away from his teacher. By the third ring, Bob had crossed to the couch and pulled the phone from his vest pocket.

"Not now, Faith!" Bob stamped his foot. "I’m practicing with Jin Ke. Can’t someone else pick you up?" He mumbled a bit, looking cowed, and folded up the cell phone.

"I have to pick Faith up at her office," Bob said. "I don’t know why we have to wait on her hand and foot. She lives like a queen; she doesn’t even have to carry a sword because we go everywhere with her."

Jin Ke stood with one arm across his chest, the other arm rested against the first, and his index finger stretched from his jaw to his temple. "We wait on her," he explained to Bob, "because Kell wants us to. And consider: Is she a queen or a slave?"

Bob stepped into a horse stance and picked up his form where he had left off. Jin Ke reached out to raise Bob’s extended wrist slightly and lower his elbow.

"She’s a queen, a prima donna." Bob pouted. He swung his fist savagely through the air.

"Many centuries ago in China," Jin Ke began, "families that wished to show their wealth would bind the feet of their women."

Bob smirked and mocked heavy breathing, "Ooh, bondage. I like kinky, Jin Ke."

Jin Ke summoned the patience to ignore him and continued, "They wrapped the feet of the women to keep them small."

"I’ve heard of that, " Bob said. "They kept the bones from growing or something?"

"The bones grew," Jin Ke informed him, "but they deformed as the toe and foot bones were wrapped underneath the ball of the foot. The beauty was not in the foot itself, but in the implication that here was wealth enough to spare so that the woman did not work, but was instead an ornament to the household."

Bob stopped moving. "What’s this got to do with Faith?" He looked puzzled for a moment, then asked, "Or is the next move called ‘kick with bound foot’?" He curled his toes up and gave a tentative and experimental kick.

Jin Ke continued very softly without answering, "A woman with bound feet could not walk unassisted. And she was faced with a decision: to live in restricted comfort or to unbind her feet and endure the painful months as her tendons and muscles tried to right themselves." He noticed Bob’s eyes glittering at the thought of such protracted torture. "Even then, such a woman would always walk in pain, but she could at least walk."

A look of confusion crossed Bob’s face. Jin Ke bowed a dismissal to him and added, "You should go get Faith now."

Bob laced up his boots and shrugged his vest back on. He still had an unsettled look on his face.

Jin Ke returned to his seat behind the rosewood desk. He removed a small stick of dry vermilion ink from a velvet-lined case and rubbed it against a stone, judiciously adding few drops of water. Satisfied with the consistency of the ink, he pressed his chop into it and applied it carefully to the calligraphy he had been working on earlier. He contemplated the pattern of dry and wet spots in the ink.

Bob still stood confused before him. Jin Ke tried one more time. "I know why the caged bird sings," he quoted.

Bob waggled his finger in the air and brightened in triumph. "I know . . . Confucius!" he crowed.

Jin Ke smiled and nodded imperceptibly as Bob left the room.

MWC: Out of the Blue

Posted By: Robin <Catnature@yahoo.com>
(IP: 1Cust71.tnt1.santa-cruz.ca.da.uu.net)
Date:
Thursday, 19 April 2001, at 1:15 a.m.

"Joe's" Joe answered the phone.

"Joe, is Methos there?" came voice he would never expected to hear ask that question.

"Yes."

"May I speak to him?"

Joe handed the phone to Methos.

"Hello?"

"Methos, we need to talk."

Methos paled and sat up a little straighter. "About?" he asked cautiously.

"History, slavery, time, understanding and us. Please met me in the park in one hour."

"I will be there."

"Thank you." Cassandra pushes the end button on her cell phone.

Of Heaven and Hell

Posted By: Celedon <celedon1@airmail.net>
(IP: ppp03-1036.algx.iadfw.net)
Date:
Thursday, 19 April 2001, at 12:34 a.m.

The splashing of ice cold water made him gasp in deep lungfuls of air when it hit his almost fully naked flesh. "My God!" he cried out then struggled against the tight bonds that held him down to the small cot. But it was to no avail. He attempted to sit up but his efforts were met by a stinging slap across his face.

"Dog! You would dare to escape me?" the female voice pounded into his now throbbing head. "You cannot and will not do so! If you try, it will mean instant death!"

Hugh Fitzcairn groggily shook his head, trying to clear the fog that seeped through it. The last thing he remembered was talking to a very beautiful Asian woman in one of the local Parisian bars he frequented often because it offered some of the only Guiness in Paris. And, he thought to himself, he had been making some progress with the lass too--had even gotten her to leave the establishment with him. But after they left....there was nothing to remember except a blinding flash of pain and darkness.

The darkness still surrounded him even now. Whoever had him, had blindfolded him quite effectively so that not a single glimmer of light could be seen from under it. He could hear quite well the tittering of several female voices that seemed to be coming in all directions and surrounding him all at once. "I say, milady, " he began, then paused as the sound of laughter filled the air.

What kind of hell was he in now?

Fingers tore and pried at his blindfold; he moved his head about in order to try to help remove it as quickly as possible. The light, when it came, shot screaming shafts of pain into his eyes as they adjusted to the sight of it again.

Blinking, he looked about at the dimly lit room aglow with what appeared to be hundreds of candles all lit. He slowly rotated his head about and saw much to his surprise, a entire bevy of young, nubile women all lined up in various stages of undress all about the walls and out into what appeared to be a corridor. "Where am I?" he said in wonder at all the sights he saw before him to no one in particular. "What are you going to do with me?"

The woman who he had met in the Parisian bar stepped into his view, hands on hips. She carefully looked him over, from the top of his golden curls to the tips of his pale toes then smiled a smile that was both lascivious and evil at the same time. "You have become our slave. You will do what we command, when we command, do you understand this, foreign dog?"

Disbelieving his ears, Fitz looked wide eyed at her. "Your slave?"

The woman ran a hand lightly down the length of his body as she looked deeply into his eyes. "You will service us and fulfill our every desire." She paused for a moment and seductively licked her lips. "You come highly recommended indeed, Hugh Fitzcairn."

If Fitzcairn could, he would have puffed up his chest with pride at the compliment but instead only nodded in compliance to what she said. Under his breath, he whispered, "I should hope I come highly recommended, by God!" then caught his breath as the first young woman approached him then began to straddle him.

Closing his eyes, he said a silent prayer then said to himself, "Hell be damned--this place is Heaven indeed!"

MWC: Old Friends

Posted By: Ysanne
(IP: dhcp065-024-105-229.columbus.rr.com)
Date:
Friday, 20 April 2001, at 11:34 a.m.

Lush, smooth, bluesy, the saxophone solo floated on the warm, candle-scented air, supported by brushes on drums and a quiet bass beat. The only other sound was the muffled slide of shoes on the wooden floor as two people circled slowly, dancing to the music drifting from the speakers. The man was tall and broad-shouldered and the slender woman was nearly as tall as he, fitting neatly into his arms. They moved with the ease of a couple that has been dancing together for decades. As the vocal began again, the man twirled with his partner, smiling down into her bright brown eyes.

Perry Como’s voice caressed the lyrics: “Alone from night to night you’ll find me/Too weak to break the chains that bind me/I need no shackles to remind me/I’m just a prisoner of love.”

“Reminds me of the time you were a slave-girl and I rescued you from the sultan’s dungeon,” MacLeod teased, “prisoner of love and all…”

He bent Amanda back over his arm expertly and drew her back up, keeping time with the song.

“I was not a slave-girl, I was a dancer, and you took your sweet time breaking me out of there,” protested Amanda. “Too busy picking out another of the ladies, since your first choice was hauled off to jail?”

She followed his lead perfectly through a series of intricate dance steps.

“My first choice? I seem to remember you ordering me to get you out of there. Interrupted my grape-eating, and a few other plans, too, if I recall.”

Amanda pouted prettily and gave him a sidelong look from under her eyelashes. “And I recall that you ended up being rather pleased with how the whole thing ended up.”

“Except for that arrow-in-the-arse thing, Amanda, which I remember all too clearly!”

The old vinyl record skipped, throwing their rhythm off, but the dancers persevered, having allowed for this anomaly many times before. Como had started the last verse: “…Upon my knees to her I’m creeping….”

“That’s how I remember the arrow thing, darling,” Amanda purred, “and a very pretty sight it was, you on your hands and knees.”

She slipped her hand down to pat the place where she had kissed the wound ‘to make it better,’ and giggled when MacLeod simply smirked, covered her hand with his own and continued dancing.

“Your dancing has improved since then,” he observed blandly, pulling her closer.

“As has your wardrobe,” she shot back, “but I do miss the long hair sometimes.”

She freed her hands and pushed her fingers through his short, wavy hair, then put both arms around his neck. MacLeod looked down at her, barely moving to the music, his hands resting on her small waist.

“I miss yours, too, sometimes,” he said softly, nuzzling her short ‘do. “In fact,” he admitted, his voice just a breath of sound, “I’ve been missing you.”

The sudden silence was marred only by soft sighs and the tiny clicks from the arm of the record player as it automatically retracted and let another record fall. Frank Sinatra’s baritone filled the room: “I’ll be seeing you in all the old familiar places/That this heart of mine embraces/All day through/In a small café, the park across the way/The children’s carousel, the chestnut tree, the wishing well.”

Without realizing it, they were dancing again, their eyes closed.

“Ever meet Old Blue Eyes?” Duncan asked after a while.

“Uh-huh. But I prefer brown eyes,” she said dreamily, feeling Duncan’s smile against her temple.

“I’ll be seeing you in every lovely summer’s day/In everything that’s bright and gay/I’ll always think of you that way,” crooned Sinatra.

Duncan’s arms tightened and Amanda heard a new note in his voice when he spoke again. “Can you stay?” he asked.

Before she could reply the music was interrupted by a shrill spate of electronic sound. They stopped dancing and Amanda took a step back, her hands on her partner’s chest.

“It’s my cell,” she said.

“Let it ring,” Duncan suggested quickly, “you’ve got voice mail.”

“But…”

“Please,” he said softly, but he stepped back as well, releasing her from the circle of his arms.

Amanda searched his face in the shifting candlelight. “Kisses won’t make this better, Duncan,” she told him.

“No.” He lowered his gaze to the floor, waiting.

“I’ll see you in the morning sun/And when the night is new/I’ll be looking at the moon/But I’ll be seeing you,” Sinatra sang, and the music faded away.

“But I wish they could,” she said, closing the small distance between them and gathering him into her arms, “And I’ve missed you too. I always do.” She held him tightly, feeling his warm, rough cheek rub against hers, the eager touch so familiar, so well-loved. “Always,” she repeated quietly.

Ysanne

MWC: Chains of Memory

Posted By: Ghost Cat <ghost_cat@hotmail.com>

Deb waved one last time to the bartender as she left the Bonded Blade; she’d have to cut down on her visits to the Blade. She was beginning to slip into a routine, and routines could be traced. She still hadn’t developed that healthy dose of paranoia that kept most Immortals on their toes. After all, who would want someone like her?

It took a couple of tugs on her coat/cloak before the fabric would lie smoothly over her hidden sword; somehow being without it for a while required a period of readjustment. The sense of a Buzz tugged at her awareness, guiding her towards the mouth of an alley. As usual, she knew the feel of it, as individual as a fingerprint. “Cassandra? Don’t worry, it’s only me…”

There was a movement in the alley, a shadow within a shadow. It all happened with terrifying speed; in an instant she found herself pinned against a building wall, the point of a blade hooked under her chin. She couldn’t side step, couldn’t retreat, and any attempt at ducking would be hazardous to her health. A whisper from the shadows, “I taught you better than this!”

Deb sincerely wished that all Immortal lessons didn’t need to be quite so severe. She spoke quickly, the words coming out in a rush; “Yes, I know; I was careless. But the only reason I wasn’t on guard was because I knew it was you. No one can hide the feel of their Q. Except maybe Methos—“

The mere mention of that name provoked a hissing intake of breath; the sword tip jerked suddenly and Deb could feel the warmth of the first few drops of blood. “That monster; that Beast! You wanted me to go back to him. I will never go back to him.” For the first time, Deb could see the other woman: her hair wild, skin pale, sweat on her brow, her green eyes almost glowing with a kind of mania. “Never again! Do you know how many times he raped me, how many times he killed me?”

Deb didn’t really fear for her life, adrenaline still coloured everything with a sense of unreality. What was truly frightening was seeing her mentor, such a strong, beautiful, self-reliant woman, reduced to such a state. She couldn’t keep the note of panic out of her voice; “Please Cass, let’s talk about this; while I still have all parts of my anatomy intact.” Her eyes turned aside; she didn’t dare look into those eyes any more than she would lock gazes with a mad dog.

She thought she saw someone approaching, someone she could see but not feel. There was a sizzling sound and a smell of ozone; Cassandra crumpled to the ground. Deb gaped at the sight of Stephen, blue sparks still crackling from his stunner as he watched the limp body for movement. He looked up, surprised to see her still there, “Go on! I’ve already done more than I should; now, go, go!”

She ran blindly, sprinting for the nearest Holy Ground site. Slamming the heavy church door behind her, she leaned on it wearily. In a kind of shock, she reached up to see if she was still bleeding. Her fingers were barely spotted with red, but it was undeniable evidence that whole nightmare encounter had been real. You wanted me to go back to him. Had her innocent little jukebox experiment finally driven her teacher over the edge? She had never imagined, never tried to imagine what those years must have been like. She remembered the anguish in the witch-woman’s voice; the helpless pleading of an abused ex-slave: Do you know how many times he raped me, how many times he killed me? A quick sweep of the room revealed that the church was empty: good, Deb wasn’t sure if she could have coped with a priest or worse, a congregation, in her condition. Just as she was starting to relax, there was a pounding on the door. “Traitor!”

Deb opened the tiniest crack in the door, “Look, I made a mistake. Why don’t you come inside and we can talk about this?”

“Why don’t you come out here and we won’t have to talk!” Before Deb could shut herself in again, a sword blade was jammed into the crack as Cassandra tried to lever open the door. The fact that she was resorting to such brute force attacks said much for her state of mind. Deb knew though, that it wouldn’t take long for the witch-woman to calm down enough to try and Voice her out. Deb’s own Talents ran more toward physical than mental manipulation; nonetheless it took almost all her energy to kinetically shove her attacker away from the door.

Deb didn’t realise she had blacked out until she found herself stretched out on the cold stone floor, a potentially fatal mistake. Scrambling to her feet, she retreated into the interior to plan. Reaching into her pocket, she discovered she still had her cell phone. She looked down at the handset uncertainly, calling for help felt so much like failure. The sight of Methos would surely provoke a war and besides, he could only be contacted when he wanted to be found. She couldn’t take the ten-year lecture she’d get from MacLeod, even if she were willing to run to him for a rescue again. That only left one choice; dialling quickly, she muttered a small prayer as she counted rings. Answer; please let her answer…

She heard a perky voice; “Amanda’s phone!”

“Sheila, you have got to get out of the habit of answering other people’s cell phones.” Deb paused for breath, not liking the ominous silence outside; “I don’t have time for this! I need to talk to Amanda, NOW.”

Concern wiped the cheerfulness from the woman’s voice. “Where are you?”

“I’ve been cornered on Holy Ground by a green-eyed Witch and she’s gone completely off the deep end.”

“Cornered? By a… Oooh! She’s right here.” There was a pause as the phone was passed over and Deb quickly repeated her dilemma.

Amanda sounded shocked and amazed; “Cassandra? She’s your mentor; what in Heaven’s name did you do to her?”

Suddenly it all sounded so ridiculous, even in her own mind. “Last week, at the Blade, I sort of—well, I tried to get her and Methos back together again….”

“Get them back together? They never were together; he owned her!”

“Yeah, I’ve figured that out, now. Obviously it didn’t work; she was pretty angry at the time, but that was it. Now it looks like there was a lot more damage than I thought. It’s like she doesn’t know where she is, or when. She seems fixated on a time just after she first escaped from the Horsemen. She keeps screaming ‘I won’t go back to him, I’ll never go back!’ She needed something to lash out at, and I was the first target she saw.”

There was a long deep sigh on the line, so unlike Amanda’s customary confident air. “Can’t you call the Boy Scout on this one? He knows her, and her problems, so much better than I.”

Rape. “I really don’t think having a man around would be too healthy, for anyone involved.” A man around: God, did Cassandra know who attacked her in the alley? Deb hoped that Stephen had sense enough to keep his head down. Bloody Hell, she wasn’t even supposed to know who her Watcher was, never mind worrying about him.

She turned her attention back to the phone; Amanda sounded as if she finally understood the severity of the situation. “Stay put, we’ll be there as soon as possible.”

“We? Wait, Sheila’s not ready for this kind of thing yet!” Too late, the line was empty, as if she didn’t have enough to worry about already.

Stay put, she says, as if I have a choice. Deb huddled in one of the pews, reviewing everything she had learned from her mentor, all the elder woman’s considerable skills. She knew of only two defences against a Voice attack: one was pure willpower; the other was to not hear it at all. Not trusting her own mental state, Deb blasted her ears with music, heart-pounding marches from a Lucas soundtrack, until the batteries ran dry on her Discman. Even afterward, she kept the earphones in place, just to hear the hissing white noise.

§ § §

Elsewhere, two women dropped everything (including some great bargains) to help a good friend. Sheila insisted on coming; she may not know much about Immortals yet, but she did know a thing or two about women in crisis. She gave what advice she could quickly and succinctly on the trip across town. “Victims of abuse never completely recover from their experiences; events years later can set off a fight-or-flight reaction—“

“I think this time we can narrow that down a bit, don’t you think? We’re definitely going to be dealing with Fight here.”

Sheila nodded, ignoring the interruption; “All the more reason for us to be as unthreatening as possible: come in slowly, unarmed.”

“We have to be non-threatening? She’s the one who’s attacking her student.”

“She’s not attacking her student, not in her own mind. She’s attacking her abuser, the only way she can.”

The dispute broke off before they got close, but it was never truly resolved. They made their final approach on foot; slowly, without appearing to be a danger. Against all her deepest survival instincts, Amanda threw aside her blade, far out of reach, as soon as Cassandra felt her coming. Sheila, unarmed and untrained, merely held up both empty hands in an open gesture. “We’re not here to hurt you. No one here is going to hurt you.” This last was spoken more emphatically, a warning to the Watcher to stay out of sight.

Cassandra spun around, feeling the intruders trying to ambush her. She hesitated as one of them threw aside her weapon and the other seemed to surrender. A confused, almost childlike expression flickered across her face; a slow, tentative finger pointed to Amanda, “I’m not supposed to know you, yet.” She turned to the unarmed woman, a fiery redhead like herself; “You I don’t know at all.”

Amanda stepped forward with elaborate care, “It’s later than you think. The world has changed, and so have you. You don’t have to be a victim anymore.” The redhead shot Amanda a you’re not helping glare and, surprisingly, the thief backed down.

Deb used the distraction to sneak out into the open. She slid under the entrance steps, painfully reminded of her younger days, hiding under the basement stairs while her parents argued. The same anxiety fluttered in her stomach, the shocked realisation that a loved one could be dangerous. Before she was halfway under cover, she noticed her Watcher huddled there, a pistol in one hand, a cell phone in the other. Stress gave her whisper a hissing edge; “You use either one of those, I’ll kill you myself.” Without enough room to hide them both, she made for a nearby tree in a crouching sprint. On the way, she overheard the first exchange, amazed that even the Donkey could silence Amanda.

Motioning Amanda to back off, Sheila stepped forward herself, without violating the woman’s personal space. Her voice was calm, steady; “You’re right, you don’t know me. My name is Sheila Woodyard. I don’t want to hurt you; I’m a friend. I know what you’ve been through…”

“You can’t understand what HE did to me,” Cassandra interrupted angrily. “No one can.”

Sheila ignored the verbal attack, continuing without hesitation. “No Cass, I can’t relate to the death, to the killings. You are so right about that, but I can relate to the beatings, the forced sexual acts, the feeling of total worthlessness and shame. I know how it feels to be bruised and battered and to have to lie about how it happened. I know what it’s like not to be able to tell anyone, or do anything about it.” As the words poured out, her voice rose, until, without her realising it, she was almost shouting: “I know what it is to live in constant fear of it happening again!

With great effort, Sheila reigned in her emotions; taking a deep breath, she exhaled a slow, calming breath. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to yell, but after 6 or 7 different ‘incidents’ of my own, the anger sometimes rises to the surface faster than I can keep it in check. That is why I quit working the Crisis Lines; I was too personally involved.”

Cassandra flinched at the sudden sharp tone, suppressing the reaction instantly. Anger still burned hot within her, and she had no intention of being counselled. She voice dripped sarcasm, “And I suppose you’ve got my best interests at heart.” One hand waved vaguely in the direction of the church; “Just like her. You all want me to go back to HIM!”

“No Cass, that is the furthest thing from my mind. I would never send you back to the monster that did this to you! The Gods only know what I would have done to myself—what I would still try—if someone tried to do that to me.” Slowly she pulled up both sleeves, revealing a precise geometric pattern of scars; marks she made into her flesh in a moment of despair, now fixed in place forever. “I gained these scars;” Cassandra’s shocked reaction was half gasp, half sigh; “for damned good reasons! I want to be your friend, someone to talk to when this hits you; someone who knows and understands. Trust me girl, if it was not for some of my own personal safety shields I built up over the years, who knows what may have happened. I also know that we are destined to have these flashbacks—that’s what’s happening to you right now—and there is no earthly way we will ever be able to combat them. Please let me be your friend and personal Sounding Board. I do want to help, in whatever way I can.”

Cassandra’s wariness toward the younger Immortal was fading, but she sent a quick glare behind her. “How can I trust my secrets to you as a friend if I cannot even trust my own student? She wants to turn a nightmare into a fairy tale; she thinks everything will have a happy ending if you just try hard enough!”

Sighing, Sheila simply shrugged her shoulders. After taking another deep breath, she continued. “Cass, I understand what you are saying. It took me years to find somebody I could talk to, and even now I can’t tell him everything yet.” That statement drew a gasp and a puzzled look from the witch. The words “A MALE?!?” burst from her lips; “After everything you say you’ve been through?”

“Yes, a man. But you have to realise that he’s someone who is very close to me, who went through Hell and back again with me. Now that I am what I have become, I will never be able to share with him like that again…he thinks I’m dead. Talk about ripping off a limb! Seriously, the two of us were like brother and sister, and I was never close to my own family. As for fairy tale endings; well, sometimes, for some people, it really does happen.” Another shrug; “Not for Immortals, I guess, but you have to remember, she is a writer! She may have her head in the clouds—” Sheila quickly realised this was not a good time to mention the word head, but she forged ahead before Cassandra noticed; “but her heart’s in the right place.”

Cassandra hesitated, that same child-like expression flashing briefly in her eyes. She sighed, “Yes, they go so quickly don’t they? We will never have anything resembling a Lifelong Friend again.” It was the first sign of sympathy, or perhaps empathy, that she has shown so far.

“So true, which is why those friendships we do make now are so important.” Sheila stopped, instinctively wiping away the tear that was forming; sniffing faintly, she continued her response. “I am being truly honest and earnest with you when I say I want to be your friend. You’d be able to trust me with your deepest secrets, your complaints, thoughts; as well as your life. Just ask anyone who’s ever known me. Please?”

A crooked smile tugged at a corner of her mouth, faint but genuine. “You must be new, or else you wouldn’t promise a life so quickly. But you do make sense for a Youngling. I think I like you.”

Sheila returned the smile, replying, “That’s true, I am young, but I do take my friendships seriously. What do you think of us leaving here and going for a pizza or something, so we can talk in relative privacy? We can get to know each other better before diving into our sordid pasts. I know a great spot near here that uses all natural ingredients and a wholewheat crust. No additives, no preservatives!”

For the first time, Cassandra’s musical laughter rang through the air. “As if Our Kind has any need for preservatives!” She took a few cautious steps toward Sheila before turning around slowly. “Thief? Dreamer? Are you two coming or not?”

§ § §

The group took over an entire corner of the pizza place for several hours, the conversation ranging from the profound to the ridiculous. Things finally seemed as close to normal as it would get, but Deb still felt there was something that needed to be done. Listening to the heart-rending stories on both sides had driven her to tears more than once. She knew that it would take a lot more than she could do to bring the two Elders together, if that ever happened at all. She needed to apologise.

She reached a hand across the table; “Teacher, mentor, friend; I hope you understand, I never wanted you to go back. I wanted you to move forward. The Horsemen cast a very long shadow, and you were never truly out from underneath it. I only wanted to see what you looked like in the light. Do you forgive me?”

Cassandra’s smile warred with the hard expression in her eyes. “You can be forgiven, you meant well. But the Last Horseman can stay in his own Hell for all I care!”

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