As soon as I read the theme, I could picture some of
the scenes, and once I started writing I couldn’t stop. Two days later
I had a story four pages long—I had to post it to the Forum in parts! This
is a slightly cleaned up version, a Forum member kindly pointed out my
distressing tendency to change tenses in mid-paragraph. Nevertheless, I’m
quite proud of the results. The Ghost Cat presents…
There was an ominous rumble of thunder where the two Immortals faced each other. As two swords hit with ringing force, a bolt of lightning struck the crossed blades, throwing both men, stunned, to the ground.
And what a crowd it was: men and women of all ages and descriptions wearing everything from trench coats to elaborate period costumes. Everywhere he looked MacLeod saw a blade, on hips, across shoulders, tied to backpacks. Either the Gathering had jumped to a new level without his knowing it, or something very weird was happening. He had to look twice at the black T-shirt worn by a teen: the words "Tessa Noel—Lest We Forget" above a stylised gravestone.
MacLeod reached the hotel entrance without spotting Xavier, very worried about what that man could do in a place like this. A man in a security uniform grabbed his shoulder, "I'm sorry, sir. Weapons check, please open your coat."
"I don't know what you're talking about. I have to get in there to meet a (hem) friend." He gave the man an appraising look--the guard seemed nervous, but not overly so. "Is there some kind of problem here?"
Another guard, with a supervisor's tag, jogged over quickly as soon as he noticed the line slowing down. His eyes widened slightly as he noticed the dark haired stranger; he looked down at his clipboard, looked one more time. What fool told him to come in the front? he thought to himself with an audible sigh. He pulled the other guard aside, "Wilkin, you idiot, don't you know who that is? Let him through before the rest of them notice."
The younger guard stammered an apology to MacLeod as the supervisor guided him through several back hallways. Duncan followed without trouble, better to try to talk his way out in private than to make a public scene. Things were getting more confusing by the minute. A weapons check at the door to a hotel? Guards who recognised him on sight? This smelled of Xavier’s trickery, but how could he have arranged all this so quickly?
The supervisor seemed a bit uncomfortable; he couldn’t stop talking. "I’m really quite sorry this had to happen. We weren’t told to expect you up front, it’s usually a better idea to meet the Guest out back before the fans get wind of it. Plus most of the time there’s a couple of bodyguards to keep an eye on things in case we don’t find you right away. You going incognito for a reason today, sir? Or can I call you Mr. Paul?"
Mac forced a smile despite his growing confusion, "You can call me Duncan, but I’d really prefer if you didn’t use my name at all".
"Wow, you really like to get into character. Whatever works, I guess. Even the costume looks authentic". Before he could stop it, the guard reached out an admiring hand, "Is that real leather?" The coat opened slightly as Duncan tried to pull away, revealing a flash of steel. The guard froze instantly, dropping the cloth as he backed away a step. "Look, I’m all for attention to detail, but you really should peacebond that thing, if only to set an example for everyone else. I’m truly sorry, I thought they told you that kind of thing in advance…"
Duncan thought quickly as the guard started to reach into his pocket. The situation was rapidly spinning out of control, and who knew what Xavier might be doing while he wasted his time here. He flashed his best smile and stepped forward, "You really don’t have to apologise for doing your job. If anything, I should be the one to apologise."
The guard looked up, startled, "Apologise, for what?"
"For this—" a single hand-strike, hard and fast; the guard dropped soundlessly to the floor. He’d wake up with a headache, but otherwise none the worse for wear. With hardly a pause, he dashed down the hall. Another convention guard, on patrol, entered the hall just in time to see a dark figure turn a corner. He leaned over the fallen supervisor, grabbing his radio mike, "Savage is down. We’ve got an intruder, possibly armed, heading toward the Green Room." Over a burst of static, he could hear dispatch confirm the alarm, followed by a muttered "This whole place is ‘possibly armed’, give me a Trek con any day".
Xavier had no idea where he was or how he got here, but he hadn’t survived this long letting opportunities slip away. With MacLeod acting as a free diversion, it wasn’t difficult to slip into the building unnoticed. Whatever event was taking place here today seemed to make even the most bizarre occurrences normal by comparison. As he wove his way though the hordes of (ugh) mortals, no one seemed to pay him much attention. A few random comments were directed his way, things that made no sense like "Cool K’Immie" or "Check out the arm" and several mock hisses and boos. Ducking through a door to escape the attention, he found himself in a kind of mini marketplace, makeshift tables displaying merchandise of all kinds, most of it plastered with that damned Highlander’s face. Now that he was looking for it, Xavier noticed that many of the mortals here seem to be imitating him—disgusting. If he was forced to stay here much longer he was quite sure he’d be physically ill.
MacLeod rushed down another empty corridor, only to see it end in a single door. He hardly slowed as he slammed through the door—and came to a dead stop. Confronting him were two men armed with guns and…himself? If it weren’t for the short hair Duncan could easily be looking in a mirror. Caught in a moment of shock, he didn’t notice the one bodyguard, already spooked by the security alarm, tighten his finger on the trigger. ‘Not again’ was all he had time to think before a hammer blow hit him in the chest.
Adrian Paul was a pretty easygoing guy; you had to be to voluntarily appear at conventions that had their own weapon codes. He’d seen some strange things in his day, a few overzealous fans, a stalker or two; but never before (outside a nice safe sound stage) had he watched his own double shot dead in front of his eyes. And when that same dead man got to his feet and efficiently disarmed both his bodyguards without breaking a sweat, Adrian knew things have gone too far. Either he was dealing with a very unstable man in a bulletproof vest; or else reality had just turned inside out. "What the hell is going on here?"
"Xavier St. Cloud," said the double, as if that explained everything. The two stared each other down for several heartbeats, a silent challenge. It’s the Shatner effect, Adrian thought, I’ve lived the myth so long I’m starting to believe it myself. Nevertheless something clicked in his mind and he knew what needed to be done. "What can I do to help?"
The stranger nodded once, "Get as many people out of here as you can, and make sure no one gets in my way".
Debra wandered the convention in a daze, still in awe: her first Highlander Con, and in Vancouver no less. It was so amazing, so wonderful, though there were some intimidating moments: one guy out there in a Xavier getup looked like he’d gone off the deep end. She could hardly wait for the guest of honour to appear. As if on cue, a door opened and a familiar figure stepped into view. At most cons, the guest always seemed fairly casual, no one here expected that AP would appear in character. The intensity that came across on screen seemed to hang in the air like a coming storm. The bare blade was a bit of a surprise, considering the Holy Ground policy, but Deb supposed that the star of the show was allowed to make a grand entrance.
One of the K’Immies in the crowd spun around with unnatural speed and Deb was close enough to see a look of pure hatred. This was no costumed fan. Like a wave the crowd parted, leaving plenty of room for what they suspected was an unscheduled sword demonstration. It was into this expectant silence that another Adrian Paul stepped, microphone in hand and flanked by convention security. One guard looked like he was nursing a nasty bump.
If there was one thing that could capture the attention of every Highlander fan on the planet, it was the Voice, and Adrian used it to full advantage. "Attention everyone, we have a Situation. Please leave the Hall in a calm and orderly fashion; there are guards at the doors to help guide you out. This is not a drill, this is NOT part of the show." A few people drifted toward the exits on herd instinct, but most of the fans remained focused on the two duellists, afraid to miss anything exciting. Poor Debbie was frozen by the thought of two Duncans—two Adrians—too bizarre!
A second voice, same as the first, needed no amplification to reach the farthest corners of the hall, "Listen to the man, people. This is Real. Get out of here, NOW!"
A chilling laugh, known and hated by every Hlander, cut through the chaos. "Look at your flock Highlander, sheep who wish they were wolves. They all worship you, and they’ll all have the honour of seeing you go down." Scornful eyes searched for an easy victim; Debra tried to run—too slow, too late! —And found herself caught in a claw-like grip. "How about you, do you wish you were Immortal? How’d you like to lose your head?" Somehow you never truly appreciated the phrase ‘cold steel’ until you felt it laid against your own throat. For years she’d been accused of letting her fantasies run away with her, but this was too real for comfort.
"Let her go, Xavier; you know you want me." It was a stock phrase that could have been lifted out of any episode script, but there was a genuine compassion in the voice that no rehearsed line could achieve. Xavier swung the girl around like a rag doll, displayed her like a prize. To check a growing sense of panic, she focused on a pair of clear brown eyes; those eyes seemed very, very old to her. Adrian Paul was a damned fine actor, but some things could not be faked. This was Duncan MacLeod, of the Clan MacLeod. And if that was the real Mac, then she was about to be sliced open by an 800-year-old man with no conscience.
She closed her eyes, forced her breathing to slow…Think dammit, concentrate! You call yourself an Hlander, it’s Name that K’Immie, and the winner gets to stay alive. Her racing thoughts now had something to focus on: Xavier St. Cloud. 800 years old, overconfident, likes gimmicks, cheats at duels (don’t they all?). Concentrate; don’t let your mind wander, girl. What are the weaknesses? Hates Mac, hates mortals (now there’s a reassuring thought); underestimates mortals. Bingo!
Panic rose to the surface: Not me, I’m not the hero type. A snatch of dialogue drifted through her mind unbidden… There are those who watch, and there are those who take action.
"Take the bastard, Duncan!" she shouted, driving an elbow into her captor’s gut with all her strength. It was a manoeuvre she had seen a hundred times, but never tried herself. She could hear a satisfying grunt of pain in the same instant she felt a cold line drawn across her neck. There was a strange sense of detachment as she felt her body start to fall; smelled the copper-salt tang of her own blood; heard a swish and a thud from above. So this is what shock feels like. The world turned surreal as one MacLeod crouched over her, yelling for an ambulance, while another stood framed in a pale blue aurora. "Goodbye, Duncan" she whispered as consciousness drifted slowly away.
Debra awoke in a hospital, her first sight a handsome
face she knew instinctively as an actor and not the man she had been willing
to lay down her life for. Adrian knew the truth, and somehow felt responsible.
The Hero of the Con was showered with personal AP attention that a hundred
female fans would have killed for. Amazingly enough, she survived with
no permanent damage, except a faint scar she laughingly called her Kalas
impersonation. She continued to watch the show, and treasured her personalised
photo ("To one who knows the meaning of sacrifice: Adrian Paul"); but after
that she never could bring herself to go to another HL-Con. Just as well,
once you’ve met Duncan MacLeod AND Adrian Paul, everything else was pretty
much an anti-climax…