Amanda, who had generously provided the catsuit, was searching the depths of her cavernous walk-in closet for something appropriate. Haunting music from the classic Phantom of the Opera played in the background, completing the mood: "Close you eyes and surrender to your darkest dreams. Purge your thoughts of the life you knew before. Close your eyes; let your spirit start to soar. And you'll live as you never lived beforeÖ." All Hallowís Eve was approaching and everyone was getting into it, with one exception.
MacLeod paced the floor with a scowl that could have inspired a few masks; "I canít believe youíre doing this. And you, do you have any idea how dangerous it is to encourage a writer?"
Deb wanted look Mac in the eye, but Methos had an iron grip on her chin as he worked on her tiger stripes. "Look, I know we have to stay low-key most of the time and not attract attention, but this is Halloween, Samhain if I remember correctly. When the borders of reality weaken; when spirits and legends walk the earth. Itís also a time when you come straight from a Q, covered with blood and still smelling faintly of smoke; and the only reaction youíd get is who does your makeup? Iím not going to be careless, but Iím not going to stop having fun either!"
Amanda, an incurable fun-lover herself, rose to the authorís defence; "I donít know what youíre worried about, the partyís on Holy Ground. Iím sure we wonít be the only Immortals looking to let their hair down tonight."
"Iím more concerned about the ones who decide this is the perfect time to go hunting." He sighed deeply; "All right, Iíll go. If youíre keeping an eye on her, then someone will have to keep an eye on you."
"Wonderful!" With a flourish the young writer arose from the makeup chair, completely transformed. As a tiger-woman, in black and white, she was the essence of beauty, grace and power. "Carpe Noctem everyone, seize the night!"
§ § §
Duncan made a gorgeous samurai, resplendent in a silken gi and embroidered sash. A katana, THE katana, rode prominently on his hip and from his unconscious swagger it was obvious he missed the days when you could wear a sword openly. Amanda and Methos had spent hours arguing about costumes until they finally made the mistake of asking for suggestions.
"Tell me, have you ever heard of a little something called The Rocky Horror Picture Show?" Deb asked with a truly wicked grin. She and Amanda shared one conspiratorial look and, before he could protest, the fishnet stockings and garters were already in place. MacLeod almost answered the eternal question of whether it is possible to die laughing. He nearly collapsed from embarrassment as Amanda stepped out in an antique 17th Century wedding gown. With her patented disarming smile she commented, "Well, I've always wanted to wear one."
It was obvious from the start that this was no ordinary Halloween party. The word Buzz didnít begin to describe the wave of concentrated power that swept over them from within the old church. They all felt the difference; Debra, the Sensitive among them, nearly fell to her knees. The boys caught her, one on each arm; "Are you going to be okay?"
She nodded slowly, waving off their assistance. "Iím fine. I justÖnever thought there could be that much Q in one place. I hope Cassandra isnít here." Methos went pale for a second under his makeup, muttering a fervent "So do I."
Their smiling host was waiting at the gate; he was dressed in royal splendour, though MacLeod recognised him as a former monk. A familiar face was quite reassuring, and Duncan was sure the man, an old friend of Brother Paul, could keep the peace. The rules were fairly simple: weapons could be worn if desired, but should not be used in anger (this was, after all, Holy Ground); rivalries should be put aside for the night. Other than that, it was pretty much no holds barred; though behaviour that was truly outrageous was discouraged.
Inside they were confronted by a bewildering array of costumes historical, literary and theatrical. Deb couldnít help but think again of Phantom: "Masquerade, paper faces on parade; masquerade! Stop and stare at the sea of smiles around you." One group seemed quieter than the rest, keeping to themselves like dour chaperones at a high school dance: the Watchers. Methos was suddenly glad for the sheer audacity of his costume, which would never be associated with the quiet, thoroughly unimaginative Adam Pierson.
The church, though still consecrated, had not seen use for decades; the pews had been removed, leaving plenty of room for celebration. Those who found it too crowded inside could retire to the relative quiet of the cemetery. Eclectic seemed to be the watchword for the night. Modern music of various styles competed with the classics and rhythms too old to have a name; a banquet was laid out representing scores of cultures and eras. Deb was amazed, "Whoíd have ever thought that Immies could party?" Methos, close enough to hear the comment, merely shrugged; "What did you expect; this is a celebration of Death. Eat, drink and be merryÖ" The other half of that phrase hung in the air, unspoken: for tomorrow we may die.
The Cat pulled up her hood and wandered through the crowds, fascinated. She found herself constantly swept into dances, both partnered and group, but that was the least of her worries. The more she mingled, the more she regretted getting separated from her friends, as the entertainment grew steadily stranger. Gambling was popular it seemed, anything that involved a risk. Dice and cards were common, but so were more esoteric games: knife-throwing contests; impromptu sparring matches, which attracted side-bets almost instantly, as well as other pastimes, some of them bearing an uncomfortable resemblance to Chicken or variations of Russian Roulette.
Backing away from the risk-takers, she nearly ran over a group who appeared to be trying to embalm themselves. A coloured bottle of some thick, bitter-scented liquid was being passed around, "Absinthe?" Deb pulled back quickly, "No, uh, thanks. Never touch the stuff." As she slowly moved into a nice safe corner, she could swear she saw something lift up out of the wormwood drinkers and drift towards the ceiling. The further it got from its Ďhostí the more it seemed to take shape: no longer something, but someoneó a phantom Immortal.
She rubbed her eyes, wondering if there was anything recreational in the air. The ghost figure hadnít disappeared; it had multiplied! One spirit became dozens, became scores, became hundreds; until it seemed there was a second spectral gathering hovering in mid-air. Students saluted their teachers, old friends embraced, old rivals glared at one another across the Ether.
This is impossible she thought to herself. Immortals donít have ghosts; thatís what Quickening is for. Or was it so bizarreó Halloween is, after all, a night for spirits, and what is the Quickening but the spirit of a defeated Immortal? All these Immortals, all that power, gathered in one place, on Holy Ground no less, tonight of all nights. Who knows what could occur? No one else seemed to notice what was happening. Was she hallucinating, or was this another of her unique talents? She was ready to believe it was all in here head when a figure that looked like a translucent Rebecca Horne looked down at her and smiled.
Debra wove her way through crowds both real and ethereal, scanning for the familiar faces of her companions. What to do once she found them, she had no idea. "I see dead people?" Ridiculous. "Mac, if you feel a little tired tonight, it might be because a couple of your Quickenings decided to stretch their legs and take a walk?" Theyíd think Iíve gone mad. No, whatever was happening here, she was on her own.
She soon found herself out in the cemetery grounds, away from the masses for a moment at least. Closing her eyes, she leaned wearily against a gravestone when a voice, vaguely familiar, startled her out of her thoughts. Getting a warning Buzz here was like expecting to hear one voice at a construction site, but the idea of being surprised somehow irked her. "My Lady," commented a crisp but pleasant British accent, "you look as if youíve seen a ghost." The hood thankfully concealed her jaw-dropping gape, "You!"
There was a warm smile on the nearly transparent figure, "Thatís Hugh, not You; and please, call me Fitz. Everyone does." Deb wobbled for a second, "Donít faint dear, I wonít be able to catch you."
"Fitzcairn," she sighed. "On All Hallowís Eve Iím haunted by, of all people, Hugh Fitzcairn. Shouldnít you be bothering Duncan or something? You were so good at it when you wereó"
"Alive? Donít worry, you can say it. Iím perfectly aware that Iím dead, deceased, pushing up daisies, generally sans tête. Not exactly thrilled about it, mind you, but such is the Game. As for MacLeod, Iíve been his friend long enough to know that tonight you need my help more than he. Youíre new arenít you? The first century or so is always the worst."
There was something about the man that invited openness; part of what made him such a good rogue while he lived. "The first century, he says. Sometimes I think Iíve got it together and then it hits me all over again: centuries. The idea is overwhelming."
"Weíre not so different from the rest of the world you know. Our lives, like theirs, are made up of moments. Let me give you the benefit of my wisdom and experience, free of charge. In your life, there will be moments of wonder, and moments of dread; cherish the first, and learn from the second. And above all, never let go of your sense of humour, because without it, you might as well be dead."
She laughed in spite of herself, "The wit and wisdom of Hugh Fitzcairn is ever more wit than wisdom." She let him sputter in mock affront before adding "Youíre my kind of guy; I wish I could have known you." While all this made her feel better, it did nothing to ease her boundless curiosity, nor the nagging worry of who else might be haunted tonight, and by whom. "Does this kind of thing happen often? Is this the reason why we keep to ourselves for the most part?"
A hint of uncertainty flickered across the spectreís face; "From what I can tell, itís only times like tonight when it can happen. Hard to know for certain, Iíve come to this party a few times over the centuries, but this is the first time Iíve experienced it from the Other Side, so to speak."
She nodded with dawning comprehension, "Because this is the first time Duncanís been here, and youíre in him. Duncan behead Kalas behead Fitzcairnó Quickening genealogy." A bitter laugh; "And when the conditions are right, everyone comes out to play." Suddenly Deb imagined the raging power of a combat Q, multiplied exponentially; "I just hope you can all return as quietly as you came or this whole place is going to be a crater."
Fitzcairn tsked wearily; "There you go, thinking negative again" and then he just floated off.
§ § §
Methos wondered if he was losing his survival instinct. He had had a feeling from the beginning that something strange might happen tonight, yet here he was. It wasnít the first time heíd experienced something like this, but the voice when it came surprised him nonetheless. "Brother, youíve changed!"
Bitter sarcasm tinged his voice as he turned to confront a spectral Kronos; "Thatís what life is, we change or we die. Iím sure you understand that now."
He heard another Horseman approach from the side and Silasí deep booming laughter. "No Brother," he grinned, taking in the Frank-n-furter costume, "I mean youíve really changed."
Caspian slipped silently behind him, Methos had no choice but to talk his way out of this. "Itís designed to shock, just as our garb in the Old Days was."
"Our garb; the Old Days? Perhaps you havenít changed as much as you believe." Kronos leaned close, hissed in his blood brotherís ear, "Tell me you donít miss it. Tell me, truthfully, that you donít dream of it: the smells of smoke and blood, their screams like music, the sense of power." He shrugged his massive shoulders; "Say we are no longer a part of you and we will simply leave you. Alone."
"I will never forget what we wereó what I was. It will always be a part of me; but it isnít all of me. Iím not living off hate and bloodlust anymore. I donít need that; I donít need you." With that, he looked his Brother in the eye one last time, and stepped through him. He walked away and didnít look back; and the Horsemen simply faded away.
§ § §
Debra watched amazed as Methos confronted his past and won; smiled as she saw Amanda joyfully reunited with her mentor, and wondered, not without some dread, what spectre would come walking out of MacLeodís past. The answer, when it came, was worse than she could have imagined.
The voice in her ear was barely a voice at all; "So, youíre MacLeodís new pet project. Or should I say his pet?" Kalasó her blood turned to ice at the thought.
With more confidence than she felt, she looked the ghost in the eye. "If anyone deserved to be taken down, it was you. Didnít anyone bother to tell you youíre out of the Game?"
Kalas snarled; a mix of hate and madness gleamed in his eyes. "The Prize may be out of my grasp, but itís never too late for revenge!" The spirit finally turned toward MacLeod with a sneer; "Hereís another good friend I can take away from you."
Deb could see the flash of anger in Duncanís dark eyes, the burning desire to once again rush to the rescue. She shook her head once; "Donít worry Mac, he canít hurt me. Heís not real."
Kalasí laughter hissed dangerously; "Iím as real as you make me, Child." A sword appeared in his hand, flicked once. The blade passed through thick velvet like air, only to bite painfully into flesh. "Thatís the problem with having an imagination, isnít it? Youíre never completely in control of what you believe."
She felt a burst of panic as she grasped her bloody shoulder, swiftly pushed down the fear. If she drew her own blade, sheíd only admit that he was real, and commit herself to a duel she could never win. As Cassandraís student though, she had other skills at her disposal. She started to control her breathing, narrow her focus. At the edge of her awareness, she saw Duncan again try to rush forward; Methos held him back, "Donít. She has to do this on her own." She closed her eyes, pushed aside even that, until there was nothing but her and the ghost. This would be a battle, not physical, but mental. One doubt, one distraction, could kill.
"I must not fear. Fear is the mind killer. Fear is the littleó" She stumbled on the word Death and Kalas cut again, toying with her. She held her concentration despite the pain; "Fear is the little death that brings total obliteration. I will faceóah!" another cut, another burst of agony; "face my fear. I will permit it to pass through me and over me." Kalas swung at her leg, fierce with anger; a deep wound brought her to her knees. She screamed, but did not stop her litany. If anything, her voice grew stronger, more confident. "Where the fear has been there will be nothing"; the phantom blade came down, passed harmlessly through her neck; "only I will remain." With a roar of frustration, what was once Kalas disappeared. "And thus will I prove that I am stronger."
§ § §
If a combat Quickening was an energy storm, then this was the Northern Lights. The same awesome power was there, but without the violence. One spirit seemed to volunteer to go first; he stepped toward his host, stepped into him. A glow appeared, and that glow spread, until everything was bathed in colour. It was beautiful, it was magical, and yet it was sad somehow. When it was all over, everything was back to normal.
Well, almost everything. As the power faded, Debra felt strange, felt different somehow. There was a warm, comforting feeling inside, an echo of laughter. Fitzcairn? *Hush dear, heíll never know the difference.* There was a feeling like a mental hug, then the presence faded away, leaving behind memories that were not her own.
The trio left the old church, each one lost in their own experiences, it had truly been a magical night. Methos finally spoke, "That wasó interesting." The tension was broken, Mac laughed softly, "Another Methosian understatement."
The young author who had started it all just smiled wearily.
"Next year, letís just pick up some videos, okay?"