I am writing this for Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod. That's how he always announces himself, as though his name were underlined. I still remember when I first met him. He stood in my hall, eyes wide and mouth hanging open. "Methos?!" It was strange, in those first days. To Duncan I was a replacement for Darius. I worked to dissuade him of that notion. Eventually he accepted that I was not a holy man like Darius. Still, I knew he saw me as something special, just because of my age. Five thousand years. This is not about Duncan and me, though. This is for Duncan and as best I can, it is about me. I will not tell him of my life, but I will tell him about my... I never knew what to call it. My salvation? Not accurate, but perhaps it will be enough.
I met Kronos in the desert. We nearly rode over each other. We both dismounted, Kronos with his scythe and myself with my sword. "Kronos!" he shouted, and his voice rang with savage joy.
"Methos, the world's oldest man!" I shouted back at him, feeling the same joy in my breast.
Our battle lasted long hours, until the two of us were near collapse. There is a strange satisfaction in being able to use your strength and skill to its utmost and find an opponent your equal. When we finally could fight no more, we sat in the sand laughing.
His people were desert marauders. A coalition of tribes cut them down and Kronos woke Immortal after the final battle. "It took twenty men to kill me," he told me. He was incredibly wicked and his eyes danced, and I found I enjoyed that. He missed his people; they were centuries dead. He kept to the wastes where there were few people and no large armed groups to chase him. I was familiar with loneliness. My own people were long dead, too. Because of that loneliness and the kinship we felt, we formed our pact. The two of us would stand and fight, together as brothers. No more aimless wandering, no more having things we treasure slip from our fingers and crumble to dust. It was the creed of Kronos' dead people. "What we want we have, or take." It is perhaps impossible for me to put into words how cut off from the mortal world we were, and how we gravitated toward each other. Kronos was not as he was because of being Immortal. This was the way he was born and raised. And I? Well, even then I did not remember how I was born and raised. I was already well over two thousand years old.
In a strange way, despite that there can be only one, we Immortals are drawn toward each other. Older Immortals find young ones and instinctively teach them. Pre-Immortals who come in close contact with Immortals instinctively stay near them. We are compelled to that much contact. A favored student will sometimes stay with their teacher far beyond the time they need help. They find safety together and comfort in long association, in having at least one person who knows what of they speak. I have no one, even now. But gather too many Immortals in one place and there is a constant trickle of unease as they find themselves instinctively reaching for their swords. Yes, the Gathering. Too many of us together mean duels to the death, even if we are all friends. I have seen it happen. How many are too many? I once thought four was just borderline.
We stumbled upon Caspian and Silas at a camp we plotted to raid. I crept up behind a guard to kill him, only to find that he was already dead. His killer had stabbed first through the base of his throat, then taken his eyes. Impressed, I stalked a few other guards. All the guards were similarly killed, their bodies propped up with their spears. I was eager to find the killer and test my skills against his. Kronos joined me, eyes glimmering in the starlight. We were halfway through the encampment before we sensed the two Immortals. By this time we were sure there was not a single survivor.
They were so young. Richie has been immortal almost as long as they had been then. Caspian was then as he was today. Thin and rangy like a weasel, with a brilliant shine to his eyes. Whereas Kronos' fire attracted, Caspian's repelled. Even when I first met him I kept picturing small, deadly animals you should never corner.
Silas, I suspect, was older than Caspian. He had a peculiar, steady light that impressed me as much as the fulgarating flame of Caspian irritated me. I learned later Silas was a simple soul. He was not stupid, no, but untroubled by conscience or sympathy for humans. He liked animals. He enjoyed a good fight as I did, and the euphoria brought by using yourself to your full capability.
They were not together. Caspian had stalked Silas. The encampment consisted of soldiers whom Silas had challenged and the few deaths not attributable to Caspian were warriors whom Silas had fought to the death.
We could have killed them easily, but something about Silas appealed to me. Caspian, well he burned with hunger and rage and pure lust for life. Looking back I suspect what I disliked most about him was that he was like myself, naked. Kronos and I consulted each other. We agreed that if we could train these two youngsters to work with us, we would be formidable enough that sneaking into encampments at night would no longer be necessary. We would have revenge on the world that kept moving past us, leaving our people in the dust, forgotten and unmourned.
Years turned into decades turned into centuries. The world changed. So did we.
Kronos and I buried our rage for our dead peoples under years of victorious raids. At first we traveled the two continents, leaving death in our wake. Perhaps in response settlements grew larger until it was dangerous even for four Immortal killers to attack them. We accumulated spoils and settled in place to enjoy them. Silas collected animals, Caspian collected both human and animal heads. Kronos and I enjoyed our invincibility. Then one fateful day we destroyed a roving tribe and I found Cassandra.
A computer is so impersonal. If I wrote this with my hands now the lines would be shaky. I can't stop trembling. A handwritten diary can show tearstains from when the writer wept as he wrote. For all the convenience of a word-processing program, it has no feeling. Perhaps it is appropriate, for until after I found Cassandra, neither had I.
She was selfless. She threw herself in front of her mentor to die in his place. Of course we killed him. We killed them all. I knew what she was the moment we approached her, but the other three had no experience to tell them. Thus I claimed her myself.
My fingers are icy. Psychosomatic reaction.
Here was something with which I could have fun. A woman I could do as I pleased to again and again for she was not a fragile thing that would die before I finished shaping her to my desire. On top of that she was beautiful. Oh I was truly pleased with myself for that coup. I led her to believe that it was my magic that sustained her. I used two thousand years of experience with torture and murder to terrify her but not to break her. Breaking her would have taken all the excitement out of my victory. It took several days before she obeyed my commands. When she brought water and carefully washed my feet, I used the same years of experience to reward her, forcing her to a powerful orgasm that almost left her unconscious, staring into my eyes with superstitious awe. In this way she soon served me perfectly and her awe was supplemented by a loving, trusting gaze. That was my downfall. Perhaps it was my salvation. The four of us were together, sharing centuries of experiences. We had a camp that was becoming a home. I had a beautiful woman loving me who would not disintegrate before my eyes. I grasped the world in my hands and felt as though at last I could control the pace of change. After so many years of lawless hunger, I was beginning to try on the tattered cloak of civilization.
Then Kronos decided he wanted a taste of my prize. We long ago established that we would share equally all the spoils, but never before had we really troubled each other about something one might seem inclined to keep to themselves. I think Kronos knew that I was in danger of falling from our way of life. He was trying to keep me from settling in and becoming weak. I know he was curious to try out a woman of our kind.
When I let him take Cassandra from me I avoided her eyes but I could not avoid hearing her terrified pleas. For the first time in memory I loathed myself. When I saw her flee into the night I did not even consider chasing after her. The strongest evidence that I was no longer as I had been was that I even thought of how to distract the others if they went after her.
We continued our rampages but I no longer had the heart to bring back spoils. Then an army ran us down. During the battle Silas and I fought side by side and at some point we were separated from Caspian and Kronos. Silas fought enthusiastically, leaving dead soldiers left and right. I led him out of the battle. "Remember!" I shouted over the din. "We will live and grow stronger!"
"And fight another day!" he shouted back to me. We rode away from the battle, laughing.
I would break into laughter off and on as we rode. Days passed. Silas was beginning to worry about me. When he asked me where would we meet Kronos and Caspian, I would burst into laughter again. I felt as though my mind were twisting into unnamable shapes. Somehow I could not speak, and sometimes would fall off my horse to lie shuddering on the ground. Silas would come sit next to me and rub my frozen fingers between his palms until I staggered to my feet and climbed back onto my horse. We outlived one set of horses in this manner. Silas suffered from nothing except concern for me. I suffered from the only kind of malady an Immortal is prey to: his own conscience. It is hard to piece together my memories of this time, they are so disconnected from each other. We found a beautiful wooded area, well away from the haunts of men and there settled, carving a home into the ground. The two of us spent many a cold night by the fire talking about how the world had changed. We lived peacefully that way for perhaps a century.
One night Silas told me that he thought perhaps I had seen Kronos killed and lost my mind because of it. I remember breaking into laughter again, and Silas gently wrapping his arms around me as the laughter turned to sobs. For the two nights after I woke up screaming, begging in the language of my people, "It's too late! I can't! I can't! Please, I just want to live!" The third night I fled our home. I would not see Silas again for perhaps two thousand years.
He told me why he never left that place for very long. He stayed because he did not want me to come back and find an empty cabin. He was concerned about me! When I think about Silas now sometimes that feeling haunts me, that all I can do is laugh so that I will not cry. Sometimes I feel if I start crying, I will never stop. Cassandra was one of a thousand regrets, oh yes. Silas is the newest of them. Things I did and I have no way to make up for them. No way ever except death. And I still want to live.
I did not wander aimlessly, no. I beelined for our home in the wasteland. When I finally arrived in the area I could find nothing. I was not searching for Caspian or Kronos. I was searching for Cassandra. At that time I was quite insane. I did not want to kill Cassandra, far from it. If I had found her I would have thrown myself down and offered her my head. In my rare lucid moments I was convinced I owed her that for what I did to her. The population was still sparse. I did not take my horse but traveled on foot. I met no Immortals and avoided mortals.
That might seem odd in this time of the Gathering, when Immortals seem to pop up underfoot. There is a Watcher who is doing a study working out the percentage of Immortals born in one generation to the world population. With some five billion people in the world and more every day, she isn't surprised that there are so many young Immortals. Nor is she surprised that the older ones are usually separated by at least a century of time.
One day I did sense another Immortal. I had to investigate because it could have been her. I looked down from a ridge and saw a woman by a lake. She looked up at me, then fled. I was sure she was Cassandra so I pursued her. I called after her, first in the language of my people then in the language of hers, but of course she did not slow.
Then I could no longer sense her. I fell to my knees and wept, pressing my head to the ground. And she came back. I was incoherent, especially since I was speaking in my native tongue. Perhaps it is good that she could not understand my pleas that she take my head. I had lost my will to live somewhere in the swamp of my memories. She made me stand and drew me along with her. I balked when I felt myself on Holy Ground. In my condition I could feel the land ring with a firm command not to kill. Surely she would not take my head here? She led me on and down a woven ladder into an underground chamber.
Duncan knows about this place. I took him there where he fought off his Darkness.
Cassandra -- or rather the Immortal woman I thought was her -- gently removed my clothes as I continued to plead in my native tongue. She led me to the edge of the pool and helped me step into the water. It was there that the fractured parts of myself confronted each other.
Duncan was lucky. He fought only one enemy, and the enemy was not completely him.
Part of me wanted to die. Part of me wanted to live. Part of me wanted to kill. Part of me wanted to atone for my sins. Each one was potent enough that their competing drives left me insane.
The killer-me attacked the suicidal-me and began tearing me to pieces. The guilty-me turned to the survivor-me and I formed an alliance. Where once were four now were two. I fought myself for myself. When it was over, I no longer had either a killer instinct or a suicidal impulse. I wanted to live, and somehow make up for what I had done. Sane at last, I looked for the Immortal who brought me there. I never found her. She had shown me mercy and given me a chance to save myself, and I succeeded. I will forever be grateful. It seemed to me that I should emulate her.
I stepped out of the way of history. I learned to live in the present, adapting my tastes to the world around me. I found I could be content with change if I only did not cling to my memories and spend too much time mourning what was lost. Whenever I met another Immortal they would assume that I was a youngster, just born in the last fifty years. It reduced the chance of their going for my head. Sometimes I felt guilty about deceiving the better ones. Darius knew me and knew who I was. I told him about my life with the Four Horsemen, expecting him to reject me. He just smiled gently in that way he had. Darius too was once a murderous killer, but he defeated his killer self without the benefit of a magic pool.
I know the legend, that Darius took the Quickening of a holy man and emerged forever changed. That isn't quite how it works. We take the knowledge and power of the other Immortal we kill, yes. But that knowledge is resting at the bottom of our minds. That which is like ourselves in the Immortal we kill is enhanced in us. Our fighting ability, our angers, our loves. We can only really use it for a few days after the Quickening, before it settles down. What happened to Duncan was a fluke.
The Hayoka, taking rage and grief into himself, was already abnormal. His telempathic ability made him different from any other Immortal. His people dead he chose to use his powers for the world. When he took the Quickening of an evil immortal, he tried to throw it out into the void as he did the evils of mortals. As I said, the nature of the Quickening is to strengthen and enhance the survivor. Instead of at the bottom of his mind, it circled and tossed along the surface until it finally crushed him. After killing Coltek Duncan would have been fine except for one fact. Long ago, when Duncan went mad with grief and pain after Kern murdered his family, Coltek saved his sanity by drawing that madness away into the void. When Duncan took Coltek's Quickening, he received that part of himself back, along with all the tumbling, tearing madness that had destroyed the Hayoka.
I envy Duncan Macleod of the Clan Macleod. Yes, he has regrets. But mine far exceed his. Was I ever like him? I would like to think I was when I was very young. He gave me the benefit of the doubt, even when he knew that everything Cassandra said about me was true. I am both grateful and disturbed by his belief in me. I tried to drive him away from me and only partly succeeded. After it was over he reminded me that he has seen Immortals he knew to be the best become crazed or evil. Then he shrugged and said, "A thousand years ago Darius was evil."
There he goes trying to turn me into Darius again.
Perhaps I should start making tea out of fungus and molds.