They declared him dead at two minutes past three in the morning, after a barrage of medics and priests had done their work, and handed him over to the prison governor and his band of legalised grim reapers. A secretary had taken notes, as had become almost customary - a small-shouldered, joyless man, in a crowd of nondescript dourness, sitting alone on a small wooden chair and typing away furiously on an old, crooked typewriter. It had lost its bell, and its keys made uneven, clanking sounds - but it was no more or less crooked, decrepit and twisted than anything else in the room. Chipped paint fell away from the walls, the plain boarding of the floor was warped and scuffed, and the footsteps of the condemned and his righteous entourage echoed loudly up and down the walls of the prison. The secretary typed more and more furiously as the condemned was brought in. With a glee that bordered on feverish, caught up in the macabre exhilaration of his first execution, he pounded out a description of the victim. Tall, well-built, proud. The body of a runner, rather than a fighter, but built up through the long hours working out in the prison gym while he waited for the circle of appeals and rejections to do their rounds. Seemingly endless, ever decreasing circles of mercy pleas, twisting silently around in the cosmos, with their accompanying judgmental rulings, statements and echoing denials of every appeal.
Black hair, brown at the fringe, with streaks of a paler colour near the roots - as though he had dyed his hair at some point, probably just before his trial. There was dramatic potential in a sentence or two about how it would never now have the chance to go back to its normal colour; about how he would be spending the rest of eternity in a hasty disguise. Blue-green eyes, changing their hue and their shade every time his movements took him closer to, or further away from, the bleak overhead lighting. A lantern-jaw, marked with a scar down the middle that might have come from anywhere - but which, in point of fact, had come from the slicing sword of a marauding barbarian some two thousand years previously. The secretary, naturally enough, did not put this small fact in his account. He was interested merely in the obvious - in the sights and thoughts that accompanied the solemn procession across the floor of the execution chamber. His fingers ran across the keys, describing the shaved patches on the head, the stiff gait, the firm poise of the shoulders. His typewriter chattered on about the harsh look in the eyes, the mocking half-smile, the refusal to speak to a priest. He almost stopped his steady flow of eager words as the prisoner was seated, and as the electrodes were fixed on; as the big man was strapped down and the masked executioner took his stand by the giant lever. Almost stopped - but didn't. Instead his typing became faster and faster, his eyes no longer straying towards the keys, but instead fixed upon the face of the condemned. He was struggling, trying to avoid being hooded, and in the process his eyes met with those of the secretary. The secretary held his breath, feeling his heart pounding with as much relentless fervour as his hopelessly excited fingers. He described the look in those eyes, found the words to tell of his own fear as the brief second lingered - and then the relief, the feeling of severance, when the face was finally hooded, and the eyes had looked their last upon the world.
He carried on typing through all of the final preparations. The last reading of the sentence, the last minute hush in case of final repeal. His typing was the only sound now, and he enjoyed it - thought of it as the last, manic beating of the heart of the condemned man. Above it, at last, he heard the order given - heard the shout of the condemned man as he swore their judgement to be premature, pointless, futile - and then heard the thudding of the lever as it was slammed down. Precise, clinical, cold-blooded. More cold-blooded than the killings which had brought the condemned to this room in the first place - but the secretary didn't write that either. He just wrote about the moment itself - the sudden dimming of the lights, the halo of cold blue electricity, the thrashing. Like a fish, dragged out of the water, or a man set horribly alight. The futile struggles of a man who was already dead, but whose brain had not yet been given the chance to realise it. Then all was still, and the fingers of the madly typing secretary slowed to a halt. He watched the medics come forward - saw the doctor check for a pulse, give the prison governor a firm, steady nod. No sign that he had noticed the odd hypocrisy of his presence at such a moment - no sign that he thought it strange that a healer should be called upon to preside over a pre-arranged death. He merely nodded, and turned aside to sign the certificate. James Edward Durham, life extinguished 03:02, 23rd May, 1967. Body to be disposed of by the state.
The sun blazed down on the city, threatening to melt the tarmac and set fire to the shop fronts in yet another in a series of sweltering days. Maybe the city was trying to purge itself of its residents, in an intense and furious trial by fire. Everybody was listless, everybody was weak - silence reigned in a town where nobody had the energy to speak or to interact - where everybody spent their days lying in parks, or lying in their homes, or sitting behind their desks pretending to work. At night they left their windows open, heedless of possible crime - understandably oblivious to it perhaps, since there were few enough criminals with the stamina to take advantage of the lax security. The air was still, the wind non-existent, the world devoid of moisture. It was a time when reality blurred with the dreams of the subconscious; and the brief glimpses of ill-defined objects in the corner of the eye became more real than anything properly seen. Fantasies were easier to live in than a world too hot to endure; but drunken dreams and the drug-induced hallucinations of the time, whilst an escape on one level, led to greater unrest and greater agitation on another level. Everybody was seeing the city through warped eyes, in visions troubled by paranoid hysteria. If any of them had had the energy, they would have fought amongst themselves to disperse the tension, to remove the fear, and the restless anxieties of too many sleepless nights. As it was they did nothing, and so their restlessness grew worse and their anxieties deepened, and the heat made every night too sultry for sleep. The city sweltered on the edge of a nervous breakdown. Something wanted to give; something wanted to snap. But in the suffocating stillness of the hottest summer on record, the catalyst was a long time coming.
It came, as many things have a tendency to do, when most people were looking the other way. Sprawled in their heat-soaked, nightmare-laden fantasies, the people of the city were too busy with their listless arguments and their newly-burgeoning paranoia to wonder at the shadows scratching restlessly in the alleyways. There was too much to worry about already, with threatened water shortages, too-still, too-stifling air, and nights that brought anything but sleep - far too much to think about to allow anybody to worry over looming black shapes that shouldn't exist. Maybe they didn't exist. Maybe they were the fevered imaginings of minds gone too long without rest - or hearts weighed down by too many nights of tortured, semi-waking fantasies warped by exhaustion and heat.
But the shadows did not dissipate, and didn't fade away when the dawn came. They didn't lessen their hasty passing to-and-fro, and neither did they scratch any less persistently on the doors and the windows at night. Fevered imaginings didn't knock over trashcans, or loosen slates on roofs, or snatch at passing figures in the half-light of evening. The tortured fantasies of a city-full of sleep deprived dreamers didn't cause the deadened air to split apart in the middle of the night, torn by wretched screams that hung over the heat haze like shrouds. Some left the city, some tried to cut themselves off within it. Some stalked through the streets with heads held high, determined to rise above the paranoia. And still the shadows scratched at doorways in the middle of the night, and still they whispered in the alleyways whenever the silence was at its most intense. The city was teetering on the brink of madness, with chaos crackling palpably through every brick, every building, every roadway. Fear sparked its way down every cable, every wire; the glass in every window seemed to tremble each time the shadows whispered - and so it was, when the heat was at its worst, that the echoes of fear and madness called out to their own.
And the answer came from the east, out of the rising sun.
David Ferrer sat down heavily in the old deckchair he had so often seen his grandfather reclining in. There had been a time, even in the hottest of summers, when he himself had charged endlessly up and down the street with his friends, shooting anything that moved with a make-believe gun, and hollering each of his victories at the top of his voice. He had been determined that, when he got older, he wouldn't be like his grandfather - that he wouldn't collapse into a chair in the porch and fall asleep. He and his childish playmates had even sworn vows to such effect - but the playmates were all gone, and with them the pledges of endless youth.
Leaning back as far as he could go in the old chair, without risking the collapse of the rickety, hand-made structure, David rested his feet on the little wooden bench in front of the chair and let his body relax. Almost immediately he wished he had brought a drink outside with him, for even in the shade the heat was uncomfortable. He couldn't be bothered to get up again, though, and instead closed his eyes and tried not to think of anything wet. Instead he thought that he smelt the old tobacco of his grandfather, and wondered if there were grains of it embedded in the ancient material of the deckchair. The old man had never been without his pipe, revolting contraption though the rest of the family had thought it to be, and David's earliest memories seemed to be of his oldest relation peering out at the world through a vast cloud of thick black smoke. He was sure that he had been at least three years old before he had finally managed to catch a glimpse of his grandfather's face.
Somewhere in the depths of the house, the telephone rang. It came as a deadened sound, floating on deadened air, and David groaned. Surely the house was too far away. He would never make it back there before the ringing stopped. Comforted by this pleasantly lazy thought, he let even greater tensions slip away from his body, and felt himself teetering on the brink of sleep. Sleep would be good, his body told him. It came too rarely these days, when stuffy, unbreathable nights enforced torturous wakefulness.
The telephone, however, had other ideas. It rang on and on until the noise had become a gross annoyance, and David, by now worked up into what would have been a frustrated rage had he had the energy, stumbled to his feet, yelled a curt response at the offending lump of plastic, and wandered morosely into the house. It seemed unnaturally dark inside following the bright sunlight in the porch, and he could barely see the telephone. He almost knocked it off its little table as he snatched up the receiver and raised it to his ear, trying not to bark too loudly at the person at the other end as he made his reply.
"David Ferrer." He was surprised at how tired he sounded - how drained and worn. Clearly his caller was equally surprised, for the answering voice carried strains of concern.
"Are you alright, David? Are you getting enough sleep?"
"Is anyone?" David stifled a yawn, and rubbed vigorously at his eyes with his spare hand. "I'm fine, Jason. What were you wanting?"
"Just to give you a word of warning. There's a man in your neighbourhood - or so we think - who might just be an Immortal. You're looking for a youngish guy, looks like he's probably in his thirties. Little below average height perhaps, dark hair, and he speaks with an English accent. That at least should help him stick out. Seems that he never bothers doing anything to disguise it. I'd like you to keep an eye on him if you think you're up to it."
"Of course I'm up to it. I've been home for nearly six months, Jason, this is probably just what I need." Something suddenly registered in David's mind, and he frowned. "You think he's an Immortal?"
"It's an awkward case." The voice hesitated. "We've got no records on him, and I couldn't find his description in the files - save for a few bits and pieces here and there that were sketchy to say the least. He was seen leaving the scene of a likely Quickening in San Francisco two months ago, and we've been tracking him up and down the country ever since. He's never done anything definite to tell us he's one of them, but I think the chances are high enough."
"Then I'll get right on it. Maybe we can get a name, and get this guy a proper file." David nodded mechanically at the telephone. "I'll be in touch."
"See that you are. And if it gets too much--"
"It won't." David managed a smile, that somehow merely increased the wan look haunting his face. "Goodbye Jason. I'll talk to you soon." He replaced the receiver and let his long-held yawn escape. Action, at last. Maybe that was what he needed to keep himself from collapsing into his grandfather's chair every time the heat became a strain. It might even keep him from pointless daydreams about his childhood and the old man's pipe smoke. He smiled and stretched, trying to work the kinks of exhaustion from his arms and legs. The tattoo on the pale underside of his wrist caught his eye, and for a moment he stopped to look at it. He had had it put there when he was in his final year of high school, when his father's lifelong work had finally spilled over into his private life, and the Immortal he had been directed to Watch had taken his life. David had seen the strange men he had never seen before as they tried to console his mother, and had recognised the tattoos they all wore as being the of same design worn by his father. He had always wondered at it, but his father had never told him anything more than the usual dismissive tales told to inquisitive children. As soon as he had found out the truth, mostly through listening at keyholes when the unknown men were with his mother, he had set out to follow in his father's footsteps. The tattoo was his now, the responsibilities were his. So far, however, he had never even laid eyes on an Immortal - so far as he knew. College and Vietnam had conspired together to keep him out of active Watcher ranks; but now at last things seemed about to change. He broke into a whistle, grabbed his wallet and gun from the jacket gathering dust in the hallway, and headed outside. The empty, heat-cracked street sounded quieter than usual as he strode off down it, but he gave no thought to that. He gave no thought, either, to the shadows that seemed to flicker just out of his sight, whenever he turned his head. He put it all down to the heat, and to the tricks the too-powerful sun seemed inclined to play with its light. It was unlikely to be anything more. As he turned his back on his house, and strode into a newer, wider street, he failed to notice the tiny blue sparks that flew from the electrical cables above his head. A shiver of fear ran through him as they passed, but he put it down to his assignment and walked on. Unseen and unheeded the sparks faded away, and somewhere in the darkest corner a shadow whispered a half-forgotten prayer.
There were few travellers minded to stay in a city where even the locals were dazzled by the heat, but the owner of the Roadside Inn was too exhausted to wonder why this particular stranger wanted a room on an indefinite lease. He merely pushed the register over towards the other man, watched him sign his name, and then peered at it in a vain attempt to be inquisitive. The name was written in a swirl, in a strong, confident hand that might have spoken untold secrets to somebody with the ability to translate such things in handwriting. To the owner of the Inn it was just a name; Jack Craig; which belonged to a wiry, youngish man dressed in black - an unusual choice in such heat - who bore an impressive scar on one side of his face. The owner, a middle-aged man who for the last twenty years had done little more in the way of exercise than sweep the front porch every morning, thought that he looked annoyingly fit and healthy - like some of the irritatingly cheery nurses who kept trying to encourage him to take up cycling whenever he went into hospital to get his heart murmurs worried over. The only immediately noticeable difference was that this man was anything but irritatingly cheery. He was also, the owner was surprised to note as they exchanged curt greetings, clearly English - and yet, for a man who had very likely travelled halfway around the world some time recently, he had very little luggage. Only a long, thin bag made from black leather was in his hands as he turned away from the desk and headed up towards his room. The owner wanted to wonder about it, but the fog of heat exhaustion quelled his natural curiosity, and he went back to struggling through the morning's crossword. The hot newspaper was leaving black ink all over his hands, and he was sure that he had transferred most of it to his face. Throwing his pen down in frustration he leaned back in his revolving chair, and watched the strange flickers of blue lightning that seemed to be quivering their way along the wire powering his TV set. Time to get the set looked at, he told himself; but he knew that he would never get around to doing it.
Alone in his room, 'Jack Craig' threw down his bag and crossed quickly to the window. He had sensed certain things on his arrival in town, and he wanted to be able to watch at his leisure as the people of the city went about their business. There were few people about, and those that were moving along the street seemed listless, pushing past each other with an irritability that lacked energy, and yet was no less violent and ill-meant for it. Everybody, it seemed, had a grudge against everybody else - everybody was feeling the effects of a summer that had gone on for too long. Kronos smiled to himself. He had no idea which strange inner sense had dragged him to this place, but now that he was here he felt sure that it was the place for him. The streets seethed with paranoia and the threat of violence, and every citizen seemed poised to tear their neighbours apart. Kronos slid his sword from the long black bag that was his only luggage, and lovingly caressed the blade. The cold steel was his lifeblood as much as the red liquid that fed his immortal body - more so, perhaps, since his life relied rather more fully on the weapon than it did on the blood itself. Swords and steel were all a part of the power and the life and the Game - a part of the blue fire that filled his soul with ecstasy, and gave his life meaning - just as were the energies of fear and madness that so soaked the city streets. A different game perhaps, but a game nonetheless; and a better and more fulfilling attraction to a man like Kronos than the more serious, and less exacting Game that required him to hunt his own people to extinction. There was far better sport to be had from the mortals, who fell before him now, still, just as they had done in the early days of his life, following his rebirth as a glorious tyrant.
A stiff and sluggish breeze moved slowly past his head as the inefficient fan built into the ceiling spun irregularly round in its prescribed circle. Kronos glanced up at it, its softly thudding whirr having broken his concentration. It seemed to him, for a second, that a faint blue fire - like the spiked tendrils that marked the first release of a Quickening - crept slowly along the blades of the fan. Slowly he rose to his feet, stretching out his fingers towards the light, a slight frown creasing his forehead and deepening the highest point of the scar across his eye. A jolt - more like electricity than the fire-and-ice thrill of the Quickening - powered its way for a second through his frame - then in the swiftest breath of a moment it was gone. He frowned. He had felt something, he thought - as though something had been reaching out for him. A brief, uncertain second of encroaching darkness, like shadows whispering in the darkest corner of the room. Then all had passed, and he was left with nothing but the faintest tingle of coming danger. He let a faint laugh grow within him. Maybe the atmosphere of the place was getting to him - or maybe his trip here was going to be rather more fruitful than he had thought.
The sound of a hoarse, dry cough dragged Bill Borrow's unwilling attention away from the flickering action of his black and white TV set. He looked up, awarding his unwelcome visitor with a fiery-eyed glare that might have been quite impressive, were his visitor in any mood to be intimidated. Rather than quiver, he merely glared back.
"Hello." David Ferrer, his look as determined as he could persuade it to be, given the heat of the day and his uncomfortably long walk, stared back at Borrow through eyes that wanted to be friendly, but weren't sure that they were up to the task. Borrow, who had no intention of being friendly in look or in appearance, merely folded his arms across his chest and glowered. His guest was a young man in his mid-twenties, tall and well-built, and was showing no signs as yet that he wanted to rent a room. He was a good-looking enough sort, but there was a strangely gaunt look to his frame, which did not tally with the clear evidence of muscle and good health - but which went all too well with the odd pallor of his face, and the strangely watery look to his wide, blue-green eyes. There was a scar by his right eye, deep and angry-looking, and he seemed to stand awkwardly on one foot, as though the other - his left - was not quite up to the task of supporting him. Borrow didn't need to wonder why. He was getting used to spotting war veterans. There were more of them all the time these days, and his foggy brain sparked itself into enough interest to look at this one more closely. He was dressed in a pale grey suit without a jacket, his tie half undone, and his shirt short-sleeved. Hardly proper business attire to Borrow's way of thinking; but then standards were slipping all the time. Even bank managers couldn't be called upon to dress faultlessly these days.
"I was wondering if you've had any new guests the last couple of days." Flashing his all-purpose ID, which he had acquired during his college years as a way of getting exclusive information to help with his journalism studies, David put on his best detective's expression. He had a hunch that it would not be difficult to persuade this man to speak to him. He didn't look as though he was a possible brain surgeon, with his somewhat dopey expression, and slightly stoned glaze to his eyes. He was middle-aged, with shoulder-length, iron grey hair that was streaked with an untidy mixture of brown and blond. It was plastered to his skull with so much grease that the light reflected powerfully off the top of his head. He was dressed in a dirty white singlet with a tie dyed over-shirt that did not have quite as many buttons as it might once have done, and he sported a goatee that straggled about his chin in a brave yet vain attempt to escape the plaits it had once been woven into. A scrap of red ribbon held it in place, its ends twizzled together to stop it flapping about.
"New guests?" Barrow's eyes strayed to the register before him. "Might have. Why?"
"I'm looking for someone. Someone I have reason to believe might have come to town in the last day or so." David tried to look officious, but suspected that he was failing. "I can get a warrant if I have to." Barrow grinned in response to this statement, suggesting that he knew it was all a lie, and that David could no more get a warrant than he could summon rain to cool the sweltering city.
"You don't need a warrant." Barrow's eyes wandered back to the TV set, where a cluster of black and white cartoon characters were beating each other up to the accompaniment of a frenzied piece of music. The picture flickered, as though yielding to the manic physical assault of the cartoon creatures. "I just want to know if I'm harbouring a mass murderer or something, that's all. Maybe there's something you want to tell me?"
"Nothing." David looked pointedly towards the register. "I'm trying to track down a witness, that's all." He was hoping that he wouldn't have to demand a look at the record before him, since that would be of no use whatsoever. He had no idea as to what name the Immortal was likely to use, and therefore his attempts to find the man were proving to be torturous to say the very least. He had already tried three hotels, and was beginning to think that his task was going to take a fortnight. "Maybe you've seen him. He's a foreigner, not especially tall, with dark--"
"British." Barrow glanced towards the stairs, suddenly nervous that his cold-eyed newest resident might be about to put in an appearance. "There's a British guy just registered. He came in an hour or two back, said he wanted to stay indefinitely. Weird though. He had no luggage except this one bag, and that didn't look like it had space enough for--"
"British?" Interrupting the older man in the middle of his spiel, David felt a desperate thrill run through him. He hardly dared hope that this could be his man. "What did he look like?"
"Younger than me, older than you." Barrow shrugged. "Not big, but he looked like he could handle himself. Pretty detached, like the heat didn't mean anything to him. He took the stairs two at a time on his way up to his room." He winced, as though to show that he strongly disapproved of such athletic behaviour. "Strange eyes, like... like they knew everything." He paused, surprised to find that he felt a sudden desire to shiver violently. "One of them had a scar right across it. Pretty unmistakable guy, I'd say."
"Sounds like it." Somehow this description did not seem to tally with the sketchy details that Jason had given him on the telephone - and yet David was sure that this was his man. Something fitted. Maybe it was the eyes, or maybe it was just the fact that he was a British man, arrived in town at the right time. He was willing to bet, too, that the one bag Barrow had spoken of had contained a sword. "What name did he register by?"
"Jack Craig." Barrow raised his eyebrows. "Do I get some kind of a reward for helping you out like this?"
"If his testimony leads to the conviction of our man, then yeah." David nearly smiled at this piece of hasty improvisation. "But not a word to anybody, or we could lose the whole case. Understand?"
"Sure." Barrow's attention was wandering back to the TV set. "He's in room eighteen. That's on the second floor, just past the stairwell."
"Thanks." David wondered about going upstairs, and maybe trying to make contact with the Immortal, but decided against it. Better to stick to the mandate of his organisation, and just watch. "You've been a great help."
"Yeah." Barrow didn't seem interested, being rather more impressed with the antics of Tom and Jerry than he was with anything that David had to say. He waved at the screen. "This is my favourite episode. Jerry's nephew has--" He broke off as the picture changed abruptly, the cartoons suddenly replaced with shaky camera footage. An impressively serious man in a dark suit that looked hastily-donned, was clenching a large microphone in both his hands, trying to outstare the camera that was pointedly at him so directly. Barrow growled his disappointment.
"We interrupt this programme to report on a grisly discovery." The serious man in the suit looked as though the discovery - whatever it was - had been anything but grisly. For him it was very likely just another step up the rung towards being given his own programme, or at the very least a nice comfortable chair behind a desk in the news studio. "As yet information is scarce, but we understand that the body of a young woman was found earlier today in an alleyway behind the Sea Food Bar. It seems that she had been hacked to death, and that the attack left her head almost completely severed from her body. There does not appear to have been any motive for this attack, and the victim's handbag was found untouched, still in her possession." The man squared his shoulders. "Police are appealing for witnesses to the attack, which they say probably happened about four hours ago. Meanwhile they are asking everybody to lock their doors, and to avoid going outside alone." He flashed a broad, and somewhat ill-timed, smile at his unseen viewers. "This is Kevin O'Hara on KPQL News. Your station, with the news you want to hear." There was a second's burst of a station jingle, another two or three seconds of the cartoon; and then with dazzling speed there was nothing but commercials. Barrow reached over and clicked off the set.
"Wow," he said, almost with real feeling. "That place is only a few blocks from here."
"Yeah. Pretty near my house." David gave a shiver. "I must have been just by there when they said the murder was taking place."
"Maybe they'll let you investigate it." Barrow rose to his feet. "You'll have to excuse me. I have things to do."
"Yeah, sure." Preoccupied, David watched the other man walk away. He was thinking hard about the newsman's words - about the talk of the victim's head having been almost severed. Could it be a coincidence? After all, a man suspected of being an Immortal had just come to town. Perhaps this young woman had been one as well - or maybe this particular Immortal was not fussy about with whom he played the Game. David let his eyes travel up the stairs. Maybe it was time he found room eighteen - and maybe it was time that he watched his man a little more closely. Suddenly determined, he began to stride up the stairs.
There was a young man standing on the landing as Kronos left his room. They exchanged a look that spoke of rather more familiarity than might be expected between strangers - a look that left David Ferrer decidedly unnerved. Kronos, who was not entirely without awareness of the social graces, gave the young man a brisk nod; although his face remained cold and hard. Suspicion glittered brightly in his mind.
"Good morning." David, who had been somewhat shocked to see his quarry walking purposefully towards him, had had to fight a sudden instinct to dive out of the way and attempt flight. He managed a smile. "Nice day."
"Yes." If the Immortal was British - if he was an Immortal, of course - then he did not seem to possess his traditionally supposed propensity for talking about the weather. Instead he let the briefest of upward twitches move his lips for a second. "Excuse me." His voice was soft, with a faintly noticeable edge - like the sound of something that was lurking beneath the surface. It reminded David of the shadows he had been seeing lately; the deep black shapes that shifted in the corners of his eyes, but vanished as soon as he turned to look at them. They were vaguely man-shaped, now that he stopped to consider them further; like one, prowling figure, always in the background.
"You're English." He offered it as the means for starting a conversation, but the other man did not seem at all disposed to talk. Instead he gave a brisk nod, and let his eyes shine with something that seemed momentarily to take David's breath away. He couldn't think of a word for it. Somehow 'cold' or 'threatening' did not begin to describe the suggestions he felt he had witnessed.
"Yes." The word was little more than a whisper, but it was filled with enough ice to refreeze Siberia. It reminded David of something, although he couldn't remember what. Almost mechanically he stood aside, and the man walked on by. It was not until he had gone that the Watcher's mind began to clear.
Outside in the street Kronos looked both ways, almost as if he were trying to detect something in the air, or taste something borne on a non-existent breeze. One hand fell to his side, where beneath his clothes his weapon lay in its secret, expertly-designed place of hiding. He could feel the coolness of its metal; a coolness that would soon become a furnace against his skin in all this heat. Better that than to be without his sword in a city that writhed in anguish. It felt as though he were trapped between the scales of a snake that was dying in the sun, thrashing out its final, desperate agonies without hope of respite or deliverance. The sensation might have bothered some - but not Kronos. Choosing his direction at last, he smiled to himself in anticipation of the unknown tensions he could feel building - and then struck off into the heart of the city.
Katherine Madison, widowed mother of three grown-up daughters, and member of at least three city-wide welfare organisations, stood on her doorstep trying to get cool. A group of flies buzzed lazily around her head, but she did not have the heart to strike out at them. Katherine never raised her hands against any living thing, intelligent or otherwise - and to swat a fly was anathema to her. She watched the creatures instead, wondering how they came to be so active in such heat, and wondering if she would ever feel active again. She was too old now for such heat, and was beginning to wish that she had left the city a week earlier, when her youngest daughter had offered her the spare bedroom of her holiday cottage in Colorado. At least there she might have found some relief from the all-pervading sun.
A sound, like a scratching in the back of her subconscious, made Katherine turn. There was a young couple strolling past her garden, munching on already-melting ice-creams bought from Sam Menzies, the vendor on the corner of the street. Sam had never done much trade on his pitch - but this summer he had made almost enough money to retire. Katherine smiled at the couple as they wandered past. She knew them only vaguely - thought that she recognised the girl from her eldest daughter's class at junior high - but it was a pleasure to see anybody these days. The streets were more or less deserted for a large part of the day, and the chances for conversation were limited. She bid them a good afternoon and the young man waved in response, his movements languid; and as he strolled on by he made some passing comment about how attractive her garden was. She smiled gratefully. Her garden was her pride and joy, but in this heat there was little left of it to be proud of. The flowers were browned and drooping, and the grass had lost all of its vividness. Only the strongest scents lingered, and above them all, the faint, telling odour of something burning.
Katherine frowned. What could be burning in her garden? She took a few steps forward, concerned, and in the corner of her eye she saw something moving. She turned. A shadow, bent and silent, stepped out of itself with a rolling gait and took a step towards her. She felt a gasp catch in her throat, and looked around for the young couple. They were moving on past, their heads turned away from her. Katherine stared back at the shadow. She could see it more distinctly now. It was a man, tall and well-built, but with a sense of growing weakness leaving him increasingly awkward and gaunt. The shadows were cast about him like a cloak, and beneath a ragged fringe of unkempt pale hair she saw a pair of intense blue-green eyes. Something about them made the breath go cold in her chest.
"I'm the Sandman." He was smiling at her, and laughing lightly with a hint of some lingering madness. Slowly he reached out his hands, and she saw blue fire and lightning flash between his fingers. She took a step back, but already he was touching her, his clawed hands snatching at the light cotton of her floral print dress. A flash of pain and fire raced through her mind, and she screamed - and then everything was burning, and her body arched with a rush of electric madness. Pictures swirled through her mind - leaping, dancing fires and shrieking, howling demons. She was strapped down, sitting in a wooden chair, unable to move. She could feel cold metal around her, channelling the powers that built on the peripheries of her mind.
"The Sandman." She recognised her own voice, and it brought her back to herself. She was sitting in an alleyway, her head in her hands, the smell of blood strong from somewhere nearby. She looked down. She was holding a long kitchen knife that dripped unmistakable redness into a puddle at her feet - and stretched out beside her, cut almost to pieces, were the bodies of the young couple she had just wished good day.
The smell of blood was unmistakable - like the scent that hung thickly over a battlefield long after the last strokes were dealt. Kronos stood on a street corner, letting his senses wash over the surrounding area, listening to every tiny sound that filled the air. A gentle smile played about with the corners of the mouth, and he turned his head in one, specific direction. The smile grew. He could feel the chaos in this place - could feel it crackling its way through his veins, like a lingering Quickening sparking merry havoc in his mind. A thin scattering of people stood about, a hesitant crowd that grew thicker as he walked on past them. Several people looked at him as he walked by, their expressions questioning. He saw the same looks, the same thoughts, in all their faces. Heat-addled, exhausted, paranoid people, tortured by sleeplessness, and by the sudden suggestion that at least one of their nightmares might have just become real. They looked at each other with suspicion, and at him even more so. He seemed to stand out here rather, with his cold, clear eyes and his certain, steady vision. If the heat bothered him he did not show it, and his black clothes were extra proof of that. They stuck out, in a marked contrast to the forest of sweaty white singlets and shorts. The younger people, with their longer hair and their profusion of tie-dyed cotton, were watching him with less suspicion - but some, in whose eyes even his casual gaze could clearly see the confusions of chemical substances, drew back at his passing and muttered amongst themselves. A willowy, black-haired girl of about eighteen, her blue eyes a mist of marijuana dreams, pushed forward, waving a string of beads in the air. She pressed something into his hand, and as Kronos looked down to see what it was, he realised that it was a flower - a single, dead bloom, frazzled by the heat. The girl was smiling at him, her expression earnest, and she pointed at the circle of identical flowers entwining her head in a crown of ribbons and beads.
"Peace, brother," she told him, a hesitant frown disturbing the smooth skin of her face. "There are shadows in this place." She had leaned close to him to speak the words, and she spoke them in a voice hushed by rising fear. Kronos grinned.
"I know." He replied in the same tone of voice, his soft whisper like the touch of ice carried in the heart of an ill wind. Gently he reached out, taking her chin in his fingers, and tilting her head so that their eyes met. The girl seemed to see something then, and he saw the mists of her drug-induced distractions swirl, and mingle, and clear. "Now tell me what's going on."
"Everybody's flipping." She frowned again, this time with less hesitancy. "It's all gone crazy."
"Has it indeed." He smiled and released her, intrigued by the questions he could still see in her face. Whatever she saw under the influence of her drugs made her look at him so very differently to the other, uninterested, energy-sapped citizens standing nearby. Only the crowd of flower-carrying, bead-wearing young people, of whom the girl was so clearly a part, were watching him at all now. Everybody else was watching the coroner's van that was moving slowly down the street. A handful of policemen moved out of a side alley, and as the crowds of people began to disperse, as though some strange and silent command had been given, Kronos saw that the mouth of the alley was cordoned off. Three plainclothes officers stood there, watching their fellow city-dwellers move away. There was a woman with them, held in the grip of a uniformed policewoman. Her hands were cuffed behind her back, and her floral print dress was soaked in blood. She was crying without a sound, her shoulders and chest shaking and shuddering with a motion that was almost robotic. Beside her a delicate-fingered young man in a blood-speckled uniform was holding a long-bladed kitchen knife in a clear plastic bag. He was holding it at arm's length, as though afraid that it might be about to turn its already stained edge against him.
"They found two of them." The girl was swaying by his side now, her eyes closed. Her fingers were toying with the beads around her neck, becoming increasingly entangled, and threatening to break the strings. "They found another one just a few hours ago, a couple of blocks from here. Cut to pieces - cut to little, tiny pieces."
"Really." He watched the girl as she swayed away, returning to the fold. Her companions welcomed her back as one might welcome the return of a voyager from the dark paths. A tall, ginger-haired young man of about twenty-eight, with a pink shirt bedecked with red and purple flowers, wandered closer, singing softly under his breath in an Indian dialect. The names of several Hindu deities trilled from his tongue, and he moved his body to a steady, swaying beat he seemed to hear inside himself. He stopped when he reached Kronos, and then laid his lily-white hands on the Immortal's shoulders.
"This place is not good for your soul," he announced, his voice descending to prophetic depths. "There are shadows here."
"So I'm told." Kronos detached himself carefully, mindful of the nearby policemen. "If you're looking for souls to save, my friend, I think you're a little too late, don't you?"
"Not yet." The ginger-haired man turned his blurry grey-green eyes towards the shocked woman in the floral print dress. "The shadows aren't from her. They're near her, but they're not in her." He giggled suddenly, and an expression of studied seriousness crossed his face as he turned to lay hold of Kronos once again. The smell of marijuana smoke lingered in the air around him, and drifted freely from every fold of his clothing. "The shadows are watching all of us, but only one of them has eyes of its own." He turned to watch the two uniformed officers as they took their prisoner and her bagged murder weapon towards a black and white squad car. "She saw him. Everybody will see him soon, if they're not careful."
"You think?" Kronos turned to follow the grim procession with his eyes, watching as the young officer with the bag placed it almost reverently in the front of the vehicle. The uniformed woman was struggling with her prisoner now, trying hard to force her into the car. Katherine Madison was beginning to sob afresh, her keening now audible and rising in volume. She looked up, her face taking on a new certainty of expression as, for one, brief moment, her eyes met with those of Kronos. She gasped.
"The shadows." She spoke loudly, as though for all the world to hear - and yet the words were directed most pointedly at Kronos alone. She spoke again, this time in a tone so pleading that it was almost a wail. Had her hands been free she could not have pointed more certainly at the Immortal as she did then, her entire being directed towards him. "They showed me the dark man."
"She sees." The ginger-haired man was nodding sagely. "She sees." He turned back and took a length of beads from around his neck, slipping them over the Immortal's dark head. "There are shadows round you, man. Like how."
"I don't need your beads." Kronos reached up to take them off, but all around him the tie-dyed, beaded, flower-waving young people were beginning to sway and chant and send clouds of drifting smoke towards the heavens. The police officers were already paying rather too much attention - and rather than make himself stand out even more, Kronos changed his direction, and vanished into the singing, praying ranks that swirled about him. Peacock feathers watched him go, and so did the glowing tips of a hundred illicit cigarettes. In the depths of the nearby alleyway, a shadow in human form also watched him depart, and as it saw him it smiled, and its teeth glowed with flickering tendrils of a cold blue light.
Howard Marks, police lieutenant, screwed up his paper cup and hurled it, with true rage, into the nearest litter bin. It bounced back out again, and lay on the blistering tarmac as though mocking his lack of control. He kicked it very hard, and took some pleasure from watching it barrel along the path and slam into the nearby wall of the police precinct. It eventually lodged in the browning, dried-out, sorry excuse for a flowerbed that his predecessor had had planted beneath the window of his office. Marks was not green-fingered himself, and had let the bed sink into disorder long before the current heat wave had done for the last few straggling survivors. Vandals hadn't helped, of course, and neither had the neighbourhood strays. The small, battered coffee cup was only one of a number of pieces of litter that choked what had once been a promising rose bush. Instead of petals and leaves it bore crisp packets and cigarette cartons, and a cluster of cold and faded butts hung like Christmas decorations from its bent and lifeless stalks. Marks sighed. It all seemed to fit in so perfectly with his blackened and depressed mind. Here he was, thirty-four years-old and already a lieutenant, with the world at his feet - and now, quite suddenly, he was stuck in a rut - lost in a dead-end career in a dead-end precinct that the rest of the state seemed to have forgotten about. It was painfully hot, he couldn't be bothered to do any work - the whole of the rest of the city had given up and gone home three weeks ago, and didn't seem to intend going back to work again any time soon - and yet here he was, having to investigate the nastiest, bloodiest, most unpleasant case he had so far seen in his whole career. A woman, previously loved and respected by half the city, known to all her neighbours as the gentlest creature ever born, had hacked two apparent strangers to death with a kitchen knife, and had then sat down beside their bodies, meek as a kitten, waiting to be found and arrested. The frenzied attack was like nothing Marks had ever seen before. His officers were searching the records, trying to find any similar cases that might suggest Mrs Madison's loss of control had not been without precedent. So far all that they had come up with had been the murder of a young girl, earlier in the day, behind the Sea Food Bar. That had been a nasty case too, and similarly violent - if not quite so frenzied. Mrs Madison, however, had at least three alibis for the time of that attack; and at least three independent witnesses had sworn that they had seen a man leaving the scene of the crime. A tall man, with jet black hair and a bushy beard, wearing torn jeans and a death's head earring; and Marks already had him in custody. He had even taken a full, if somewhat confused, confession. In between confirmations that the suspect had committed the murder, there had been talk of blue fires, and of bright bolts of electricity that lit up the mind and drenched the world in dreams and hallucinations. If he hadn't been obviously sober, Marks would have suspected the fool of being high on something.
And then Katherine Madison had given him her statement. She had begun with talk of dying flowers and barren gardens, and had gone on at great lengths about shadows and whispers. Marks, who had been present by the roadside at the time of her arrest, had seen the wild outburst that she had directed at a black-clad onlooker, and had heard her strange talk of the Sandman. As far as he was concerned it was all evidence that the woman was stark staring bonkers - and probably better off behind bars whether guilty of the murders or not. He had nodded patiently throughout her circuitous testimony, and had only been half-listening when she had turned to talk of the smell of burning, and of a man who had stepped out of the shadows and attacked her with shards of living, dancing lightning. She had spoken of blue fire, and nightmare images of death and madness and ravenous electricity - sheets of pain and fire that assaulted her mind and told her tales of somebody's delusions. She knew that she had killed the two, and she seemed to remember doing it - and yet she claimed that, at the time, she had been sitting in a hard wooden chair in a big, cold room, watching electric madmen trying to kill her with their make-believe spears. She had laughed then; a refreshed, happy laugh, like any old woman laughing at her own mistaken fantasies. She had talked again about the Sandman, and then had said nothing else at all. She hadn't even opened her mouth. The police psychiatrist, with his knee-length white coat, and thick-lensed, little round glasses, had called it shock - a reaction to extreme trauma. They would be lucky if she ever spoke again.
"Damn it all." With a heavy sigh that should have chased away some of the irritations, but instead only seemed to make them more of a burden, Marks turned to the choked and dry little flowerbed and began collecting up the litter there. He jammed it all into the litter bin, trying to stop it from overflowing, and was so preoccupied with his work that he did not at first notice the shadow that fell across his path. He glanced up eventually, aware of a strange smell of burning - and found himself looking straight into a pair of crystal clear, blue-green eyes that flashed and glinted in the light of the overhead sun.
"I'm the Sandman." The man was cowled in black, and seemed to be wearing prison denims beneath his heavy coat. Marks could just see the numbers on his chest, sewn onto the faded blue shirt with an irregular stitch. He thought that he saw the numbers 3447856, but such was the shadow, and such was the inexplicably irregular lighting, that he could not be sure of anything. He frowned.
"What did you say?"
"I said I'm the Sandman. I come to bring you dreams." The shadowed man giggled slightly, and moved closer still. Now that there were only a few, bare yards between them, Marks could see that the bright eyes staring into his seemed filled with flashes of something - something that created the oddest impression of powerful, lashing electricity. He could see something else too - small shaved patches on the sides of the man's head; deeply scarred burn marks that prevented the re-growth of hair. They reminded him of something, but he couldn't remember what.
"Could we talk?" Trying to speak gently, certain that the man was mentally ill, Marks tried to herd him towards the nearby door. His shadowed visitor laughed unpleasantly - a thick, cloying sound that seemed to come from somewhere deep, deep inside.
"No time for talking." He moved closer still, and as he reached out his hands Marks saw the blue fire that surged from his sleeves - felt the first, powerful tongues of electricity reaching out for his inner soul. He closed his eyes, and his vision became clearer than ever.
He was standing on an empty plain, on a dark night in the dead of winter. Rain threatened but never fell, and a light mist hung above the ground. He heard footsteps - saw a band of four men standing behind him. They were holding swords - somehow Marks knew exactly what kind; recognised the style and age they and their owners belonged to; although he had no idea how. As he watched them one of the men stepped forward, reaching out with the sword in his hands. Marks tried to strike out, to fight back; tried to disarm the man in any way he could think - but he was helpless. In a shudder of pain and blinding disorientation he felt his own head struck from its shoulders, and saw it flying clean across the plain.
"What--" He wanted to speak, and thought that he had, but suddenly he was no longer present to hear his own voice. He was in a wooden chair, in a big, cold room, and there were metal bands holding him down, pressing into his skull. A loud, insistent clattering sound filled his head, filled the room, and he found himself looking at its source - saw a youngish, dour man seated a typewriter, his anxious, excited face filled with the fever of a story that he needed to write. Then, all of a sudden, there was blackness - impenetrable, intense blackness - and then there was nothing but the electricity.
It was within him and it was without him. It hurt him and its counselled him. He felt it and he saw it and he tasted it and heard it; it burned him and cooled him, and knew every inch of him. He heard the laughs of the insane sharing in his fantasies - saw dragons built of blue fire, breathing more of the same out onto every inch of the world. He saw the blue lightning fill the skies, and saw each and every tiny electron; the microscopic foundations of the electricity that filled him. They were all around him, staring at him with a million billion microscopic blue eyes. He wanted to speak to them, but they laughed at him and turned him away; turned their backs on him and talked amongst themselves. Then pain was crushing his soul, and he was alone.
He was almost afraid to open his eyes, but he knew that he had to do it. He was sitting in a park, on a bench that he had used to take his fiancée to, back in the days when she had still been his fiancée - before she had decided to marry somebody else instead. His hands felt wet, and he recognised the stickiness of the moisture. He recognised the smell too. Slowly he turned his head and looked down.
There were three of them, all holding hands. A ginger-haired man of about twenty-eight was in the middle, his grey-green eyes fixed open and staring, his floral-patterned pink shirt torn and bloodied and strewn with beads cut from around his neck. On his right hand side lay a girl of about twenty-one, her blond hair sticky with blood that might have been hers, but might equally well have belonged to one of her friends. A still smoking joint rested between her fingers, and he saw the stains of her lipstick around the end.
The third figure was also a girl, a willowy, dark-haired teenager with a head wrapped in ribbon and beads and flowers. She was frowning, forever frozen in a voiceless question, as though asking him why he had killed her. He wanted to reach out and hold her, but his policeman's instinct told him not to disturb the scene. Instead he sat very still, intermittently looking from the three bodies before him to the blood-soaked knife gripped so urgently in his left hand. Left hand? His subconscious was confused by that. Why use his left hand when he had always been right-handed? He couldn't find himself an answer, despite the absurdity, and so he stayed where he was and closed his eyes again, wondering where the fantasies and the electricity had gone. He was still there when his colleagues came, just a few minutes later, and took him back to the precinct.
"Another one?" The barman was ready with his bottle even before the customer nodded his head, and he expertly poured another shot of whisky into the newly emptied glass. His customer nodded a cursory thanks, and downed the liquid in one go.
"Good?" The barman asked him. Kronos shot him an icy glare.
"At the price you're asking, it had better be; but to be perfectly honest with you - no, it isn't."
"Then why are you drinking it?" Filling the glass again, the barman rested his elbows on the edge of the bar, and tried to outstare his customer. He gave up almost immediately.
"Because I'm thirsty." Kronos drank the contents of the glass, then moved the tumbler away before it could be refilled. "And because I'm in a bar."
"You could go outside." The barman, his tone and manner rather too casual than might be considered advisory, shrugged his shoulders and began polishing glasses with a dirty grey cloth. The bar was nearly as stuffy as the city outside, given the tightly packed conditions and the faulty electric fans in the ceiling. Just lately half the electrical appliances in the city seemed to be failing. People thought it was the heat, but he wasn't sure. Kronos stared at him, enjoying the customary look of faint unease that sparked in the corners of the man's eyes. Kronos had learned a long time ago that the power of his stare was enough to inspire fear in the staunchest of onlookers.
"I don't want to go outside." He liked the bar, despite the crowded spaces and the lack of fresh air. It was dark, for the lighting was at a minimum, and the tightly-packed people were feeding each others fears and paranoia by their mere proximity. He heard tales whispered in hushed tones, of bodies hacked to pieces, of policemen gone mad, of strange men wrapped in shadows who hung about in alleyways and glowed with electricity. Part of Kronos' mind warmed to the theme, enjoying the thrill of a well-told tale of fear - but part of him was faintly stung. He was the nightmare that had once chilled several continents - his was the shadow that fell across mortal minds. The woman in the floral print dress had recognised the darkness within him, he was sure of that. He had frightened the drug-addled hippies. So why did the ordinary people in the world no longer worry about him, and instead let children's tales keep them awake? It was an insult to his pride. He thought of the sword hidden within his clothing, and thought sweet thoughts of drawing it in this closely confined space. He could let it drink its fill of cool red blood before most of the people present had even realised what was happening. He could show every one of them, that he was the one they should be afraid of - not some dark-clad trickster who hid in alleyways, and frightened the children with his gory parlour tricks.
"You want another drink?" The barman was leaning closer, trying to make himself heard above the loud noise coming from the jukebox. Kronos recognised the tune, although he wasn't altogether sure how. Music was something that followed him, and lodged uninvited in his mind. He didn't go looking for it, but it found him all the same. This one was something from The Beatles, who were beginning to annoy him with their persistent message of love and peace for all. Couldn't anybody sing about something real? The songs he and his people had sung, thousands of years ago as they sat around the campfires, would have made every one of these people shake in their shoes - and they had been real songs, telling real tales of real people and real places. Songs of massacres and destruction, and of living magic that stole souls and walked the Earth in twisted human form.
"No I don't." He threw a couple of dollar bills at the barman, watching as the greasy little man scooped them up and slipped them into his till. Left alone with his empty glass, and his hot, sticky place at the bar, Kronos toyed with the tumbler, turning it over in his hands and watching as the last few tiny drops of whisky fell to the ground. One of them hit the toe of a booted foot nearby, and he felt a heavy hand snatch at his shoulder. His collar protested, and the beads he still wore about his neck threatened to break free from their moorings.
"You want to apologise?" His attacker, and the owner of the offended boot, glared down at him from a great height. He was an impossibly tall individual - everybody seemed tall in America, which was probably something to do with the climate - sporting a close-shaved haircut, inadvisably long sideburns and a T-shirt that stank of pipe tobacco and cigar smoke. He was probably no older than twenty-four, but there were heavy lines on his face that spoke of a good few years worth of substance abuse. What substances were anybody's guess, but the scientist in Kronos easily spotted the tell-tale symptoms of at least half a dozen both legal and illegal.
"No, I don't." He saw first surprise, then amusement as his accent registered. The grip on his shoulder tightened, and the expensive black material shifted to compensate. It didn't like being creased. Very slowly and deliberately, like a child trying out an experiment, Kronos raised his empty glass, let it snap in his steady grip, and stroked the man's fingers with the biggest and the sharpest of the remaining shards. "Do you?"
"You're bluffing." The man raised his free hand, either in warning or just in preparation to land the first blow. It was a large fist, easily capable of stopping Kronos in his tracks. Fast and agile the old Immortal might have been - but no amount of battle experience and immortal energy could be of assistance when facing a man as big and as strong as this. The threat, however, meant nothing to him all the same. With cold, deliberate forcefulness, he drove the shard of glass deep into the mortal's wrist. Blood gushed forth in a steady, warm stream that soaked the shoulder of the shirt the hand still gripped. The mortal did not seem to register the pain at first, but those around him clearly did. Somebody screamed, and the wounded mortal, reacting to their terror, let out a cry of jumbled fear and stumbled away. Blood continued to pour from his now madly flailing limb, and the sheets of people about him bent and folded in terror-stricken, rhythmical motion - like fish shoals moving as a single creature - in their hurry to distance themselves both from attacker and attacked. Kronos heard a whirl of broken words around him, and laughed out loud. They were all afraid - had been of all and sundry even before he had stabbed their fellow citizen. Every little sound terrified them, for each and every one of them had heard the tales of wandering shadows, and they were all afraid of the rash of recent mad killings.
"Get him." One of the mortals present was pointing at Kronos, his voice rising above the others. He did not step forward himself though, and instead stayed where he was, hoping against hope that somebody else would make the first move. "He's the killer. Get him."
"You get him." The second voice was forceful, and it came from somewhere on the far side of the room. Everybody was struggling to get further and further away from Kronos, who stood very still, the glass shard still in his hand, the blood still pouring off it and dripping onto the floor. The man he had stabbed lay in a bloody heap nearby, the occasional quiver the only proof that he was still alive. He tried to raise his head in response to the suggestion of a lynching, but either he wasn't strong enough, or he was just too scared. Kronos grinned.
"You're pathetic." Coming from his soft, well-spoken voice, with its glorious air of the dramatic, it sounded like a pronouncement of doom. "Each and every one of you, lost in your own nightmares. You huddle in here, terrified of what might be up there, out on the streets, and instead of confronting it you cower in fear. The real nightmares aren't hiding in shadows ready to jump out and get you. The real nightmares are right here in your midst." He laughed, and the sound was like the icy touch of doom. "You're all dead already. You just don't know it yet." He took a step forward, and the sheets of desperate humanity folded and swayed and staggered out of his path. Somebody whimpered, and somebody else sounded as though they were being sick. Kronos made a slashing motion with the makeshift dagger in his hand, and the ranks of people broke up and fell apart, trampling on each other in their anxiety, and their determination to get away from the madman with the glass knife. Quite clearly they all thought that they were doomed. The idea that they were many, and that Kronos himself was only one, had not penetrated any of their fuddled, paranoid, terror-stricken brains. Kronos gave a short laugh. Life in this town just got better and better.
Outside, the streets were deserted. They had become more so than ever these last few days, when more and more bodies were being found each morning, and more and more unlikely killers spouted increasingly insane tales of electric dreams. Kronos strolled along the empty road, unheeding of the shifting shadows that lined the sides of the street. If the shadows belonged to would-be murderers, or to the strangely compelling dark force he was sure had led him to this place, he was certain that he had no need to fear them. Kronos was not just an Immortal - he was the Leader of the Apocalypse. If anything in the world frightened him, it was not dark creatures or terrors hidden in shadows; and it certainly was not scared and twisted mortals led to commit murders by hallucinations they failed to understand.
He had gone some way before he heard the footsteps that followed him, and became certain that they were coming closer. He slowed, letting his casual, steady stride carry him into a dimly-lit alleyway nearby. Seconds later the footsteps followed him into the alley, cautious at first, but gradually growing in determination. Kronos let his hand fall to his sword, and in the dark, half light he pulled it from its hiding place and let it rest at its ease in the open air. In the gloom it looked dull, its blade devoid of life and shine, and he turned it over and over in his hands. Restless excitement stirred his hands to keep the blade moving, eager for the action he had been waiting for. There was little enough glory to be gained in the twentieth century - and if he had to fight his battles alone, and in the dark, and hidden in some sorry little alley in a city torn apart by its own nightmares, then so be it.
"Hello?" The voice surprised him, for it was the voice of a man who was trying to be polite. "Hello? I didn't mean to startle you."
"Startle me?" Kronos stepped out of the shadows, his sword pointing like an arrow towards the new arrival's chest. Even in the gloom he could see the man's face, and he recognised him. The young mortal had been following him around for days, ever since they had met on the stairs at the Roadside Inn. The fool wasn't exactly built for anonymous tailing after all, with his distinctive scar and tell-tale limp. Kronos was well aware that he was a Watcher, part of the so-called secret organisation that had taken it upon itself to play witness to the Game. They guarded their existence jealously, and tried their utmost to remain unknown; but when you were four thousand years old there were few secrets that remained unbroken. Kronos had disposed of nearly as many Watchers as he had Immortals, these last few years. It was getting harder and harder to remain un-Watched, and unknown to the organisation. He'd be damned if he was going to let some stupid young Watcher get in his way now, and spoil the fun that he was just beginning to have in this grim and misbegotten city. Fun, after all, was rare enough these days.
"Yes. I thought you might think - well, you know. The way it is here at the moment." The mortal was visible now, dressed in a neatly creased pale blue shirt and a pair of iron grey slacks. There did not appear to be anywhere about his person where he might have been able to secrete a weapon - but Kronos, who came from a race which had perfected the art of hiding full-length battle swords amongst ordinary everyday clothing, remained faintly suspicious nonetheless. "I didn't want you to think that I was a murderer."
"You're no murderer." Kronos took a couple of steps towards him, and let the young fool receive the full benefit of the coldest and most icy pair of eyes ever yet known to the world. "So what is it that you want?"
"My name is David Ferrer. I, er... I represent some people." Rather greatly unnerved, David Ferrer tried to avoid backing away. He was taller than this Immortal, and of a stronger build too - and yet he felt considerably at a disadvantage, and not just because of the sword. His eyes did not want to seem to leave its edge, and he could not help but think of the kitchen knife he had seen the young uniformed policeman holding a few days ago, when he had followed Kronos to the scene of Katherine Madison's arrest. He had heard of the wounds the little old lady had inflicted, even though he had not seen them; and right now he was a little too close for comfort to a weapon that was all too capable of adding him to the city's list of recent mortalities.
"You're a Watcher." Kronos smiled unpleasantly, and slid his free hand along the length of the blade, moving with a casual and steady slowness calculated to intimidate. Psychological warfare was a card that he could play only too well. "Don't beat about the bush." He took a step forward and lowered his voice a fraction, easing back into the icy whisper he so loved to use in his more dramatic moments. "You may not be a murderer, friend; but I am." And he smiled, and gently laid the long blade of the sword on David's shoulder. The mortal froze into a rigid block of solid flesh.
"I--" He took a deep breath, still trying to fight his fear. "I came to ask for something."
"Oh yes?" Intrigued despite his almost overpowering yearning for violence, Kronos allowed himself another smile, this time with rather less malevolence in its foundation. "And what would you need from me? You don't know who I am."
"You're Jack Craig. You came here from San Francisco, via rather a lot of other places, about a week ago. Since you arrived everything's gone crazy."
"It usually does." With an expression that rested somewhere between pleasure and gentle amusement, Kronos slid his sword closer to the mortal's neck, letting the cold touch of the steel rest against the bare skin. He could cut the throat in the blink of an eye, now, and dispense with this Watcher in a micro-second. "I pride myself on it."
"Yeah, well maybe this time it's not your doing." Beginning to take exception to the icy Englishman's unnecessarily hostile tone, David tried to push the sword away from his neck. Before he was even aware of what was happening, he was colliding painfully with the wall of the alleyway, his back and head knocking hard into unyielding brick. The sword, having been nestling gently against the side of his neck seconds before, was suddenly biting hard and forcefully into the front of his throat. A fiery pain chased through his windpipe, and his overworked imagination began to convince him that he could feel his blood welling forth from newly broken skin. He struggled, but the grip across his neck was too powerful to break. A few inches from his face, the face of the Immortal looked back at him, eyes alive with curious flames and the sparks of sadistic humour.
"I could kill you, Watcher." It was not a threat, merely a statement - and David believed it as surely as he had ever believed anything. Concentrating hard on the mere need to breathe, struggling to force the oxygen into his lungs through his obstructed windpipe, he did not answer. The ice-blue eyes looking so intently into his face moved suddenly further back, and the sword was gone.
"Thankyou." Confused but grateful, David rubbed at his throat, relieved that the wetness had been just his imagination - that and a fair bit of sweat. There was no blood, and apparently not so much as a mark on his skin. "I didn't mean to cause offence..."
"I don't get offended." Making what appeared to be an in-depth examination of his weapon, Kronos was no longer even looking at the mortal. He glanced up briefly, and flashed a smile that was filled with humour and apparently genuine merriment. The change was almost as frightening as the cold violence which had preceded it. "So tell me what it is that you want." The grin flashed again, forming a dazzling display of affability, openness and apparent innocence. "So that I can decide whether or not to kill you outright." David hesitated.
"I need your help."
"You need my help?" Quite suddenly Kronos was laughing, and in a way that suggested he was bordering on a complete loss of sanity. David wouldn't have thought any more about that, given that half the people in the city seemed to be bordering on the same - but with this man it was different. Everything which had seemed certain moments before, when he had decided to break his oath of non-interference, and contact the Immortal he had been assigned to Watch - every instinct, every thought, every certainty - seemed lost and confused now. He took a deep and shaky breath, and nodded slowly.
"Yeah. I need your help. Perhaps I'd better explain."
"I'd certainly recommend it." Kronos toyed with his sword, smiling all the while in a fresh and strangely immature manner.
"There's an Immortal. A particular Immortal, who was executed a few months back by electric chair." David hesitated, wondering how best to go on. "One of your kind was beheaded, and this other guy - James Durham - was the only likely suspect. I guess there are just too few people around these days who own swords; let alone the kind to have seen action."
"Tell me about it." There was real feeling behind those few words, and in the midst of them Kronos favoured the young mortal with another of his manic, ever-so-slightly depraved smiles. "Your century is a dead one. I pity you for the fact that you're not likely to see any other."
"Yes. Well." David tried to shake off the feeling of impending doom, but did not seem able. "Anyway, there were some other murders as well, and they all seemed to point to this guy... and so he was executed. Everybody thought his body had been disposed of..."
"Buried." Kronos spoke the word flatly, and David smiled rather awkwardly. Now that he thought about it, the prospect of being buried alive was not a pleasant one; but presumably being immortal had to have its downsides as well as its ups.
"Yes. Buried." He sighed inwardly, beginning to wish that he had not embarked on this project, which was rapidly turning into more and more of an uphill struggle. "We thought that he was buried, but then we heard that the body was gone."
"And you think he's lurking in the alleyways now?" Kronos shook his head. "If he has any sense he's out of the country. Why stay? He's dead here, all his crimes are paid for. He can turn over a new leaf and go and start afresh with a new name. There's no reason to stick around and risk being recognised."
"There might be, if he's not in his right mind. You know the amount of electricity that goes into the chair? It's enough to fry anybody's mind, let alone kill them. Most people don't have the problem of living with the effects after the sentence has been carried out."
"A mortal brain might be fried, as you so sweetly put it." Sparks of interest had alighted in Kronos' eyes. David, of course, had no idea that he was dealing with a scientist. "But not an immortal one. We can recover from almost any injury."
"With the emphasis on the almost." David tried to put a little more force into his words, aware that he had caught the other man's imagination at least to some degree. "Mr Craig, I'm sorry to have contacted you in this way, and I apologise for the inconvenience--"
"If you had inconvenienced me, you'd be dead by now." The comment was so offhand that David could not help losing his previous thread. He blanched, and let his words remain unspoken. Kronos smiled.
"You were saying?"
"I--" The mortal could not stop his eyes drifting to the still unsheathed sword. "I was saying about this immortal guy..."
"Who you think has gone mad, and is hiding in the shadows ready to leap out at unsuspecting passers-by and infect them with his own insanity?" The Immortal shook his head and resumed polishing his weapon. "Not likely, even if it wasn't a daft theory. The heat is driving everybody mad as it is, and the chances are that this shadow creature doesn't even exist. People flip, especially mortals. There doesn't have to be any explanation for it, or any cure. People kill each other. They always have."
"And you don't give a damn, I suppose." David's voice was soft now, and his eyes were bright with ill-concealed hurt. "In the last four days, twenty people have been hacked to death by previously sane, rational citizens. Doesn't that mean anything to you?"
"Nope." Kronos held out his arms in a gesture of complete openness. "Why should it? I came here for my own reasons, David. I'm not interested in social crusades."
"Fine. And I do see your point. I understand your reservations. But please listen for just a little while longer. One of the people who recently went mad - a police lieutenant - mentioned seeing somebody before he flipped. Actually everybody I've been able to get records on has mentioned seeing somebody, but this cop came up with a much better description. He mentioned a guy in a prison uniform, with shaved patches on his head; like somebody headed for the chair. He said the patches were all burnt and scarred - said he even smelt burning. He also gave a pretty accurate description of our guy, and gave a number he thought he saw on the front of the uniform. It was the same number the Immortal I've been talking about had on his prison uniform. This lieutenant had no reason to know any of that, and no reason for this guy to have been on his mind anyway. It can't just be a coincidence. And neither can it be a coincidence that all the other people involved in this have mentioned a weird looking guy surrounded by light. They've all mentioned blue lightning, blue fire and great arcs of electricity - and if that doesn't spell 'Immortal', then I don't know what does."
"What's your point? So an Immortal goes mad after your lot try to execute him. So what?" Kronos was smiling, running his hands up and down the blade of his sword in a manner that seemed, to David, to be automatic and instinctive. In the shadows of the alleyway this strange, dark man with his fearsome weapon was a disturbing sight. "You want me to hunt him down, is that it? To kill him for you, because you find him an irritation; a loose end." The voice had drifted back into its soft and icy depths, but in the process had taken on a strangely precise tone, like that of a teacher explaining a point to a student. "If you're right, and if he has somehow lost his mind as a result of the electric shock - and if your mad little witnesses are right, and he's surrounded by blue fire and lightning when he confronts them - then there's something very wrong with him; something that must be connected with his Quickening. If he's using that to toy with you people, there's no telling what effect taking his head could have. It could unleash something very unpleasant indeed."
David swallowed hard. "Such as?"
Kronos gave a short, scathing laugh. "Do you know what a Quickening is, David? Have you ever seen one? It's a power so great that your tiny, limited mortal mind cannot begin to truly grasp it. It is everything. Every great source of power, every great source of strength. It burns all it touches, it can destroy anything in its path. I've seen mortals killed when they strayed too close to the focal point. It's rather like being struck by lightning to your kind. And this man, if you're right in your thoughts about him, has channelled his Quickening into something greater still. His soul is plugged into the mind of every mortal in this city, and if I were to unleash that power on the world, I could be the only creature left sane for miles around. It would be like sending each and every one of you to the same fate you've awarded him." He laughed unpleasantly. "Which mightn't be a bad idea. Poetic justice perhaps."
"Justice for who exactly?"
"Ah well, that's for you to work out." Kronos spun his sword in a lazy circle, clearly tiring with the conversation. "This city belongs to him now. Leave it at that."
"That's all you're going to say?"
"Apparently so." Kronos shrugged. "I have my reasons for coming here, mortal. I'd appreciate it if you would give me the chance to do what I have to do, so that I can leave again."
"Your own reasons?" David decided that he didn't want to know what they were. The smile on the face of the Immortal had told him enough. He shook his head, bitterness filling his voice. "Save it. Forget I asked."
Kronos laughed rather curtly. "Fine. Whatever you like." He spun the sword again, in an impressive display of dexterity and skill that reminded David vaguely of a cowboy spinning his six-shooter before re-holstering it. "Then I'll be seeing you."
"I hope not." David's tone was cold and angry, and Kronos gave a light smile.
"Now you're learning." He headed back towards the main street, taking care to push forcefully past the young mortal on his way. "After the way you spoke to me, be glad that I've left you alive. If we meet again your life is mine."
"I know what you are." It was a vain attempt at bravura, and it wasn't really fooling anybody. "Your life could just as easily be mine."
"It could." There was something about the Immortal's smile that chilled David to the bone - and yet at the same time almost made him want to smile back. "But it won't. Goodbye." With that he was gone, his black leather boots clicking sharply on the hot tarmac as he strode away into the blistering heat. David watched after him for a while, marvelling at the man's long stride, and his clear lack of concern for the powerful sun. It seemed incredible that anybody could be comfortable in such weather, let alone comfortable enough to dress in black and display so much relentless energy. Far sooner than seemed humanly possible, the figure had passed out of sight; and almost immediately David heard a low laugh behind him. He froze. Was it possible that Craig had doubled back? Could he have reached him again so soon? He could almost believe that he had, and yet he knew that he hadn't. Very slowly he turned around.
In the shadows of the alleyway there was a place where, quite suddenly, the darkness was deeper than it had been before; as though all of the light had crept away, and was hiding somewhere until the shadows were gone. In the midst of the darkness, his face and body shrouded in a long, black cloak, was an arresting figure. He seemed tall, and yet his body somehow lacked substance, as though he had lost much of his strength and form and was beginning to fade away. Fierce and piercing eyes were all that was visible of his face, save for its outline; a dark, jutting shape that spoke of angles and strength and formidable force.
"I know you." Strangely calm despite his initial fear, David tried to hold the figure's gaze. In answer he merely heard a repeat of the earlier laugh. "You're James Durham."
"I'm the Sandman." The voice was thick and hoarse. Slowly the figure stretched out its hands, his curling, claw-like fingers flashing with tiny streaks of blue lightning. "And I've been reborn."
"You've been hurting people. Are you after revenge?" David had a faint idea that he could perhaps keep the man talking until help came - not that it was likely to. "You've been making people do things."
"I am the Sandman. I bring dreams." The lightning flashed more powerfully, and a bright, hot streak lit up the hidden face. David caught a glimpse of haggard features, unshaved and creased with lines. There did not appear to be any malice in the face; just amusement. The lightning erupted from piercing, intense eyes, and a curious smell of burning filled the air. "I bring nightmares."
"No. You're just an Immortal." David felt almost inspired to attempt some form of attack, but he quelled the instinct and wondered instead about running away. "You were sent to the electric chair, right?"
"I was sent to hell." The hulking figure reached out for him, his sparking, flashing fingers chasing away some of the shadows, and casting new ones elsewhere instead. David backed away.
"Don't touch me."
"You have to see." Durham was more easily visible now, the growing brightness of the living lightning clearly showing both his prison denims and their telltale number. "You have to see what's inside. You have to see what's outside."
"No thankyou." He had backed away as far as he could now, and still Durham was advancing. "Why do you want me to see? Do you want me to go mad, so I'll start killing people too?"
"The people are terrified." There was a leering smile on the Immortal's face. "They're afraid of each other, like they're afraid of the lightning. And they should be. It's insane. If you look you'll see, like the others have all seen. They've seen how their fears have brought the dark man here." He moved his hands wide apart, as though to embrace David. A jolt ran through the mortal's body, and for the briefest of seconds he felt a flash of pain and fire that might have been an echo of a Quickening. He could not help wondering if that was something of the sensation these people felt, when they killed each other and released so much more of that snaking blue fire.
"Keep away from me." He was still trying to back away, even though there was nowhere to go. A single tendril of electricity leapt from Durham's right forefinger, and the mortal felt it strike him on the forehead. A momentary glimpse flashed through his mind, of a city he knew to be ancient, and long ago crumbled into dust. He saw beautifully robed women, and marching men carrying spears and shields. He saw battlefields and flames, and for a moment thought that he could smell blood. Far off in the distant recesses of his mind, he heard a laugh. He turned.
In the midst of the chaos, on the other side of writhing, fighting warriors, he saw a plain of dark sand and red, angry sky. He saw himself on the plain, his hands soaked in blood, the bodies of a young family strewn at his feet. Durham was there too, his black cowl gone, and nearby, sword unsheathed, stood Jack Craig. The sky overhead erupted into a mass of seething blue tentacles, and the earth began to shake. The sound of horses' hooves filled the air, and dust arose from the ground in choking plumes. Bolts of electricity leapt from the sky, crashing earthward in a rush of heat and noise that cleared the dust and blasted the battlefield out of existence. In its place stood four horses, breathing blue fire. Their four riders were larger than life - much larger than any human - and they wore armour in leather and shining metal. Their faces were marked in elaborate war paint; all save one. He was the most striking of the four, a man dressed all in white, with a simple stroke of blue to decorate his features and a flash of something greater than electricity which illuminated his eyes. Something more than mere instinct told David who these four were, and he turned in a blur and a whirl to face Durham and Craig. The latter had gone, and where he had been there was nothing but darkness. Only Durham remained. He smiled.
"All gone." He turned in a circle, arms outstretched as though to indicate something; but there was nothing left to indicate. There was nothing anywhere save lightning; flashing, lashing lightning that made the emptiness blue. It hurt David's eyes, and made his mind cry out in pain. Durham came closer, but there was nowhere to move to - nowhere save further into the corona of electricity that seemed to have swallowed his consciousness. "You have to feel it. You have to be it. You have to know it."
"No." David gathered all the strength he was sure he could find within himself, and tried to shut his mind to the electric assault. "I don't want to see your world. They're your fantasies, not mine."
"They are all of us. They are from all of us. They're nightmares dreamed by your ancestors, and carried deep in the heart of every mortal ever since." The lightning was flashing from Durham's teeth now, and crackling about and around him like macabre jewellery. "There is no escape from the inside."
"There's always an escape." It was a new voice, and although David heard it clearly he was unsure at first whether it was real. He clung to it nonetheless, and heard Durham's voice scream his petulant rage. "Even from death."
"Craig?" David knew the voice - was sure of its ice and unpleasantness, and its threat of immediate danger. It seemed a strange lifeline to cling to, but it was all that he had; all that he knew of for certain beyond the web of electric nightmares. His only answer was a most discomforting laugh.
"Out of one nightmare and into another, my little mortal friend. It must be your day for inadvisable fantasies. Now try opening your eyes."
"My eyes are open." The moment he had said the words, he became aware that all was blackness and night. Slowly, as his mind righted itself and his head returned to where he could be sure of it again, he felt his eyes beginning to open. He looked around.
He was standing in the street at the mouth of the alleyway, his head hanging from the lingering tension caused by whatever it was he had just witnessed. Of Durham there was not a sign, save for a scrap of black cloth that David found he was clutching in his right hand. It seemed to tingle, as though still touched by the relentless electricity that seemed to be so much a part of the man. David released it, unnerved by its sensations, and watched as it fluttered away on a breeze of its own making. The tension flooded out of him as though dragged away by the same imaginary wind.
"Why did you come back?" He did not look at Kronos as he spoke the question, for he was still exhausted, still unsure of his ability to stand upright. His answer was the low, unsettling laugh he was coming to know so well.
"I like to be unpredictable." The voice had lost some of its ice and implicit threats, and in a rush of sudden camaraderie David turned about to give the Immortal his thanks. Kronos, however, was already striding away down the street, his boots carrying him far off at a most unaccommodating speed. David sighed. So much for solving all his problems in one fell swoop.
"Where do you think Durham went?" Trotting along at the smaller man's side, feeling oddly like a child trying to keep up with its father, David kept up a cheerful banter all the while. Kronos did not look at him.
"He's nearby. I can feel him."
"Watching me. He wants my head. You saw the way he looked - tired; weak. He needs a Quickening."
"So you're going to fight him."
"It would seem so." There was a long silence as they strode on, Kronos fast and casual, David hasty and frenetic, his shoulders beginning to droop in the heat.
"Do you even feel the sun?" He felt as if he were positively dripping with sweat now, and yet Kronos did not appear so much as flushed. There was a pause.
"But you're not hot?"
"Yes you are, or yes you're--"
"Shut up David." Kronos came to a halt so sudden that the young mortal was several strides ahead before he realised he was alone. He looked back.
"Why have we stopped?"
"Because the street here is deserted, and there's a minimum of windows. I've decided that this would make a good place to kill you."
"Oh." He grinned, ill-advised merriment bright in his eyes. "Very funny. Why have we really stopped?"
"Guess." Kronos had drawn his sword, but in the bright daylight with its dearth of shadow he looked strangely incongruous rather than dramatic and dangerous - much like an actor wandering off set, yet still in his costume. "Understand this, mortal. I don't work for the Watchers, and I have no intention of beginning now. If I kill this man, it's not for you. It's for me - to save my life. I like this city just as he's made it, with its gloom and doom and its fear. A little of my world, dwelling in yours. So you can go home, and make your report. There's no reason to hang around here."
"You don't think much of the Watchers, do you."
"Is there some reason why I should? I don't understand people who have sworn never to intervene, never to do anything but watch. You people should never have taken your oath of non-interference. Such oaths have a habit of biting the hand that feeds."
"You should have gone on the stage, you know that? You'd be great as Richard The Third or Macbeth." David smiled at the indescribable flash that chased momentarily through the Immortal's eyes. "Forget it. I almost find myself hoping that Durham will win. There's something about him that says he's more of a warrior than you." He turned away.
"More of a warrior?" Kronos seemed only to be whispering the words, and yet David heard them clearly. Before he had had time to register the fact that he had made a grave mistake, his shoulders were seized in a startling grip and he was spun around. Kronos was standing before him, pale eyes aflame, face bright with something that was just that bit too subtle to be true rage. It might have been indignation, or it might have been the calm before the storm. "He wasn't called Durham when I met him last, my young friend. He was called Kavos, and he ruled three kingdoms. I visited the first about two thousand years ago, more or less. Time becomes... confused, you understand, after the first thousand years or so."
"I... guess it would." If he was expected to say something else, David didn't know what. Instead he kept silent.
"Kavos was not a good ruler, even by my standards. I never understood why he did the things he did. I like to kill. I would never bother to try to hide that. I like to bring death, and I like to bring fear into all your pitiful mortal lives. But Kavos... he killed for other reasons. There was no art, no drama, no sense of spectacle to his violence. He got other people to do his killing for him, and he never once felt their blood on his own hands. He had the whole of that first kingdom put to death, right down to the last child, because of the seeds of discontent sown by my arrival. I fought him at sundown amongst the hills outside his second kingdom, within sight of the flames that were fast destroying the first. I won, but his soldiers stopped me before I could take his head. He was not 'more of a warrior' than me, my little mortal, when he had his guards hold me down so that he could best take my head; or when he decided to have his fun with me first. Neither was I less of a warrior than him, when I killed half of his guards with my bare hands in order to escape. My last glimpse of Kavos that day was of him fleeing alone into the sunset, with his tail between his legs. It cost him his two remaining kingdoms when the tale of his defeat got out."
"I'm sorry." His teeth chattered, despite his fervent wish that they would remain silent. "I didn't mean--"
"You think I care what you meant? We are what we are, after all, and what you are is nothing to me." With that he turned sharply around and began to walk away. "Now go, before I take your head."
"No." With a sudden burst of courage, David ran after the other man, seizing him by the arm and spinning him around. It surprised him that he had the strength to do such a thing, but perhaps this immortal warrior was not as strong as his words and attitude made him appear. A thin, thread-like lace of a smile twisted the Immortal's lips into an expression that did not bode well. "You're taking too great a chance. Durham is a great threat, and he has to be dealt with. I can't take the chance that he might kill you, and escape."
"Then kill him yourself." He made it sound so simple that David almost considered it.
"I can't. I can't get close to him. The fantasies he spins... I've never been so terrified in all my life. But you can stand up to him. You proved that already, when you helped me earlier."
"My intention was not to help you. I just wanted to see the things that he was showing you." He grinned. "I was flattered, I must confess, to see myself in all those fantasies - but then I've always had a talent for haunting other people's nightmares. It goes with the territory. Ancient evil, myth and legend come to life, all that sort of thing."
"You're treating this like a joke." David's voice was thick with anger. "Do you have any idea how many people have died?"
"Mortals." Kronos' voice was ice cold. "Mortals have died. And that happens every day, in this city and in every other. I'm sorry to be such a disappointment to you, but notice that I called myself Jack Craig, and not Jack MacLeod. I'm not here to care about every life I chance upon." He smiled, and David began to realise that in the course of that forceful speech, Kronos had turned the tables on him, and was now gripping the mortal's arm instead of the other way around. The smile grew. "I have a battle to fight, mortal. Go home before you get caught up in the middle."
"No." David swatted aside the hands that were holding him, and turned all of the force of that one word into a physical blow that knocked Kronos back several paces. "This is as much my fight as it is yours, and I won't be sidelined. This is my city, and I have to be sure that it's safe."
"Is that so." Kronos sauntered back towards him, the changing movement of the sun above for the first time displaying the blood stain on the shoulder of his black shirt. It looked fresh, and David felt his unease beginning to grow once again. He took a few steps back, only to come to a halt as Kronos quite suddenly lost interest in him. He was turning around, sword at the ready, looking for something in the empty street.
"Is it Durham?" Stepping forward David strained his eyes, searching the mouths of alleyways for a sign of the other Immortal. Kronos did not answer. Instead his body lost its suddenly assumed battle stance, and he straightened up, turning to face David - or someone standing behind him. The mortal felt the hair on the back of his neck beginning to stand up straight.
"Who's there?" He wasn't sure that he wanted to turn around. Kronos offered him a careless and strangely charming throwaway smile.
"We appear to have visitors."
"Visitors? Plural?" Swallowing hard, David straightened his shoulders, tried to pretend that he was ready for attack, and swivelled slowly about.
They were confronted by a shaky semi-circle, constructed of men and women of every shape and size. All were young, or youngish - mainly in their twenties, or in their late teens. They wore their hair long and were dressed in a veritable funfair of garish colour; printed cottons and tie-dyed swirls of red and gold and green. Pure whites mingled with soft pinks, and glowing yellows presented a sunburst that lit up the blues and the oranges and the cool, compelling violets. They wore garlands of flowers and necklaces of beads, and their arms rattled softly with the movement of silver bands, bangles of wood and soapstone, and gold and leather and bone. One or two of them wore feathers in their hair - dyed ostrich feathers; staring, entrancing peacock feathers that seemed to see all; long trailing feathers, like the tail displays of a hundred birds of paradise all strung on head-dresses of woven leather and cotton.
"What's going on?" David felt rather like Dorothy, plucked out of black and white, and set down again in a world of dazzling Technicolor. From what he could see he was being menaced all around by hordes of advancing hippies. None of them appeared to be armed, but perhaps they had no need to be. He could see the same look on all their faces - the same empty-but-enraptured gleam in all their eyes. They were drugged; all high on something - and as he caught sight of flickering, hovering shadows on the perimeter of the closing masses, he began to understand what. Perhaps these all-loving, all-caring flower children, with their dream-smoke and their mind-sharing, had been open to the newer fantasies offered by Durham. Either way here they were, their eyes alive with the dance of the electricity that the evil Immortal seemed able to focus so well.
"They appear to want something." If Kronos was scared he was not showing it; although that was of little comfort to David. He wondered if there was any point in drawing his gun - not that he had much intention of firing it. Somehow he doubted that any of these people would be impressed by its threat. He drew it all the same, pointing it in a wild circle at the loitering gang.
"I thought you people were supposed to be able to detect each other." Standing with his back to Kronos, he could not see the other man's response; but he imagined the Immortal's expression from the tone of bitter sarcasm that came with his reply.
"We can - but these are beatniks, not Immortals. I can't detect them."
"Durham's with them."
"Yes, I know." Kronos did not sound impressed. "Him I can detect."
"And he's got them all on his side."
"Yes, David." There was heavy sarcasm mixing with the bitterness now. "I know that too. Is there anything else you'd like to tell me while we're here? Something truly pointless?"
"Not really." He shifted awkwardly, attempting the impossible task of pointing one gun at thirty people without looking out of his depth. "What do we do?"
"I imagine that we're supposed to die." Kronos, damn him, sounded infernally calm, and David was tempted to lose what little of his cool remained. He swallowed his frustration with difficulty.
"You're not helping."
"I'm not here to help. I'm here for the kill, remember? I was just about to have you as the appetiser."
"Then let me give you my heartiest thanks for sparing my miserable life." David rather enjoyed hurling such sarcasm at Kronos, but the Immortal accepted the mock-gratitude just as though it were meant in earnest.
"Don't mention it. I assure you that it was not my idea."
"Undoubtedly." Spinning about as one of the hippies took an idle step forward, David almost lost hold of his gun. He tightened his grip on it, wiping sweat from his increasingly feverish brow, and caught sight of Durham once again. The Immortal was smirking at him, watching all the time as he glided menacingly about on the periphery of his flower-bearing band. "What is he up to?"
"Aside from confirming all your pet theories? You can see the marks on his head, from where they put the electrodes on. A wound has to be serious for it to resist an Immortal's healing powers. The scars probably go very much deeper than we can see."
"That's encouraging. You certainly know how to put me at my ease."
"Ease can swiftly be obtained." One of the circling flower-children, perhaps more in control than the others - or perhaps just more under the control of Durham - moved closer to the unlikely duo. He was smiling in a particularly vacuous way, his eyes empty of all save the sparks of his dreams. "Just reach out, and embrace the power. See the fantasies. Learn from them."
"You make that sound so very tempting." Realising that his sarcasm was wasted on the man, David looked back towards Kronos. "Any ideas?"
"We kill them." Kronos was not looking at them at all, however, his eyes instead drawn by Durham. In return, the man who had just addressed David similarly ignored Kronos, his beetling, sand-coloured brows knitting together as he focussed all his concentration on the mortal. The attention was not especially flattering, particularly since David was only too well aware of the motives. These hippies, with their introverted searching for answers, might have welcomed a man who brought them flashes of the strangest fantasies; but for himself, losing his mind to a screwball of an Immortal did not rate too highly on his personal list. Perhaps the hippies were in the grip of a shared hallucination; perhaps it was not as horrific as the things he had seen at Durham's hands. Either way he was not much inclined to be drawn in to the same fantasy. At least the group appeared to be unarmed, which was some cause for hope; but the same, of course, could not be said for Durham. He still lurked nearby, muttering to himself, and toying with the bolts of lightning that were scattered erratically from his sword. Kronos seemed almost hypnotised by these bolts, linked to them by some strange inner sense that David could only imagine was connected to the Quickening. It all seemed to be one and the same here - electrical power tied to Durham's own inner immortal strength. Durham himself seemed to be drawing strength from the crackling halos of lightning, as though they were living creatures from which he fed. Certainly his growing, blue-white corona seemed to be a living part of him in more ways than one.
"We have to kill them." Breaking ranks as though suddenly animated by an unseen puppet-master, one of the hippies, a girl of no more than seventeen, ran her waist-length blonde plaits through her hands in a strangely demure gesture, then frowned up at the beetle-browed man who had spoken first. "Shouldn't we Levi? They do have to die."
"We should kill them." Another of the group was nodding hard, his eyes flickering with a rhythm that seemed tied to the beating of his heart. "Quickly." He toyed with a small blue flower in his hands, and his love beads rattled timorously. "There should be a lot of blood."
"Blood to clean the lightning." Levi nodded slowly. "Blood to clean all of us, and to make the city cool again. We should kill them. With knives. Like in the sights inside." And he tapped his head knowingly.
"We should use knives and swords, like they used to do in the old days. Then we can cut them up as small as we can, to get out all the blood." Another girl, this time a little older and dressed entirely in blue, stepped out of the rank and file. She was holding what looked like a small, sterling silver letter-opener, the handle twisted and worked into the shape of a coiled dragon. The small, smooth blade bore tiny designs that caught the light, and they quivered in time to the shaking of her hands as she held the little knife out to Levi. "We could use this."
"A mighty sword. Excalibur! Like the weapons they used before." Levi's eyes shone with telltale lights. He bowed his head as he took the tiny object, with was not so much a weapon as a mere decoration. "With weapons such as these we will bring the city back from the edge."
"Destroy the demons," put in the first girl.
"Fight the Horsemen that hide in the fantasies," continued a second.
"Bring rain," added another.
"Hide away the fear and bathe in electricity." Another of the group came tottering forward, his hands aglow with blue lightning. Durham had passed it to him, and now his willing disciple was staring open-mouthed at the cascades of blue sparks erupting from within himself. It didn't seem to matter to him that his sleeves were on fire - that the beads around his wrists were melting. With an oath David started forward, but others held him back, all gasping in amazement and delight as their comrade, with a shriek of either agony or ecstasy, jerked erect under the assault of the unknown power. For a second he was stiff in the air, like some statue twisted by a gifted sculptor - then in a rush of intense blue light his billowing white robes caught fire, and he was no more. The residual lightning, gathered into a massive ball eager for escape, shattered apart as it broke upon the pavement, sending tiny blue and white tendrils scampering away into the tarmac. A hundred manhole covers leapt into the air as the escaping force raced through the drains. Kronos whistled.
"He can't keep this up. That's his Quickening he's spilling."
"You think the rest of us give a damn?" David was staring at the smoking remains of the young man who had just ignited. He could not have been much more than nineteen, and even with his long hair and love beads there had been more than a little about him to remind the Watcher of the other young men he had seen die of late. Watching him depart in such a frenzy of fire and heat brought flashes of memory he had thought were left behind him, abandoned on foreign shores. About him the menacing flower children began to take up an unearthly chant, and to the Watcher the unfamiliar words were battle cries that chilled him to the bone. Too late he realised that the chanting band had joined hands; that the electricity infecting them, and channelling Durham's psychoses so well, was bridging the gap and beginning to converge on him too. Perhaps it was some sliver of the Immortal's own Quickening that was charging through his brain now, forcing his mind back to familiar jungles, to bewildering noise, and to wretched humidity. Whatever the explanations, it all meant little. He felt the cold steel of the gun against his skin, and around him he saw crowds of churning humanity. The smell of smoking flesh - all that remained of the dead boy - floated to him through his battered senses, and he knew, in the deepest recesses of his mind, that the enemy around him was responsible. They had killed the boy - his friend, his comrade; his fellow soldier. The war was calling his senses to a new kind of order.
"David?" The man beside him, with his black clothes and his sword, no longer seemed to look the way he had before. Beneath the distancing film of blue that impaired the Watcher's vision, Jack Craig had become washed with shadows more menacing, more form-concealing, than any worn by James Durham. Craig's shadows had talons and tentacles, and menacing red eyes, and they lashed spiked tails that sent hot sparks flying upwards when they impacted with the ground. The name of Craig no longer seemed to connect with anything in David's mind, and instead he heard a new name - Kronos. It was a name that dragged fear up from deep inside his chest, like a distant race memory, embedded into his genes. A name that made his soul erupt with terror, and cast daggers of black, compelling shadow deep into his heart. In the depths of his brain, memories were stirring - memories of places he had never been to, sights he had never seen. The names and faces of people he had never known assaulted his mind with their presence, all telling, all shouting, all speaking of things only they could understand. All were connected somehow with Kronos - all were a part of him somehow; like echoes of an immortal past. People he had killed, cities he had destroyed, armies he had defeated. Temples he had burned as children screamed, horses that stampeded and hooves that pounded in relentless fervour - and above it all, around it all, through it all, leapt flames that crackled and roared. Waves of intense heat threatened to burn David's mind from the inside out; threatened to singe and blacken all of the world that he knew. And yet in the heart of it all, in the centre of the point of greatest heat, there was an ice more pure, more deadly and cold, than any David had ever known. The ice was Kronos, and his eyes were alive with its evil.
"David?" He heard Craig's voice now the way he heard the voices of his enemies in his nightmares. It was all around him, and he was lost in its embrace. Every flashback he had ever suffered, ever nightmare that had ever held him in its thrall. Faces of a hundred dead comrades, voices of a thousand suffering souls whispering in Vietnamese. Chanting, singing flower-children lighting the road to hell - and all with the faces of men he had killed, or people he had seen dying. All switching each second from friend to foe and back again, until he didn't know which way to look, or how to look there. All that he was truly certain of was James Durham - Kavos, Craig had called him; except that Craig wasn't Craig anymore, and had turned into Kronos. Kavos was smiling at him, with his face lit by flashes of intermittent blue and white; bright and powerful lights illuminating his smiling face, making his teeth glow, making his eyes so warm and welcoming. His head was alive with seething thoughts and memories, and as David reached out and took his hand he realised that those memories could become his own - could intermingle with his own, and replace the ones that were causing him so much pain. He didn't need to think anymore. He could just understand, the way that Katherine Madison and Lieutenant Marks and all those other unlikely murderers had seen and understood before him. It all made perfect sense. In his hands the gun felt light and cool. It sang to him, with the songs he had seen other people singing, as they sat around campfires lit thousands of years before. He felt their nightmares, and felt them take away his in exchange. It didn't seem to matter anymore that the electricity was hurting him - not now that he knew it wasn't really electricity at all. It was Kavos, imparting shards of his Quickening; sharing a little of his life. It was like a kind of magic; one of the oldest kinds of all.
"They're coming." Was he speaking the words aloud? He didn't know, and didn't think that it mattered. Part of him wondered who was coming, and who it was that he thought he heard crying out. People, telling him to lower the gun? He almost laughed. What did they know? Did they see what he saw? Could they understand the ancient fantasies with which his head so wildly spun? He reeled around, staring about him, seeing nothing before him now save four men on horseback who he knew he had to kill. The gun in his hands began to fire heavily, fully in control of itself, screeching in a series of wild, dull bursts that echoed inside his head. Each shot was a flash of blue-white fire; a release of the Quickening that felt so pure and perfect. Each blast counselled and consoled him, and each loud report made a burst of dew-dampened flowers bloom in a perfect frenzy inside his mind. He went on firing until the gun would fire no more - until there was nothing but silence when he pulled the resisting trigger. Gradually his body and his mind began to go limp - and then there was nothing at all.
He awoke to the realisation that he was cold, a sensation which had become entirely alien to him over the last weeks. Beneath him the ground was hard and unrelenting, and above him the sky appeared strangely close, clad in iron grey and devoid of clouds or stars. It was several moments before he realised that it was not the sky at all, but a ceiling; and several moments more before he was able to ascertain the simple fact of his whereabouts - that he was lying on the floor of a room, and that he was not alone. Craig - Kronos? wondered his straying mind - lay nearby, his stylish black shirt stylish no longer, the cloth torn by the impact of bullets, and stained by a patchwork of blood. He was breathing though, and his eyes were open; but he seemed stunned and barely conscious.
"Craig?" David sat up slowly, testing the ability of his muscles to move. "Are you okay?"
"Fine." The voice was icy with displeasure, and dark with the deepest sarcasm. There was no responding inquiry into the state of David's health.
"Do you know where we are?"
"At a guess, we're in Kavos' headquarters. Deep beneath a funeral parlour if I know the way his twisted mind works."
"Which must be pretty twisted if you've noticed it." David climbed to his feet, a little taken aback to see humour register on the Immortal's face at this comment. "Why are we here? I thought we were about to be thrown to the wolves?"
"Undoubtedly. But then you shot all the wolves." Kronos, slowly sitting up, laughed his low, malevolent little laugh. "They almost seemed to enjoy it, although the same couldn't be said for the witnesses."
"I don't remember." David did recall firing the gun, and he knew what the consequences of that had been. Strangely he felt detached from it all. "What witnesses?"
"Other people. Other citizens. There was quite a mob building up, but I don't know what happened after that. It would seem that somebody shot me."
"You survived." There was bitterness in David's tone. "The others..."
"Didn't survive." Yet again that sense of cold humour touched the Immortal's voice. David ignored him, and instead began a rough circuit of the room, hammering experimentally on the walls. He couldn't help wondering why Kronos, a man who exuded fire and impatience, was not already doing the same thing. The Immortal's amused scrutiny soon began to get to him, however, and he ceased his restless pacing.
"Do something useful, can't you? Where's your sword. You should be able to make pretty short work of the door."
"My sword, little mortal, is gone. I assume that Kavos has it." He stood up and stretched, and David caught a glimpse of the last traces of healing bullet wounds beneath the ruined shirt. He almost felt guilty.
"What do you think we should do?"
"Die, probably. At least one of us will." There was a wide, unpleasant smile. "Try to guess which one."
"You really are one cold, heartless bastard, aren't you."
"Oh if only you knew." Kronos shook his head, clearly amused. "You fit in well with this simmering, terrified little city, don't you. Kavos was able to exploit some fascinating nightmares of your own."
"Yeah. Lucky me. Just keep out of my way." David leant against the wall, misery lying heavy on his chest. Kronos favoured him with another burst of incorrigibly devilish laughter.
"Difficult, my little mortal friend, since we seem to be locked in together." He chuckled, sounding like some beast intent upon tormenting its prey. "You know, once upon a time I chanced upon a civilisation that believed in eating the hearts and brains of its victims, in order to feel their strength, and experience their thoughts and memories. I tried it once or twice, but I confess I never developed that much of a taste for it. It was my brother Caspian who was the expert with exotic dishes. But when I look at you, I have a sudden desire to try it all out once again. I should love to see your thoughts and memories, David. Your mind dwells in such a pleasantly dark and warped place. So many twisted feelings, so much agony."
"Shut up." The mortal was sinking towards the floor now, sliding down the wall until he could slide no further, letting his head drop into his waiting hands. It did no good to close his eyes, for even if that meant he could no longer see Kronos, there was plenty else to see instead; all manner of echoes of the things Kavos had shown him. Shapeless corpses, of friends and strangers. Vietnamese soldiers, American marines, the young Australian pilot he had traded beers with on a twenty-four hour leave of absence less than a year ago. All dead now, but resurrected by the gunfire that had killed the hippies.
"Just give me the word and I can end it." Kronos sounded almost reassuring. There was the sound of metal scraping on something, and all of a sudden in the Immortal's hand there glittered a black dagger, its highly polished blade a conflict of darkness and light. David looked up, seeing his own face reflected in the blade - seeing his features intermingled with engravings of writhing serpents and demonic faces. Letters he couldn't read, with shapes he didn't recognise, marked a pathway up one side of the knife, and he wondered what the words said. He wondered if there was anybody alive who could tell - save Kronos himself.
"Please." Strange to hear how much his voice could shake during just that one word. "Leave me alone."
"You're a liability, mortal." That insinuating, sibilant whisper was so close to his ear that he felt the words rather than heard them, and listened to them being interpreted by each violent increase in the thudding of his heart. "I'm better off without you." David began to shake, and was desperately wracking his brain for some way to avoid the inevitable when, beside him, Kronos gave an abrupt shiver. The knife withdrew and the Immortal stepped aside, clearly distracted. Tears began to roll down David's cheeks.
"I see that you're making friends. How nice." The voice was hoarse and sounded tired, and David found that it took a mighty effort to raise his head and look up at this new arrival. He wasn't surprised to see James Durham - Kavos - sans cloak and shadows; but he was surprised to see the way that the Immortal looked. His face seemed increasingly haggard, his eyes were sunken and strange. He had the look of a man who had been lost once too often in the labyrinth of chemical dreams - save that it was not chemicals which inspired his intricate fantasies. The darkened, widened eyes were restless and wandering, filled with torments and undercurrents that sparked familiarity in David's own eyes. He could see the scars of terrible things in the shadow of this Immortal, and for a second he felt almost sympathetic.
"Kavos." Kronos was still holding his dagger, although it was nothing to the two mighty swords hanging in his enemy's belt - one of which was clearly his own. If there was to be a battle, thought David wretchedly, it would be more like that of a worm against a mighty snake. The second Immortal smiled, for the moment making no effort to draw either weapon.
"Hello." He took a few steps forward as though about to clasp Kronos in a welcoming embrace; but the smaller Immortal dodged aside, for the moment withholding his dagger as though he were a cobra postponing its fatal strike.
"It's good to see you again." David knew the voice Kronos used; knew it inside himself, in the way that he had known the Immortal inside his last fantastical daydream. The memory came from some place far inside, like an instinct long unused but still possessed. It had something to do with the dark and menacing dreams from his childhood - the demons that he had been so sure had dwelt beyond his parents' sight. The voice was the whisper that brought death, and the malice that chilled the soul.
"And you." If Kavos was disturbed by the implicit threats of his fellow Immortal, or if he was bothered by the look in his eyes, he did not show it. "I was surprised to see you. I assumed you'd be dead by now."
"Really?" Kronos seemed amused. "Sorry to disappoint."
"Oh you haven't." There was utter conviction in the words. "It's all so different now, you see. I'm so different. The Game has taken on new perimeters. There was never so much blue light in my head before."
"It's the times." Kronos had the look of a predatory tiger. "Everybody is filling their heads with things - dreams and fantasies and false memories; as if we don't have enough to remember already. Like that day two thousand years ago, when we fought over the kingdom you destroyed. There were sixty thousand ghosts with us then - and not one of them came from your dancing nightmares."
"Don't pretend that you cared about them." David knew that this confrontation did not concern him - but he couldn't stay quiet. It hurt to hear so many murdered civilians dragged into this, especially when his own head was so full of ghosts of equal tragedy. Kronos flashed him that familiar, sparkling smile.
"Sixty thousand nothings, blowing away in the wind. What more do you expect?"
"Nothing. Certainly not from you." David was on his feet now, although he didn't recall having risen. "We're about to die - but I almost think it'll be worth it to see you get knocked down to size. Not so special anymore, are you Kronos."
"Kronos?" Where David had got that name from, the one-time Horseman couldn't imagine - but he looked faintly flattered at the suggestion that this puny mortal had managed to dredge it up from somewhere. Clearly, thought David with a touch of bitterness, he enjoyed the concept of being preceded by his own fame.
"You're ahead of yourself." Offhand, Kavos circled the equally predatory Kronos, turning in an easy circle to face David head on. "I plan to take his head, yes - but there's no telling whether or not I'll kill you just yet. I enjoyed sharing my mind with you. Such an interesting diversion. When I first found out that I could do it, it was nothing more than an amusing pastime - but you've shown me how I could use it as a weapon."
"If you can live long enough." Kronos, keeping one eye warily on his fellow Immortal, also glanced towards David. "His brain has been fried, just like you said. He's been floundering ever since your screwed-up little justice system decided to plug him into their power supply. You can see what it's done to him. Maybe it gave him a temporary boost, but it's short-circuited something on a major scale. I should do him a favour and put him out of his misery while there's still some Quickening left to be had. What do you say, hey Kavos? You're losing power like a virgin being sucked dry by a vampire - and you know it."
"He's dying?" David came closer, fascinated now, keeping a wary distance but still picking up lone sparks of flashing imagery from the highly-charged Immortal. "I thought that was impossible."
"It is." Kavos stared back at him. Perhaps, thought David, the bursts of fantasy worked both ways, and this bizarre individual was somehow getting return images. He could imagine what they must be - scenes of jungle madness; semi-organised chaos to a backdrop of blood and tears, and a soundtrack of relentless weaponry. In return he was seeing horrors that made his eyes blur with tears.
"It would seem not." Kronos spun on his heel, gesturing casually with one hand in an expansive and careless manner. "He's a dead man, whether he accepts it or not. Whatever freak effect the electrocution caused, it's resulted in a major disturbance in his brain. The electricity washed straight through him, and is playing havoc with his power supply - or whatever you want to call it. He is dying; aren't you Kavos. I can feel your Quickening freeing itself - tearing loose from its moorings if you prefer the analogy. All that power, seeping out into the cosmos." He shook his head. "It's a terrible waste, but you can see the truth in it just by looking in a mirror. You look like a reanimated corpse."
"I can't die." There was force behind Kavos' words now - like he was clinging to some desperate certainty in which he had already long begun to lose faith. "I'm an Immortal. I've lived for thousands of years."
"Sorry to destroy your illusions." Kronos looked anything but sorry, and instead gave a cheerful shrug. "But it looks as though your immortality has been cured. An interesting situation, and one that I would have appreciated the chance to study in greater depth. Bit late now I'd say." He tossed his knife into the air, watching the blade spin several times before he caught it again. "Of course I could always perform a little living vivisection. I used to be pretty good at that."
"I'd like to see you try." Malice flashed in Kavos' eyes. "I'm still the one with the swords, Kronos. You can't fight me with that pathetic little weapon."
"No? Well maybe I won't have to. You are dying. Your brain cells are probably degenerating as we speak, losing substance with the loss of your Quickening. It's like a form of senile dementia taking place at a greatly exaggerated speed. Soon you won't even be able to lift your sword; and then I won't even have to bother taking your head."
"I'm not dead yet, Horseman." Flushed with anxiety and determination, Kavos tapped his head, sending blue sparks flying from the point of impact. "It's all still in here. It's all still full of lights and fireflies, and flashes of things that make the mortals go mad. I can see it all - the troops marching, the horses galloping. White horses, with silver bridles. And then there are swords flashing in the sun, and spears and flames, and all the times when it felt like the whole world was fighting, all at the same time. I can fill the mortals with tales of all the dead people that haunted the sleep of their predecessors. They stand in their rows, and they mutter in languages I don't remember anymore. It's the language of gravestones. Devils speak it." He pointed at Kronos. "You speak it. I know you do. Just the whisper of it makes mortals start killing each other, and once I take your head it's mine in the real world, as well as in the world in here." He tapped his head again. "You're stronger than the fantasies I create. You're in all the mortal nightmares, and you always have been. You can make the sky scream."
"I certainly try." Kronos grinned, yet again managing the extraordinary feat of looking truly evil, and yet also truly innocent, all at the same time. His ice-blue eyes twinkled and shone, and Kavos' sparking, illuminated form flashed in twin reflection in their centres. He pointed at Kavos. "You're quite a storyteller you know. You could be something of a hero in this charming psychedelic age. All fantasy and spiralling imagery. Very modern."
"Perfect, isn't it." Kavos spun about, drawing his sword in a flash and pointing it towards his fellow Immortal. As he reached out, tiny bursts of lightning bridged the gap, leaping from his sword point and converging on Kronos. Images invaded the Horseman's mind for an instant, and he heard the clashes of swords and smelt the stench of a kingdom in flames. He smiled.
"Your fantasies don't cut any ice with me." Despite his words it took brute force to hurl his mind back into the real world. It was a startling wrench to see through his own eyes again, and he had to concentrate to restore his focus. He took comfort from the fact that Kavos seemed to be looking weaker.
"Oh, you're clever. You always were." Kavos was grinning as he spoke, and Kronos returned the expression, hiding his lingering nervousness in a flash of humour. His scar stretched, seeming longer and deeper with the changing of his expression. "But skills like ours are relative. You of all people should know that."
"Very likely." Kronos circled warily, suspicious of all this talk. Kavos was weakening, and was clearly in need of a Quickening. He could not afford to play these word games for much longer, and although he was still smiling, the expression was taking a long time to travel between face and eyes. He closed his eyes for a few tiny seconds, drawing strength from the things inside his own, confused brain. The images crossed and changed and passed between Kronos and David as well, and Kavos began to shake. He pointed a furious finger at Kronos, eyes flashing with a fury his body no longer seemed to possess.
"You, damn it. Why can't you just give me your head?" He pointed a glowing, unsteady finger at the Immortal, spitting sparks of leaking Quickening into the air. "I could have left you out in the street for the mortals to find. But I didn't. I brought you here where it's safe. So now you have to help me."
"I can help you by walking out of here. It'll be over for you soon enough." Kronos was keeping his distance now, as though the lightning was becoming too much for him as well. Kavos gave a bitter laugh.
"Leaving is one thing you can't do. We're stuck here, all three of us. Stuck here for good, or until the people outside come and get us."
"People outside?" There was hope in David's voice at this suggestion, but the look Kavos shot him was not one that inspired hope.
"People, yes - if you can still call them that. They came at the sound of your gunshots, out of every building up and down the street. Some of them had guns, some of them had knives. Some of them just had pieces of junk. They were angry. I tried to keep them back, but my illusions only seemed to make matters worse." He gave a small, rippling laugh. "They were shouting, smashing windows, turning over cars. You shot a few of them, but they kept on coming, so I brought the pair of you down here. Don't you remember, David, running at my side, shooting at everything around you? We could feel their anger. They wanted to tear us to shreds."
"They've finally been pushed over the edge." Scared, David leant against the wall, wondering if it mightn't have been easier and less painful if he had just let Kronos kill him earlier. He turned on the Immortal now, unafraid of that deadly black knife. "And this is what you've been waiting for I suppose? Coming here when you did, looking for something to amuse yourself with; all the fun you seem to find in other people's misfortunes; all because that warped little mind of yours knew what was going on, and told you what to expect."
"Something like that." Kronos glanced towards the door. It was not terribly sturdy, and he knew that it would not hold anybody out for long, should they really become determined to force an entry. David noticed the suggestion of nervousness in his eyes and laughed.
"What are you so worried about? You're immortal."
"So I am. But I've seen people torn limb from limb by mobs in the past, and I have no intention of going through that, immortal or otherwise. I prefer to be reckless with other people's lives, my little friend. My own life is rather more important to me."
"Lucky you." Even as he spat these words out, he heard a yell from somewhere close by; an angry yell, filled with fear and frustration. He jumped. Kavos giggled.
"They're coming!" He spoke the words in a curious sing-song, as though pleased as punch by the suggestion of mortal danger. "They'll be here soon. It's all over." He whirled his sword, pointing it first at Kronos and then at David. "You're both dead already. They won't touch me."
"They won't get a chance." With a violent shove, Kronos hurled Kavos aside, making a grab for his own sword, stuck in his opponent's waist. Kavos tried to block him, seizing hold of his arms and dragging him down as he lost his balance. There was a flash of blinding light as they hit the ground, and violent streaks of lightning dashed upwards. The ceiling shook, and maddened Horsemen galloped furiously through David's mind. Cold sweat soaked him, and he screamed aloud. Outside the room, the mob took up the shout, screaming their rage. Blows began to crash against the door.
"You won't get my head. Not now. Your Quickening will heal me." Kavos had made it to his feet, staring down at Kronos with an expression of utter madness that tore his face apart. lightning blazed in his eyes, cascading from his mouth in iridescent rivers. Kronos was gripping his head, eyes wide, and for a second the two Immortals were joined. David caught a glimpse of a pair of blazing blue bolts charging forth from Kavos' eyes, striking into those of Kronos. The smaller Immortal shouted out in anger, striking blindly about with his hands at targets that were not there. Kavos laughed.
"Give me your head, damn you!" He lashed out with his feet, catching his opponent two mighty blows that sent him rolling across the floor. "Just give me your head. I'm not asking for the Prize. I have my own Game, my own Rules. But I will have your head!"
"You forget." As soon as Kronos spoke, the lights that joined the pair broke up and fizzled out. The Immortal took a long, shaky breath, staring up at Kavos from his position on the floor. There was blood around his mouth, and his eyes were those of a wounded animal - but his voice was strong and powerful, and the chill within it was rising. "You - forget - who - you - are - talking - to."
"No. Your head should have been mine two thousand years ago. All I'm doing is taking what's rightfully mine." Kavos raised his sword above his head. The hilt crackled with his flailing energy, and Kronos winced. David took a step forward, wondering if there was anything he could be doing to help, but both Immortals swung their eyes towards him as one. True malice burned at him, sinking into his heart, and he felt his step falter. Outside the door a mighty scream echoed about, and he jumped like a frightened animal. A hundred thoughts charged through his head at once, but he was no longer sure which were his own, and which came from Kavos. He didn't care. All that he was entirely sure of was that the mob beyond that door didn't care who he was, or how he came to be here. They were after blood, and if Kavos had spoken the truth, his was the blood they wanted more than anything. He was the man who had gunned down the hippies, and fired at the other citizens as they rushed to help their neighbours. Nobody cared about his reasons, and nobody would believe them anyway. Kavos' pyrotechnics would be put down to mere illusion; and it could certainly not become common knowledge that they were in truth the signature energies of his escaping Quickening, as his immortal powers dissipated and died. That would create far greater complications. Thinking of nothing else he ran for the door, and began trying to barricade it with the room's sparse furniture.
"Pathetic mortals." Kronos had made it to his feet, although he looked anything but steady. "Listen to them out there. You'd think that the sky was falling down."
"Maybe it is, to them." Kavos flashed him what looked like a lascivious grin. "I've got all their heads." He tapped his own. "In here, with me. I'm shaping them, making them into what I want. It's incredible... I should have thought of it all years ago. Immortal minds can touch each other, slightly - it's how we know about the presence of another. But mortal minds have always been unreachable to us. I've surmounted that problem. I can touch their minds, and I can ensnare them. It's why I'm unbeatable. It's why I'll take your head."
"No." Kronos grinned back, breathless, tired, dishevelled and unarmed - and yet still as solid as a rock. "It's why you'll die, like some tired and drained old mortal left out in the snow. I can see it in your eyes. You're fading fast."
"That'll stop once I have your head." Kavos slashed at the other Immortal with his sword, but Kronos fell back out of the way. He hit the wall hard, and was unable to suppress a wince. Kavos laughed out loud.
"You're mine, Horseman!" He advanced quickly, his feet ringing out on the hard floor. The only sound to rise above them was the sound of David, earnestly dragging something heavy across the floor, in his continued attempt to keep the mob out of the room. The door was beginning to leap and buck in its frame, and the hinges threatened to burst altogether. Perhaps it was the proximity of Kavos, with all his infectious illusions, but as the sound of the screaming and pounding rose in volume, the terror strengthened its hold upon him. He shut his mind as best he could, and threw his own weight against the door - all that he had left to complete his barrier.
"Come and get me, Kavos." Leaning against the wall as though he needed its support, Kronos slowly wiped the still dripping blood away from his mouth with one hand. His dagger was still gripped in the other hand, although he was not sure himself how he had managed to keep hold of it during the struggle on the floor. The knuckles of that hand were bruised and bloodied, but he felt no pain. Pain was for mortals - and for moments when he was alone, and nobody else could see the unwelcome weakness.
"With pleasure." A low growl beginning in his throat, Kavos raised his sword high into the air, and charged. Kronos watched him come, his head filled with the deadly shards of the other man's ruptured Quickening. It hurt to see - hurt to look - hurt to do anything save let the hallucinations fill his mind; and so he did just that. The room faded from his vision, the floor vanished from beneath his feet. Darkness fell.
He was standing on a cliff top, above a sea of white foam and massive waves. The ground beneath him shook violently with each swell of the crashing surf. A howling wind threatened to tear the hair from his scalp, leaving him icy cold and breathless. Voices rushed around him, borne by the raging gale, and he felt their incessant chatter circulate inside his head. He wanted to clamp his hands over his ears, but instead he stood up straight, and looked straight into the heart of the noise.
There were four of them - four men on horseback towering above the rest of the world. One was dressed in white, and he carried a flaming torch. A skull mask covered his face, hiding his features behind an illusion of death that seemed to be hardly an illusion at all. His three companions wore similar masks, their black clothing lending them added shadow in which to deepen their evil intent. Somewhere nearby a child screamed in pain and fear.
"It's the end." The smallest of the Four Horsemen leaned down out of his saddle, a massive, shining sword gripped in one, powerful hand. Kronos could see his lips twisted into a smile beneath the mask. He was laughing, and the wind whipped the mirth from his mouth, tearing it and twisting it, and turning it into something degenerate and perverse. "It's the end of everything."
"Oh no it isn't." Although his mind was in this other place, held there by bonds of blue fire, Kronos was well aware of where and when his reality still dwelt. Even when he could not see, could not feel, could not do anything that felt real - still he could fight. He was, after all, the Leader of The Horsemen. And as his mind rolled and weaved and tried to get away from the images it saw of itself, in the real world, in the besieged little room, his body struck out for all it was worth. The little black dagger saw its moment, and like a beast enraged into deadly action, it sunk itself deeply into the chest of Kavos the Immortal. All at once, dragged out in slow motion, the city screamed.
"No." Kavos shook his head from side to side, staring down at the knife embedded in his torso. "No."
"Oh yes." Reality bit, but Kronos welcomed it back all the same. David, in contrast, was curled up in a ball by the door, his body shaking uncontrollably. Kavos' mental assault had clearly not been location-specific. Outside the door the mob had fallen silent, but as Kavos began to waver, and as his hands gripped pathetically at the knife jammed so firmly between his ribs, a low keening noise began to become audible. David was crying too, his hands scrabbling at his eyes and ears, as though trying to shut out sights of some fear that was truly primeval.
"This isn't over." With a mighty effort Kavos tore the dagger from his chest - but although blue lights sparked around the edges of the hole, there was no sign of the wound beginning to heal. Instead he was left with a gaping hole, that sent blood pouring down his chest and onto the floor. His legs began to wobble, and he collapsed onto his knees. David gave a convulsive jerk, and gasped in pain and shock.
"You were saying?" Stalking forward Kronos retook possession of his knife, wiping the blood from the blade on Kavos' own shirt. He stared into the other Immortal's eyes all the time, his own eyes smiling and triumphant. He could feel the lights from his enemy's mind as they charged into him, but this time there were no hallucinations. Instead it seemed as though the power was dimming, and the hate and fear it had once inspired now felt more like a faint collection of vague emotions. Kavos was fading fast. His skin had taken on a deathly pallor, and a faint blue sheen gave him a luminous appearance that emphasised his emaciated looks. The lightning which once had crackled fiercely between his fingers now fluttered weakly, without any of its previous strength and vitality. His body shook.
"I can feel your Quickening fading. It still links us for the time being, but I don't think you have long left." Kronos reached down, pulling his sword from Kavos' belt. "But I'm feeling magnanimous. So... any last requests?"
Kavos glared up at him, his eyes barely open. His mouth struggled to form barely audible words. "Go... to... hell." Kronos smirked, and then slowly nodded his head.
"Yeah." He tossed his sword into the air, as though rounding things off in his mind. "One day, without a doubt."
"Bastard." Kavos pressed his hands against the gaping wound in his chest. Blood poured between his fingers. "It might just be sooner than you think."
"Oh yeah?" Kronos cast a glance towards the door. David was struggling back up to his feet, which had to mean that the mob outside was also regaining its strength. "You could have a point."
"Do you think we have a chance?" David could barely get the words out. Kavos laughed. With a shake of his head and an impatient grimace, Kronos cut him down. The weakened, shrunken body collapsed forward, and the last of the leaking lightning burnt itself out. There was silence. Outside the door, a new noise was rising to fill the void.
"Maybe they'll give up now that Kavos is dead." David frowned, unable to stand without leaning against the door, and unable to focus his eyes at all. "He is dead, isn't he?"
"He's dead." Kronos gave the body an experimental kick as demonstration.
"Great." David was almost too exhausted to be truly bitter, but he could still feel flashes of his old rage. "You do realise that we're going to die for him? He stirred the city up, and we're going to be the sacrifices."
"It would appear so." Gently Kronos pressed Kavos' sword into the mortal's hand. "Of course, we could always take a few of them with us."
"If we meet them without weapons, we might be able to talk to them."
"You don't get it, do you." Slashing the sword through the air, Kronos looked back to the door. A second later it bucked and rocked in its frame as the assault upon it was redoubled. "There is no way out of this. You can talk until you're blue in the face."
"But it's not fair." Suddenly David was hot with anger, and found himself steady on his feet as though powered by a strength he had not known he possessed. "I spent eighteen months fighting in Vietnam. I lost most of my friends there - and now I'm going to die in my own hometown, at the hands of my neighbours, because some Immortal blew his mind and decided to beat psychedelia at its own game." He shook his head slowly, feeling the sudden rush of motivation leaving him as quickly as it had arrived. "And you. I was trying to figure you out, and do my job, when I should have been looking after myself. I could be sitting at home right now, watching all of this on the news."
"Whereas instead you can die." Kronos was still performing his practice swings, apparently oblivious to the increasing noise outside the door. He flashed a grin that bore suggestions of a hidden exhaustion. "All in all, my little mortal, it has to be said that you live in a fascinating city." David didn't bother replying. He was still wondering if all Immortals were madmen when the door burst open under the forward surge of some fifty close-packed citizens of the world above. They crammed themselves into the room, yelling, screaming, catching hold of him and raising him into the air under the sheer force of their forward momentum. He felt like screaming and yelling himself, not that it would do any good. Instead he was filled with a sudden, overpowering sensation of bleak self-pity. It was all so bloody, bloody pointless. All so crushingly unfair. His head was slammed against the low ceiling as the frenetic mob tried to carry him from the room, and he wondered in his misery if he would have the good luck to pass out before they tore him to shreds, or if he was going to have to stay conscious for the rest of this. Somewhere off to his left he saw Kronos' sword fly through the air, hurled recklessly about by a handful of screaming, maddened citizens. He tried to catch a glimpse of the Immortal as he himself was hauled out of the room, heading back up towards the open air, and the lion's share of the howling, raging mob. A fist struck the side of his head, and he tried to focus his mind on saving himself. Somehow he couldn't. All around him the world was whirring past at high speed, and somewhere far off he was distantly aware of Kronos, fighting unarmed against a shrieking band of civilians. The stupid fool seemed to be enjoying himself. Vaguely David began to realise that this was a part of what Kronos had been looking for - part of the reason he had come to this godforsaken city. Not just for the tension of a settlement on the brink of insanity, not just for the electrifying menace of unknown dangers; or for the frequent blood-letting as ordinary people hacked each other to death without knowing why. He had come here in the hope of seeing it all boil over, so that he could join in with this last burst of wild abandon. He might die; but if death came in battle, he probably didn't care. All that he wanted was to unleash a little of what he must once have been, in the days when he had first met Kavos.
"Bastard." David stared towards the Immortal - saw the dark, evil face with its pair of startling ice-blue eyes catching all the light of the dying sun. The reddened glow of the dying day caught him full in its glare, creating an image of a glorious warrior, decorated in the war paint of shadows and sun. As their eyes met, Kronos flashed him a grin. That last image was the final sight that passed through David's eyes before another blow caught him, and he lost consciousness. Somehow he couldn't help thinking that he was far from being the first man for whom life's last sight was Kronos' grinning face - and he was certainly unlikely to be the last. Unconsciousness cradled him in his arms for several moments, and in the midst of enforced dreams he saw old war comrades waiting for him, eager to welcome him back into the fold. He saw Kavos too, encircled in halos of demonic light, besieged by ghosts of his own. He saw thirty chanting flower-children smoking marijuana, all bedecked with beads and flowers and singing about electricity. And he saw his grandfather, sitting in his deckchair on the front porch, watching the kids play in the street. He swore - and then unconsciousness let him go, and something else reached up to cradle him instead.
Kronos awoke with the distinct sensation that he had been drinking unnecessarily enthusiastically the night before. His head hurt, and he definitely felt as though he had a hangover. It was an unfamiliar sensation, and not a favourite one. Slowly he sat up, almost certain that his mind, or soul, or Quickening, or whatever the hell it was, was all but ready to burst through the skin on top of his head and make its escape. Memory flooded back to him slowly, which again was an unfamiliar sensation. Maybe the last two thousand years had been a dream, and he was still recovering from the night before, at some tiny little inn, with his brothers sprawled on the ground around him. Too much cheap wine, too little decent food, and far too much of Caspian's cold, congealed horsemeat curry. Quite why his horsemeat curry usually contained just as many fragments of human bone as it did horse bone was just one of those minor culinary points on which his sinister brother so liked to remain silent.
The room was cold. Kronos pushed aside the green sheet in which he appeared to be wrapped, and glanced down. His clothes were a mess, the blood now dried and encrusted and almost completely burying the expensive black material under a coat of hardened red-brown. His skin, of which far too much was visible, seemed to be in a similar state, and he considered looking about for a place to wash. He seemed to be in a morgue, and morgues usually had sinks, and taps, and plentiful supplies of strong-smelling antiseptic soap. He dismissed the idea as unnecessary. To be too clean was to be too twentieth century, and even though he had decided that he liked the way the sixties were shaping up, he didn't feel himself too inclined to throw in wholesale with the prevailing culture. Instead he stood up, finally managed to disentangle the green sheet from around his ankles, and began to look around for his sword. He found it lying rather openly on a desk in the corner of the room, carefully sealed up in a clear plastic bag marked 'Evidence'. He tore the plastic wrapping off, gave the sword an experimental swing, and then turned his attention to the other two shrouded figures in the room. It grieved him to see that there were only two. Had he really not managed to kill any of the attacking mob? Perhaps he was slipping - but then admittedly the odds had been somewhat against him. He had genuinely believed once or twice that he was witnessing his last sunset, and that his great and wondrous Quickening was about to be spilled out into the skies, with no lightning, no wind, and no shattering glass or visual splendour. He would have been wasted, just like Kavos.
It was Kavos that he found first, his shrunken body apparently mummified, already looking as though he had been dead for several hundred years. His skin was a thin, leathery covering on his bones, and his twisted, shrivelled body described a sorry, huddled figure - like a child sacrifice abandoned in some last outpost of humanity, and recently dug up by insensitive archaeologists. The scars on his scalp where the electrodes from the chair had been fixed to him were almost invisible now, lost in the discoloration of the body. Kronos touched one of them gently, wondering if the Quickening was truly all gone. His fingers sunk into desiccated emptiness, catching a few strands of pale hair streaked with a darker dye. Not only had the Quickening gone, but so had all the substance of the shrunken body. He wiped his hands on the corpse's own clothes, and wondered at the intricate poetry of life. Who would have thought, all that time ago when he had fought Kavos for the first time, that he would be standing here now having watched him fade away to nothingness. It was like one of the warped and twisted hallucinations that the other Immortal had taken such great delight in foisting upon unsuspecting passers-by - all subtext and crypticism and mind-blowing impenetrabilities. No wonder it had driven so many of the poor sods mad. Kronos covered the body up again and turned away from it. No sense in dwelling on what was past.
The second body, predictably, was that of David Ferrer. He lay on his back, his face misshapen and his body curiously twisted. The scar on his face was lost beneath newer wounds, and whatever old injury had caused him that characteristic limp was presumably just as camouflaged now. His eyes were open, as though the morgue attendants, or the ambulance men, or whoever had brought them to this place had not bothered to press them closed. Kronos did it now, watching the eyes disappear beneath stiffening lids. The gesture surprised him, leading him to wonder if he actually felt sorry for the mortal; but he concluded that he did not. What was the point? The mortal had been dying inside for months anyway, even if he hadn't realised it. Kavos' fantasies had played upon weaknesses and paranoias, after all. A warped mind, infecting other warped minds. A streak of hallucinogenic lightning, finding soul mates in a city filled with people past their best, lost in the swelling tide of dissatisfaction. On the whole, Kronos was not sorry - not for David, not for Kavos, and not for the city they had died in. Why should he? It was just another playground. So a few people had gone crazy. So a few people had died. That was, after all, the main reason he had gone there; following the call of waiting nightmares, that knew him as an ancient terror from a departed world.
He made a quick exit from the mortuary. One lone female was seated at a desk in the main hall, and she looked up at him as he walked past. He must, he reflected later, have cut an arresting figure as he marched past, clothes torn to pieces and daubed with blood, face a mask of the same. The sword must also have been part of the reason why she stared at him, making vague whimpering noises - preparatory, he was sure, to a full-bodied scream. He cut her down where she sat, watching dispassionately as her sliced-open chest bled artistically all over the carefully typed sheets of A4 with which her desk was covered. With a smile of self-congratulation, he began searching the girl's pockets methodically. It did not take him long to find what he sought - a box of matches, filled to brimming and waiting to be used. With cool clear-headedness he struck them all, arranging their burning shapes around the legs of the desk, and then stood back to watch the fire take hold. He stood alone and basked in the heat, listening to the startled cries of others in the building; others who did not seem able to escape. Their cries washed around him, and he smiled very slightly, feeling the heat and the noise cleanse him of his post-death confusion. His body remained very still, soaking up the noise, until the leather of his boots threatened to crack, and the loose scraps of torn material hanging from his shirt seemed about to burst into flame. At that point he broke into a run, hurling himself recklessly through the leaping sheets of fire that threatened to prevent his escape. A man staggered past him, heading the wrong way in his confusion, hair and clothes already alight. Kronos smote him down with his sword and charged on. Outside he could already hear the fire engines, and the gentle sounds of rain on tarmac. The city had passed its crisis, and the sounds of voices calling calm, ordered instructions told him that the citizens were working together again. Time, then, to move on. Time to find another place to play. He smiled grimly as he reached the daylight, and hid his bloodied sword in his singed clothing. It was easy to slip out unnoticed. Easy to glide away down the street. The mortals were too busy watching other exits, waiting for survivors who were not coming; watching for people who were already dead. Already far down the street, Kronos broke into a run. The fire, as always, had brightened his spirits, and given him a new lease of life. He felt reborn. He felt stronger, even though this time his conflicts had brought him no Quickening.
"Maybe this cursed century has life in it yet." He had slowed to a halt now, finding himself on the verge of the city, watching the cars coming and going in their erratic haste. He would take one, and head on out. He would look for other places to lighten his soul. He felt good; felt bright and cheerful; but he knew that it wouldn't last long. In this world, people like Kavos were few and far between. They came and went in mortal fancy, but for the most part they belonged nowhere else. Already he could feel his satisfaction beginning to disperse.
"Or maybe it doesn't." He began to march forward, heading for a small red convertible parked by the side of the road. The long-haired teenager sprawled on the back seat did not let out so much as a scream as Kronos killed him; and nobody seemed to see as the Immortal hurled the body from the car, and slid into the driver's seat. He could feel the frustrations building up again already. He needed to find somewhere new - some other place like this city, where he could lose himself in darkness. He needed it the way the mortals were increasingly needing their drugs, and that comparison stung his pride. He slammed his foot down on the accelerator. Buildings flashed past him, cars swerved to avoid him. He didn't see any of it. All that Kronos could see was the fantasies from Kavos' mind. He could see himself, in his glory days - could see the marauding Horsemen and hear the screams of their victims. It made every inch of him seethe.
"Are you out there Methos?" He shouted the words to the heavens, for as far as he knew the heavens were where his brother now dwelt. He had not seen his fellow Horseman since the previous century, and had long ago come to assume that he was dead - but then, if he himself was still alive, was it not possible that his brothers were too? Kavos was proof that some of the elder ones had survived the loss of the old ways. He grinned. Illusions were rising to greet his mind, but this time the fantasies were his own, not those of Kavos. He could see his brothers, and not in the pages of history. Instead he could see them marching through the future, dragging the ruins of the twentieth century behind them. Madness glinted in the ice-blue eyes that he set now towards the horizon. Madness sparked by Kavos, perhaps, or by his fantasies. Madness that grew and sparked new fires. Either way, Kronos was unaware of it. All that he could see was his increasingly singular future. Reunion. Reunion to drive away the ghosts, and to conquer the black heart of doubt sewn by an enemy's fragmenting mind. Reunion - or death. Blue fires sparked in the old Immortal's eyes. Yeah; he rather liked the sound of that. Reunion or death.
And fate took another step forward.
Summer, 1967. People still had the optimism of the early part of the decade, but things were starting to turn. The following year saw Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy both murdered, and after that everything changed direction, and things became a lot more bleak. Maybe Kavos anticipated that. Certainly the feelings of the people in his city were not far off from what was coming.
As for Methos, he's playing it coy and keeping his share in the sixties to himself. He does claim to have been busy elsewhere at this time, however; at the Monterrey Pop Festival in June of '67. Apparently the lure of a certain, largely unknown guitarist named Hendrix was too much to resist. He was watching much of it from behind a tree, though, 'cause The Who were performing too, and Methos could have sworn he recognised the lead singer. I keep telling him that Roger Daltrey is not interested in taking his head, but there's no convincing him. He's got this thing about musicians just lately. Nobody's allowed to mention Spandau Ballet or the Fine Young Cannibals either.