Alternate Universe "Immortal 7"
Halloween, the feast of all hallows. The time when the veil between the living and the dead becomes so thin as to allow those on one side to reach those on the other. It has been the inspiration for countless ghost stories, horror movies, and séances. I sometimes find it depressing that the human psyche seems more inclined to believe something vile, evil and deadly, is more apt to reach across that veil than something divine. But even as Im momentarily lost in this abstract line of thought, I am kneeling beside a beheaded corpse trying to catch my breath. Maybe there is a reason for those dark expectations. Maybe they are justified. This night seems to spawn horrors without even trying.
I took a deep breath, and then another. Recovering from absorbing anothers life essence, his quickening, is never easy for me. My teacher told me that if I allowed myself to enjoy the process, to revel in the invigorating, rejuvenating energy even as it stole my breath and made my limbs twitch uncontrollably, it would get easier. He likened it to experiencing an all consuming orgasm. I shudder at the thought. I never, ever, want to find pleasure in terminating the existence of another. It just seems wrong.
I sighed, and staggered to my feet. Staring down at my now permanently dead opponent, I found myself wondering if he were a religious man. Would God have mercy on his soul? For that matter, would He have mercy on mine?
I hang my head, regretting for a moment the life I live, the rules that control Immortal existence. My father was a missionary, a man of God. The tenets of his belief were drummed into me at a young age. Thou shall not commit murder was high on the list. Right there in the top ten. I sighed again. I might well have lived my entire by those rules. Had things been different, I too might have been a man of God. And I was, until my dying day. Then I woke up. And nothing was ever the same again. My life was now governed by a different set of rules. There can be only one.
We fight, and we die. Simple really. And yet so incredibly complicated. Our only refuge is holy ground. A fact I always found intriguing. It never seemed to matter who found it holy, or what deity it was dedicated to, just as long as it was sacred at one point. Did that mean that all deities were really only one entity? That the distinctions drawn by man were unimportant? Ive spent years in diligent study seeking answers to that very question. Looking for the face of God, I suppose. Despite years of diligent study, I have yet to really learn anything.
And I know just as little about him whose life I so recently ended. His name, and few memories Ive absorbed along with his quickening. Feeling as though I should at least attempt to see his soul to rest, I began the sacrament of last rites, latin rolling easily off my tongue. And if God is the same whether Buddha, Allah, Christ, Zeus, Odin or even Quetzalcoatl, then it wont matter what faith this man professed. My intent will still be recognized, and understood, perhaps even appreciated. Superstitious, maybe. Foolish, probably. But I wanted no more ghosts to haunt me. I have more than enough already.
At times like these I wonder if I might not have been better off to simply live on holy ground. Never bothered to play this stupid, wasteful game. And that is perhaps my greater sin. I simply couldnt spend my life in hiding, and so I must compete, whether I want to or not. I sometimes think I must want to, even on a subliminal level, or I wouldnt continue to play. Another life is lost because I did not want to turn the other cheek. My father would be appalled. There are days when I miss him. And days when Im almost grateful the rigid, judgemental bastard is dead. I hate ambiguity, so I resolve not to think about my father or his teachings any more.
I console myself with the fact that hiding from the world, from the deadly game we are required to play is not really a viable option. Ive got six friends, brothers who need me. And even if they didnt, I need them. I dont know if when my judgement day comes, if that will be enough to save my soul or not.
I can feel the presence of another immortal, and lift my sword, ready to do battle yet again. The veritable stranger lying at my feet might have had a friend. I warily scan the area, not relaxing until I hear a soft voice call out my name.
"Josiah?" Nathan steps out of the shadows, his sword held at the ready in one hand. He casts a glance at mine. "You gonna challenge me?"
"No." I give him a disgusted look, and sheath my blade. Youd think by now hed now better. I dont issue challenges to strangers, I certainly wouldnt do so to a friend. "Not being prepared gets a man permanently dead. Didnt know it was you."
He nods slowly, sheathing his own blade. "Saw the light show, but I didnt know for sure if youd beaten him or not."
A simple explanation of why he had his sword drawn. I narrow my gaze, studying him. But it does not explain his presence here in the first place. A dual is a private affair. The rules clearly outline combat between Immortals is a singular event, one on one. Or at least thats the way it is supposed to be. That rule has a tendency to be bent fairly often.
"What are you doing here?"
Nathan meets my look without blinking, expression honest and unapologetic. "Making sure you came back alive. And if you didnt, well, then I was going to make damn sure he didnt live long enough to enjoy his victory."
I could only stare at him. Nathan is a skilled swordsman. A natural talent with a blade, probably the best Ive ever seen. He is also one of the most gentle, compassionate men Ive ever met. In all the years Ive known him, Id never seen or heard of him actively seeking to challenge another.
"Dont look so damn surprised." Nathan glares at me. "You think I wouldnt avenge you?"
"Honestly no." One of the others, perhaps, but not Nathan. "It never occurred to me."
Nathan rolled his eyes. "Never occurred .Josiah, you are my best friend. We have weathered more trials than any two men should have to. We fought wars and bigotry together. We lived through feast and famine together. For crying out loud man, Ive known you longer than anybody else on the planet." He gave me the same look Ive seen him use on new interns at the hospital. One that says he thinks I must have been dropped on my head as a baby. "Hell, yes, Id kill the man who killed you."
"But you dont even know him." I dont know why Im arguing, but I seem to be doing it anyway.
"I dont need to know HIM." Nathan calmly insists. "I know you. You didnt challenge him. And it dont matter to me if the man is a saint or not. All that would have mattered is that he took your head."
I shake my head. "What about the others? Do you look out for them as well?"
He snorts. "Dont really need to look out for all of them. Chris looks after Vin, and vice versa. And if Vin isnt around Buck is. He watches out for JD too. Like some sort of crazed mother hen. And that kid .hell, hes not a kid anymore, Josiah. Hed make short work o anyone who hurt Buck, or die trying."
Sharp dark eyes pinned me in place with his assessing look. "Know you look out for me. Dont even bother trying to deny it. Spout all the religious stuff you want to youd seek vengeance same as the rest. And that isnt a bad thing, Josiah."
I took a deep breath trying to decide whether to be grateful he has such faith in me, or whether I should despair my own lack of faith and continued habit of giving into baser human emotions. He is right; I would avenge any of their deaths. Thats when I realize he didnt mention Ezra. What about him? Did any of the others look out for him they way they each other. Id tried to on more than one occasion but the boy always gave me the slip. What if Im gone when someone takes his head? Who would make the bastard who took it pay?
"Who looks out for Ezra?" My tone demands an answer, challenging him.
"We all keep trying. You know how he gets about this stuff." Nathan sighs heavily, shaking his head. "Hard to keep tabs on him." There is a note of disappointment there mingled with respect in his voice. "So far Vins been the only one to come close, but Ez can feel us long before we can feel him, so it isnt too hard for him to give us the slip when he wants to. Never have gotten a straight answer from him on just how much range hes got, or how it is he knows which of us it is. I cant tell one immortal from another just by the feel of their quickening, but Ezra sure can."
Nathan chuckled, a wry expression gracing his features. "Ez might deny it, but I know he looks out for all of us too. Think hes convinced that one of us is supposed to win the damn prize, and its his job to make sure that it happens."
Ah yes. The prize. When there is only one Immortal left, a prize is to be awarded. What a cross that would be to bear. "I dont want it."
"Why?" Nathan raises an eyebrow probably surprised by my vehemence. "You know what it is?"
"No." I rub tiredly at my eyes. "I just know that if I won it, there would be no one to share it with."
"Yeah." He nods, understanding. "Thought that myself a time or two." He cocks his head, glancing toward the body cooling nearby. "You done here?"
"I should see to his burial." It just seemed wrong to leave a man lying in an empty lot like he was no more than an animal.
"Cops will see to it." Nathan shrugged one shoulder. "Called em from a pay phone down the street. Figure theyll be here soon enough."
I frown. "If it had been me?"
"Then Id have been around to identify your body and see to it you got the funeral you wanted." His gaze met mine. "Course the cops woulda had two bodies to deal with then."
"You think hes got any friends?" I wonder aloud.
"Dont know." Nathan shrugs again. "Sort of hope so. Not that I want anyone coming after you, Josiah," hes quick to assure me, "but every man should have someone willing to stand up for him. Someone to mourn his passing, remember his name, and raise a glass to him. Living as long as we do would suck otherwise."
Together we walk away. The fog is rising, shrouding us and adding even more mystery to the shadows. Another cliché of Halloween, but it seems somehow appropriate. The cops will have one more unsolved murder on their hands. I wonder how diligently they will pursue it. I make a note to add the man to my prayers, and to light a candle for him, the same as I do for the others. If he had no friends, then I will at least be one person to remember him.
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