Prague, Charles University, 1520
Breathing hard, clutching the manuscript to his chest, Johannes Marceau willed his limbs to move faster. The banging coming from the gates to the university, echoing through the night. Lights appeared in windows as his fellow scholars woke. The banging continued, now accompanied with shouts and yelling. As he rushed through the courtyard, he felt the unearthly sting of white pain. It was as if a lightning storm had descended from the heavens to plague mortal men on the ground. White arcs of energy surged and reached out, like tongues of flame. What nameless power did she wield? She had found him; he had very little time to waste.
Trying to still his racing heart, he reached the doors to his set of rooms, scrambling to enter and shut the door, pulling the bolt down securely. A white arc of energy stung his skin and he snatched his hands back.
A fire was lit, and candles blazed merrily. The manuscript seemed to burn hot in his hands. Wiping at the moisture beading on his forehead, he rushed to his worktable, pushing papers and scrolls to one side, heedless of their meticulously maintained order. He had spent a lot of time in examining the manuscript, detailing each illustration, copying the manuscript in its entirety in an attempt to understand it. But he pushed that all aside now. She had come for it, as he knew she would.
He caught his reflection in the mirror opposite, hardly recognizing himself: pale, almost white hair falling limply around his face, pale white skin translucent in the candlelight. With shaking hands, he set the manuscript on the table.
There was a loud crash and the banging ceased, but the shouts increased. The air felt heavy; he could feel it crawling over his skin. Marceau knew he was running out of time. On its outside, the manuscript looked simple enough. Carefully, he placed one hand on the cover, and closed his eyes. Would it work? Even the hint of possibility caused his blood to rush through his veins. It might, it just might. He opened the manuscript.
He knew what to expect but still was surprised and excited, despite the thread of fear he felt. As a scholar and a physician, unraveling the mystery of the manuscript would be like finding the Holy Grail. Written in an undecipherable language, in an alphabet unlike any known to man, with illustrations that defied description, Marceau would be the one to unlock its mysteries.
Taking a deep breath, his voice pitched low, he started chanting the words of power. He tried to ignore the pounding of footsteps and the vibrations of men storming down the halls of the illustrious Carolinum, no doubt soiling its clean wooden floors.
The illustrations in the manuscript danced in the flickering candlelight, the unreadable letters and words lifting off the page and rearranging themselves. He continued the chant, almost able to read the strange writing, but then faltered. The text remained impenetrable. He shook his head to clear it, and started chanting again, frustrated. The shouting grew louder, closer. Marceau licked his lips, concentrating on his words. He started speaking faster and faster. The manuscript remained stubbornly unchanged.
The breeze from the open window felt cool against his heated skin, shadows swaying as the candles fluttered. Then, all at once, every candle blew out. Startled, he stood up, his chair falling back with a clatter. The shouts and stampeding footsteps were very close, a small army bearing down on him with great speed, but suddenly he was more frightened of what was in his room with him. He thought he heard a light breathing.
"Who's there? Show yourself." Marceau turned in a circle, staring into the multi-layered darkness.
After a moment, he saw the figure of a man separate from the dark shadows and step forward, his face obscured. "You don't have much time," said the man, with a trace of humor in his voice.
The yelling and shouts appeared to be right outside. Any moment now, they would bang on his door, maybe even break it down. Marceau snatched the manuscript from the table, held it tightly in his grasp. The man moved closer. Marceau backed away.
"I'm afraid there's no escape," said the man.
"You're as trapped as I am," Marceau answered, looking around for any inspiration, something that might aid him. There was loud knocking, and several people calling his name. The entire room shook, dust and plaster falling. They were ramming the door down.
The man paused for half a moment, then continued moving slowly toward Marceau. "Maybe. Maybe not. It's not yours, Marceau, and you have no idea what to do with it." The man held out his hand, but then stiffened, turning toward the door.
Marceau, looking warily at the stranger, clutched the manuscript closer. "As though you would know better than I," he sneered, but there was something in this man's manner that made Marceau realize he was out of his depth. A scholar and a physician he might be, but this dark stranger, whoever he was, carried great power. Marceau lifted his chin. "She will kill you as well."
The man turned away from the door. "Oh, I suppose she'll try, of that I'm fairly certain."
The man stepped into a shaft of moonlight, and Marceau finally caught a glimpse of his face: pale skin, strong nose, and deep hazel green eyes. Marceau gasped, more frightened now of the man in his room than the monster outside of it. "You? But you're supposed to be dead."
"Sorry to disappoint. And," the man Marceau knew as Addison inclined his head slightly, "I'm sorry for this as well." Swiftly, before Marceau was even able to flinch, Addison reached back and delivered a powerful blow. Marceau went flailing backward, manuscript torn from his hands.
The door gave with a moan of splintering wood. Not unconscious, but unable to rise, Marceau watched Addison move toward the window, too late. Several large men entered the room, parting to let a slight figure move forward. Lady Isabelle. She was incredibly beautiful. Marceau could feel her in his very center; it was like standing too close to a bonfire, and despite his knowledge of how dangerous she was, despite his incapacity, he wanted to crawl to her feet.
She gathered a white storm of energy around her like a veil, and Marceau could not see her features. "I should have known," she said as she looked at Addison who stood perfectly still, Marceau could just make out how Addison took in all the men and their positions. She held her hand out, a ball of white fire growing in the center of her palm. "Give it to me. You know I will have my men take your head otherwise."
"It won't do what you want, your grace. It doesn't hold that kind of magic."
Sparks flew, lightning snapped. Addison cringed and ducked, then swiftly he leaped to the window. With a cry, she charged after him, white fire arcing as if to grab and bind with silver white threads, but she was too late. Addison had jumped through the window.
"After him," she yelled, but Marceau knew she would not catch him. The man was dead already. Who could catch a ghost?
Fuming as her men fled to do her bidding, the air crackling with unleashed power, she turned and saw Marceau. He was whimpering, he realized, praying in a high pitched keening. She came close, and he looked into her exquisite face, the veil of white fire making her even more devastating.
Domine Iesu, dimitte nobis debita nostra, salva nos ab igne inferiori, perduc in caelum omnes animas, praesertim eas, quae misericordiae tuae maxime indigent.
Almost gently, she leaned down to his level. She raised one hand, her skin pale in the moonlight, her hair as white as snow, and placed it on his forehead. At once, he screamed. Fire entered his skin, his blood, and he felt his heart explode before everything went black.
Seacouver, Modern Day
Seagulls hung in the blue sky as if by magic, gliding through the air, their cries accompanying the familiar sounds of a busy marina. There was a bustle of activity on the boardwalk as customers came and went from shops. The seaside café boasted a robust menu, with a healthy mixture of burgers and fries and the fresh catch of the day. Sunshine playfully dappled the open-air patio, a sea breeze flapping an awning back and forth. Methos sat back in his chair, belly full of good food and beer. He laughed outright at his companion.
"Absolutely not," he said, when he could breathe again.
"But you haven't even heard all the details yet," cried Amanda. "Honestly, Methos." She leaned forward, her voice hushed but still musical, eyes hidden behind sunglasses. "I've come to you as a friend, to help me in my moment of need."
Still chuckling, he raised his hand to forestall her. "Amanda," he said. "You can't possible think that will work on me."
She scrunched her mouth for a moment, then smiled. "You're right, darling. I'm sorry, I forgot who I was talking to. But you're not off the hook. I wouldn't be asking if I didn't truly need your help. I can't pull this off by myself."
He sighed, and sat up straighter. "Here's a thought: Don't do it. Just say no. Walk away. Leave it for another thief."
"Very funny. The thought," she said, affronted.
"Why aren't you bothering MacLeod?"
Wrinkling her nose -- and damned if it didn't make her even lovelier -- she admitted, "I can't. Not after the last time." She straightened, lifting her chin slightly. "And I'm just not in the mood to tolerate his unwilling attitude." Then, she deflated, sitting back against her chair.
A thought suddenly struck Methos. "Oh no," he said, groaning. He shook his head. No doubt Amanda had gotten herself tangled in some kind of bad business with bad guys and mortal peril and all sorts of things that just might break her lovely neck. With a pang at his obviously lost sense of personal preservation, he suddenly had a lot more sympathy for MacLeod.
"What?" she asked, looking around.
"I'm trying to decide how much I care. Don't tell me who've you've gotten mixed up with this time, I don't want to know."
She bit her lip and was silent for a moment, then a slight give in her posture indicated she wasn't going to deny anything. "Look, I just need you for backup, all right? I'll manage most of it myself. Please?"
Methos stubbornly refused to answer, choosing to stare out to the bobbing boats. He was under no obligation to help her. Down on the boardwalk, he saw a trio of men with impossibly white skin, and pale hair, who were obviously watching Amanda. When they noticed Methos's attention, the men slipped hastily away behind a couple of low, wood buildings.
Then, in the next moment, another man walked slowly down the boardwalk from the opposite direction, pausing every few steps to peer at each storefront. This new man was tall, attractive, carrying a satchel. He looked around, as if making sure no one was watching, and then took from his satchel something that Methos could see looked like a skull. The man bent over it, as if talking to it, and then straightened.
"All right," said Amanda with a resigned tone. Methos had almost forgotten her. "I can take a hint. I won't beg." She picked up her fork, then gave a tiny yelp when a charge of static electricity snapped at her fingers.
Methos became very still, a feeling of cold dread spreading through his chest. Amanda stared at the fork with a perplexed expression, almost one of recognition. She shook out her fingers. He turned back to look for the man with the skull, but he was gone. Methos could feel the hair on his arm raise, tickling. "I'll do it," he said, a bit absentmindedly, still staring at the spot on the boardwalk where the man with the skull had stood.
Amanda gasped and clapped her hands together. "I knew it. I knew you weren't such an old grouch."
Methos flicked his gaze at her. "Don't be so sure."
"Oh, pish," she said with a wave of her hand, then leaned over and kissed him on the cheek.
"Amanda," he said, amused. "I said yes already."
"I know. Now, let me fill you in on the details." She scooted her chair closer.
He rose from the table. "Later," he said, tossing a few bills on to the table.
"But there is no 'later'. The exhibit opens tonight," she said. He was already halfway down the steps that lead to the boardwalk. "Don't you want to know what it is?" she called after him.
"Later," he repeated. He looked at his watch. "Four o'clock. I'll pick you up. Promise."
He left her frowning in his direction. Jogging down the boardwalk to where he'd last seen the man, Methos turned in a circle. The store where he had stopped was a bookshop. A "Closed" sign hung on the door. Following his instincts, Methos reached for the doorknob. The strong electric charge traveled up his arm with a jolt that numbed his fingers. He bowed his head and closed his eyes, the taste of Quickening energy surging through his blood.
With skill that Amanda would probably find fault with, Methos picked the lock to the back door of the bookstore and slipped inside. The dim light showed a dusty interior with stacks of books crowding every corner of the small store. From his awkward angle he caught some of the titles: books on witchcraft and the paranormal, the metaphysical and spiritual. Methos saw a painting of a pentagram along one wall, and melted candles of various sizes decorating a back shelf, along with wicked looking knives, bowls of varying sizes, crystals, pendants. It was like a bad set from a 'B' movie, he thought with a snicker.
Methos moved cautiously through the darkened room, then stopped when he heard voices.
"It's not here," said one voice in a loud whisper.
"I don't know why you ever thought it would be here," replied the other in a more cultured, slightly disgusted tone of voice. "Hughes has never been a paragon of honesty."
Methos crept closer. The voices were coming from the main part of the store. Sliding with his back pressed against the wall, he peeked around the corner. Two men, the one Methos had seen outside, and another man -- white hair, fastidious clothing -- were searching through the stacks. Methos hadn't seen the second man, and wondered where he'd come from. The skull, he noticed, was perched on a precarious pile of books off to one side.
"He wouldn't lie, not about this. Hey Bob, check over there, would you?" The dark-haired man flicked his chin to behind the cash register area.
With a long-suffering sigh, Bob went over to the checkout counter. Methos blinked as he watched Bob walk through the counter as if he were a hologram or a projection, and lean over the cabinet with his face disappearing beneath the wood. Bob straightened. "Nothing," he said. "Face it, Harry, if Hughes hadn't been lying, why isn't he here like he said--" Bob gasped, staring down at the floor.
"What is it?" Harry moved over to the counter, looking over to the floor in the direction of Bob's gaze. "Oh damn."
Craning his neck to get a better view, Methos brushed against a stack of books at his feet, knocking them over. He tried to stop them from falling, then accidently kicked a book making it skitter across the wooden floor. He turned to leave, but was stopped by a hand grabbing the neck of his shirt.
"Not so fast," said Harry. Resigned, Methos straightened. An electric spark arced between them. Harry grimaced and snatched his hand back, sucking on a finger. "Ow. Why does that keep happening?" He shook his hand out.
"Has it happened a lot?" asked Methos, looking at both men. Since it didn't seem as if either Harry or Bob were the type to cause much harm, Methos let his curiosity get the better of him.
"All the time, it seems. Hey, who are you? What are you doing here? What did you do to Hughes?"
For his answer, Methos moved past Harry to where Bob was still standing. He decided to wait on figuring out what the hell Bob was, and instead went to look behind the counter. A body lay slumped on its side. Kneeling, Methos started to examine the corpse. He looked up when Bob joined him, peering with interest but not touching.
"I'd guess heart attack," said Bob, with a sneer at the corpse's corpulent stomach.
Methos waggled his head. "Probably, but see the burn marks here, and here. Electrocution."
"Hm." Bob put his hand onto the corpse, passing through the flesh. Methos narrowed his eyes and stepped back. Bob transformed into the dead man, and then started shaking violently. Abruptly, he stopped, turning back into himself. "Excellent diagnosis."
Methos looked from Bob to Harry. "Do you mind explaining him?" Methos gestured to Bob. "And telling me what you two were looking for?"
"Do I mind?" said Harry, hands on his hips, looking from Bob to Methos. "Why don't you tell me who the hell you are? What are you doing, breaking in here? And why do you look so familiar?" With the last question, Harry took a step closer with a perplexed expression.
"I do?" Methos frowned.
"Well, sort of." Harry cocked his head, brow furrowed. "I don't know. Can't place it." He reached to touch Methos but another arc of electricity snapped.
"Listen," said Methos, looking around wearily. The hair on his arms was rising. He reached out to touch a metal bowl, snatching his hands back. "This is all very fascinating, but I think you'd better answer my question. And quickly. Is it the manuscript? Is that what you were looking for?"
"Oh, that's just great," said Harry, throwing his hands up. "You know about the manuscript. Wonderful."
"It's not here," said Methos.
"I tried to tell him," said Bob, a bit peevishly.
Harry started looking through the bookshelves again. "How do you know?"
Methos moved to block him. Another electric shock passed through them. Wincing, he said. "Because I know where it is."
Harry paused. "Are you sure about that?"
Methos looked at Harry. Harry was a little taller, good-looking but not obvious about it, and a lot untrusting, which Methos understood. He was young, and mortal, but different. Methos could see it. This man was no innocent. "Fairly sure, yes."
"Couple of weeks ago, Hughes," Harry waved his hand to the dead man, "called me and told me about how someone had came to him and commissioned him to produce the manuscript, special. Promised an exorbitant fee for it, too. They scared him pretty bad. Bad enough that he called me in a panic. For the last couple of days he hasn't returned my calls. Now I know why. Hughes may not have been a 'paragon of honesty', but he wasn't a bad guy. Figured I owed him one. You the one who ordered it?"
"Gentlemen," said Bob, politely, attempting to interrupt.
"Ordered it? Wait a minute, what are you talking about?"
"That's what he said. Someone called and placed the order. Hughes does good work, the best there is." Harry stepped forward.
"Excuse me." Bob waved his hands.
"That doesn't make any sense."
"Well, I hate to break it to you, buddy, but not much ever makes sense in this line of business."
"I said excuse me!" Bob shouted.
"What?" Methos and Harry spoke at the same time. Then, Methos noticed the stench of ozone, and the charge in the air. He stepped forward to look out of the shop window to the boardwalk. He could see an old-style street lamp across the way, electricity shooting from the top. In the next moment, Immortal presence shivered down his spine. But it wasn't a normal Immortal presence; this rattled and screamed and scrapped like a discordant jab of lightning. "Get out," he said. "Now."
"Wait a minute, I'm not leaving until I know who you are," demanded Harry.
The electric charge in the room increased. It was like a lightning storm, localized inside. Methos covered his eyes against the sudden brilliant light. He felt a change in the room, as if the air had been ripped open and then slammed shut. Too late, he thought.
The bright light dimmed somewhat. He opened his eyes and saw her standing inside the store. Her power had increased, he realized. "We meet again," he said, letting every bit of coldness seep into his voice.
She wore more modern clothing, hair still falling loose and wild down her back, but her face was lost to the ravages of electricity that slowly destroyed her body. And yet, she was beautiful. He felt her beauty hit him in the center of his chest, creating a craving so strong he almost stumbled. She was hard to look at. "Addison," she said. Her voice was as electric as her body. "I knew one day my search would lead me back to you."
Sparing a glance at Bob and Harry, Methos also took out his sword. Bob's eyes widened in recognition. "How many times do I have to tell you, you can't have it," said Methos.
Her eyes flamed. Arcs of electricity shot from her hands, sparks flew. Methos used his sword like a lightning rod, letting it charge through his body and down into the ground. It hurt like hell, but it was familiar just the same. She yelled and more electricity poured from her, but she couldn't control it. Fire erupted and spread through the books. Methos used the bookshelves as shields, breaking away from the stranglehold of her power.
"Get out," Methos shouted to Harry. Through the growing smoke, he could see Harry finally snap into action, grabbing the skull. To add to Methos's increasing curiosity, Bob dematerialized, like a genie, into the skull. "You're really going to have to explain that to me," he said, as they ran to the back exit.
Smoke poured from the store. Coughing and choking, Methos saw Harry bent over, gasping for air. Taking the opportunity, Methos used the cover of smoke to slip away unseen. It was already past 4 o'clock.
Methos winced, holding his cell phone away from his ear. "Amanda," he said, trying to speak over her. He could smell the acrid stench of smoke trapped in his hair and clothing. "Listen, I'm sorry, but you're the one who dropped this on me at the last minute. I'll just have to meet you there. How hard can it be?"
"Fine," she said, sweetly. She was really mad, he realized. "The opening starts at 5pm. At the Seacouver Fine Arts Museum, Carroll Hall. I'll be waiting outside. Need I tell you what parts of your body I'll cut off if you don't show?"
"Tut tut, my dear. When have I ever disappointed?"
He winced again, holding the cell phone away from his ear. "Bye," he said, ending the call. Muttering about beautiful but deadly art thieves, strange, good-looking men with genies that come out of skulls, nearly forgotten mistakes from centuries ago, and then throwing in a couple of insults for MacLeod just to remain consistent, Methos pulled into his parking spot at his apartment building. He needed to dash upstairs and change into a suit but instead he sat in his car gripping the steering wheel, staring at the dust on his dashboard. Damn it.
He could leave. He should leave. It was by far the sanest choice, probably even the wisest choice. But instead, he let his head fall forward against the steering wheel.
Methos spotted Amanda on the corner as he approached the museum, feeling her presence a moment later. His tires squealed as he ducked into an available parking spot. She was dressed in a slinky short black dress, arms folded, foot tapping. "You're late," she said as soon as he popped out of the car.
"Five minutes," he shot back, defensively. "Need I remind you that I'm doing you a favor? You should be grateful I showed up at all." He stepped onto the curb and took her arm in his, still adjusting his tie with his other hand.
"Why do I smell smoke?" Amanda sniffed the air.
"Uh. New cologne. Shall we?"
She humphed, but fixed his tie for him and then gave him the once over. "I suppose you'll do."
He glared at her darkly. "We could always give MacLeod a call," he muttered.
"Oh, stop it. You look good enough to eat. Let's go."
Slightly mollified, he let her lead him down the block. Amanda started talking about the job. She needed him to run interference, mostly. She would handle all the rest. He nodded as he listened. It would be simple enough. He could see all the lights of the museum glowing, and the press of cars and people crowding the front. From the angle of their approach, he couldn't see the images or the text written on the flags and banner draped over the front of the museum, but the image of a familiar script caught his eye. He stopped suddenly, startling Amanda, dread and realization blooming. Pulling her along, he moved quickly forward, a little out into the street so he could get a better view of the front of the museum.
The entire front façade was wrapped in some sort of painted fabric that advertised the name of the exhibit in big, bold letters, with several images and that unique, alien language blown up huge for all the world to see: The Addison Manuscript, A Special Exhibit. On Loan From A Private Collection.
He spun and faced Amanda. "This is what you're going to steal?"
Amanda looked around. "Hush. Not so loud. Yes," she said, matter-of-factly, looking slightly confused. "What does it matter? Haven't you been listening? I said, it'll be easy. So, yes the security is a little tight, but I'll manage."
"The Addison Manuscript?" He felt he needed clarification.
She blinked. "Yes."
"Well, you can't have it," he said, trying not to shout.
"Methos," said Amanda, perplexed and annoyed. "You can't back down now."
He didn't bother to try to correct her misunderstanding. "It can't be in on exhibition. It just can't. It's impossible."
"Impossible? I'm not following."
"It's gone from history. Never to be found again. Lost to obscurity. Hopefully forgotten. Gone forever. It should be locked away and the key thrown out. How the hell can it be on display at the Seacouver Fine Arts Museum, of all places?" He had started walking briskly, moving closer to the chaos surrounding the museum entrance, trying to maneuver around parked cars.
Amanda followed. "Oh. Well, I can answer that. It was sold."
He turned and looked at her.
She sighed. "No one really knows the manuscript's origins, of course. It first appeared some time in the 14th century, then changed hands a half dozen times before disappearing entirely in the early 1500s. Every so often, someone pops up claiming to own the famous Addison Manuscript. But they can never produce it and then always mysteriously die. It's worse than the curse on King Tut's tomb. There was that prince out of Russia, what's his name -- found dead in his bed, and his entire bedchamber scorched beyond recognition. And that Polish bookseller, who claimed he found the manuscript in a random box of obscure books he bought off a monastery for ten złoty, but no one believes that one. He was found dead, too, in his flat--"
"Amanda," he said through gritted teeth. "I know all this already. Who sold the manuscript now?"
"Oh. Oh, well, no one knows who the seller is, or whom it was sold to, for that matter. Completely anonymous. Private auction. Seacouver Museum jumped at the chance to exhibit it, of course. It was all arranged through representatives."
"It was verified?" he asked, unable to keep the confusion from his face or voice.
She nodded, then shrugged. "By two art historians, and at least one insurance company."
He sighed. The entire situation was growing more complicated with each breath he took. "Amanda," he said, calmly, taking her arm in his hand and making her face him. They were still standing a short distance away from the entrance to the museum, on the curb, surrounded by BMWs and Lexuses and more than one Mercedes. The sky was dark, night having descended. "Why do you need to steal the Addison Manuscript?"
She released a short bust of air, not meeting his eyes. She straightened his tie again, sliding her fingers beneath the lapel of his suit jacket. "Methos," she said, her eyes catching the museum lights. She took another long breath. "There's a man I met in Chicago a few months ago. A businessman, an arbitrageur." She shrugged. "What can I say, you should see what this guy has in his collection. He's got some kind of connection to various black markets. Stuff that's been missing for years. Art stolen during World War II, uncatalogued artifacts from archeological digs. He even has pieces from that Schliemann treasure that went missing. He also has a large collection of occult items. And he wants the manuscript, said his family's history is intimately tied to it, whatever that means."
Methos narrowed his eyes. "What does he have on you?"
"What do you think? There's something a little unnatural about him, the way he looks, like one of those children from Village of the Damned. Gorgeous and unnerving. Normally I would disappear for a while. Make Duncan take me to Greece and hide away in a villa, but he's been able to find me each time I've tried to run. He scares me, Methos."
He sighed. That didn't sound good at all. "Amanda, stealing the manuscript isn't going to solve this problem."
"It'll give me an advantage."
"I doubt it," he muttered. Just then Methos spotted a familiar tall, good-looking man who was wincing uncomfortably as he tried adjusting the tightness of his bow-tie, his careworn cloth satchel looking decidedly out of place with the sleek, obviously rented, suit: Harry. Several pieces of the ever-growing mess about the manuscript slotted into place. Suddenly, Methos wondered what Harry's last name was. "Come on," he said to Amanda, taking her hand. "Let's get this show on the road."
There was a traffic jam at the entrance as everyone arrived for the exhibit at nearly the same time. Methos stood behind Amanda as they inched up the stairs. He touched Amanda's shoulders, a charge of static electricity biting at his fingers. She turned and looked at him. He shook his head at the question in her eyes. He knew she felt it too, the trace of a quickening where it should not be.
He noticed Harry a few people ahead and Methos tried to steer Amanda in that direction. Then he noticed a pale-haired, pale-skinned man standing like a pillar in the slow-moving crowd, eyes watching Amanda. Methos looked behind him and saw another pale man, and then spotted a third. Well, good, he thought dryly. Wouldn't want to start the party and leave anyone out.
Eventually, they managed to enter the foyer, and then proceed into the museum proper, where a reception with a band, cocktails, and horsd'ouevre was underway. Large, blown up images from the manuscript were scattered around the room. Methos could see that no one was yet allowed to view the actual manuscript, which was being kept under wraps.
He spotted Harry, standing off to one side, looking very dapper in his suit, even if the satchel didn't match.
Amanda leaned against him and he lowered his head slightly toward her. "I have to get to work, darling," she said into his ear, with an air kiss and a squeeze of his arm. He watched the sway of her hips as she circled deeper into the room. She had probably already figured out all the different angles, the alarm system, the guard rotation, and what, if any, motion detectors there were, all within a few minutes of entering the hall.
Keeping an eye on his lovely companion, Methos moved over and came up behind Harry, standing and sipping a glass of champagne. Methos whispered, "Is that a skull in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?"
Harry choked on his champagne, coughing, turning to glare at Methos. "Oh, you again. Why am I not surprised?" he said sourly, wiping his chin and fingers. He grabbed a napkin from a passing waiter.
"Sorry," said Methos with a smirk, anything but. He thought of several other tired clichés to try out on Harry, but then decided to get right to the point. "Tell me," he said, leaning closer. "Do you know who those men are?" He nodded in the direction of one of the pale-haired men.
Harry's eyes searched the crowd. Methos watched his face, noting the exact moment Harry's attention landed on target. "Oh damn," he said, almost under his breath. "White Court."
"Not good news, I gather."
Waggling his head, Harry glanced at him. "Honestly, there are worst things. You know, Bob told me some interesting things about a certain group of humans with long lifelines.." He turned back to look out to the croud. "Why are they here?"
"I was hoping you could tell me. But my wild guess is they're here for the same reason we are?"
Harry breathed in and opened his mouth as if to respond. The air was filled with the sounds of clinking champagne glasses and the constant murmur of hundreds of conversations. "The manuscript," he said as he exhaled. Harry eyed Methos. "You ever gonna tell me your name?"
Methos was trying very hard not to smile. "You haven't told me yours yet."
"Harry Dresden," said Harry, offering his hand.
"Adam Pierson, " said Methos. As he took Harry's hand, a strong electric shock pulsed up his arm.
"Damn it," said Harry, with a wince, rubbing his elbow. "That hurts."
Methos met Harry's knowing eyes, immediately turning to seek out Amanda, standing by the manuscript display case hidden beneath a long black velvet cloth. The loud, resonant sound of a gong stopped all conversation. A woman with a long string of pearls around her neck stood at a podium and claimed everyone's attention. It was time for the reveal.
"Do you know anything about the manuscript?" asked Harry, standing next to him, facing the crowd.
"A little," answered Methos, as dryly as he could.
"Many believe it holds unspeakable power. If someone can figure out how to unlock the text."
"Unspeakable power, really? Imagine how surprised they all will be to discover that it's really a cleverly disguised herbal journal for one very bored monk. Unspeakable power," he repeated with derision. "Is that what you think, and why you're here?" asked Methos.
"Me? No, I'd like to be able to speak all of my power."
Methos grinned. The woman with the pearls was still talking. Amanda, he'd noticed, had managed to circle completely around the covered display case. "Why don't you tell me about your friend Hughes," said Methos. "A master forger?"
Harry's gaze landed on him for a brief moment, and then back to the crowd. "The best in the business. He was a good man," he added, quietly.
"Who commissioned the forgery?"
"I don't know," Harry shook his head. "Perhaps our pale-faced friends over there. Who ever they were, they scared the crap out of Hughes."
"Hm," said Methos. He thought the pale-faced men were connected to the person who was threatening Amanda, and he wanted to question Harry about it. But he decided to wait. "Yes," he said, instead. "They're as good a guess as anything."
"Or," continued Harry. "It was you." He turned and faced Methos. "You and your lady friend over there, the one casing the joint, about to pull off a heist in front of hundreds of people. What is she going to do, swap out the real one with the fake?"
Methos raised his eyebrows. "Very good," he said, honestly impressed that Harry had figured out about Amanda, but then shook his head. "No, Amanda didn't kill Hughes. Or commission the forgery. And I wouldn't worry about her stealing it, either, because it can't be stolen."
"How do you figure?"
"Because it's not really here." At that moment, there was a hush in the audience, then light applause as suited individuals were poised at all corners of the case ready to sweep off the black velvet. Cameras were flashing. From across the room, he met Amanda's eyes. "And that's my cue. Excuse me."
Methos left Harry and made his way toward Amanda. He started staggering, as if he were drunk, tripping over his feet and bumping into people. "Excuse me, pardon me. Oh, I'm so sorry. Here let me fix that for you," he said each time he "accidently" fell on someone, dislodging eyeglasses and scarves and purses, knocking over champagne flutes. Two security guards made their way toward him, but he continued his act until he got a visual sign from Amanda. Then, staggering toward the manuscript case as if he were attempting to get away from the two guards, with museum patrons shying away from him with shocked and aggrieved expressions, he managed to get hold of the black velvet just as the two guards grabbed him by the shoulders. As they dragged him away, he took the velvet with him. There were exclamations of surprise, quickly followed by shock and dismay.
"It's gone," someone shrieked. "Someone's stolen the manuscript!"
Chaos erupted. In the ensuing confusion, Methos twisted out of the security guard's grasp, heading for the east corridor, knowing Amanda was already on her way out of the building.
Someone tackled him in the dimly lit corridor and he was hauled into an unused gallery and slammed against a wall. "Can't be stolen, huh? What was all that?"
"Harry," said Methos, a little breathless, staring into Harry's brown eyes and his full lips. "We keep meeting like this."
A blue and white arc of electricity snapped between them. Methos gasped and opened his mouth, the electricity almost caressing down his torso. Harry let him go, hissing. "Christ," cried Harry, rubbing his chest.
Still trying to get his breathing under control, Methos reached out experimentally and touched Harry's shoulder. Another charge zinged. He snatched his hand back. The air in the room pulsed, the hair on the back of his arms tickled, as did the hair on his legs, at the back of his neck. Electricity crackled in the air. He met Harry's wide eyes and knew his own were as wide. "Is that our favorite person's calling card I'm feeling?" asked Harry.
Methos was thinking of all of those people in the exhibit hall and how easily they could be trapped. Quickly, with Harry following, he ran out into the hallway, desperately searching along the wall. He found the fire alarm switch in an alcove by some stairs, breaking the glass with his elbow, and yanking the handle down. The alarm immediately started blaring.
They ran back out into the corridor, down to the main hall. Methos could see people already leaving. A somewhat detached part of him was secretly amused at how disastrously the entire evening had gone for the Seacouver Fine Arts Museum. Serves them right, he thought, bunch of grave robbers.
As they tumbled into the main part of the hall, Methos could feel the electricity in the room scraping at his skin. Each time he breathed, electric fire scorched through his lungs, like his insides would start frying any second. There was a roaring in his ears and he thought it was his blood boiling. "You have to get out," he said to Harry. "Now."
They stumbled a little, and he managed to push Harry toward the museum entrance, but Harry was almost as stubborn as MacLeod, the fool. The hall began to brighten. Methos covered his eyes. Then, everything became quiet, and the electric charge in the air seemed to recede.
Methos opened his eyes and saw Lady Isabelle Corday standing by the empty case. "No," she cried, almost pitifully, touching the glass. But even that, she could not do. The electricity spewing from her hands shattered the glass into melted globs.
He reached behind his neck for his sword and drew it, letting the familiar weapon hang heavy, pointing to the ground. Methos caught Harry looking at him.
"Where did you pull that thing from?" Harry asked quietly.
Methos winked. "Wouldn't you like to know," he said.
"No," Isabelle cried again. She spun and faced him and Methos actually felt his heart break for her. It was unfair, what she was going through. He wouldn't wish it on his worst enemy. "Give it to me." There were sparks in her eyes, and lightning bolts in her hands. She was like a goddess come down from Mount Olympus.
Slowly, Methos approached. "I don't have it," he said. He had to try one more time. "It can't help you, Isabelle. It never could. Nothing can. I'm very sorry."
"Sorry," she yelled and a blaze of white fire struck out toward him. "That's your answer for everything, isn't it Addison?"
Sparks flew, lightning danced, arcing across the room as more of her quickening escaped her. Methos raised his sword, unsure if he would be able to fight her. She hit him full on with a bolt of electricity. He cried out. It was different than a quickening, but nearly the same. Instead of being absorbed, the energy burned through him, battling his own healing power.
Blinded by Isabelle's rage and the white intensity of her energy unleashed on him, Methos crumpled to the ground. Something grabbed him around his center, and bodily hauled him from the room. He breathed in deeply as he stumbled and fell down the steps of the museum. He rolled onto his back and smiled weakly at Harry Dresden who sat down heavily next to him.
Methos could not escape police questioning. He and Harry, and many others, were taken down to the Seacouver Police Station and interrogated. However, they had nothing on him, or Harry, except perhaps disorderly behavior, and eventually let him go.
He stood by the payphones and watched Harry harass an officer about having his satchel and its contents returned to him. Methos had to make a phone call, but it was going to hurt. He'd never live it down, never hear the end of it, it'd be held over his head for the rest of his very long life. Grimacing, he picked up the receiver and dialed and waited for a familiar voice to answer.
"Mac," he said, and scrunched his eyes and face, knocked his head against the phone. "I need your help."
The T-bird purred softy, gleaming in the light of the Police Station, MacLeod leaning against the hood with folded arms and a questioning half-smile on his face. "Hullo," he said, taking note of Methos's disheveled suit. "Adventuring?"
Fearful that he was actually blushing, Methos stopped in front of MacLeod and awkwardly rubbed at the back of his head. "Uh, yeah. I'll explain it all." He turned as Harry caught up with him, clutching that satchel. For a moment, Methos wondered if this Bob person could hear everything that was going on. Shaking that thought off, he turned to MacLeod. "Mac, this is Harry Dresden. Harry, this Duncan MacLeod. He's a friend."
The two men nodded, offering each other a hand to shake.
Methos opened the passenger door, grateful that there was no electric shock. Before he got in the car, he looked at Harry who still stood by the car as if about to take himself and that skull of his and depart for parts unknown. Methos paused, leaned in. "Listen," he said. "I know we've only just met, and not under the most normal of circumstances, but believe me when I say your best bet of figuring this entire situation out is with me. It may not seem like it, but you can trust me. And you can trust MacLeod."
With narrowed eyes, Harry searched Methos's face for a moment before giving him a lopsided smile. "You know," he said with a shake of his head and a glint in his eyes that was more smart aleck than anything else, "she called you Addison in there." Harry searched Methos's face. Methos swallowed. "No worries, friend," Harry winked at him, then slid past and opened the back door to the T-bird. "I think I can be of assistance to you."
Methos couldn't help it: he smiled, and then got into the car, ignoring MacLeod's curious expression. The T-bird pulled away from the station, driving swiftly through the darkened streets.
Methos was never so grateful to see the four walls of MacLeod's loft. As soon as the rattle of the elevator door stopped, he groaned a sigh of relief and started removing his tie and suit jacket, heading straight for the dresser where MacLeod kept his jeans and sweatshirts.
"Help yourself," said MacLeod dryly as he watched Methos rifle through his clothing.
"Socks?" Methos asked, plaintively. Snorting, MacLeod walked over and pulled out a complete outfit for Methos to change into.
Leaving MacLeod and Harry to get acquainted, Methos retreated into the bathroom for a moment's solitude. He sat on the toilet and checked his cell phone. Still no message from Amanda. It hadn't been working properly earlier, so he gave it a few more minutes, but he knew he couldn't put off telling MacLeod any longer.
He emerged from the bathroom and then stopped in surprise at the sight of MacLeod and Harry Dresden sitting around the kitchen island laughing at a story Harry was telling about a three-headed dog, a large jar of magical peanut butter, and a vampire named Reginald.
"Adam," said MacLeod, waving a beer bottle. "Did you know Harry's a wizard? From Chicago," he added, as if saying the location allowed that random bit of information to make more sense.
For a second time, Methos stopped dead in his tracks, catching the quiet, assessing look in Harry's eyes. "Must be a popular first name for wizards."
Harry didn't answer, but looked amused.
An awkward silence descended. Methos helped himself to a beer from the fridge, turning back to the room to find two pairs of brown eyes watching him. He took a long pull on his beer. "Has Amanda called in the last few hours?"
"Amanda?" exclaimed MacLeod, sitting up, looking aghast at Methos. Then dawning realization showed on his face. "You didn't," he said, almost in awe, and Methos had an urge to giggle, but he bit his lip instead. "You wouldn't. You couldn't." With Methos's continuing silence, MacLeod had his answer, and he burst out laughing.
"Don't look at me like that," said Methos. "What the hell was I supposed to do? You know how she is."
"Yes, and so do you," said MacLeod, eyes still gleaming. "Just as well as I do. I'm surprised you fell for it, old man."
"I didn't fall for anything." Methos felt that was an important fact to make clear. "The situation became ridiculously complicated," he added, somewhat irritably.
Macleod met his eyes, humor dampened. "No, she hasn't called me. Was she supposed to?"
"I thought she might, when we got separated. She hasn't contacted me either, but my cell phone isn't working."
"Oh," said Harry with a slight apologetic expression. "That's my fault. Sorry. Cell phones and I don't mix very well."
Methos and MacLeod looked at each other. Then they looked at Harry.
"I think you'd better start from the beginning," said MacLeod.
Methos debated briefly which beginning to start from, then decided to play it safe. The rest would probably come out eventually anyway. "Amanda called me this morning to invite me to lunch."
"Never a good sign," said MacLeod.
Methos grinned. He told MacLeod about the lunch, about spotting Harry and following him into the book store, and the dead body of Hughes the forger.
"But how did you know to follow me?" asked Harry. "How did you know about the manuscript?"
"Manuscript?" asked MacLeod, brows furrowed.
"The electricity," said Methos, answering Harry first. "It's… unique." He turned to MacLeod. "Have you ever heard of Isabelle Corday?"
MacLeod's expression turned thoughtful, unfocused as he thought back. "Connor mentioned her once, but never elaborated further. He wouldn't say much, only to avoid her, if possible."
"Who is she?" asked Duncan.
It was Harry who answered. "You two think she's an Immortal? Like you both?" MacLeod became very still. No one moved, but the atmosphere in the room changed. Harry raised his hands up in a passive gesture. "It's all right, guys. I don't carry a sword."
Before Methos was even aware of him moving, MacLeod grabbed both of Harry's wrists and pulled back his shirt and suit jacket to reveal clear, unblemished skin. He relaxed, sat back in his stool, and picked up his beer. "What do you know?" he asked with all the appearance of casualness except for his ready-to-spring energy that MacLeod couldn't mask.
"Only what Bob told me."
"Bob?" asked MacLeod, rubbing his face.
"Ah, Bob," said Methos. "By all means, let us hear what Bob has to say about Lady Isabelle."
Harry took a breath. He hadn't reacted to MacLeod's actions, seemed to take it all in stride, but Methos wouldn't take the man for granted. "Uh, well," Harry's gaze shifted to Methos. "Those three guys we saw at the museum? The real pale ones? They belong to a group of… people. An underground group of people, who call themselves the White Court. They've been around a long time. They sort of, prey on individuals. Kind of like emotional vampires, if you will, the old succubi and incubi. They are vampires, in every sense except the blood sucking part. Love, sex, anger, devotion, exhilaration, obsession, you name it, they want it. And see, what you have to understand," he said, shifting a little as he looked from Methos then to MacLeod and back to Methos again, "is that one kind of magic usually doesn't mix well with another kind. Do you understand what I'm saying?"
Methos narrowed his gaze, glanced at MacLeod who was frowning.
"You can have a magic like the kind you two have, something innate to your own personal nature that you don't even think of as magic. It can be fantastic like being Immortal, or as simple as a baby growing up and becoming a boy and then later a man. But when you try to alter that, change it in some way that's not natural to who and what you are, well --" Harry fell silent.
"So, what you're saying," said MacLeod, almost conversationally, "is that Isabelle, an Immortal, tried to become one of these White Court people? And then what happened?"
"No," said Harry, quietly. "You can't be turned into White Court. You're born into it."
"But," said MacLeod. He turned to Methos, those brown eyes of his darkening with horror.
Methos jutted his jaw, closed his eyes again. "Perversion," he said, deciding to enter the conversation. Harry and MacLeod looked at him. He sighed. "1300s. Or thereabouts. Isabelle was born into a little-known noble family in Bohemia. She took after her mother, who was very beautiful. White skin, white hair, and a kind of… appetite that had no limits. And couldn't be contained. Her reputation grew. There were a few deaths as a result. She was viewed as both an abomination and an object of desire. Used as some sort of pawn in a larger scheme that I'm not entire familiar with, her family traded Isabelle in marriage to another little-known nobleman. Who just happened to be Immortal."
MacLeod turned and faced Methos, with a fearful question in his eyes. Methos shook his head.
"No, not I," he said with a sad smile, and was happy to see MacLeod's expression relax. "But someone we both know. Or knew, I should say. His name was Corday back then."
MacLeod grew thoughtful for a moment, then his expression hardened. "Kronos," he whispered. It was unlikely anyone would truly know what sort of transformation or transference occurred between Isabelle and Kronos that would have created the unfortunate monster she had become. Certainly Kronos had suffered no ill side effects, but he was old, and had taken so very many heads. And, despite her nature, Isabelle had been young at the time. Methos shivered, and he couldn't help but think of Alexa. He would have gladly cut out his soul and fed it to her with a spoon if it meant she could live a little longer. He rubbed at his chest, felt a hand on his shoulder, knowing it was MacLeod.
"Anyway," said Harry, glancing at both of them. "Back to the story. Lady Isabelle showed up at the bookstore and at the museum when your friend Amanda stole the manuscript."
"What's this manuscript?" asked MacLeod.
Methos was careful not to change his breathing, not to shift in his seat. He did not meet either man's eyes.
After a moment, Harry spoke. "Uh, the Addison Manuscript. It's always been more legend than anything else. An illustrated manuscript written in an undecipherable language, with an unknown script. It would have been forgotten for all eternity if Jacques Marceau hadn't made a meticulous copy before his death in 1520. He was the last known documented owner. It disappeared after that. Many try to decipher the script, from the copies, but no one's succeeded yet. Regular scholars dismiss it as a curiosity, some kind of medicinal or herbal diary. But in the world of the occult, we know better. The manuscript is not something you play around with. If you can figure out the right spell to unlock the text, well then," Harry's eyes met Methos's, "you have access to the toolbox of life and death. If you survive that long. People tend to die around the manuscript."
Harry stopped talking and silence fell across the loft. Methos heard a clock ticking, and the wind outside rattling one of MacLeod's windows.
MacLeod cleared his throat, then spoke softly. "It's called the Addison Manuscript. Who's Addison?"
Methos continued to breathe regularly, staring at the kitchen counter. He could feel Harry's gaze fall on him. "Addison was a monk, living in the monastery in Broumov, near the Polish border," he said, speaking quietly. Methos made himself meet MacLeod's eyes. "The monastery is still there. You can go see it, if you like. Many attribute the origin of the manuscript to this Addison, but although there isn't much primary information on him, it's pretty clear he was just a simple man. Maybe he wrote it, maybe he didn't. But he was the first owner of the manuscript, so it takes his name. He made one very big mistake," he paused. "The day he met Isabelle Corday, and he regretted it very much."
Another silence fell, the suddenly somber moment lifting. "I see," said MacLeod after a moment. "All this over what's probably the doodlings of a very bored monk."
"That's what I said," said Methos, sharing a smile with MacLeod.
"And Amanda?" asked MacLeod. "How did she get herself involved?"
"Stole the manuscript from the museum," said Harry.
MacLeod looked to Methos. "No," said Methos. "She stole the forged copy, the one your friend Hughes made."
Harry opened his mouth to speak, but then shut it, apparently deciding Methos must be right.
"That doesn't mean she's not in danger," continued Methos. "It's not the manuscript itself that's dangerous, but the idea of it. Whomever Amanda got herself mixed up with -- and from the sounds of it, I'd say it's someone in this White Court you mentioned -- that person wants the manuscript, and is either using the fake to flush it out, or, " he paused. "They want Isabelle. You want to know why anyone who becomes associated with the manuscript dies? It's because she kills them. She thinks the manuscript can cure her, she's been hunting for it all her life."
"And it can't do that," said MacLeod, quietly, and Methos was grateful MacLeod had realized it.
Methos didn't answer. "Isabelle will be hunting for Amanda," he said.
"Do you have something personal of hers?" asked Harry, standing up, removing his jacket and rolling up his sleeves. He moved further into the kitchen. "Something she owned, perhaps." He opened up his satchel, taking out what looked like herbal ingredients and laid them on the counter, then rummaged around in MacLeod's cupboards and shelves looking for bowls and wooden spatulas. Almost bashfully, Harry took out the skull. Methos held his breath, noticing MacLeod only looked curious.
"Come on out, Bob," said Harry, already turning to the bowl he'd set up. A moment passed, then a small ball of dark smoke flew out of the skull and materialized into Bob.
MacLeod stumbled from his stool. Methos let out his held breath, trying not to laugh.
"Well, it's about time. Honestly, I thought you'd forgotten me," said Bob, as prim as ever. "Planned to leave me to the tender mercies of the boys in blue."
"Quit complaining," said Harry, busy with his preparations. "You're safe."
MacLeod, still dumbstruck, had risen to his feet and began circling around Bob. Bob, taken aback, started circling around MacLeod in turn, almost mirroring MacLeod's actions. "What are we doing?" asked Bob.
Reaching out tentatively, MacLeod poked at Bob, snatching his hand back. Harry stepped between them. "Location spell," he said to Bob. Then he turned to MacLeod. "You don't have anything? A piece of clothing? A necklace? Anything belonging to this Amanda person?"
"What?" asked MacLeod, confused, then, "Oh, right." He moved quickly to the back of the loft, rummaged around in his bathroom, returning with a hair brush.
"Oh, that's great," said Harry, returning to his concoction. Methos was thoroughly charmed to see Harry take out what looked like a drumstick and start muttering charms. He watched Harry with interest.
"Don't over mix," said Bob, although he wasn't looking at Harry. He and MacLeod were still eyeing each other like a pair of puppy dogs at a playground. MacLeod turned to inspect Bob's skull.
"Ah," said Bob, tsking. "No no."
Coloring slightly, MacLeod backed away, muttering, "Sorry, Yorick."
"Oh, clever," said Bob, nodding. "Like I've never heard that one before."
Methos snickered. MacLeod made a face, then moved closer to Harry, looking over his shoulder at the rather disgusting brew he was making.
"Just look at the three of you," said Bob, his hands pressed together, fingers against his lower lip. The three men in question looked at each other, then down at themselves, each with matching perplexed expressions. "It's like I wandered into photo shoot for one of those men's clothing catalogues Harry receives in the mail."
Harry closed his eyes for a moment, then, through gritted teeth, asked, "Are you going to be helpful, or not?"
Bob peeked over Harry's shoulder, pointing. "You're boiling."
"What? Oh." Harry turned back, taking the pot off the fire and decanted the mixture, while Bob gave instructions to both MacLeod and Methos to find a map and clear a flat surface. Harry took a crystal, wrapped some of Amanda's hair around it, then dipped it in the solution. Sitting before the map, Methos watched Harry center himself, then close his eyes, chanting softly. He held the crystal over the map. It spun in a circle, then landed in the center of the map.
Methos bent over the map to look closely, nearly bumping heads with Macleod. They looked at each other.
"Well?" asked Harry.
"That can't be right," said MacLeod. "That's this building."
Harry cursed under his breath, getting up and returning to the kitchen counter.
"Are you sure that was Amanda's and not yours?" asked Methos.
MacLeod rolled his eyes. "Yes," he said. "I don't have flowers on my hair brushes."
Bob stood behind Harry. "Did you use too much eel's bladder?"
Thoughtful, Harry pursed his lips and looked uncertain, staring at the mess of ingredients and then at the crystal and the map.
"Maybe it's because we're Immortal?" tried MacLeod.
Methos considered that, then felt a strong Immortal presence resonate loudly in his head, traveling down his spine. He stiffened and looked at Macleod. They moved at the same time, Methos going for his sword he'd left with his suit, and MacLeod to where he kept the katana, by the bed. Harry and Bob stood still, watching. Methos placed himself by the elevator, and then nodded at MacLeod.
There was a knocking, and then a clear voice calling, "Duncan? I know you're in there."
Methos and MacLeod deflated. "Typical," muttered Methos, leaving his broadsword by the coat rack. He retreated to the fridge and got a second beer.
MacLeod opened the door and then started right in. "Where have you been? Adam's been worried."
"I have not," said Methos from the kitchen, indignant.
Glowing from the cool night air, Amanda breezed in still in her cocktail dress, obviously chilled but smiling broadly. She held a leather bound book to her chest. "Had to take the long way. I tried calling, but I couldn't get through. Those men, the pale-white ones," she looked at Methos, "were following me. But I lost them. " She was nodding and smiling, rubbing her hands. "Oh, hello," she said, noticing Harry and Bob. "Are we having a party?"
"You're freezing," said MacLeod, reaching to take her into his arms. A loud snap and a bright electric shock arced when he touched her. He flinched, and she drew a sharp intake of breath.
Everyone in the room froze, staring at each other with growing horror. Experimentally, Methos reached out and touched Harry's arm. The jolt was so strong, his entire body shook. Harry jumped back, nearly stumbling to the floor. "Goddamn it," he said, rubbing his arm, shaking his head.
Methos started moving. "Down to the dojo," he said to MacLeod. "Now. You don't want her in the loft."
MacLeod didn't question it, taking Amanda by the arm, wincing through another shock, he grabbed his sword. Harry picked up Bob's skull. MacLeod lifted the elevator grate, waiting for everyone to get in. Electricity danced across the elevator walls, down the doors.
"Would some one please explain the situation to me?" asked Amanda, looking around.
As they exited into the dojo, Methos and MacLeod moved into the center of the room, swords out, back to back.
"Bob, do you mind bringing the lady up to date?" said Harry, who was watching Methos.
Bob moved closer to Amanda. "Hello my dear, my name is Hrothbert of Bainbridge."
"Oh," she said, confused but smiling. "I've heard of you." She looked at Methos who only shrugged.
"Have you? My reputation does proceed me. Well," he said, leaning toward her. Bright-eyed and still glowing, she listened with interest. "Young Master Harry Dresden here, is a wizard, new to town, on a daring mission of great import. And, if I'm not too mistaken, sparks are definitely flying between him and that mysterious Immortal with the olivine eyes."
"Bob," gritted Harry, then grinned awkwardly at a laughing Amanda. "Don't make me throw your skull out the window."
From where he stood in the center of the room, Methos glanced back at Harry, smiling a little at his unease, but then he returned his attention to the rest of the room, listening for movement. The air grew heavy with electric charge.
"Right." Bob straightened, as if breathing in, then continued. "Isabelle Corday wants the manuscript. And she's coming to get it. Only she doesn't know it's fake."
"It is?" cried Amanda, looking at the leather bound book she still carried.
"'Fraid so, my dear," said Bob, with a sort of kindred dismay. "What's more, the White Court is involved. Naturally, considering who Isabelle Corday is to them. Let's watch, shall we?"
"No," said Methos, looking at Harry. "You're mortal. You need to leave."
Harry opened his mouth, ready to protest.
Bob cleared his throat. "Harry. I think we'd better."
Grumbling, Harry shut his mouth and nodded, and started for the side stair exit, but was stopped as a charge of electricity barred the way.
Methos watched white lines of electricity travel along the weight equipment and up and down the metal pipes lining the ceiling and the walls. Small lightning bolts struck out, reaching for him and MacLeod. One zapped MacLeod, then another. A thought struck Methos.
"Um, Mac?" He touched MacLeod's arm, then let go with another electric shock. "This might not be such a good idea."
"What do you mean? This is a great idea. This is the best idea you've ever gotten me mixed up in."
The heavy charge in the air increased. Methos felt his hair lifting, felt the tingle of energy all along his skin. Then he felt that terrible presence that wasn't presence, like liquid fire pouring over his skin.
"You took Kronos's quickening. She's made from his quickening. We can't predict what's going to happen."
Macleod had no time to answer. The room brightened. Methos turned and yelled at Harry. It was like yelling through a storm, the rush of electricity in his ears louder than wind. "Get out, get out. You're mortal, damn it. Get out." But Methos couldn't see anything anymore, everything filled with pure white light. He scrunched his eyes shut, clutching at MacLeod. He thought Macleod was talking, or trying to say something, but he couldn't hear it.
Then, suddenly, the light returned to normal. Isabelle stood a few feet away, electricity emanating from her body as if she were the center of one of those glass plasma globes found at novelty shops. She was magnificent and terrible, white hair flowing long and wild all around her.
On his knees, Methos glanced back and saw Amanda shielding Harry in her arms, who was cradling Bob's skull against his chest. MacLeod pushed at him, whispering fiercely in his ear. "Do what you have to do." He stood in front of Methos, turned and faced Isabelle.
"I can't be like this anymore," she said, and her voice crackled with intensity. Her eyes danced with white fire.
MacLeod approached her, hands held out and open. "Let me help you," he said.
A bolt of electricity shot out and hit Macleod squarely in the chest. He staggered, but didn't fall. "You can't help me," she said. "No one can."
Breathing hard, MacLeod bent over for a moment, then straightened. Methos stood. Isabelle turned and faced him, electricity building again. Her dead white eyes watched him closely as he walked backwards and took the book from Amanda. He met Harry's eyes briefly.
Electricity danced all around the room. Methos couldn't distinguish her features any more, couldn't look into her face. But he remembered how she had been, centuries ago, and the raw power of her sexuality. He saw some of that still in her indescribable face, as she beheld the object of her desire. He held out the bound manuscript. "Here it is," he said. "If you want it so badly."
Electricity had became her arms, reaching out to take hold of the manuscript. It floated in the air before her, the pages blackening, the leather becoming charred. Her cry of anguish hurt more than the burn of her fire. Her rage grew.
Methos held on to his sword. He had to stop it, somehow. Through the mayhem, he met MacLeod's eyes for one electric moment before MacLeod stepped toward Isabelle and embraced her, crying out from the pain.
Like entering the eye of a storm, the electricity running wild around the dojo paused, and then pulse outward, like a sonic boom, before gathering inward, back to Isabelle, circling around her, pooling at her feet.
Methos took up his sword. There was one chance, one opportunity. MacLeod bowed his head, low over her chest, holding her with his strong arms. Methos reached back and swung. Isabelle's head fell into a bed of electricity.
A loud pop. Sparks flew everywhere. Glass shattered. Then a rush of light and energy and fire before everything went still.
Methos made his limbs move, crawling toward MacLeod who lay twisted with Isabelle's body. Rising onto all fours, he managed to lift MacLeod's dead weight enough to get a good grip and haul him partly away. He wasn't capable of too much more, but he held on. He was afraid to look behind him, at what he might find. But then he felt a hand on his shoulder and looked up to see Harry standing over him. Methos's relief could only be expressed with a sigh and a tight grasp of Harry's hand.
There was a rustle of fabric, a soft patter of footsteps on hardwood floor. Methos looked up and saw the three pale-faced, white-haired men from the museum, and a fourth in the center. The fourth was slightly taller, and ridiculously beautiful, like a quartz statue. White Court, thought Methos, and even half dead as he was he could feel the draw of their fierce sexuality calling him.
"Aw, are you serious?" asked Harry. "Can't you see we've had enough? What are you all doing here?"
"Peace," said the talking statue, "Harry Dresden. We've only come for what's ours." He bent down, and his other men came forward to pick up Isabelle Corday's remains and the charred manuscript. They left as they came, quietly.
Harry's hand went around and cupped the back of Methos's head. It took Methos a moment to realize there was no electric shock, no jarring pain. His entire body relaxed. They looked at each other for a long moment, until MacLeod gasped and came back to life.
Harry smiled. "Your own kind of magic," he said, then helped Methos to rise, and together, with MacLeod and Amanda, they all stumbled back into the elevator and up to the loft, grateful that it was all over.
Seacouver, a few days later.
The elevator came to a stop, and the gate rattled. The stereo was on, playing something light and jazzy, and the smells of onions frying in olive oil met Methos as he stepped into the loft, MacLeod's presence buzzing familiarly.
"Over here," said MacLeod, a kitchen towel over his shoulder, pouring pasta into a strainer.
Methos went to the stove and lifted the cover off one of the pots, leaning over and breathing in. "Not bad," he said.
MacLeod grinned, then shooed him. "You can try it yourself, if you stay for dinner. Amanda should be here in a few minutes."
"Love to, but my flight's in a few hours."
MacLeod stopped moving, taking the kitchen towel and drying his hands. "You're sure about this?"
Methos shrugged a little. "Yes. I've kept it hidden for too long. It doesn't belong to me, not really. It should go back to where it came from. He'll be a better keeper than me."
"Well," said MacLeod, leaning one hand against the kitchen counter. "Can't really argue with that. Need a ride to the airport?"
It was on the tip of Methos's tongue to refuse. "What about your dinner?"
"It'll keep. Amanda won't mind."
MacLeod came forward and Methos stepped into his embrace, comforted by the clap of MacLeod's hand against his back. "It's over here," said MacLeod, when he stepped away, moving over to his bookshelf.
In the second row from the bottom, all the way over to the far right side, was nestled a dark brown, narrow, sealed box. MacLeod crouched down and withdrew it, bringing it over to the coffee table.
Carefully, MacLeod withdrew the Addison Manuscript. He passed his hands over it. "You know, it's just like you to tell me to hold something for you and not inform me that it's actually a live, ticking bomb."
Methos chuckled sheepishly. "I knew you'd keep it safe."
"Yeah," said MacLeod, then reached over and tweaked Methos's nose. Before Methos could even squawk a protest, Immortal presence flooded the room and Amanda sailed in, dripping with shopping bags and beaming a happy, flirtatious smile.
Chicago, 10 am on a Tuesday morning.
The door chimed as he entered, warm sunbeams filtering in through the windows and catching the floating dust. Methos looked around, once again thinking of bad 'B' movie sets, but he recognized the signs of Harry all over the place and it made him smile.
From somewhere else further into the honeycomb of rooms, he heard a voice call out,"Be right there."
Methos turned when he heard footsteps.
"Sorry about that," said Harry, traipsing into the room. "Was stuck in the cellar with a mad scient--Oh. Hi. Adam." Harry stopped mid stride, and stood staring at Methos.
Methos would have found the situation amusing, but he was too busy shifting the weight of the awkward box he was carrying. "I'm sorry I didn't phone ahead."
"No, it's all right," said Harry, moving into the room. "Hey, sit down. It's good to see you. Make yourself at home. Do you want something to drink? Coffee? Tea? I think I have those things," said Harry, a whirlwind of activity.
"Coffee's fine." Methos was charmed all over again. He set the narrow box down on a table, kept himself busy looking at the odd bits and pieces and strange artifacts spread around the room while waiting for Harry to return with the coffee.
"Did you fly in this morning?" asked Harry, returning with a tray.
"Last night," said Methos, putting down a particularly perplexing deck of I Ching cards. The tray was set down and they both sat across from each other. The next few moments were filled with serving the coffee, then a strange, not entirely uncomfortable silence followed.
"Oh hey," said Harry, rising from his seat. He disappeared for a moment and then returned with a thick, ancient-looking, book. "Remember you looked familiar to me? Check this out."
It was an old text, written in Latin, a sort of magical encyclopedia. Harry opened the book to an entry in the middle. One glance at the heading told him whom it was about. There was an illustration with a remarkable likeness of the monk known as Addison. He traced the image of his face. Methos read silently, remembering. "Nothing much in this is true."
"Really? Well." Harry scratched his head. "Not much about that darned manuscript seems to be true."
Methos set his coffee down, lowered his eyes for a moment. When he looked up again, Harry was watching him. He set the tray of coffee to one side, made sure the table was clear, then pushed the narrow box that he'd brought over to Harry.
"It's for you," said Methos. "It's why I'm here."
Harry didn't say anything, but he sat up straight. He put his hand on top of the box, then closed his eyes. After a moment, he undid the fastenings, and slowly slid the manuscript out and held it in his hands.
"Why?" he asked.
"Because it belongs to you," said Methos, quietly.
"Considering its history, I'm not sure I want it."
Methos smiled. "I don't blame you. But it's yours nevertheless. If you want to throw it into the fire, you can do that. I wouldn't give it to you if I thought it would bring you harm."
Harry's eyes were warm. "No, I guess you wouldn't." He sighed. "I never wanted unspeakable power."
Methos laughed quietly. "It won't give you that. It might give you a headache, though. It's nothing more than a curiosity, Harry. An old man's fancy. It holds some knowledge, if you can unlock the text, but no more than you probably already hold inside your head. Or inside that extra skull of yours. Maybe it'll come in handy one day."
Slowly, Harry opened the manuscript to the first few pages. The ink of the strange text was still dark, its preservation held perhaps by magic. Harry passed his hand over the page and Methos thought he saw the letters tremble. "Tell me," said Harry. "Who wrote it? Did you?"
Methos smile was slow, spreading across his face. "What do you think?"
Harry bit his lip, shook his head a little. "You don't hold this kind of magic."
"No I don't. And if you don't mind me saying, I'm very glad I don't. My life is difficult enough as it is. The name wouldn't mean anything to you. He was someone I knew, someone I cared for in his final days. A crazy old monk who knew a bit of magic he'd learned from his uncle." Methos shrugged. "He gave it to me, on his deathbed. I didn't even believe in magic, your kind of magic, at the time. Not till later. It's not nearly as exciting as anyone would expect."
Harry sighed. "I'd like to hear the story, one day."
After a moment, Methos inclined his head. He could tell the story. He'd kept it silent for too long, and the old monk would have liked that.
"Where was it, all this time?"
Methos took another swallow of coffee, setting this cup down. He met Harry's eyes, and smiled. "With a friend."
Harry canted his head to one side. "You always play your cards this close to your chest?"
"Usually," said Methos, but made sure his expression was open. "You live as long as I have, you learn to be cautious."
"Yeah," said Harry. "I can believe that."
There was another strange beat of silence, and then Harry jumped up from his chair. Methos stood as well. "Hey," Harry said, taking the manuscript and returning it to its box. He placed it carefully on a nearby bookshelf. "How about some brunch? There's a coffee shop around the corner. Food's pretty good. Hasn't killed me yet. How about I treat you, and then, I don't know," he stopped, bit his lip again, then smiled. "What do you say?"
Unable to stop himself, Methos reached out and touched Harry's arm, cupping his elbow. It was nice to be able to touch him without feeling the harsh bite of an electric shock. Harry covered Methos's hand with his. He squeezed, then pulled Methos in, arm going around his shoulder, giving him a shake and a lingering hug. "Come on," he said, looking down at Methos because he was that much taller. "I'm not letting you go. I wanna hear that story."
Harry took Methos's hand and led him out into the sunshine.