This story is rated R for violence and language. Methos and the concept of Immortality are the undisputed property of some faceless corporate goons with more lawyers than me, and are used here without permission. I'm not making any money here, so they can get off my back.
Jean Parker is my own character and creation.
Thanks to Ellen and the Beta Readers Union local 214 for all the help. Thanks also to Rachael for the quote.
This is written in response to the Inspiration Game played over on HLWC.
The quickening is pain. Pure, undiluted anguish and agony on levels that most mortals never know or would ever survive. Physically, it's a neural overload, orgasm gone horribly, frighteningly wrong, perverting what should be pleasure into a dreadful torture. Mentally, it's an assault on the mind and soul that you cannot refuse. It is rape.
If I were feeling any more maudlin, I'd say that it was a kind of penance for the lives we lead. Everything else in an Immortal's life is bought and paid for with the quickenings. Kill or be killed, live with a sword in your hand, or die on your knees. Whatever else calls us -- medicine, philosophy, world domination -- we are Immortals first. The sword is first.
Watchers speculate, wonder, gossip among themselves about what it feels like, how it must be to be one of us. Immortal. To know the tedium of the passing centuries, to taste the fire of the quickening. They see only the surface of it, the wind and lightning, hear the groans that might be pleasure or pain or fear, see the helpless jerking of an overstimulated body and the trembling weakness in its wake. They can guess, but they don't know. No one really knows.
No one knows how much I hate it. And hate myself for the time, long ago, that I used to love it.
The young woman across from me hasn't yet learned these lessons, hasn't had time to realize the lie that teachers tell their students, the betrayal we make them believe. Teachers tell only half the story: that the quickening will make you strong. Never that it will erode your soul.
The evidence of her Immortality whispers to me, making my head itch in places I can't scratch. It feels like a bug crawling up the back of my neck, or someone walking over my grave. She displays her ignorance of everything from polite behavior to personal grooming in the way she struts and postures like a cheap thug. The leather wardrobe straight out of a low-budget, post-apocalyptic movie isn't doing anything to improve my opinion of her, either. Rude, unlettered, and unbathed, and the whole world owes her.
I resist the urge to laugh in her face -- or turn her over my knee. Infant. "Go home, girl, and live a little longer. I've got no quarrel with you."
She grins savagely, a glint of insanity in her dark, beautiful eyes. Why does she have to be so young, so lovely? Why is it easier to kill the ugly ones? Don't they have just as much right to live?
"Maybe I've got a fight with you, rich-boy. I don't like the way you dress, or talk, or look. You think an expensive coat and snooty accent make up for that face?"
"Let's not get personal. We don't have to do this, you know. Let me buy you a drink." I don't want to fight tonight, or any other night. Home, and books, and beer, that's all I was after this evening. There's a whiff of woodsmoke on the wind, a taste of rain in the air. Not far away is the muted noise of traffic and people, though too far away to help me avoid the challenge. Stupid girl, too eager to die.
She spits, limbering her sword arm with swings that are supposed to look graceful and intimidating. "Only one, rich-boy. What's the matter, scared to fight a girl?"
I shake my head slowly, sadly. "Your funeral." I am afraid, but not for the reasons she thinks. I know I can kill her, and I don't want to. There's a strange formality in removing our coats, a heightened level of commitment. You can always put the swords away, but once the coats are off, that's it. You both know the fight is real.
"Yours first. Jean Parker."
"Nice to meet you."
With no more preamble than that, the fight is joined. She flings herself into the circle of my reach, offering me a dozen opportunities to kill her in the first exchanges. I take none of them, choosing instead to just hold her off, hoping she will exhaust herself and see the futility of this madness. It's too fine an evening for someone to die.
She's a child, and fights like one, flailing ineffectually at my defenses like an angry toddler. It's no effort at all to hold her off, wary of the cutting edge of her sabre like I would be the teeth of an angry animal. I hate to slaughter children, even dangerous ones.
Young and greedy and reckless, I imagine she challenges every Immortal she comes across, hungry for the power, the quickening. So far she's been fortunate, killing those weaker or stupider, escaping those more powerful, her limited success in the Game owing everything to luck and nothing to skill. If I were more generous, I'd take her as a student, or give her to MacLeod and see if he could nurture the spirit and fire in her. Temper it with a little judgment.
This isn't even exercise. If I were more cruel, I'd find out who taught her and go kill him for turning loose a child so ill-equipped to play in the big leagues. Fact is, there's not much anyone can do for her. Hotheaded and stupid, she runs on machismo and women's lib, a testosterone high worthy of Ryan at his motorcycle-riding best. I can admire that, in a way. But she was born too late to have much of a chance in the Game at all. Caution might have served her well, but here she is, in a dark Seacouver alley, courting courting Death with a diamond ring.
Oh, I know her, leather pants and piercings and all. I was like her, once. The fight was everything; it was life. I sleepwalked through the tedium of living, barely aware of anything except those few minutes that I had a sword in my hand, fighting for my existence. It was good with a mortal, but an Immortal duel.... The quickening was rebirth, better than sex, better than anything, even with the pain. It was power, and I was powerful to receive it. I was a god. I believed then that I was in control, taking, raping my opponent of his strength. Later, I realized that they were slowly robbing me of my soul.
This girl could have been me. Young, outcast, angry. Vengeful. Wanting a piece of my own back from a world that turned away from me, that drove me out for being different. That called me a demon and burned me. I don't want to kill her for being young. That's the one thing that time will always cure you of, and I want her to have that time.
"Walk away, child."
"Fuck you! Stupid old geezer.... You're mine!" she snarls, beautiful in a dark way, all hard muscles and sharp lines. There is little in her body that's recognizably feminine. Her features are small, but not delicate in the way generally associated with women; she is short and angular, and even her breasts are only tiny points under the torn T-shirt. She's far too thin. I wonder when she ate last.
I shove her off of me, encouraging distance with a slice to her side.
She takes the hint and backs off a bit, circling, looking for an opening. So obvious, leading with her eyes. It's like playing chess with a gradeschooler, I'm always eight moves or more ahead. She can't be more than fifty. In another century, or five, she'd be a force to be reckoned with, but she'll have to get past her anger, her greed, first. And she'll have to get past me.
Enough of this. Enough circling in dirty alleys waiting for children to discover wisdom. She's already tired, having worn herself out uselessly searching for holes in my defense. The holes are there, I'm sure, but she looked too long in all the wrong places. I'm bored with this game. She wasn't even entertaining at the start, and what little amusement she did provide has palled. I'm wet and cold, and I want to go home.
Two passes, and she's on her knees in the stagnant water, surrounded by garbage. This is the fate that waits for us all, save one: dying on our knees in parking lots, in garbage dumps, in alleys. Stinking, filthy places. Waiting for it, knowing we have failed, listening for the near-silent hiss of the sword that will take our heads, our lives. Our quickenings.
All life is a terminal disease. Even our lives.
There is no gentle passing for our kind, no easeful death in the soft embrace of sleep and age. I envy Joe his mortality. Not the wasting, debilitating effects of time, the slow betrayal of the body as it fails, one system after another, until even the mind is gone, but the chance for a graceful passing. I don't want to die, still loving life even more than I hate the quickenings. But I gave up on my bid for the Prize, if it exists, long ago. It is only a matter of time before a challenger comes who is better, faster, and luckier than I am.
Then we will have come full circle. For if this angry, vengeful, rabid child is the me of my youth, then when my turn comes, I will be her, on my knees in the rank water, dying on the edge of someone else's sword. Again the rapist, stealing a portion of someone's soul.
I look at her for a long time, and she just stares back, trying to hide her fear. She isn't bold enough to command me to do it, the survivor in her still too vital to yield gracefully. I realize now that I don't know her at all. A name and an attitude, and a handful of shabby tricks with a sword. Leather and earrings and beautiful, frightened eyes. That's all. The rest... the rest is my own to reconcile.
I grieve for her, for the potential that was real or imagined. For all our kind that might have done so much and are instead lost to this genocidal madness. If she asked me to spare her, I would. But she won't, pride and fear conspiring to choke off her voice. The dark head tips back to expose her white throat, the black hair falling in a way that evokes too many memories.
She opens her eyes to look at me, and I strike. She dies without a sound, her severed head rolling away with a flat, syncopated thumping on the asphalt. The body falls, twitching. She's gone. No longer a beautiful, terrible waste of a life, just a corpse.
I hate killing children.
The quickening is pain.
In existence there is nobody who is superior and nobody who is inferior. The blade of grass and the great star are absolutely equal...
-- Osho, The White Lotus, Chapter 6