Alternate Universe "Immortal 7"
Buck Wilmington breathed a sigh of relief when Vin Tanner made it across the violently swinging rope bridge. Even though he knew the fall would not be permanently fatal to the other immortal, he still felt better knowing the man had made it safely across. That left just himself, and Ezra Standish, on one side the rest having already gone across.
The canyon that the bridge spanned was over half a mile across with the cliff faces being near vertical for a good ten miles, making the poorly maintained rope bridge the only place to cross easily. The forest fire raging only a few miles behind them, had seriously limited their options. The immortals might not have even worried about finding a safe crossing were it not for the group of campers they had encountered. Immortals would eventually revive from any injury, save decapitation, but mere mortals did not have that luxury.
Josiah Sanchez had been the first to cross. As the largest member of the group, he believed that if the bridge could withstand his weight, the rest would have nothing to worry about. Chris Larabee had followed, taking slow careful strides, looking for individual weak spots that a smaller person might slip through, or cause one to lose his footing. Hard on his heels, moving one at time, was a troupe of boy scouts. Thirteen boys in all, ranging in age from eight to sixteen.
The seven immortals had run into the scouts the day before when they were hiking. The boys said they were searching for their missing scoutmaster. The younger members, were worried that the man might have gotten lost, or attacked by some wild animal. The older ones were doing their best to maintain order and cohesion, but they were glad to hand over the reins to seven adults. In no time the seven were attempting to help the boys track the man down.
Vin managed to follow the mans trail from his tent. The former bounty hunter had found the mans body poorly concealed not far from the boys camp. His throat had been slit. The smell of smoke of a forest fire had forced them to drop their investigation, and change priorities. First priority was getting the children, now in their care, to somewhere safe.
Buck grimaced. Not only was there a fire to worry about, but some nutcase was also on the loose. This trip was supposed to be about getting away. Relaxing with friends. Taking a break from the pressures of modern life, and getting back to the pace of life all of them had been born in. Instead they were running pel mel to escape a forest fire, probably started by the same lunatic whod killed the scoutmaster.
JD Dunne had crossed after the children, with Nathan Jackson, following after. Jackson had wanted to be close to last in case the rope broke. As the only one qualified to treat injuries, he felt hed be more useful if any of the children were stranded on the flaming side of the canyon.
Only himself and Ezra left. Piece of cake. "Okay, Ez, youre next."
Ezra shook his head. The green eyed immortal was looking back the way they came, and not toward the bridge. "I must decline, Mr. Wilmington."
Buck scowled. He was not in the mood to deal with Ezras contrary nature. "Knock it off, and get your ass across the bridge, Standish."
"Can you feel him?"
Buck frowned, not sure what to make of that question. "Who?"
Ezra glanced over his shoulder, pinning Buck with a hard look. "The other immortal."
Immortals could feel each others presence or quickening whenever two came sufficiently close together. For each immortal the feeling was as unique as the individual, but after the initial burst it faded with prolonged exposure to each other. Buck usually felt it as electricity moving over his skin, a static charge that made his hair stand on end. Josiah said, that to him, it felt like being doused with cold water. Vin claimed it felt like being engulfed in fog, dulling his senses. Chris described it as being stung by bees. Nathan said he felt it like the pulse of a beating heart, just louder and stronger. JD said it felt like pins and needles as though his hands or feet had fallen asleep. Ezra had told them he felt each immortal as though they were different pieces of music or instruments.
Buck took a breath. He closed his eyes, and reached out, trying to feel the other immortal. Being surrounded by six other immortals for several days dulled his sensitivity to a barely noticeable low-grade hum in the back of his mind. He opened his eyes when he felt the familiar tingle of an initial meeting. Mentally, he cursed. This definitely complicated matters.
"Ezra, get across the bridge."
Ezra raised an eyebrow. "We cant leave him here. While our very nature encourages us to kill one another with impunity, mortals are off limits. This one," Ezra waved a hand toward the forest, "has killed one we know of. He will likely kill again."
Bucks jaw tightened. He didnt like this. Not one damn bit. "I know that." Buck bit out between clenched teeth. He hadnt planned on leaving this strange immortal to run free. "Ill take care of him."
"And how to you propose to do that?" Ezra cocked his head to one side. "You dont have your sword."
Buck cursed, having forgotten that little detail. Saving one of the children earlier from a tree that had burst into flames, hed abandoned his gear. There hadnt been time to retrieve it.
"Give me yours."
Ezra shook his head. "The length, balance, and weight are all wrong for you." When Buck opened his mouth to argue, Ezra stopped him with a pointed look. "Buck, you typically wield a saber. I use a katana." Ezra shrugged one shoulder. "If this immortal proves to be any good, or even simply lucky .your life may well be forfeit if you tried to wield my sword, one you are not familiar with, rather than your own."
Ezra smiled sadly. "Besides, young Mr. Dunne needs you. He would be devastated by your loss should it come to that."
Buck glared at him. "Thats a cheap shot."
"But no less true." Ezras voice was soft. His tone was not mocking, merely stating the facts.
"Aint like we wouldnt miss you too, Ez."
Ezra rolled his eyes. "Im not planning on dying, Mr. Wilmington."
"Come across with me." Buck suggested.
Ezra shook his head. "This miscreant must not be allowed to run free and do irreparable harm to others." Ezras jaw was set, and Buck knew he wouldnt change his mind.
"Fine, Ill stay with you."
Ezra patted his shoulder. "I appreciate the gesture, but I think you would be more useful elsewhere. Only you, and Mr. Larabee, know the area well enough to find alternative routes of travel. And it would be best if the little ones were not here to witness the approaching conflict."
"What about you?" Buck didnt like the idea of abandoning a friend. He still thought it would be better if he faced this immortal, and let Ezra cross.
"Ill met up with you when Im finished."
Buck hated this. "I could"
Ezra shook his head, holding up a hand. "You are needed elsewhere." Ezra tipped his head the opposite bank where anxious eyes were staring at them.
"You could do just as good a job."
Ezra shook his head. "I doubt that." He waved a hand toward the bridge, in a shooing motion. "Go."
Buck grimaced, hoping like hell he didnt regret this decision. "You better not get yourself killed. You hear me?"
Ezra raised two fingers to his forehead, tipping an imaginary hat. "I shall endeavor not to loose my head."
Buck nodded. He clasped Ezras forearm once, before stepping on to the bridge. He crossed the bridge quickly. Five pairs of apprehensive eyes met his, all demanding to know why he and Ezra had delayed.
"Problem?" Vin asked softly. The lanky, long-haired immortal couldnt shake a feeling of unease. Something had to be wrong. Buck was supposed to be the last one over. He wouldnt deviate from that plan without good reason.
Before Buck could even speak, Josiah cried out in frustration, and fear. The big former preacher had never taken his eyes off the far side. Chris spun around to see what had upset Josiah. The bridge that had swayed precariously only a second ago, snapped free of its moorings from the far side. Sounds of distress came from the children, as they all moved to stand near the canyon rim, staring across.
"Bastard." Buck cursed.
Chris raised an eyebrow. Buck whispered, careful not to let the children overhear. "Ezra had cut the ropes."
"Why?" Both Chris and JD asked. JD having moved close to Buck almost instinctively the minute his big brother was again near by.
"Cause there was company coming." There would be no going back for anyone to offer assistance. And no crossing of the strange immortal should Ezra fail.
"Company?" Vin asked. Buck hadnt even heard him approach.
"Yeah." Buck grimaced. "One o us." They all knew Ezra could sense another immortal at a greater distance and with more accuracy than the rest of them.
"He couldnt have waited until he was on this side?" Nathan hissed from near by, clearly angered by Ezras choice.
"Didnt want him to get away with killin the scoutmaster."
Chris nodded. Buck could tell he wasnt happy but there was nothing to be done about it now. Ezra had seen to that.
"All right everyone." Chris raised a hand, getting their attention, trying to keep them calm. "We need to get out of here."
"But, Mr. Standish is all by himself." A blond boy protested, his blue eyes bright with concern, and fear. "We cant leave him here all alone."
"I know, son. I know." Chris sighed. Buck could sense his friends dilemma. There was no way to tell them that Ezra wasnt in danger. At least not the sort they thought he was.
"Ezra is smart and resourceful. He can take care of himself. And hes expecting us to take care of ourselves too. He knows where we are headed."
"The ranger station." One dark haired boy piped up.
"Thats right." Chris nodded, giving the youngster a small smile. "We all knew the bridge might not hold, and talked about what to do if it didnt. Remember?"
Several small heads nodded. They had all harbored doubts about the soundness of the bridge, and a back up plan had been devised even before Josiah stepped across. "Ezra will head south from his side. Hell try to meet up with us at the bottom of the canyon. With any luck there will be another place to cross there."
"What about the fire?" Another boy asked, his voice wavered slightly, eyes bright with unshed tears.
Buck rubbed at his temple with one hand. The fire was the least of Ezras worries, but he couldnt really explain that. Nor could any of the others.
Chris looked askance at Buck. Buck knew he wasnt good with children in groups. The children had quickly realized Chris was the leader of the seven, but the former gunslinger was far more comfortable issuing orders than with explaining himself. And children well one on one Chris could usually handle them just fine, a group setting was another story.
The best of the seven when it came to children, was unfortunately, the same one now unreachable. Ezra had stayed on the far side, offering advice and encouragement to each boy before he crossed the bridge. The children had all crossed without a single one balking or panicking simply because the cardsharp had made them believe there was nothing to fear. They had already bonded more with Ezra in a few hours than any of the others, and that just made this that much harder.
"We just have to hope that Ezra is fast enough to avoid it." Josiah spoke up, looking at each child in turn, trying to offer encouragement. His deep voice was calm. "We cant do anything from here. I know you want to help Ezra. As do we all. And under other circumstances that would be commendable. But right now, the only choice is to keep heading for the ranger station."
Buck nodded, adding his weight to the argument. "Josiahs right. If we stay here, Ezras gonna wonder why we aint movin on. Hell worry bout us. Might even try ta stay right where he is, and that aint a good idea. He cant sit tight over there the way we might be able to here. We need ta head out so he will too. We can meet up with him as soon as we find somewhere else ta cross."
Several of the older children nodded. None of them looked happy, but they seemed to understand the point being made. Buck breathed easier.
Vin stood between the bridge support posts. He cupped his hands, and yelled across the canyon. "Ez! Were headed on as planned."
Ezra called back, his voice barely loud enough to be heard over the water rushing below. "Very good, Mr. Tanner. Ill see yall down stream."
Chris pointed to the trail that lead south. "Buck, JD you to take point. Josiah, Nathan, I want you two to handle the flanks. Vin and I will bring up the rear. The kids stay between us."
JD took his place at the head of the line, his expression unruffled. He had absolute faith in Chris. And clearly didnt think there was anyone Ezra couldnt take. Buck followed reluctantly. He still felt bad about leaving a friend alone, but firmly believed what he had told the children was true. If at all possible Ezra would join them. Staying where they were did not lessen the danger for Ezra.
Josiah called out to Ezra. "You be careful, son. And good luck."
"I am not your son." Echoed back loud and clear. "I shall see you soon. No worries."
Josiah and Nathan moved to shepherd the children, walking to the right and left of the trail respectively. Vin and Chris waited until last. Vin sighed. "Sure hope he knows what hes doin."
Chris nodded. "Me too."
+ + + + + + +
Ezra had watched the bridge fall with a sense of morbid satisfaction. He waited to see if the others would continue on their way. There was really no other choice, but Ezra knew his friends had trouble being as pragmatic as he was. They often seemed hell bent on defying logic and good sense. It was one of the reasons he destroyed the bridge. With no other option, they had to continue forward. He would not have put it passed Buck to try to commandeer Chris or Vins sword and return. Or for any one of the others to come back across to induce him to cross offering to engage in this battle in his stead.
He breathed easier when Vin had called over. He saw the others head south and nodded, pleased theyd had the good sense to keep moving. Turning, he shrugged out of his jacket, and did a few stretches to loose his muscles. He had told Vin once that when they were all together, he could hear them like instruments all in tune with one another. And unlike the others, for him, that feeling never lessened or faded while they were together. A strange immortal ripped across that harmony like a heavy metal guitar riff played during Beethovens moonlight sonata.
Ezra had known immediately that they were not alone. Even before Vin had located the scoutmasters body, Ezra knew the man was probably dead, and he suspected who had killed him. What he didnt know was why, and with a small shrug decided the reason didnt matter. He might have even been content to let the other immortal leave if he hadnt chose to follow them. Ezra would not leave such a monster running loose to stalk more children in the future.
He took a deep breath and braced himself for the coming confrontation. As the others moved further away, all he could hear was that discordant melody coming closer. He took another breath and let it out slowly. He was ready.
"There can be only one." Ezra breathed out. It was the credo they all lived by. He always suspected that he would not be that one. He assumed that the prize, whatever it might be was reserved for someone far more worthy of it than he. That being the case, Ezra was determined that if it could not be him, well then, it would be someone he considered worthy of the prize. Any one of the other six would be fine with him. Even if he didnt win today, it didnt really matter. The others would have enough time to escape. They would live to fight another day.
A large man stepped from the forest. He was roughly the same height as Ezra, but he was broader built and heavily muscled, making Ezra look thin and petite by comparison. He wore his long, dirty hair tied back in a ponytail, dark eyes slanted slightly, and scanned the area with a wary, but maddened look. His ethnic origin was hard to place, but if Ezra were to hazard a guess, hed call him a Hun. The blade he carried was longer and heavier than Ezras, and held at the ready.
Ezra tipped his head with a smiled. The stranger growled. "Where are the others?"
Ezra shrugged. "Gone."
The other man sneered. "Cowards. Running will not save them."
Ezra smiled wider. "Perhaps. But it will definitely ensure they live one more day."
"One more day?" The man snorted. "One more day makes no difference."
Ezra remained silent. He knew the value of time very well. To him one day would make all the difference. He had lived for years with the goal of making it just one more day. The other man snarled, clearly angered by Ezras silence. "I am Eldico."
"Ezra Standish." Ezra saluted with his sword. "Shall we dance then?"
Eldico grinned wolfishly. "There can be only one."
Ezra winked, unafraid. "So they tell me."
+ + + + + + +
Chris glanced skyward when he heard thunder rumble, and lightening flashed. It wasnt a storm. When an immortal was killed, his or her quickening was released in a powerful light display. The older the immortal, the more impressive the lightening, and more power released.
In the light of day, it was difficult to tell how much power had been released. Chris knew Ezra was not as young as he let the rest believe. The man had died the first time sometime before the American Civil War, and Chris thought Ezra might well trace his birth back to before the Revolutionary War. That still left him relatively young compared to some of the other immortals out there.
Truth was, they all were. Chris had heard tell of the oldest of their kind having lived 5,000 years. He didnt know if the stories were true or not, and he honestly didnt care. All that concerned him was that the friends he made continue to live as long as possible. Hed buried too many people in his long life to ever want to bury any more.
Chris had died for the first time before American Civil War trying to rescue his wife and child from their burning home. Buck had died for the first time while working with the Texas Rangers. He and Chris had hooked up afterwards as long time friends, heading west together. They had learned how to deal with their new found extended life span from another Immortal named Kojay. Vins age was probably closer to that of Ezra. He had lived with several tribes, and Chris heard him mention the Mohawk as being one of them. Hed overheard Vin and Ezra discussing the French and Indian War once, and it sounded as if both me might have been there. It was possible that they had even fought together during that conflict, but neither man had ever said so. Nathan was beaten to death a slave, and began his road to immortality without realizing it until running into Chris and Buck several years later. Josiah had been killed for the first time fighting to free Texas from Mexico. JD didnt die for the first time until they were all together in a small town in the southwest, making him the youngest and newest immortal of the group.
Chris looked toward Vin, as more bolts of lightening flashed across the sky. "Ezras?"
Vin shrugged, his blue eyes bleak. "Hard to say."
Chris knew Ezra was skilled with his sword. Theyd all sparred regularly, keeping their skills as sharp as their swords. The cardsharp was quick and agile. He regularly held his own even against Nathan, perhaps the best skilled swordsman among them, and Josiah, definitely the biggest and strongest. At the moment, that he didnt find that knowledge comforting.
If Ezra were dead, Chris promised himself, hed hunt down the bastard who killed him. Vin gave him a hard look. "Ill go with you."
+ + + + + + +
Ezra struggled to his feet. Hed forgotten how painful absorbing anothers quickening could be. In a rare moment of mindless spite, Ezra kicked the headless corpse lying near by. "Stupid, vicious animal. You should have been put down years ago."
He shuddered trying to shake off the memories hed absorbed along with Eldicos quickening. The only one he felt worth keeping was one of galloping across the steppes of Asia feeling as though he could out run the wind. The rest was far more ugly and brutal than Ezra cared to think about. The man enjoyed killing. Delighted in it even.
Ezra sighed and wiped a sleeve across his forehead. The wounds hed sustained were already healed. And the fire was no close enough for him to feel its heat, telling him time had grown short. Ezra bent down to retrieve Eldicos sword. It was a beautifully made piece. He pursed his lips. An antique, no doubt about that. It might be worth something. There was an immortal in Seacouver who ran an antique shop.
Ezra nodded once to himself. "MacLeod would definitely know the worth of such a piece. Assuming, of course, he is willing to do business. If not, Buck might find it a useful replacement for the blade he lost." He shook his head. Enough daydreaming, he needed to get out of here. The thought of burning to death, even knowing it wasnt permanent made him cringe.
Ezra stepped up to the rim of the canyon, and stared down. He cleaned his sword on a small rag he kept with his gear before sheathing it. He secured it to his back, tying it tightly. He secured Eldicos sword as well, after wrapping it in his jacket, not wanting the blade to do any more damage to his person if he could avoid it.
Ezra looked down, and took a deep breath. He knew the fall would do serious damage, possibly kill him. He just hoped he revived before the current carried his body too far. He sincerely hoped the children didnt find him before then.
Spreading his arms, Ezra leaped off, arching into a beautiful swan dive. He reveled in the moment of free fall, jack knifing himself so that he would hit feet first. The water was deep enough that he didnt actually hit bottom. But the current was swift and unforgiving. It took him with brutal force, knocking him into boulders that it hadnt been able to move for as long as Ezra had been alive. Punishing both him and the boulders for their insolence.
+ + + + + + +
Vin had traded places with Buck, after an hour, taking point. He felt more comfortable scouting ahead than riding drag. The trail ran parallel with the canyon rim, for several miles. The children kept watch on the other side hoping to spot Ezra. Vin didnt even bother looking. Hed feel the other immortal long before he saw him.
The trail eventually turned away from the rim. They could still hear the rush of water, so Vin knew the river was close even if not within eyesight. He wanted to stay close to the water, knowing that if at all possible Ezra would do the same. Buck and Chris told him the trail should head back to the water at a spot they could cross the river again. With any luck, theyd met up with Ezra there.
Vins head came up as they closed in on that crossing. He blinked feeling that familiar fuzzy feeling of another immortal. He sent a look toward JD and knew he felt it too. He held up hand, signaling an all stop to those behind him.
"Gonna check it out. Sit tight until I give the all clear."
JD nodded, and moved to help Buck, Josiah, and Nathan keep the children in place. Chris moved from the back to join Vin. Together they approached the crossing. Siting on a large boulder, with his face tilted toward the sun, was Ezra.
Vin shared a grin with Chris. "Looks like the little bastard made it." Chris nodded, an answering grin on his face.
They approached Ezra. The cardsharp opened his eyes, not surprised to see them. "Gentlemen."
Ezra stood up with a faint groan. Vin noticed that his pants and shirt were ripped in places, and totally soaked. There were numerous bruises and abrasions that were healing even as he watched. It looked like Ezra might have broken his arm at some point, but even that was healing, so Vin wasnt too concerned.
"What the hell did you do to yourself, Ezra?" Chris asked, his eyes taking inventory.
Ezra shrugged. "Body surfed the rapids."
Chris glared at him. "Are you completely insane?"
Ezra regarded him for a moment, green eyes totally calm. "It was the fastest and safest route."
"Safe?" Chris was incredulous. "You could have been killed."
Ezra raised an eyebrow. "Your point?"
Vin chuckled. "Dont mind him Ez. Sometimes he forgets that we aint got to worry bout stuff like that."
Ezra nodded sagely. "Indeed." He moved to stand next to Vin. "Shall we retrieve our charges, and go home, Mr. Tanner?"
Vin nodded, and clapped Ezra on the shoulder. "Glad you made it." He hadnt relaxed since the bridge fell until hed laid eyes on Ezra. Theyd been friends for so long he wasnt sure hed know how to handle a world without Ezra in it.
Ezra smiled. "As am I, my friend. As am I
"Looks like ya picked up another sword." Chris observed as he walked on one side of Ezra, Vin on the other. Noting the two blades firmly secured to Ezras back.
Ezra gave him a sly look. "It is amazing what people leave lying about these days. Positively dreadful."
Immortal Seven, Remembrance
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