The younger man looked at him as if waiting for an answer, an explanation, anything that might help him understand what went on so long before his time. Anything that could possibly help him to reconcile the image of the man he called his friend with Death on a Horse. He had to tell him something, he just wasn't sure if the younger Scot would ever understand. He thought about lying to him, but he now realized just how important their friendship was for him. His past had come back to haunt him once and could very well do it again, still, telling the truth after millennia of lies wasn't easy, and it certainly wasn't comfortable. It left him feeling exposed and that was something he sure wasn't looking forward to.
"Do you know what it is to be alone? Truly alone?"
It was almost a rhetorical question, they both knew the younger man understood what he meant, still he nodded.
"Of course you do," the older man continued, "you were alone from the time your father banished you from your clan until Connor found you, trained you, taught you the rules, the basics of how to play the Game. But can you imagine what you would have become had Connor not been there for you, had there been no explanation, no escape, no Game to play, only an endless life without the possible release of death? Can you imagine being a pariah for all eternity, cursed, dying of thirst, starvation and exposure time and time again, if you were lucky. Wishing for once that you could stay dead and knowing that wouldn't happen... a monster to men who could only fear you or use you to their own ends, unable to fight back?
"I was there, Mac, it went on and on, I don't know for how long as there was no calendar to tell me that, numbers and years hadn't quite been invented yet, all I know is that the seasons followed one another in more cycles than I could distinctly remember. I feared the people almost as much as they feared me. I could not be killed but I could be hurt, and they knew that as well as I did.
"In time fear turned to hate, and by the time it did, there was nothing remotely human left in me. I was an animal and they were my prey, just as I was theirs. I hunted them in order to survive, but, almost without realizing it, I was also beginning to learn from them. I learned their skills, their languages, their ways of hurting one another. And I used their own knowledge against them. I sought their weaknesses and used them for my own ends, always alone.
"Eventually I found others like me. They were as alone, as wild and as full of hatred as I was, and we hunted them together. We were stronger, deadlier, they could no longer hurt us, and my hatred grew even more, nourished by the others'.
"There were four of us already by the time it happened. It was almost an accident. We raided a camp and discovered horses. They made us more powerful, more frightening. We could come and go through greater distances, we could move faster, we could kill more.
"Every now and then we found one we couldn't kill, one who wouldn't remain dead, but they refused to recognize us as their kin. They feared us as much as the others did, they hated us like they did. We kept them as slaves, at first only because we just couldn't quite figure out what to do with them. We thought of them as a burden rather than an asset, but it felt good to have them serve us, to have them fear us. A constant reminder of our own power..."
"Cassandra." The older man hadn't expected to be interrupted, but he nodded quietly, acknowledging the fact.
"Yes, Cassandra was one of them. She was lucky, she escaped us in time."
"Why didn't you just take their heads, their Quickening?"
"Because, my young friend, to take a head you need a sword, a sharp sword. We had a couple of them, looted from God knows where, made of copper or bronze, I'm not sure. What I do remember is that they were heavy and that they weren't sharp enough to take a head. Besides they were a new invention and we didn't know that if you behead an immortal he stays dead. We were more familiar with the ax, but even with that we aimed for the chest rather than the neck. Do you remember what happened when you first fought Cangwolf, before you knew what you were?" Methos asked, happy to free himself from the memories, if only for an instant.
For the first time he saw in the Scot's features that he was beginning to understand what being five thousand years old really meant, how much had the world truly changed in only a hundred lifetimes. Duncan had always lived by the sword and he was now trying, for the first time, to imagine a world without it. He had to measure his words carefully. He sighed before he continued.
"We were monsters," Methos admitted, "but we were monsters only because we couldn't be killed. What Cassandra told you about us, about what we did, it's all true, but what she forgot in her hatred is that we weren't monsters in an idyllic world, killing for pleasure in an otherwise peaceful world. What we did to those in our path was no different than what they did to each other. Wars were fought until the last man, woman and child had been exterminated, an enemy was an enemy and there were no peace negotiations. There was no honour code, and it certainly wasn't a good time for human rights. Hell, we didn't even think of the ones we were killing as human, nor did they think of themselves as human.
"The only thing that made us any different was the fact that there was nothing that could end our rampage. We were immortal, truly immortal. There was no weapon that could be used to behead us, and even if there were, we were not aware that there was a way for us to die, to end our lives, even if sometimes that was all we wished for. There was no Game back then, only an endless war against the mortal world that surrounded us.
"It was an accident," continued the older man, "I was angry with one of the slaves, a child. I wanted to punish him as I had done so many times. I wanted to kill him knowing he would come back. I wanted to see the fear and pain in his eyes. I can still remember... swinging my ax... forgetting in my rage that he was so small... striking his neck instead of his chest. What happened then took me by surprise. I remember his energy filling my body, a pain greater than the one I intended to inflict, and then his mind was in my mind. It almost drove me crazy. When it was finally over I had already tasted the power and wanted more of it. Kronos, Caspian and Silas were watching but they didn't understand. They still expected him to get up, I already knew he wouldn't.
"I craved the power, the energy, I took another slave, and then another. The other Horsemen followed my example. None of the slaves fought us, but the power was like a drug and each one of us wanted to take every single head. Soon we found ourselves threatening each other. It was a massacre, we beheaded all the slaves we had kept for so long. And it was also the end of the Horsemen as we turned our hatred towards the ones we had called brothers. It was the memory of our time together, as much as a newly awakened survival instinct, what in the end kept us from beheading one another. We parted ways for the last time. I remember the final words I spoke to my brothers as I rode away from the only family I had ever known, unsure if those words represented a threat or a promise, shall we ever meet again, totally unaware of what I was about to unleash."
"A threat or a promise?"
"There can be only one."
Let the games begin.