Genre: Crossover between Highlander The Series, and Star Wars, Episode I. Alternate universe, sort of.
Note: This story contradicts anything and just about everything I've written before .
Rating: PG, for mild swearing and violence. It's Highlander, heads will roll.
Disclaimer: The characters of Methos and MacLeod, along with Immortal lore belong to Rysher: Panzer/Davis. Qui-Gon Jinn, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda belong to George Lucas. I profit nothing from this and intend no disrespect. The story line and speculations on Immortal history are my own and should not be construed to be part of any of the official Highlander or Star Wars universes.
Of bondage and friendship By Leoni Venter
Part 1: Arrival
Boiling clouds built up over the sea. On the cliffs above the crashing ocean, two figures with gleaming swords were facing each other in the final battle:
One gripped by irredeemable madness, the other desperate and pushed to the last by the knowledge that his friend was the most terrible enemy he could have.
Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod, overtaken by another Dark Quickening, attacked with vicious expertise. His opponent, the weakling Methos, kept giving ground like a coward. MacLeod felt contempt for the man, and a certain distaste that he would have to absorb such a Quickening. But Methos was the oldest Immortal and the last one remaining to fight. MacLeod would bear the Quickening to gain the Prize.
Methos was trying to think of a way not to kill MacLeod. He had no desire to win the Prize, but knew with certainty that should MacLeod win while possessed by the Dark Quickening, the world would be hell forever after.
So he tried to find a way to incapacitate MacLeod, but the Scot's attacks grew fiercer with every passing moment. Finally Methos knew he couldn't survive if he kept on the defence, so he shifted his strategy and attacked. For the first time MacLeod met the true Methos, a 5000-year-old fighter, who'd spent all that time honing the skill he needed to survive. An unleashed tiger would not face this killer without fear.
Methos pushed the Scot back to the edge of the cliff, but MacLeod did not yield, neither did he jump. And suddenly there was an opening, and Methos' sword found its mark. A moment of utter stillness, then MacLeod's headless body tumbled backwards from the cliff into the stormy sea.
* * *
The Republic shuttle Liberty was approaching its destination, the Outer Rim planet Tolran. On board were two Jedi and a shipment of supplies for the anthropological team on the surface, whom the Jedi were coming to aid.
The captain of the Liberty was glad the trip was almost over. Having Jedi on his ship always made him nervous. He felt that they could see his past and know that he once had been a smuggler. He had no illusions that his past would not catch up with him; he'd just prefer it not to be today.
So when the tall Jedi Master and his apprentice quietly appeared in the cockpit, he almost had a heart attack when he noticed them. When he could speak again, he meekly reported: "We'll be landing in ten minutes, sir."
The Jedi Master gave no indication that he'd noticed the captain's agitation. He nodded in acknowledgement.
"Have you been in contact with the surface team?"
"No sir, we've had no luck in raising them," the co-pilot replied.
"Thank you," the Master said, then motioned to his apprentice and they went to the back of the shuttle to strap themselves in for landing.
"Something is not right," Jedi Master Qui-Gon Jinn mused.
His apprentice Obi-Wan Kenobi gave him a look of shared understanding. "Yes Master. The Force is... turbulent..."
Qui-Gon nodded. "It troubles me that the team on the surface have not contacted us. They requested the help of the council, after all."
"Perhaps their equipment failed," Obi-Wan suggested.
"Time will tell," Qui-Gon said. "We're landing."
They watched through the view port as the shuttle settled in a cleared area. Cleared, that is, of rocks. The immediate area appeared to be deserted. The anthro-team's tents were pitched nearby.
The crew of the shuttle helped them to unload the supplies when it became clear that there was no one to meet them. The captain stood around, fidgeting nervously until Qui-Gon took pity on him and gave him permission to take off. As the captain turned away, relieved, Qui-Gon called him back.
The captain turned around slowly, certain of his doom.
"As long as you do your job, the Jedi do not care if you were a farmer or a smuggler or an ace pilot before..."
The captain had frozen.
"Just be careful and stay away from the Hutts," Qui-Gon concluded.
The captain nodded and bolted for his ship.
Qui-Gon chuckled. "That man is now convinced we can read minds."
"How did you know, Master?" Obi-Wan asked.
"His co-pilot couldn't wait to tell me," Qui-Gon smiled. "Poor man, he's been running from his past for years."
"Why can't he just live with it?" Obi-Wan wondered.
"Because he's still hiding from it. Once he finds the courage to admit it, he can accept it. Till then it will haunt him." Qui-Gon shouldered a pack of supplies. "Perhaps, because I did not reprimand him, he will realize that it is not important to those that matter to him."
Obi-Wan picked up the rest of the supplies. "Where is everybody?"
"Let's check the tents," Qui-Gon pointed. "If they're not there, maybe there are clues to their fate."
The tents revealed signs of violence. Contents of crates were strewn on the ground and here and there drops of blood lay splashed in the dust. Of the anthro-team there was no other sign.
"Master, look," Obi-Wan called softly.
Qui-Gon joined him in a tent where a gleaming weapon, a metal blade with hilt, was standing upright, stuck in a wooden tabletop.
"A sword," Qui-Gon marvelled. He recognized the weapon, of course, but no one used such weapons anymore. The lightsaber was the closest thing, and the fighting techniques were similar. But only Jedi used lightsabers.
"Is this why they needed us?" Obi-Wan asked, having come to the same conclusion as his Master.
"Perhaps," Qui-Gon replied and put his hand to the hilt. The ground under their feet tilted in the same instant that the Force erupted. A flood of impressions coupled with incredible agony assailed them.
Light. Thunder. A dear friend. Dead. Ages fleeting by. Fighting. Fighting. Victory. Loss. Grief. Triumph. Agony.
Qui-Gon came to himself first. He felt as if he'd been physically assaulted, and looked around for the enemy. Obi-Wan was on the ground, unconscious. Outside the tent a dark-haired human stood on his knees, while white bolts of power sprang from his body and disappeared into the ground and sky.
Qui-Gon could see that the man was past the point of being able to scream, and the willpower that kept him upright was fast fading. The Jedi watched helplessly as the man finally collapsed. The bolts continued to strike a while longer, then subsided.
Qui-Gon walked closer, and stopped in amazement as he noticed that the sand the man was lying on had been melted to glass by the lightning. Then he stooped and picked the man up. He was tall but not heavy, and Qui-Gon carried him without difficulty into the tent where Obi-Wan was groaning and holding his head.
A few minutes later the Jedi sat contemplating the unconscious man. His signature in the Force was stronger and stranger that anything Qui-Gon had ever encountered. Lying there, he looked barely older than Obi-Wan, but his presence in the Force radiated antiquity.
"Where did he come from?" Obi-Wan wondered.
"We'll have to ask him..." Qui-Gon answered softly as the man stirred and groaned.
* * *
Methos woke up from blissful unconsciousness, feeling the effect of a thousand Quickenings still echoing in his bones. He groaned as he remembered MacLeod's face just before his blade took from him his life. Methos had found himself sobbing even before the Quickening started. Then it struck, all the souls of the Immortals contained in Duncan MacLeod. They tore into him with savage joy, giving him a high of tremendous proportions even as he started screaming from the pain. He could not understand the fierce exultation. Then something like a tear in the fabric of the universe opened before him and he tumbled into darkness.
Then everything was a blur. He'd fallen to his knees on sand, and one by one, the host that filled him, had ripped from him, a Quickening reversed.
Now he drifted in limbo, a being of air, empty. Except...
Methos opened his eyes to confront those of the men watching him. He tried to speak but could only produce a croak. The elder of the two leaned forward.
"Have no fear, we'll not harm you. Do you need anything?" His voice was deep with a trace of an accent that Methos couldn't place.
He let himself relax a tiny fraction, and trying again, got his voice to work this time. "Some water?"
The younger of the two jumped to fetch a canteen which he held while Methos eagerly swallowed. Then he collapsed weakly. "Thank you."
The bearded man nodded. "Rest now, we will speak later."
Methos didn't argue. He'd never in his life felt so weak. As darkness washed over him he wondered vaguely why he felt so empty, but it was a passing thought that flitted away into the oblivion of sleep.
* * *
The two Jedi were exploring the rest of the tents, hoping to find a clue to their fate, when a movement in the Force alerted Qui-Gon that the stranger had woken. He left his apprentice and went back to the tent, where he found the man sitting upright, looking confused.
"Are you all right?" Qui-Gone asked.
The man nodded uncertainly. "I think so," he said, studying the tall form of the Jedi. "Who are you?"
"I'm Qui-Gon Jinn," Qui-Gon replied. "My apprentice is Obi-Wan Kenobi, he's outside trying to find out what happened to these people."
"People? There were no people nearby..." The man stilled, as if he remembered something. "I have to get outside."
He struggled to his feet and managed two steps before he started to collapse. Qui-Gon caught and supported him before he hit the ground.
"You need to rest," he said, trying to guide the man back to his pallet.
"No, please, take me outside," the imploring voice came along with a strong movement of the Force, so much so that Qui-Gon really had no choice in the matter.
Lending his strength, he helped the man out of the tent to where he could see the surrounding desert. He took in the sight without comment but sank to the ground in weak astonishment when he noticed the sky.
"This makes no sense," he muttered. Looking up at the vista of stars and planets visible even though it was day, he spoke almost tonelessly. "Where am I, Qui-Gon Jinn? What has happened to me?"
Qui-Gon sat down next to him. "This planet is called Tolran, friend. I don't know what happened to you, I only know your arrival knocked both me and my apprentice unconscious. I can sense that you are different, very old in the Force, but I do not even know your name." He paused a moment, thinking. "If you choose to tell me what you know, perhaps together we can make sense of this." He avoided looking at the man, not wanting to pressure him, but after a moment the soft voice began.
"My name is Adam," he said. "Well, you can call me Adam, anyway. You're right, I'm very old. All my life I avoided the Game, until I could do so no longer. And I won. And now I'm here. I wonder if this was the Prize? To be transported to another planet?" He asked the questions musingly, expecting no answers. "Then, if MacLeod had won, he'd be here, not I. And the world would have been fine with both of us gone." He grimaced. "As we are now."
He clambered to his feet again and staggered. "Why am I so weak?"
Qui-Gon had not made much sense of Adam's monologue, but he thought this question had an easy answer. "Wouldn't you expect to be weak after your violent arrival here?"
"Not any more," Adam replied. "How long since..."
"About five hours."
"Then I should be fine," Adam said, wincing as he flexed his muscles. "But I'm not. And I feel ... empty, somehow." He swung around to stare at Qui- Gon. "Describe for me exactly what you saw when I came."
Once again the Force underscored the request so strongly that Qui-Gon wondered if Adam was trying some kind of mind trick on him. Still, he told the man all he had witnessed. Adam turned even paler when he heard of the lighting striking from his body.
"I need to test something," he said when Qui-Gon had finished. "Do you have a knife?"
Qui-Gon shook his head. "There may be something in the tents, why?"
"I need a blade, any blade."
"There's a sword in that tent," Qui-Gon remembered. "I'll fetch it."
He walked to the tent, got the sword and returned to see that Adam had slowly followed him. They met a few steps from the door. Qui-Gon presented the sword hilt first but to his horror Adam ignored the hilt and grasped it by the blade, squeezing so that the sharp-edged blade cut deeply into the flesh of his right hand.
"What are you doing?" Qui-Gon cried, quickly removing the sword from Adam's unresisting fingers.
Blood welled up from the cuts, dripping redly as Adam seemed to stare in fascination.
"I'll need to bind that," Qui-Gon said.
"Just wait a minute," Adam said, eyes never leaving the sight, as if expecting the wounds to heal while he was watching. Qui-Gon could have told him it would be a week or longer before those wounds were healed.
When nothing happened, Adam suddenly clenched his wounded hand. "Well, that's that, then."
"What is?" Qui-Gon asked, wishing he could understand any of this.
"Whatever I was before," Adam grinned bitterly. "I'm mortal now."
* * *
It took a lot of questions and explanations before the Jedi started to understand just what Adam had lost. They talked deep into the night until finally the exhausted man dropped into a fitful sleep. Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan left quietly to discuss the strange events.
"He does not seem like a killer, Master," Obi-Wan commented, looking out over the desert bathed in the multicoloured light of many stars.
"I agree," Qui-Gon pondered. "I sense that he tries to do only what he must. Although he hides a turbulent past, he has achieved serenity for many years."
"It must have been terrible to kill his friend," Obi-Wan said, trying to imagine himself in that position.
"I wonder what drove these Immortals to fight like that. I can't help but think the answers may be here, where the final Quickening released him," Qui-Gon speculated. "Still, it is late, and we must rest. The Force will lead us to what we seek in its own time."
* * *
Methos woke up the next morning with a splitting headache, sore muscles and a stomach screaming for food. Except for the hunger, Methos reflected wryly, five thousand years of Immortality had done little to prepare him for mortal life. His wounded hand throbbed, even though Qui-Gon had stared at it for a while to 'speed the healing process'.
Thinking of the Jedi, he looked around but concluded that they had gone off somewhere to look for clues. He couldn't say why, but he felt sure they were not far away. Getting up, he found some food left out for him, and ravenously attacked it. As his hunger stilled he decided that he liked the Jedi, whatever Jedi were. Especially Qui-Gon struck him as being very sincere. The younger one was still a bit too reckless, a folly of youth.
Feeling better, he wandered outside, and following his vague feeling, found the Jedi behind a little hill, looking at the remains of some electronic device.
"Morning," he greeted. "What's up?"
Qui-Gon smiled a greeting. "We've found the transmitter," he explained. "We were looking for tracks or something to indicate which way they left, or were taken."
Methos nodded distractedly. He felt he knew which way they went, but couldn't explain it. Watching the Jedi examining the ground minutely, he could stand it no longer. "They went that way," he pointed, back past the camp towards the sunrise.
"How do you know?" Qui-Gon asked, interested.
"I don't," he stopped, confused. "I can't explain it, something is just, kind of, pulling me that way." He pushed a hand through his hair. "I suppose you think I'm nuts."
Qui-Gon got a far-off look in his eyes as he concentrated on something beyond human perception. After a while he breathed, "You're right." He looked at Methos in wonder. "Once I knew where, I could sense a very faint trail in the Force. You can feel this easily?"
"What's the Force?" Methos asked.
"The Force flows through, and connects all things," Qui-Gon tried to explain. "Some people have a strong connection to the Force and can use it, and be guided by it, in ways that others find inexplicable." He gestured towards Obi-Wan. "Children with Force sensitivity are identified while still very young, and trained as Jedi."
Methos shook his head. "But I don't know anything about this ... Force of yours. It's just a feeling."
"Sometimes that is all that's needed," Qui-Gon replied. "Can you sense me?"
"I can hear and see you," Methos said, although he was fairly certain that he understood what the Jedi meant. With his mind's eye he could see something like glowing strands twining around all of them. Qui-Gon's presence was like a depression in the surface of an immense glowing field, into which drops of living light gathered to play about his form. Obi-Wan's was similar, but not nearly as deep. Rocks and sand provided a background of light, but made no strong impression on his vision.
He lifted an arm and looked at it using this enhanced vision, and was startled to see that he himself glowed like the jellyfish he'd seen in an aquarium once.
He looked back at Qui-Gon. "This is incredible."
Qui-Gon smiled. "What did you see?"
Methos tried to explain but found it hard to put words to his perceptions. It also dawned on him, as on Qui-Gon, that his sense of the Force was something extraordinary. They would have stood there discussing the Force for hours, because Methos was fascinated with this new ability, and Qui-Gon was fascinated by his quick and easy grasp of it.
Unfortunately his still weak, mortal body failed him, and he needed to retreat to the tent to lie down and rest after a while. Qui-Gon eventually joined him there, leaving Obi-Wan trying to fix a speeder he'd found in the camp.
* * *
Qui-Gon found Adam dozing when he came in, but the man woke quickly and sat up to continue their discussion.
"Tell me what you can use the Force for," he asked, turning hazel eyes on Qui-Gon with all the eagerness of an apprentice.
Qui-Gon smiled. "There are too many things to name," he said. "It aids us in combat, guides our actions, warns us of danger. Some use it to see the future in motion, others to study the past. Healers use it to heal the body and the mind. Gardeners use it to stimulate growth." He spread his hands. "Once you learn to see the Force as it exists in every moment, you can never act in any way that contradicts that moment."
Adam had latched onto something. "Healing? Is that what you did last night?" He held out his hand.
"I merely used the Force to start the healing process," Qui-Gon said, examining the wounds. The cuts were not infected but still far from healed. "Your body needs to complete the process in the natural way."
"How do you start it?"
"I picture the injury as becoming whole, and encourage the Force to make it so," Qui-Gon tried to explain.
Adam frowned, concentrating. "O kaaay... let's see if I can do this..."
Qui-Gon started to tell him that it was useless to concentrate on this injury, since he'd already done all he could, when he had to stop in amazement. The cuts in Adam's hand were visibly closing and growing fainter until only thin scars remained.
"Got it," Adam said in satisfaction. "This is very cool."
"How did you do that?" Qui-Gon couldn't believe his eyes. He knew very well the limits within which the best Healers could work.
"What you said," Adam replied, surprised. "I just pictured the cuts as healing."
"This is incredible," Qui-Gon echoed Adam's earlier words. "What else can you do?"
"I have no idea," Adam smiled. He concentrated for a moment, then flexed his muscles. "Ah, that's much better." Leaning back he grinned like a satisfied Wookie. "You don't by any chance have a beverage known as beer in this universe, do you?" he asked, hopefully.
"With you around, my friend, I think it won't be long before we do," Qui- Gon replied, bemused.
* * *
Some hours of experimentation later, they all had a better idea of what Methos could do with the Force. Obi-Wan had come in at some stage, hands bleeding from numerous scrapes. Methos had healed them, much to Obi-Wan's surprise. The two Jedi then started testing him, asking him to try all sorts of things. It seemed impossible, but Methos could do just about anything, just by picturing it happening in his mind.
He could pick up and move objects by looking at them, something that Qui- Gon said was a basic skill, but never achieved without much concentration and training. He could sense the Jedi and numerous primitive life forms for miles all around. At the edge of his awareness, the stars beckoned, but he shied away from concentrating too much on them, fearing to be overwhelmed.
He wanted to test if his combat abilities were also enhanced, but for some reason Qui-Gon declined to spar with him.
"You're just scared to find out how good I am," Methos teased the Jedi Master, now feeling more secure in the knowledge of what he was capable of.
"Fear is of the Dark Side," Qui-Gon replied somewhat stiffly. "I merely feel my lightsaber would damage your sword."
"Besides," Obi-Wan said, coming in again. "I've gotten the speeder going, so we can follow the trail you sensed."
"Yes, let's," Methos said. He'd been ignoring the steady but disturbing pull for hours now. There was something peculiarly familiar about the feeling, but he couldn't quite put his finger on it. Like an itch he couldn't reach, it promised to become only more annoying, so he was glad that they were finally going to see what it was about.
* * *
Part 2: Meeting
They came across the first body just where the desert smoothed into softer grassland. Had it not been for Adam's convulsive cry, the Jedi might have missed it, for the body was nearly hidden in the grass and the site had only a small signature in the Force, as if what had happened there was part of the natural order.
The unusually sensitive ex-Immortal however, gave a cry not unlike one of pain, and clutched at Qui-Gon's arm. "Stop! We have to stop!"
Obi-Wan brought the speeder to a halt and Adam stumbled out and took of at a run back the way they'd come, the two Jedi following, mystified.
Adam stopped suddenly, transfixed by something hidden in the tall grass.
"What is it?" Qui-Gon asked, still catching up.
Adam didn't answer. He abruptly turned away and Qui-Gon could sense waves of emotions coming from the man. Horror, disgust, anguish, fear, all rolled into one. Mentally bracing himself, Qui-Gon stepped forward to see what had so upset Adam.
Obviously a member of the anthro-team, the Mon Calamari's face was frozen into a vicious snarl the like of which Qui-Gon had seldom seen. The large eyes stared into nothingness though Qui-Gon fancied they might have been looking to see where the rest of their body was. It was clear that a very sharp blade had severed the head.
He focused on such details to contain his own emotions, which were vacillating between pity for the victim, horror for the violence done, and shock to realize viscerally that Adam had done the very same thing for thousands of years.
"Master!" Obi-Wan's voice recalled him to the scene.
Qui-Gon walked over to where his apprentice was standing, looking pale. He'd found the victim's body quite a distance away. Scorch marks marred the grass on which it lay, and an alien-looking blade was still clutched in its fingers.
Qui-Gon looked back to see Adam hunched in on himself as if trying to keep from crying out. "What's the matter?" he asked.
Adam spoke through clenched teeth. "There were four beings here. Two were fighting, but it was a game to them. The other two were prisoners." He pointed at the body. "That's one of the prisoners."
"I don't understand," Qui-Gon murmured, wishing he could ease Adam's physical distress, but the Force was quiet and calm. Adam's distress stemmed from something else entirely.
"Something was in their minds," Adam said. "Don't you see? Forcing them to fight." He slowly turned around. "Just as we were coerced into fighting all those years."
* * *
Methos could barely contain his horror and disgust. For five thousand years he'd survived, fighting when he wanted, not fighting when he wanted. He'd never liked the Game, it went against his survival instincts, but he'd always been sure that he was the one making the choices.
To now find out that some alien thing had been inside him, compelling him to fight, made him feel violated and dirty. He wished he could wash the knowledge from his brain.
He was aware that the younger Jedi was burying the decapitated alien corpse, and that Qui-Gon was trying to calm him by talking and by sending waves of support through the Force, but he resisted all outside influences while he thought things through.
He decided after a while that his alien invader might have made him Immortal, but that it had not had total control over him. It made sense to assume that, because otherwise he could never have avoided the Game for so long. It also explained why so many Immortals fought so much. They may have been more susceptible to outside control.
It made Methos feel a little better about himself, until he realized that all his years of killing had had no point. He resolved to find out what these aliens were, and to put a stop to them if he could.
He finally turned to face Qui-Gon. "I'm ok now."
Qui-Gon regarded him with concern. "Are you sure?"
Methos could feel the Jedi using the Force to determine his state of mind, and suddenly it annoyed him. Acting on instinct, he withdrew himself from the Jedi's mental touch. "Stop that," he said in explanation. "I'm ok, really."
Qui-Gon was looking at him in astonishment again, something that Methos was becoming used to. "What now?" he sighed.
"I can't sense you at all," Qui-Gon said. "You've just become invisible in the Force."
"Really?" Methos' interest was caught. "I used to restrict my Presence so other Immortals wouldn't realize my age..."
"For how long did you do that?" Qui-Gon asked.
"Oh, three thousand years, I should think," Methos replied casually.
"I think I'm beginning to understand why you're so adept at using the Force," Qui-Gon breathed. "You've had three thousand years of practice at intense mental discipline."
"But never with the Force," Methos reminded him.
"It doesn't matter," Qui-Gon explained. "Your Force sensitivity was born to you, it's a talent. Training merely teaches the mind enough discipline to harness that talent. And you've had more mental training than anyone I've ever heard of."
Methos smiled. "Practice makes perfect, huh?"
"Indeed," Qui-Gon replied. "Adam, would you come to the Jedi Temple with me when we complete this mission?"
"Sure," Methos replied, glad that he wouldn't have to stay on this planet. It had a disconcerting atmosphere, even though the Jedi couldn't sense it, and the strange compulsion to keep moving east still had its grip on him. "But let's first see if we can find the rest of your anthro-team," he suggested, then grimaced. "At least one should survive the Game."
* * *
Hours later, as they were burying the third body, Methos suddenly felt the familiar but unexpected Presence of another Immortal wash over him. He looked around in surprise but saw nothing. His sense of the Force, however, indicated that something was approaching.
"Something's up," he told the Jedi, who straightened from their task.
"What?" Qui-Gon asked, glancing around.
"It feels like another Immortal is nearby," Methos explained. He kept scanning the Force and finally pointed. "Over there."
Even knowing where to look it took them all a few moments to really see it. It was a shimmering disturbance floating a few feet off the ground, not quite invisible but very hard to focus on.
"What is it?" Obi-Wan wondered, stepping closer.
"Wait!" Methos ordered, but it was too late. The shimmering engulfed the Apprentice, and vanished. Obi-Wan stifled a startled cry, then his expression altered as he stared at Methos.
"Methos, I need to talk to you," he said, his voice subtly different.
Methos felt his jaw dropping. "Who are you?"
"I am Jahl Bi'rith," Obi-Wan said.
"Obi-Wan?" Qui-Gon asked, perplexed.
"The boy is fine, Jedi," Obi-Wan said. "I'm merely using him to speak to you."
"Prove it!" Methos was suddenly angry.
Obi-Wan shook his head, smiling. "I really am fine, Master, Adam. I can hear him speak in my head, but he's not harming me."
"How do we know he's not forcing you to say that?" Qui-Gon was also sceptical.
"I guess you'll just have to trust me," and now it was clear to them that it was Jahl who was speaking. "I think you'll want to hear me out."
"Very well," Qui-Gon relented, and Methos nodded. "We will listen."
"As I said," Jahl said. "I am Jahl Bi'rith. My race is called Nölshi, we reside on this planet in this dimension." He spread his hands. "We have no corporeal form and must therefore rely on hosts like the boy to communicate with corporeal beings such as yourselves."
"And you force your hosts to kill each other off," Methos said bitterly. "You seem familiar, did you inhabit someone I knew?"
"But of course," Jahl laughed. "I lived with you!"
Methos sat down weakly on the grass. "I think you'd better tell me everything."
* * *
The Nölshi (Jahl began) is a race like any other. We live, we die, we procreate, and we destroy. My purpose is not to make excuses but rather to explain, so that you will understand how we came to influence what you call the Game.
The Nölshi have no corporeal form, and we experience time in a different way, that I can't explain to you adequately using words. I will try to refer to time spans in your linear way.
Several millennia ago, Nölshi scientists discovered that it was possible to create a conduit in space between this place and a planet in another galaxy, where sentient life was just developing. They also found that they could, theoretically at least, inhabit such life forms and through them experience corporeal life.
Several Nölshi made the journey and chose hosts. They indicated that everything was fine and that the experience was indeed rewarding. Thousands, myself included, then crossed over to find our own hosts.
There were some rules. We could not take a grown host; it had to be newborn. We were not allowed to directly communicate or influence it; we could merely experience what it experienced.
I see you're getting angry, Methos. Forgive the callous way I'm speaking, but I want you to understand the way we thought.
Think about it this way. If scientists on Earth made a device that could safely transfer consciousness to an animal, so that you could experience its life, how many would not try to see what it's like to be a dolphin, or an eagle?
I arrived on Earth, and chose you, Methos, because your mother looked so different from the rest of her tribe. She was pale-skinned with black hair, while they were all darker. I thought it would be interesting to see what your life would be like.
You were about ten years old when the first of us realized we could not leave our hosts. Before that all had still been content with their first choices but some now wanted to have variety. Unfortunately, we could only escape once the host had died. And the ones who did escape realized something else. They could not return here; they were not strong enough. And without a host they were powerless to act.
It was at this stage that some started to break our rules. Figuring that by combining their strength, they could return, they influenced their hosts into fighting, with the intention of killing the hosts so they could escape.
It was quite a surprise to find that the hosts could not be killed while we were in residence. They finally determined that to escape, the host must be decapitated, or must die of old age. Any other injury, even fatal ones, would heal, due to a quirky side effect that our Presence had on human physiology. When a host was decapitated, the Nölshi inside transferred to the nearest available host, usually the victor but sometimes a newborn child. All took care by then to only take foundlings as hosts, to conceal their presence as much as possible.
Having more than one Nölshi in one host was not a good idea, however. We are not social creatures, and we defend our territory, a territory of thought, fiercely. So usually the victor would overwhelm and suppress the Nölshi that just moved in.
It soon became a power struggle, as you can imagine. We had to rejoin in one host to pool our strength to return, but no one liked to be suppressed. Since time moves differently for us we did not care how long it took, and gradually the Game evolved.
We specified two new rules for the Game: No fighting on Holy Ground; we had to communicate in peace sometimes, and, there can be only one; to remind us that our goal was finally to come home again.
Every Challenge fought and won taught us new things. Some Nölshi became power mad; even I succumbed to that for a while. But sometimes a mad one would be ousted from his host, and still succeed in overwhelming the victor. You called that a Dark Quickening. There were Light Quickenings too. It all had to do with the strength and mindset of the Nölshi involved.
We learned that a suppressed Nölshi could escape during a Quickening, if there was another suitable host nearby. That is why new Immortals were still being found as recently as ten or fifteen years ago.
I was something of a legend among us, just as you were among Immortals, Methos, because you and I had survived together for so long. I think it was because you are a survivor, and I was content to live with you; I never really wanted to be involved in the Game.
But in the end, we wanted to come home, and the Gathering took place. I am glad we won; I'd been in control of myself for far too long to be suppressed right at the end.
During the final Quickening all the Nölshi on Earth were reunited, and together we were strong enough to open the conduit. We did not think you'd be transported back with us, and I am sorry I left you like that.
So that's my story. I know you're feeling used, I've gotten to know you very well over the years. I have changed along with you, there's no denying it. And so I want to offer you my help, but also ask for yours, because the people you're looking for are in a lot of trouble.
* * *
Part 3: Answers
It all made perfect sense, Methos thought. He could even understand the reasoning. The only thing that made it all unthinkable was that he and his friends, thousands of uninvolved people, had been exploited this way.
On the other hand, they had experienced immortality. Some might say it was worth the price they paid. Methos knew for himself, that his own useful, if somewhat cynical, brand of wisdom had only evolved through long experience.
"This is so weird," he sighed. "But we can debate all this later. What's happened to the anthro-team?"
Jahl looked down. "The Nölshi here had been following the Game on Earth. When the team landed, it was suggested to start a local version for amusement. What they're doing is terrible; it goes against all our rules. Not even the most ruthless of the Nölshi that came from Earth condones it."
Qui-Gon frowned. "What can we do?"
"I don't think you or I can do anything," Jahl said. "But I hope that Methos might be able to do something."
"What?" Methos asked. "Hack at them with my sword? That's all I'm good for, isn't it?"
Jahl flinched at the bitterness in Methos' words but asked calmly: "You have noticed the Force by now?"
"Yeah," Methos replied warily.
"I'm willing to wager that you're very good with it," Jahl continued.
"What do you know of the Force?" Qui-Gon asked.
"Jedi, the Nölshi lives in the Force. With no corporeal bodies, our consciousness and beings are established and maintained solely by the Force. We may know more of its currents and movements than any other race."
"Okay," Methos muttered. "So what can I do that you all-powerful Force beings can't?"
"We are bound by certain rules. No Nölshi can interfere with another."
"You did on Earth."
"Within the Game, yes. But even there, once Challenge had been issued, no one could interfere. You know that. Anyway, do you want me to kill the anthro-team hosts to extract the Nölshi controlling them?"
"I get it," Methos growled. "You want me to somehow extract these things without harming the hosts."
"Something like that," Jahl agreed.
"And how would I do that?"
"I don't rightly know," Jahl admitted. "But I suggest you try to remove me from the boy for practice."
"Wait," Qui-Gon said. "You won't release Obi-Wan on your own?"
"I'm not sure I can," Jahl said, looking embarrassed. "But don't worry, Methos will do it."
"You're a manipulative bastard," Methos told him, seething.
"I learned a lot from you," Jahl agreed.
"Supposing I do extract you, what then?" Methos wanted to know. "You'll need a host to speak to us."
"I'll communicate through the Force," Jahl said. "You and I are sufficiently attuned to make that possible."
"Then why didn't you do so before?" Qui-Gon asked.
"Like Methos said, I'm a manipulative bastard," Jahl smirked. "Are you going to try now?"
"All right," Methos agreed reluctantly. "I'll try to be careful."
He focused his Force vision on Obi-Wan and could clearly see the other being, wrapped like a net around the young Jedi, holding his body in thrall.
Thinking a bit, Methos envisioned a large hand in the Force taking the net by the scruff of its neck and pulling it off.
To his amazement it worked.
"That's it," he heard in his mind, the same instant that Obi-Wan said, "He's gone."
The shimmering form of Jahl Bi'rith hung a few feet away again.
"The rest of the anthro-team is a few hours east," Jahl told Methos. "Head that way and I'll give you more directions later."
"Obi-Wan," Methos said. "Are you ok?"
"I am," Obi-Wan replied. "It was a strange experience but not unpleasant. Jahl did not imprison my mind. If I had wanted to act he would have let me."
"That is good to know," Qui-Gon said. "We should move on." He started to walk back to the speeder.
"It's the Fantastic Four to the rescue," Methos muttered, joining him.
* * *
Jahl stopped them in the foothills of a mountain range that had been growing larger all afternoon. The vegetation had become increasingly dense, making travel by speeder almost ludicrous since they had to take turns hacking pathways to pass. Still, they made it there before the daylight went completely.
"You'll have to protect the Jedi," Jahl informed Methos.
"Why is that?" Methos asked, and the two Jedi looked up in surprise. "Just Jahl," he explained as he waited for an answer.
"Some Nölshi might try to take them over," Jahl said. "You can prevent them if you keep close watch."
"All right," Methos agreed and relayed the bad news to the Jedi. "I'll try to keep them off you guys, but if they do get through, don't worry, I'll get back to you and extract them."
"Thanks," Qui-Gon said in a dry tone.
Methos couldn't be sure, but he got the impression that Qui-Gon was a bit disgruntled by the whole thing, probably because he was usually the one with most knowledge of the Force. Not to mention that he and Obi-Wan usually did the protecting, not the other way around.
"But you'll have to watch my back," Methos continued, knowing a little diplomacy would go a long way. "Those possessed anthro-members may come after me with swords."
"I was wondering about that," Obi-Wan said as Qui-Gon nodded in agreement. "Where'd all the swords come from? The anthro-team wouldn't have had any."
"Good question," Methos said, waiting for Jahl to answer.
"We can manifest objects," Jahl said. "When we have need of them."
"Manifest them from where?" Methos wondered.
"We use raw materials found on this planet," Jahl explained. "The objects are not taken from other places."
Methos relayed the information.
"Then why don't they manifest bodies for themselves" Qui-Gon asked after a moment.
They all felt the ripple of surprise in the Force.
Methos laughed. "I don't think it has ever occurred to them."
Jahl agreed after a while. "I do believe that could solve all our problems," he told Methos. "Please convey my thanks to the Jedi."
Methos did so. "Now, can we go save the team and get out of here?"
* * *
In the end, the apocalyptic battle was almost an anti-climax.
In a wide valley, the four surviving anthro-team members were battling it out two-by-two, while ranged around them, avidly but invisibly cheering and betting, a host of Nölshi watched. Still further back, Methos recognised many familiar Presences, watching with disapproval. One of the most intense of these had a distinct feel of MacLeod, and Methos smiled to think that Nölshi and Scot had been so well matched.
Methos strolled into the fray almost casually. The four combatants, or at least their Nölshi captors, recognised him and attacked, to great approval from the spectators.
Methos ducked under a whistling blade and plucked a Nölshi from its victim. Straightening up, he tossed it high into the mountain using his great hand of Force. The anthro-team member dropped the sword and ran away screaming.
Peripherally aware that the Jedi were consoling the gangly alien, Methos grabbed the next Nölshi and dispatched it up the mountainside as well.
The third tried to run away, but Methos contemptuously reached out and snagged it as the host ran by. The Nölshi struggle to no avail, and soon found itself flying to join its friends.
As Methos turned on the last one, he realized that the spectators were now closing in on him and the Jedi. Thinking quickly, he grabbed the last Nölshi from its host, and held it, squirming, for all to see.
"Stop!" he cried, enhancing his voice with the Force to reach the edges of the valley. "There is no point to this!"
The host of Nölshi did not stop its advance, but it slowed down.
Methos shook the one he held. "You! Why did you take over that guy?"
The Nölshi whined pitifully. "I wanted to feel what a body was like."
Methos shook it again. "Then why did you not manifest your own?"
"I don't know how!" the creature moaned.
"Try!" Methos instructed. "Try right now, or I will rip you apart." He underscored his threat by shaking the Nölshi again.
"All right," the Nölshi gasped. It was silent for a few moments, than a small furry creature appeared at Methos' feet. "There," the Nölshi said. "Is that what you want?"
"Yeah," Methos grinned. "Nice choice, a rat. Now you go live in that and leave these people alone!" He dumped the Nölshi but kept a threatening pose until it took hold of the alien rat. "That's it," Methos told it. "Off with you!"
Looking up, he sensed amusement mingled with astonishment from the watching host. The Earth Nölshi, many of whom Methos had known, sort of, found it all very funny. The Tolran Nölshi couldn't believe how simple it was.
"That's right," he told them. "You can play all the games you like with your own toys. But you have no right to take over someone else's body."
He sensed agreement as the host dispersed, presumably to go think up their bodies. Methos sighed and went back to the Jedi, who were still consoling and calming the panic-stricken anthro-team.
Qui-Gon smiled as he approached. "That was well done, my friend."
"As long as it's not every day," Methos agreed, suddenly extremely tired. "Can we leave now?"
"Certainly," the Jedi Master said with a smile.
* * *
Back at the camp, the Jedi called for transport while the anthro-team packed up their equipment and tents. They all wanted off the planet as soon as possible.
Methos was off strolling along a dry riverbed, thinking of the Universe he'd soon see, and what it would be like to grow old and die. He'd just concluded that growing old would be the ultimate defeat for a 5000-year-old ex-Immortal, when Jahl's voice in his head interrupted his thoughts.
"I have a proposition for you, Methos."
"Let me join you on your travels."
"Why?" Methos hadn't expected that one. "You can travel using your own body now."
"I don't want to go alone," Jahl said. "We've been together for over five thousand years. I can't imagine life without you."
Methos snorted. "This is too soppy. Next you'll tell me you love me. For five thousand years, I was your unwitting private camel. Sure, I expect you trained me well and it would take a while to train a new one, but that's your problem."
"But a new body wouldn't be you," Jahl said plaintively. "I miss being with you, hearing you speak. As much as it is possible for one of my race, yes, I do love you. Call it soppy if you want, but don't disregard it."
"Oh man," Methos sighed. "I don't even know you, since you kept by your rules. You're just an alien that used me and didn't even tell me until it was all over. What do you expect from me? Gratitude? Sympathy?"
"I hope you'll give me a chance and get to know me," Jahl murmured. "If you let me come with you, we can travel together as we should have done from the start."
"And if I don't like it?"
"Then I'll leave," Jahl said sadly. "But while I'm with you, you'd be Immortal again, and I'll teach you even more about the Force."
Methos shook his head, bemused. "A trial run, then? You make me Immortal and give me tips about the Force. I let you travel with me. And you never force me to do anything. Agreed?"
"Agreed," Jahl said, relief evident in his voice. "You won't regret it."
"Let's hope not," Methos muttered. "Come on, then."
It was a curious sensation as Jahl joined with his being. The empty spot he'd felt inside of him was filled again, and his very extremities thrummed with the returning Quickening. Methos hated to admit it, but he felt normal for the first time since he'd woken here. Jahl was right, they did belong together.
"Glad you think so too," Jahl said, sounding very close indeed.
"That's another thing," Methos said as he made his way back to the camp. "Don't talk so much."
"Whatever you say, Methos."
* * *
Methos kept his promise and went with Qui-Gon to the Jedi Temple on Coruscant, where he astounded a little green guy called Yoda with his Force abilities. The Jedi seemed happy to keep him there and test him indefinitely, but Methos only stayed long enough to satisfy the worst of their curiosity before he left to explore the galaxy.
Through the Force he kept tabs on his friends, and with Jahl's guidance, was soon able to use the Force itself to travel from planet to planet. The companions roamed the galaxy on a whim. It was all very cool.
* * *
Part 4: Epilogue
(Two years later.)
They were on Alderaan watching the races when Methos felt Qui-Gon receive a mortal wound. The popcorn seller that was on his way to Methos stopped in consternation as the dark-haired human disappeared right before his eyes. Shrugging, he sold the box to a masked and tentacly creature instead.
Methos materialised on the smooth walkway of the Naboo Palace generator room. Obi-Wan was fighting a red-and-black creature with horns. Qui-Gon lay prone on the walkway.
Methos went right by the combatants, who never saw him. Reaching Qui-Gon, he knelt quickly. "Qui-Gon, my friend."
The Jedi smiled weakly. "Methos. I fear you come too late."
"I don't think so," Methos told him, and concentrated the Force on healing Qui-Gon's torn body. But it wouldn't work; the dark creature exuded a strange block on the Force, resisting Methos' attempts to focus the Force. Realising that Qui-Gon would die before he could neutralize the resistance, Methos asked his invisible companion to help.
Qui-Gon's eyes opened wide as Jahl enveloped his body. Methos watched in satisfaction as the fatal wound quickly closed and healed. After a few moments the Jedi sat up, clearly confused. Then he smiled as Jahl spoke to him.
Behind them Obi-Wan finally dispatched the dark creature, and came running to Qui-Gon's side. "Master!"
"I'm all right," Qui-Gon said. "Methos and Jahl healed me."
Obi-Wan noticed Methos for the first time. "Where did you come from?"
"Alderaan," Methos replied laconically. "Ok, Jahl. You can come back now." Truth be told, he felt entirely naked and vulnerable without the Nölshi. He let of a sigh of relief when Jahl joined him.
"My thanks," Qui-Gon said. "We have to go help the Queen."
"Not so fast," Methos said, having sensed something of the circumstances by now. "I think it would be better if you drop out of sight for now."
"Why?" Master and Apprentice spoke simultaneously.
"There is something very evil at work here," Methos explained. "I can't pinpoint it, but I think if it believed you were dead, you'd have a better chance of thwarting it."
"But what about."
"Obi-Wan can train the boy," Methos told then. "But Qui-Gon should come with me."
"If I do, why would anyone think I'm dead?" Qui-Gon asked reasonably.
"Jahl, if you please," Methos said. Moments later a very dead replica of Qui-Gon lay at their feet. "That'll do, don't you think?"
"Very well," Qui-Gon surrendered. Master and Apprentice had to make their farewells quickly as the sounds of booted feet approached.
Then Methos took Qui-Gon by the arm and got them out of there.
* * *
Standing invisibly at the edge of the parade, Methos and Qui-Gon watched as the newly elected Chancellor Palpatine greeted the Queen and young Anakin.
"I have a bad feeling about this," Methos said under his breath.
"I think you're right," Qui-Gon agreed. "This may take a while."
"We may need some help," Methos said. "There's this Nölshi, used to live in my friend MacLeod. Do you think you'd be willing to meet him?"
"Why not?" Qui-Gon said after a moment's thought.
"Great idea, Methos," Jahl enthused as they faded away.
It might be a rocky road but with the Fantastic Four on the case, everything was bound to turn out all right in the end.
© Leoni Venter 3 November 2002