The Lightning's Hand
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A sequel to Then the Night Comes (ordering information for the first novel can be found at the bottom of the page). Ahriman, a.k.a. Kummaya, has been defeated, our heroes have returned home for a well-deserved rest, and the ancient Sword of Nuada has been retrieved. All is well in Duncan MacLeod’s world. Even his friends, some of them deadly enemies of each other, have managed to come to a truce of sorts. Several months have passed in relative normalcy. Of course, nothing in MacLeod’s world ever stays normal for long! Whilst being moved from David Shaws’ estate to the British Museum, the deadly sword is stolen…and it is feared that it has fallen back into the hands of an Immortal. MacLeod fears that Amanda has succumbed to a desire to own the object, while Cassandra suspects Methos…and, of course, Methos suspects Cassandra, who considered the sword a sacred relic. Suspects abound and the chase is on to find the culprit!
Color cover by Leah Rosenthal. 175 pages of reduced print. Over 137,000 words. US buyers may pay below. Please email for international rates.
But it wasn’t Duncan MacLeod whose eyes met theirs from the entrance of the ballroom. Framed in the doorway was the last person Methos had expected to see any time soon. He certainly hadn’t thought she’d show up here, at a society function, not to mention the fact that she could have guessed MacLeod and his friends would also be in attendance. He’d had the distinct impression recently that she didn’t care to associate with MacLeod’s friends anymore…or at least some of them.
"It’s Cassandra!" Amanda said, sounding both surprised and pleased.
Methos was startled by her delight for a moment, but then he thought, why not? There was no reason why the two women might not have become friendly over the months all of them had stayed in Paris recently, spending time within MacLeod’s sphere of influence. Ever since Richie’s death and MacLeod’s battle with the ancient Immortal, Kummaya, four months earlier, none of them had wanted to leave the Highlander alone. But several weeks earlier, Cassandra had suddenly disappeared from Paris without a word.
Methos stared at her as she approached, winding her way carefully through the crowd. She’d dressed for the occasion in a perfectly suitable, if unadorned, burgundy gown. Her only other small concession to fashion was an ancient looking Celtic necklace and a few bracelets. She wore her long, reddish brown hair twined elaborately on top of her head with only a few stray tendrils hanging down on the sides.
Before Methos could gather his wits enough to think what to say, Amanda took pity on him and spoke up, moving to meet Cassandra halfway. "I see David sent you an invitation, too! It’s nice to see you again, Cassandra." She reached out a hand and the two women exchanged quick handclasps.
Cassandra seemed distracted even as she greeted Amanda. "Yes, I came. But not to celebrate."
"You never struck me as the partying type." Amanda nodded sagely. "Although we certainly had some fun in Paris, didn’t we? What’s the matter?"
"It’s wrong," Cassandra said, her words abrupt. "It shouldn’t be here, on display like a carnival exhibit."
Amanda merely raised an eyebrow. "You mean the sword? It doesn’t hurt my eyes at all."
Methos finally found his voice, although he had to clear his throat a time or two before he could force the words out. He was surprised at his own reaction. He’d been glad to see the back of Cassandra, in many ways. For one thing, she was constantly reminding him of a past he’d rather not think about. For another, she tended to distract MacLeod far too often. Then again, her absence was a distraction of another sort. "You’ve been drooling over it all evening," he pointed out to Amanda.
"So what? I have expensive tastes." Amanda shrugged, beaming. She obviously took Methos’ words as a compliment.
Cassandra’s lips tightened at the playful banter. It was painfully obvious that she was not in a joking mood. "It might be an expensive and pretty bauble to you and everyone else in here. To me, it’s a holy treasure. I’ve had this argument with Duncan before, of course, even before we left Dinas Emrys. It has no place in a museum."
Amanda rolled her eyes. "I agree with you there. I can imagine much better places for it."
"I’ll just bet you can," Methos added. He finally turned to address the other woman. "Hello, Cassandra," he said evenly.
She matched his steady, neutral gaze with no expression of her own, although her eyes momentarily flicked over his clothing. He could almost feel the thought pass through her mind, "Barbarian in high society sheep’s clothing," before she inclined her head in a slight nod of greeting. "Methos."
He flinched. "Adam, remember?" He glanced significantly at the people surrounding them to drive home his point.
"Adam," Cassandra corrected herself with more than a hint of sarcasm. "I suppose Duncan is here as well?"
"He’s off somewhere with David and Nicholas, talking business, as usual. Where have you been?"
Cassandra allowed a second’s hesitation to go by before replying. "The trip to Scotland, chasing after Duncan and Kummaya, made me homesick. I decided to go back to my cottage in the Highlands. If you’ll excuse me, I need to pay my respects to our host and the others." She left with a curt nod.
Methos went to lay claim to one of the easy chairs in the living room and lowered himself to settle gratefully into its embrace. A loud squeal startled him back to his feet. He stared down at the chair.
A plump little pot-bellied pig regarded him through beady black eyes, snorting at him.
"There is a pig in this chair," Methos pronounced incredulously.
Cassandra hurried over and gathered the animal up in her arms, consoling it as it squealed indignantly. "This is my pet. He has far more right to be in this house than you do."
"A pet pig?" Methos barked out a laugh. "Wouldn’t a black cat be more traditional?"
Cassandra frowned angrily. "Pigs are sacred animals."
"They’re sacred to my breakfast plate," Methos agreed.
Gwydion ambled up beside him, hands shoved into the pockets of his expensive slacks. "Show a little respect, Mister Pierson," he said smoothly. It was clear from his no-nonsense tone that he meant business. "Dana is very fond of Duncan, besides."
"Dun-can?" MacLeod pronounced, his eyebrows climbing. He walked over to stare at the animal’s wriggling snout. "Cassandra, you named a pig after me?"
Nicholas was stifling some unbecoming sounds behind his hand, his eyes tightly shut as he shook.
Methos grinned broadly. "Well, she said he means a lot to her, Mac. Aren’t you flattered?"
MacLeod blinked. "Well—he’s kind of cute, I suppose."
"I think he’s adorable," Amanda put in, her eyes gleaming. She kicked Nicholas lightly in the shin as she walked past to join MacLeod in examining his namesake.
"There’s definitely a family resemblance," Methos nodded. "Welcome to the clan, Arnold."
"Duncan," Cassandra corrected through clenched teeth.
Methos threw himself into the vacated easy chair and sat back, comfortably lacing his long fingers over his stomach. "Well, Mac, we might as well get to the point. Sorry to disturb the happy little family, but we did come here for a reason."
MacLeod glanced around at the others, shifting from foot to foot uncomfortably.
"Yes, Duncan, tell them why we’re here," Amanda said brightly, moving to take a seat on the couch. She crossed her legs and rested her elbows on one knee, leaning forward to set her chin in one palm.
Methos thought MacLeod had better mind his manners with Amanda for quite some time to come. She was obviously deriving great enjoyment from watching him squirm now.
Clearing his throat, MacLeod faced Cassandra squarely. "The sword’s been stolen."
Gwydion squinted up at Lew, shading his eyes against the relentless glare of the sun with one hand. "I have no idea. Perhaps she is newly Immortal. Maybe her tribe cast her out as a demon. We’ve seen it happen before." He lifted her wrist to examine it. "Whoever she is, she wasn’t robbed and she wasn’t from a lower class." He showed Lew the bracelet.
Lew whistled in admiration at the workmanship. "That must have cost a goodly amount." He grinned, his eyes flashing. "It’s too bad she was probably cast out. She might have brought a pretty ransom."
Continuing his examination, Gwydion could see that she was thin to the point of starvation. He suspected her features were pleasing when they weren’t pinched from hunger and dehydration, as well as covered in filth. Her long reddish brown hair was a tangle of knots. There was no way to tell her actual age, of course, but she looked like she was older than a maiden and yet much younger than a matron. Perhaps in her late twenties or early thirties, Gwydion thought, although even setting her Immortality aside, it was difficult to even venture a guess. Life in the desert could age people quickly, making them appear much older than they really were. Her tattered shift bore the distinctive rips that could only come from the claws of a lion. He shuddered, imagining this girl in the jaws of one of those big, black-maned lions that frequented the area and preyed on men and livestock alike. Wherever she’d come from, her trip had taken her through a nightmare.
"Help me get her up on my horse," Gwydion told Lew, handing the other man his reins. "Keep him still." He leaned over to pick up the dead Immortal girl. She weighed next to nothing in his arms. He shifted her to Lew momentarily while he swung back onto his mount, then reached down to take her. Settling her dead weight in front of him with one arm wrapped tightly around her, he took his reins back from Lew.
"I hope you know what you’re doing," Lew said, squinting up at his brother.
Gwydion shrugged. "We can’t just leave her here and I’m not inclined to take her head while she’s helpless and unarmed. What else is there to do?"
Lew shook his head even while he smiled knowingly. "You always did have a habit of picking up strays." He went to get his own mount. "At least she has a pretty face hiding somewhere underneath all that dirt. I hope you don’t regret this one as much as the last one."
Gwydion scowled at Lew’s reminder of the last time he’d tried to help a down on their luck Immortal. "That was different," he maintained.
Lew laughed. "If you say so. But don’t blame me if she turns out to be trouble."
Cassandra twisted around to look through the shattered rear window, shocked. "I don’t believe this! Who could want us dead so badly?"
"I haven’t a clue, but they may get their wish. We’re losing speed."
"I’ve hit the accelerator and nothing’s happening. They must have put a bullet somewhere vital under the hood. We’re slowing down. The goddamned car’s dead," Methos said with a fatalistic tone.
Cassandra turned to stare down the road. "Can we make it around that sharp bend up ahead?" she asked urgently.
"Probably, but I don’t see what good that’s going to do us—"
"Take the turn and pull over to the side of the road."
"Just do it!"
"They’ll stop and cut us down!"
"Do it, Horseman!!"
Blowing out an exasperated breath, Methos steered the Volvo around the next bend and let it coast and die on the roadside, just beyond. He thought Cassandra had finally lost her mind, but he really didn’t have much choice about stopping. As the car coasted to a halt, he finally peeled his fingers off the steering wheel and sighed. "This is it, old girl." He reached into his coat pocket and drew out his automatic pistol.
"What are you doing?" Cassandra asked, rolling her eyes. "Do you really think you’re going to stop all of them with that?"
Methos set his jaw. "I intend to take a few of them down with me, at least. I hope they leave our bodies out here. MacLeod would be really depressed if he—"
"Quiet." Cassandra shut her eyes and raised her hands, her forehead creased in concentration. "Put the gun away. You won’t need it."
"Sorry. I don’t mean to interrupt your last prayers, but the moment they—"
He didn’t get to finish. The second black car roared around the bend behind them with a screech of rubber, came up the road…and flashed past without even slowing down. Methos got a quick glimpse of more machete blades and dark suits before the car disappeared down the road at high speed.
He blinked. "Why didn’t they stop?"
Cassandra took a relieved breath. "They didn’t see us."
"Are you insane? We were sitting right here, in plain view, in broad daylight!" Methos ranted.
"Trust me," Cassandra said quietly. "They didn’t see us."
Amanda and MacLeod lay on their stomachs underneath the queen-sized bed and watched as pairs of shoes went by. Amanda sighed and blew a stray dust bunny out of the corner her mouth with open distaste. "Who do you think they are?" she whispered fiercely.
"The bad guys? My guess is whoever took the sword sent them after us," MacLeod murmured back. "Like you said earlier, Gwydion might be right about Rolleston, the store owner. Those thugs seemed to know who we are and how to kill us…if it was Rolleston, he’s obviously got Immortal contacts."
"How are we going to get out of here? There must be dozens of those guys watching for us by now! Eventually, they’re going to figure out what I did to the security cameras."
MacLeod thought that "dozens" was a bit of an exaggeration on Amanda’s part. After all, they’d only seen the original five men and there’d been little evidence of an army of machete-wielders chasing them through the store. Still, she was probably right that there could be more men after them by now. "Sooner or later they’re going to track us down. They know we haven’t left the store." He pursed his lips and then suppressed a sharp exclamation of pain as a store patron tested the firmness of the mattress above them by bouncing up and down on it, the springs impacting on the Highlander’s head.
"Feels a bit lumpy," a strident female voice said.
The mattress shifted, the springs banging against MacLeod’s head yet again. He put a hand to the wounded area. "I have a feeling it’s going to be a long night." He slid his arm over to grasp Amanda’s hand in his own to reassure her.
"This is a first for us," Amanda chuckled.
"We’ve never spent a night under a bed before."
MacLeod raised his eyebrows and glanced at her reproachfully. "Don’t get any ideas. I don’t like to be interrupted."
"Grumpy old man," Amanda complained.
"Compared to who?" MacLeod protested. "Methos is more than ten times older than I am." He discreetly neglected to mention that Amanda was more than twice his own age.
He flung the tent flap aside and stalked to the water skin. He lifted it to discover with dismay that it was nearly empty, and his rage flared anew. Stupid, lazy bitch. How many times was he going to have to punish her before she learned to replace what was empty?! He lifted the skin and drained it in one draught, flinging it to the ground and turned as he felt the approach of one of his kind, hand on his sword hilt. Was Kronos coming back? Did he aim to punish him for his open display of defiance? Let him come, he raged. I’ll show him punishment.
It was his slave, however, who entered the tent, partly bent under the burden of a full water skin. She stopped at the sight of him, wariness rapidly becoming fear as she took in his expression. She froze, torn between the urge to drop the water and back away and the conditioned response to remain. Her eyes caught the empty skin on the ground and her fear became near panic. It was plain that she thought her own neglect had brought on his fury.
"I am sorry, nun—I hurried—"
"Si-ga!" He silenced her. "Have you forgotten everything? Me-en digir! I am your god! I want obedience, not excuses!"
She held out the water skin in silent supplication.
The Lightning's Hand is now available. Please note that only the cover of the printed zine is in color. Other artwork presented in color above is printed in black and white, but we offer it here in full color for your viewing pleasure!
For any questions regarding Leah Rosenthal's artwork, please e-mail her at email@example.com. Leah takes commissions and also will make hand colored prints of her artwork.
Also now available:
Then the Night Comes by Ann Wortham & Leah Rosenthal. A new Highlander novel offering an alternative resolution to the fifth season cliffhanger Archangel and the aired sixth season episodes. Richie Ryan is dead at the hands of his best friend and mentor, Duncan MacLeod. Horrified at what he has done and believing he is pursued by an ancient demon known as Ahriman, MacLeod flees Paris to seek help from old friends in Cornwall. Joe Dawson, Cassandra, and Methos soon follow and the pursuit of who—or what—Ahriman truly is soon involves many of MacLeod's friends in a desperate race from Cornwall to Scotland to Wales. Along the way, Methos must confront more specters from his past, MacLeod learns a few lessons, Joe has a new friendship which is deepening, and Cassandra must learn to deal with a Methos who is, in many ways, different from the man she once knew. Flashbacks take our heroes from ancient Egypt to ancient Babylonia and to Barcelona, Spain along the way. Then the Night Comes is rated PG with no overt sex, either straight or slash. Click here to view ordering information, along with some excerpts of artwork and text.
Reflections by Lynn Montgomery, a novel focusing on Methos and his days with the Horsemen. Joe and Duncan play major roles in the present-day segments. Rated adult for slash between Methos/Kronos and Methos/original character. Click here to view ordering information along with excerpts of artwork and text.
Also now available: Touched by Magic, a sequel to The Lightning's Hand!
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We accept money orders, cash (at sender’s risk!) or credit cards and echecks (via Paypal) in payment. For further ordering and pricing information regarding any Ashton Press fanzine, please contact Ann Wortham at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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