the immortal highlander
the immortal highlander

 

Damn, it's good to be me.
—Adam Black, on being Adam Black

London, England
Prologue

Adam Black stood in the central chamber of the stone catacombs beneath The Belthew Building and watched as Chloe Zanders stumbled about, searching for her Highland lover, Dageus MacKeltar.

She was weeping as if her very soul were being ripped apart. Incessant and piercing, it was enough to split a Tuatha Dé's head.

Or a human's, for that matter, he thought darkly.

He was getting bloody tired of her constant wailing. He had problems of his own. Big problems.

Aoibheal, queen of the Tuatha Dé Danaan, had finally made good on her long-running threats to punish him for his continued interference in the world of mortals. And she'd chosen the cruelest punishment of all.

She'd stripped him of his immortality and made him human.

He spared a quick glance down at himself and was relieved to find that, at least, she'd left him in his favored glamour: that of the dark-haired, muscular, irresistibly sexy blacksmith, a millennia-spanning blend of Continental Celt and Highland warrior, clad in tartan, armbands, and torque. On occasion she'd turned him into things that didn't suffer the light of day well.

His relief, however, was short-lived. So what if he looked like his usual self? He was human, for Christ's sake! Flesh and blood. Limited. Puny. Finite.

Cursing savagely, he eyed the sobbing woman. He could barely hear himself think. Perhaps if he informed her that Dageus wasn't really dead she would shut up. He had to find a way out of this intolerable situation, and fast.

"Your lover is not dead. Cease your weeping, woman," he ordered imperiously. He should know. Aoibheal had forced him to give of his own immortal life-essence to save the Highlander's life.

His command did not have the intended effect. On the contrary, just when he was certain she couldn't possibly get any louder—and how such a small creature managed to make such a huge noise was beyond him—his newly acquired eardrums were treated to a wail that escalated exponentially.

"Woman, cease!" he roared, clamping his hands to his ears. "I said he is not dead."

Still she wept. She didn't so much as glance in his direction, as if he'd not spoken at all. Furious, he skirted the rubble littering the chamber—debris from the battle that had taken place there a quarter hour past between Dageus MacKeltar and the Druid sect of the Draghar, the battle he should never have intervened in—and stalked to her side. He grabbed the nape of her neck to force her gaze to his, to compel her silence.

His hand slid right through the back of her skull and came out her nose.

She didn't even blink. Just hiccupped on a sob and wailed anew.

Adam stood motionless for a moment then tried again, reaching for one of her breasts. His hand slid neatly through her heart and out her left shoulder blade.

He went still again, wings of unease unfurling in the pit of his all-too-human stomach.

By Danu, Aoibheal wouldn't! His dark eyes narrowed to slits.

Would she?

Jaw clenched, he tried again. And again his hand slipped through Chloe Zanders' body.

Christ, she had! The bitch!

Not only had the queen made him human; she cursed him with the three-fold power of the féth fiada!

Adam shook his head disbelievingly. The féth fiada was the enchantment his race used when they wanted to walk among humans undetected. A Tuatha Dé customarily invoked but one facet of the potent, triumvirate spell—invisibility. But it could also render its subject impossible for humans to hear and feel as well. The féth fiada was a useful tool if one wished to meddle unobserved.

But if cursed with it permanently? If unable to escape it?

That thought was too abhorrent to entertain.

He closed his eyes and delved into his mind to sift time/place and return to the Fae Isle of Morar. He didn't care who the queen was currently entertaining in her Royal Bower; she would undo this now.

Nothing happened. He remained precisely where he was.

He tried again.

There was no swift sensation of weightlessness, no sudden rush of that heady freedom and invincibility he always felt when traversing dimensions.

He opened his eyes. Still in the stone chamber.

A snarl curved his lips. Human, cursed and powerless? Barred from the Fae realm? He tossed back his head, raking his long dark hair from his face. "All right, Aoibheal, you've made your point. Change me back now."

There was no response. Nothing but the sound of the woman's endless sobbing echoing hollowly in the chill stone chamber.

"Aoibheal, did you hear me? I said, 'I get it.' Now restore me."

Still no response. He knew she was listening, lingering a dimensional sliver just beyond the human realm. Watching, savoring his discomfort.

And...waiting for a show of submission, he acknowledged darkly.

A muscle leapt in his jaw. Humility was not, nor would ever be, his strong suit.

Still, if his choices were humble or human—and cursed and powerless to boot—he'd eat humble-pie until he choked on it.

"My Queen, you were right and I was wrong. See, I can say it."

Though the lie tasted foul upon his tongue.

"And I vow never again to disobey you."

At least not until he was certain he was secure in her good graces again.

"Forgive me, Queen Most Fair."

Of course she would. She always did.

"I am your most humble, adoring servant, O glorious Queen."

Was he laying it on too thick? he wondered idly, as the silence lengthened. He noticed he'd begun to tap a booted foot in a most human manner. He stomped it to make it be still. He was not human. He was nothing like them.

"Did you hear me? I apologized," he snapped.

After a few more moments, he sighed. Gritting his teeth, he dropped to his knees. It was universally known that Adam Black despised being on his knees for any reason, for anyone.

"Exalted leader of the True Race," he purred in the ancient, rarely-used tongue of his kind, "Savior of the Danaan, I petition the grace and glory of thy throne." Ritual, ancient words of formal court manners, they signified as nothing else could, his complete and utter obeisance. And ritual demanded she reply.

The contrary bitch didn't.

He—who'd never before suffered the passage of time—now felt it acutely, as it stretched too long.

"Damn it, Aoibheal, fix me!" he thundered, lunging to his feet. "Give me back my powers! Make me immortal again!"

Nothing.

Time spun out.

"A taste," he assured himself, "she's just giving me a taste of this to teach me a lesson."

Any moment now, she would appear. She would rebuke him. She would subject him to a scathing account of his many transgressions. He would nod, promise never to do it again, and all would be made right. Just like the thousands of other times he'd disobeyed or angered her.

An hour later nothing was right.

Two hours later and Chloe Zanders was gone, leaving him alone in the silent, dusty tombs. He almost missed her wailing. Almost.

Thirty-six hours later and his body was hungry, thirsty and—a thing nearly incomprehensible to him—tired. The Tuatha Dé did not sleep. His mind, customarily razor-sharp and lightning fast, was getting muddled, sluggish, shutting down without his consent.

Unacceptable. He'd be damned if any part of him was doing a single thing without his consent. Not his mind. Not his body. It never had and never would. A Tuatha Dé was always in control. Always.

His last thought before unconsciousness claimed him was that he was bloody well certain he'd rather be anything else: stuck inside a mountain for a few hundred years, turned into a slimy, three-headed sea beast, forced to play the court fool again for a century or two.

Anything but... so... disgustingly... pathetically... uncontrollably... hum—

 

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