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Steele Blades

von ''Grail''

Diese Remington Steele/Highlander Fan-Fiction Story wurde von ''Grail'' geschrieben.
Die Geschichte wird hier mit freundlicher Erlaubnis des Autors präsentiert.

Historian's Note : This story takes place just after "Altared Steele" in season 2 of Remington Steele. It also explains why Steele and Laura managed to survive so many incidents during the series.

Chapter 1-3 // Chapter 4-6

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Chapter 4

Warmth on her face woke Laura up. She blinked in the morning sunshine, streaming in through the windows of Steele's bedroom, and yawned languidly. For a moment she forgot her cares and worries, wrapped up in the warmth of the sheets, the world outside brightly-lit with the sky a clear blue. Reality returned and she remembered. "Rats," Laura said aloud. She rolled off the bed and picked up her clothes from where she had carelessly thrown them across the chair. Quickly she dressed and went into the front room, where Steele was sprawled half on and half off the couch. Laura's eyes widened as she saw the thin metal blade resting on the coffee table. Very quietly, she picked it up and examined it; the metal, though looking smooth at a distance, was pockmarked and scratched when she looked at it closely. Although by no means a swords expert, Laura guessed that the weapon was at least two centuries old. "Don't play with swords, Miss Holt," Steele said without opening his eyes. Laura nearly dropped the sword, shocked. "Don't do that!" "Sorry." Steele opened his eyes and sat up, taking the sword from her. "An eighteenth century duellist's sword. I found it in a shoebox on top of the wardrobe last night." "A shoebox?" "Sort of a shoebox," he amended. "Actually, it was buried beneath four pairs of shoes, a woollen scarf my great-aunt once knitted for me, a pocket-watch, six love letters, and a mouldy packet of wine gums."

Laura's eyebrows rose. "Love letters?" Steele looked embarrassed. "Well, I'd better not say her name, she's a princess these days." "Oh. So why the sword?" "Because Lentz was using one, and Macleod had one as well." Rising, Steele took the sword from her and weighed it in his hand. "From what was said, it looks like this little beauty will be our only hope." "Our?" Laura queried. "I think I'll get one for myself, thanks. I don't fancy my chances much if I'm supposed to rely on you being around." "Oh?" Steele looked at her, slightly bemused. Laura saw the momentary hurt on his face. "What's that mean, then?" She backtracked hastily. "We're not always together, Mr Steele. We're not joined at the hip or anything." Steele wasn't persuaded. "That wasn't what you meant. You were worried about me disappearing on you, weren't you?" Laura hesitated. "No, of course not," she said, but her voice lacked conviction, even to her own ears. Steele shrugged dismissively. "Well, whatever," he said, clearly being colder than he felt. He turned away, picked up a soft downy cloth of some kind, and ran it up and down the blade, cleaning any dust which might have fallen on it whilst he was asleep. The blade glinted in the sunshine. "Still as sharp as it was when I picked it up in Russia." "Russia?" "Russia. Friend of mine, Arkady Petrovich Ivanko. Good man. We used to practice in the forest with swords sometimes, early morning or late evening." Steele's eyes had that curiously distant look he often had when reminiscing. "He used to call me Inostranyets." "Why? That's not your real name, by any chance?" Laura said hopefully. Steele chuckled. "Inostranyets is Russian for foreigner." She sighed. "It would be." The blade swished a little as Steele moved it through the air, the soft whistling sound somehow slightly menacing. "It's a duelling sword," he repeated, "used by noblemen in centuries gone by." "Only for duelling?" Laura queried. "Oh, there's no only about duelling," Steele informed her. "Sometimes duels could be fatal." "Really."

Laura moved suddenly, grabbing the sword from him and holding it to his neck. "Ha! Surrender, or you will fall before me!" she declared in mock-heroic style. Steele flinched. "Laura - " Putting a hand on his chest, Laura shoved him so he fell back onto the sofa. The tip of the sword hovered inches from his throat. "I said yield," she insisted mockingly. The cold shiver struck them both instantly. A second later the thick blade of a katana hit the blade of the duelling sword with a clang, knocking it out of Laura's hands. Duncan looked at them unsmilingly. "Two rules. Never play with swords, and never let your guard down. This is a battle." "Yes, very good - " Steele started to say, getting up. Duncan seemed to blur and suddenly the katana was at Steele's throat. "One stroke of the sword and your head is mine!" he hissed in Steele's ear. "Remember how easy it is to take someone's head, Mr Steele. Never let it be yours...apart from anything else, death's very unpleasant." "And you'd know, presumably?" Laura said, retrieving the duelling sword as Duncan released Steele. "You said you were nearly four hundred." "Yes," Duncan nodded. "So you both have to listen when I tell you the Rules. In the Game, mistakes can be fatal." He paused to think about that. "No. In the Game, mistakes are fatal."

Christopher Lentz hesitated. Then, "Enter!" Her eyes downcast, Sarah entered the practicing room, a large empty space with wooden floorboards. Lentz, dressed in tight clothing for freedom of movement, was sparring with a wooden figure. "My lord," she said, "Yevgeni wants to speak to you. He says it's urgent." "Urgent, is it?" Lentz growled. Reluctantly, he left his sword on a stand and crossed to Sarah. "Tell him I'll meet him in the main room." She curtsied. "Yes, my lord." Lentz watched her leave with a sense of satisfaction. It had been a stroke of luck, finding Sarah. She was the exact image of his last love, and the exact personality as well. Lentz believed passionately in reincarnation, and Sarah was the fifth reincarnation of his lover, the mortal Annette. For a moment, the image of sixteenth-century Paris filled his mind; then he blinked the sights and sounds away. His home time was gone; now he had to look to the future. Striding into the main room, removing his practice gloves, Lentz looked at the malnourished Russian. "Well, Yevgeni? I told you I was not to be disturbed unless it was urgent." "Yes, my lord, I know," Yevgeni apologised hastily, "but this is urgent. We've tracked down someone who may help you with Steele and Miss Holt." "Oh?" Yevgeni consulted a notepad he had in one hand. "Yes, my lord. She works as secretary at the detective agency which they run." Lentz nodded slowly. "Sounds reasonable. Her name?" "Mildred Krebs."

Laura opened the door. "See? I told you." "You can't take chances, Miss Holt," Steele murmured from behind her, the duelling sword gripped firmly in one hand. He followed her out into the corridor, locking his room behind him. "Don't you think you could put the sword away for just a minute?" Laura asked, looking down the corridor. "People are going to talk, you know." "Well..." Steele said doubtfully. "Look, give it here," Laura said impatiently, taking it from him and stashing it inside her long coat, which reached to her ankles. The tip of the blade was just about concealed inside the coat. "There, happier?" "It'll be difficult to extract," Steele observed. "I'll manage," Laura sighed. "Come on, let's go. Immortal or not, we have to earn a living down at the agency. It won't be for long, Duncan said he'd turn up at the agency later." She marched off down the corridor, Steele following doubtfully, until they reached the lift. Once inside, Steele relaxed a little and he smiled down at her. "You know, there's one advantage about this." "Oh?" Laura asked suspiciously. "I get to be in your company for a lot longer than I thought, Miss Holt." To his surprise, Laura didn't smile. Instead, she shivered a little and, as the lift doors opened, marched straight out without looking at him. Steele, frowning, followed her out and across the grey concrete floor of the carpark. "Hey, you two!" They turned round sharply as a youth in jeans and leather jacket sauntered across to them, grinning insolently. "Hey," he said again, "how's it going?" "Just fine, thanks," Steele said, turning to go. "Hey, don't do that, man," the youth said instantly. A gun seemed to leap into his hand out of nowhere. Laura tapped Steele on the shoulder and he turned round slowly. The youth grinned at them. "Now that's better. Why don't we just - " He was looking at Steele as he spoke, and Laura took her chance. Her hand flashed inside the coat and drew the duelling sword. It made a high-pitched whistling sound as it flashed through the air, and the young man yelled out as it scraped the skin on his hand, drawing blood. The gun clattered noisily to the ground. "What the - " "Now, now, let's not talk to ladies like that," Steele interrupted, scooping up the gun. "Just run along." "Wait a minute," Laura said, "maybe we should - " "Let's not go to all the trouble," Steele interrupted her in turn. "Just go on," he ordered the youth. Taking his chance, he ran off. "Why did you do that?" Laura demanded. "Because neither you nor I want questions about swords being asked, especially by the police," Steele replied quietly in her ear, "do we, Miss Holt?" Laura looked down at the duelling sword. "No," she agreed. "Let's go on to the agency," Steele said.

Mildred arrived at the office early. As she was fond of telling her errant offspring, what could be done today should never be put off until tomorrow. As a result, as she rode the elevator up the skyscraper to the agency office, Mildred was already beginning to plan her day in some detail, right down to the exact times of her lunch break. Always assuming that nothing untoward happened, of course. She ran over the events of yesterday in one part of her mind whilst working out the final solution to Steele's tax returns. The boss and Laura had explained to her that it was all a covert undercover operation to make their targets think they were dead, and Mildred had been given instructions to behave as if everything was normal and she didn't know. The lift doors opened and Mildred stepped out onto the floor, deep in thought, walking with her eyes looking at the carpet as she was pondering over these various subjects. She didn't see the man until she walked into him. "Sorry," she apologised absently, and started to walk past him. The man took her arm and Mildred looked up, frowning. "Mildred Krebs?" the man inquired. He was middle-sized, quite burly, and developing a beer gut. His eyes were grey, and they stared at her with a peculiar curiosity she found disquieting. "That's me," she answered. "Office hours don't start until nine-thirty - " "I don't want the office," the man said. He looked over Mildred's shoulder. "This is her, Yevgeni." "Who?" Mildred started to turn when something pricked the side of her neck. Drowsiness overwhelmed her and her knees buckled. Yevgeni caught the older woman as she started to fall to the carpet. He handed her to his associate. "Take her down the emergency stairs," he instructed, "and put her in the van. I'll set up the agency office for when Steele and Miss Holt arrive." The associate nodded, lifted Mildred with some difficulty, and started off down the back stairs. When he was out of sight, Yevgeni turned back to the agency doors, REMINGTON STEELE INVESTIGATIONS emblazoned across the clear glass in smooth white letters. He picked the lock almost without pausing, switched off the burglar alarm, and went inside.

Laura and Steele arrived at the skyscraper ten minutes later, travelling together in Steele's car rather than separately. Laura thought how ironic it was that they were staying closer together right now than they had been before their first deaths. Steele swung the car into a parking space and switched off the engine. He looked sideways at Laura. "Shall we go upstairs?" "I suppose," Laura said absently, picking up the duelling sword and exiting the vehicle. She froze in surprise. "Mr Steele!" Steele leapt out of the car just in time to see Mildred being bundled into the back of a bulky white transit van. Laura looked at him, and then started across the carpark without a word. Steele followed just as the van's engine coughed and roared into life. Laura was within six inches of the rear doors as the vehicle started to move, pulling out of its space and speeding away towards the exit. "Mildred!" Laura called futilely as the van ascended the ramp and disappeared into the traffic. "It's no good," Steele said. "She's gone." From the side of the carpark, Yevgeni watched and smiled.

Chapter 5

The lift doors opened and Laura and Steele stepped out onto the carpeted floor, looking both sides warily. Steele had taken the duelling sword back from Laura and it was now stashed under his coat as they walked towards the agency offices. "This is ridiculous, you know," Laura said. "We'd feel it if there was another immortal around, wouldn't we?" "Maybe," Steele said. "I don't know about you, Miss Holt, but I'm feeling decidedly insecure right at the moment." They reached the agency doors and went inside. All was silent, unsurprisingly; the absence of Mildred was noticeable in the way the office seemed to be quietly disused. Laura looked at Mildred's desk sadly, missing the comfortable gossiping presence of the older woman. "What now?" she asked. Steele put the sword down on Mildred's desk. "A good question, Miss Holt. A cup of tea wouldn't go amiss right now." "I meant about Mildred, Mr Steele," Laura said reprovingly. "It's got to be that other immortal, Lentz, who kidnapped her. We need to know more about him. Where he lives, what he does." Steele nodded absently as he started making the tea. "Good plan," he agreed. Laura sat down at Mildred's desk and switched the computer on. "So let's see if this machine here can help us any," she declared, her fingers dancing rapidly over the keyboard. "Absolutely. One sugar or two?" Laura chuckled. "Are you listening?" "Of course, Miss Holt," Steele said courteously, bringing a cup of tea across and placing it in front of her. "There you are." "Thanks."

She took a drink and looked at him seriously. "You know, there's one advantage of this immortality thing." Steele raised his eyebrows. "Oh?" "Sure there is," Laura nodded. "We can put some money in a bank, collect compound interest in two hundred guaranteed." It was Steele's turn to laugh. "Always presuming there'll be money around, Laura." She shrugged. "There'll be something. But will there be jobs for two immortal private eyes in the year 2184?" "There'll always be something to do," Steele said confidently. He went across to the tea-making things and began to make himself a cup. "Besides, there'll always be each other, won't there?" Laura looked at him warily. "Will there?" He turned, looking hurt. "Laura, is this another interrogation?" "No, of course not," she responded. "But...when we reach our hundredth birthdays together....will you leave? What about our two hundredth? When are you going to grow tired of me?" Steele picked up the sugar bowl and toyed with it absently. Then he looked at her sincerely. "Laura, the day I grow tired of you is the day I'll kneel down and let you take my head." She smiled tiredly. "I wish I could believe that." "Believe it," Steele said simply. Laura looked at him. "Mr Steele, you know - "

The computer screen erupted in flames with a roar, smoke curling towards the ceiling, the blast catching Laura right in the face. She was thrown back out of the chair to crash onto the floor unmoving. Steele dropped the sugar bowl and rushed over to her, feeling for a pulse. Her eyes were closed and he felt nothing; her clothes were shredded, and her skin blackened from the blast. "Oh, Laura," Steele said sadly. Lifting her in his arms, he took her over to the couch and laid her carefully down. Looking down at the still motionless body, Steele experienced a moment of frightening terror that the immortality thing had been a clever trick. Then he felt something stirring inside Laura, something that echoed within his own frame. He touched her skin and withdrew hastily as a spark danced between her arm and his finger. Laura's chest heaved suddenly and she started to breathe again, irregularly and shallowly but definitely breathing. Steele's shoulders slumped with relief. He looked back to where the smoking computer was beginning to die down and saw the black package resting at the base of the desk. It was on the opposite side of the desk from the agency entrance, so both he and Laura had missed it when they first entered. Crossing the office floor, Steele picked it up and opened it cautiously; he had no desire to experience the same thing as Laura. The package contained a small guidebook for a department store, Hastings, in the centre of the city. Steele flicked through it absently, frowning; he could see no reason for it to be there. Then the last sentence on the last page caught his eye :- ...and even today the owner of Hastings, Mr Christopher Lentz, lives on the very top floor in his penthouse suite... Steele looked at this sentence thoughtfully. Then he picked up the duelling sword and left the agency office.

"Here she is, my lord," Yevgeni announced as he entered the main room of the penthouse. Lentz turned and a satisfied smile spread across his thin face as Mildred was brought into the room, a dazed smile on her face. She had clearly been drugged, for Yevgeni's associate was having difficulty steering her properly. "Excellent work, Yevgeni," Lentz noted. Dressed in a silk kimono, he was sitting on the sofa with one arm around Sarah, who was quietly reading a magazine without looking up. "Put her in the back room, we'll use her as a hostage." "Yes, my lord," Yevgeni acknowledged, nodding to his associate. Lentz rose. "I'm going to prepare. Steele and Miss Holt will undoubtedly be arriving shortly, in order to rescue their esteemed secretary. Have you found out anything more about Duncan Macleod?" Yevgeni nodded. "His girlfriend's friend died of cancer today. They're preparing to go back home as we speak. Macleod spoke to Steele and Miss Holt earlier and presumably told them all the Rules. He hasn't had time to train them, though." Lentz nodded. "Excellent. Alright, I'm going to prepare. If Steele and Miss Holt turn up, show them in." "Yes, my lord," Yevgeni nodded. Lentz turned and walked through one of the pairs of double doors in the circular room.

As the lock clicked, Yevgeni crossed to the sofa and seated himself beside Sarah. She looked at him without interest. "Listen to me," Yevgeni said urgently, his Russian accent gone. "I've been working for the Agency. We need your help again." Sarah's eyes widened. "The Agency? You people are the ones who - " Yevgeni held up a hand to stop her. "I know, I know. We needed a way to distract Lentz, he was holding up our operation. It was unorthodox, but while he was searching for you we managed to shut down his gunrunning business. That bit's complete now, but we want to get you out permanently." Sarah looked sad. "That's not possible." "It is if you help," Yevgeni said persuasively. "Listen to me, Sarah. You used to be a damn good agent until Lentz got to you. We can set you free, make sure he never finds you again." "Why should I want to leave?" she said listlessly. "I have everything I need here." "You don't," Yevgeni scoffed. "You don't have your freedom. And you don't have your spirit anymore." Sarah looked at him, and the Russian saw a flash of anger in her eyes. "Christopher provides everything for me now, Yevgeni." "There. Anger. You're not entirely crushed. Sarah, come back. It's still not too late. We need you back with us, working for us. There are a lot of bad things happening in the world out there." Sarah shook her head sadly. "No, Yevgeni. You go your way without me. I'm out of the business now."

She ached all over. That was Laura's first thought as she opened her eyes. She was staring at the ceiling of the agency offices, lying on the couch at the side of the office, feeling oddly sticky as if someone had covered her in glue or something. She raised a hand and touched her cheek; her fingers came away slightly blackened. Rising, Laura looked at herself in a convenient mirror and gasped. Her hair had been singed, her skin blackened, and the front of her blouse ripped to shreds. She remembered the computer exploding. "Must have died again," she muttered to herself. She turned round, anger building. "Mr Steele, where are you?" Silence replied to her. A splash of colour caught her eye suddenly; Laura crossed the office and picked up the guidebook for Hastings. She flicked through it absently, wondering where Steele had gone. Suddenly, she realised the duelling sword was also absent from the desk. Before she could do anything, sensations shivered through her. Laura found it suddenly difficult to breath without concentrating; almost against her will, she turned to the entrance of the agency.

"Good morning," said Duncan Macleod. Laura relaxed in relief. "Come in, Mr Macleod." Duncan entered. He looked at her askance. "What happened to you?" Laura shrugged. "I died," she said simply, indicating the exploded computer terminal. "My sympathies." Duncan looked around. "Where's Steele?" "Gone off somewhere," Laura frowned. "Don't ask me where, because I don't know." Duncan opened his trenchcoat. "I brought some presents." He took two swords out from inside the coat, one older and one brand-new, both glinting sharply in the light from the office windows. Laura took the older one and looked at it, impressed; the blade was scratched and nicked as if through constant use, the grip worn by centuries of use. "A Highlander's sword," Duncan said. "It belonged to a friend of mine a long time ago." Laura hefted it. "It's heavy. Is it a claymore?" "Not quite. It comes close." Duncan put the other sword, the new one, down on the desk. "And that's a fighting sabre. Rare." "Thanks," Laura said sincerely.

"Has Lentz been around yet?" Duncan asked. "I asked a friend. He confirmed it. Lentz chooses the young, the inexperienced, those he thinks haven't learned to fight properly yet." "People like me and Mr Steele," Laura nodded. "Yes." She looked round the office and sighed. "I wish I knew where he was," she complained. "Our secretary's been kidnapped, our computer destroyed, and all that's left is this guide for some kind of department store." Duncan's face hardened. "What store?" "Hastings," Laura shrugged. She stared at him. "Is it important?" Duncan nodded grimly. "Oh yes, it's important. Lentz owns and runs Hastings. Steele's gone to find him." Laura's eyes widened. She picked up the highland sword and started for the exit. Duncan put a hand on her arm. "Wait. I should - " "No!" Laura said, too sharply. Her expression softened. "No. Thank you, Mr Macleod, but we all have to learn sometime. Mr Steele and I have to fight our own battles." She looked around the agency. "Make yourself at home." Without looking round, she left the offices. Duncan watched her go, then sighed and left as well. He had to pick up Tessa and go to the airport. One day, he mused, he would find out if they had survived. He fervently hoped they would.

Chapter 6

"Mr Steele?" Steele looked cautiously at the thin curly-haired man with a foreign accent of some kind. "That's right," he nodded. "I'm here to see Mr Christopher Lentz." Yevgeni nodded. "Mr Lentz is waiting to see you, sir. If you'd come this way, please." Steele followed him into the elevator and they started upwards. As they rose, Steele surreptitiously checked the duelling sword inside his coat. He wondered if he was going to see the sun rise the next day. The lift stopped moving and, with a ping sound, the doors opened. Yevgeni stepped out first and courteously indicated for Steele to follow him. He did so, and they walked down a carpeted corridor until they came to a big pair of double doors, wood-panelled and expensive. The mortal pushed them open and invited Steele inside. The room beyond was circular, as expensively-furnished as the corridor from which Steele had just come. Sitting on a chair on the opposite side of the room, Christopher Lentz smiled at him. "Welcome, Mr Steele. What do you think of my domicile?" "A little rococco for my taste," Steele said lightly, "but nobody's perfect." "No indeed." Lentz rose languidly, plucking his sword from the stand beside him. "I trust you've at least brought a weapon of some kind? I don't supply my opponents with their own swords." Steele opened his coat and took out the duelling sword.

Lentz smiled at it, obviously impressed. "A good sword. I was probably there when it was made, you know. I've lived for over five centuries." "Soon be getting middle-aged," Steele responded, stepping forward as he shed his coat. Lentz took a couple of steps closer, raising the sword. "Let's begin," Lentz said, darting forward. Steele parried instantly, stepping to one side, and bringing his sword round to the side. Lentz's was already there and the blades clashed with a clang of metal and shower of sparks which dropped to the floor and vanished. Steele took a step back and Lentz advanced confidently, pressing him to respond with each cut and thrust. The room rang to the sounds of blades clashing. Steele felt the wall behind his back as he retreated. Suddenly he ducked sideways and brought his blade round in a backhanded sweep, slashing Lentz across the shoulder. The German immortal made a growling noise and swiped absently at the blood which started to stain his shirt, then pressed home his attack. Steele was forced to stay on the defensive, parrying and dodging from Lentz's rapid strikes. The other's superior experience, after 500 years of fighting, was beginning to tell. Ducking round the side of the chair, Steele turned and leapt up onto a table that was standing nearby. Lentz swiped at his legs and Steele jumped upwards, coming down with his feet on Lentz's shoulders. The German fell and Steele ran to the opposite side of the room, breathing heavily and taking the chance to rest. Lentz got to his feet, his eyes heavy with menace.

"You're good, for a novice," Lentz said. Steele nodded. "Why, thank you." "But that's no match for experience," Lentz growled, rushing forwards again. Their blades met but the momentum of Lentz's charge carried him crashing into Steele, who fell over. He rolled quickly to his feet, just in time to avoid a sweeping slash that would have cut him in two. A quick lunge was effortlessly parried by Lentz, who returned to the attack. Steele fell back, step by step, only able to defend and not get past Lentz's guard enough to attack. They reached the chair Lentz had been sitting on once again, and Steele retreated behind it to use it as protection. "You can't hide forever, Mr Steele," Lentz said, kicking the chair aside and slashing at him viciously. "Who wants to live forever?" Steele responded lightly, parrying with some effort. "You can't joke about it. You're weakening," Lentz snarled, proving his point with a thrust Steele only just managed to avoid. "You're cheating..." Steele breathed. "You've had...five hundred years to practice." He ducked as Lentz's blade whistled past his neck, brought the duelling sword up to parry the return attack. "So I am," Lentz agreed impassively, and his blade smashed into Steele with such force that it was torn out of Steele's hand. Lentz's sword bit deep into Steele's ribs, and pain rushed through him. Gasping, he dropped to his knees. "Well, there we are," Lentz said. He pulled the sword out, eliciting a groan of pain from Steele. "You fought well."

The doors crashed open. "Yevgeni, I said we were not to be disturbed!" "I'm afraid you'll have to be," said a female voice, calm and steady but filled with strong emotion. Lentz and Steele turned towards the doors as Laura entered, wearing a clean blouse and jeans underneath a black bomber jacket. In one hand she carried the highland sword, the old but strong blade glinting steadily. Laura smiled at Lentz. "I know the rules, I won't intervene. But if you take Mr Steele's head I'll come for you straight after." Lentz looked down at Steele thoughtfully. "I see." "So you'll have to fight me one way or the other," Laura said steadily. Lentz shrugged. "Very well." He turned away from Steele, who relaxed with a groan, and walked across the room to Laura. She looked up at him with quiet confidence and raised the sword so its blade touched his. Lentz smiled at her. "Are you ready to die, Miss Holt?" "Not just yet," Laura said. "But then, I'm not planning to." She lunged viciously and Lentz parried just in time. The air once again rang to the clash of sword blades, dancing almost faster than the eye could follow. Lentz was bigger and stronger, but Laura's sword was superior and she had the advantage of speed and agility over him. Steadily, step by step, she drove him back towards the table in the centre of the room.

"I'm impressed, Miss Holt," Lentz admitted, ducking round the table so it was between them, giving them both a breathing space. Hefting the highland sword warily, Laura watched him. "I learn fast," she smiled. "Actually, I've done some swordfighting before. Here and there, you know." "Did Macleod help you?" "No." Laura advanced again. "All my own work." Lentz retreated from the table, and Laura leapt over it easily, returning to the attack. He parried her first thrust and lunged for her stomach, but she twisted aside and the blade bit at empty air only. Sweeping his sword aside, Laura slashed at his right arm, cutting across the nerves of the elbow. Lentz's fingers relaxed uselessly and the sword dropped to the ground as blood poured from the wound. "Well, well," Laura said. Staring at her, Lentz suddenly started for the doors. Laura turned with his movement, lifting and swinging the sword and shearing through his neck with one clean movement. The body stumbled and fell to the ground. "Duncan did tell me one thing," she said to the motionless form. She raised her voice until the chamber echoed. "There can be only one!"

A glow suffused the decapitated Lentz's body and it began to crackle with grey sparks. Wind rushed through the chamber and energy began to flood out of Lentz into Laura. She staggered with each fresh onslaught, her hair streaming in the gale, her face bathed in white light, but remained upright as the Quickening tore into her, changing her, relining her neural paths, the essence of the dead immortal racing through her nerve centres. Fire overwhelmed her senses and she was floating, floating... The glow vanished. Laura dropped to her knees, the sword skittering noisily across the floor. Exhaustedly, Steele pulled himself to his feet and retrieved both his and her blades, crossing over to her and crouching beside her. She looked up at him shakily. "That felt...." she started, then stopped. "It felt...." "It's alright," Steele said. "It's alright."

"Well, Mildred?" Mildred looked at the exploded computer screen in horror. "How did it happen?" "A bomb," Laura said. She folded her arms and looked at Steele. "It was a miracle neither of us were killed, wasn't it? "A miracle, Miss Holt," Steele agreed solemnly. "Well, I don't know," Mildred sighed. "It'll cost money to replace all this." "Money?" Steele repeated, wincing. "Oh." "Oh, be brave, Mr Steele," Laura admonished. "It's not that bad. At least we got out of it alive." Steele sighed. "I suppose so. It's just that I set up this Agency to save money and now it's all going down the drain at once." He winced, looked down, and then up again. "Miss Holt, you're standing on my foot." Laura looked down. "Oh yes, so I am, Mr Steele." She smiled at him beatifically. "Sorry." Steele sighed again. "That's alright. Do you think you could stop it as well?" "Oh yes." Laura removed her foot. "Thank you." Mildred looked back at the computer again. "Well, it's a shame though, boss. This system was unique." "We'll get you two systems," Laura promised. "I'm sure Mr Steele will authorise the expense." "No, one's alright," Mildred assured her. "Look how much space we've got here, anyway, Miss Holt. No space. There can be only one." Laura and Steele looked at each other and collapsed in laughter.


Chapter 1-3

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