The Cycle of Axer Carrick
Part VI -- Cats Eyes
by Henry Wyckoff
December 1995


Chapter 5

Nick sat in horror, listening to Nat's story, shaking his head in disbelief...

"...And the frightening things was: I *wanted* it! I wanted her to do things to me. I wanted her to lead me around..."

If Nick had ever looked in the mirror, he would have recognized the look in Nat's face: self-loathing mixed in with longing. "I... don't know what to say. ...I--" He cut off whatever he was going to say, shaking his head once more. //But I *do* understand what you've told me. I understand *everything*.// He stood a few feet away from her, looking at the noon-sun through the window. "I don't know what to tell you -- other than that I envy you."

Nat looked up at him, her tear-stained eyes looking at him in disbelief. "You *what*?!"

He looked at her now. "I envy you. In only a few days, you've come to understand what happened to you. You survived an ordeal that shouldn't have happened to you, and you've learned from it." He looked away again, "It took me many centuries to learn the lesson..."

*

PROVENCE, 1712 -- on a nameless Mediterranean coast

Nick stood on the tall cliff overlooking the black waves, barely caressed by the half moon overhead. The wind pulled on his baggy clothes, and jostling the rapier at his hip. He breathed in deeply as he felt a soft hand touch his shoulder. Then a soft body leaned against his, a delicate arm snaking around his chest.

"Ahh... Janette. I didn't know that you'd come this way."

Janette whispered in his ear, "All you have to do is listen. Have you forgotten so much already?"

Nick smiled, "Perhaps. I've just had a great deal on my mind."

The hands running across his chest were very distracting, as was the voice that whispered in his ear. After all this time, her merest voice was enough to make his heart beat as powerfully as any mortal's. "And what would that be?"

"Oh, Janette... You wouldn't believe what I've seen and felt these last few years... Being away from LaCroix has given me so much to think about, and so much to see for myself."

She pulled away from him. "What are you suggesting?" Her loyalty to her creator was very strong. "Is that why you have left us -- to cultivate hatred for your father?"

He laughed bitterly, "My father lies in a many-times savaged grave on false-hallowed ground. LaCroix is merely another who shoved me along the path of life."

Janette looked at Nick with half-angry eyes, "And have you such hate for me? After all, it was I who begged him to bring you across."

Nick swallowed, and he reacted almost nervously, "I didn't mean it that way." He pulled her in for a passionate, and almost human, kiss on the lips. A kiss that she didn't respond to. "I never felt angry at you, and I still love you."

For some reason, that seemed to distance her even more. "Do you?"

In a flash, she was gone, and Nick stared at the sea once more. But this time, he didn't view it with such tranquillity -- his heart was in turmoil now, and he turned away from it. A few moments later, he left himself.

He didn't see the figure who sat on a boulder a stone's throw away. His smile was sardonic, and whatever he whispered to himself was lost in the wind...

*

...//I often wonder who truly controlled me -- Janette or LaCroix.// Nick didn't speak his thought aloud, or tell Nat of the memory flashing through his head. It was a time long ago, //but still relevant.//

Nat buried her face in her hands, and this time Nick tried to comfort her in her moment of pain. He didn't know what good it would do, but it was better than nothing. He sat down next to her, putting his arm around her shoulders, whispering in his ear, "I can't help you undo the past, but I can help you weather the present."

Nat smiled a bit unsteadily, but grabbed his arm, pulling it around her more tightly.

* * *

At this very moment, Mulroney, the Irishman for hire, was most fervently wishing that he had his arms around a loving woman. In fact, there were a great many things he was wanting to do -- at the moment, he was lying on top of a speeding van, holding on for dear life.

//That bloody axe!// he swore to himself as the hippie driving the 'psychedelic' van made another tight turn, nearly throwing him off. He had no idea that someone was hitching a ride -- and Mulroney planned on keeping it that way. This was a much better option than the other... //I wish to God I knew who gave it to her -- I'll *kill* him!//

His greatest fear came through: Detective Tracy Vetter was still tailing him in her car, and had just come back into view. At least she wasn't holding the axe while she drove, but it was sitting upright in the passenger's seat, ready to be used.

For the last few hours, since last night, they had played cat-and-mouse, with Tracy being the cat. Mulroney had recognized the axe from the start, and understood that Tracy was being influenced by it -- very strongly in fact. Until now, Mulroney had dealt her trivial injuries meant to slow her down, but with the way she persistently kept on his trail, he reconsidered his options.

//I may have to kill her for good.//

But the question remained: why was Tracy affected by the axe? From what he'd been told, the Aesir weapons were created by the dwarves of long ago, at the behest of Loki, that the Aesir might fight off the Jotuns. The weapons, however, were extraordinary only in that they were forged well and were made of what would later be called Damascus steel: blades that were hammered from woven metals. At the time, flimsy iron weapons had been the rage.

It was only as the centuries progressed that the weapons gained a certain 'aura' about them. Where they were once mere weapons, they became something more... unusual. Those who wielded them were said to become berserkers, or delusional maniacs believing that they were one of the Aesir. They always died in the end, but it was a baffling puzzle. What was more puzzling was the fact that every person who had been affected by the weapons was an immortal.

None of them had been mortal, until now.

The van stopped suddenly, and the driver got out.

Mulroney freaked, screaming frantically, "You've got to keep going, man! She'll get me!"

The driver, who was a dread-locked grunger, gave him a thumbs-up sign and a wide smile; "All right, man!"

Mulroney jumped off the top of the van, grabbing the keys out of the man's unresisting hand, "Get the hell out of here -- I mean it!"

The driver didn't object when the keys were jerked away, and looked at the stolen van with an expression of wonder, "Wow, man... It's just like... the Brady Bunch, man..." He turned around, nearly getting slammed by the speeding sports car as it followed the van. A moment later, it ran the van off the road, where it slammed into a telephone pole. "Radical, man... Sort of reminds me of --" He collapsed in a drug haze, which was a good thing for those who were only a stone's throw down the road.

Mulroney weakly opened the door, wiping broken glass and blood off of his forehead, and found a berserker woman with an axe squaring off with him.

"Hold it, woman!" he pleaded. "Do you have any idea what it is you've done? Do you even know what's happened to you?"

A drop of blood from a bitten tongue dropped from the corner of her mouth, as she approached him with madness in her eyes. "You killed a prisoner," her voice was dry and raspy, as if she'd been in the desert all day. "A defenseless prisoner. Just like you kidnapped me and put me in the trunk, leaving me for dead."

"I did what I had to do," Mulroney spoke calmly, not even defending his own actions. "You would understand if you weren't holding that axe. If you hate me so much, why don't you shoot me? Put down the axe and shoot me. Better yet, make me kill myself."

Tracy glanced at the axe hesitantly, and lowered it slowly. Then she raised it in a jerky motion, "You're not fooling me! You're a dead man!"

"Why? Because I killed a prisoner?"

She smiled insanely, "It's a good a reason as any."

She swung for his head, and he ducked in time. Before she could recover, he slammed her in the side of the neck -- the bone, and not the soft throat -- sending her to the ground. He grabbed the axe and threw it into the van.

Then he waited.

Tracy got back up in a hurry, looking for the axe with a quick scan, and drawing her gun when she couldn't find it.

"Go on," smiled Mulroney, holding out his arms. "Shoot me. Blow my heart out."

She hesitated, the look of madness starting to leave her eyes. Not enough, however. "What did you do with the axe?"

"It's safe. I wish it wasn't, but it's safe."

She shot him in the lung -- the wrong side of the chest to hit the heart, even though it was high enough. Mulroney dropped to his knees, clutching his chest in pain, holding his hands over the wound as blood and air tried to squirt out of the hole. He was only partly successful.

It was the blood that did it. That, and the groaning gasps that came from Mulroney. Then he stood up -- the wound still there and the blood oozing out -- but with an intensity in his eyes that Tracy hadn't even seen in Vachon.

"Tracy? Are you coming to yourself now?" His voice was soft and calm as a lover's voice, his eyes penetrating into hers. "Do you still feel the red rage?"

Tracy lowered the gun. She had a memory of what had happened for the last few hours, but it was now like a drunk-memory: memories of meaningless activities. "I suppose so. Did you expect this?"

"It's a matter of time. I've seen the work of the Aesir weapons before, and the axe is the worst. I've seen how immortals who pick up the weapons can be affected by it, and how they seem to come to themselves when they lose the weapon -- if they lose it in time. I don't know what would have happened to you if you had killed me and kept the axe."

"You said... immortals."

Mulroney sighed, "You're quite a mystery, Detective. I'd swear by my dead grandmother -- if I hadn't have killed her with my own hands -- that you're quite a normal human woman without tendencies for immortality or the Gift, but here you are, being affected by something you shouldn't be." His voice was stronger now, and while the wound wasn't closed, it had at least stopped bleeding. "We need to talk. Preferably, I'd like to do it at a bar over a shot of whiskey. You have no idea what it does for the pain."

Tracy winced, "Sorry."

Mulroney smiled winningly, "Don't take it so bad -- I was doing my best to get you to shoot me while you did. Anything would have been preferable to the axe."

She hesitated, "All right, but we won't be going to a bar."

"Not the police station."

"Of course not," she smiled. "I know just the place -- out of the way and safe, but not your ground."

"Where?"

"A friend of mine has a place. His name is Vachon."

Mulroney's eyes lit up. "Vachon? He wouldn't be a long- haired blood-drinker, would he?"

Tracy's eyes widened. "You know about them?"

Mulroney laughed cynically, "My lady, I've been alive for so long that many of the things I have seen and learned would surprise you. I met Vachon on the field of battle -- on this side of the ocean. He wasn't doing me any favors, but in retrospect, I owe him one *hell* of a bloody favor."

She tilted her head, her eyes wary, "What did he do?"

"That, my lady, is between him and myself, and I would greatly appreciate it if you would leave it at that. In the meantime, I believe a bottle of whiskey has my name on it."

They left in Tracy's car, which conveniently had a body bag draped over the passenger's seat, with several stains of blood on it.

"That's Vachon's usual seat," explained a smiling Tracy. "You have no idea how many times I've had to cart him off when he's been shot full of holes."

Mulroney sniggered to himself, "I can imagine all right..."

* * * *


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