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

Chapter 11

Amanda looked at the Museum from across the street. Through the last century, she had broken into this place off and on, and it amazed her how different it looked depending on if it was day or night.

It was an hour from dusk, and Lenny stood with her. It could have been a lazy afternoon, a woman taking her grandfather out for a walk -- that's certainly the way it appeared. They'd even hung cameras around their necks. What nobody could have known was that they were assessing the security of the grounds around the museum.

Amanda smiled. What made her a professional was the fact that she looked at all the angles, on the outside as well as the inside. Any thief could pick a lock, but it took a master to know every possible route of entrance and exit, and gather enough by observation to know what *could* happen, as well as what would happen. It was a lot like being a master card player, except that it was a lot more fun.

...Or so she thought, at least.

Lenny, for all of his claims of being a humble monk, proved to be as adept at observation as Amanda. The only difference was that he had a different style. Where she would look for the motion sensors, guard cameras, and so on, Lenny would look for any differences in moisture along the concrete, accumulation of mud or dust, and the more subtle cues that would suggest the best possible route of entrance and exit.

"It's very simple," Lenny explained eventually. "You want to make your entrance and exit using the most traveled route. That way, if they find your prints or tracks, how can they distinguish them from all the thousands of others who moved through that day? And the concrete here? You want to know which ones have the higher amount of moisture locked in them from the last rain. The drier concrete will leave your tracks -- but you want to make sure that you don't run from wet to dry, or dry to wet."

Amanda shook her head, "I can't believe it. Who would bother to comb the concrete outside, unless there was a blood trail?"

"We all leave our own cues. I loved the 'Sherlock Holmes' that a writer of your country created. *He* would have looked on the concrete, as well as every other possible avenue. Did you know that if nobody walks over a patch of concrete, and then one person walks on it, it is possible to find every single footstep?"

Amanda laughed, "Seeing is believing."

Lenny shrugged. "I wonder if the guards will learn their lessons?" His eyes narrowed. "Do you want to see the Seed?" Without waiting for her answer, he walked towards the Museum.

For a moment, her face was tense with aggravation. She followed him once she regained control. It didn't occur to her that this was the precise same thing she had done to Duncan on more than one occasion.

The Museum was as jammed as one would expect for such a nice day. Everybody was relaxing, so they felt no particular need to focus on one thing or the other, which made Amanda and Lenny less conspicuous. Nobody would notice any individual who was looking intently at only one object, because that's what they were all doing.

Lenny knew exactly where he was going. He led Amanda, almost as if he were an eager child racing for the candy store, through the thick crowds, over to a near-forgotten alcove. Gesturing grandly and bowing, he revealed the Seed.

Amanda whistled softly. All this time, and she'd never seen it, and she'd swear on her life that nobody else had either. It was an obsidian orb the size of her head, and so perfectly smooth that it could have been used as a security mirror. She could certainly see herself.

Leaning closer to the glass, she gazed deeper into it and --

"Stop!" commanded Lenny in a harsh whisper, pulling her back. "That is the one thing that you will *not* do! It will take control of you as it has so many others."

"It's just an orb!" she complained. "Do you know how much I could get for that?"

"You have heard nothing of what I have told to you!" Lenny was furious, whispering in a raspy voice. "This orb is *evil*! It *must* be destroyed! If you steal this so that you may sell it, you will unleash the most horrible evil on the world. No. It must be destroyed tonight."

Amanda felt very reluctant, but agreed, "OK." But he didn't see her crossed fingers. It was too valuable to destroy.

* * *

At this very moment, Nick and Nat were in downtown Toronto, eating two very large and very messy ice cream cones.

"I can't believe you!" Nat was laughing. "If I didn't know any better, I'd say I was watching a child eat!"

"Look who's talking!" he protested, pointing at the smudges of chocolate on her own mouth.

Nat peeked at her reflection on a nearby window, dabbed off the smudge, and smiled innocently, "I don't know what you're talking about."

"And I don't care!" snapped the young voice of someone behind them.

Both turned, and found a young punk with a knife pulled out. "Give me your money!" he snarled, looking at Nat like he wanted to do a lot worse to her than kill her.

Reflexes are a very odd thing, because they do the strangest things at times. Even though Nick had been a vampire for many centuries, the reflexes that showed were very human ones: he froze.

For all this time that he wanted to be human, he had never asked the one simple question: 'what happens when I *am* human again?'

He found out the hard way. He was the first to get stabbed with the knife. Whether he was lucky or not is up to debate, but he got stabbed in the stomach. The wound was so severe that when the knife pulled out, he could smell the distinct odor of punctured innards.

Nick was on his knees, vomiting from the pain and shock. He had no way of hearing Nat's screams as the punk moved towards her. When he looked up, it was more of a reflexive thing, and it was then that the situation registered.

Nat was going to die.

He didn't even think: I am stabbed, and will die.

Without even blinking, he pulled out his gun, hidden under his coat. Five shots ripped through the punk's body, spraying blood against the brick wall. One of those shots deflected on a rib and hit Nat in the shoulder, knocking her to the ground.

He fell to the ground, clutching his own wound, feeling a burning sensation as his stomach acids began to react with his hand.

"Somebody get help!" he heard the faint scream reach his brain.

"Fade to black," he heard a sardonic whisper within his own brain. It wasn't his own voice, that was for certain.

Two ice cream cones lay splattered on the sidewalk, melting unnoticed by everyone around.

* * *

Mulder and Skinner had ridden in the limo for the last few minutes, entering the industrial part of town. The buildings looked grimier and grimier, as did the people.

"What happened to you?" asked Mulder.

"I'm not sure what you mean."

"You've changed. Something's eating at you, and I'd sure like to know what it is."

Skinner might have been good at hiding his own thoughts, but he wasn't at this moment. He was frowning, and his hand trembled. "That's not important. What you're about to see is."

"What am I about to see?"

"An answer. Not the truth you're searching for, but a useful answer to a whole lot of this mess."

They rode in silence until they reached this rusty old warehouse. It looked on the outside like it was falling apart at the seams.

"A rusty warehouse," muttered Mulder. "What next?"

"A dwarf."

"Watch your language -- this is the '90s!"

Skinner glared at him, "I forgot. Now come on!"

The inside, as it turned out, was totally different from the outside. It was a very neat and lively engineering laboratory... and every single person running it was under four feet tall. It turned out that Skinner hadn't been joking.

This engineering lab was of the 'clean' variety, meaning that there wasn't any wielding, grinding, or drilling going on. Most of the work probably had something to do with optics and/or electronics.

There were about thirty dwarves huddled around a computer, all wearing white coats. It was impossible to see what was on the screen, but whatever it was had everyone riveted. A moment later, there was a loud cheer, accompanied with yells of, "It worked!" and "Woohoo! Woohoo!"

One of them turned around and saw that they had two visitors. He was the tallest among them, and had the build of a blacksmith. His hair was quite curled and gray, and a thick beard reached his belt. He nodded in recognition and came forward, "I've been expecting you. If you would please follow me to the conference room, we may speak in a better atmosphere." His voice had a very strong Scandinavian accent that had not faded with the time it must have taken to develop his excellent proficiency of English.

Skinner nodded, gesturing ahead, and the two followed this dwarf to the conference room. It was a simple yet elegant room complete with padded chairs, an oak table, and a whiteboard.

The dwarf sat down at the head of the table, gesturing for the two to do the same. "You are probably curious about who I am. My name is Stein Ulson of Donerstor. You are curious also about how I knew you were coming. That is easily answered: I have eyes and ears. I know *what* you are, but not who you are, however." He looked pointedly at Mulder.

"I'm Special Agent Fox Mulder of the FBI."

Stein nodded, "I'm not surprised." He looked at Skinner, "But I *do* know you, or rather, what you are embodying. I can also see burning questions in your eyes. But if you are to receive answers, so must I."

Skinner nodded.

"How did you know about us?"

"Alan Powys hinted that you might exist. I used my own resources after that."

"Alan Powys... I don't know him. Describe him."

Mulder smiled, "That's easy enough. He's Welsh, has an annoying habit of being at the right place at the right time, and never answers a straight question with a straight answer!"

"Tell me this," said Stein. "Does this man gamble?"

Mulder nodded.

"We knew him as a different man. You have given us a great gift, and I must offer a gift in return: I will answer *one* question you ask without refusal. I cannot guarantee that I will answer any further questions, but I honestly guarantee that I will answer this one."

Skinner nodded. "Tell us about yourselves."

Stein leaned back. "What do you want to know, in particular?"

"What is your connection with this?" He handed over the hammer, his eyes tightening when he did so.

The hammer was examined with a shallow glance. "Thor's Hammer. The work of long dead craftsmen. Any children's mythology book could tell you how these were created."

"But not the whole story."

Stein sighed, "Very well. I will tell you the whole story..."

* * * *

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