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

Chapter 13

While Mulder had gone chasing after that monk, Scully was nearly incapacitated with pain from something that was totally beyond a headache.

You'd expect that anyone suffering from any obvious ailment -- a heart attack, a diabetic episode, extreme alcohol poisoning, and so on -- would get some attention from someone who would ask, "Is everything all right?"

That's what you'd expect, but that's not what you get. What you get is about 90% apathy and 10% curiosity. It's the curious fraction that just observes you suffering or dying, saying, "Hmm... Looks like a heart attack. What do you think, Jim?"

Scully was in such pain, however, that none of those things ran through her mind. All she knew was that she was going to die... or at least that she wanted to.

"Here," said a voice cutting directly through her pain. "Swallow this."

She didn't even remember swallowing the pills, but she did remember the bitter coffee with which she gulped them down. It was the bitter taste that helped cut a path through the pain.

A few minutes must have passed, but when they did, she could see Mr. X sitting down across from her, his face filled with genuine concern. "How are you feeling?"

Scully didn't know what to say or think. Every time she met him, she saw an amoral bastard, and not a human being. She wondered how genuine his concern was. "I'm feeling better, thank you."

Mr. X's concern changed to nervousness. "We need to get out of here right now. Come on. I've paid your bill."

"What about Mulder?"

"Don't worry about him. He's being taken care of. Come on."

Scully was both confused and concerned, but she didn't argue. She knew enough to at least give him a chance to prove himself. If he said that Mulder was being taken care of... there were two sides to that statement, but at least she could trust that he was being attended to.

They left out the front door, making a sharp left turn. In the distance, she could hear some faint yelling, but Mr. X deliberately ignored it. "Come on. That isn't our concern."

"If I may ask, what *is* our concern?"

"The Hunt." The way he said it sounded strange, as if Scully could almost hear the capital 'h' in the word.

"What are we hunting?"

"'What' is the right word, and you have no idea how right it is." Though they had kept up a pretty fast pace, he wasn't winded. "We're going after the people who... how should we say, took you on an extensive 'experimental' medical trip? The people who are responsible are here, and we're going to pay them a visit."

"You didn't answer my question."

"Yes. I didn't." He didn't answer any more questions.

After another block, they met a limo that pulled straight out of traffic. The door opened, and Mr. X ushered her in. "Come on. Come on! We don't have all day!"

* * *

Amanda and Lenny returned to the boat. For some reason, Amanda looked very annoyed, but she wouldn't talk about it. Duncan and Connor were busy snoozing on the sofa -- but not with each other.

Lenny smiled wickedly, shaking Duncan gently by the shoulder. "Wake up."

Duncan snapped awake, his hand reaching for his sword, but Lenny stopped his hand before he had a chance to draw it.

"Time for a workout."

"What?" He was now waking up enough to get his bearings, but he wasn't awake enough.

"You have too much time on your hands if you're snoozing. Come on up."

Duncan sensed that there was something more to this than met the eye. "All right," he grumbled.

As Duncan left with Lenny out the door, Amanda grimaced even more, but she didn't say anything. "Damn priest needs a touch of temptation!" She smiled at that thought, but remembered what he looked like and scratched that notion. There were some things that even she wouldn't do.

* * *

On the deck, Lenny and Duncan were squared off. Duncan was uncertain and tense, even though he could have easily smashed the old man into bits and pieces; Lenny was totally relaxed, unarmed, and held his arms out wide.

"I am the enemy," Lenny spoke loudly. "Kill me."

Duncan hesitated, "What game are you playing, old man?"

"Just do it." Lenny was still light-hearted, but his voice gained a touch of steel. "Are you afraid of an unarmed old man?"

Shrugging, Duncan drew his sword and went for the old man... and wound up flat on his back.

"You have the reflexes of a drunkard, and the oomph of a sloth!"

Duncan got back up, grinning a little evilly. "All right, old man, you want it -- you got it!" He attacked with full force, and found that he was only attacking the air. Though he aimed right, he found that his vicious attacks would swing through empty air at the last moment. Always the last moment. Again and again he attacked, and each time he missed. Barely.

"Is that the best you can do?" taunted the old man.

That was when Duncan snapped. He yelled in a deep bass, throwing away all of his restraints. It wasn't play anymore, or even serious practice. Deep down, he knew it was wrong, but his heart took control, and his heart wanted blood. Lots of blood.

Duncan charged forward in an aggressive series of swinging chops to the head, thrusts to the heart, and the occasional kick to the abdomen. None of them hit their target, but Lenny seemed to be very pleased at this development.

It ended when Lenny calmly slammed his palm into Duncan's chest, throwing him down to the wooden deck. The thump must have sounded through the whole boat. "*That* was what I was looking for!"

Duncan was shaking his head, trying to get up, "What are you talking about?"

"Richard Sharpe. I've found him." Lenny helped to pull him up. "He's been there all along. You just have to listen to him."

"You're crazy!"

"Am I? How would you explain the fact that you've fought in the styles of fighters whom you've never encountered, screaming at me in Sanskrit and an extinct dialect of Japanese?"

"I did?" Duncan now looked confused. "I don't remember that!"

Lenny squatted into a full lotus. "That's because he's integrated into your being. Whenever there is a Quickening, that is what happens." He seemed to be at a loss for words for a few brief moments. "When anyone dies, the *I* is lost. You could say that Richard Sharpe is dead, just as you could say that the cow meat you ate last night is dead." He made a face at that. "But just as you took his life- force, you also took something that is distinctly 'Sharpe'."

Lenny's expression grew grave, "Do not breathe a word of this to anyone, but this is why I truly came. Your bout of insanity has unlocked something that may be of great potential for either health or illness -- forget about good or evil for the world. You believe that you have 'kicked this thing', but even today, I could see the Quickening taking you over.

"All it takes is one stress or another, and it will come through. At the moment, all you show are some clever moves and knowledge of languages you never encountered. Next will come the memories, and finally, the personalities will come through.

"I can help you to control this. But whether you accept my help or not, you *must* control it."

Duncan looked very skeptical, "Who are you to know all this? You're not an immortal." He amended himself, "Or at least, you're not one of our kind. What makes you think you can really help me, provided I need help? How do I know you're right, even if you *are* telling the truth?"

"Hey, is everything all right?" asked Connor from the cabin door. His eyes were full of innocence as he brought out his own matching katana. "My turn to play."

Lenny bowed, his eyes never leaving Connor. "I would be honored."

Duncan smiled as Connor failed miserably to maintain his dignity as he was led into making himself look like a clown. Seeing it happen was different from experiencing it himself. The old man wasn't just good: he was perfect. His moves were smooth, and had an air of foreknowledge about them, as if Lenny knew what would happen ahead of time.

//I wonder who this monk really is... For a peaceful man, he could probably give Grayson or Kalas a challenge...//

* * *

Bill was grumbling to himself, rubbing his hands together. //Goddamn cold! And to think I thought I'd seen the last of it! Damn Watchers -- I'm tempted to quit and start watching vampires! At least they know where to live!//

The bearded and gruff bartender tapped the table in front of him, "Hey, boy! What do you want to drink?"

"Something to warm me up."

The bartender whispered harshly, "If you want a mind-reader, go back south where you belong. If you want a drink, tell me what you want."

"Sorry," muttered Bill. //Jerk! I'll have your head nailed to the wall if you don't watch that attitude!// "I'll have a beer."

What he got was some unnamed local brand that as might as well have been reclaimed sewage by the way it looked. Drinking it wasn't as bad of an experience as he might have thought. A step below Bud, but drinkable.

It was then that he noticed something. Both of the bartender's inner forearms had burn-scars in the shape of a dragon and tiger. This wasn't some ordinary bartender. When he looked at the bartender's face, he suddenly realized that it didn't look right. It was a fake -- a good job, but still makeup.

Bill whispered softly over the noise in the bar, "What's the word?"

The bartender smiled, "The *word* is that I'll bash your head in if you don't mind your own business."

Bill showed his tattoo. "This *is* my business."

The bartender snorted, "Not now, it isn't. Go back south, boy."

Bill stood up, smiling, "Thank you." He slammed the rest of the beer, making a face. Then he left a generous tip, leaving without making any peripheral scans of the room.

Two of the bar fixtures looked at one another, nodding. Caine didn't like the look of this.

Outside, the two grimy men approached Bill, who was leaning against the outside wall, smoking a cigarette. His eyes had that 'deep thought' look about them, so he didn't notice the presence of his visitors.

"I hear you had some questions," one of them said, tapping him on the shoulder.

Bill didn't jump. "You heard right." He didn't pay the men any attention.

The other one grabbed him by the lapel, holding his fist up threateningly, "We don't take well to people asking too many questions."

Bill smiled. "I wasn't asking you."

"Smart alec college boy!" snarled the man, punching him solidly in the face.

Bill's head snapped back, but the rest of his body remained still. His head returned to place slowly. Blood flowed freely out of his mouth. But his expression said that while he felt it, he didn't care. His eyes weren't too lively.

A second blow to the gut didn't produce any more effect.

Bill just shook his head, saying and doing nothing.

A third blow to the gut made him flinch a bit, but again, no reaction.

The two fixtures were pretty baffled. They were the types who worked for a living, and so they expected any paper- pusher (this is what he obviously was) to be on the ground by now.

"Go back to your beers," suggested Bill. "They must be stale by now."

"Leave him alone," said the stern voice of the bartender from behind them.

Bill shrugged as they returned inside with baffled and guilty looks on their faces, wiping off the blood with a tissue from his pocket.

"You're playing a dangerous game, boy," said the bartender flatly.

"I've been playing dangerous games all my life. Live with it and stop trying to treat me like a child. I know you have something to tell me, and I can spot genuine pity and concern a mile away. Don't waste it on me."

The bartender smiled wearily, "Don't ignore the advice of your elders..."

* * *

While these two were having their exchange, Coleen stood back up after tightening the laces on her boots. She was on the other side of the street, knew that there was a violent exchange at the front door of the bar, but didn't pay attention to it. But when she heard Bill's voice, she snapped to attention, her eyes staring at him in disbelief. He looked like death warmed over, but it was still Bill.

//What the hell is that bastard doing here?!// Then she remembered that he was a Watcher. //Please don't let it be true! Please don't tell me he got assigned to *me*!//

Richie moved up from behind her, "What's up? You look like you just saw a ghost."

"Not yet. Wait." Coleen moved purposefully across the dirt street.

* * * *

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