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

Chapter 18

Scully felt a shiver move up and down her spine. It was a shiver of fear and impending doom, and a sensation that she was beginning to trust more and more. She had yet to find a scientific explanation for it, but she had more pressing issues on her mind.

"Are you ready?" asked Mr. X.

She nodded. Then she stopped cold, "After all this time, I can't believe I've never asked your name."

He smiled openly, "No. You haven't."

"Well, who are you? I can't just keep on calling you 'Mr. X', can I?"

"Why, yes you can." He walked on towards the house, while she made one of those 'I'm going to kill him!' faces behind his back.

She caught up with him.

They hesitated as they stood a few feet from the door. Most of the lights were out in the old house except for one in the attic. There were no lights on the outside grounds, and none on the patio. It was too quiet -- so quiet that the silence seemed to take on a form of its own.

Mr. X misinterpreted her hesitation. "Remember your sister."

Scully ground her teeth, but kept her mouth shut. It wouldn't do to get into an argument now.

The front door was like any other German door -- solid, real wood, with a handle of brass. Scully put on a surgical glove and tried the handle. It was locked. She looked at Mr. X, who looked at her with annoyance.

"Move aside," he whispered. When she did, he pulled out a high-tech sensor that could have been in a sci-fi movie. He scanned the doorway and nearby windows. "No alarms," he finally said. The next instrument that he pulled out was a small flathead screwdriver. "One thing I've found is that the best way to break in a place is to keep it simple."

After a few minutes of pulling out screws, the doorknob was dismantled. After that, it was a simple matter of opening the door. The inside was as quiet as the outside. There were no sounds, no signs of movement, or even light.

A faint penlight revealed a near-empty floor. There were no signs of habitation -- just a lot of dust on a plastic-covered floor. On instinct, Scully looked for signs of murder on the plastic sheeting, but there were none. Ever since she'd covered a case where an executive had murdered his unsuspecting victims on a sheet of plastic, she hadn't seen plastic sheets in the same light again.

Mr. X motioned to the stairs, and Scully nodded. Pulling out their guns, they made their way upstairs. The second floor was as deserted as the first. Each room was the same -- empty.

Scully looked at Mr. X with something bordering on annoyance. //If this turns out to be a wild goose chase!...//

They made it to the attic stairs, which were well hidden within a closet. The stairs were half-rotten with age and water damage.

Scully looked uncertainly at Mr. X, but he shrugged, whispering, "Not much choice." He took the first step, slowly putting his weight on it. It creaked a little, but didn't make too much noise... or snap. They climbed the stairs in that manner -- slowly, one step at a time.

At the top of the stairs, they could see a faint light coming from down a hallway. Scully turned off her penlight. The light came from underneath a closed door. The two looked at one another, nodded, and silently counted to three. Scully opened the door quickly.

What they saw made both of them cover their mouths in shock. It was Halscombe, naked and chained to a bed. He was gagged and blindfolded, and the expression on his face was not one of pleasure. There were many bruises on his body, along with healed and fresh cut wounds. They could hear the muffled sounds of his screaming. They were the screams of either a maniac or someone feeling excruciating pain.

Scully looked down a little lower and almost turned red. There *was* something causing him excruciating pain, and it wasn't the type of instrument you could describe in public, let alone polite company. Mr. X shook his head in sympathy.

At the far side of the room, there was a tall leather chair with the back turned towards them. The only thing visible was the fragment of a head and a few strands of long dark hair.

"You're going to fix that knob before you leave, you know," said the person seated.

Though she couldn't see the woman's face, Scully knew who she was. Mulder's sister. Samantha. Or someone Mulder believed to be Samantha. The chair turned, and what they saw surprised them as much as seeing Halscombe. Samantha was dressed in leather and chains, and held a coiled whip in her hand. The smile on her face was quite demented and sinister.

"I knew you were here the whole time. All you had to do was knock, and I would have let you in." For the moment, they were both speechless. "You're just in time for the show." She snapped the whip in the air, cracking it loud enough to make Halscombe jump.

* * *

Mulder and Skinner walked slowly through the conference room. Steinn had had to attend to some sudden matters -- something about a 'quantum popcorn-maker doing a Guy,' if Mulder heard correctly. Whatever it was, it was enough to make Steinn take off at a full sprint.

"So, where are we now?" asked Mulder, taking on a sterner tone than he'd thought he had. "Sure, now we know about a society of dwarves, but what good will that do?"

Skinner slammed his palm on the table. "Damn! I thought I had it!"

Mulder looked at his boss once more. The man seemed to have changed ever since taking up that hammer when they'd been at the Landing, but even more so in the last few weeks. The changes weren't trivial -- they were dramatic. It almost seemed as if Mulder was looking at a stranger. But whatever the change, it wasn't happening the same way as Krycek's. And if Krycek's theory was to be believed, it still wouldn't match Skinner's syndrome because Skinner wasn't immortal.

...Or was he?

Mulder seemed to remember a story about how Skinner'd survived a rather nasty gunfight back in Vietnam. Skinner had mentioned that he had thought he had died, and could remember looking down on his body from above. Mulder had filed those facts away in his mind, but hadn't paid much attention to them, until now.

"Sir, there's something you ought to know... I met with Krycek this morning, and he had a rather unique theory about the weapons."

Skinner's head snapped towards Mulder, his eyes full of hope. "What did he say?"

Mulder blew out his breath, sitting down once more. "It's like this. First off, you have to be immortal..."

Skinner looked skeptical from the start, but he listened calmly.

So did Steinn, who had returned from his emergency. In one arm, he held a kitten, and in the other a bag of popcorn. The kitten snuggled into his arm, purring.

* * *

In a far colder place, a grimy, bearded, one-eyed man pulled himself from the snow. He didn't know how long he had been there, comatose, but for some reason, it didn't matter.

He felt a long nose nudge its way under his armpit. It was one of the wolves, wagging his tail and whimpering. A few feet away was a bone.

"All right..." he muttered, getting up. "If that's what'll make you happy." He threw the stick, and the wolf took off after it. The other wolf appeared in a spray of snow, having either been sleeping or hiding under it.

"At least you're both too busy to bug me." He looked back to the south, and saw that the storm had cleared. "Damn it!" He still felt that presence, the very same presence that had given him true fear.

"Still after me, are you? We'll have to do something about that..."

He took a look at the ruins, which stood as they had for centuries. For only a moment, he saw them as others did. Then his eyes refocussed, and he saw the ruins as they were. In his mind, winter turned to summer, and Yggdrasil appeared.

Was this insane dream or sane reality? There was no way to tell, but Odin didn't care.

"It's not whether it's reality or dream that's important, but rather the experience that counts." He remembered reading that somewhere, and it helped a great deal. "It doesn't matter at all."

He often wondered what others saw -- others without his unique perspective. To Odin, it was the most beautiful living road that was ever created. He stepped on it and began to skip along the road, laughing merrily. Then he reached his destination.

He could see her. She hadn't been to the Landing before, but he recognized her as the one who had tried to rattle his nerves only a few hours earlier. She walked down the road -- how she got there was beyond him -- but she was groping blindly.

"Humph!" He snorted, shaking his head sadly. "Didn't your mom ever teach you to leave well enough alone?" His eyes took on an evil glint. "This is going to be *fun*."

* * *

Coleen was sleeping soundly, sleeping off all the whiskey from her last stay at the bar. It was all Richie could do to keep from shaking his head.

"How does it happen?" wondered Richie aloud. "I mean, she must be my age at least, and she's so bitter! What do you think caused it?"

Methos smiled, "I think bitterness is an inherited trait, and not acquired. I think you've also lived a sheltered life. Up until the 1940s, most folks lived a pretty hard life. Children barely able to stand up had much worse attitudes than Coleen has. But that's not what concerns you, isn't it?"

Richie nodded reluctantly, "I just can't help but wonder what it was that Caine told her. It freaked her out in a way. And what's that?" Curious, he picked up an odd object from out of her hand. He didn't think of it as stealing or prying, because she hadn't taken any pains to hide it.

A moment later, Richie's attention was on Methos, and so he didn't see her violent twitching, and the grasping motions her left hand made.

Methos looked at the object, whistling softly. "It's a vajra. It's pretty common in the Orient -- so common that there's a word for it in every language."

"What is it?"

"A religious symbol, mostly. It symbolizes either the eagle or the thunderbolt -- I was never sure which. Most of the folks I met didn't want to talk about it."

"I wonder why?"

"That's easy enough -- I was a barbarian. Barbarians never appreciate other civilizations." Methos spoke with a certain amount of bitterness.

Richie moved to put the vajra back in Coleen's hand. "What the hell?!"

"What's wrong?" asked Methos, frustrated that he couldn't turn around enough to see the problem himself.

"It's Coleen! She's having convulsions!"

* * * *

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