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

Chapter 19

Connor and Duncan were walking silently around the Museum, keeping their eyes open. There were people about in the distance, doing their own business, so it was very hard to keep guard without being noticed. They did their best to appear like two guys killing time, and apparently it was working. Nobody seemed to notice that they were even there.

"I was thinking..." said Duncan in the Highland tongue. After all these years, he still spoke it. He even thought in it a great deal.

"That's news," smiled Connor.

Duncan hit him in the shoulder. "That's getting old!" He sighed, "Have you ever thought about Lenny? I mean, if he's even making any sense?"

That stopped Connor. "I apologize for ever calling you crazy. You're insane."

"Why?" Duncan faced Connor, anger in his eyes. "He *could* be telling the truth because he *believes* it, but is he *right*? Think about what he's told us: Odin brings some orb over here, and everything starts breaking loose. Doesn't it sound too convenient?"

"Does it? We're both old enough to see patterns. When we were born, everything had been done the same way for as long as we could remember. You remember! If anyone came up with a new idea, it would be squashed down because folks preferred to do things the old-fashioned way. Then three centuries pass and the world turns upside down! Can you come up with a better explanation as to why all this is happening?"

"Sure. Natural accumulation of knowledge and plain luck." He was about to expand on his statement, but stopped. They both felt it. It was an immortal.

"What's Amanda doing back so soon?" asked Connor.

"It's not Amanda." Duncan was sure of it. He just didn't know how he knew.

"It's quite a fine evening to be walking about, isn't it?" The voice had a slow and easy-going quality to it. It sounded like an Irishwoman who had lost most of her accent, but had enough of it left to identify her. She stepped out of the shadows.

For once, it was someone that neither one of them recognized.

She dressed in gray baggy clothes, tied down at the wrists, belt, and ankles with thick leather cords that could almost act as a layer of armor. Her boots were of the soft variety -- an old design with the modern addition of rubber soles. She wore a wool half-cloak over her left side, leaving her right side uncovered.

Her face was naturally beautiful, with eyes the color of grass and flowing hair the color of fire, but it also showed the refinement that comes with living life. This refinement took the form of a cynical frown, a sharp scar going down the right side of her face from scalp to jaw, and clenched jaws.

Duncan could see Connor's eyes widen as she emerged, and he fought the urge to elbow him.

Her eyes were wary at the moment, "What would you two be doing at this time of night in a place like this?"

"We could ask the same of you," smiled Connor, entering his 'flirting' mode. His whole body language seemed to change. The only thing that changed about Duncan was his rising irritation.

"I live here. I don't recall seeing you two here before."

"We travel around a lot."

"Then travel on."

"But we like it here," he smiled, holding out his arms.

"I don't care. Move it or lose it." She threw back the half-cloak, revealing a Gaulish leaf-blade.

Connor puffed up his chest subconsciously. "Are you threatening us? [Ooopth!]" He was down on his knees, holding his guts in. Looking up, he managed to smile -- just barely, "You're stronger than you look."

The woman looked like she was going to knee him again, but Duncan stepped in. "Back off." Snarling, she punched him in the throat and kicked his legs out from under him. He landed with a loud thump next to Connor.

Connor was just starting to recover. "If that's what you want, then be my guest." He drew out his own sword. It glistened in the faint light, almost like shimmering water.

"What I want is for you to leave. Why is that so difficult?" They both looked at her warily, saying nothing. She nodded bitterly, "I knew it."

Her kick was so fast that Connor didn't expect it. It snapped him back, where he slammed his head on the ground. He didn't move.

She looked at Duncan, "If you leave now, you will live."

He noted that she still hadn't drawn her sword. "I can't leave." //Don't provoke her -- you're doing it enough already. Try to keep it going. Telescope it. Throw away your expectations.// The voice, he noticed, didn't sound like his own. He didn't know who it was, or even if it was speaking English.

"Then you will die." It was a cold statement without any sign of humanity. A few moments, however, and she still hadn't acted on that warning.

"Who are you?" It was a question that he realized was important, but not one he would have asked.

"I am Mev."

"I don't want to fight you, Mev. What do you have against us?"

"I am the Custodian. You are trespassers."

Duncan found himself laughing cynically. The voice that came through his mouth was definitely not his own. It had a faint Irish accent woven in with a British soldier's accent. "There are several successful break-ins a year, and I would be surprised if all of them are due to mortals. If you were a guardian, there would be *no* break-ins at all. I think you're lying."

Her head tilted, her eyes confused, "And I think you're not telling me the whole story."

//Good. Telescope it! Keep *her* asking the questions!//

"What is it that we haven't told you?"

"If I knew that, I wouldn't be asking you."

And so the verbal game of hot potato continued.

* * *

Inside the Museum, Amanda and Lenny were walking on bare feet, their pant legs tied up to keep them from flapping. The barefoot idea was Lenny's. "I used to be quite a house-breaker back in India. The secret of my success was my bare feet."

Amanda shrugged. The guy could be pretty annoying, and he was being excessively annoying at the moment. "If you tell me another story, I'll scream!"

"Ssshhh!!" He put up a finger to his lips, ignoring her look of rage. "They'll hear you!"

The museum took on a totally different mood at night, when everyone was gone. It almost felt like they were walking through a tomb, untouched for many centuries. Even the mundane items seemed like priceless treasures.

As they walked through many of the exhibits, Amanda couldn't help but identify them. Being naturally materialistic, the pricey items screamed out to be taken, but even the mundane items screamed out to her. They screamed, "We can provide the security you lack! We can take you back to a simpler time, when you understood your place in life!"

Amanda stopped. The objects weren't speaking in any symbolic sense. They were speaking directly to her. She could hear actual words.

A Prussian bedpan spoke to her, "Stop this madness! Why are you following this madman to destroy the Seed? Take me and forget the Seed! I can provide you years of security!"

That confused her, "You? A bedpan? How can you provide me years of security?"

"Don't knock it 'til you try it! I can fetch a few thousand dollars on the Black Market!"

She sneered at it, "You've *got* to be kidding!"

Lenny looked at her with concern. "We're here to do a job. You can talk with inanimate objects later."

"Didn't you hear it?" she demanded. "That bedpan just talked to me!"

He shook his head once more. "The Seed is alive now, and it knows our intentions. Fight these mad illusions, or we'll never reach it."

Shaking her head, Amanda followed Lenny. //He's right! Bedpans can't talk!// She nodded, sure her sanity was back in full force.

Then she heard it call out in anger, "You don't know what you're turning your back on! At least *I* won't leave you the next morning -- I'll *always* be there for you!"

//Bedpans! What next?// "This can't be happening!"

"Neither can immortality," muttered Lenny. "But here we are. Immortal. Would you say that space travel is impossible because we can't flap our wings and fly? Where there's a will, there's a way."

They turned round a corner, and walked through the Renaissance exhibits. Figures of Italians wearing bell- pants calculated sales while a masked clown danced madly in a room full of plague victims.

This hall frightened Amanda. Only one more hall to go, and they'd be home free, but they had to get through this one first.

"Hey, Amanda!" called the clown, whistling. "Don't go -- we have a Masque planned just for you!"

She clawed at her skull, closing her eyes as the sounds of lutes, recorders, and drums assaulted her senses. She could smell roasting pigs, the fires, and the perfumes. When she opened her eyes, she was no longer in the museum. It was a very large room designed for parties, the same kind of room and party that she had been in on many an occasion through the years.

Everything was so authentic that there could be no doubts as to its reality. A few more moments, and she forgot about the Seed.

"Welcome, guest! Welcome!" cried the clown, grabbing her by the shoulders and running around the room with her in some grotesque dance. "We have such delights prepared for you!"

"Stop!" she threw his hands off her. "What is this place? What's going on?" She had enough memory to know that something strange was happening. She looked down and found that she was wearing an elaborate dress in all the colors of the rainbow. It seemed to strike her as impossible, though she no longer knew why.

"Why, it's the Masque! What other explanation do you need?" He danced around the room once more, spinning wildly and leaping around in the most impossible contortions. He stopped, posing like a ballerina, "Here, pleasure and pain abound! We'll show you such sensations that you'll never need to leave these walls!"

Amanda began to smile dreamily, "Yes. Show me." She completely crossed over into whatever this was, dream or reality.

She began to dance with the clown. She never noticed that the whole time, his face was painted in a mask of unspeakable horror.

They spun around and around, and when they stopped, she stood alone on a single pillar. Attached to it was a very fine piano wire, stretched to another pillar. Above her, a sword dangled from a single thread. Below her was blackness fading into blackness, with no end in sight. In fact, all directions faded into blackness.

"What's happening?!" she screamed into the nothingness.

The clowns voice echoed, booming like a deity's voice, "Walk the tightrope..."

"It's razor wire!" she screamed.

"Picky, picky... The Tyrant of Syracuse didn't have a way out when he had to sit underneath that sword, and here you are, with a way out! What do you want from me?"

The sword dropped. Screaming, Amanda walked barefoot onto the wire. It cut through her feet, and she fell into the blackness, screaming.



"Huh?" She opened her eyes. She was back in the museum.

Lenny was slapping her in the face. "Snap out of it. One more hall."

She shook the daze out of her head, grabbing his wrist before he could slap her again. "When we get out of this, I'm going to kill you!"

"Wonderful!" howled the clown, grabbing her away from Lenny, taking her back into the Masque. "But we do that *after* dinner!"

Disoriented, she sank to her knees. Strong hands picked her up and carried her to a chair, were a banquet was served. A giant smiled at her in a frightening manner, and lifted the lid covering one of the trays.

It was a head. Her own. She screamed in horror.

The clown laughed in glee, giving her a big hug from the side, kissing her cheek. "Isn't it wonderful? We're going to have such a wonderful time tonight!"

* * *

Deeper within the museum, an obsidian orb grew a shade darker.

* * * *

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