The Cycle of Axer Carrick
Part II -- The Duplicity
The Revised Version
by Henry Wyckoff
Richie and Coleen were sipping wine in the corner of the dance floor, sitting back, and talking about nothing in particular. Mostly about "the old ones" now that they were snoozing at scattered places throughout the Raven.
Coleen traded stories about Axer for stories about Duncan. Coleen told what she knew -- the guy was over two thousand years old, swore off scotch after five centuries of unmatched alcoholism, and had a fascination for every kind of knowledge.
Richie's stories were much grander -- about the places Duncan had gone and the things he had done.
"I suppose Duncan did live a more exciting life," admitted Coleen, "but Axer's lived a long time, and he hasn't told me yet about everything he's done."
Richie nodded. "I feel the same way about Duncan."
"For all the times he treats me like I'm some little kid, I can't help but be amazed at some of the stuff he can do. I've never seen a man who can do *anything* and do it well. He can skin a caribou, mend clothes, dig up information through the computers, hot-wire a car -- he's like twenty dads put together." She smiled, "He even leaves the seat down."
Richie laughed at that one. He was about to say something, but then Coleen stood up, drawing the sword that Axer forged for her himself - a Welsh leaf-blade of a style similar to that Axer
used. "Do you feel that?"
"Feel what?" asked Richie. He was totally oblivious to whatever it was. "I don't hear anything either."
"It feels like one of us... but it's off somehow. It's like it's *changed* somehow."
"It can't be an immortal, or I'd feel it."
From her own experiences, she knew he was right. Perhaps some of Axer's esoteric training is showing some benefits, she thought.
He entered the Raven in a similar manner as Nick -- except that the clothes he used to keep his skin from burning were much more tasteful. Less smoke rose through the many layers of clothes than they did from Nick's body as well.
He shut the door with a slight slam and tore off his outer clothing. Richie'd never seen the guy before, but Coleen had. "Lucius," she came over. "What happened to you?" She hadn't sheathed her sword.
He noticed that, but said nothing. "I was out."
"I don't think you're answering my question. You're not Lucius."
He was getting annoyed. "And why am I not Lucius?"
"Because she senses you, when it should be a total impossibility," said a new voice. Axer stepped out of the shadows.
Richie looked at Axer, "Did *you* sense him?"
"You *didn't* sense him?" He looked just as shocked.
"No. Not a thing."
LaCroix grabbed for a bottle of human blood and drained it like water. He didn't even stop to enjoy the taste. "I met someone interesting this morning. He had the rune on his palm."
"What did you do with him?"
"I left him to decide his own fate."
"How gracious of you," said Axer.
* * *
The man was still trapped on the floor, and his neck muscles were bulging out -- individual threads easily discernible. He was whimpering constantly. His jaw shuddered like he was eating hamhock and black-eyed peas for the first time. His skin was as red as a beet.
The rope slipped out of his mouth and he screamed loudly, watching in shock as the sledge hammer descended more and more slowly until the scream was abruptly cut off.
* * *
"Do you want to talk about it?" asked Axer.
"I don't know what you're talking about!"
"That's OK. -- I do."
* * *
Assistant Director Skinner was pacing back and forth in his office. Not only had Mulder and Scully gone absolutely AWOL, but disturbing news was coming from all directions... and all of it was pointing to Toronto.
"Dammit, Mulder!" he pounded the frame around his window. "What the hell are you trying to do??"
On the top of his desk was a pile of reports that he wasn't supposed to have access too -- but Skinner didn't really care about rules any more than Mulder did. It was the *appearance* of following the rules that was important, and Mulder never seemed to understand that hint.
He looked through all the photos, memos, and reports again, pondering all the possible decisions he could make --
"Hello?" asked the voice at the other end of the phone.
"Ms. Hendricks," said Skinner. "Please give me the next flight to Toronto -- private plane if you can arrange it."
* * *
LaCroix and Axer sat in the back. Axer smoked a thick Cuban Havana cigar. LaCroix was deep in thought, then spoke with a distant look in his eyes, "Did you ever read poetry?"
"Off and on. Once the poets started getting grand and mighty, I backed off. Why do you ask?"
"A poem runs through my head, and I can't get it out of my head."
"What happened, Lucius?" asked Axer bluntly.
* * *
He arrived at the Toronto airport, flying his own private jet. He was dressed elegantly -- in a hand-tailored Italian suit with all the bells and whistles, but it was obvious that he felt uncomfortable in the clothes.
"If I had my way," he talked to himself, "I'd be kicking back with a nice, warm ale -- but no! I have to be hunting down some bloody freaks who don't have enough bloody sense to stay in the woodwork!"
He lit a cigar, oblivious to the looks of hate, annoyance, and discomfort of the folks around him. It was a nice Havana -- thick and illegal. That didn't matter to him -- laws were made for bureaucrats to follow, not free-thinking souls.
He got his bearings and went to the scene of the crime, where the police were still conducting an investigation. The bloodstains were still on the floor, and the media were still given only a tidbit to put on the evening news.
"Pinheads!" he swore to himself. "Do all coppers have to be so bloody dense? All this bloody evidence and they don't have a bloody clue!"
He considered using his "credentials" to achieve his goal through official channels, but he also considered the benefits of doing this under the table -- where he could concentrate on getting the job done, rather than keeping up appearances.
* * *
"Something has happened to me," said LaCroix in a faint voice. He was still the same arrogant, confident LaCroix, but he was also filled with an uncharacteristic sense of awe and incredulity. "Something I cannot explain."
"Do I have to put you on the rack for you to start making sense?" demanded Axer.
LaCroix smiled. "This morning, the cultist stabbed me through the heart with a wooden stake. I died. I returned from the dead... and I don't know why."
Axer looked a bit confused. "I don't understand... you can get riddled with bullets, strangled, stabbed, poisoned, or assaulted in any other way imaginable, but you're confused that you survived getting staked in the heart?"
"You don't understand. It is one of the ways that we die. It kills all vampires."
"Nick told me about the time he staked you through the heart, and you came back."
"It was a close call. Death takes a few moments, and I had enough time to pull out the stake before I died."
"So you let him believe that you were invincible."
"As much as you do."
Axer sighed. "Just the facts. I can't deal with commentaries right now. So you BELIEVE you died. What proof do you have that you actually died? Maybe you just blacked out."
"I died," insisted LaCroix, "because I remember what happened when my heart stopped beating."
* * *
LaCroix opened up his eyes and looked around, finding that he was in some unknown territory.
It was a flat, endless grassland -- much like he had seen in the Great Plains in the last century. The sun shone here, and he didn't burn. The sky was overcast, and the shades of the sky were overwhelmingly beautiful.
Even as a mortal, he had never seen a sight such as this.
"Lucius Rufio Longinus?" asked a voice behind him.
LaCroix spun around, startled. "Who are you?"
The man was dressed in a tasteful Roman toga and sandals, but wore no color by which to distinguish himself. "I have no need of names."
"What do I call you, then?"
"You may call me the Doorman. For that is my function."
"Well, Doorman. What is this place?"
"Call it Heaven, if you will. For that is the framework you entered into on your long journey."
"What do *you* call it?"
"I have no need for names."
"What happens to me now? I had assumed that I would be sent into the bowels of Hell."
"You believe you are evil, then?"
"I am evil."
The Doorman laughed. "My friend, it would take a much darker man than you to be evil. But we are not here to judge your evil here, but gauge the good you have done in your life.
"Tell me, Lucius. What good have you done in your life?"
* * *
"Come on," said a skeptical Axer. "You could have been in a dream. I've had a few myself -- it seemed so lifelike that I actually felt pain and pleasure, smelled things, and tasted."
"I can feel the difference."
* * *
"I'm sorry, but you're just not a good man," said the Doorman. "You'll have to try at the other gate. Please follow the goat paths -- and watch your step!"
LaCroix turned around and found himself at the side of a rocky cliff. The granite face was crumbling away, and the sky was now pitch black, accented by the occasional lightning flashes. This was the landscape of some other world -- the crags, cliffs, and peaks were just too sharp to be earthly.
Down below -- at the far base of the cliff -- was a lake of fire and a few buildings. The residents there were odd beings -- not the pitch-forked devils he imagined.
He leaped off the cliff, and made to fly down, but he realized in a moment of utter horror that his powers had left him. He was now falling -- rather than flying -- down the hundred-foot cliff.
He fell faster and faster, until his body slammed onto the rocky flats below. For many minutes, he lay with a broken body on the rocks, until his bones began to snap back into place. That process was more painful than hitting the ground -- much more painful and drawn out.
He stood up after what seemed like a few days and looked around. The odd beings approached him. He called them clay men, because they seemed to be molded out of clay -- their shapes resembling the popular image of what alien beings are supposed to look like.
"I suppose you are the Gatemen of Hell," said LaCroix.
"They are elementals," said a voice behind him.
//Dammit, thought LaCroix. //Why do they always have to sneak up on me?// He turned around and saw none other than Nicholas, wearing some pretty awful clothes from the 1970s, sunglasses, and a gold medallion hanging over a half-buttoned shirt.
"Nicholas?" asked a shocked LaCroix. Even during the 1970s, Nicholas had had good fashion sense -- but this... this was almost as bad as Janette wearing pants!
"I am not your Nicholas," smiled Disco man -- that's the name LaCroix gave to him, since he would probably deny having a name as well.
Thank God! he breathed a sigh of relief. I don't know how much more of this I can take! "Are you the Gatekeeper?"
"As you wish. I'm here to assess your measure of evil. What have you done in your life to earn entrance to the Lake of Fire?"
* * *
"You can feel the difference!" scoffed Axer. "The next thing you'll be telling me that the earth is flat just because you can't see the curving of the land."
"If we didn't have space travel, would knowledge of a round earth be necessary?"
"You forget the last six centuries!"
* * *
"I'm sorry," Disco man shook his head. "But your ideas of evil just don't meet ours. I'm afraid we'll have to boot you out."
"What do I do now?"
"I guess you'll have to move that body of yours before the sun burns you to death."
The next thing that LaCroix felt was the sun warming his body a bit too painfully, and the man who killed him walking in the other direction.
* * *
"Lucius," Axer shook his head. "You've got it all wrong."
"Whether dream or reality, it's the experience that counts, does it not?"
"Only if you recognize a dream and reality for what they are."
"What is the reality and dream, then?"
"I think you were trying to tell yourself something."
"You're not as evil as you think you are -- I'll tell you up front: you vampires are so damned melodramatic you make me want to vomit. You think you're evil? Nick thinks he was so evil that he feels the need to atone? Give me a few hours and some scotch to warm me up, and I'll TELL you about evil."
Mulder sat back against the door, his head spinning. He didn't know what to make of what he had been hearing. He needed more information to work with.
* * *
Tracy was talking to the Captain. "I can't find Nick anywhere! He's not at home, but his car is there. I think we should report him as a missing person."
"Look. We have to wait 48 hours until we can file a report."
"But we know he's not going to be here in 48 hours!"
"Get back to work, Tracy. AND DON'T SLAM THE DOOR!!!" Grumbling to herself under her breath, she slammed the door anyway. Everyone in the room looked sharply in her direction, silence descending -- then everyone went back to their work. She had been Nick's partner for a few months, and while he would play the cowboy and do a lot of stunts on his own, he never vanished without a trace -- for more than a few hours at least.
There was nothing to do here, so she walked over to the parking garage.
"Something has to be wrong!" she told herself as she approached her car.
"I'd say," smiled the man who had suddenly appeared at her side, holding a knife to her throat. "Something is dreadfully wrong. Do as I say, and it won't get any worse." His accent was something like a Cockney accent, but not quite. Her next guess was Australian, but it wasn't that either.
"What do you want?"
"I want you to tell me what you know about your partner, Nick Knight."
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