The Cycle of Axer Carrick
Part III -- Frostmelt
by Henry Wyckoff
Kate sat at the side of the bed, looking at the sleeping Axer. No matter how horrible his life was, he somehow managed to have a look of utter peace and bliss on his face when he was asleep. It puzzled her immensely.
At least she could see his face now. When LaCroix introduced him to her at the Raven, he had several years worth of beard on his face, but she had made him shave it off -- it made him look so *old*. ...Not to mention that she just didn't like beards.
It was midnight now, and she hated to leave him, but she knew that she had to get something to eat. It wouldn't do for her to get too hungry while he was around... she might get too tempted.
Silently laughing, she leaned over and kissed him on the neck, her fangs slightly brushing the skin. It was a game that they often played -- one that few mortal men enjoyed. It was hard to believe he was a mortal, with his power and unusual maturity, but he wasn't a vampire.
He woke and smiled, running his hand through her hair. "So soon?" he whispered.
"No," she laughed, pulling back. "It's late for me. I just wanted to give you a goodbye kiss... I have to go out."
It was odd at how commonplace it seemed to him. When he learned that she was a vampire, he took it at face value and didn't go through any of the fear, shock, or denial stages. He didn't think she was crazy... or evil. She was just Kate, and almost felt mortal again... in a good way. Vampires tended to be overemotional and melodramatic, and his solid, earthy, no-nonsense attitude towards life was a stabilizing influence on her.
Her friends had known from the beginning that she had met someone special.
"Now don't stay out too late," he smiled, kissing her cheek and shooing her off. A moment later, his eyes closed again, and he was in deep sleep not long after.
Kate O'Leary emerged on the streets, one soul merged with the countless souls about. Although she saw many potential targets she could have easily taken, she knew it might invite discovery, so she held back, heading instead to the Raven.
The Raven... nightclub for mortal and vampire alike. None other like it in the world. Popular as ever, the fact that more people died here than anywhere else in the city never seemed to raise any eyebrows.
She walked through the front door, and found her friends already seated and well-sated. They spied her and shook their heads with mock sadness: they knew why she was so late.
"Your mortal must be quite a man," joked Jennifer, the oldest of them all -- over a century, though nobody asked her exact age. "You almost missed the main course."
The new bartender, a young -- mortal -- lad named Sean, brought a tray full of wine bottles. "The Red Ride," he smiled innocently, totally ignorant of what lay inside them. "I never got around to trying them myself. It must be really good."
They all laughed, knowing why he really never got around to trying the 'wine'. All mortal employees were given a 'suggestion' that they wouldn't drink from a specific list of wines -- they would find their own reasons for not doing so.
Kate opened a bottle and drank deeply from it, relishing the rich taste. It tasted better from the source, but blood from the bottle was still wonderful. It took only a moment for her to feel the effects of the alcohol in the blood. This one had been drinking.
A strong presence got her attention, and she put down the bottle. All at the table did, and they turned to face the source of the presence. It was LaCroix, who had entered the main floor. He seemed to sense them as well and approached the table.
"And how are you enjoying yourselves this evening?" he asked them, an unusually grand smile on his face.
//He must be up to something.// She was grateful for his having introducing her to Axer, but she still didn't like him or trust him.
"Yes," said Jennifer, who didn't show any suspicious feelings toward him. "We are."
"Good to hear it." He moved on, but Kate had the sinking feeling that he was giving her a big hint.
Kate excused herself and picked up the bottle, following him. He smiled and continued walking to the stairs, and up to the roof. Two lawn chairs had been set out, and he lounged on one of them, motioning for her to sit at the other one.
"So," he said, "tell me how Axer is adjusting."
"I don't know what you mean," her eyes narrowed.
He laughed loudly, and she didn't like the sound. "Don't you trust me? Very well, I'll spell it out: has his depression lifted yet?"
Grudgingly, she nodded. "He was pretty shaken up when you introduced me to him -- he said he had to send his daughter away, but he never told me any details, and I didn't ask. I'd say he's getting better."
"Good," he smiled in relief. "I was beginning to worry about him. He's been alone for too long."
"He's only twenty-five. You make it sound like he lived a hard life."
He chortled loudly, "I really wish I can tell you the *whole* story, but he must have his own reasons for hiding part of the truth from you."
"What do you mean?" she asked suspiciously, not liking the way this was turning.
"I'm afraid you need to ask him. But don't worry -- he hasn't lied to you one bit. He's just so protective that he'll tell you only what he feels you have to know. Be glad you have a man like him." It sounded a bit sarcastic -- it was hard to tell.
"Excuse me," she said, leaving him on the roof, contemplating events.
"The wheel has turned again," said LaCroix to himself. "I'm afraid your time for rest is over, Axer... At least you knew a brief respite -- I never did."
* * *
"Axer..." Kate's voice cut through his dreams. "Axer, wake up!"
He slowly opened his eyes. It was still evening, he noticed. "What seems to be the problem?" he mumbled. His eyes slowly focused, and he noticed that Kate didn't look too happy with him. "Did I do something wrong?"
"I think we need to have a talk," she said, sitting on the edge of the bed. "I spoke to LaCroix just now. He asked how you were doing."
"What do you know about him?"
"He and I go way back. I'd say he's one of the few friends I have."
//LaCroix having friends? Impossible!// "Do you know what he is?"
"He's a vampire. Is this going anywhere?"
She sighed deeply, absently wrapping a hand around his. "He suggested that there might be some things that you hadn't told me. He insisted that you hadn't told me a single lie... only that there were some things you were keeping from me."
His face instantly became grim, and he began growling in Welsh. She didn't speak it, but she could tell that he wasn't pleased. "That bastard... he's up to something!" he snarled.
"So it IS true?" her tone became as sharp as her heart sank.
He nodded. "There wasn't any need to tell you." His eyes saddened. "Everything was going so well, and I thought I could leave it all behind."
Her eyes narrowed. "What happened? Were you in the mob?"
His laughter was genuine and unexpected. "No!" But then he became somber again. "There's something I have to show you. Nothing will make sense until I show you." He brought out an ancient album. "Look through it."
She opened it, and the first thing she saw on the front page was a photograph from the 1860s. It was Axer, wearing a Confederate uniform. She looked at him, her eyes uncertain.
"Go on," he said.
She kept on looking. Preserved under the plastic film were all kinds of pictures: army photographs, newspaper clippings in various languages, family photos, and a few baffling newspaper clippings that must have had special meaning to Axer. They looked very authentic -- not faked at all.
"What does this all mean?" asked Kate. "I don't understand."
"This is the next part of the explanation," he said, pulling out a knife -- seemingly out of thin air -- and handing it to her. "Take it."
It was a long knife that looked like it was very old -- perhaps even hundreds of years old. His hand grabbed over hers, and he held the knife so it was directly over his heart. His eyes bore directly into hers, and she felt like she couldn't move a muscle.
"I am an immortal who has walked the land for over twenty-five centuries." The knife slipped into his heart -- she could feel it -- and his face became a mask of pain. He sank to his knees. The knife came out, covered with rich blood, and the wound immediately started to heal. Axer took the knife back, and it vanished as quickly as it had appeared.
Kate stepped back a foot and sank on the bed. "Immortal? But -- how can it be? You're not a vampire!"
"Kate," he smiled wearily, putting an arm around her shoulder, "there's more than one kind of immortal in the world."
In a moment of blind pain and anger, she stood up and slapped him so hard that he fell onto the floor, his jaw broken and dislocated -- she could feel the crack and the pop. The blow from his head hitting the tile floor knocked him out. He lay there motionless, his body relaxed, and his eyes staring at the ceiling. Though blood flowed out of his mouth, she could see the healing already begin.
"What have I done?..." she whispered. She was angry at him for keeping a secret like this -- but she hadn't meanT to hurt him.
The blood seeped back into his mouth, and his jaw made snapping sounds as the bones re-knit and the joint moved back into place. He was still knocked out, though.
Kate needed some time to think... She left for the only place where she could go.
* * *
Axer's eyes opened. A few moments later, he got his bearings and realized he was lying on the floor. He got up and looked around. The bed was unmade, and the album was still on it. Some blood lay on the floor -- once he felt the side of his face, which had some dried blood on it, he realized it was his. His memory came back, and he remembered everything that had happened.
"Kate?" he called. There was no answer. He searched everywhere, and found nothing. "Kate..."
She was gone. The fact sank home, and he sat on the floor, unable to do a thing. His nerves felt like they were being twisted around an ice pick, and his heart like it was gripped by a strong fist.
When he did get back up, he stared at the photo album. Memories frozen on paper... With a howl of pain, he ripped and tore the book apart, throwing the pages all over the room. Next, he began throwing a few choice pictures all over the room, shattering the glass covers into powder by the impact.
//Why does it always come to this?// he wondered. //What did I do? What's so repulsive about immortality?// He walked over to where his belongings lay, and gathered them up. Within a few moments, his traveling pack was back in order.
He looked somewhat like his former self, minus the beard. "I just wish I could have known how you would feel," he whispered to the empty room. "I could have spared you the knowledge."
Axer Carrick was back on the road again -- but not like before. This time, his heart was heavy, but he swore that he wouldn't drown his sorrows in a scotch bottle.
* * *
Kate came home, with the sun nearing its descent above the horizon. She felt a little better, and was in a position to talk with Axer now. She had expected to see him still on the floor, but was shocked to find no sign of him at all.
"Axer?" she called. "Axer!!" She searched all over the apartment for him, then noticed a few details: most of his possessions were gone. The photo album he had shown her was torn to shreds and thrown all over the room, as were a few pictures of them both.
"Axer!!" she called desperately, but she knew what had happened. He'd left her.
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