The Cycle of Axer Carrick
Part III -- Frostmelt
by Henry Wyckoff
It had been several days since they'd left Toronto, and had entered what Axer had dubbed "ice country". It was already winter now, but it was ice, not snow that blanketed the land. It was because of this that their travel was somewhat delayed -- it wasn't too smart to drive fast on the icy roads.
Axer, having gone back and forth a great many times, had expected it, but Sharpe was shocked and angered by it. He often paced back and forth, muttering to himself and gesturing.
Kate loved it -- she had never been this far north in her life, and was oohing and ahhing at the snow-capped mountains in the distance, the moose that walked through the town without a second thought, and the thick, overcast sky which let the two vampires walk around in the daytime.
When badgered about it by Mulder, LaCroix responded, "It's *direct* sunlight that kills us -- otherwise we wouldn't have survived those times when we were in sun-lit rooms."
Kate was obviously leery about the sun peeking out from between clouds, but LaCroix had spent so much time in the darkness that this was a brief respite for him. He still couldn't see the sun, but he could approach it.
Once they had reached the snow line, Axer had irritated Kate by refusing to wear a coat. "What's your problem?" he had demanded. "It's wonderful out here, and you want me to wear a coat?"
"It's below freezing outside, you idiot!" she fumed. "I don't want you getting sick!"
He just waited, cracking a slow smile. She threw her hands up into the air and stomped away, cursing under her breath.
"You're a brave man," said Mulder, somehow sneaking behind him. "I'd never try that with Scully."
"You're not married to her."
"Neither are you."
"Good point..." he looked at Mulder in the eye, something like exasperation on his face. "What DO you see in Scully? Every time I go so far as to be in her presence, she comes after me!"
"You threaten her ideas of reality. I do that sometimes too. She wouldn't talk to me for a month after we got back from Toronto."
"That wasn't quite your fault. As I recall, you got ten screws in your back."
He grimaced. "You just *had* to remind me about that, didn't you?"
"Don't worry!" Axer clapped him on the shoulder. "I got him *good* a while back! Not only was he not able to walk or sit down for a few weeks -- that was the least of his worries!"
He became suspicious, "What did you do to him?"
"I gave him a choice between two tortures: one figurative and one literal. He took the literal, but I told him after he made his choice that I had forgotten to mention that that was the torture that came *last*."
"What did you do?" he insisted.
Although Axer could be one of the most roguish vulgarians, he felt that Mulder was too innocent to hear some truths. "Let's just say that... ah... what goes around comes around, but there are two ways to reap what you sow."
Mulder's face became set. "I have a right to know!"
He looked around, and whispered in Mulder's ear, who immediately collapsed to the ground, laughing his head off.
Kate and LaCroix, who had been standing a few dozen feet away, looked at one another -- Axer kept forgetting about the enhanced hearing of vampires, perhaps because neither one had gotten around to telling him.
"I didn't know he had it in him!" whispered Kate, in total shock and horror.
LaCroix smiled. "My dear, he's ruthless enough to be a vampire. Even Machiavelli has nothing on him -- especially when he's in a bad mood. Did he ever tell you about the time he slaughtered my whole invasion force? He *did* have a good reason, but I think you'll be shocked to learn what it really was..."
* * *
Powys opened the door, and true to her word, Cancerman's secretary was there. She looked up expectantly, and was surprised to find Powys along with Cancerman. She stood up in shock.
"It's all right," said Cancerman, drenched with sweat and trembling all over as he handed her a five hundred dollar bill and a chilled bottle of St. Andrews. "The crisis is over -- this is for your trouble."
"Are you all right, sir?" she asked, honest concern on her face.
"Y- yes," he stammered. "The crisis is over, and I suggest you take a *long*, paid vacation -- say three weeks."
"Thank you, sir," she left with a puzzled face.
Cancerman looked at Powys. "Why are you doing this? Why did you save my life?"
"I haven't saved it yet, but think of it this way -- unlike you, I'm not a cold-hearted murderer. Do you think I'd want to spoil my reputation by killing you?" His tone was glib.
"I don't like your tone."
"And I don't like you -- but that hasn't taken away my humanity. You, however, sold yours away a long time ago. But that's neither here nor there -- we have a box to open."
* * *
Frey smiled as he stood at the shore. The cliffs and rocks reminded him of a place in Norway that had been destroyed by the advance of civilization and the construction of a city. This place was too rocky, too rugged to be destroyed by civilization.
Even if it be through the cracks of concrete blocks, life would still flourish. When mortals killed themselves by their own lack of vision, life would still continue.
The amphibious plane sat where it was tied to a boulder, resting on the ice -- it was tied to keep it from sliding away. The pilot put a hand on Frey's shoulder. "I don't know why you chose this spot, friend, but if that's what you want, who am I to say anything about it?"
Frey smiled, "I'd say the same about Boston."
"So do I!" laughed the pilot. "That's why I quit physics and started to fly planes for a living. Look, I spotted an oil town about a hundred miles off, so I'll be soaking up some beer there. I'll wait for two weeks -- if you want to fly back with me, find me at the watering hole."
"Thanks for the offer."
The pilot went on his way, while Frey looked up at the towering, ice-coated cliffs. A bird screeched in the distance as he climbed the vertical face of the cliff, his hands expertly slipping between the cracks and holding firm. The inches were slowly eaten up...
...Frey stood at the top of the cliff, looking down at the
endless sea, staring at the thick sea of boats landing on
the shore. He looked at Heimdall, who leaned on a staff.
"Has it come?"
"Yes, there's no stopping it now. The traitor, Loki, has
brought the Jotuns here."
"Do you really believe it was Loki? He's a trickster, but
not a betrayer."
Heimdall's face crinkled in doubt, but then it grew cold and
firm, "Trickster he is, but a straight-forward man he isn't.
If I can't see the lack of duplicity with my own eyes, then
he's a betrayer."
Frey sighed, looking at the tall killers starting to climb the
cliff. "Now, it doesn't matter. The die is cast."
"That it is. I do feel your way, you know."
"What do you mean?" he looked at Heimdall, who held his horn
with something close to fear.
"This horn has been my pride for many a year. Now, when the
time has come to blow the horn, I find myself full of hesitation."
"Do you want to live forever?"
Heimdall's eyes snapped up...
...Frey made his way up the cliff, his eyes lost in thought. The two swords at his side clinked and clanked much more than one would have guessed. Two ravens circled overhead, and at the top of the cliff, two wolves sat lazily, gnawing on bones.
Even further away, two Inuit sat on a boulder, eating some dried meat. "Two wolves waiting, and two ravens circling overhead," the old one said. "It is an ill omen."
"What's a raven?" asked the younger one. He would have been called a kid in the softer lands to the south -- but here, the mere fact that he was alive said that he was a man.
"A bird that comes from the warm lands. Whenever they come here, they come in twos -- and always with two wolves. My great-great-grandfather once saw them accompany a man. He might have been called a warrior by the warmlanders, but I call him a murderer. He came with a spear of war, and not a spear of hunting. The people tried to take him down, but he laughed at the many terrible wounds they gave him. He killed many men that day, but left the women and children alone.
"As I say, that man was a murderer. His only act of honor was laughing over the bodies of the slain."
The younger one, though one of the people, also knew the ways of the warmlanders. "Grandfather, that is horrible!"
"Grandson, you have known the ways of the hunt, but not the ways of war. There was once a time where man killed man, and to shed tears for him was an act of insult. To give a warrior honor is to laugh over his body.
"None of the other tribes see it that way, but we are not any tribe. Grandson, I must tell you a tale before its time, which is also a bad omen, but the signs tell me that I must.
"Grandson, do you know what the name of your clan is?"
"We don't have clans, Grandfather."
"We do, as do you. We, in following the ways of the warmlanders, hid much from you. The oil hunters must never know our secret, and children are the spreaders of secrets. Grandson, your clan is that of the fox -- the spirit of the Trickster."
Frey reached the top of the cliff.
"Grandson, I believe I know what the omens say. The enemy of our enemy has arrived. Look there -- the wolves challenge the man, and he holds them off like a warrior."
Frey drew both of his swords, waiting patiently while the wolves bared their teeth, waiting as well. The wolves twitched a little bit, but only made threatening growls.
An uncountable moment of time passed, and both wolves charged... and missed the body of Frey, who had rolled aside.
Two fading, blood-curdling yelps were heard, then two separate thumps. The ravens flew off as if they had a purpose.
"Grandson, I have read the omen, and know what we must do. We will offer him our hospitality, and we shall speak of affairs. Run home and tell Grandmother to prepare for the coming of the Elf."
"What is an Elf?"
"It is a word the Horned Men use -- the Elf was their sworn enemy. Go, now!"
The younger one left inland, running at a good pace.
The old man approached Frey, who had sheathed both of his swords. When Frey noticed his approach, he took a guarded stance, and was shocked when the man knelt, holding out two pieces of dried salmon in front of him.
Frey grabbed hungrily for the salmon, gulping it down.
"So it *is* you," grinned the old man. "I thought I knew who it might be, but you have no idea how hard it was to send my grandson away."
"You know me?" Frey was startled.
"Come, Elf, and let us share meat and fire in my home."
"That is what the Horned Men called you. I do not know what else to call you."
"My name is Frey." Another name strongly suggested itself, however. He held out his hand.
The Inuit took it, and Frey noticed a scar on the man's outer forearm -- the scar of the spear.
* * *
"Now, explain this to me again," said Cancerman, in the passenger seat of the car driven by the Mad Chauffeur.
"O.K., one more time from the top," Powys had lost his impudent grin, and now spoke with a frustrated snarl. "In real life, if you find a dead or live cat on opening the box, the cat will stay that way regardless of whoever else opens the box later on -- a collapsed wave can't uncollapse itself and remake its decision. When the secretary was there to observe our departure from the room, her observation collapsed the wave -- so we are no longer potential human beings.
"Now, pay attention. During the time before then, you were a potential human. You were both alive and dead, and had a high potential of getting your head blown off -- if I hadn't have been there, you would most likely have been dead by now.
"I saved your life by fixing the dice of probability. I became a potential human being, just like you, and I made sure that I was going to live. That carried on to you."
"I just can't believe this! You didn't hire anyone to kill the assassins that were supposed to kill me, you didn't outpay the assassins -- you just sat in my office drinking beers! You're saying that just by sitting there, you pulled all this off."
"Some forces can act from a distance. Gravity is one. If you don't understand what I'm trying to tell you, then just take it on faith, until you *do* understand."
Cancerman took another swig of ale. "How do you control probabilities?"
"It's just something you do. How can you breathe? It's easy to say 'this is the muscle...' and so on, but when it comes down to it, you just breathe. It's the same way with this. You just roll the dice and go for it, throwing away all your expectations."
Powys' eyes became focused. "You know, I think that was the hardest part -- letting go of my expectations. It's like a book I read -- part of _The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy_ series -- where Arthur learned that the secret to flight was in forgetting to fall. Part of the trick was not looking at the ground. I never wanted to try it myself, but the point still works."
"The word is luck-crazy. I've been living by luck for so long I don't even think I'm normal. No... I *know* I'm not."
They reached the apartment where Mr. X was holed up. There were no sounds in the complex -- no people, and no lights. It was like everyone had up and left. The two looked at one another.
"I'd expect to find some sort of activity," muttered Cancerman.
"No. We're in a node. There's never activity in a node except for pivoting."
Cancerman decided to leave that one alone.
They reached the door, and found that it was deadbolted. Powys looked at Cancerman -- he knew the drill, and turned away with a grimace for only two seconds. When he turned back around, the door opened. Powys smirked.
Mr. X sat on the sofa, finishing the glass of ale that Powys had left an hour ago, and munching on some crackers. He looked up at Powys, "I still can't call heads or tails."
Cancerman looked around in confusion. "I don't see anyone! What happened to the assassins?"
Mr. X smiled viciously. "What assassins? I've been drinking this horrid beer your friend gave me, flipping this coin after he nearly put me to sleep!"
Cancerman looked at Powys, who shrugged. "He chose to live."
Muttering, he walked out the door, where he yelped in surprise. The other two ran over to where three fat, greasy men were stuck head-down in the apartment dumpster. One of them had lower legs that bent forward like a flamingo's.
Cancerman looked once more at Powys, who shrugged again. "They chose to die."
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