The Cycle of Axer Carrick
Part IV -- Reading the Endtrails
The Revised Version
by Henry Wyckoff
December 1995

Chapter 7

Kate had propped herself up against the headboard with a pillow, looking at Axer, who had fallen back into dreams after a rather intense hour -- it seemed such a pity that it took these circumstances to bring out his passion. He was always sweet and lovable, but never passionate... until now.

She ran a delicate finger along the rippling muscles on his chest, feeling a rush as her finger slowly ran across every scar and ridge, her fingers combing through the hair. He was muscular, but his was the type of muscularity that was lean and well-defined. His strength was the kind that came from hard work and endurance -- not lifting weights in an air-conditioned gym. Looking at him, all one would see was a healthy man, but not fearsome or out-of the ordinary.

The more she looked at him, the harder it was to believe he had died and become immortal as a teenager -- when she first saw him, she thought he was at least twenty, and had continued to think so until she'd learned he was immortal. But now, she could clearly see the signs of age. Though his body repaired itself from every wound, the trials of his life showed.

Kate looked at his face, and saw that the tranquillity and innocence had returned -- only a little while ago, his face was relaxed, but dead. She wondered what her own face looked like during sleep.

She couldn't resist herself, after looking at his face. Kate leaned in to his neck, breathing in deeply -- the smell relaxed her, making her think of home, safety, and her own family that had passed on so long ago. She kissed him on the neck, and her fangs slowly came out. All it took was just a small prick, and a small taste of blood came out -- only a few drops. She kissed his neck even more furiously as she sucked the blood.

His eyes opened up then, and Kate pulled back a little bit in startlement. "You mean you want *more*?" he smiled, pulling her back in.

Giggling, she snuggled in closer, "Aye, I want it now! Give it to --

* * *

--you!!" Tim howled from the depths of his soul as he looked at the stump where his first finger was, and the bone that extended from his middle finger. An oxyacetylene torch was being prepared now. He didn't care what it would be
used for.

The two figures returned now.

#1: "But you promised several times to tell the truth. You have not yet told us the truth."

Tim: "But I told you everything I know!"

#1: "But how do we know it's the truth?"

#2: "Don't encourage him! I want to try out this torch -- can't do that on an honest person, can we?"

Tim: "Stop! I'll tell you the truth! Just let me tell you -- please, put it back! Ple- he- he-heaseee!!"

Tim was crying like a child, hanging from his chains. The torch was extinguished. He was given a glass of water, but Tim wasn't able to keep it down -- his guts were churning too much.

A kind face entered the light. Tim knew that this man had tried to help him the whole time, but was a prisoner of the dark man just as much as he was.

"Please," pleaded the man. "I just know he'll let you go if you only answer his questions."

"All right, I'll tell you," Tim's voice became very conspiratorial, as if he didn't know that the other man was only a few feet away.

"Why did you use the box on Axer?"

Tim didn't even blink, "We needed to test a weapon out, and we chose him because he's a dangerous man."

"How is he dangerous?"

"Because he asks all of the wrong questions -- you see, he's a free thinker!" He made 'free thinker' sound like a heresy and threat all at once. "He knows what we're doing, and he doesn't play the game -- he can't be killed and he can't be corrupted. He had no vices that we can exploit, and we can't buy his services!"

"Yes," smiled LaCroix, stepping into the light. "What a fantasy. You don't really expect me to believe it?"

"But it's true!" insisted Tim, fright radiating from his whole being. "He's a threat because he asks the right questions! It doesn't matter what he knows or doesn't know, because he can find out too much by knowing what to ask. If he asks questions, then others might start asking other awkward questions as well."

"So you expect us to believe that you tried to destroy his mind because he was asking questions? Why not kill him?"

"We tried that," frowned Tim, "but he has a habit of taking our hitmen out for beer -- and then they mysteriously vanish. My superiors decided to get rid of him for good and test our weapon at the same time."

"What does your weapon do?"

"I'm not completely sure -- I've been told that it controls the thoughts and emotions of others." He frowned again. "It was working, but I had to turn the power up all the way..."

Nick became concerned, "And what happens when the power is turned off? What if you had him controlled and you dropped the instrument?"

"Nothing -- he'd go back to normal, like nothing had ever happened. He wouldn't even know anything was out of the ordinary."

Nick and LaCroix looked at one another, and left the room for a moment to talk.

"I'm convinced he's telling the truth," said Nick.

"Or perhaps the truth as he knows it... We must be sure he is telling the real truth."

"How would we know?"

LaCroix smiled, "Need you ask?"

* * *

Coleen got off the computer, her head spinning. Kermit had been an interesting one to talk with. His knowledge of science was incredible, and the kind of things that he believed in were equally incredible.

Looking towards the door, she could see that the sun had risen. Someone walked through -- someone she didn't recognize. The newcomer seemed just as shocked to see Coleen as Coleen was to see her.

"Who are you?" asked the newcomer.

"I'm Coleen," she said, her eyes still a bit wide. "And who, may I ask, are you?" She threw her unbound hair over her shoulder. The shine in her black hair made the other blink.

"Dr. Lambert." She had a somewhat nervous expression on her face.

"Oh... so you're the gnat that Axer was always talking about." Coleen laughed, and was quite sure that she didn't get the pun. "He had quite a lot to say about you."

"Good things, I hope."

"Nope. All of it bad." When she saw the look in Nat's face, she couldn't keep her face straight any longer. Both laughed.

Nat got serious. "Have you seen Nick here?"

"Yes. Why?"

"He vanished pretty quickly after Axer and didn't answer his phone. I thought he might be here."

"Well, he is, but he won't be able to see anyone for a while -- he's busy questioning a suspect."


"Yes. The man quite nearly caused Axer to go insane -- he's still recovering."

"*WHAT* happened?" that got Nat's attention.

"Have a seat. It sounds like storytime. From what I've heard, it goes like this..."

Nat was so engrossed in hearing the latest news that she didn't notice Coleen's direct, assessing glances at her.

* * *

They were twenty in all, wearing thick leather trenchcoats. They openly carried clubs, knifes, sawed-off shotguns, and hunting rifles. They had no need for masks or shadows, because they weren't here to commit a crime.

They could have been anyone -- street bums, shoe salesmen, or respectable doctors -- but three things tied them all together: their look of zeal, a leather band fastened around their right wrists, and the fresh slices on their left palms that spelled the word 'Tyr' three times in Nordic runes.

Tyr was the Nordic god who 'governed' law, truth, and honor. These were Tyr's disciples, walking the streets of Toronto. 'Vigilant' and 'vigilante' were good descriptive words for them, because they were watching for the signs of Ragnarok. They had been told by Tyr that though Ragnarok had happened before, it would happen again very soon. All must take sides -- for the one who made no decision was the worst kind
of criminal.

The twenty Tyrsmen blended in well in the place they were patrolling, whether they intended to or not. This was a bad neighborhood, and for all everyone else was concerned, this band of thugs were a daily occurrence to be left alone.

A man observed all of this, leaning up against a street lamp with a pipe in his mouth. He was a thin and tall man, who looked like the 'stereotypical Swede'. His hair was a yellow-blonde that cascaded down his shoulders. His face was clean-shaven and very angular. His clothes were like that of a Beatnik, which didn't clash too much nowadays with any environment.

Loki puffed a fresh bowl, musing to himself about what he'd observed.

The final war approaches soon --
Grab your bags and guns.
Blow the penny whistle now
For the battle has begun.

An irony that this dread event
Lies unnoticed by the mass
That concerns itself with gloss
And never-closing malls.

//Hmm... Not bad. You have the rhythm down -- now you just have to work on your end-words...// He wasn't a bad rhymer in Old Norse, but English was still difficult for him. English might be convenient for the Swedish rock stars who chose to relinquish their mother tongue, but for Loki, Old Norse was the only elegant language for the types of rhymes that he created.

Loki looked around, and saw that his poem did indeed mirror reality. A newly-formed band of fighters had just walked down the street, and while everyone looked, nobody *understood*. They saw only twenty thugs probably playing Guardian Angel or going to beat the holy bejeezus out of someone -- not a band of soldiers preparing for Ragnarok.
"What do you think?" asked a voice behind him.

Startled, Loki turned around and saw a grim face that he hadn't seen for a long time. "Tyr?" Loki's face was full of regret and fear.

Tyr laid the stump-arm on Loki's shoulder compassionately. "Time has given me the wisdom to see the truth. Time has not been your redeemer -- any children's mythology book will tell you that -- but it's given me the chance to review what went on so long ago. The distance from Mad Odin made me realize that his madness had affected me...

"The same way that his madness now affects us all..."

Loki fought to hold back the tears -- and even his expression of relief. To an uninformed observer, the scene might not make any sense. The informed observer would understand that after almost a millennia, Loki had just learned that one of his best friends had made a mistake in calling him traitor.

When Loki was placed under the serpent by the Aesir, that poisonous serpent was an analogy. The acid poison would have devoured him if it hadn't been for his wife, who'd stayed by his side to catch the venom, and allowed only the occasional drop fall on his body when she needed to empty the bowl. That acid poison was not literal, but rather descriptive of the venomous hatred that all the Aesir felt towards Loki the Trickster -- Loki the Betrayer.

Heimdall and Frey had been the first to see the light and understand who Loki and Odin truly were. Now Tyr understood.

To the Viking, tears were nothing to be ashamed of. Tyr draped an arm over the shoulder of Loki as they looked on the fading band of Tyrsmen. "I'm sorry, Loki," Tyr whispered.

Both men wept for centuries of friendship lost.

* * *

The bottles of blood were refreshing. Nick had brought some of his own cow blood -- LaCroix didn't "serve that kind" here. As it was, he looked at Nick with askance, as if he had made a breach of etiquette.

"How will you determine if there has been any deeper conditioning?" Nick finally asked.

"Simple -- we'll keep pushing and pushing until he breaks."

"And if there *are* no deeper levels?"

"Then we're done."


LaCroix smiled viciously, "He dies."

"Isn't that a little needless?"

"Nick!" LaCroix was exasperated. "He's the enemy, and if you let him go, he'll have even more incentive to hunt us! Never show mercy towards your enemy!"

"'Enemy!' Have you become the 'general' once more?" Nick sneered.

LaCroix was thoughtful, "I won't be Sharpe's general, but I find that these evermore frequent episodes intrigue me. I've never been more involved in the world since my crossing over than these last few years. I may not be a general, but you may find me taking charge if there's no one else to do the job. Like now -- it appears that you won't do yours."

"What do you mean? I'm a police officer -- my duty is to arrest him!"

LaCroix smiled with pity, "Nicholas, you are sadly mistaken. You are a vampire, and your duty is to protect our kind, even if you won't think of yourself. But even if you don't see it that way -- think about it like this -- they are invisible to your laws and cannot be arrested. The only way that you can protect and serve the people is to fight this fire with fire." To a vampire, that was a very significant statement.

"It doesn't have to be that way!"

"What would you have done? Read him his rights and let him hit the street the next day because his mother didn't give him Twinkies on demand when he was a child? Tell me, what would you have done -- considering that you helped me to interrogate him?"

"I didn't help you -- I tried to stop you!"

"But you only made the interrogation more effective! Think about it -- the good cop/bad cop routine taken to a new level! You looked so genuinely concerned about his welfare! Torequemada would have been proud of you!"

The truth of it sank into Nick. His stomach rebelled once more, and he emptied all of his recent meal onto the floor.

* * *

Kate entered the main floor to find Coleen and Nat in an animated discussion about what had happened earlier. By the sounds of it, she had most of it right.

Nat seemed to sense Kate's approach and turned in her direction. "Is Axer all right?"

Kate looked uncertain. "He's better, but he needs some more time to himself."

"Perhaps I might be able to help," Nat offered.

Kate seemed to think about it, "It's his mind that's in trouble -- can you fix mind problems?"

"I'll see what I can do."

Kate showed Nat to the door and whispered, "Wait just a moment." The door closed behind her, and for a few minutes, all she heard were some muffled sounds and a little giggling. Nat smiled a little at that, trying not to imagine what caused the giggling.

The door opened up again, and Nat could swear that her face looked a little less white. "He's ready," she said in a voice that made her seem slightly out-of-breath.

Nat ignored her observation and walked into the room. Looking at Axer, she smiled, understanding why Kate *would* leave the room looking like she did. His mind was elsewhere as he lay back on the bed, staring at the ceiling.

It was obvious that he was covering himself with the blankets, and she found her eyes wandering to the wrong places, trying to catch a glimpse -- she stopped herself before she started. In a way, he even resembled Nick -- a Nick who hadn't become immortal the way he had -- differing only in his black hair and narrowed, sardonic eyes.

"Axer?" she asked, grabbing a chair and sitting down next to the bed.

"Dr. Lambert? What are you doing here?" he was startled; he'd obviously been oblivious to her entrance.

"I heard about what happened. Kate thinks I may be able to help."

He nodded, "I thank you for your enthusiasm, but you're a coroner -- and I'm not dead."

She smiled, "No, but I know how to listen."

"That's rare... But what is there for me to say? There's so much I can't put into words."

"Then paint a picture."

His eyes became distant. "You know, that's not a bad idea. Grab some paper and a pencil, and I'll show you."

"I'll ask Nick," Nat got up and left for the door, but Axer stopped her, pointing to a pack in the corner of the room.

"I have some paper there. Bring me the pack."

Taking the paper, he began to draw, and talked at the same time. "You know, I was never a good drawer. Eventually, I could make rough technical drawings, but I just didn't have the skill -- until tonight." He showed her what he had drawn in just a few moments.

It seemed odd -- such a skillful drawing on a piece of notebook paper. It was a hellish scene that would have done well in Dante's Inferno, although the scene didn't look like the layout of the Inferno.

It was a wasteland of rocks, flames, and ash. Axer wasn't here, but there was another man. He looked oddly familiar, perhaps from one history book or another. He was a Roman dressed in full battle armor and carrying a spear in less of a battle posture and more of a display posture. His face was visible, but his features were almost alien.

All in all, the sketch made Nat feel uncomfortable as much as she felt awed at the skill. "It's amazing," she said. "You claim that you didn't draw well until tonight." She made a few mental notes as to what she thought this signified. "Can you explain this picture?"

"He's Lucius," he smiled, "not the Lucius you know as LaCroix. It was a different one. It was about as common a name as John is over here. I only knew him by reputation. He was an Etruscan who had been assimilated into the Roman Empire. It was he who helped shift Rome from an isolationist to an expansionist state, though you'll never find it in any history books. He was a brutal man who was said to sacrifice women and children who survived the battles to his god -- a demon." He snorted, "Back then, demons and gods were private, and never shoved down anyone's throat. In fact, to know the name of another's god or demon was a way to lessen or take away its power.

"I killed him..." he hesitated, "and committed unspeakable acts myself. He confronted me in that nightmare place, and I defeated him one more time, but he was much stronger. When I fight these immortals, it's not just a sword battle -- it's like they're trying to take my soul away from me. They assault me with memories, scream inside my head, and try to make me do things."

Nat felt more and more disturbed. "Perhaps I might understand a little more if you told me more about yourself. How did you become immortal? Why did you kill those men you
allude to?"

Axer's expression was distrustful, but it went away. "I've wanted to tell someone all my life, but I've always talked myself out of doing it. I don't know how much I can say now. It all starts off when we're mortal. I was a Brythonic Celt living in what is now called Wales..." He snorted, "Wales! A Saxon name that came from 'Wielas', meaning 'Foreigner!' We called ourselves and our neighbors 'friends'. The land was simply the land, and there was no need to name it..."

* * * *

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