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

Chapter 8

Axer was in that barren wasteland, facing the one immortal he had ever regretted killing. She stared him in the eye, her face lit only from the light below -- beautiful features given an evil cast.

His heart crushed by a torrent of emotions, he had collapsed to his knees, sobbing so uncontrollably that he couldn't breathe. "I'm sorry!" he cried. "I didn't want to kill you, but you gave me no choice!"

"If you're so sorry," she whispered, "then why do you justify yourself? You always had a choice."

((What's going on??)) Axer heard Nat's voice all around him, but he couldn't see her anywhere. If Ingrid heard Nat's voice, she didn't' show it.

"Yes! I could have let you kill the children -- and Ulla! I could have let you live with the deed!"

"You killed me so that they could live?"

"You know that!"

"Then you feel no qualms for killing me. Could there be another reason why you weep so?" Her features were illuminated more and more by the light, but her expression was still stern. "Could it be something more to do with you?" Her last question was a whisper. "What makes you so sad to see me?"

"I never wanted to kill you!"

"You never wanted to kill a lot of people -- Morden, Krieger, Olaf, Brenden..."

His eyes opened in shock, "They were before and after your time! How could you possibly know?"

"Stop trying to change the subject -- why does my appearance sadden you so?"

He hesitated, "I couldn't kill you... I --" he couldn't finish.

"You--?" she prompted.

"I loved you," he whispered, still on his knees, looking into her eyes. "I still love you, and I can't live knowing what I did."

Her stern eyes still bore into him. "You're a fool."

* * *

Duncan was shaking with exhaustion, each muscle trembling -- even the ones he didn't know he had. Though his body was exhausted, his mind and senses were screaming with power.

The man who had killed Sharpe returned, getting straight to the point. "That was a lesson -- do not act like an annoying child. Here are the rules. One, you will treat me with respect. Two, you will follow my commands. Three, you will answer my questions truthfully and completely.

"Remember -- I don't NEED you, but I WILL use you. If you want to extend your life, you will follow my rules. If you want to die, then feel free to disobey them -- but remember that this time, there will be no immortal to receive your Quickening.

"What do you say? What do you choose?"

Duncan was barely able to nod, "I'll follow your rules."

"Good... Then you will answer my first question: what do you know about the Invisible Ones?"

Duncan stared at him, a million instincts battling at once. His self-preservational reflex fought against his honor. His reflex won. "I don't know much."

"What do you know?"

"Only that they're a mysterious force behind every world power."

"What else do you know?"

"I don't know anything else."

The interrogator paced back and forth, "I somehow find that hard to believe. You track several of our operatives across Europe, make a general nuisance of yourself for several years, and then tell me that you know nothing? What are you -- a compulsive order-taker?"

Duncan remained silent.

"So it's true -- you were following orders! Who are you with? Who told you what to do?"

Duncan felt he could safely reveal this, "Sharpe, the one you just killed, came to me. He kept most of his information to himself, and asked me for a favor, which is why I'm here now."

The man laughed, "This is so perfect -- two men in hand, and I kill the one who can give me information!" He put an axe under Duncan's neck, and he flinched back, "You'd better find a way to make yourself useful. While I'm gone, you can be productive by meditating on a single theme: you have no more honor."

When the man left and shut the door, Duncan's head did hang in shame. When it came to true life or death, he chose life -- but at what cost? As he looked at the headless corpse of Sharpe, he fought the tears, but they still fell.

Immortality was a joke -- death was a reality they all had to face, and when it came down to it, Duncan still couldn't face it. Not when it happened like this -- so senseless.

//Stop your damned cryin'!// his thoughts told him. //You're a bloody highlander! The last thing a dead soldier should hear is the cryin' of a bloody woman!//

* * *

Nick looked at the pool of black blood that he had vomited onto the floor. He was on his knees, barely able to move his limbs. LaCroix was nowhere to be found -- he had gone to dispose of the body in a neat and orderly fashion, but the echoes of the interrogation still echoed through Nick's soul.

//How could I have been so blind? I played into his game!//

"Are you all right?" asked Coleen from behind him. She put a hand on his shoulder.

"Yes," he barely managed to say, still unable to stand.

"No, you're not," she decided, pulling him up. Nick was surprised at how strong she was. "You're coming with me." He wanted to protest, but found that he couldn't. His feet staggering and dragging like a drunk's, he was half-carried up the stairs and to the main room on the ground floor. All the doors were barred and the windows covered.

"Sit down," she commanded, grabbing some blood by random and placing at his table. "Drink."

"It's human blood-" he tried to protest.

"Drink it!!" she commanded.

Nick was surprised to find himself obeying. He took a cautious sip at first, and his guts nearly threw it back up, but he forced himself to drink more and more. It wasn't too long before he started to gulp it down hungrily, and then Coleen took it away.

"It's not good to drink it all at once," she explained. Her expression grew serious, "It looks like I'm going to have to have a talk about that --" she pointed downstairs. "It's going to kill you, and God damn me if I'm going to sit back and watch you do it!"

"I don't know what you mean!" he was a bit startled at this young girl taking this tone with him -- immortal or not -- but then again, she was Axer's student.

"I think you do. Do you know why you've been vomiting for the last few hours? It's not because you've been drinking scotch -- but I'll bet that you're vomiting for the same reason Axer drinks."

His head tilted, "Go on."

"You're in conflict with yourself, and it's not healthy. You're a vampire, and you want to be human. You're faced with a situation, and you can't handle it. You either stand on one side of the road or the other -- but you can't straddle the road unless you know how to dodge really fast or jump over the cars.

"Let's start with point number one. According to LaCroix, you were a human who willingly became a vampire. You made the choice, and over the centuries, you began to regret your nature and tried to change it. You've wanted to become mortal for a few decades now at least. Why are you still a vampire if you so desperately want to be mortal? Why don't you relinquish your vampire powers if the very vampirism that makes such powers possible is evil? You're just like a politician -- so full of virtue and principles, but you'll still take loads of campaign contributions and bribes. Either you take it all or leave it all."

That was certainly a mouthful, and Nick took a moment to respond with something close to anger, "I'm still a vampire because there is no way to reverse the condition. God knows I've tried and tried, but nothing has worked."

"For every condition there is a reason, and for every cause, there is an action. If your vampirism came about by a bite and some blood drinking, then I'd say that's a chemical reaction there, and with the state of molecular biology, the scientists should find a cure."

"But Nat has been working on this for years, without ANY success!"

"Nat is a coroner," Coleen frowned as if she were talking to a child who had made some silly claims. "Saying that there's no vampirism cure because Nat didn't find it is like taking your car to the junkyard dealer, who says, 'Yeah, that car's a goner -- I can't fix the radio, so you'd better junk it and get a new one!' You don't just pick the right tool for the right job -- you pick the right specialist too! Don't you know any molecular biologists? What about a chemist?"

"I've consulted other scientists over the years." His stomach was a little better, and life flooded back to his limbs. He reflectively drank some more out of the bottle, and Coleen smiled. "They didn't have any luck either." He didn't add that many of those scientists also died some rather tragic deaths as well -- some deaths of the soul.

"So, you stick with a coroner! What good is she for besides slicing open bodies and concluding, 'Yeah -- he's dead all right -- he didn't twitch or scream a bit!'"

Nick got a bit mad at that, "That's rude!"

"It's accurate! Prove me wrong -- what is she good at? So she knows some chemical analysis and can find out what poison killed you. So can any undergraduate chemist! But her knowledge is too general -- " Coleen threw her hands up in the air. "Why the hell am I talking to you -- you're centuries old and you can't see the obvious!"

"And what is the obvious?" His eyes narrowed.

"If you can't find a cure from a mortal scientist, or you can't trust them, go to someone who has no reason to betray you!"

Nick didn't know what to make of it. "Who do I go to then?"

"Find an immortal scientist. I'm sure Duncan or Axer can name several who would love to find a cure for you, and they'd have no reason to betray you: they have their own secrets to keep!"

That stunned Nick. It *WAS* obvious, and he'd never even considered it, even though he'd known about immortals for a few years now.

* * *

Six men in black turned on the lights and their black boxes. This time, it was a whore. They didn't really care who it was, as long as it was somebody that nobody would miss.

The whore was immobilized, and the only sign that she was going through an unspeakable treatment was the moan-scream that escaped. If her jaw hadn't immobilized as well, it would have been a blood-curdling scream that would've been heard for miles around. As it was, it was loud enough to be heard for about fifty feet.

The work was done and so the boxes were turned off. Then the lights turned off, and one of the men muttered something into a small microphone.

When they turned around to go about their business, they found twenty men surrounding them. They were so startled that they couldn't do a thing as the band closed in on them.

This was a professional job -- it was silent, fast, and efficient. The six men lay in a bloody heap, but the job wasn't done yet. Several men left to find some wood to make a frame. Others had brought rope -- and all had the cutting utensils.

* * *

Methos soothed his nerves by listening to the BBC World Broadcast. Someone was reporting from the heart of Ireland -- a Londoner by the sound of his accent, "If you walk through the heart of Dublin or Belfast, everything seems unchanged. The bombers continue their activities, politics go on, and the tourists visit all the sights, but if you lift the cover, you'll find a different sight.

"Around the corners, in the violent quarters, and in the less-traveled places, you will see a violent storm rising. Over the last few months, with the advent of Frey, we have seen an alarming eruption of mob-style riots. They're religious in nature, but have motives that would alarm anyone in the world.

"A religious cult that calls itself the Vanir has made it their life's goal to destroy any Christian church or cathedral they can find. Priests have been found nailed to the crosses that face the pews of their church; nuns and monks forced to fend for themselves while being beaten and slashed to death in the middle of violent crowds.

"They remain uncounted, but are believed to be small in number -- but their actions rock the whole of Ireland. When Frey first visited Ireland, nobody knew who was a cult member and who wasn't. Now, the picture has changed. They are open and growing in number. One thing that all of the cultists have told those not of their number is, 'The time comes, and you must choose your side.'

"My sources say that this is in reference to their belief that Ragnarok, the End of the World, is coming. What is amazing is that Ragnarok comes from Norse mythology, and this is Ireland, where tradition still holds strong."

Another voice butted in, "And now, on to the sheep races..." Methos switched it off, frowned and grabbed a Guinness, slowly filling a pint-glass.

Richie came into the room, shaking his head. "Man, the New Agers are really at it today! There was some guy preaching to a crowd of 'em. They kept on telling me he's balder -- if he's balder, he must have been a gorilla! The guy has enough hair to make three wigs, and it's all gold!"

Methos shook his head, "They weren't saying 'balder.' They were saying 'Baldur.' He's another Norse god walking the earth. Whether he's for real or not remains to be seen..."

"Gods? Come on!"

Methos looked sharply at Richie, "You've lived a pretty sheltered life, and I dare say a narrow one. Didn't the Odinssons' church show you anything? What about Powys? There's no proof yet, but the signs point to the facts that there might indeed be gods walking the earth." His look became wistful, "Perhaps we might even understand what we are..."

"Not that again!"

"You're a shallow man, Richie. Age enough, and you'll realize that you're empty without understanding what you are, and looking for the reasons why things are."

* * *

Ingrid pulled Axer up by the shoulders and kissed him firmly on the lips, taking Axer's breath away. He was still so shocked and weak in the knees that she supported him as well, holding him in an embrace so strong that it threatened to crush his ribs.

When she pulled back, she scolded him, "You dumb ox! All these centuries, and you were tearing yourself apart because YOU LOVED ME?! I tried to seduce you and kill your family because I wanted to throw you off balance!"

That stunned Axer. "You WHAT? I thought--"

"Because I was JEALOUS?! Have your brains turned into straw?? Do they turn into mush with age?! It was the GAME! We all had to use our own weapons! Look at me!" She was short and thin-boned, with a great natural beauty that would have been a hindrance in the old world.

"Do you think I could have beaten you in a fair sword fight -- forget I asked that question -- we both found out that answer, didn't we?" Her voice softened, "Let it all go. I died a long time ago, and any concerns I had with my own life died when my own head was taken."

This dream world began to fade. The last words Axer heard her say were, "For all my sins, I can't believe you truly loved me. Let it all go -- there is one who truly loves you, and this baggage you carry does her ill."

The real world returned, and Nat was shaking him vigorously. "Stop it!" he snapped. "I'm not a tossed salad!"

"You're back!" she sighed in relief. She then noticed that the covers had fallen off again, and she sighed for an altogether different reason as she reluctantly put the covers back, catching a quick look at the rippling muscles of his chest. "You had me worried!"

"How long did it last?"

"A minute. I was ready to call for help."

Axer closed his eyes, "I don't know what's happening to me, but I think I'm beginning to make peace with it. She was Ingrid, a woman I had to kill. I had a mortal family, and she threatened to destroy what I had.

"When Nick starts belly-aching about how evil he is, tell him this story..."

* * * *

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