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

Chapter 17

Axer and Kate ran downstairs to see what all the racket was. The screaming, yelling, thumping, and crashing sounds were enough to wake the dead. They were on their way out of the bedroom anyway, but this was enough to send them barreling down the stairs, ready for combat.

What they saw was enough to make them stop, open their eyes a little wider, and look at one another.

Coleen, naked as the day she was born, had Bill cornered with a sword in her hand. Bill had thrown down some tables between the two of them, and held a chair in his hands, ready to hold her off for the moment as she got the last table out of the way.

Axer, viewing this scene, came to the worst possible conclusion, and ran over to where the fight was. "What the hell's going on here?" he demanded, drawing his own sword and moving between Coleen and the tables. He didn't seem to notice her nudity. Axer twirled towards Bill, "And you? Who are you? What the hell were you trying to do?!"

"It's not what you think!" Bill was nearly incoherent with hysteria. "I didn't mean to -"

In the best of situations, that could be taken in the wrong way, and this wasn't the best of situations. "You didn't mean to WHAT?? You'd better start talking, boy!"

Bill's stomach rebelled again, so instead of explaining himself, he retched bile.

Axer's eyes opened in comprehension -- he knew what the cause of it was from direct experience. He turned back around towards Coleen, who'd had just enough time to cool off a little, "I know I'm missing a few pieces here. It's your turn to talk. For starters, who is he? And then you can tell me why he has alcohol poisoning!"

Coleen suddenly lost her voice, stammering as she realized that she had a *lot* to tell him. That was when Nat walked into the room, her hair a mess, and a silly grin on her face. Axer noticed Coleen's eyes dart in that direction, and when Axer saw Nat, he drew the only conclusion. "You?? And NAT??"

Coleen's grin was a little empty and helpless.

Axer's head fell into his hands, where he shook his head slowly, "Great Mother! What else do I need to know?"

Bill retched again.

Axer walked over to the bar, muttering to himself about needing a strong drink. He rummaged around at the bar, then stopped suddenly. Coleen cringed when she heard a yell, "Coleen! You get your ass over here right NOW! You hear me?!"

* * *

Joe finished giving Peter Caine the background, and as Kermit gave him packets of incoming faxes, he whistled occasionally in shock and amazement.

"Wait a minute!" said Peter eventually. "Are you telling me that this has been going on for weeks now, and we didn't even know about it?"

"What can I say? -- it wasn't in your district. The question is, will you help us? He have the theories, but now we need heads -- forgive the pun."

Peter was hesitant, and Joe could almost see him pulling his hair out -- a good thing they were talking by phone. "O.K., I think I know who I can talk to. I'll let you know what I dig up."

"Thanks -- but remember, I need information, and not help. You get my meaning?"

"Don't push your luck, Joe."

Peter hung up, and Joe looked at the wall with a pensive expression. He made another call, and got a 'this number is not in service' message.

"Dammit! Where could he be?"

A few halls down, somebody else was slamming his hand on a table too. Nick was face to face with what he believed was a murderous immortal. "Answer me, dammit!" yelled Nick, his face just inches from the immortal's.

The immortal's expression was bored. "I think I need a beer." That might have been true. From the smell of beer wafting from his unwashed body, the man must've been swimming in the stuff.

The game was bad cop-worse cop, and Nick gave up on being the bad cop. Now, it was Tracy's turn, and she was the worse cop. She took over the interrogation, "Now look! We saw you there, and we saw you kill those men. So there's no use in denying anything!"

"If there's no use in denying anything, then you already know the truth and there's no need for me to say anything."

Tracy grinned viciously, "Nice try -- but that's a trap too. What if we 'know' that you're dead guilty?"

"Then I'm dead," he shrugged. "You might as well let me go. There's not much I can tell you, punishment for crimes in North America is a joke, and there's nothing you can do to threaten me. Where does that leave you? With nothing."

"You're a brave man, but I think it's all bravado."

"But you can't prove it, can you?" Heimdall lazily picked at his fingernails.

"You're linked to the crimes -- I think we can push for an execution."

That got Heimdall's attention. His jaw dropped and his eyes widened, "Are you an idiot? It'll never happen! The law never goes for an execution, unless you're in Texas or Arizona. Do you hate your jobs bad enough to be made outcasts?" He started to laugh hysterically -- with genuine laughter, not maniacal laughter.

Nick pulled Tracy back for a moment, into the observation room -- there was only a soundman recording the interrogation tape. Nick whispered so that only Tracy could hear, "I think he's right -- there's no way we can threaten him."

"Then what do we do?"

"Ask nicely?"

"That might be a good start." Heimdall leaned back in his chair, grinning, "I don't talk to cops, but I have been known to associate with human beings on occasion."

Tracy's eyes flashed, but Nick made a face, making his best civilized face, "As you wish. I'm asking you nicely then, what do you know?"

"Are you sure you want that tape recorder on? I can tell you right off that this won't be admissible in court, any more than you could report everything that you saw earlier tonight."

The two detectives considered for a moment, and nodded. Tracy went into the other room and told the sound man to take a coffee break. That tape recorder was turned off, but not the one in Tracy's pocket.

"So, start talking."

"Turn off the other tape recorder."

Tracy made a face and turned it off. Nick gave her an odd look, and she gave him a furious one in return.

Heimdall was either oblivious or uncaring of that exchange. "First off, to establish some credibility here, let me state that I know you're a vampire. That might make what I have to say more believable."

Nick could accept anyone knowing about vampires -- rare people do learn about them -- but to have an immortal he'd never met tell him straight off that his secret was known... "That doesn't establish any credibility in itself," Nick held his surprise well, "but I'm listening."

"Good. What do you want to know?"

"How was it you came onto the scene tonight?"

"I was hunting for the killers -- the ones your news media doesn't talk about. Tonight, I was lucky."

"What do you know about the killers?"

"What do you know about the Invisible Ones?"

Nick took a seat. "I know enough about them -- but not how *you* tie in with this."

"Get me a beer, and I'll start talking."

Nick looked at Tracy pleadingly, who threw her arms up in the air and muttered, "All right! *I'll* go to booking, if that's what you want!"

Heimdall snickered a little bit at that, but became somber again when Nick glared at him. "Like I said, no beer -- no talk." He kept by his word too.

When Tracy came back with two bottles of Bud, Heimdall shivered and made a face, but took them anyway.

"Now that's done," snapped Tracy, "you'd better start talking!"

"What do you want to know?" Heimdall would certainly make this as hard as possible.

"What is your relationship with the Invisible Ones?"

"Look, are you *sure* you want to know?"

"Dammit!" Nick slammed his hand on the table, hard enough to crack it. "We got you the beer, and you promised you'd talk!"

"Just making sure," Heimdall said in a soothing voice. "Since you want to know so bad, I guess I'll have to tell you -- but it's a bit of a long story, so you might as well have a beer yourself." He ripped off the caps with his hand.


Heimdall's Story

The nineteenth century was a pretty bad one to begin with, I'll let you know that from the start. I had left Norway back in 1798 -- things had gotten pretty bad up there in Scandinavia, so I thought I'd go out to see the world.

I must have reached the Americas in the 1830s. I'd seen all kinds of civilizations, but I found the cities of the Americas to be both frightening and majestic in a way that I had never experienced before. There is something about crowded humanity that shakes the soul as much as it stirs the soul.

I'd landed in New York City, and I moved up through the state, up into New England -- mostly New Hampshire and Vermont. Nowadays, it's something of a "nice" place to be - - I'll have you know that even in 1830, it was a still a harsh frontier. Farms *had* carved out a good chunk of the forests, but there was still a lot that remained untouched. I was in one of those isolated stretches of Vermont when something happened to change my life forever. It must have been sometime in the middle of the night. There were heavy clouds in the sky, but it still didn't keep me from seeing what occurred.

The lights that came from the sky lit up the land for miles. The clouds only served to spread the light everywhere. At first, the light seemed to be coming from all directions, but after a few moments, I could see that it came from a single point in the sky that moved across the sky.

I'd seen a lot in my life, but not that. I followed the moving light and saw it land in a homestead. Again, the lights were too bright to make out any detail, but I could hear the animals panicking, and then the horrible screams of the family who lived there.

When the lights vanished, I ran down to the farm to see if there was anything I could do. The animals were just scared, and they would forget about this soon enough. I entered the house and found a young man and woman asleep on the bed. Nothing I could say or do would rouse them. Looking around, I could see that a child lived here too, but the child was gone.

I wondered if it was taken away by the lights.

The child was returned uneventfully two weeks later, and none of the family had any idea that anything had happened, but I kept a watch over them, and discovered something pretty amazing: the boy, who had been just a regular boy, had become nothing short of a genius -- but not in a nerdish sort of way.

He seemed to be a boy beyond his years, having a store of knowledge and wisdom that would have been impossible for anyone of even forty years to know. He even predicted the future, and it takes a lot to convince me that something like that is possible.

Time passed, and the young boy became a man. He hated farm work, so he moved on. I had grown bored with being a smith, so I moved on too -- it was strictly coincidence that we left on the same day. As luck would have it -- good or bad, I would soon see -- we left on the same road, and he became directly acquainted with me for the first time. Although I had most certainly known him, I'd made sure that few people -- Kerry included -- knew me directly.

His name was Kerry, and though he was born in Vermont, he seemed to have a bit of Ireland in him. He also knew a lot about Scandinavia, without having been there.

We walked north. I just wanted to move on. I guess you could say I was running away from something -- but it seemed like Kerry was moving *towards* something. Again, his staying with me was coincidence. We might as well have been moving in the same direction, but a valley or mountain apart. It wouldn't have made any difference.

We took a roundabout route -- along the northern rim of the Great Lakes, north through the middle of Canada, and then to the lands of the permafrost and Caribou. It may seem strange that we might stay together on these aimless wanderings just for the hell of it -- but we didn't think it strange. We were two people traveling the land, and that's all we needed.

Perhaps we had already crossed the Arctic Circle when we met this nomadic tribe of Indians. I know, I'm being politically incorrect, but I really don't give a damn. I think I'm actually showing more courtesy by using a word that's easy to use and pronounce, than some word I'll choke on. I know it annoys me when I hear Tohono O'odham pronounced like Tohono Oddam -- they should just stick with Papago: it's been used for centuries and can't be mispronounced, even if it does mean 'bean eater.' I figure they'd feel the same way -- but that's besides the point. Look -- *you* started it, so don't look at me that way! O.K. -- I'll call them 'Inuit', if that makes you happy, but I still think you two should get a life!

Fine. Well, anyway...

They behaved as if they were perimeter guards -- they were wary of anyone crossing into their territory, and they were afraid of anyone they didn't know.

I would have chalked it up to paranoia, except for the fact that every single one wore the tattoo of the spear on their forearm. This was something that an Odinsson would do, except that these men bore no other marks of an Odinsson. My curiosity engaged, I performed enough "tricks" to earn their respect and startle their superstitious minds. They were simple things, really, but to minds such as theirs, those tricks were sufficient.

Kerry looked at those tricks with wide eyes. Maybe something occurred to him that hadn't before. In retrospect, I often wonder about the significance of that event.

Heimdall stopped talking and took a deep swig of beer. "Here's some money, why don't you get some decent beer for a change?"

Tracy was about to hit the roof, but Nick intercepted her, "We'll continue this discussion at the Raven. They'll have everything you want."

Heimdall's eyebrow rose, and he could barely keep himself from laughing. "I would greatly look forward to that."

* * *

Richie heard the sounds of boots in the tunnel below, and handcuffed Pieter to the table. "You're not going anywhere!"

There were two ways in and out -- one was the way the two came in, and another door opened into an empty warehouse. Methos barricaded that door, and answered Richie's unspoken question, "We have no idea what's out there -- and the devil we do know is coming through the best possible door."

Richie looked confused, until Methos added, "It's a narrow door, so we can control how many come into the room."

The door got blasted open, and the thugs who came through were dressed completely in black -- black pants, black boots, black shirts, and black ski masks. They had clubs instead of guns, Methos observed, so their orders must have been to capture only, and not kill. //They have those orders, when they *know* we're immortal?//

He wasn't one to question fate. Although time seemed to slow for both the immortals as their adrenaline rushed through their veins, motion speeded up in real time. There seemed to be no end of them as Richie glanced through the door. Maybe thirty, or maybe more. But there couldn't be *too* many to handle... he thought.

What then happened wasn't some stage fight, where every movement was theatrical. There was no flashy fencing, posturing, or witty exchanges of words. Think of it this way -- it was like watching a Mafia hit. The killers involved are down-to-earth and kill their targets by the 'straight line between two points' approach. This skirmish took place in a similar fashion.

Richie and Methos made a good team. Richie, although trained by a swordsman who used predominately Oriental movements and strategies, fought like more like Brian Cullen -- with skill and grace, but mixed in with some Bronx-style bluntness. He didn't use much footwork, and relied on his youthful strength to pummel the blackshirts into the ground.

Methos, though the oldest living immortal, had been out of the game long enough to lose his skill. For the last few years, he had subtly entered the game again enough to gain back some basics. He fought more like a reckless solider -- discipline in his movements, but overruled by a wildness that he began to feel in the base of his soul. It almost felt good to kill again.

The two immortals stood about a foot from the doorway, their swords acting like scythes, chopping off limbs, ripping out intestines, punching out lungs, and taking heads. The blood sprayed everywhere, covering everything nearby with a thick coating.

The smell of ruptured intestines assaulted both of their nostrils as the bodies began to pile up. When enough bodies were piled up to block the doorway, the blackshirts stopped coming through blindly, but they didn't give up.

Rather, they kept at the base of the stairs. Sounds from the other door were heard as well.

Pieter chuckled, "I asked for a lot of backup. Since you're the only two immortals left in Paris, I was able to spare several hundred men."

A loudspeaker boomed from the tunnel, "You are surrounded. You have no hope."

Methos looked at one of the monitors that showed a detailed map of Paris, and got an idea of what they would do next. Then he chuckled. "Richie, you're not going to believe this!"

* * *

Duncan opened up his eyes. His teeth and gums finally felt better, and the effects of the hot salsa had faded. His eyes adjusted to the light, and he realized that he was still in the torture room. His spirits sank. Then a jolt of pain filled his body as he realized that he had just been injected with something.

"You're finally awake," said the silky voice of the Inquisitor. "It's so good that you're awake now." He paced back and forth, musing, "You know, I think I've been going about this the wrong way. I'd almost believe that you loved pain, the way you keep asking for it. So I think I'll try another approach -- pleasure."

The Inquisitor walked over to the door and escorted in a young blonde woman, smiling innocently, wearing an uncomprehending expression. She looked like she could have been a top model, and certainly dressed for the part. One could almost say that she was almost not-dressed, to be more accurate.

"Meet Tasha. She failed hairdressing school, and now she works for me." He directed Tasha to where Duncan hung from his chains, "Tell me, Tasha, what do you think of my prisoner?"

Tasha's eyes bulged as she gazed on the now-healed body of Duncan, breathing heavily as she lightly touched a finger, running it along his chest. "He's *wonderful*! Like a *stallion*!"

To Duncan, that touch felt much more intense than it should have. He shuddered in a pleasure that he fought with all his might. Tasha smiled wickedly.

"Oh yes!" the Inquisitor clapped his hands. "He's all yours!" He winked at Duncan, "I'll leave you two love birds alone!"

True to his word, the Inquisitor left the room, while Tasha whispered in Duncan's ear, "Welcome to the *ride* of your life, 'Stallion'!"

Duncan had already been breathing heavily, and confusion filled his whole being as he wondered what on earth was happening. //Is this a dream?//

The moments passed, and Duncan knew with great certainty that this was *no* dream. His eyes closed, and he shuddered involuntarily as Tasha practiced her craft -- then it ended suddenly.

Duncan looked down, to where Tasha had been kneeling, "No talk -- no play. If you answer my questions, I'll do this some more."

Duncan's eyes closed again, "God help me."

"God can't help you," she smiled evilly, "but *I* can -- all you have to do is talk."

* * * *

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