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

Chapter 22

Halscombe cringed against the corner of the room as Axer approached with his sword drawn.

"I've wanted to do this for a very long time," whispered Axer. "Now, I don't even have to justify it. You're an immortal. I'm an immortal. There can be only one. I take your Quickening and read every thought, every experience you ever had. Nobody argues or questions, because that's the way it is. All you know is mine for the taking."

"What do you mean?!"

"You mean that all this time you hounded me, you had no idea what I was? Isn't that a little contemptible?"

Halscombe clammed up, so Axer kicked him in the groin -- his body was already crunched against the wall. The only direction his pinned body could move was up... but only a few inches. His face contorted in pain, and then he passed out.

"Bloody sissy!" muttered Axer, sheathing his sword.

* * *

Duncan opened up his eyes, screaming and flailing. Then he stopped, looking around in confusion. He was in bed at home, in the boat.

"Damn you!" he screamed, clawing at his head.

Soft hands firmly pulled the claws away from his face. He had actually drawn blood. "It's all right," said the voice, just as soft and firm as the hands.

Duncan turned, and saw a face that he didn't recognize, but felt that he should know. Her face showed true concern. "Tasha?" he asked hopefully.

"No," sighed the woman regretfully; perhaps she was even a little hurt. "It's Amanda. Don't you remember me?"

"Amanda?" The name *was* familiar, but he couldn't connect any memories with the name. "I *should* know you, but I don't."

"Don't worry," she smiled, pushing him back down on the bed. "I'll give you new memories."

Duncan's tensions left him as he thought, //Where's Tasha?//

* * *

Methos and Richie stood at the base of the skyscraper, looking up along the north side. Fear and excitement raced through their blood as they grabbed their climbing material: ropes, gloves, and hooks.

"Are you ready?" asked Methos.

Richie cracked his knuckles, unconsciously imitating a tough-guy pose. "Yeah. Let's do it."

Unseen by the security guards, they prepared to break into one of the most heavily-defended skyscrapers in France by the most unlikely, but not unheard of, method. They reached the side of the building, and touched the walls tentatively, mentally preparing for the long climb upwards. The wind began to blow.

Richie froze. "Methos?"

"Yes?" Methos stopped as well.

"Have you ever done this before?"

"Climbed? Oh yes." His eyes became distant. "I've climbed many a cliff, up and down -- mostly because I had to. I even climbed Everest when I did my travelling." He chuckled, "I guess you could say *I* was the first man to climb it. It was some time around 2000 BC, and the thought of an oxygen tank would have been something beyond unthinkable... From what I remember, I didn't even pass out."

Richie was a little more distracted, so he wasn't as frightened as they climbed and talked. A few minutes passed, and a few feet were climbed when he asked, "How many skyscrapers have you climbed?"

"Like these?"

"Yeah. How many? Five? Twenty?"

"None. This is the first time."

Richie looked down at the ground, which was now about thirty feet below, and gulped. "Why didn't you tell me before?"

"Because you were doing so well," Methos smiled. "Come on, why don't you tell me about your racing?"

And so they climbed, inch by inch, and talked about anything ranging from bikes and racing to women and politics. Richie might have still been afraid, but at least he didn't notice it as much.

* * *

Axer paced back and forth on the main floor, smoking a Shermans and holding a Guinness in his hand. Kate frowned at that, but said nothing.

Mulder was looking at Axer with a shocked, but admirable expression, "How long will he be out?"

"Not more than a few minutes," muttered Axer. "I figure we should leave him alone for a little while and let him stew -- but that's the least of my worries... Some things aren't making any sense, like who killed him."

"I agree," nodded Scully, "but we were all in here, and we saw nobody go in or out."

"So it would have to be somebody good...." Axer pulled at the skin of his neck, an uncomfortable expression on his face. "Maybe it'll come to me later."

"I think we're forgetting about a much more important mystery," said Joe, who had just opened the front door and stepped through.

Mulder looked at Joe with curiosity. "What are we forgetting?"

"That we should all be focusing on those men with the black boxes. I did a lot of calling around tonight and got some information. I don't know where they are yet, but I have a lot to tell."

Even Mulder momentarily forgot about Cancerman as everyone gave Joe a seat at one of the tables. He breathed out a heavy sigh and said, "I need a drink. What was that stuff you served us before?" He looked at Coleen with a smile as she turned white with fear, then looked at Axer, who was still deep in thought.

"Axer?" asked Joe, looking at him with a more serious expression.

Axer looked up, still deep in thought, "Yeah. Help yourself." He grabbed a napkin and began writing something down in a hurry.

"So what do you have?" demanded Nick. Even his personal troubles were momentarily forgotten.

Nat, who'd been onsomething of a vacation from her life for the last day or so, became grim-faced as she realized that she'd have to come back to reality eventually.

"Well, I've been able to pull together a database of official witness observations as well as some under the table stories. To begin with, I'll have to say that you were dead right all along, Axer. We're dealing with some science fiction technology here, and nobody knows where it came from.

"But that's the least of our worries. I've been getting some pretty recent reports, and some of it's happening all over the world. This is some of the stuff that's happening here." He read from a police report:

Six men dressed in black clothing, similar in
description to the "Black-Box Killers" were found
slain in a manner suggesting ritual sacrifice.
Their boxes were found smashed beyond repair, and
their right hands were all cut off. The bodies
were killed in a clean manner, but all the signs
point to ritual killings...

"Then there's this editorial:"

Vigilantes are roaming the streets. This is
nothing new. Vigilantism has been in fashion off
and on for the history of mankind, but not this
kind. Bands of men from all walks of life are
beginning to take to the streets with all kinds of
weapons, looking for any trouble. They call
themselves "Tyrsmen" and claim that they are
waiting for signs of the end of the world.

When asked, they claim to look for 'Odinssons,
Jotuns, and Dark Elves.' This might be excused as
mad ravings, except for the fact that some of
these Tyrsmen are respected men in this community
-- doctors, lawyers, policemen, shop owners, and
so on.

It makes us ask a question: what is the cause of
this lunacy?

Joe looked pretty serious as he told the group, "I've thought a lot about what I've been told about what went on in Canada, and I think we're seeing the next stage. You might have stopped Odin, but his children are probably attracting enough attention for these Tyrsmen to become a public nuisance."

Mulder shook his head, "That whole episode never made any sense to me."

"Wait a minute!" Axer snapped, his eyes narrowed in thought. He almost seemed to be in a trance as he said, "I remember what I heard Krycek tell me when he was still sort of whacked out. He told me that there would be a war to come, and that what happened at the Landing was but a prelude -- like an arraignment court. He said that this war would be the true Ragnarok ...

"I dismissed a lot of what he said as mad ravings, but what if he was really on to something? What if it could explain why the Vanir cult is tearing up Ireland, and why the Tyrsmen are making a racket here? What if they're foreshadows of things to come?"

"Hold it a moment!" snapped Scully. "I think you're running with this a bit too fast! We have no proof that they're anything more than lunatics!"

"I'm not arguing with you about their lunacy," smiled Axer, "you can be most assured of that!" He paused, "I know you like to play the snappy skeptic, but you'll have to admit that unbounded brainstorming has its uses."

Mulder beamed at that one; Scully shook her head.

Heimdall, who had nearly knocked himself out with drinking, raised his head, "Why should you pay so much attention to something you can't prove?" His voice was still strangely focused, despite his wild and unfocussed eyes. "Why don't you just go after something you might be able to prove? Didn't Tim tell you anything?"

Nick stood up, "How did you know about Tim?"

"I listen," smiled Heimdall, "which is something you could do once in a while." He added in Welsh, "It might do wonders for your love life."

Axer, who was the only other person who understood Welsh besides Nick, smiled at that.

Nick looked downbeaten, "He couldn't tell us much." But then his eyes lit up as he remembered something, "He *did* tell me something that I didn't pay much attention to -- that they went after you, Axer, because you knew too much!"

Axer looked perturbed, "I can't think of knowing too much of anything. Could you be more specific?"

"He also said that you took their hitmen out for beer, and then they vanished."

He shook his head again, "That hasn't happened since --" His eyes opened up in shock, "It couldn't be!"

"What?" everyone demanded at once.

"I did that to Halscombe's men a few years back. I'd take them out for beers, and get them in fights with some bikers. Nobody ever noticed anything unusual -- blithering idiots walk into bikers' bars all the time." He narrowed his eyes, "I think Halscombe and I need to have a real talk."

He left the room, while everyone else stayed to drill Joe some more. A few moments later, there was a horrible, monster-like scream. Axer's scream was one of pain.

Kate was the first to sprint out of the room -- she vanished in a blur. Nick and Janette were next, vanishing in the same way. The others plodded along at a slow sprint.

When they got there, they found four dead men in the hallway, all dressed in black and holding black boxes. The fifth had pointed his box at Axer, and was making whimpers of fear and frustration as he was backed into a corner, his instrument useless. Axer walked forward step by step, and then casually took his head off. The box fell, but Axer caught it with one hand.

"Take it!" snapped Axer, giving the box to Kate. He then ran out the back door, yelling, "They got Halscombe!"

Kate passed the box to Nick, who passed it to Joe. Joe, at least, seemed to appreciate it. A moment later, and everyone else had ran off after Axer, except for Joe, who began to walk back to the main room.

He laid the box on the table and examined it. It was a shiny, spotless black box made of some hard plastic. There were switches, knobs, and buttons without any markers to identify them. Afraid to do anything, but intensely curious, he paced back and forth. Then he muttered, "Why didn't I think of it before?"

He made a call. "Hello? Kermit? I have one of the black boxes. Get your ass over to the Raven."

* * * *

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