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

Chapter 23

Axer emerged from the Raven, his eyes wild and a sword in his hand. His blood racing through his head, he looked around wildly, finding nobody. They had to be out there, he knew.

A moment passed, and he heard no sounds either. No squealing of car tires, no running sounds -- then the sounds of everyone following him drowned out whatever he might have picked up.

He turned around, glaring at them, "Be quiet!"

Everyone looked at him with a glare in return, but then Nick pointed. "They're over there!" A van that was parked a few hundred feet down the road suddenly sped away, smoke burning from where the tires scraped against the asphalt.

"Damn it!" yelled Mulder, frozen in angry tension.

Axer snorted and pulled a Glock from under his trenchcoat, firing at the tires. The van might have been speeding away, but it wasn't weaving, so it presented a stable target. Unfortunately, the Glock is a close-quarters weapon, and though Axer aimed right, it was the gun that was off. Every bullet missed and hit just about everything else around it -- trees, another car, and a stray dog that had been startled into jumping up from where it was sleeping.

Mulder and Scully got the right idea, and started firing themselves, but handguns are just as bad when it comes to long distance accuracy.

Nick snarled and took to the air, with Janette on his tail. Scully's jaw dropped at that, but Mulder yanked her into action, "Come on!" They ran for their car.

Now, only Nat, Coleen, Kate, and Axer were left. Axer looked around wildly and called out, "You can come out now! I know you're there! Why don't you make yourself useful for a change?"

Nat and Coleen looked at him as if he were mad, but when they saw a young man stumble out into the open, their expressions turned to shock. Coleen prepared to rush him, but Axer held her back, "Meet Jay, my Watcher."

"You saw me then?" asked Jay, an embarrassed look on his face.

"Your Watcher?!" Coleen demanded at the same time.

"I don't have time for this -- where did the others go?"

"I can't tell you that," the blood drained from his face.

Axer's growl was wolf-like as he grabbed the young man -- who looked to be more bookish than anything -- by his pecs and lifted him straight up. The kid was a few inches taller than Axer, and had a larger frame, so the sight was pretty impressive.

Being lifted by one's chest muscles is not a pleasant experience. Jay grabbed onto Axer's hands and pushed down, trying to ease the pain, but he wasn't too successful, because Axer was also shaking him around a little and crushing on the muscles with very powerful grips.

"They went the other way on foot -- but they don't have the guy in the bag! He's in the van!"

That set Axer's mental wheels a-runnin'. In one motion, he dropped Jay on the ground and started sprinting so fast after the other guys that he even left Coleen behind -- to her credit, she was able to keep up for half a minute. It was something faster than a sprint -- more of a pace that would burst any good heart if it was kept up for too long. Kate was as shocked by Axer's speed as Coleen, but could have easily outdistanced him even now. However, following a gut instinct, she took to the air and flew so high above that it would be hard for her to be seen by anyone. She whistled as Axer sped up even faster, and when she looked ahead a ways and saw some men running a little slower -- it seemed as if Axer somehow knew where they were, even though he couldn't have seen them.

Nat had stayed behind to see if Jay was all right. Other than having two nasty bruises on his sore chest, he was unharmed. He glared in Axer's direction, "That sonofabitch! That's the last time I help him!"

Coleen, who had returned by now, smiled, "Don't you have some place to go?"

Jay glared at her now, getting up, "I *hate* you!" He ran over to a shadowed spot behind a dumpster and started a motorcycle.

Before Jay could leave, Coleen hopped on behind him and yelled, "Get moving!"

* * *

Time played funny tricks to Axer. On one level all he saw or felt was the rushing of time and the objects around him. He'd never run this fast before, and he could barely even keep from dodging into things. On another level, time went at an appropriate pace, and objects flowed by smoothly. It was an apparent paradox that was taking place.

As he ran across streets with six-lanes of speeding traffic, hopped over walls and fences, and slammed panhandlers and street walkers out of the way, he noticed that somehow everything seemed *different*. Even though everything was going past him at a frantic pace, he could notice that fact on a mental level -- with much time to spare.

He knew this area like the back of his hand -- he'd become acquainted with a lot of it crawling on his hands and knees at the pre-dawn hours -- and so it shocked him. Usually, things became so burned into his mind that they became background, but now, the background had somehow become noticeable.

Not only did he see individuals in the crowds as he smashed through them, roughly shoving them aside, but he could also *sense* them, but not in the way he could sense other immortals. It was more like an extended sense of touch. When he saw things or people with his eyes, he could *feel* them as if he were touching them. When he saw a brick wall, he could feel the texture of the brick with his vision; when he saw a person, he could feel the shape of the person.

If this were a calmer moment, he might even be frustrated by the fact that that was all he could sense. When he shoved people aside or bumped into them, the merest physical touch instantly told him a *quality* about the person -- that's the best way he could describe it to himself.

Although it was a very mystical experience for him, he was practical about it and believed that he knew what was happening. Somehow his physical senses had become enhanced... or maybe he had been shocked into paying attention to them more.

First the nightmares, then the memories, and now the senses. Axer stopped and looked around. Though he didn't know in his mind where the men were, a 'reflexive' part of him took over, as if 'his reflex' knew where they were.

Although he could see around himself well enough, he had the sensation that he was feeling his way around a darkened house, and though he couldn't see the men, he *knew* that they were right around the corner.

And there they were -- three well-dressed men with the physiques of hitmen. They most certainly seemed surprised to see him, and took a few steps back in fear. When Axer walked forward, one deliberate step at a time, his lungs heaving like he couldn't breathe, they looked a little more confident and opened their trenchcoats, almost as if they were showing off the guns in their shoulder-holsters -- or threatening to kill him if he didn't behave. None of them said a word as they smiled. They were also about five feet away from him, so they were confident that he couldn't pull any dirty tricks on them.

"Go on," Axer panted, his voice unintentionally sounding like Jack Nicholson's. "Kill me." He opened up his arms a little, his breath fogging up most of the air around him. His coat was open too, but all the men saw was the sword.

One of them grabbed for his gun, having grown impatient with the adrenaline surge that clouded his brain, but Axer was quicker. Like a blur, his Glock was aiming at the hitman's face before the gun was even halfway up, and the guy's mind must have worked quickly enough for him to realize he was a goner.

//So fast--!// he thought wordlessly as he tried in vain to finish his own motion.

{Click!} The bullet was a dud.

Breathing a sigh of relief, the hitman finished his motion, {Clack!} {Thunk!}

but just before his finger


received the message to pull...


...all senses abruptly got cut off --

{BOOM!} {Bang!}

Axer shot the second guy in the chest, surprised at the fact that a six-inch hole opened up, rather than a neat little one. The hitman also fell straight down, as if an anvil dropped on his chest.

The last hitman was pretty shocked at this development, but had enough smarts to roll out of the way as another musketball shot through the empty space where he was a moment ago.

A figure leaped from a fire escape, oblivious to the Glock that Axer had trained on him. A momentary flash of light revealed none other than Mulroney, holding some kind of heavy-duty rifle.

Before Axer could stop him, Mulroney fired another shot that blasted through the trash dumpster and slammed the hitman against the wall behind him, blood spurting out the hole in his blasted shoulder. His eyes closed in shock.

Axer's adrenaline still rushed through him as he fired a round at Mulroney, who had enough reflexes to move just far enough out of the way that it made a skim mark across the front of his jacket.

Mulroney aimed his rifle at Axer, smiling widely, "I don't believe you've been acquainted with my friend here."

"You talk too much." Axer shot some lead into the now-still and talking Irishman.

When Mulroney was shot in the middle of the chest, he reflexively fired a shot that missed Axer by a few inches, and fell to the ground, gasping in shock.

"That was for killing my sources of information," grimaced Axer, now close to catching his breath, "but I think you should do quite nicely. I understand you work for the Invisible Ones."

"Used to!" gasped Mulroney, losing a lot of blood from a spot in his leg that had mercifully landed where it did.

"I don't think so," smiled Axer. "Not when you tried to 'hide' the evidence."

"I was saving your life! They were going to kill you!"

"You know better than that."

Mulroney laughed sardonically as the life left him. Axer had no idea about the man's true age, unlike Duncan, and so walked away, rooting through the hitmens' pockets for identification or any other kind of clue. After a few moments without any luck, he decided to check Mulroney.

When Mulroney slowly sat up, a grim expression on his face, Axer pulled out his Glock in true astonishment. "What the hell--?"

"You've got that right," muttered Mulroney. He didn't heal like an immortal -- rather all that happened was a loss of blood, but no true healing. He couldn't have been a vampire either because vampires didn't bleed.

"What the hell *are* you?" The fact that he couldn't *sense* Mulroney stretched his nerves and made his blood race with fear. His mind raced trying to find an explanation.

"That's not important. I think there is something else that was."

"Like what?"

"Do you want to know who's been *building* the black boxes? I figured you'd want to chase the scientist, instead of the field marshals."

Axer tilted his head a fraction, "I'm listening."

"Then come on! I know where she is!"

Mulroney ran off deeper into the alley, and Axer followed him. When Jay and Coleen arrived at the same spot and found only the three bodies, Coleen swore.

Jay got down and examined the bodies, and swore in a much more civilized manner, "These aren't the men I saw!"

"There could have been others!"

"No -- it could only have been Axer who did this, and if he missed the ones I saw, then he could still be in danger!" Jay hopped back on the motorcycle and sped down the alley.

"I thought you Watchers didn't interfere!"

"Who says I am -- I want to be there when the head rolls!" Kate hovered directly overhead, having heard both Axer's conversation with Mulroney, and then this one. She followed along directly over Coleen.

* * *

Methos and Richie had made it up a few stories. The going was hard, and Methos had to admit to himself that this was much harder than climbing an actual mountain. On a mountain, you had the occasional depression in the rock faces to rest your hands and feet -- and rest your whole body when the occasion rose.

Here, everything was smooth and regular by design -- designed for appearance, and not scaling. Still, they coped. Inch by inch, foot by foot, they climbed.

Then the wind began to tear at them -- it had begun to blow a little a long time ago. Storm clouds came from beyond the horizon, as if some storm god realized that he'd been daydreaming on the job and had to send the storm there before the deadline. They had been silent for a long time, so Richie broke the silence. "Tell me. Do you have any lady friends?"

Methos was so shocked by the question that he almost lost his grip and fell off the building. "What?" he almost shouted with a nervous jolt.

"Pardon me for asking," he said almost a little fearfully, "but you seem so... I don't know -- a lot like a loner! Aside from your Watcher buddies, you don't seem to have any close friends."

Methos chuckled, "I suppose that's the way it seems. That's just the way I am." He thought about it for a moment, and his climbing became easier, "I guess it's just that I don't feel comfortable talking about myself. Would you, if everyone seems a stranger to you? I can't remember any close friends that I've ever had -- and I define a friend differently than you do.

"I call a friend someone who won't go for my head, and an enemy someone who does."

Richie thought about that for a few moments. "I don't think you've answered my question." His tone sounded as if he were trying to back off a few feet, waving hands in defense. "I'm just curious, that's all."

Methos chuckled, "I had a 'lady friend', as you would call it. I've had them off and on."

"Who was she?"

"She died..." whispered Methos. "Just as she told me she would when we met."

"I'm sorry," said Richie quietly.

They continued climbing in silence.

* * * *

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