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

Chapter 29

LaCroix and Halscombe were in the perfect hiding place -- a hidden cellar in the Raven that only he and Janette knew about. Janette would have no reason to go down here, and Nick didn't know about it, so LaCroix felt safe and secure. Halscombe felt anything but that.

"I thought you were going to leave me for the wolves," said Halscombe.

"To tell you the truth, I really don't know what to do with you. I *could* do it, but then I wouldn't get the information I want." LaCroix was sweating, hardly daring to go through with what he planned -- it had backfired in the past, but then again, none of the others had the problems that Halscombe had.

"What information?" asked Halscombe.

LaCroix stared Halscombe in the eyes, his pupils locking into Halscombe's. ^^What's so special about you?^^ A nice and ambiguous question to start with -- unfocused enough to keep Halscombe guessing if he was resisting, and open enough to get an unexpected answer. ^^You *will* tell me the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.^^

Halscombe was not a resistor and was not programmed to self- destruct. He tried to fight the suggestion, and was quite strong-willed, but he lacked that special, unidentifiable factor that the resistors had. His eyes took on a zombie-look as he said, "I don't know how to answer your question."

True, but useless. LaCroix decided to tighten the questions. ^^Is there anything you *want* to tell me?^^


LaCroix wanted to strangle the man, wondering if he was still resisting on some level.

^^What is your connection with the Invisible Ones?^^

"I was recruited by them because I was 'the kind of good help that's hard to get'."

^^Go on.^^

Halscombe must have been resisting; he was sweating visibly. "I knew something about everything, had friends and acquaintances everywhere, and knew how to organize operations. The Invisible Ones needed someone with those qualifications. They arranged it so that I would managed the United States operations and act as an interface with the other powers."

LaCroix nodded. The more he thought about it, the more it made sense. He couldn't help but think about the many-worlds theory. Could Axer and Halscombe be two souls who'd diverged and become opposite sides of the same coin? When it came down to it, Axer had many of the same skills under the surface.

^^What are the Invisible Ones?^^ A nice, specific, neutral question.

"I don't know. I never met them myself. They just run the show."

LaCroix considered something. ^^Are they of this world?^^

"I don't know."

^^What do you think?^^

"I don't know."

* * *

Duncan held his head in his hands. The only thing he knew was pain. It was a headache so powerful that even when he breathed, his head would ache with a new wave of pain.

Amanda washed his forehead with a wet cloth, unsure as to what was happening or what to do about it. It couldn't be poison, that was for sure.

"What happened?" he asked. The effects of that dungeon session were slowly wearing off. He remembered it only as a whirlwind of pain and pleasure -- without any faces.

"You had a bad few days," she answered, ringing out the cloth. "Just let it go."

There was a polite knock on the door, and both felt the presence of an immortal. In came a man with a worn and used trenchcoat, a week-old beard, uncombed hair, and worn tennis shoes. He wore a lop-sided grin on his face that faded into an uncertain one. It was none other than Connor MacLeod.

Duncan looked up, confusion open on his face. Finally, recognition came, "Connor?"

"It's me," smiled Connor, walking over to the kitchen and pulling out a bottle of white wine. "A friend asked me to come down and help you get back on your feet." He grinned viciously, holding two claymores that were so heavy that they probably weren't even meant to be used in battle.

Duncan's head fell back into his hands.

* * *

Mulder, Tracy, Caine, and now Scully were going through the paper and computer files in the only office the warehouse had to offer. Most were genuine papers for the warehouse business, but a few were coded transactions -- perhaps indicating the storage and transport of illegal materials. It resembled the office of a contrabandistor more than the office of an Invisible One.

Maybe he shouldn't have been surprised, but Mulder had hoped to find *some* sort of hint -- a memo, a scrap of paper, a file -- *something* to send him along the right path.

Something occurred to him then, as he looked at the room with unfocused eyes. The windows were gone. They were swung open, and all the glass had blown outwards. The more he looked around, the more he found evidence of... some sort of massive disturbance, almost like some sort of explosion. Only, there was no fire or bomb.

He scratched his head.

"Care for some coffee?" asked a new voice. Mulder turned to see Nat, who had brought in a big thermos.

Mulder was the only one who felt like coffee, so he grabbed a cup and motioned with his head towards the hallway. Mulder could tell that Nat was looking very preoccupied, even more than she should be expected to be, so he asked her, "Is everything all right?"

"Nothing's wrong," she shook her head.

//She didn't answer my question *and* she shook her head. This must be serious!// "You can tell me," he said.

She couldn't speak.

"That's OK," he took a sip of coffee. "Whenever you want to talk, I'll have an ear open."

Nat shook her head again. "I just can't believe what's been happening to me the last few days... Ever since I stepped into the Raven, my whole life has changed."

Mulder nodded, saying nothing.

"Nick -- Coleen -- Janette coming back... I don't know what to think anymore. I don't even know what I'm feeling anymore!"

It must have been the angle of the faint light, but Mulder spotted something on Nat's arm. She wore short sleeves at the moment, and he could see several injection points. They were too random and sloppy to be those made by a doctor -- and they were finer than the points left by ultra-fine insulin syringes. They looked like they were made by --

"Do you remember being injected with something?" demanded Mulder sharply.

"I -- don't--" she shook her head sharply, as if she were trying to clear her memory of something, or trying to remember.

"That explains it!" he snapped, a fist hitting his open palm. "I *thought* you looked out of it, and now the more I think about it, the more it makes sense. I think somebody injected you with something!" His tone softened. "What do you remember?"

"I don't know... Only waking up with Coleen and realizing that I couldn't waste anymore of my life with an immature vampire who refused to grow up or admit the truth to himself."

Mulder shook his head sadly. //I'd be the first to say that Coleen acted in an unethical manner... But should I tell Nat the truth? She's confused, but I think she might actually be happier this way. It couldn't have worked so well if she didn't want it to be this way...// His stomach clenched. //At least I'll sleep on it. Better to wait and see.//

Mulder sighed, "Tell me this. If Nick left you forever, how would you feel?"

They turned around and started to walk back. Nat shook her head, "I don't know. Maybe a week ago, I would have said differently, but I honestly couldn't care if he vanished forever. Maybe if he matures a little more, I *would* care, but he's like a broken record, and I need to move on."

Mulder's gut crunched some more. He'd had inner debates before, but nothing like this. He didn't know what to say or think -- only what he knew what he *should* do, and what he *would* do.

"I think you should trust your instincts," he said, not adding, //...Instincts warped by drugs. But maybe that's what you needed...//

They returned to find that the investigation was finished. Nothing had been found here, but Scully did have some information to give him. "Joe just called, and told us he has a few fish stories to tell us."

"The fish that got away?"

"More like the fish he threw back in."

Mulder shook his head, "We *have* to find Halscombe! He *has* to be here!"

"*Mulder*! If he was here, we would have found him. Maybe some of them moved him somewhere else."

//She has a point...// "We still can't go -- we still might be able to find some files."

"Detective Vetter can do that."

Once more, Mulder found himself gently over-ruled by his partner. They left for the Raven.

* * *

Richie and Methos had been delving through the books for the last day, at Methos' apartment rather than the boat -- at Methos' insistence, since Duncan needed some room to heal and get his bearings. Richie didn't mind at all.

He'd never been to college, but the whole experience made him feel like he was studying for some major exam. Coffee was made in copious amounts, and there were snacks galore. More than once, Richie reached for the pretzels, and had to fight really hard to stay away from the beer.

They had taken the books randomly, reading them cover to cover, making notes where appropriate. What made the reading easy was the fact that they were translations into English from Swedish and Icelandic. What made them hard was the fact that while they read like fiction books, they couldn't read them as such -- they had to read them critically, which made the job a great deal more tedious than either one of them would have liked.

They had finished the 'biographies', and Richie now made a comment, "You know, I can't see where these 'gods' are different from immortals! They're the same, do the same things, live like regular human beings..."

"Except for the fact that they were never observed to take a Quickening or get challenged by an immortal."

Richie nodded at that, "Maybe they were good at staying hidden at the right times."

"You have a point there, but I don't think we have the whole story." Methos held up two more books: The Prophecies of Ragnarok and Non Videt, Sed Video. "I think these will be the most valuable."

They got to reading...

* * *

Axer leaned back on a sofa, an arm loosely draped over Kate as she snuggled against him, nibbling -- and biting -- at his neck. It was a game she sometimes played. She would ever-so-gently bite a hole in his neck and sip at the few drops of blood that would come out. The wound would close almost immediately, which Kate seemed to enjoy immensely, because she would puncture his neck again, giggling the whole while.

Axer smiled a bit at that, but his mind was elsewhere. He was thinking about the memories that had assaulted him in the last few days, the nightmare-scape, Tesla's momentary possessions of him, and his own control over the Quickening -- or so Kate and Mulroney would have him believe.

//Could it truly be? Could this truly be an emergence of older, slain immortals from that sea of captured Quickenings? Or was it all in my head? And why was it the box that triggered it all?//

"Hmmm..." muttered Kate, nearly succeeding in diverting his attention as she kissed another bite mark. "Don't tell me you're thinking -- after all this!"

"I'm afraid I am," he smiled, running his fingers through her hair. "I hate to say it, but I think you're right about the nightmares."

She looked up from his neck, a little startled, "What do you mean?"

"When I was at the lab, Mulroney said that Tesla -- who turned out to be an immortal -- had possessed me a few times. Once he told me about it, I went into the nightmare-scape and met him." He shook his head, "I knew some things about the man, but there's no way I could pull him out of my own subconscious -- there are so many things I don't know about him or his science. I pulled him to the real world and he took a good look at everything, and figured out in half an hour what I would never have figured out in a year."

"But I thought you knew about all that," she frowned.

Axer laughed sardonically, "I know *about* a lot of the different fields, but I'm not a master of all trades. ...There are *so many* tricks and traps that I'd never be able to pull it off. It's like knowing how to say 'I speak your language very well' in twenty different languages, and not being fluent in any of them."

Kate laughed pretty hard at that one, "I can see you've been on the other side of that one!"

He nodded ruefully, "One too many times -- and Berlitz made it a lot worse!" He shuddered.

Something just occurred to him then. "I need to go back under."

"Why?" She could sense his urgency.

He laughed sardonically once more, "You know, I think I've been going to the nightmare-scape for a lot longer than I realize."

"What do you mean?"

"Whenever I had a vision of the Great Mother, it would take place in the nightmare-scape. I never questioned it, but now I am."

* * * *

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