The Cycle of Axer Carrick
Part V -- Riding the Wave
The Revised Version
by Henry Wyckoff
December 1995



Chapter 4

LaCroix viewed the screen, reflexively reaching for a bowl of grapes before he stopped himself. //Amazing thing, reflexes...// He saw Axer's environment change just as much as his own had a few moments before.

It was no longer a sewer, and for some reason, Axer's only reaction to this change was a slight shaking of the head. The illusion that had been draped over him -- for this was what LaCroix truly believed it was -- apparently did something to Axer's sense of reality. Even Axer's sense of urgency left him -- as if he had entered a dream, with the dream-mind instead of the real-mind, complete with all knowledge and concerns.

The Roman lady was practically climbing all over LaCroix, but he paid her no attention as he viewed Axer, who appeared to be walking down a calm meadow somewhere in the western United States. It resembled so many places that he had seen during his travels that he couldn't tell where it was. The fact that it was daytime didn't help matters.

One thing that LaCroix had always loved about television was that he could touch the fantasy of the day without feeling the reality of the sunlight. He sighed deeply, without even knowing it, as he imagined that he could feel the warm breeze on his skin, hear the sounds of the daytime, and smell the leaves under the morning sun.

"Ah yes, Axer's first challenge," smiled the lady, her face just an inch from LaCroix'. "Can you guess?"

"I'm trying to guess what just happened..." his eyebrows narrowed.

She leaned her head on his shoulder, snuggling in a little closer, "He has entered the arena, and his mind has been clothed with ignorance of the game, of Kate, and his own immortality. He believes he is in a place he once lived, in a past time. He is naked in mind, truly himself at his most basic form, fighting the challenges the Invisible Ones set against him..."

* * *

...Axer walked lazily, letting his sore muscles loosen. It was a long walk home, but he didn't mind. The sky was partly cloudy, making it a nice 20 degrees (Axer always thought in metric). He flicked on his walkman and let the soothing sounds of Iron Maiden, Armored Saint, and WASP gentle his soul.

Life was good. Nothing could be better than this. No school. No work. No responsibilities. It was great. Gone from his mind were his concerns about Kate -- and the knowledge of his immortality. All he knew was the present. Even the game was not on his mind. The most important thing on his mind was that he was going to have some pesto pizza later today.

That was before the winds came. Axer looked up towards the nearby mountains, and his jaw nearly unhinged itself: the thickest bunch of black clouds he'd ever seen punched across the top of the mountain, so fast it seemed as if time were playing tricks.

"Oh my god!..." he whispered. Adrenaline charged him as he started running down the dirt road. Three miles had never seemed so far as the clouds kept on rolling across the sky, blocking everything out. A nice afternoon was quickly becoming utter blackness.

Then came the sprinkling.

[pound... pound... thump...]

Axer's heartbeats and foot-slams shook his whole body (he *was* sprinting, and he was never light-footed) as he ran, his breath tearing at his windpipe and lungs, the fear shaking him each passing moment.

More moments passed, and it was so pitch-black that he could barely see a few feet in front of him. The wind threatened to throw him down. Kicked-up dust threatened to blast out his eyes, and so he had to run with his eyes half-covered with his hand.

[BOOM!... rumble...]

The lightning bolt covered the whole sky all around him, in a brief second lighting everything up even more intensely than a floodlight ever could. The thunder made Axer jump, and he stopped running, his body frozen in fear.

The sudden clouds. The blackness. The powerful lightning and thunder. It was too much. He was afraid. Afraid.

"I've *got* to get home!" he said out loud, in between gasps.

With increased desperation, he sprinted once more. The sprinkling had turned into actual rain. The wind whipped it at him so hard that it drew blood on his unprotected face and arms.

[BOOM!... RUMBLE!!]

That was closer. A brush fire started on the hill behind him. His breath came in choking gasps as he made it over the hill, and he could see his home on the next hill. A deep wash, some ravines, and a steep climb up a ridge was the only thing that separated him from his home.

He bolted down the hill, leaping over the ravines -- nearly falling in -- and climbing up the near-vertical slope of the loose ridge. As he climbed, he could see that the wind was actually making the rain fall *upwards*.

Axer froze in fear again as the most intense thunder he'd ever heard nearly forced him to lose his grip and fall down the ridge.

But he made it to the top, and found a mesquite tree that would provide some cover. And it did. It blocked some of the wind and rain, but not the thunder and lightning. He wanted to wait it out here, where he knew he would have some cover, but he also knew that was stupid -- it could get even worse any moment.

//You know you can't wait here,// said a very real voice in his own mind, but a voice he could hear with his ears. //Let me take over. You don't have to fear.//

"Who are you?" demanded Axer.

//Arctos the Red. I was once the most feared warrior of the Tigris and Euphrates -- and now I am a resident in the mind of a scared coward. I can give you the courage to continue. You know you can't stay here much longer.//

Axer wanted so desperately to give the reins to someone else -- to give away all concerns to someone else. Arctos said he could handle it, so why not --

Axer cut his thoughts off right there. "No thanks, Arctos."

With new determination, he ran back into the open, along the top of the ridge. This was the highest, most exposed spot of land around -- with a length of fence running along the path -- and it seemed as if the lightning knew it. It was then that the lightning hit even closer to home.

Axer nearly screamed in fright, falling to the ground with each startled jump, as the lighting hit closer and closer.

//Let me fight this for you!//

"NO!" screamed Axer, at the same time wanting to dive between some bushes. "No... let it pass me over..."

//Home is so close! Just let me take over! Let me take you home!//

Axer stumbled along the dirt road, scraping his hands on the ground with each fall, weeping with exhaustion, fear, and stress. He wanted to vomit. His limbs no longer wanted to move -- they were shaking with weakness.

He looked up, the rain needling into his eyes, and saw the house -- so close and so far away.

"Can't make it," he cried. "I can't make it!"

//Of course you can't!// screamed Arctos. //Only I can! You are weak! You will die in your weakness!//

"Weak?" Axer's head snapped up, his vision clearing. The house was much closer now. "If I'm so weak then why is it you haven't taken over?"

Gathering his last burst of energy, he dead-sprinted the last hundred yards to the front door, ignoring the hail that now whipped at him, and burst through it.

In utter exhaustion, he closed his eyes and immediately passed out. When he opened his eyes, he didn't know how much time had passed. He was back in the sewers, and now that the illusion had faded, so did the dream-mind he was cloaked with. He remembered everything, as if he'd woken up from a dream with perfect memory of the dream along with the memory of the waking world.

Picking himself up, he went on his way down the sewer...

* * *

...LaCroix scratched his chin thoughtfully.

"You do understand where the true battle was, do you not?" asked the lady.

"But of course," smiled LaCroix. "But what I don't understand is how they knew about his deepest fears."

"They are the Invisible Ones -- watching. They observe all."

He shook his head, //Nice evasion...//

* * *

Methos looked at Hodr after a moment of thought, "What are gods, you ask? Gods were always beings who controlled the world. They created it. They kept it going. They destroyed it. There was a god for rain, for fire, for everything important that we never understood or controlled.

"They were the products of our environment. Mesopotamia was a chaotic, violent landscape with horrible weather and flooding, and the Mesopotamian gods reflected that. Egypt was an orderly and tranquil land with life-giving floods, and so the gods of Egypt were orderly. The Norse gods were violent for a violent race. The Chinese gods were bureaucratic for a race obsessed with it.

"What purpose do they serve? I'd say they serve only one purpose: to give understanding and security. We don't even need gods -- just concepts. That's why I think we could say that science is a religion just as much as Christianity, because it satisfies our need for understanding and security. Why else would church attendance drop so much?"

"Rebellion?" suggested Hodr.

Methos smiled, "Perhaps... But can that truly be the case if the rebels know they'll burn in hell for their apostacy? No... It's a case of shifting values and beliefs."

* * *

Odin felt the wind rip against his skin, and he stared at the fire. Oh yes, the fire. There was more than one thing burning that day so long ago, aside from the fire in his veins...

*

...Jake was still celebrating after finding the spear, so he didn't sense the invisible.

Suddenly, all around him, torches mounted on the walls flared up on their own. Hundreds -- thousands of torches -- lit it up as well as light bulbs.

A single man faced him, smiling. He was dressed like a monk, except the colors were white instead of black or brown. His smile was cold, "Welcome back, Odin. It's been a long time."

"My name's Jake."

"So you believe. We know better. We have a deal to make with you, Odin. The time comes close."

* * * *


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