The Cycle of Axer Carrick
Part I -- When The Veil Is Lifted
The Revised Version
by Henry Wyckoff
Mulder woke up in the hospital, feeling weak and dehydrated, but also very relaxed, as if he had woken up after a long sleep. His whole back hurt, but it was more of an irritation than a sharp pain. Scully sat by his bed, and the two detectives sat at the side.
"How are you feeling?" Scully's voice was soft and still shaken from last night's close call.
"Pretty good." He didn't mention the terrible itching on his back, but he didn't want to spoil her mood. "I see the cavalry arrived in the Nick of time."
Nick shook his head sadly at the bad pun, but smiled.
Mulder looked around and gained his bearings. "How long have I
"We brought you here last night. The doctors patched you up not too much long after."
Scully's face fell, but perhaps had some relief in there as well. "He vanished. Nobody knows where he is."
"What aren't you telling me?"
She looked at Nick, and then back at Mulder, "Nothing. Nothing at all."
The Valium that had killed the pain enough for him to speak and be conscious without feeling a great deal of excruciating pain had other side effects, which kicked in about now. Mulder's eyes closed.
"What will you do now?" asked Nick.
"Wait until the doctors release Mulder, then fly back home." Scully snorted. "And to think that this was supposed to be a vacation! I wish mine started about now!"
Mulder seemed to say something, but whatever it was, nobody could understand.
* * *
Axer was at the Raven. Though the place was crowded nearly wall to wall with people, a space around Axer was devoid of people as he sat at the bar.
His eyes were bloodshot as he stared ahead, oblivious to anyone as a bottle of scotch sat before him untouched. He just couldn't drink it. His stomach churned on nothing, eating away at itself.
It must have been Scully, he reasoned.
For all of his 2500 years of life, the great many lives that he had taken, the Quickenings he had absorbed, and all that he had done, he was still a human being, and a vulnerable one at that.
It was the look of hate in her face as she loaded Mulder in the car. The hate stung him in a way that nothing else could. He could stand death, wounds, plague, and any manner of adversity, but he didn't want anyone to hate him on a personal level. That's why he had left. His guilt for Mulder's condition -- the pain he felt at the hate directed towards him.
For a day and a night, as he replenished his vows to the Great Mother and became one with the sword, Axer had felt his old self come back to the surface, but that old self died once more. He recalled that a long time ago he hadn't needed the drink, but he had long since forgotten it.
Axer speculated that this must have been the reason why he began in the first place -- he could only escape through the numbness that alcohol provides, and the great pain that comes after.
"I think you have learned a very valuable lesson," Axer said aloud to himself. "From this day forward, you will feel nothing. Whether the world becomes a heaven or a hell, no matter what happens, you won't care a bit."
* * *
LaCroix stood a few dozen yards away, noticing Axer for the first time and scratching his head. Recognition came: it was indeed the man who he and Janette had met so long ago.
At the time, the man had been Bard Lanscot. LaCroix couldn't sense anything unusual about Bard at the time, so he thought it was a sheer coincidence that he also looked exactly like a man he had met during his conquest in the lands of the mad Celts.
But now that he saw the selfsame man, he knew that this was no look-alike. This was the man who made it possible for him to become what he was now, in a very indirect way. Whenever LaCroix felt very philosophical, he would think about how significant a single event could be, and how the mere act of a man crossing the street could vastly affect the future.
* * *
The General looked up from the tower that overlooked the forest for a ways. The forest blocked a great deal of the visibility -- but it was better than nothing. At the moment, nobody cared about what lay outside the walls, because the only ones left for miles around were smoking corpses and weeping women who would bear a generation of children who would in no way resemble their lawful husbands.
The battle had not only been a victory, but one for the poets to sing of to patricians for centuries to come. The mad Celts had launched a great, unlawful rebellion and had learned what happens when Roma Aeternalis is opposed.
First the disorganized cloud of warriors were cut down by the organized ranks of battle-hardened soldiers. Some of Rome's men died that day, but they were few compared to the many thousands of Celts who died. When every single warrior had died on the battlefield, the villages were raided by the soldiers who were told to kill every child, man, and elder they could find.
If they found women of the proper age, those women would bear the next generation of Romans. If the women were already pregnant, they would learn the penalty of bearing another generation of mad Celts. The punishment of that crime was so dreadful that even the General shuddered at the thought of it, but he understood that crimes must be punished.
That was over now. A few of the soldiers had brought back a few prizes who were passed around along with the wine. The screams still echoed, and the morning was dying.
The General heard a sound in the distance and saw a lone Celt approaching from the forest. He was bloodied and wounded, and held a standard, the likes of which he had never seen. It was a purple standard with a gray balance. The left scale held the sun and the right scale held the night.
He approached the gates, and called out in a heavily accented, but an almost Patrician form of Latin. "I would speak with the leader of this band."
"I am the General," he called back. "What do you want, Celt?"
"I am the sole survivor of the massacre. Your celebration is premature -- the war still rages, and I remain on the battlefield. Pick up your swords, or leave them. It does not matter for me, the Executioner of the Great Mother!"
The General laughed. His men were quite drunk, but this man must be even drunker -- or mad. "I feel merciful today, which is a rare enough moment in itself. Leave this place, or we will riddle you with countless spears and arrows."
"What is the matter? Do you, the so-called conquerors of the world, cower at the challenge of a single warrior? Where is your courage?"
The General laughed loudly. "If you have such a need for death, then who am I to deny it?" He shouted a command to the men: "We have one more Celt who has challenged us! Run him through!"
Out of five hundred men, one hundred were sober enough or had enough alcohol intolerance to grab their gladii and pilia, their tower shields and their helmets. The gates opened, and the lone Celt stood ready.
He slammed the standard into the ground and produced a Gaulish leaf-tip sword that dwarfed the gladius by a length, but was not as long as the German sword.
"Death to the Romani!" he roared as he charged towards the soldiers, fleet as a Greek runner. Like the wind, he flew into the ranks, his sword reaping a bloody harvest.
The General looked on in shock and awe as a clearing appeared in the middle of the block of his men, and it grew bigger and bigger. It was like the Celt was a force of nature, skilled beyond belief, and powerful as the roots of the mountains.
The General leaped down the stairs, drawing his own gladius. By now, many of the men were cut down, and the rest were backing off in fear and total disarray.
"You come at last, leader of men," taunted the Celt. This was an insult to the image of an ideal Roman general, who always led the way, as Julius Caesar had when he'd invaded the shores of Britannia.
The General was the best swordsman that his generation could produce, his fame spread from Hispania to Syria and Dacia. He saluted and faced this mad Celt, and the world seemed to slow around him.
The fight seemed like a dream. The motions seemed more like a dance than a battle of forces. The Celt actually smiled as they parried, slashed, and hacked.
How long did they fight? Perhaps even the Fates didn't know. Perhaps the Celt controlled the flow of time as he controlled the dance of swords.
The Celt used a series of moves so fast and powerful that the General lost all sense of space and perception. Pain flooded him all over his body, and the world began spinning.
When it stopped, he found himself at the bottom of the trench, a wicked cut from shoulder to wrist on his right arm. The blood had long-since clotted, so a great deal of time must have passed.
With great agony, but with a stoicism that was still an integral part of the Roman, he climbed out of the trench and sank to his knees. Every single man was decapitated and his head stuck on a spear. The bodies were gutted and their hearts had been removed.
Ravens and other scavengers feasted on the remains of the bodies, and picked the brains and eyes of the heads. Not a soul was left alive. The smell of the dead was overpowering, and he covered his mouth with his other arm. The fortress had burned to the ground, and only an outline of ashes remained. He must have been out a long time -- long enough for the troops from the next fort to ride over and investigate.
He had been sent back to his home near Mount Vesuvius to heal -- but he clothed his one and only defeat with the banner of victory -- and a few days later, the mountain began to boil. He became a vampire only because of the act of a mad Celt.
* * *
This selfsame man had saved Janette and himself from a band of mortals who had rightly accused them of being vampires. The evidence, however, was fabricated. They must have been good guessers.
The mortals had cornered them with crosses and brands, but Bard had arrived on a battle stallion, his sword held aloft. He slaughtered a few of the mortals, frightening the rest of them off.
"Are you injured?" asked the man in poor Italian. His accent could either be French, Breton, or Portuguese, but still sounded off.
"We are not," answered LaCroix in English. "Why did you save us, if I may satisfy my curiosity." It wasn't just curiosity. The man looked naggingly familiar, and he was trying to stall him long enough for the memory to return.
The man spat in the direction the mortals fled in, "Those fools tried to burn innocent people. Vampires! Wizards! They're as evil as the Devil, and burn innocents in the name of the God of Love. I helped you because there is no way you could be what they claim you are."
LaCroix' eyes widened for the first time in centuries. Here was a man of reason in a world of superstition. He could have been like any number of the philosophers he remembered from the Roman Empire.
"Might we have your name?" asked Janette.
"Bard Lanscot, at your service." He tipped his hat to them. "Do you need a ride to the next city?"
"That is most gracious of you," Janette smiled winningly. Perhaps she hoped to drink the man's blood before the hour was gone.
Only, she never got around to doing it. Bard performed at the Court, playing the lute in a manner which had stunned everyone, including Janette and LaCroix.
LaCroix spent the next day remembering a battle that took place many lifetimes ago.
* * *
Axer sensed a movement next to him, and saw a man with short hair sit. His memory had always been very bad because there were so many things that had happened in his life, and so many demands on his memory in an age of ever increasing information.
This face came back to him through the corridors of time. "General Lucius." Axer didn't feel the telltale "buzz", so he figured the guy must be a vampire.
"So it *is* you."
"Believe me, I'm just as surprised to see you."
"I believe you," smiled Lucius. Whatever traces of LaCroix that were there became much more recessive as the old Lucius emerged on the surface. For the first time in centuries, he seemed genuinely glad to see anyone.
Axer noticed that his stomach had stopped churning. The bottle of scotch became a table ornament that one ignores at first glance. "You know," he chuckled, "I can remember trying to kill you and cursing your name in my sleep for many centuries... but I'll have to say I'm glad to see you."
LaCroix nodded. "Enemies make better friends than friends."
"And friends make more effective enemies than enemies," finished Axer. They were silent for a moment. "I have an urge for a cigar and a glass of tea... Care to come with me to the roof?"
LaCroix nodded. "It's a good night for tales..."
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