DISCLAIMER: The characters are
the sole property of Marvel Comics and are not used for profit
purposes. Yeats belongs to Ireland. Rogue and Gambit belong
together, but aren't and won't be in this story. I, of course,
belong to a secret government agency who are researching tagging
people through chicken-pox vaccines. Feedback belongs at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A PG rating belongs on this story for some oblique references
to killing and a couple -- literally, two -- of very, very
mild, sweary words.
'Put off that mask of burning
With emerald eyes.'
O no, my dear, you make so bold
To find if hearts be wild and wise
And yet not cold.'
The chessboard lay on the table between them, wooden pieces
scattered between regimental rows of black and white, save
for the few spaces caused by unwise decisions. There were
more gaps in white than black, caused in part by the incisive
military mind of Raven Darkholme, who sat twirling a casualty
between two fingers and smiling smugly. Her daughter met her
smirk with one of her own, implying that the losses were part
of some grander, regicidal scheme. It was a favorite game
of the two -- although neither could decide whether they preferred
the psychological or the strategic aspect -- and their personal
rivalry was, at the moment, being won by the older woman.
"Your move, Rogue."
The girl pushed her auburn hair out of her face and screwed
up her lips, eyes flickering between her bishop and rook.
They both were in danger by something that her mother had
referred to as a 'knight-fork'. The obvious choice to save
was the rook, as it was more versatile and valuable, according
to the arbitary system, but, if Raven took it, it would lead
her wide open to an attack by Rogue's Queen. A possible check-mate.
Unreadable, she moved the Bishop out of the path of danger.
"Your move, mother."
Lilting, Irish accent aside, Raven seemed to be confused
by her choice, but put it down to youth, stupidity or lack
of proper planning. Shrugging, she knocked the rook of the
board with her knight.
"That was stupid."
Grinning, grey eyes brilliant, Rogue moved her Queen into
position and leaned forward to tip the King onto his side.
He rolled slightly, colliding with a pawn. The other woman
ironically applauded her daughter's victory.
"Check mate, Raven."
"A gambit? I never thought you were that sneaky. I'm
impressed. You have learnt something from me."
A shrieking klaxon cut off any response, wailing its protest
at the presence of intruders. At one time, it would have roused
the acolytes, but still served to give the citadel's two occupants
prior warning that their boundaries had been breached. On
one wall, an array of televisions exploded into technicolour
life, resolving into halls and passages, cliffs and skies.
On the one to the extreme left, a group of uniformed figures
appeared, leaping between screens as they approached Magneto's
quarters. The motion blur could not quite disguise the insignia
emblazoned on their spandex uniforms -- two lines quartering
a circle, an X.
Remy leBeau had never been so angry in his life. An impotent,
simmering fury that was directed to no one in particular and
to everyone in general. The cards in his hands flared and
died as he strode through the halls with quick, impatient
steps, completely unlike his typical cat-quietness. If the
Grand Council saw him, he thought as he forced himself to
become calm, they would demote him to novice without a second
thought. Chasing after shadows and suppositions annoyed him
under the best of circumstances, went against his methodical,
logical character, was downright unprofessional. And these
were not the best of circumstances. In the light of a concrete
threat to the world, something of which he had tangible proof
in the form of the e-mail, it seemed ridiculous to check whether
Magneto was alive, dead or had the chickenpox. That was what
his particular group of pseudoreligious sycophants was for,
he uncharitably grumbled as he rounded another corridor in
the labyrinth, noting the odd lack of any opposition in the
form of Acolytes. Had they grown tired of worshipping? Were
their joints too stiff to bow to a demagogue? Or, more probably,
were they planning another assault on another pointless target?
All hail Magneto's glorious gas station, he quipped.
"Gambit? We need you here," Cyclops' voice was
urgent, a whisper that carried further than normal speech,
"The door is locked. Can you...?"
Raising a skeptical eyebrow in his leader's general direction,
Remy extracted a slim, supple toolkit from his pocket. A grandmaster
thief and Summers thought that he could not crack a lock that
would have given a novice no problems, he snorted disgustedly.
"I'll do m'best," he replied, sarcastically, removing
the smallest pick from the leather case, leaving its brothers
and the small oil-container behind. Although low-tech, it
was a beautiful set, given to him by his father following
his tilling and admission to the Guild. As Prince of Thieves,
they were his crown, his sceptre, his key to the city and
badge of office. Made of platinum, tipped with diamond, the
handles of which were engraved with three parallel bands through
which silvered leaves grew and tiny creatures peeped, they
were acknowledged as the finest in existence by craftsmen
and professionals alike. As he had anticipated, the lock clicked
open in a matter of seconds. Remy smiled at the look of horror
on Cyclops' face.
"Entrez-vous, mes amis."
"Dammit, Momma," Rogue swore as she rounded on
the older woman, accent gone in her agitation, "Looks
like we're screwed. Ain't no way they're goin' t' believe
Yvonne Montgomery has a good reason ta be with a wanted terrorist.
We'll have t'eliminate them."
Mystique's lips twitched in the suggestion of a smile. Her
daughter's impetuousness amused her as it always did. Although
clearly intelligent, Rogue's primary fault was leaping before
she looked. She was fortunate that she was invulnerable and
superstrong, she thought, or she would have ended up dead
in one of her many unneccessary brawls.
"Why don't we follow your earlier example?" she
"Be sneaky?" the girl looked perplexed, then grinned
as Mystique's face shifted and shimmered into a new form.
One of the thousand masks and illusions that she had learned
to adopt, taking on a new persona to disguise her inside as
readily as her mutant power disguised her outside.
"I think it's best, don't you?"
Rogue laughed, "Magnus Rex, thy will be done."
Magneto's companion, whoever she was or whatever her reason
for being there, was beautiful. Coppery curls framed an unconventionally
lovely face with grave, grey eyes, a decidedly upturned nose
and a lopsided, amused mouth. Her simple, white bodysuit and
jacket lent her a professional air, while her erect carriage
marked her a military woman. Remy's eyes, finetuned by a lifetime
of appreciating daVinci Madonnas, Picasso dancers and Botticelli
nymphs, found her before they settled upon the true reason
for their infiltration of the monastery. Erik was as implacable
as ever, seated in a leather chair in front of a chessboard.
(Gambit noticed that the game was finished, that the King
had been killed, and wondered whether that had any significance.)
In his one hand, he twirled a pawn -- the only sign of his
agitation -- and met Cyclops' glare with an equally steely,
level one. The scene was natural enough, yet it seemed strangely
false. A tableau. A pantomime. A masque. Aware that he was
being watched, Remy shifted his attention back to the woman,
who was regarding him with an unreadable expression on her
face. It was natural enough, he supposed, that she would find
him attractive. Or a curiosity, given his eyes. Any difference
in appearance seemed to give the public license to stare at
the aberration, fascinated despite wanting to turn away in
horror from the bizarre. Still, there was something wrong
about her. His Tante Mattie, attuned as she was to the world
beyond senses or sensibility, would have understood the strange
hollowness he felt when he looked at her, as if she was a
Russian Doll with different women hidden inside her painted
shell. He shook his head to get rid of the sensation if not
her intent gaze -- Magneto was speaking...
Behind the polite facade of Yvonne Montgomery, Rogue was
taking notes. Her scrutiny flicked between the intruders and
her mother, intrigued to see the people who she believed would
provide her greatest challenge. She was not impressed. The
atavistic brawler with the claws on his gloves was an anachronism
in an age of bullets and lasers, while the auburn-haired woman
next to him looked like a typical, spoilt princess; Daddy's
little girl. Equally out of time was the Hiawatha Wannabe,
complete with warpaint and feathers, looking for the next
Little Bighorn. As for Dudley Doright behind him complete
with cleft-jaw and boy-scout morality, she jeered, all he
needed was a hat to complete the picture. The final member
of the quintet eluded classification, though. Tall and slim,
with eyes that were akin to those of demons rather than men,
he was a contradiction. Impossibly young, yet with an air
of incredible experience. Ingenuous, but missing nothing.
Scowling, she wished that she could find a box for him and
be done with him. Her mother, by the sound of her voice, evidently
wished the same.
"My former students, to what do I owe the unexpected
pleasure of this visit?"
Dudley Doright, obviously the leader, replied: "Neophyte
... uh ... informed us that ... you were in danger. We came
to ... do what we could."
Internally, Rogue rolled her eyes. He was a terrible liar,
stammering his way through the phony explanation with about
as much panache as a guilty schoolboy. Neophyte and the rest
of his ilk were in Antarctica, attempting to spread sedition
among the mutants there to join their cause. It was the only
way that they had been able to infiltrate the base and assassinate
"As you can see, you were misinformed. Agent Montgomery
and I are in the process of negotiating the terms of a treaty
recognising the sovereignty of Avalon. The Western European
nations are being most accommodating." Rogue managed
a smile, wondering what her mother was thinking. The veracity
of such a treaty was easily verifiable, if the X-Men suspected
anything. The brawler seemed suspicious and she silently cursed,
wondering if she had underestimated his intelligence.
"Ya work for WEST, Agent Montgomery? Surprised they
want to make peace with Maggie here."
"Aye, I do," she responded, "And we thought
it in the best interests of security in Western Europe tae
reach some sort of agreement with someone as powerful as Magnus.
Recognising his version of Ynys Avallach was a small price
tae pay for peace."
"Now, Yvonne," her mother chided, "You don't
want to tip your hand."
She chuckled, "Ye knew we were going tae capitulate,
Dudley Doright nodded, and the brawler seemed satisfied,
although his eyes seemed troubled. The strange, young man
still looked at her with those incredible eyes as if they
saw through her skin to her soul, but she maintained her composure.
"If that is all, I'd like to conclude proceedings, if
ye gentlemen and ladies would give us some privacy?"
"Truer words were never spoken," Mystique agreed,
"If you'd excuse us..."
"Sorry," Dudley Doright mumbled, looking embarrassed
and scuttling towards the door, "We'll leave you to your
negotiations. Good evening."
It shut behind the quintet and Rogue slumped back into her
seat. Mystique, still wearing Magneto's face but decidedly
pale, reached for the half-empty whisky decanter and poured
herself a finger of dutch courage in a glass, which she swallowed,
before following it with another. The immediate danger was
past, but the man-demon bothered her. His gaze had made rags
and tatters of illusion, she understood that, but she was
loath to eliminate him and send a signal that all was not
well, that the skies were falling on the world. Picking up
a pawn and absently rolling it over her knuckles, she decided
to play a gambit. A breach of secrecy in exchange for absolute
power, for winning the game of empires.
In the Blackbird, while Cyclops and the others debated the
consequences of their discovery and their future actions,
Remy turned the mystery of Yvonne Montgomery over and over
in his head like a shiny coin. She was somehow connected with
the mysterious e-mail he had received from Carol Dee, he sensed,
although how he was unsure. A Russian Doll, she was a riddle
wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma, but he would pry open
the outer image and discover the truth at its heart. He would
understand her, would see her for who and what she truly was,
or he suspected that all their efforts to prop up the sky
would be inadequate. That, like Chicken Little, they would
shout in vain while everything came tumbling down around them.
That Yvonne Montgomery or Carol Dee or Magneto or any one
of a thousand would-be rulers would then stand on top of the
ruins of heaven.
Continued in Chapter
1. My dad, who taught chess, is the master of the knight-fork.
No matter how I try to avoid it, he smugly points out to me
that he's trapped me again. Arggh.
2. Ynys Avallach is the Celtic name for Avalon in Arthurian
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