the remnants of dying fires,
understanding that they could no longer blaze
on stone or grass,
gave themselves to the night-breezes,
and flew into the dark.
~ WOODASH, by Ororo Munroe
The row of paper targets stood, complete with holes through
their candy-box hearts. Dangling from strings, they were unscathed,
save for the single, accurate shot through atrium or ventricle.
She had always found shooting a soothing activity, an exercise
that encompassed mind and body. It was different, of course,
when the mark was flesh-and-blood, where the wound was not
a neat circle in neat paper, but a jagged hole in all-too-soft
tissue. As a villainess, she had not believed so, knowing
instead that the difference between the animate and the inanimate
was very slight. A press of the trigger away. Heroines were
not meant to realise that, though, holding life as sacred
and precious as any of their lofty ideals. Love. Nobility.
Sacrifice. Understanding. Infinite mercy. Words from a comic-book,
or a fairy-tale. She grimaced. She could never live up to
the Dream; could not even live up to what her mother had expected
of her and trained her to do .. Endlessly caught between sun
and shade, good and evil, she was unable to choose a side,
so walked in the grey twilight. She had betrayed the team,
although she had done nothing wrong; she had not betrayed
the team, although she had by coming within a breath of doing
"Computer? Restart sim."
The row of targets shimmered and were replaced by another
row of intact paper dolls. Smiling stupidly at her, they swayed
arms and legs in the illusionary wind. Rogue hoisted her revolver
again, and shattered their hearts.
I don't know how long I have been sitting in the chair of
the Danger Room's Observation Area -- that Jubilee ironically
used to call voyeur central -- watching Rogue fire salvo after
salvo into those targets with deadly accuracy. Truthfully,
it scares me. I guess I thought I knew all about her past
as a terrorist -- what X-Man didn't? -- but I never suspected
that she still kept in practice. After all, her strength and
invulnerability are more than a match for most supervillains.
I, then, realise how very little I actually knew about her,
beyond the superficial, or her true agenda. If she turns against
us ... Bozhe moi, Piotr, who are you to question Rogue's
loyalty? You, Magneto's former faithful acolyte who left Xavier
because you were too small to accept responsibility for Illyana's
death? She is loyal.
She has to be.
As Remy had entered the room, they had all turned to stare.
A sea of faces and emotions. Hatred. Distrust. Curiosity.
Amusement. Shock. Guilt. They had washed around him, breaking
against him, like waves against a rock -- uncomfortable for
anyone; unbearable for a psi-sensitive. Using a gift that
he was only just beginning to understand, he snapped his shields
down, blocking their thoughts and masking his own. It was
a defense-mechanism that he had had since childhood, dating
from his time spent with Fagan's brood.
::Mutie. Red-eyed rat-mutie. Squeak. Squeak.::
::Little freak'll kill us all. Lose control of those freaky
powers and blow us to kingdom-come::
Here, they accepted him as a mutant, where the Unwanted had
only cared for him as a skilled thief. It seemed he could
never reconcile the two, be wholly and unashamedly himself.
Like the Phantom, he would be forced to wear half a mask to
disguise the malfigured, twisted side of his character. Remy
had left the musical feeling uncomfortable, despite (or because
of) Ororo's avowed declaration that it had touched her soul
and heart. Stormy.
Naturally, it was his regal, loyal Stormy who had spoken
first: "Is this how we welcome back our missing X-Men?"
"It is when the X-Man's a treacherous, lying creep,"
Angel had swilled the words around his mouth, before spitting
them out vehemently. He had still sense their hatred crashing
against the tissue-paper barrier, waiting for the first slip.
::Thief. Killer. Red-eyed tunnel-rat killer. Squeak.::
::What if we're next? What if he betrays us to Sinister?
What if he blows us to kingdom-come himself?::
Remy had stared at a knot on the floor, attempting to block
out their comments by retreating to the tiny place in his
mind where he was unreachable, where jazz music played and
women smiled at him with pink-painted lips. Somehow the thought
of their unconditional, easy affection had comforted him,
although he had known instinctively he only loved the one
who was outside in the turmoil of sounds and colors. Who had
been watching him across the room with the cool, green eyes
of a terrorist, giving him no advantage by betraying her emotions.
His mouth quirked ironically. It would have been easier if
Rogue had been visibly angry, or upset, or -- hope against
hope, Remy? -- glad to see him ...
He picked up a rock from the pile, wondering as to its origin,
and skipped it across the pond. It leaped three times before
sinking into the depths of Spuytin Dyvil Cove. It was a game
Etienne and he had played as urchins at the edge of Lake Pontchartrain,
before his cousin too had sunk beneath the dark waters off
the coast of Granada on a pinch gone wrong. He had been thirteen,
Remy a scarce two years older. Weeks later, he had watched
Et's ashes, taken by the mistral, fly off across the ocean,
before he lost sight of them. Although he had officially marked
his passage into adulthood two years before and had realized
that this experience was yet another portal into manhood,
he had not been too old or proud for tears. He still was not,
he thought, judging from the prickle in his eyes. Something
white, bobbing on the dark waves, caught his attention and,
curious, he unselfconsciously removed his fine, linen shirt,
then dove into Breakstone Lake. He covered the distance between
him and the object with a languid crawl, treading water as
he removed it.
Despite the sodden and swollen cardboard, the clear, dark
lines of the Queen of Hearts were still visible. She watched
him with infinitely knowing eyes and Mona Lisa smile. The
coincidence was too great to ascribe purely to chance, he
thought, these were the ashes of his relationship with Rogue
that she had scattered out across the waters...
I don't know what happened down there in Antarctica, other
than Angel's said, and I'm not sure if I'm inclined to believe
him. Anger and hate has a way of twistin' the truth until
it ain't recognisable. Fact is, the whole thing stinks. I
don't understand Red's motives for holdin' that drum-barrel
trial (1) -- why'd he choose the Cajun with
Creed and Sinister runnin' around, if he really gave a toss
about gettin' revenge for the Morlocks? What I do know is
that Gambit has hurt more than one member of the team before,
and if he screws up again ... schnikt.
Glory poured from the sky, like a blessing, causing the white
peaks and plains to burst into flame. The light leaped from
mountain to glacier, where it shattered and was swept into
the sea. One by one, curious seals and penguins followed it,
skidding and drifting across the slippery ice before sinking
into the black waves. Snowflakes sprinkled confetti-like from
the sky to bless the union of sun and snow -- a six-month
marriage that would give way to perpetual night when the reluctant
groom left his white-clad bride. The man, who Coquette knew
as the Creator, watched the scene from his citadel but saw
no beauty in it. He appreciated that the refractions of the
sun through the million crystals of ice was aesthetic, although
it hurt his eyes. He even understood that some might consider
it awe-inspiring in its crystalline peaks and ripples. He,
however, loved the panaroma for its purity, its clarity, its
order. His goal was as simple as it was chilling -- to bring
perfect harmony to a universe that was a hodge-podge of crime
and violence, to controvert the Second Law of Thermodynamics
that stated that all things tended towards chaos. To do that,
the Creator would bring unity.
He knew that some would consider him a madman, a traitor,
a fool and a threat. Those he would eliminate as a gardener
pruned a vine to ensure greater fruit. His father's students,
who had worshipped him in another time and place but hated
him in this one, would be first. However, he would be subtle
in his destruction of them -- no crude knife or gun for him
-- and tear them apart from the inside, as a worm in a branch
or leaf. Framing the mark would accomplish that, as much as
it would be a lesson in the dangers of turning back on deals.
For all their weakness when it came to choosing one side or
another, order or chaos, they had given him the tools to orchestrate
the X-Men's destruction. He permitted himself an icy smile
as he glanced at his wrist-watch -- Coquette was about to
arrive in New York...
Continued in Chapter
1) In the olden days, when soldiers were suspected
of a crime, a drum was upended and an impromptu court was
set in place. The cases conducted by this supposed tribunal
were hideously unfair, usually resulting in the innocent being
found guilty with no possibility of appeal.
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so please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org
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