Tales of the The Summer Country: The Shard and the Storm
Genre: Elseworlds, Sequel.
Main Characters: Bishop, Jubilee and Wolverine
Note: This story is a fairly direct sequel to my ・The Summer Country・, which can be found at Fur & Brimstone, Fonts of Wisdom and here at Fanfiction.net.
Other Note: Feedback does for me what shooting criminals does for Harry Callahan. So come on, make my day. Please.
Warning: There is a scene in this that could be construed as drawing biblical parallels. The sad truth is that this is simply how the Romans used to do things. God squadders, please don・t be offended.
Disclaimer: I have a stupid hat for writing in. I have a beanie bat and beanie puppy, which do the job of Muses by staring at me accusingly until I write something. I have a computer as part of my disabled student allowance, and Internet access as a way of amusing myself. I do not have a controlling interest in Marvel Comics or a senior government position in any of the countries, empires, cities or ethnic groups mentioned herein. If you think you own it, and your shrink agrees with you without patting your wrist or signalling to the warders, you probably do. Don・t sue me. Don・t flame me. Feel free to send me constructive criticism, baked foods and used bank notes.
To: All Archivists. Ask me, if you really want it. I・ll say yes, I just want to know where it is so I can bask in the glory of being archived. Hey, if it・s on the ・Net, it・s anybody・s, right?
To: All Catholic Priests, Classics teachers and 2000-year-old ancient Romans. I・d like to take this opportunity to apologise profusely for the names of certain Romans. You・ll know them when you hit them. And if you・re also a Spider-Man fan, you might even groan at them, though I swear they・re not meant to be funny.
1.2 Tales of the Summer Country: The Shard and the Storm
1.3 The Daneland
Our story, like so many others, begins with a journey.
A Viking Longship beat its way up the coast of Norway. Within, forty-four crew, eleven captured slaves and three passengers attempted to avoid the worst effects of the storm weather, most notably that interesting process whereby heavy seas cause a person・s stomach to emerge from their mouth. All of the occupants were succeeding in evading this, except one of the passengers.
Pulling back from the side, the small girl hid beneath one of the benches, huddling in the heavy cloak of one of her travelling companions. She was sixteen years old, and from a race previously unseen in those waters, where neither Roman nor Mongol dared to sail. Her skin was a soft gold-yellow, her hair straight and blue-black. Uniquely among her people her eyes were a clear blue. She was dressed in bright colours, and normally affected the careful cleanliness that her culture maintained was vital to good health, although right then she was salt-stained and travel-worn. Her name was Jubilation, although she, along with everyone she knew, preferred Jubilee.
The second of the three passengers was sat on the bench beneath which she huddled. He was the smallest oarsman by at least half a foot, but he pulled as strongly as any there, for his stubby frame was solid, gnarled muscle. His face was old without being aged; his hair the colour of dull iron, and his eyes the grey of a winter・s morning. His name was Logan, and he was, more or less, Jubilee・s father, though they had known each other less than a year.
The third passenger sat on the bench directly opposite, pulling on his oar with at least equal strength to Logan ・but this was hardly surprising, since in height and muscle he was clearly the biggest man aboard. His skin was the brown of rich loam, his hair and beard coal black. His name was Bishop, and this was his quest. Around his neck there hung a pouch containing a shard of bone from his dead sister・s jawbone, within which her soul was held trapped by dark magics. It was to free her that these three travelled towards the northlands and, more immediately, to the hold of Magnus of Denmark at Avalon.
At the centre of the city of Avalon is the hall of Magnus. Legends of this building abounded even then, though it had stood for less than thirty years. Across the Three Empires it is spoken of as a wondrous sight ・ and as a clear display of the power of Magnus. The hall, capable of holding a thousand warriors in their revels with room to spare, its towers reaching five hundred feet above the fjord, the tallest bearing a light far brighter and higher than that of the Pharos of Alexandria, is made entirely of shining steel ・more steel than in the whole island of Britain, more steel than in all the armies of Rome. To Magnus, all iron was as an extra appendage, and could be wielded or shaped with a thought.
The travellers carried with them letters of introduction not to Magnus, but to his son-in-law and heir, the Prince Alexander of Britain, brother to the King. At the time of their arrival Magnus was touring the eastern reaches of his realm, in far-off Finland, and so the Prince was serving as his regent. Within a short time they were granted audience.
The Prince was a tall man, even among the Danes, with a handsome countenance. He wore the heavy furs and plain broadsword of his wife・s people, but his face was clean-shaven and his hair cropped short in the British manner. Having read their letters himself ・for he was a literate and intelligent man ・he greeted them in the friendliest terms, enquired after the health of various notables of Britain, and then asked them if he might at all aid them in their travels.
・Maybe.・ Said Wolverine.
・We seek the hold of Wayland the Smith, Lord of the Forge, on the edge of the Sunless Lands.・ Bishop told him.
・The Lord of the Forge? He is a legend.・
・I・ve met him.・ The Prince looked at Logan for a long moment, then said,
・Show me some proof.・ Logan extended the claws of his right hand and held them up. The Prince・s guards murmured ・they had carefully disarmed Bishop before admitting the travellers. The word ・Wolverine・ was muttered around the hall.
・You are the Wolverine?・ Asked the Prince.
・I・ll answer that name.・ The response, like the speaker, was short and unconsciously threatening.
・I will take him to the Smith.・ Said a new voice, and Logan, Bishop and Jubilee turned to look at the speaker. He was tall, as are almost all the warriors of Denmark. However, his build was far slimmer than that of most, and, unlike nearly everyone else present, he was dressed not in heavy furs, but in a suit of fine chain mail. Its steel gleamed blue in the torchlight, while the metal plates that reinforced it at shin and thigh and chest and groin were pitch black. The helmet he carried under his arm was also black, as was the amulet that rested on his chest. He strode forward, calm and confident, and the warriors parted for him.
・This is Witan, called the Black Rider.・ Said the Prince. ・Champion of the North.・
The four of them rode north and east, towards the ice-bound sunless lands. Witan, riding at their head, spoke little. He had brought with him no weapons and no furs, but seemed to be protected from the knife-like wind and driving snow by his armour. Jubilee huddled in her cloak, eyes on the rump of Bishop・s horse, which paced just in front of hers. Bishop, heavily wrapped, sat calm on his steed. At the rear rode Logan, dressed warmly but not especially heavily, his eyes scanning the horizon.
They camped that knight in a low hollow, and slept little. The next morning their furs crackled as they began moving and, when Bishop attempted to sheathe his sword ・for he always slept with it in his hand ・merely touching the blade cost him the skin of one fingertip. The horses were too chilled to complain, but the travellers forced the beasts to move, leading them for the first hour before mounting to ride on.
Shortly before sunset they reached the last hold before the Sunless Lands. Its inhabitants were wary, but apparently Witan was well known there, and so they were allowed to enter and feast with the lord of that place. His name was Hrothgar, and he spent the evening trying to terrify them with tales of the terrible beasts that lay beyond. The next morning he accepted their horses in exchange for a pair of dog sleds behind which they could ride, and they loaded up their provisions and equipment and set out, once more with Witan leading. This time they headed due east, under a grey sky and clear weather. The wind still cut to the bone, but they could see ahead ・when they topped the higher ridges, for miles. They raced along the edge of the Sunless Lands and, at night, built a high fire of frozen wood and lamp oil, and stood alert until dawn.
After three days the pace was beginning to wear Jubilee. The girl was tough, and as near fearless as makes no difference, but she was easily bored at the best of times. On several occasions Witan had asked why they had brought her with them, and been answered only by Logan・s grunts. When, in the late afternoon of the third day, she collapsed, falling away from the sled into the snow, and had to be carried the rest of the way, he spoke angrily to the older man on the cruelty of bringing children into the harshest place in the world.
・I・d been to harsher places by her age.・
・You are the Wolverine. You are Gifted. You, most importantly, were never a little girl.・ Logan turned away, and ignored him for the rest of the evening.
The next day, a blizzard hit. The wind howled at them with such force that they could only stay upright with the help of the sleds. Two of the dogs simply collapsed, and would not get up again. Jubilee・s face turned grey as she struggled on, and the snow piled up until, were it not for the snowshoes they had brought from Hrothgar・s hall, even Bishop would have been buried alive.
Towards what would have been sunset ・for they were now within the borders of the Sunless Lands, and beyond such things as day or night ・they reached the shelter of a small range of hills, and had the choice of moving along the valleys, sheltered from the wind but full of snow ten and twenty feet deep, or across the faces of the hills, where they could move faster but faced the full fury of the gale. Here they discovered that the snow in the valleys would not take the weight of the dogs, while the icy slopes were too smooth for the sleds. Witan insisted that their route lay into the hills, and that they were within hours of their destination, so they left the dogs in their traces, and continued on foot, their bodies hung with food and equipment.
They walked along the edge of a valley in their snowshoes, often sinking in through the crust. After this had happened to Bishop twice and the others had had a lot of difficulty digging him out on both occasions, they roped themselves together and continued slightly more secure.
They walked for miles. Jubilee・s face turned grey once more, but the girl was determined not to seem weak before Logan and Witan. Bishop moved so he was walking immediately on her upwind side, shielding her from the worst of the driving snow. Finally, as they topped a ridge and met a fresh gale, they saw lights shining, not far off.
・The Forge.・ Declared Witan, and he had to shout to be heard through the wind.
・Aye.・ Logan muttered to himself. ・I remember this place. It hasn・t changed much.・ They descended the slope, and found themselves on a seemingly flat plain covered by drifts of snow. It took a moment for their location to register with Bishop, before he realised that they were moving across the surface of a frozen lake.
・The Smith lives on the far side of this lake?・ He shouted in Witan・s ear.
・No. Beneath it.・ He was told.
They struggled on, across the constantly blown snow, until the ground began to rise slightly beneath their feet. For a moment Bishop thought they had, after all, crossed the lake; then he realised that they were instead on a tiny island in the approximate centre of it. At the centre of this island rested a single slab of granite, the size and shape of a sarcophagus lid. When he touched it with his ungloved hand, he found the stone was warm. It was also adorned with the faint shadows of ancient carvings, rendered indecipherable by time and the worst weather on earth.
Together the three men lifted the stone aside. Below was a passage, lit by a faint glow of reddish light. Looking around, Bishop realised he could see the same light glowing faintly through the icy surface of the lake.
The four entered the hole, Witan leading, Logan bringing up the rear. The staircase within was worn smooth by the passage of thousands of feet, though it was clear that few had visited this place in centuries. At the bottom ・br>
The room was vast, and opened out into a score of other chambers. The heat was like the desert at noon, and looking across at the great forge that blazed two hundred feet away, providing the only light in this room, Bishop felt he must be looking into hell itself. On one side of the forge was a gigantic bellows, bigger than the elephants of his homeland, pumped by four vast, shadowy figures, each ten feet tall. On the other side it・s lord worked, beating with a great hammer at a length of white-hot metal that rested on his anvil. He continued to beat at it as it・s heat faded to a bright, cheerful orange, and then turned, plunging it into a shallow trough that lay beside him. Then, tongs held high, he turned to them.
・Thrice-forged steel, folded over seven times with each forging. Thrice tempered steel, first in clean snowmelt, then in the tears of an Angel, then in the heart・s blood of a dragon. Thrice sharpened steel, it will be soon. This will be a good blade.・ His voice boomed, filling the room as he walked forwards, right leg gleaming steel, the hand in which he held the tongs shining silver. ・I greet you, Logan. It has been many years, has it not?・
・A good few. I greet you, Prince of the Silver Hand.・ He was answered.
・And you, Witan. The champion of Avalon. Does your blade need a fresh edge? It has not yet been a century.・
・No, Lord. I came as a guide.・
・And your companions?・
・Came with the Wolverine.・
・Maker, may I present my daughter, Jubilee.・ Said Logan. Jubilee stepped forward, surprised at her own nervousness, and bowed from the waist.
・Not of your seed, Logan.・ The Smith-God seemed to expect an answer. He got one.
・Of my heart and oath, Maker.・
・It is as much as any could hope for. The other?・
・Is his own man.・ Said Logan. ・Though his quest is my quest, so I have sworn.・
・I am Bishop, a swordsman.・
・And you desire a sword? A forging?・ The Lord of the Forge・s voice was low and level. People did not ask for his gifts; often they cursed them, as he knew Logan would yet, but to ask was to be refused.
・No. I desire magic. Great magic.・ Bishop lifted a steel chain from around his neck, on the end of which hung a splinter of bone. ・Within this shard is imprisoned the soul of my sister.・
・I cannot raise the dead.・
・I do not ask that. All I wish for is that you break the spell that holds her prisoner. Free her soul for me, Smith.・
・That is all? The breaking of a high enchantment? You come and demand that?・
・I do.・ Bishop met the Smith-God・s gaze, something few men had managed. The Sidhe lord held out his hand, and the warrior placed the shard upon his palm.
・There is a price.・
・If I am to free your sister, you must first free my daughter.・
・Betsy?・ Asked Logan in surprise. The Maker looked at him for a long moment.
・No. I have another, true, daughter, by the South Wind. She is held prisoner by a mindspeaker.・
・Where?・ Asked Logan.
・Why does it concern you?・
・Because his quest is my quest.・
・Egypt. My daughter, the Windrider, is a prisoner of the Shadow King.・ A grim silence settled over the assembly. Even Jubilee had heard of this most evil of slavers. ・It will not be easy.・
・What is, in this life?・ Asked Bishop.
・Even so. Perhaps I shall give you a sword, warrior, though it will be of little use against the Shadow King.・
・How do we kill him then?・ Asked Jubilee, astonished at her own courage.
・You cannot.・ She was told. ・His power is in and of the mind. His own body is merely a shell. Some men are born with the power of lesser gods, and the Shadow King is one such.・
・How can we defeat him, then?・ Demanded Bishop.
・You take what you have come for, and you run. Your minds are strong, the three of you. If you remain as strong, it may be you can escape his power. Fear and suffering make him stronger, always.・
・No fear. Not a problem.・ Said Jubilee, wishing she felt that way. Her wish intensified as the Smith-God turned his gaze upon her.
・And suffering?・ He asked. ・He will seek to hurt you, little mortal.・ After a moment・s uncertainty, she settled on a vicious glare. The Smith-God smiled. ・You travel with these warriors?・ He asked. Logan seemed about to answer, and then paused, obviously giving her a chance to speak for herself.
・Yeah. I・m the backup.・ She said, trying desperately to ignore her instincts that were telling her to break eye contact, to show submission, to let the Fay Lord win.
・What foes have you ・backed up ・against, child?・
・Essex.・ She said shortly. ・The Mandarin. The Hand of Nippon.・
・Doubtless mighty foes.・ He said, and paused. ・Nathaniel the Shaper? And the Binder?・
・She crippled the Pale Lord.・ Logan said behind her. ・And stood by your descendant・s side against the Mandarin.・
・Indeed. There is strength to the child, also. And it seems that I owe her a debt.・
・Her and Bishop both.・
・Bishop・ was paying a debt of his own. But you, little light-child? What gift can the Forge provide for you?・
・I dunno.・ She grinned, slightly hesitantly. ・Something to keep me warm out there?・ The Prince with the Silver Hand paused, and then turned and strode out through one of the archways.
・Follow.・ He said as he left. Jubilee looked after him.
・Go on, darlin・.・ Said Logan behind her. Reassured, she hurried after the gigantic Fay.
Jubilee found herself beside the Smith-God in another hall, smaller than the forge-room but still massive. It held chests and cupboards, racks of weapons ・no two alike ・stacks of shields, shirts of mail on stands, helmets, and a plethora of other objects.
The Lord of the Forge led her past a great metal bowl filled with beautiful, ornate rings, and as he did so he talked.
・There was a time, when my siblings and I still walked the earth, when I used sorcery as well as skill in my creations.・ He pulled open a chest, to reveal that it was full of cloaks and robes. ・The finest, such as the Blade of Annwn and the Horn of the Wild Hunt, I gave to my family, those close to me. The most powerful, such as the hammer Mjolnir and the Spear Grungnir, I gave in bargains and blood-debts. Some, such as the sword Cafeldhwch ・now called Excalibur ・and the Shield of the Star,・ and he turned to let his fingers trail over a great round shield that hung on the wall above the chest, painted in rings of red and blue, with, at its centre, a single white star with five points, ・and the amulet of Avalon ・now worn by your guide, Witan ・I gave to mortals who must needs serve as champions to their people. Many of these came back to me, and the vast majority I kept. All that I have resides in this one room. All that I have from the days when the blades that I forged, the clothes and nets that I wove, the sculptures that I carved, the clay that I shaped that were all of equal parts magic and artifice ・All of that lives in this room. You asked for protection from the cold.・ His silver hand reached in to the chest and pulled out a garment. ・I offer you this.・
It was a long-sleeved leather coat, designed to be thigh-length on a normal man, and so long enough to brush the floor if worn by Jubilee. It opened down the front, but had laces to fasten it. Its colour was the brightest yellow Jubilee could remember seeing. It looked to be made of the softest, finest leather she had ever seen.
・This will keep you safe from the elements, and perhaps a little more.・ He placed it around her shoulders. It went with her eyes.
Four figures, once more forcing there way through the snow swept hills towards their sleds. In the lead a tall, lean-built man, clad simply in armour of black and blue, striding confidently through the knee-deep snow. Behind him, a gigantic black man, a battered scimitar at his hip and a newer, rather more ornate broadsword wrapped in his bedroll and slung across his back. At the rear, a short, squat figure, who walks as though the blizzard is a personal insult. And, finally, dancing lightly across the thin crust beside them, a girl, protected only by a light leather coat, happily unaffected by the extremes of weather.
Though feared as pirates and invaders, the Danes were also famed as traders. With the help of Witan and the Prince Alexander, the travellers had little difficulty gaining berths on a Longship that was to make the trading voyage. The normal route was along the rivers of the Mongol Empire and through the Black Sea, but neither Logan nor Bishop particularly wished to go this way, and so instead they boarded a ship that was taking the short trip to the southern shores of the Baltic and the river mouths of Northern Frankia. From there they would have to ride or march over two hundred miles to reach the old Roman settlement of Arenacum and the river Rhenus, along which they could make much of their journey. They were able to acquire horses in the seaport of Kyle, and after a day for Jubilee to recover from her latest bout of seasickness and Bishop to practice handling his new sword, they rode out. He found the weapon to be perfectly balanced and sharp as a razor, and adapted to its use with just a few hours practice. He retained his old sword, of course, but exchanged the positions of the weapons, so that Wayland・s blade hung by his side and his own scimitar was slung across his back.
The countryside of northern Frankia was, they discovered, almost uniformly flat and forested. Although the Romans had never reached this part of the world, a local monarch had in times past set out to build a system of roads that, while of poor quality, were nonetheless adequate.
The three of them rode in the company of a group of merchants. Although these men affected to be well travelled, it was clear that Bishop, Logan and Jubilee were the strangest people they had ever seen, and one or two muttered quietly about hellspawn ・for so both Roman and Frank referred to the Gifted. Even so, Logan and Bishop were both massively intimidating and therefore added much to the security of the party. They reached Arenacum without incident after six days easy ride, and Logan promptly led them down to the docks to seek passage on a river barge.
The bargees were Gauls, among the few groupings largely free of Frankish influence. They still worshipped their old gods as they had before the Romans, and their philosophy was that nothing was wholly good or evil, not even their deities. If they recognised the travellers as Gifted, they did not comment.
The convoy of barges took eight days to travel up the Rhine, and Logan and Bishop took advantage of the slow, gentle days to tutor Jubilee and each other in some of their more refined or underhand combat techniques. Logan also spent a lot of time with the captain of their current barge, a short, wiry man named Callistrix, learning the news of Frankia and the Roman Empire. They would be avoiding Rome・s lands in Europe, of course, for while the Franks believed that the Gifted were demonic in nature and should be driven out, the Romans had an active policy of hunting down and eliminating those with power, be they Gifted or magic-trained. The Emperor himself used magic without hesitation, of course, and was rumoured to employ Gifted agents, but he ruthlessly eradicated all potential threats.
Callistrix spoke of a man named the Reed, a sorcerer rumoured to live somewhere in Italy, constantly battling the Emperor・s machinations. He knew only heresay and rumour, though, and Logan did not pursue the topic. He spoke of the Emperor of Frankia, Olaf the Miser, and of his Warlock Royal, the man named Paris. Here Logan listened, and was intrigued; it sounded to him that Paris was himself a Gifted, and yet organised the rounding up of his own kind. He told Logan of the death of the Warbird, Champion of Rome, in Armorica at the end of the previous year, and of the confusion into which the Empire had been thrown, and the rise of a new Champion under the Emperor, a warrior called the Titan who wore always a great suit of magical armour.
Of Egypt and the Shadow King he would not speak.
At the head of the Rhenus they had a brief land journey, before transferring to another barge headed down the Rhonus, a rather faster trip with little opportunity for reflection. The captain was a brother-in-law of Callistrix, and if either Gaul guessed that the three travellers were anything out of the ordinary, they kept their silence. At the old Roman port of Massilia, now on the border between the two Empires, they sought passage to Egypt.
Massilia reminded Bishop of Windlesham. It was, if anything, slightly larger than the British port, and the politics and intrigues were on a vastly larger scale, but otherwise it was essentially the same ・a great cityport, standing at the convergence of two realms that were officially at peace but constantly working to undermine each other. Massilia was the biggest seaport in the Frankish empire, their only deep-water harbour in the Mediterranean, and so it was also very clearly a city where great fortunes were made.
As so often happens, alongside the immense wealth of the merchants and shipbuilders lay immense poverty, in slums to rival those of Rome. It was to these that the travellers first made their way. None of them had been to the city before, but Logan and Bishop both knew that when your desires lie outside the law you should seek help from those who were outside the law. Moving by instinct, they located a tavern situated in a cellar below a tenement.
・Smells like Gambit.・ Muttered Logan. ・Fine wine and dirty money. And blood.・ They moved to the doorway. The biggest man they had ever seen blocked their way. Intelligent eyes looked down at them from between a Roman nose and a shock of white hair.
・We・re looking for a ship.・ Said Bishop, his Frankish harshly accented.
・Try the docks.・ The man replied in the same language. There was something odd about the way he held himself under his cloak.
・We don・t have passports.・ To travel between the two empires ・legally ・required a passport signed by representatives of both governments.
・Guess you・re out of luck.・
・We have money.・ Said Bishop. It was an understatement; Brian Braddock had funded their journey more than generously. Bishop raised a fist from under his cloak, and opened it to reveal a fistful of silver coins ・mostly Frankish pennies bearing the Emperor・s face, but a few Roman denarii and Greek drachmas. The doorman paused, his gaze moving to the two massive swords Bishop wore and Logan・s stance of casual lethality, and then stood aside.
They had found the right place, Bishop realised instantly. The cellar was dimly lit, but surprisingly clean. Its booths were shadowed, but the bar was well lit. Standing behind it was another powerfully built man, rather smaller than the bouncer but still at least as tall as Bishop, and probably rather heavier ・not least because he had twice the usual number of arms. They moved forwards, but did not reach the bar; a man stepped out of the shadows and into their path.
・My master would have words with you.・ Even to their foreign ears his Frankish bore a strong regional accent. The man was tall and well built, dressed all in black and armed only with a knife. Without consultation, Bishop followed him through into a back room.
The man who waited for them at the far end of a long table, effortlessly dominating the room even at rest, had a face lined with age framed by long grey hair, tied back in a ponytail. He must have been at least sixty, but his frame was lean with muscle and a ferocious intelligence glared from his eyes.
・I am Jean-Luc.・ He said, gesturing for them to sit. ・What do you want in Massilia?・
・Passage to Alexandria.・ Said Bishop.
・Done.・ Said Jean-Luc. He gestured, and one of the men seated round the table rose and walked out. ・You will catch the dawn tide tomorrow. With luck and good winds you will arrive within two weeks. Will you wish a return journey?・
・Maybe.・ Logan was now extremely suspicious. ・How much?・
・Nothing. My family pay my debts, Bishop. My son imprisoned you, and sold your companion. What came after is not my concern. He did wrong by you, and now I must repay the debt.・
・Your son?・ Bishop frowned, seeing a faint likeness.
・You know him as Gambit.・ Jean-Luc told them. ・If you wait a while, someone will take you to your ship.・ He gestured once more, and behind them the door was opened. Logan left without a word, pulling Jubilee after him. The girl had been uncharacteristically subdued throughout the brief interview, and now she walked close to him. Bishop paused at the door.
・Live well.・ He said awkwardly, and then left Jean-Luc・s presence.
The following night, as they lay at anchor off the coast of Corsica, Jubilee came to stand at the rail beside Logan.
・Jean-Luc.・ She said. ・He is ・ Her voice trailed off. ・I・m glad he was on our side there.・
The next morning they continued on their way, enjoying the comfort of their proper cabins on the Levantine Trireme. Jean-Luc had given them the fastest and most comfortable transport available, as well as passports that would obviously have cost more money in bribes than most men see in their lives. The crossing of the Mediterranean should have gone smoothly.
It was the twelfth day of their voyage. Jubilee had finally overcome her seasickness, Bishop・s desire to help the crew in order to maintain his physical fitness had become accepted, and Logan had surprised his companions ・and would have surprised every living person that knew him, had they seen him, with the possible exception of the Raven ・by settling in to talk philosophy with the captain. In Greek. They had spent the night anchored off the coast of Cyprus and, with the wind on their side and the dawn tide, expected to make Alexandria by sunset. The crew were not on guard; most pirates operated around Sicily and Corsica. It was neither of these that surprised them, but a Roman warship, which stole their wind and then eased in close. Oars were pulled in on both craft and then grapnels flew across the intervening space, and the military vessel dragged itself alongside.
Bishop casually left his station by the foresheets and made his way aft to where he had left his sword. In the hot weather he was clad only in a loincloth and sandals, and looked much like any other crewman except for his vast size. Reaching the locker, therefore, he nudged it open but did not withdraw the weapon; they had no reason to suppose this was anything other than a customs check.
Jubilee dropped down beside him.
・They won・t be here for us.・ She said.
・They hunt the Gifted.・ He responded. ・Remember, you are Logan・s slave- girl. Stay quiet, do not use your powers, and ・
・Hey, don・t tell me the basics, Bish.・
・・nd for the rain・s sake try to remember properly subservient behaviour. Your mother was a slave. She must have taught you something.・ The Romans were moving round the ship, two marines and a young officer inspecting the papers of the various crewmembers. As they moved towards Jubilee and Bishop, Logan interposed himself.
・My bodyguard.・ He growled. ・And a dancing-girl of China.・ He presented their passports, and the officer nodded and turned away. He finished checking the passports and then lingered in talking to the captain as an old NCO came aboard and began to supervise the transfer of several amphorae from the hold of the Levantine to the war galley ・clearly a not-so- official toll. It did not seem to strike anybody out of the ordinary.
The trouble came when the grizzled old centurion organising the process called Bishop over to join those crewmembers shifting the wine. He was a tall man, powerful body running towards fat and old scars adorning his bald pate. His nose had been broken several times in the past and, though his uniform was worn and irregular, his weapons were well cared for and his movements were still those of a fighter. As Bishop moved to pass him, he lifted his head. The centurion・s eyes fixed upon the ugly, M-shaped scar that marred the right-hand side of the African・s face, and Bishop suddenly saw in the man・s profile and stance something familiar from long years past. Both men froze, their gazes locking in startled recognition.
・Quintus Marius Macrinus.・ Bishop said quietly. The centurion drew his gladius with sudden speed, and lunged at the bigger man, who twisted smoothly aside and struck him a disarming blow on the wrist with precision born of instinct and long experience. Bishop・s next blow followed with incredible speed, a solid punch that struck the Roman in the centre of his chest. His eyes rolled up in his head as his heart exploded under the impact, and he hit the deck hard.
Everything suddenly went still, all eyes on Bishop. The whole exchange had taken barely three seconds, from first recognition to the corpse landing on it・s back. The only movement came from Jubilee who, unnoticed by the assembled sailors and marines, reached down into the locker where Bishop・s sword lay, and then tensed in readiness.
The officer looked around. His men heavily outnumbered the ship crew, who would put up no fight, but he had seen what had happened as clearly as any. His men were already starting forwards, reaching for their weapons. With a word and a gesture he commanded them to stand down, and then turned to Logan.
・The centurion struck first.・ Logan offered shortly. ・My servant was only defending himself.・ The officer nodded, and then raised his voice.
・Decurion!・ He shouted. ・Arrest that man.・ There was a murmur from his troops who, to a man, wanted blood and vengeance then and there, but the decurion moved forwards towards Bishop without hesitation.
・You arresting me, too?・ Asked Logan.
・No. He will be tried in Alexandria. You may, if you wish, speak in his defence.・
・Reckon I・ll do that.・ Logan agreed. ・Reckon I・ll ship with you the rest of the way.・ The officer nodded.
・I can control my men, sir.・ He said politely. ・But your concern for your servant does you credit.・
・As does your sense of justice you.・ Logan responded as politely as he could manage, and then raised his voice. ・Jubilee, get our things. We・re moving ship.・
They arrived in Alexandria, third city of the Roman Empire, slightly ahead of schedule. Bishop had spent the last leg of the voyage in chains on the deck, with Logan keeping a careful eye on him and the young Tribune ・whose name was Caius Julianus Olivianus Aquila ・watching both of them. What he said to his NCOs and men Logan could only guess at, but, though many hateful glances were thrown his way, none of them touched Bishop.
Once the ship was docked Bishop was marched ashore in chains and, with Logan, Jubilee and Aquila following, escorted to the courthouse and secured in a cell. Aquila announced that there would be a lot of paperwork, but that an investigative hearing could probably be arranged within a few days.
・Make no mistake,・ he told them, ・I・d happily see your friend dead. But I・d rather justice was done. Macrinus was not a good man, but he was a good centurion, and he would have wanted this done by the rules.・ They parted ways.
・So we・re just gonna rely on Roman law?・ Asked Jubilee.
・A freedman kills a citizen?・ Was the response. ・Anyway, they・ll test him for a Gifted. They always do in murder trials, darlin・, and then he・s dead anyway.・ Jubilee smiled.
・So we rescue him?・ She asked. Her companion nodded grimly.
Logan and Jubilee made their way through the crowded streets of Alexandria. Jubilee had travelled all across the Mongol empire, and more recently travelled the Summer Country and the Frankish empire, and in all her travels she had never seen another city like this one. Roman architecture tended towards the magnificent and, as one of the richest cities in the world, Alexandria had rather more than its fair share. Around every corner, it seems, their lay another magnificent temple or public building. The private houses were large and had few or no windows of any size on their exterior walls, but it seemed every private building had a shop or booth built in to it on the ground floor, selling a variety of goods to rival the great bazaar of Samarkand. The crowds, too, rivalled that richest of cities; the Roman Empire encompassed people of all colours and creeds, and it seemed like every single one of them was on the streets of Alexandria, jostling, shouting, shopping ・and stealing. As the girl hurried to keep up with Logan, who was moving with determined speed, someone jostled against the short man, before turning as if to hurry away.
Logan moved almost too fast to see, reaching out and catching the stranger・s bicep. Fighting his instincts that told him to pop his claws, he instead drew Bishop・s scimitar as he yanked the man towards him. The figures hood fell back to reveal the face of a young African, little more than a boy, tall and fit and ・Jubilee noticed ・strikingly handsome.
Seeing the drawn sword he threw something into the air. Logan shoved him away and snatched the object, tucking it away inside his shirt.
・What was that?・ Jubilee asked as the boy vanished into the crowd.
・Pickpocket.・ Said Logan.
・You・re just going to let him go?・
・After we pick up Bishop we go looking for the girl. Avoiding our enemy will not be easy, and the last thing we want is to draw more attention than we・ve already earned.・ She glanced at her companion. She・d got to know him fairly well over the preceding months, and she knew he only talked this much about one thing if he was thinking about another altogether.
・What・s bugging you?・ She demanded.
・Dunno.・ Logan responded shortly. He was sure he・d sensed something ・ not quite a smell, or a sound, and definitely not something visible, but for a fleeting moment at the edge of his mind there had been an awareness, a certain feeling he hadn・t felt since his time in the Himalayas, four centuries before.
In the early hours of the following morning Logan stunned two patrolling legionaries and led Jubilee over the high, spike-topped wall that protected the back of the courthouse. They moved forward together, swift and silent, and reached the nail-studded back door, locked for the night. Logan knocked, in the manner he had seen the sentries use, and as the doorkeeper pulled it wide slammed a metal-lined fist into his jaw. Catching the falling body, he led Jubilee down towards the cells.
There were four men on guard at the bottom of the stairs. Leaving Jubilee behind, Logan began silently working his way round them. He was prepared to do whatever was necessary to rescue Bishop, but the last thing he wanted was a massive manhunt such as would ensue if he killed any of the soldiers.
Even when they・re relatively oblivious, it・s not easy moving unnoticed through a well-lit room containing four watchmen. Logan moved in brief bursts, blending in to the shadows, using techniques learned long centuries ago in far-off Japan. After long minutes he took up position barely six feet away from one of them. He closed his eyes, and extended a single claw, the metal sliding out and then retracting with a barely audible scrape of metal and bone. It was the sound Jubilee had been listening for, and hearing it she stepped out into the doorway and lit up the air before the four men ・who were playing at dice ・in a brilliant flash of light. Even with his eyes shut Logan saw it, and leaped forward to stun the blinded soldiers before they could recover. He moved swiftly, striking with perfectly controlled brutality. The four Romans fell moments apart, and Logan was able to retrieve the keys to the various cells. He turned, stepping through the doorway down ・and a rune above the entrance suddenly glowed bright with magic, and an alarm screamed into the night.
Logan ran smoothly down the corridor. Jubilee, moments ahead of him, paused to check the cells in turn until she stopped at the one that held Bishop. With no time to fumble with the keys Logan simply sliced through the lock, then stepped in and gave his friend・s leg irons similar treatment. Jubilee handed Bishop his sword, and then the three of them were running once more, this time for the exit. The four guards were still unconscious, and they hurtled up the stairs, Jubilee leading once more. As they reached the top a door slammed open, and a squad of legionaries stumbled out. They had just woken up, and were not wearing armour, but all of them held swords. Jubilee didn・t hesitate, but called on her Gift and hurled burning air at them, blasting them down, and then Logan grabbed her arm and dragged her to the exit. Ahead, in the courtyard, a dozen more soldiers had formed a rough line. Bishop drew his sword as he rushed forward, Logan・s claws slid out, and then they were upon them.
Bishop chopped down three men with brutal speed, the Smith-God・s blade slicing through armour and bone as easily as most weapons did flesh. Blood spattered him, and as he turned to face the remainder they ran from the gigantic African who killed with such terrible efficiency. Behind him Logan had killed two more, and they were retreating from him also, while Jubilee stood between them, hands flaring with crimson energy. The only other light came from a couple of torches dropped by legionaries, already going out, and Jubilee・s fireworks cast everything in dark red and black. Reinforcements were already arriving in the small courtyard; they were heavily outnumbered.
・Over the wall?・ Asked Jubilee.
・When I say.・ Said Logan. ・You first, me last. Don・t look back.・
・Hellspawn!・ Called a centurion from the massing enemy. ・The Prefect has come! There can be no escape! You would best surrender.・ A mist seemed to rise from the ground around them.
・Run.・ Muttered Logan quietly, and Jubilee turned and leaped for the wall. The mist seemed to solidify into a human figure ・tall, powerful, clad in heavy green robes and a smooth, featureless mask ・and suddenly she was flying backwards. She landed hard, but rolled to her feet as Bishop leaped forward to slash at the figure, who simply faded back into the mists. She started forward, but four long tentacles of metal suddenly burst from the mist, reaching for her. She dived under one, leaped a second, and was hit hard by a third. One of the arms wrapped around her ・and suddenly Logan was there, his claws flashing out to slice cleanly through it. A scream of agony emerged from the shadows as she hit the ground and rolled to her feet. He pointed past Bishop and told her, ・Go.・ She turned, took two steps, and leaped into the mist, her hands reaching up to grab the upper edge of the wall between two spikes. She pulled herself up to balance ・and the world seemed to explode in light, hurling her away. She hit the ground hard and then rolled to her feet. Behind her Logan roared in agony.
Lightning tore through Logan, conducted and magnified by the metal that wrapped his bones. His muscles went into spasms, immobilising him even as the electricity charged the air around him, transforming the thick green mist into clear ozone. Not ten feet away there stood a large, muscular Roman, clad in ornate bronze armour trimmed in green. Small bolts of electricity crackled across the gaps between the various pieces, and a ring of lightning framed his face. The lightning was leaping from him to Logan ・and past him. Logan was immobilised by the current, his limbs twitching and his flesh already beginning to cook.
A hand closed around his shoulder, and suddenly the pain lessened, the current rapidly draining away. He lay on the ground, still paralysed but already beginning to recover.
Above him the Roman faced off against Bishop, who was himself now crackling with the power he had absorbed. Flinging his arms wide the African Gifted sent bolts of power crackling out to slam into the nearby soldiers, dropping them twitching to the floor. He still held his sword, the power crackling along the blade occasionally leaping out to earth itself. He stepped forward towards the Roman sorcerer, his body still absorbing and redirecting the electricity as fast as his enemy could put it out.
・Maximus, stop!・ Snarled a voice hoarse with pain. The lightning cut off, and Bishop whirled to face the speaker ・the owner of the metal tentacles. Octavius Lutrus Curarus, Prefect of Egypt, faced him. A short, stocky man, he could have passed unnoticed in any crowd were it not for the four great metal tentacles that extended from the sides of his body. As Bishop watched one of them picked up the piece that Wolverine had severed and pressed it to the break; before Bishops gaze it sealed back together.
His body still crackled with electricity. He grinned at the Roman, and then let his gaze slide down to Logan. The old Briton quietly flexed the fingers of his right hand; he was ready.
・Well?・ Bishop asked. The Prefect smiled.
・If I touch you, I die, and then my legionaries kill you. If you release the lightning at them, I will tear you limb from limb.・ The mist was rising around them, but the electricity that crackled of Bishop and the Roman Maximus was keeping the air clear. ・Behind you is Maximus Anethus Fulgur, wielder of lightning. I believe your companion lives yet, but I do not see that lasting long if Maximus unleashes his power while you are distracted. The only place to run is into the mists.・ The Prefect smiled. ・Quintus Nutus Arcanum commands those, and only he can see in them. And, as a bonus distraction for you ・centurion!・ A soldier snapped to attention. ・Take two squads and get the girl. Take torches. Bring her back alive.・ The NCO swiftly detailed off a squad. Bishop gathered the energy, adjusted his grip on his sword ・and Logan leaped silently for Octavius as Bishop spun to blast the soldiers formed up behind him.
Falling off the wall, Jubilee landed hard. She rose to her feet instantly, but then staggered sideways in a wave of nausea. Although she did not realise it, she had been struck by lightning, and only Wayland・s coat had saved her from serious injury. As it was, the redirected shock was enough to make her drop to her knees and vomit, retching up her stomach as she leant against the wall. Straightening up, she could hear from within the threats of the Prefect, and was preparing to leap back over the wall and into the mists when a gate let into the wall slammed open not ten feet from her, and a squad of legionaries burst out, advancing on her. Behind them she could see Octavius holding Logan in the air by his wrists; beyond, Bishop had been born to the ground by a mob of angry soldiers. Between them and her nearly twenty men were running forwards, blades drawn. Jubilee turned and ran.
Jubilee was naturally fast and agile, and had the advantage of not being weighed down by the Roman mail armour. However, she was new to this city and this country, while the Romans knew the streets. She moved fast, trying desperately to evade her pursuers, but always they were nearby, running behind her and moving around the along parallel streets, outflanking her time and again. She ran past the marketplace, abandoned for the night, and tried to lose herself in the warren of alleyways beyond ・but always there were soldiers ahead of her, herding her back towards the streets.
The Dragon was restless that night. It had earlier sensed something, an old ・ally ・and the man it rode had been unable to sleep. Now it had led him to walk the streets of Alexandria in the moonlight ・suicidal folly for most, but for the man ridden by the Dragon nothing human could be considered a danger. Now he heard running feet, and saw the girl and the pursuing soldiers.
There, the Dragon told him. Aid the girl.
He was dressed, as always, in a heavy burnoose over light trousers and walking boots, the desert robe hiding the Dragon. As he ran the burnoose flared behind him like a cloak, uncovering his chest and the creature that coiled there. It seemed to almost glow with a dark light as he neared her. She was not the one the Dragon sought, the one the Dragon had drawn him to Egypt for, but she would lead him there ・but only if the Romans did not kill her first.
The man slowed to a halt a short distance from the girl and her pursuers ・who had finally cornered her ・to throw the robe aside. Then he hurled himself forwards.
Jubilee had hit a cul-de-sac. The soldiers advanced down the alley behind her. Frantic, she tried beating on the locked doors in the alleyway, but got no response. She turned back to face them.
It seemed then that all her panic drained away, and was replaced by a detached calm. She shifted smoothly into the first stance, and reached out to the air around her, feeling it and its readiness to burn. Her breathing slowed and became even, and as the Romans reached her she was ready for them.
The first legionary received a ball of super hot gas in the face, and staggered back screaming. The second lunged at her, but she moved past his sword and delivered a swift series of blows, numbing his wrist, collapsing his knee, and cutting her knuckles on the armour over his kidneys and groin.
Pivoting smoothly on one heel, she kicked him in the throat, crushing his windpipe.
As more soldiers attacked her movements became faster, as she drew on everything taught to her by the Lady Braddock and by Logan. A second man fell injured, and she hurled another aside with a plasma ball that struck the centre of his shield with concussive force. There were too many of them, though, and they had advantages from their armour and weapons, their size, strength and reach, and from the fact that her training still had a long way to go. A short sword came down heavily on her shoulder, the impact absorbed by her bright yellow coat, and then a second blow stabbed into her leg, tearing a ragged, terrible wound. Jubilee fell back against a wall, bleeding heavily, and the centurion shouted his men back.
・The Prefect wants her alive!・ He said.
・What・s this?・ Asked a quiet voice behind them. Jubilee, weak from loss of blood, could just barely make out a tall, lean figure clad only in trousers and boots. His body was sculpted muscle, and on his chest the image of a great dragon seemed to coil. It was a figure out of the legends of her people, a being she had long thought impossible.
・Rand-Kai.・ She whispered as she passed out.
The Dragon of K・un L・un moved through the soldiers like a wind of death, his every blow killing or crippling an enemy. There had been sixteen men alive when he entered the alleyway, three of them injured, and by the time he reached the girl all of them were dead.
Working swiftly Rand-Kai applied a tourniquet to her leg, wrapped her in his retrieved burnoose, and then lifted her to return to his lodging. She did not move or make a sound as he walked, but when he dropped her on his bed she moaned in pain. The wound was serious, and she had lost far more blood than someone her size could afford, and he would have to work fast to save her life.
Jubilee woke up to a dull ache in her leg and a sense of immense calm. She was, she discovered, lying on a bed with a young man with Roman features and short-cropped blond hair sitting watching her. Looking down she saw that her wound was healed, the skin smooth and unmarked, and the belief she had dismissed when she saw her rescuer returned.
・Rand-Kai?・ She asked hesitantly. He rose smoothly and bowed slightly.
・Please.・ He said, his Mongol smooth and fluent with the faintest trace of an Italian accent. ・Call me Daniel.・
・You・re a Roman?・ She said in puzzlement. He gave a small smile.
・My father was. My mother was a Jew of Celtic descent. I follow the Gods of neither, though.・ His chest was covered by a tunic, but her gaze dropped to it regardless, remembering what she had seen such a short time before.
・The Dragon?・ She asked.
・Is in me.・ Daniel Rand-Kai replied. As he said this Jubilee remembered.
・Bishop and Wolvie!・ She exclaimed. ・The Prefect has them.・
・Your companions?・ He asked her. When she nodded he went on, ・The Dragon has business with one of them. A debt to discharge. I will help you to rescue them.・
・How?・ She said, despair heavy in her voice. ・I mean, they・re the best fighters I know, and Gifted, and the Prefect and his friends managed to take them down.・
・They wield powerful magic.・ He agreed. ・But it is against the ・Gifted, did you say? ・that they are most alert and most powerful. They will not have thought to armour against the Dragon.・
Bishop, badly beaten, was returned to his cell. He knew what his fate was to be ・the standard punishment for being a Gifted guilty of having a pulse in the Roman Empire was to be crucified, and left to hang. If you were still alive after a week, they got inventive, but he had no illusions that he would last anything like that long. As it was he had several cracked ribs and loose teeth, but nothing more severe ・the Prefect wanted him in good shape, so his death would last as long as possible. He had, needless to say, been delighted by the discovery of Logan・s healing abilities. The Roman was currently testing the ancient Gifted・s power, and his chuckles of delight were clearly audible to Bishop. Logan was not making a sound.
Jubilee, without meaning to, slept the rest of the night. Rand-Kai, exhausted by the healing trance he had used to repair her injuries, did the same, lying comfortably on the floor beside the bed. The following morning she awoke first and nearly panicked in the belief that Bishop and Logan would assume they were abandoned. Fortunately she woke him up as she headed for the door, and he was able to stop her.
・We need a plan.・ He reminded her. ・We have time. Hellspawn are killed by crucifixion, and that takes hours to organise and takes place at dawn.
・I・m not a planner. You want Bishop for that, or even Logan. They know how to fight. I・m still learning!・
・Are you ・Gifted?・ He used the word slightly awkwardly, and it took Jubilee a moment to guess why.
・Hey, Hellspawn is just another Latin word to me.・ She told him. ・Yeah, I can do this.・ Streamers of plasma flowed from her fingertips to curl round her wrist for a moment and then vanish.
・How powerful is that?・ He asked. ・And how far can you hurl them?・
・Not far. About as far as an arrow will travel. But I can make them blow up, and guide them to their target.・ She smiled. ・It・s kinda useful, really. You got a plan?・
・Not yet. We need to eat, and while we eat we can plan, and then we will rescue your friends.・
As the sun rose the news spread across Alexandria that there were two Hellspawn who would be crucified at dawn the following day. It would, the rumours said, be quite an event.
The rumours came early to the ears of the man named Farouk, in his palace outside the city. All news came to him. Almost everything he desired came to him, even as he wished for it, and now he desired knowledge.
The mind of the Shadow King was an immensely powerful and twisted thing, able to walk the minds of hundreds at a time. He had, in his life, been bested mind to mind by only one other, the Briton Xavier, and even that most powerful of Gifted had not walked away unscathed. His name was whispered in terror throughout the world, but the armies of Rome could do nothing against him. No mind was closed to him ・or no mortal mind ・but this news was of little concern to him ・adult Gifted were rare in the Empire, but by no means completely unknown, and so the executions actually came fairly frequently. Even so, he reached briefly to the mind of the Prefect Octavius to see if the two men should interest him; discovering they did not, he chose to forget them.
Farouk・s palace was large, spacious and luxurious. It had belonged to a Roman ・a former Consul, moved to Egypt for his retirement. The old man still lived in the palace, but now he kept the latrines clean in the slave quarters. Farouk had left him aware of all that was happening around him, and had simply removed his control over his own actions. The man・s hatred and indignation were one of the Gifted・s favourite dishes.
Farouk himself was a tall, handsome man, approaching middle age but still in excellent shape. He had taken the body from a former Olympic boxer, and kept the old knowledge alive ・he had found that he could cause almost as much pain and fear by simple brute force as he could with his powers. Now he moved along the corridors of his palace to a hidden staircase, descending swiftly to a lower level. He made this pilgrimage every morning, to better make the attempt.
In a tiny chamber in the foundations of the palace, once used to store the former owner・s most private papers (which, had they been revealed in Rome, would have had several Senators indicted for corruption), the Shadow King had, for close to a year, kept his most precious possession. He did not enter the room, but merely reached out to the mind inside.
As always the woman was filled with terror at the confined space, so much so that there was barely room for her further fear and hatred at the feeling of Farouk・s Gift reaching for her. He always kept a presence in her mind, restraining her immense power with considerable effort, but now he turned on her his full attention, giving her his memories of the last day and night, the crimes he had committed, the things he had done, the things he wished to do with her.
As always he could not break her. Even in her terror and degradation the core of her mind was too strong, and all he could do was claw at the edges of her consciousness. He felt her vomit at his presence, and reached out for the nearest of his servants to come and clean the woman・s room. Also he called his bodyguard, the Numidian Lucius, to stand guard. Then the Shadow King returned to the main part of the palace to enjoy the succulent flavour that was morning in the richest, poorest, cruellest city under Rome・s domain.
Caius Julianus Olivianus Aquila, Citizen, Patrician, and Tribune of the fourth Legion, was not drunk, but he was well on his way when the man slid into the seat opposite him.
・It is not good to drink alone, Caius.・ The newcomer pointed out. ・And as for drinking while the sun is still high ・for it is not yet the tenth hour? It seems something troubles you.・ The young officer looked up.
・Daniel. When a man drinks alone, it is usually because he craves solitude.・
・Solitude? Or oblivion?・ Aquila considered Daniel a friend on fairly brief acquaintance. The lawyer was a Roman citizen and gifted speaker, and with his strange style the only man he had ever come across who could better him with a sword.
・Does it matter?・
・I have seen you do this before, Caius. Every time, I think, for the same reason.・
・Enlighten me, oh my friend and lawyer. Tell me why I don・t drink with my friends.・
・You drink like this the day before a hellspawn is killed.・ Even with alcohol in him the soldier was fast, and he was reaching for his dagger before the sentence had ended. Even when sober he could not match the Dragon, and Daniel caught his wrist before the steel cleared its sheath.
・They are different.・ He snarled, straining against the lawyer・s vice-like grip. ・Do not call them hellspawn, friend, save when you carry a sword and the will to use it.・
・I meant no insult. I prefer the British term ・Gifted ・but did not want to confuse you.・ After a moment Aquila relaxed, and Daniel released his wrist.
・I am foolish with wine.・ He said apologetically. ・My sister was Gifted.・ He paused. ・They did not take her. She fled to Spain, and joined the Brotherhood.・ His smile was bitter. ・She helped murder the Warbird.・
・And the men who die tomorrow?・ Daniel・s gaze pinned him, seeming to sober him instantly.
・They killed soldiers. Macrinus aside they were the scum of the army, it is true, prison guards and the personal troops of that maniac Octavius, but such things must not go unpunished.・
The Dragon spoke to him now.
・I owe one of them a debt. It must be paid.・ The two men watched each other・s faces for a long moment, and then Aquila looked away.
・I do not work in the courthouse. My men do not guard the place of execution.・
・True. Now tell me about those who do.・
Jubilee was waiting for Rand-Kai outside the inn, and fell in beside him as he emerged.
・Well?・ She asked.
・I learned what I needed to know.・ He told her. Unfortunately Jubilee, who had rapidly lost her awe for the Dragon, would not be put off.
・Do you have a plan?・
・Yes. But it・s dangerous, and I・ll really need you to pull it off.・ A young man rounded the corner and bumped in to him, raised his hand in apology, and then turned away. As he did so, Jubilee recognised him.
・Hey!・ She called, and kicked him in the back of the knee. His leg collapsed under him, and she grabbed his wrist, swiftly applying a brutal armlock that, Bishop had explained, was perfect for when you wanted to break several bones at once. The recipient now grunted in pain, and fell to the floor. Rand-Kai was staring.
・He・s a pickpocket.・ The girl announced.
・He didn・t touch anything of mine.・ Her companion said, and pulled out his purse to show her. On the ground the young man whimpered, and then suddenly seemed to glow bright colours, which reached out to enwrap the girl. She blinked, and twisted his arm a little further. He responded with a hissed obscenity, and a burst of energy identical to her plasmoids that flung her into the nearest wall. He stood up, and the Dragon struck him in the neck with surgical precision. His entire body went limp, and he fell into the taller man・s arms.
Jubilee was herself climbing to her feet, and as Daniel supported the paralysed boy she took in the site of a rapidly forming crowd, that verged on being a full-on mob. She could hear the word ・hellspawn・ being muttered.
・Danny ・ She said.
・I know.・ He agreed. Unlike her, he was tall enough to see the squad of soldiers pushing through the crowd. ・Follow me.・ He hefted the young thief over one shoulder, and ran for the nearest alleyway. Jubilee unleashed a burst of light that dazzled the crowd, and then turned and ran.
In his palace, the Shadow King blinked. One of his servants, one of the many thieves he controlled to bring him wealth and fear, had vanished from his mindscape. He blinked, and then callously dismissed the presumably dead boy. There were always more.
Weighed down by the boy, it took them the best part of an hour to shake all pursuit. Finally, out of breath, Jubilee and Daniel stopped in yet another of the many alleys that riddled the ancient city. Daniel managed to stand the thief upright, and then pulled off his burnoose and draped it round the younger man, retaining his tunic to cover the Dragon.
・What about your friend?・ Jubilee asked.
・If he makes the connection, he・ll keep his mouth shut.・ Rand-Kai replied with absolute confidence. The boy suddenly folded slightly, and then straightened up awkwardly.
・Careful.・ Jubilee told him, once again noticing just how good-looking he was. ・And, uh ・sorry. For screwing up your life like that.・
・What did you do?・ He asked. ・He has gone.・
・Who?・ She asked.
・The Shadow King. He rode in my head, once.・ He scowled. ・For as long as I can remember. When I reached for you, though ・he vanished.・
・You stole her power?・ Asked Rand-Kai.
・Borrowed.・ He said hastily. ・Copied. It stayed with you, but I took the same power upon me. It is ・I am hellspawn.・ He looked at her in surprise. ・As are you. Are you protected from the Shadow King?・
・Well, Lady Betsy did always say I was hard to find if you didn・t know how to look. Maybe that confused him?・ Daniel gestured towards his lodging, and started walking. Grabbing the thief・s arm, jubilee followed him. ・That・s Rand-Kai, by the way. I・m Jubilee. Well, Jubilation, really, but Jubilee sounds better.・ She smiled up at him.
・I am called Evadere, the Dodger.・ He met her gaze, his face grave. ・Ev to my friends.・
・C・mon, Ev. You got anything better to do?・
・I need to leave the city.・ He said.
・I・m not staying long. I・ve just got to pick up a couple of friends, find this girl for this guy, and then we・re getting the next ship to Massilia. You can tag along.・
・Why?・ He was suspicious. They followed Daniel into his rooms.
・Well, I kinda got you into this.・ She smiled again. She had, Ev noticed, a beautiful smile. ・And then I know a couple of head thieves in Frankia and Britain. I could probably get you jobs with them if you wanted.・ She turned to the other man. ・So, Danny, what・s the plan?・
Sunset, and their plans were complete. Jubilee had told Ev some of her life story, mostly without prompting, and was now waiting for him to reciprocate.
・Alexandria is my home. The Shadow King has owned me these nine years, since I was eight years old.・ He paused, and then looked at her. ・I never knew my parents, or any real family.・
・So tell me about this Shadow King.・ She demanded.
・I was not his servant. I was his possession ・we all were. He ・ The Dodger paused for a moment, hesitating over his words. ・He is evil. Utter, omniscient evil. He takes you away from yourself, so that you can only do as he desires. I ・I have never felt as free as I do today.・ He smiled, slightly bitterly. ・Even though the Romans are even now searching for a tall, dark-skinned young hellspawn.・
・Don・t worry. Once we get Logan and Bishop free, and rescue the Windrider, we are out of here. You won・t need to fear the Romans or the Shadow King ever again.・
They came for Logan half an hour before dawn. They had to beat him unconscious with clubs before they could unchain him from the wall, and then they lashed him to the yoke that would keep his claws out of the way as quickly as possible. They brought Bishop out a short time later. Both men were in leg irons, which they would wear throughout the long walk to the place of execution, although Logan・s restraints prevented him from carrying the heavy timber cross on his shoulders. They were accompanied by two dozen guards, who formed a rough phalanx as they escorted them out of the gate.
Logan stalked, snarling and angry. Bishop, beside him, strode tall and dignified, facing straight ahead, refusing to be bowed by the weight of his cross. His eyes moved carefully, waiting for an opportunity. He could not run in the leg irons, he knew, and so he would need to find a hiding place. It might be that, given time, he could manoeuvre his feet up to Logan・s claws, but freeing his hands would be more immediate. For the moment, though, the guards were too vigilant; he would wait until they had been dispersed a little in the main thoroughfares, already busy as the sun rose.
The route of the procession of the condemned always varied, in the hopes of preventing rescue. Fortunately this route was among the things Daniel had learned from Aquila the previous afternoon, and now he, Jubilee and the Dodger lay in wait beside a particularly steep street.
It was a tradition of the Roman Empire that, while bandits, thieves, murderers and religious or political dissidents were all executed en masse, with no division according to their crimes, those guilty of crimes of birth, of being Gifted, were killed apart from the rest. That week Logan and Bishop were to be crucified, and no others.
It was nearly half an hour after dawn that the procession reached the three rescuers. First came six soldiers of the Prefect・s personal guard, walking abreast to clear the way for the condemned. Behind them was a chariot carrying the Prefect himself, there to witness the enactment of the sentences, and then another six guards. Behind them were the condemned, walking between two lines of ten men, armed with sword and shield, watching the few people found on that street at that hour, and a final squad of eight men brought up the rear of the small column.
Daniel・s plan had not included the presence of the Prefect. Grabbing Jubilee, he quickly whispered a new set of instructions to her, and she handed him Bishop・s broadsword. They would be moving fast, and could afford no hesitation.
Climbing swiftly atop a wall, Jubilee hurled the most powerful blast she could muster at the Prefect. His metal arms burst from beneath his cloak with serpentine speed, but they were not fast enough and the blast struck him solidly on his right shoulder, hurling him from his chariot. He landed unconscious, his tentacles falling limp.
Moving fast, the Dragon of K・un L・un leaped into one side of the column, the Fay-forged blade he held in his right hand slicing smoothly through armour, flesh and bone with hideous ease. He killed two men to make a gap in the line, then two more to keep the gap open as the Dodger dashed past him, dagger reaching to cut the ropes that bound Logan・s hands to his yoke. Soldiers were already turning towards them, but the Wolverine・s claws flashed down to cut through his leg irons and then he hurled himself forward, impaling the first man to attack him on three long blades and then using his body as a shield.
Behind him Ev was hastily cutting Bishop・s hands free. Unfortunately his knife was useless against the chains on the gigantic man・s ankles, but Rand- Kai observed the situation and ran to their side. Behind him the dozen leading soldiers were blinded and scorched by Jubilee・s pyrotechnics, buying them vital breathing time. Reaching out to her, Ev turned and hurled a similar burst of energy at the rearguard, throwing the line they had been trying to form into confusion.
Bishop accepted his sword from the Dragon・s outstretched hand, and brought it down to slice smoothly through the chain. He shot the other man a questioning glance, and was answered when Jubilee leaped from her wall to land beside them.
・You guys ready to go?・ She asked. ・Wolvie! Time to run!・ Logan slashed down a final opponent, and then turned to join the other four, following the Dodger into one of Alexandria・s ubiquitous alleys. Within minutes they were deep within the labyrinth of back streets, and safe from pursuit by the company of Legionaries that had been rushed up to relieve the guards. The new arrivals found a dozen men dead, most of the rest with burns from the blasts Jubilee and Ev had unleashed, and the Prefect himself badly injured and unconscious.
Once they had shaken the pursuit to Daniel・s satisfaction, the little group convened in a cheap tavern a short distance from the waterfront. Rand-Kai went to purchase drinks, and Jubilee rapidly filled her friends in on what had happened after she leaped over the courthouse wall. When she reached her rescue in the alleyway, Logan interrupted.
・Rand-Kai.・ He said.
・Yeah.・ She agreed. ・He said he owed you a favour. I guess this was it ・
・No.・ The subject of their conversation interjected, placing jugs of cheap wine and fresh water on the scarred table, and then accepting a tray of mugs from an aging waitress. ・There is ・a little more.・ Logan looked up at him, and his thoughtful scowl turned into a grin.
・A Roman won the Dragon.・ He said. ・Strangest thing.・ Bishop and Jubilee looked at him in surprise. They knew him to be several hundred years old, and to have travelled beyond the known world. They also knew him to shy from exaggeration and understatement alike ・if he said it was the strangest thing he knew, it was the strangest thing he knew.
・Even so.・ Daniel replied. ・I learned the arts, I fought, and I overcame the Dragon. Now I pay its debts.・
・What is this debt?・ Asked the Dodger, feeling excluded from the conversation.
・Private.・ Grunted Logan. Jubilee found herself unconsciously touching his arm. Bishop smiled.
・Who is your other new friend, Jubilee?・ He asked.
・Dodger.・ He said. ・Ev.・
・Pickpocket.・ Supplied Logan. ・Damned good one. If he hadn・t been so nervous, I・d never have caught him.・
・I did not fear you, old man.・ Ev told him forcefully, forgetting for a moment that less than an hour before he had seen this old man tear his way through half a dozen heavily armed men in the space of a few seconds. ・The Shadow King owned me, and it pleases him to have his servants live in fear.・
・Why?・ Asked Daniel. He had heard of the Shadow King ・as had all who came near the city ・but he knew very little.
・It gives him strength.・ Said Bishop. ・We were told that he feeds on fear and suffering, and that they magnify his power.・ He did not feel it necessary to reveal just who had told them this.
・How about it, Rand-Kai?・ Asked Logan. ・You want to come with us against the Shadow King?・
・There are mightier foes.・ Daniel replied. ・And it is my debt and my duty.・
・Hold it!・ Interrupted Ev. ・You・re going to attack the Shadow King? Not that I don・t hate him, and I wish you luck, but I・m not going back there.・
・Back where?・ Asked Bishop.
・His palace.・ The young thief looked around at the three men, who were wearing identical expressions of grim calculation. They weren・t nearly so bad as Jubilee, who was looking hurt and disappointed. ・I・m going to have to show you the back way in, aren・t I?・
It was a long day. Before the rescue Daniel and Jubilee had retrieved Logan and Bishop・s few possessions ・both men were used to travelling almost impossibly light, being confident in their ability to make or hunt anything they might need while travelling, and so there were just a few clothes and their funds. Daniel had also taken the precaution of concealing his own essentials, but a careful watch of his inn revealed no sign of a military presence, and discreet inquiries revealed that he had not been identified as one of the rescuers of the two Gifted, although Ev had been seen and remembered and, as a dangerous hellspawn, was now wanted almost as much as Logan and Bishop. The four Gifted wasted no time in obtaining ・for an ungodly quantity of silver ・a small fishing boat, which the two warriors were able to sail out of Alexandria harbour while the patrol boats were investigating a departing merchantman, and beach further up the coast, a few miles from Farouk・s palace. Towards evening Daniel left the city and rode to join them.
Before leaving Logan had contacted the captain of the ship Jean-Luc had contracted to take them to Egypt, and the man had reluctantly agreed to stand offshore waiting for them until dawn, although he made much of the risk of coast pirates. One way or another, Logan figured, they would be finished in Alexandria this night.
The palace stood on the top of a small, steep hill. The Dodger led them to a narrow, steep flight of steps, cut into the rock, that led up to the back entrance, now used as much by the Shadow King・s enslaved thieves as by his other servants. They climbed swiftly, the young thief leading somewhat reluctantly, until they reached a small door. He waved them to halt.
・There・ll be a couple of men on watch here, more of his slaves.・ He told them in low tones. ・They ・did not choose to serve him.・ Rand-Kai nodded. Once more he was stripped down to trousers and boots, and even in the faint starlight the Dragon on his chest seemed to his companions to be deep in shadow. There was a price that came with the Dragon, Logan knew, as well as the many rewards, but he also knew that the Dragon was, by definition, one of the most honourable beings in existence. It would assist them this night, although after that it would consider its debt discharged. After that, Logan knew, the Dragon would seek its own goals, and Daniel would be sorely tested if he wished to reassert himself.
Ev was speaking again, and Logan dragged himself away from his contemplation to listen.
・The Shadow King・s bodyguard is Lucius the Numidian. He is as strong as fifty men, and his flesh is harder than steel. There is nothing that can harm him.・
Logan・s claws gleamed faintly.
・We・ll see.・ He muttered.
Ev knocked carefully on the door. An inquiry was muttered in Egyptian, and he identified himself in the same language. With a slight scraping noise the gate was unbolted and then swung open. Rand-Kai and Logan moved past the thief, fast and silent as they dropped the two men who stood on the other side.
Logan straightened up and sniffed the air.
・The Windrider is here.・ He said. ・It・s faint, but she・s here. And afraid.・
・How do you know her scent?・ Muttered Bishop.
・She smells like her mother. A little of her father, and mostly of fear, but a lot like her mother.・ The big man nodded. They moved through the darkened building, following Logan・s nose. At one point, while crossing a garden courtyard, they saw a glow ahead of them, a watchman patrolling the palace with a lantern, but at Logan・s urging they shrank back into the shadows and were unnoticed.
Logan led them across the court to a door rather more ornate than the rest.
・Through here.・ He muttered. Jubilee let her hand glow a little to inspect the door, and in the faint light the Dodger・s face was grey.
・That is his personal quarters.・ He whispered, terror in his voice. ・If we go in there, he will sense us. We will die.・ Bishop reached past him and turned the handle, shoving at the door. It was locked. He glanced at Logan, who extended a single claw and slid it between door and frame, slicing cleanly through the bolt of the lock. Withdrawing the blade, he gently pulled the door open.
A massive fist drove out from the darkness and smashed him backwards. Jubilee was knocked to the ground, and Ev was sent staggering.
The Shadow King・s bodyguard, Lucius, was nearly seven feet tall, and massively muscled. He carried no weapon, but with inhuman strength and fists bigger than a normal man・s head he hardly needed one. He moved forward with smooth deliberation. The faint glazed look in his eyes suggested that, like everyone else in the palace, he was under the control of Farouk, but this did not seem to hamper him as he punched at Bishop with remarkable speed.
Bishop blocked, and the force of the blow sent him staggering back. A moment later Rand-Kai attacked, sending half a dozen blows into the giant almost too fast to follow. Lucius did not seem to notice them, and turned to strike at the Roman, who barely avoided the blow. Bishop came back to the fight then, swinging his sword with all his strength. The razor-sharp, super hard blade struck Lucius on the side of the neck with sufficient force to cut a normal man in half. A thin line of blood appeared on his throat, the nick healing almost instantly, and on Bishop・s next blow the bigger man simply caught the sword in one hand, using it to pull Bishop into his other fist. The African Gifted was hurled backwards, several ribs cracked, to land unconscious halfway across the garden.
Logan rose to his feet and joined Rand-Kai in opposing the Shadow King・s bodyguard. His claws drove forward, but could not make an impression on Lucius・ invulnerable hide. He gave a bestial snarl and leaped upwards, hoping to drive the long blades into the man・s eyes ・and Lucius twisted to catch him with an elbow that hurled him into a pillar. Blood burst from between the Gifted・s lips, and he staggered sideways, stunned to the point where he could not even focus his eyes.
Daniel stood alone against the giant. Attack was useless ・Rand-Kai・s blows were not even felt by the massive Numidian. Retreat was, to the Dragon that rode with him, unquestionable, and besides the movement of the fight had carried them round so that Lucius was between him and the exit. With neither of these possible, Daniel reached down inside himself and tapped into the power of the Dragon of K・un L・un, stepping forward with an easy grace that carried him past his opponent・s fists and driving a single blow to the centre of his opponent・s chest. He punched with the strength of the ancient Dragon, and the Iron Fist hurled his opponent backwards to smash straight through an exterior wall to a forty-foot drop.
The giant did not fall. The internal organs of a normal man would have exploded under the impact, but despite the colossal force he was barely harmed, and his hand shot out to grab onto the crumbling parapet that remained in the hole he had made in the wall. He dangled for a minute, and then reached up to pull himself through.
The Dragon was gone, and Rand-Kai would not be able to channel its power for the rest of the night. Lucius was climbing back through the gap. Daniel rushed forwards, and drove his extended fingers into the bigger man・s eyes.
The Numidian gave a howl of pain, his hands instinctively releasing the brickwork to cup his face. On the way up one of them encountered Daniel・s arm, and he seized it in a grip of steel even as he toppled backwards, to fall forty feet to the rocks below.
Rand-Kai rode his body down.
The Dodger stepped out hesitantly from the shadow of the pillar behind which he had hid as the fight progressed. Bishop was unconscious, he could see, and Jubilee just beginning to stir. Logan was crouched down, clearly experiencing some discomfort as his own internal injuries healed. The young thief glanced at the old man, who grinned at him and moved to check on Jubilee.
・How touching.・ Said a voice from the dark doorway. It was familiar to the Dodger, for he had heard it inside his own head a thousand times, ruling more than half his life, but this was the first time he had heard it out loud. Somehow, clammy and sickening though it was, the Shadow King・s mind voice did not convey the sense he inspired gave when he spoke in person. Farouk・s voice sounded like poisoned oil, sliding across the young man・s ears and leaving them feeling numb and rotted after it. ・He cares for her as a daughter.・ Logan looked up, snarling gently. ・Well? Attack me! That is why you are here, is it not? No? I am still your enemy. Unsheathe those claws, and tear me apart.・ Logan・s eyes practically glowed with hatred. ・You can・t, can you. Your mind is strong, old man, but when you became enraged your defences dropped. You are mine, and it only remains to determine your fate.・ He paused. ・And Dodger. It will be interesting to discover how you hid yourself. Did you, perhaps, take this old man・s powers to yourself, and his strength of mind with them? Or did you find some other means of evading me? It would sit well with your name, would it not.・ Ev found himself standing straight, and moving to a point beside Bishop. The Shadow King walked over to Logan, who had himself moved away from Jubilee.
・The girl-child is pretty, but I think of more value dead than alive.・ Farouk looked up at the old warrior. ・You will be a fitting assistant to Lucius, but first I think you will kill her. Slowly. You may sleep with the body as it decays. It will keep your guilt ・fresh.・ Logan・s muscles tensed, and the tips of his claws broke the surface of his skin for a moment before sliding back in. ・Dodger, you may kill the African. I think that will pain all of you almost as much as the girl・s death.・ Bishop was stirring. Ev burned with rage, but was held motionless by the Shadow King・s power. He felt his old master reaching into his brain once more. ・Or perhaps you should kill the girl? She feels affection for you, and her sense of betrayal would be delicious. And the Wolverine here would hurt almost as much killing his comrade as his surrogate daughter.・ He grinned, his handsome face turned nightmarish by the horrible expression. ・Decisions, decisions.・ And then Bishop rose to his feet and rushed at the Shadow King, a dagger suddenly in his hand.
Farouk took control of Bishop・s legs first, sending the former gladiator toppling forwards, and then met the bigger man with a punch to the chin that spun him around so he landed on his back. He grinned down at the man, inducing him to raise the blade towards his own eye.
・I can make you blind yourself.・ He whispered, pleasure heavy in his voice. Bishop stared up at him unflinching and grim.
Farouk was annoyed. The two young ones, Jubilee and Ev, were properly petrified by his threats and his capabilities, but Logan gave off only rage and, to his chagrin, Bishop did not show even that. The big man was cold and unemotional, his only feeling a determination to defeat his enemy. The Shadow King had seldom encountered such a disciplined mind before. He focused his powers a little tighter, trying to terrify the warrior by power alone, and as he did so his concentration slipped just a little.
The Dodger・s Gift had manifested itself fairly late, just a year before, and under the Shadow King he had seldom used it ・there were few enough Gifted for him to copy in any case. Even so, he had become used to its presence, a faint awareness at the edge of his consciousness that told him where power lay and how to reach for it. Now, as the Shadow King focussed on Bishop he felt it return to him. Ev did the only thing he could ・he reached for the greatest source of power in the room, and hurled every bit of it at Farouk.
There are many uses to the mindwalker・s power. The Lady Braddock used it effectively as an extra set of eyes, to watch the world around her and to read the intentions of those she met. Jean, queen of the Summer Country, used it to speak with her husband, and to read diplomacy. The Shadow King used it to control people, and it was this that proved his undoing. The power that Ev copied from his was no greater, and Farouk was infinitely more refined in its use ・but the thief used the totality of that power in a single devastating blast hurled straight at the older man. Farouk had his clammy tendrils secreted in hundreds of minds across Egypt. He exerted varying degrees of influence in the minds of half the officials in the administration, he ordered the lives of his slaves and thieves, and he was actively engaged in controlling the four Gifted who stood before him. Even with all this, his defences were strong, but the magnitude of the attack was too much, and to survive it ・to ride it out ・he had to call in his power.
Farouk screamed, and several hundred people screamed with him, as his touch wrenched itself from their brains. Several of his older victims were killed instantly, but he repelled the attack and reflected it back at the Dodger, squeezing his mind even as he reasserted his control across Egypt.
It was a moment・s weakness, but that was all it took. Bishop snatched the dagger away from his eye, and drove it up into the Shadow King・s groin. The Gifted screamed again, hurling himself away from the warrior, and from behind him a great wind sprang up. Logan staggered, and Ev looked towards him. Bishop started to rise, and Logan hurried to his side, pulling him to his feet but then restraining him.
・Enough.・ He said. ・There・s a smell on the wind.・ Bishop almost asked him what he meant, but then the source of the wind appeared, and such a question was no longer necessary.
She was the most beautiful thing any of those present had seen. She floated on the wind, her long white hair and her tattered robes floating around her. Her eyes glowed with white fire, standing out from her rich brown skin. She was the source of wind and lightning, the storm-goddess, and she was angry.
Farouk barely had time to look up before lightning struck for the first time ・and then again. Stone shattered and the air exploded, and still the lightning struck again and again, smashing into the Shadow King. Logan had grabbed Jubilee and dragged her clear; Bishop now presented himself as a human shield, absorbing the electricity even as it came towards the four of them and hurling it back towards its original target. Jubilee staggered to the Dodger and shouted over the incredible noise, ・Copy Bishop!・
Ev, barely in control of himself after Farouk・s last attack, obeyed as best he could, feeling the lightning flow through him and redirecting it. Behind him Logan had driven his claws into the ground in an attempt to earth himself, his metal bones attracting what little power got past the two conduits.
And then, suddenly, it was all over.
Below, Rand-Kai raised his head and saw that Lucius was conscious once more and watching him. Daniel・s leg was broken. The Dragon would be able to heal him, but not for some time and not unless he was able to meditate.
・He is gone.・ Said Lucius in quiet wonder.
・Farouk?・ Asked Daniel.
・Dead.・ Affirmed the giant Numidian. He hesitated, and then, ・I can get you to a doctor.・
・That might be a good idea.・ Daniel agreed cautiously. Lucius rose awkwardly to his feet, apparently unaffected by his battle with three of the deadliest fighters alive, and reached down to lift his recent opponent.
・My name is Lucius.・ He said, his accent hardening the middle letters so that it came out ・Lukas・.
・My name is Daniel Rand-Kai.・
The Shadow King was gone. Where he had stood Bishop could find only a fine black ash, and the goddess who had destroyed him.
・Lady Windrider, your father sent us to rescue you.・ He told her, slightly hesitant.
・Then let us go.・
・We have a ship waiting, Lady Windrider.・ He told her.
・But the Romans are hunting us, and they・ll probably send someone to investigate this.・ Pointed out Ev.
・But get me aboard,・ the Storm told them, ・and there is not a ship in the Roman Empire that will catch us.・
・Then, Lady Windrider ・ She cut him off.
・Call me Ororo. It is my name.・ She said. Bishop smiled.
・Ororo.・ He said. ・We should be leaving.・
Logan, Bishop, Jubilee, Ororo and the Dodger crossed the Mediterranean and Gaul without difficulty, and returned to the Forge. Wayland the Smith-god was able to free Bishop・s sister from her shard, but her ghost chose to remain in the earthly plane, and ultimately came to haunt Avalon, where she befriended the Prince and Princess, Alex and Lorna.
Ororo chose to travel further with her four companions. They returned briefly to the Summer Country, and then set off to visit China.
Rand-Kai and Lukas also travelled together, taking ship to Italy a short time after the destruction of the Shadow King. They eventually met up with the sorcerer called the Reed, and stood with him against the Emperor Latverius Victor.
The Shadow King himself did not truly die, but he was rendered a soul incorporeal, drifting across the earth in search of a mind with the strength and weakness that would let him use it.
The Prefect Octavius and his cronies were not to reign long in Egypt. Within a few years a champion arose, bearing the badge of the Spider. His career was long and tragic, but ultimately successful. One of his foremost allies was a disillusioned young Roman named Caius Julianus Olivianus Aquila.
Phew. Just over half the length of the previous one, and it took almost as long to write.
Okay, I mucked up several characters. In my defence I know almost nothing about Iron Fist (so why・d you write him, then, Wal?), and basically wrote his character and abilities from scratch. I have no excuse for Doctor Octopus, sadistic Roman.
Some of you probably cried foul when synching to Jubilee got Ev out from under the Shadow King・s control (if you picked that up. It was rather skipped over). Okay, this is kind of canon. Jubilee has some form of mental screen, like Wolverine and Gambit ・Bastion commented on it, and at the very beginning of her existence she hung out in the Australian base for some time without Psylocke ever picking up on her presence. I figured that if the Shadow King was not specifically looking, it・d keep her hidden, so when Ev synched to her it would make him invisible in the same way.
Of course, the presiding problem with this entire series is going to be that the good guys kill people. I don・t like that, but it・s the only way this setting can work. And yes, I said ・entire series・. There・s going to be two or three more stories, each with a different cast but connecting to the first. The next one I・ll finish will probably feature Kitty and Wisdom, as well as the usual backing crew of Marvel mutants and others.
Another one for the records is that I do not believe in Bishop and Storm as a couple. On the other hand, these are two people who seriously need to get laid. Give them partners already, Marvel! (Hint: Antipodeans kick ass)