Austria, Europe – Two Months Ago
The castle sat perched on the side of a steep and unforgiving slope, clinging to the incline of the imposing mountain. It was night, and a storm was raging in the Austrian Alps, sheets of rain fell from the sky as forks of lightning flashed from the clouds. Within the castle, lights burned, casting illumination throughout the gothic structure. A man makes his way through the upper levels of the building; he is clad in a long flowing black robe, his face hidden in the recesses of its hood. Within moments, he has come to the door of the library.
The library is vast; the walls covered in full bookshelves, here and there, a computer terminal can be seen, the screens humming softly. The room is empty, except for one lone figure. His robe is a deep emerald green, and his face is exposed, the most distinguishing thing about his appearance being his brown hair, subtly striped with auburn. His eyes are hard, but within those green orbs is a sparkle of passion.
The dark robed man, a member of the Brotherhood of Scrier, stood silently for a moment, awaiting his master’s orders. The Brotherhood of Scrier had been formed three centuries ago, a cult obsessed with a mythical character of great power, and the organisation grew in size as the decades passed. Seven years ago, an American was initiated into the order, and in a brutal move, slaughtered the head of the Order and assumed control. Now, the Scriers are a covert organisation, aided by advanced technology, responsible for controlling most of the crime syndicates of the European Union.
Norman Osborn, the head of the Scriers, looked up from the document he was reading. “Ah, you have something to report?” Osborn was an ambitious man, and in the guise of the Green Goblin, had sought to consolidate his hold on the crime organisations of New York. He failed, due to the interference of one man, Peter Parker, the costumed adventurer known as Spider-man. Osborn had discovered Peter’s identity and was responsible for the death of Parker’s first love, Gwen Stacy. Shortly thereafter, Osborn “died”, impaled by his own glider, but by a twist of fate, the chemical formula that granted him unique abilities saved his life, and healed him.
Norman returned to New York three times since his apparent death, the second time re-establishing himself as an entrepreneur and philanthropist. During this period, he started the Gathering of Five, an ancient ritual that granted five people the gifts of immortality, wisdom, or power, and the curse of death or insanity. Osborn sought to gain absolute power through the ritual but instead received madness. After several months of careful rehabilitation, he then attempted to bend Parker to his will, make his enemy into his heir but he failed to corrupt Peter’s spirit and so he returned to Europe to plan anew.
“My lord, I have found the information you requested.” The Scrier said. “The location of the Devil’s Heart and its constituents.”
“Very good,” replied Osborn. “Proceed with the recovery as we discussed. Do not attempt to take all the gems at once, keep to our timetable.”
He looked up at his servant. “Has the situation in Genosha progressed?” He asked.
“Magneto has declared his intentions to gather mutants to his cause with the purpose of launching a strike against various nations. Human refugees are being transported to neighbouring countries.” The Scrier paused. “I fear Magneto may start a war.”
“If he does, we will surely weather the storm.” Osborn motioned for his servant to leave. “Make the preparations to recover the Devil’s Heart.”
“Yes, my lord.” The Scrier turned and left the room.
Finally, Osborn thought, perhaps this time I will succeed in crushing that accursed Parker boy, if Magneto’s war does not claim him, the Devil’s Heart will. To think I almost considered him my heir. He paused for a moment, foolishness borne out of madness. And well do I know madness.
Norman took a sealed packet from his robe and opened it. The contents appeared to be a patch, such as smokers use to kick the habit. He rolled up his sleeve and removed the patch already clinging to his skin and applied the new one. The only way he could stem the insanity he received from the Gathering of Five was through medication; powerful chemicals designed to calm his mind. As those chemicals began to spread through his system, his thoughts became clearer. Yes, the Devil’s Heart, perfect.
At that moment, the door opened again, and a man wearing a white coat entered. He stood respectfully and then cleared his throat.
“Sir, I have news from the lab,” the medic began, “we are ready to begin the conditioning process.”
Osborn nodded. “I trust you have selected a suitable candidate for the procedure?” he asked.
“Subject S-1, sir,” the medic replied, “he has come out of his coma, your theory was right, the goblin formula appears to have completely healed him.”
“S-1 is awake?” Osborn was surprised. “You are sure?”
“Yes sir.” Said the medic confidently.
“Then I will come with you, we must begin immediately.” Osborn stood up and moved towards the door behind the medic. He is awake, after so many months, and he will be reborn as my heir, the new Green Goblin. Norman smiled then, a cruel, evil smile. And now I have another weapon to point at the Spider and anyone else that dare stand in my way.
San Francisco – Now
The sun is shining this morning; it’s light glinting off the bridges that span the San Francisco Bay. But the scenery isn’t of interest to the inhabitants of this city; the streets are busy with people going about their business.
The world has changed dramatically in the last few months. The Legacy Virus, which had plagued both human and mutant kind, has been cured. The island nation of Genosha, seen as a haven for mutants, has been destroyed, at the cost of many millions of lives. Humans still fear mutants of course, but less so now that their numbers have dwindled.
Charles Xavier, geneticist and founder of the X-Men, has revealed his mutant heritage to the public; the X-Men themselves have become targets to religious and political protestors and fundamentalists. However, there is one man removed from this situation, although he has been an X-Man for many years, has fought, bled and pretty much nearly died in service to Xavier. Today however, he is here, in San Francisco on business. His name is Remy LeBeau.
Remy walks calmly down the street, cool in the mid morning heat, his ever-present trenchcoat draped over his arm. To the casual observer, and there are a few, mostly female, Remy appears as a tall man, his body lithe and athletic, his hair is quite long, a dark brown colour and his eyes are hidden behind dark glasses. He is lost in thought, replaying the conversation he had with his ex-wife two days ago.
It had been dark when Remy had returned to his apartment, and as luck would have it, he had just stepped into the shower when the phone rang;
“Yah?” said Remy.
“Remy, where have you been?” The voice was female, and one he knew only too well. His ex-wife, Belladonna Bordeaux, now the head of the combined Assassin’s & Thieves Guild of New Orleans. “I’ve been trying to contact you for days.”
“Sorry Bell, ma chere, been busy.”
“Certainly not with the X-Men, I tried them yesterday, talk about a frosty reception.” Bell continued. “What have you done to them now?”
“Long story, not in the mood to recount it.” Remy was still shocked at the confrontation he had with Xavier three weeks ago, but he had to admit, if Bell has been trying so hard to contact him, what is going on? “So, what wrong wit’ the Guilds now?”
“Nothing, why do you ask?”
“Usually, if you trying to get me, it because some disaster has happened.” Remy was aware that his annoyance was growing, not because of Belladonna, but the circumstances he had faced today. “Wanna cut to da chase, petit’, what’s wrong?”
“Actually, I have a job for you.” Was the reply.
“A job?” Remy was surprised. “Ain’t in dat line o’ work anymore, that’s why you de head o’ de Guilds. Can’t you send one of de others to do this?”
“Wish I could, but our client asked for you specifically, so, do I say no or will you consider it?”
“I know I’ll probably regret this.” began Remy, “but I’ll meet with dem and see what the fuss is. Dat good enough for ya?”
“Of course.” Said Belladonna.
So that was it. Here he was in San Fran, heading to see the “client” and completely lost in a daydream. He heard the cry behind him, a woman had her bag snatched, and almost without thinking, stuck out his foot, tripping the young thief and caught the bag. He casually tossed it over his shoulder and turned to face the man. He was young, early twenties, and full of attitude. Remy saw the bulge in his jacket, most likely a gun, and suddenly, the man stood up, pulling a knife and squaring up to him.
“What you doin’ man?” the purse-snatcher said. “Looking to get cut? Wanna be a tough guy, do you?”
Several people were watching the stand-off. Remy smiled, he always liked an audience.
“You don’ wanna start somethin’ mon ami, trust me on dis.”
The man seemed unconvinced. Remy saw him tense, and quickly stepped to the side. Sure enough, the knife had swung past where Gambit’s head had been moments before. Remy simply whipped his coat round the thief’s head and kicked him in the stomach. The man fell again. This time, Remy took his glasses off, and stood over the purse-snatcher, the sunlight framing his head.
“Warned ya, mon ami.” He drawled.
The thief looked up and saw the glow of his red eyes. Afraid, he jumped up and ran down the street. He was too late though, as two police officers came around the corner of the block and stopped him.
Gambit picked up his coat, put his glasses back on and continued to his destination. A quarter of an hour later, Remy came to an apartment building, the address that Belladonna had given him two days ago.
Although he was tempted to pick the lock and make his own way in, he rang the buzzer. Five minutes later, he was standing in an apartment on the fifth floor of the building, admiring the furniture, and the silverware.
“I assume that you will not be taking any trinkets from me, at least I hope not.” The voice belonged to a distinguished man in his mid-forties. English obviously, judging by the accent. “Although, I suppose you are more capable of determining the worth of these objects than I would be. My name is James Hall-Stewart, and you must be the legendary Remy LeBeau. Am I correct?”
“Don’ know ‘bout legendary, but yah, I’m LeBeau.” Gambit was nervous, he liked to know who he was dealing with, and he didn’t like being at a disadvantage. “Don’ believe everthin’ ya hear ‘bout me, mon ami, some tales are pretty wild.”
“Come now, no need to be modest.” continued James. “I asked for you when I contacted the Guild, your reputation speaks for itself. And I need someone of your skill to carry out the task I need to complete. Here, take a look at this.” With that, James threw a necklace over to Remy, who caught it and looked at it.
“T’anks, but I’m not a big fan o’ jewellery, unless it’s on a femme, of course, non?” Remy was unsure of what this man wanted, and why he holding a necklace. If we’re following that train of thought, why am I even here, this can only mean trouble.
“It’s simple really, I want you to tell me whether this diamond necklace is genuine or a fabrication.”
Now, this I can do. He examined the jewels carefully for a couple of minutes and then looked up as James cleared his throat.
“Would you care for a drink, Mr. LeBeau? I have many fine wines and spirits.”
“Water’s fine, it’s a bit early in the day, non?” Remy had finished with the necklace and set it down on the table in front of him. “Nice arrangement, central diamond, couple of carats, and at least ten others incorporated into the chain.”
“So, genuine or fake, Mr. LeBeau? That was my original question.”
“You wan’ me to be honest? I’d have to say both, mon ami”
“Both?” James sounded surprised. “Would you care to explain?”
He surprised thought Gambit, that could be good or bad. Either dat, or he spent a packet on it.
“The central “diamond”, it be a fake, and of the other ten, three are genuine.” He smiled, confident in his analysis. “So, not a total loss, at least there are real diamonds in there, even if dey are a bit small.”
“Well done, Mr. LeBeau. I am very impressed. Your reputation is certainly well deserved.” There was a beaming smile on James’ face now. He had found the man who could help him. “Here is your water, please take a seat while we discuss why I have called you here.”
“Sure, glad to know I can still pass tests, never was one for de homework, always had other t’ings to do.” Remy threw his coat over the back of a chair and sat down in a comfortable leather seat in the corner of the room. From this position, he could see the window and keep an eye on the doors within the apartment. Better be safe than dead, he thought, ‘specially when he’s holding all de cards. “So, you gonna tell me what dis is all about? I’m sure my ex told you I was out of de business?”
“She did mention that when I contacted the guild but yet, here you are. You are probably wondering what it is I want you to – uh…liberate, but first, let me tell you a little story.” James sat down on a sofa opposite Remy; he leaned forward, his hands clasped together as he began to recount his tale.
“My grandfather, who I share my name with, was an archaeologist, most interested in Egyptian culture. He was involved in a low-key excavation in the Giza desert in the 1920’s and his team discovered a chamber deep underground.”
He paused to take a sip of his drink. “At first, they believed it was the dwelling of a priest, or an isolated burial chamber for an unknown official of Pharaoh’s court but when it was opened, they found one central chamber, and nothing more.”
The man watched Remy for a moment. He’s still wearing his glasses indoors. I wonder why? James decided to continue, “Unfortunately, one of the team died almost immediately, the chamber had been booby-trapped to discourage tomb raiders. The strange thing is, the tomb had remain completely undisturbed, which was quite rare in Egypt.”
“Thought dat would be a good t’ing, non?” Remy replied.
“Well, yes, but somewhat puzzling.” James felt he had to ask. “Why are you wearing sunglasses indoors? Are you light sensitive or simply making a fashion statement.”
Remy smiled. Direct, I like dis man. “Don’ wan’ ta freak you out, mon ami, let’s just say, I don’ exactly have baby blues behind dese.” He pointed to his glasses.
“I assure you, I will not be alarmed.” James was curious now. What is this man hiding?
“Okay, don’ say I didn’t warn ya”. Remy removed his glasses and flicked his gaze towards James.
James Hall-Stewart immediately felt shocked. He has red eyes, he thought, he has red eyes! What is he? A vampire or something?
“It appears you are…um…more than human.” He paused to see Remy’s reaction. Gambit smiled again, he’s t’inks I’m some kind o’ demon, he thought.
“A humble mutant, mon ami, de man up dere, he saw fit ta give me a figure any lady would die to get her hands on. But I t’ink of de eyes as a bonus.” He waited for a response. James sat and stared. Probably hasn’t seen “one of us” before. Heh. That’s a new one, never figured I’d be a “one of us”.
“Don’ worry though, I don’ bite, dat would be my friend Wolvy.” Remy was feeling happier now; this man had made him uneasy, he knows too much about me, but not enough, judging by dat reaction.
James silently debated whether he should continue this discussion. So that explains the tall tales about him then, he’s a mutant. James thought for a moment.
“Perhaps we should continue then” began James, regaining his composure. “As I was saying, one of the expedition was killed immediately. The others were understandably more cautious and it appeared that there was no other traps to ensnare them.” He stood up and walked over to a picture hanging on the wall. He gently swung the canvas away to reveal a safe. Ensuring he was between Remy and the safe, he entered the combination and retrieved a book.
He turned around. “Here is a copy of my grandfather’s diary from that time. The original is kept in a secure place.” He paused to leaf through the pages. “My grandfather describes the tomb in great detail, and speaks of an…arrangement of jewels there.” He held out the book to Remy.
On the page before him was an amateur drawing of what appeared to be a circle of twelve jewels, arranged around a raised central dais. On the dais itself was a much larger gemstone. Nice drawing, he thought, does he want me to steal dis?
“The hieroglyphics of the tomb refer to the “Devil’s Heart”, which is assumed to be the central gem of the arrangement. The others are much smaller versions of this stone.” James watched Remy for a few moments. “The symbols set into the base of the central dais may give some clue to the origin of this monument but unfortunately, no one has been able to successfully decipher the symbols.”
“Why’s dat?” Remy responded.
“They appear to be a hitherto undiscovered language, perhaps an ancient dialect of a portion of the Egyptian Empire.” James flicked through some more pages. “Anyway, the expedition set up portable lamps in the chamber and when the sun had risen the next day, it happened.”
“You know, you could pitch dis as a thriller, maybe Paramount would want it.” Remy was becoming increasingly impatient. I don’t wan’ ta be here, but I should try and see it through.
“The Devil’s Heart started to glow when the sunlight shone upon it.” James began. “The other stones likewise. My grandfather left the chamber for two minutes to gather his other associates when there was a flash of red light. When they re-entered the chamber, the people who had remained inside were gone.” James looked at Remy.
“Gone, huh?” Remy was intrigued. Obviously some kind of device, maybe for executions? This might be fun after all. “So, you wan’ me to do what here?”
“Simple.” James smiled then. “I want you to recover the Devil’s Heart and protect it.”
“Protect it?” Remy was confused. “I’ll need a lot more info than dat mon ami.”
“Of course” replied James. And he continued to recount his tale.