The Sahara Desert
The sun is high in the sky today, baking the sand beneath its fiery gaze. Few people would venture to such a remote place, so far from civilisation, where the days are unbearably hot and the nights are deadly cold. Those few travellers who may pass this way remain oblivious to the facility buried deep below the desert floor. There are no entrances to this place, no doors or windows, it is perfectly secure from the outside world.
Let us look inside, though, for here is where our tale continues. The laboratory is at least ten stories high, arranged in a circular pattern; rooms and medical bays lead off from each tier. In an antechamber near the central axis, we find the computer core, the heart and brain of the facility. A man stands in front of a monitor; he is tall and slim, with pale skin. His face is bearded and the most distinguishing feature is a red diamond, emblazoned on his forehead. This man is Nathaniel Essex.
Nathan was a doctor, raised and educated in the Victorian Era, over a century ago. The young Essex was the first to put forward the theory that one day; humans would evolve far beyond their current capabilities, and gain strange and wonderful abilities. His theories were mocked by the scientific community of that time until the day Essex met an Egyptian noble by the name of En Sabah Nur. Nur was an ancient mutant, perhaps the first mutant to ever exist, born nearly two millennia ago at the height of the Egyptian empire. Nur came to be known as Apocalypse, living his life by the Darwinist edict that only the fittest survive. He saw great potential in Nathaniel Essex and offered him the chance to become an immortal being like Apocalypse. Essex accepted this Faustian deal and was changed. When he finally emerged, he was no longer human; he was something far more sinister. Apocalypse made Essex immortal and without emotion, love, compassion, and sentimentality were all alien notions, as was greed, jealously, and so on.
However, Sinister, as he was now known, saw Apocalypse as a threat, his master wanted to bring about global upheaval, pit the strong and weak together in battle, to determine who would survive. This was counter to what Essex desired, he wished to observe and influence human evolution and so, Apocalypse’s new geneticist rebelled. For over a century, Sinister hid in the shadows, dissecting humans and mutants, watching, learning, and carefully manipulating certain family trees. Recently, he suffered a great loss, a group of mutants known as the Neo attacked him, destroying many of his resources, and injuring him to the point where he nearly died. He retreated to this place to hide, and to recover, but current events have forced him to take action.
Sinister glanced at the monitor and touched a control on the keyboard in front of him. The images on the large screen divided into two columns, both showing the outline of men. The figures that scrolled up and down the screen analysed the genetic make-up of these men, displaying the results for Sinister to see. Hmm, curious, he thought, massaging his beard, I cannot seem to find Remy LeBeau anywhere.
He touched another control and Remy’s genetic scan disappeared, leaving the second man to dominate the screen. But I have found Reilly. He looked at the screen again, pondering his next course of action; perhaps it is time that I finally confronted Norman Osborn, so he will finally learn my part in the cloning affair.
He deactivated the computer terminal and walked slowly across the chamber to a circular pad set in the floor. He stood on the pad and entered a series of co-ordinates into a control console that dropped down from the ceiling. Seconds later, the device activated, and Sinister disappeared in a blinding flash of light. The laboratory was silent again.
Remy LeBeau’s eyes fluttered open, as he became aware that his body felt unusually warm. Wistfully, in the back of his mind, he thought, heh, must have gone ta hell after all. His glowing red eyes were dazzled by the bright light all around him, or maybe, I be in heaven?
Remy carefully sat up and discovered that he was in the middle of a plain of tall grass. His first thought was that he was completely alone, and his second thought was how this was a lucky thing, as he discovered he was naked. Gambit stood up cautiously, testing his limbs and muscles, but his body was fine, in fact he felt better than he had in a long time. Sure enough, there was no one in sight but the curious thing was; there appeared to be no boundaries, the grass plain stretched out before him as far as his eyes could see, there were no fences or buildings, just open land. Well, at least the Devil’s Heart didn’ kill me, even if it did dent my modesty.
The Devil’s Heart was an otherworldly crystal that supposedly possessed the power to destroy organic matter, although it was obvious that the jewel was actually a transportation device. Remy mentally tried to work out his location, where in the world he might have been transported. Drawing a blank, he sighed and looked around him, slowly turning a full revolution, taking in the scenery around him. The plain stretched into the distance on all sides, Remy apparently on a plateau part, the ground was even and relatively flat as far as he could see. The warm sun hung in the clear sky in front of him, so Remy assumed that was east. To the west, he noticed that the plain might give way to an incline, while in the background, the shadow of mountains rose up, dark and intimidating. Choosing west, with the sun behind him, Remy LeBeau began to walk.
Six hours later, although Remy wasn’t sure how long he had walked, there was still no sign of any civilisation. Remy’s skin had become uncomfortable, having been exposed to the sun for so long without shelter or clothing. His skin had started to brown and he was feeling dehydrated also, it had been too long since he had last drunk any fluids. Gambit stopped walking to rest for a few minutes, conscious of the fact that he was becoming fatigued in the heat. Not wanting to remain in one place, he set out again, following the sun that was now in front of him. He shielded his eyes to the glare of the fiery orb but continued on nonetheless.
A further two hours later, the plain dipped down towards a stream, and Remy started running down the hill and without pause threw himself into the cool water of the stream. He splashed the water over his warm, sunburnt body and then drank deeply, satisfying his thirst. For ten whole minutes, he languished in the refreshing waters. He climbed out, shaking the excess water off his body and decided to follow the stream. People need water, so it’s safe ta assume dat dere bound ta be someone living alongside dis here river.
The stream turned out to be a tributary that branched off from a wide river that flowed down from the mountain range in the distance. Remy walked along the riverbank, pausing from time to time to have a drink or soak his body to cool off.
Still, he realised that he felt more comfortable, the temperature was dropping which could only mean that night was coming. The sun was tinged orange as it slid slowly across the sky, signalling that the end of the daylight was approaching. Gambit walked faster, not wanting to be caught outdoors at night with no clothes on. Still, wouldn’ be de first time got caught in a field wit’ no clothes, he thought with a smile.
As the sky darkened, Remy noticed lights in the distance, and upon further inspection, he saw a small settlement nestled beside the river. He hid in the shadows, watching farmers returning to their homes inside a walled village. Wooden lookout posts rose at various intervals along the wood and stone wall that enveloped the small town. Remy smiled, so dere is life here after all. In the dark, he made his way across the farmland towards the town’s gates. Hugging the wall, he scouted the perimeter of the settlement, avoiding the lookout posts. He found a likely entrance and five minutes later, with a little ingenuity; he was inside the town walls. He kept hidden until he came to a small shop that appeared to sell clothing.
There was no glass in the window of the shop, just a tarpaulin wrap that was tied to the corners. It took Remy mere seconds to gain entry. He searched around in the dark, selecting clothing that would fit. In the end, he chose rough-hewn trousers with a loose fitting tunic, crude leather boots and a full-length hooded cloak that covered him from head to foot. Carefully, he left the shop and immediately blended into the crowd, following the flow of people.
Dis is wrong, he thought, de buildings, de clothes, e’en de landscape, either I’m in de past again or somewhere else. Remy was referring to the time that he travelled one hundred years into the past to fulfil a Guild prophecy. During that little jaunt, he had encountered several people who would influence his life in the future, his adopted father, the immortal Candra, and Sinister.
Gambit was aware that someone had decided to follow him. Although they were being subtle and keeping their distance, Remy knew well enough when he was being stalked. Turning down a side street, Remy risked a glance to the side but couldn’t see the person who had shadowed him. Still, he continued cautiously, relying on his senses and years of training as a professional thief to warn him of any danger. So concerned with what was happening around him, he realised he had walked into a dead-end. Stupid, LeBeau, he silently admonished himself, you wan’ ta get caught?
Suddenly a voice spoke behind him; Remy did not understand the words but the voice was quite deep, yet at the same time, calm and content. Remy turned slowly and saw a young man, dressed in a dark emerald green. The man had two sheathes hanging from his waist, Remy noticed that he carried a short sword in one and a long bladed weapon in the other. In his right hand was a bow, as tall as a man, beautifully crafted in what Remy believed was ash or beech. Diagonally across the man’s back was a quiver filled with arrows. Remy pulled his hood a little more over his face to hide his burning red eyes.
“Guess I lost my way, non?” He offered the man a smile, hoping that he could charm his way out of this situation. Remy was convinced that this had been the man who had followed him since he left the shop.
The man gave Gambit a puzzled look, “You speak the language of the Outlanders,” he said, in very passable English.
“No’ very well at times, truth be tol’.” Remy felt better now, the man did not seem to be threatening him in any way, ’bout time I met someone who don’ wan’ ta fight.
The man remained where he was, “My name is Calidorn,” he said. “I am a Ranger, and you, stranger, are quite obviously a thief.”
Great, thought Remy, here we go. “Suppose I can’ convince you dat I borrowed these lovely items.” He layered his voice with as much charm as he could, hoping that his latent powers of suggestion might just get him out of this scrape.
“I care not for your excuses, you are a thief and as such will be punished.” Calidorn took a step towards Remy.
“I’m a lot more den just a t’ief, mon ami.” With that comment, he drew his hood back, revealing his face and his red-on-black eyes, which glowed faintly in the dark.
Calidorn’s eyes went wide, “Demon,” he breathed, then he began yelling, one word over and over, at the top of his voice. Must be de local word for ‘demon’, Remy thought. Calidorn notched an arrow in his bow and let it fly at Remy. But Gambit had already started to move, dodging the arrow easily and jumping on some crates that sat beside one of the low buildings. He flipped his body up onto the thatched roof of the house and began to run carefully across the roofs of the town.
He was far enough away from the boundary of the town that the watchmen in the towers could not fire at him; all he had to worry about was the Ranger. He stumbled on a roof, crashing through the thatch to land heavily inside the building. The occupants screamed when they saw him, fleeing from the intruder in their midst. Remy thought for a moment, he actually called me ‘demon’, which means I don’ t’ink I be in de past.
Spurring himself on, he dove out the window of the house, rolling into a crouch in the alleyway alongside the building. Immediately, he knew he was in trouble. Six men, all armed with bows, stood at one end of the street, their arrow tips trained on Remy’s heart. He turned around and saw a similar theme, six more men. He was surrounded.
A voice spoke from above, “Now thief, you can come quietly and face the law, or we’ll kill you in the street.” It was Calidorn, standing on the roof of the house opposite. Remy had no choice in the matter, he threw back his robe, causing the archers to stretch their bowstrings, and then he indicated that he was unarmed. Might dodge one or two of dose arrows, but not a dozen. The archers parted and three heavy set men stepped forward, swords drawn. Remy did not resist as they encircled him. Suddenly, one of the men lashed out, bringing the hilt of his sword down hard on the back of Remy’s skull. A light flashed behind Remy’s eyes and then he slipped into darkness.