Remy LeBeau’s red eyes studied the ridge, searching for any sign of movement, satisfied that there was no one down there, he started down the hill. About half a mile ahead, tall trees stretched up towards the sky, their wide canopies creating a forest floor that was as dark as deepest night. Remy moved confidently, he was no stranger to dark places, and that included his own past. Still, he felt a pang of regret and sadness when he thought about ‘home’ and the friends and family he had left behind. The mutant thief called Gambit had been transported to another place by an otherworldly crystal known as the Devil’s Heart. He had been living in this world, this land, Hydiaa, for just over three months now, and it hadn’t exactly been the easiest time of his life either.
Upon his impromptu arrival, Remy had been captured by the indigenous people, who for some bizarre reason, knew how to speak English, well, okay, some of them anyway. They thought Gambit was a demon, his glowing red eyes seemed quite the give-away but he managed to prove his innocence and had been set free. Hydiaa was a primitive land, the people lived in fortified towns and the forging of iron and steel was considered high-tech. One other little problem that plagued this continent was the presence of a Hellmouth, a mystical gateway that opened into the dimensions of Hell.
Remy had heard about Hellmouths before, the Thieves Guild of New Orleans dated back to the Old Kingdom, a time when demons still had a foothold on Earth. A war had ravaged the world during that time, and the last pure-bred demons had been destroyed or driven back to Hell. Unfortunately, the Old Kingdom had fallen as a result, her people decimated by the final assault against the hellspawn. The Guild was formed in the days following that war, and remained to this day. Remy had been sceptical about the whole thing when his spiritual teacher, Tante Mattie, had told him the stories but during his time in Hydiaa, he had encountered a wide array of demonic creatures.
Gambit was now travelling cross-country. The Hellmouth was rumoured to be in the west, hidden in the base of a stone fortress perched on the top of a mountain. Remy had stayed for a month in the town of Greenhaven, helping the people of that settlement recover from a devastating attack that occurred the first night Remy had arrived there. He felt sorry for those people, and in a way they reminded him of the Morlocks, the group of mutants that were massacred by the Marauders, a team of mercenaries that Remy himself had handpicked. Remy still felt guilty about his actions, it had been nearly six years since the night of the Mutant Massacre, and Remy had sworn he would never allow such a thing to happen again. He had been good to his word, joining the X-Men shortly thereafter and fighting alongside them. Still, although Gambit saw the X-Men as his family, several of its members viewed him as the poor relation, only a few genuinely trusted him, yes, they did tolerate him but he just wasn’t sure how many actually liked him.
Anyway, Remy had set out from Greenhaven two months previous, intent on visiting the Hellmouth, just to see if there was anything he could do. The rumours had spread of a charismatic leader who had taken control of the Hellmouth; this mysterious stranger protected the humans who lived in the shadows of the mountain range. Some saw him as a potential saviour, someone who could rid the land of evil once and for all. Others saw a warlord, a man destined to ride roughshod over the corpses of anyone who would oppose him. Remy had heard all sides of the story in the various settlements he had passed through, but he reserved his judgement. He wasn’t going to condemn or vilify a man based on wild speculation, he had spent his life being judged by others because of his past, his appearance, and his actions. Remy didn’t judge and hoped in turn that no one would judge him.
He was closer to the forest now, and hopefully the man he was looking for. According to the elders of Anvil, the last town Remy had passed, a pure-bred outlander lived in the seclusion of the forest. The outlanders were humans who were fluent in English, and Remy suspected that the original outlanders had been ‘refugees’ from an archaeological expedition that had uncovered the Devil’s Heart nearly eighty years ago. He came looking for answers nonetheless, still trying to understand the world he had been unexpectedly thrown into.
He found the man’s home, nestled in the centre of the forest, a tall stone tower, which at one time might have been considered ornate. No longer though, the tower had been partially demolished, obviously another victim of a vicious attack. Remy spent two hours sifting through rubble; the only signs that someone had lived there were the faded bloodstains that he found on the wall of what had once been a study. Papers had been burned to ash, ornaments and pictures shattered and destroyed.
Remy felt sick as he surveyed the destruction that had been wrought. He knew demons had been responsible, the claw marks that pitted the walls were evidence of that theory. Remy had planned to rest here with the outlander before he moved on towards the mountains but to stay here now would be like sleeping in a graveyard. Remy said a quiet prayer for the man whose life had been so cruelly torn away, surprised that he even had the inclination to pray but the grim seriousness of the situation swept his doubts away. It felt right, offering a small prayer, and he did so willingly. Without any further ado, he set off, hoping to clear the forest before nightfall. He made it to the forest edge as twilight tinged the sky, and he slept in the hollow of a tree just beyond the rim of the forest.
The next morning, Remy made up a lot of ground, the sky had become more overcast the closer he came to the mountains so he could walk for longer periods, the warmth of the sun’s rays dulled by the clouds. He walked silently, his thoughts turned inward, reminiscing about his past and the path his life now took. He wondered why he was so determined to travel to the mountains, why he felt the need to visit the site of the Hellmouth. It was as if someone was guiding him, almost unconsciously, pulling him along as if he were led. Why am I doin’ dis? He thought, I’m literally walking into de mouth o’ Hell, and I’m not even de least bit worried. His thoughts turned to Rogue, the woman he loved more than anything, and he felt a deep sadness at the fact that he may never see her again, never let her know that he still loved her, no matter where he was. Silently admonishing himself for getting lost in daydreams and what ifs, he continued on his way.
Five days later, the landscape changed, grass plains and dense forest gave way to barren, rocky land, it seemed to Remy that the mountains appeared to be dead. The first thing he noticed was the lack of vegetation, where the plains had been vibrant and alive, the mountains were bare, and Remy could sense the corruption and decay. Lovely vacation spot, non? He thought with a small grin, trying to hide the apprehension he felt inside his mind. He picked his way carefully through the deep valleys, ever watchful for danger from landslides or rockfalls. He encountered no real resistance as his journey continued, although he did meet some human raiders who lived in a network of caves. They thought it was a good idea to kill the outlander that had ‘invaded’ their territory. Remy left them with a lot of bruises and wounded pride.
The trek through the mountains was slow and boring, the valleys were all but unoccupied and Remy found himself almost hoping that the next turning would be swarming with demons, so he could at least do something besides walking all the time. He slept in caves at nightfall, and watched silently as winged demons flocked down towards the plains. Remy noted each night hat direction they came from and altered his course accordingly. It took Remy nearly a week before he caught the first glimpse of the citadel. It was forged entirely from dense black stone, the towers reaching high into the sky like the claws of the devil. Remy suppressed a shiver as he first saw the fortress; something inside him triggered by the sight, a feeling of dread, of fear.
Despite his fears though, he pressed on, the way was much more difficult now, he had to negotiate the rocky peaks, he couldn’t stick to the valleys anymore, he had to climb. Still, he had been travelling for so long that he was in peak condition, so the climbing, although still tough, wasn’t as impossible as it should have been.
Remy had come prepared nonetheless; he used rope tied to the hilt of several knives to secure himself to the mountain face, in place of cable and crampons. Several hours of careful climbing later, Remy found himself standing on a flat outcropping, which jutted out of the mountain. He paused to catch his breath and rest for a few minutes, tired from the long climb. When he was refreshed, he finished the climb, pulling his body up onto the flat plateau of the mountain peak.