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Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12
Chapter 13


Written by Karen Bruce
Last updated: 01/02/2007 02:01:11 AM

Chapter 11

Mercy still clinging to his arm and talking nineteen-to-the-dozen, Remy made his way to the outside cottage that Tante Mattie had claimed as her hospital. She spent her mornings there and her afternoons at the Assassin's Guild, caring for those who needed her, daring them to make her choose between her two families. Consequently, he knew he would find her there, but he did not know whether she would be free to help him. Between the feuds that were so much a part of clan politics and the injuries obtained by careless thieves, the beds were seldom empty and Tante Mattie refused to leave until every patient had been treated. Pain and death were personal affronts to her, and she dealt with them ruthlessly.

"Looks like you're in luck, mon frere," Mercy commented, jerking her head to where the traiteur was hanging herbs to dry on the low, wooden beams of her cottage. Remy grimaced reflexively at the remembered taste of them. Although Tante Mattie cared tenderly for the sick, she had no patience for malingers and believed that foul medicines would logically speed up the healing process. As to the times when he had pretended to be ill . . . .

Seeing the expression on his face, his sister-in-law laughed and called, "Hey, Tante, our family disgrace be home. Looks a bit under de weather, though. Could probably do wit' some o' ya herbs."

Turning to face them, the other woman joined her rich chuckle to Mercy's and held out her arms to Remy. Almost as wide as she was tall, dressed in a shimmering robe of reds and golds with matching beads woven into her hair, she looked like nothing so much as a maternal parrot. Remy bent to kiss her on the forehead, inhaling the fragrance of rosemary and lemon thyme that he had associated with her since childhood. It was a safe, comforting smell; a smell remembered from being held in her arms after the nightmares had passed. She had spent many sleepless nights in his bedroom, stroking his hair, whispering that everything would be fine and she would box the ears of any loup-garou who dared come near her boy. She was the closest thing he had to a mother, and, although it had been fifteen years since she had beaten up any bogeymen, he knew he would still believe her if she said everything would be fine.

"Mercychile," she clucked in disapproval, "Ya should be restin', insteada gallivantin' around the house like ya ain't eight months gone."

The blonde woman made a face, "I'll go insane if I have t'spend one more minute looking at de ceilin', an' it wouldn' do for de grand heir t'de LeBeau name t'have a crazy mother."

Even beneath the lightness of her tone, the bitter relief in her voice was evident. If the child were born healthy, she would have one less sham to endure in her marriage. She had quipped once that she lay back and thought of Clan LeBeau, but her blue eyes had looked like bruises when she had said it. He hoped for her sake that this one pregnancy would be enough to continue the family-line.

Resting his hand on her shoulder, he commented ironically: "Clan LeBeau expects every good woman t'do deir duty, huh? Dey've given up on me ever settlin' down so de responsibility falls on you an' Henri. It's a damn shame, Merse."

Her lips curved in a smile that did not reach beyond them, "Some woman'll collar ya yet, Rem."

A woman's face, as hazy and half-remembered as a dream, flashed before his mind's eye. Had her hair been white, like Ororo's, or had it been chestnut? Had her eyes been green? Her name was Carol, but it also was not? What was her real name? He shook his head, knowing that there were far more important issues at stake than a random woman who might not even exist.

"Dat reminds me why I'm here, Tante," he said, "As I tol' Mercy here, I woke up yesterday mornin' t'find dat I couldn' remember what happened de previous evenin'. Fine, I guess I coulda been tired enough t'just fall asleep, but dere are t'ings dat don't fit dat theory. F'r a start, my room smelt like a woman's perfume an', f'r another, dere was a singed card beside my bed."

"An' you want me t'perform a Ceremony of Ownership for you?" Tante sounded disapproving. Her large, square hand had gone to the golden crucifix that dangled over her breasts. Although she was a skilled practioner of Voudoun who used magic to complement her healing herbs on occasion, she was also a professing Catholic who took the creeds and dictates of her religion seriously.

"I wouldn' ask, Tante, but I t'ink de woman in my room might be involved in somet'ing huge," he sighed, "I assume Poppa told ya about de e-mail I sent him, about Carol Dee an' Valhalla. I t'ink dis might have somet'ing t'do wit ' dat an', if I don' find out who she was, de whole world might find itself knee-deep in merde."

Mattie nodded reluctantly, "Fine, I'll perform ya Ceremony, but, firstly, Remy Jean LeBeau, I'm going t'wash that mouth of yours out wit' soap."

When he had been a child, Remy LeBeau had sneaked into the Atrium Mysticum or Hall of Mysteries that was situated at the very heart of the Guild Hall. It was said to date back to the Old Kingdom, although little enough was known about that legendary time, and was rumored to have been the refuge of a powerful mage when the Old Kingdom fell. She could not save herself, the stories went, so she imbued the room with all her power before turning herself into a statue. It was said that the stones sung with magic, the air thrummed with it. To the young Gambit, it had been an irresistable challenge -- if one that had provided fodder for years of nightmares.

Even at eight, he had been good enough to pick the complex lock that Jean-Luc had erected as proof against the more curious visitors that the Guild attracted. He had even known the ancient codes that unlocked the inner doors, although he did not grasp the significance of the symbols that moved into a line beneath his hands: the cloud, the eagle, the lance, the crown, the spear. Torch gripped in his hands, he had descended the staircase and emerged into a room that seemed to have been frozen in history.

Everything had been constructed of warm, golden stone that had seemed to glow where his torch's light had rested. The twisted, melted remains of candles had edged a path that had led to a dais on which three, velvet pillows had been placed. Above them, a woman's face, carved in stone, had appeared to hold court. She had been beautiful in the same way that a Greek statue was beautiful, serene eyes speaking of an ancient wisdom and strength, of knowledge that was too old and too deep to ever be revealed or fully grasped. Her lips curved into a faint smile, she looked as if she were watching him from across the space of centuries. Fixed and transfixed by her gaze, he had turned and sprinted upstairs, shaken by something to which he could not put words.

At twenty-four, watching Tante Mattie perform a Ceremony of Ownership, her stare still unnerved him slightly. Some child-like part of him was grateful, therefore, that Mercy had insisted on accompanying him and that the traiteur had almost come to the end of the ritual, sprinkling pungent herbs into a charcoal brazier and whispering words into the smoke. It seemed to swirl and shift in response to them, like a charmed snake. Finally, she removed the card from the tray beside her and crumbled it into the ashes.

Remy sharply sucked in his breath as the smoke suddenly shifted from grey to purple. Spots of silver, like a million stars or fireflies, began to whirr around in the indigo mist and coalesce into the figure of a woman. Every detail of her lovely face was perfect, every hair on her head visible, and her dress seemed to swirl around her as she walked. There could be no mistaking her, he thought in horror, fingers going to touch his lips. That was the woman who had been in his room, the woman who had kissed him, but . . . . He swore beneath his breath.

Clearly sensing something of his mood, Mercy's slim hand found his free one, her voice low and urgent in his ear: "I know who dat be, Rem. I saw her on de news a month or two ago. She de woman who killed Carol Danvers. Her name is . . . ."

Hoarsely, "Her name's Rogue."


* Atrium Mysticum - Hall used for the Mysteries (if you want a very literal translation) I went on the picture given in Gambit #12 for the description of both the room and the "Sorceress".

* Despite apparently being a bit of a nymphomaniac herself, Queen Victoria did not encourage women to enjoy sex. They were counselled to "lie back and think of England". ;)

* The symbol-lock on the door was inspired by an episode in David Brin's "Glory Season" although I have changed a great deal of it. The significance of the symbols . . . I might go into that in another story. We'll see.

* I also may have stolen a line from Robert Jordan that I thought fitted Tante Mattie. I can't remember if he actually used it or if someone else said it on a list, but . . . hey, I'm shameless that way.


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