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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 5

'Put off that mask of burning gold

With emerald eyes.'

'O no, my dear, you make so bold

To find if hearts be wild and wise

And yet not cold.'

~ Yeats

The chessboard lay on the table between them, wooden pieces scattered between regimental rows of black and white, save for the few spaces caused by unwise decisions. There were more gaps in white than black, caused in part by the incisive military mind of Raven Darkholme, who sat twirling a casualty between two fingers and smiling smugly. Her daughter met her smirk with one of her own, implying that the losses were part of some grander, regicidal scheme. It was a favorite game of the two - although neither could decide whether they preferred the psychological or the strategic aspect - and their personal rivalry was, at the moment, being won by the older woman.

"Your move, Rogue."

The girl pushed her auburn hair out of her face and screwed up her lips, eyes flickering between her bishop and rook. They both were in danger by something that her mother had referred to as a 'knight-fork'. The obvious choice to save was the rook, as it was more versatile and valuable, according to the arbitary system, but, if Raven took it, it would lead her wide open to an attack by Rogue's Queen. A possible check-mate. Unreadable, she moved the Bishop out of the path of danger.

"Your move, mother."

Lilting, Irish accent aside, Raven seemed to be confused by her choice, but put it down to youth, stupidity or lack of proper planning. Shrugging, she knocked the rook of the board with her knight.

"That was stupid."

"That depends."

Grinning, grey eyes brilliant, Rogue moved her Queen into position and leaned forward to tip the King onto his side. He rolled slightly, colliding with a pawn. The other woman ironically applauded her daughter's victory.

"Check mate, Raven."

"A gambit? I never thought you were that sneaky. I'm impressed. You have learnt *something* from me."

A shrieking klaxon cut off any response, wailing its protest at the presence of intruders. At one time, it would have roused the acolytes, but still served to give the citadel's two occupants prior warning that their boundaries had been breached. On one wall, an array of televisions exploded into technicolour life, resolving into halls and passages, cliffs and skies. On the one to the extreme left, a group of uniformed figures appeared, leaping between screens as they approached Magneto's quarters. The motion blur could not quite disguise the insignia emblazoned on their spandex uniforms - two lines quartering a circle, an X.

Remy leBeau had never been so angry in his life. An impotent, simmering fury that was directed to no one in particular and to everyone in general. The cards in his hands flared and died as he strode through the halls with quick, impatient steps, completely unlike his typical cat-quietness. If the Grand Council saw him, he thought as he forced himself to become calm, they would demote him to novice without a second thought. Chasing after shadows and suppositions annoyed him under the best of circumstances, went against his methodical, logical character, was downright unprofessional. And these were not the best of circumstances. In the light of a concrete threat to the world, something of which he had tangible proof in the form of the e-mail, it seemed ridiculous to check whether Magneto was alive, dead or had the chickenpox. That was what his particular group of pseudoreligious sycophants was for, he uncharitably grumbled as he rounded another corridor in the labyrinth, noting the odd lack of any opposition in the form of Acolytes. Had they grown tired of worshipping? Were their joints too stiff to bow to a demagogue? Or, more probably, were they planning another assault on another pointless target? All hail Magneto's glorious gas station, he quipped.

"Gambit? We need you here," Cyclops' voice was urgent, a whisper that carried further than normal speech, "The door is locked. Can you . . . ?"

Raising a skeptical eyebrow in his leader's general direction, Remy extracted a slim, supple toolkit from his pocket. A grandmaster thief and Summers thought that he could not crack a lock that would have given a novice no problems, he snorted disgustedly.

"I'll do m'best," he replied, sarcastically, removing the smallest pick from the leather case, leaving its brothers and the small oil-container behind. Although low-tech, it was a beautiful set, given to him by his father following his tilling and admission to the Guild. As Prince of Thieves, they were his crown, his sceptre, his key to the city and badge of office. Made of platinum, tipped with diamond, the handles of which were engraved with three parallel bands through which silvered leaves grew and tiny creatures peeped, they were acknowledged as the finest in existence by craftsmen and professionals alike. As he had anticipated, the lock clicked open in a matter of seconds. Remy smiled at the look of horror on Cyclops' face.

"Entrez-vous, mes amis."

"Dammit, Momma," Rogue swore as she rounded on the older woman, accent gone in her agitation, "Looks like we're screwed. Ain't no way they're goin' t'believe Yvonne Montgomery has a good reason ta be with a wanted terrorist. We'll have t'eliminate them."

Mystique's lips twitched in the suggestion of a smile. Her daughter's impetuousness amused her as it always did. Although clearly intelligent, Rogue's primary fault was leaping before she looked. She was fortunate that she was invulnerable and superstrong, she thought, or she would have ended up dead in one of her many unneccessary brawls.

"Why don't we follow your earlier example?" she suggested.

"Be sneaky?" the girl looked perplexed, then grinned as Mystique's face shifted and shimmered into a new form. One of the thousand masks and illusions that she had learned to adopt, taking on a new persona to disguise her inside as readily as her mutant power disguised her outside.

"I think it's best, don't you?"

Rogue laughed, "Magnus Rex, thy will be done."

Magneto's companion, whoever she was or whatever her reason for being there, was beautiful. Coppery curls framed an unconventionally lovely face with grave, grey eyes, a decidedly upturned nose and a lopsided, amused mouth. Her simple, white bodysuit and jacket lent her a professional air, while her erect carriage marked her a military woman. Remy's eyes, finetuned by a lifetime of appreciating daVinci Madonnas, Picasso dancers and Botticelli nymphs, found her before they settled upon the true reason for their infiltration of the monastery. Erik was as implacable as ever, seated in a leather chair in front of a chessboard. (Gambit noticed that the game was finished, that the King had been killed, and wondered whether that had any significance.) In his one hand, he twirled a pawn - the only sign of his agitation - and met Cyclops' glare with an equally steely, level one. The scene was natural enough, yet it seemed strangely false. A tableau. A pantomime. A masque. Aware that he was being watched, Remy shifted his attention back to the woman, who was regarding him with an unreadable expression on her face. It was natural enough, he supposed, that she would find him attractive. Or a curiosity, given his eyes. Any difference in appearance seemed to give the public license to stare at the aberration, fascinated despite wanting to turn away in horror from the bizarre.Still, there was something wrong about her. His Tante Mattie, attuned as she was to the world beyond senses or sensibility, would have understood the strange hollowness he felt when he looked at her, as if she was a Russian Doll with different women hidden inside her painted shell. He shook his head to get rid of the sensation if not her intent gaze - Magneto was speaking. . . .

Behind the polite facade of Yvonne Montgomery, Rogue was taking notes. Her scrutiny flicked between the intruders and her mother, intrigued to see the people who she believed would provide her greatest challenge. She was not impressed. The atavistic brawler with the claws on his gloves was an anachronism in an age of bullets and lasers, while the auburn-haired woman next to him looked like a typical, spoilt princess; Daddy's little girl. Equally out of time was the Hiawatha Wannabe, complete with warpaint and feathers, looking for the next Little Bighorn. As for Dudley Doright behind him complete with cleft-jaw and boy-scout morality, she jeered, all he needed was a hat to complete the picture. The final member of the quintet eluded classification, though. Tall and slim, with eyes that were akin to those of demons rather than men, he was a contradiction. Impossibly young, yet with an air of incredible experience. Ingenuous, but missing nothing. Scowling, she wished that she could find a box for him and be done with him. Her mother, by the sound of her voice, evidently wished the same.

"My former students, to what do I owe the unexpected pleasure of this visit?"

Dudley Doright, obviously the leader, replied: "Neophyte . . . uh . . . informed us that . . . you were in danger. We came to . . . do what we could."

Internally, Rogue rolled her eyes. He was a terrible liar, stammering his way through the phony explanation with about as much panache as a guilty schoolboy. Neophyte and the rest of his ilk were in Antarctica, attempting to spread sedition among the mutants there to join their cause. It was the only way that they had been able to infiltrate the base and assassinate Erik.

"As you can see, you were misinformed. Agent Montgomery and I are in the process of negotiating the terms of a treaty recognising the sovereignty of Avalon. The Western European nations are being most accommodating."

Rogue managed a smile, wondering what her mother was thinking. The veracity of such a treaty was easily verifiable, if the X-Men suspected anything. The brawler seemed suspicious and she silently cursed, wondering if she had underestimated his intelligence.

"Ya work for WEST, Agent Montgomery? Surprised they want to make peace with Maggie here."

"Aye, I do," she responded, "And we thought it in the best interests of security in Western Europe tae reach some sort of agreement with someone as powerful as Magnus. Recognising his version of Ynys Avallach was a small price tae pay for peace."

"Now, Yvonne," her mother chided, "You don't want to tip your hand."

She chuckled, "Ye knew we were going tae capitulate, Magnus."

Dudley Doright nodded, and the brawler seemed satisfied, although his eyes seemed troubled. The strange, young man still looked at her with those incredible eyes as if they saw through her skin to her soul, but she maintained her composure.

"If that is all, I'd like to conclude proceedings, if ye gentlemen and ladies would give us some privacy?"

"Truer words were never spoken," Mystique agreed, "If you'd excuse us . . . ."

"Sorry," Dudley Doright mumbled, looking embarrassed and scuttling towards the door, "We'll leave you to your negotiations. Good evening."

It shut behind the quintet and Rogue slumped back into her seat. Mystique, still wearing Magneto's face but decidedly pale, reached for the half-empty whisky decanter and poured herself a finger of dutch courage in a glass, which she swallowed, before following it with another. The immediate danger was past, but the man-demon bothered her. His gaze had made rags and tatters of illusion, she understood that, but she was loath to eliminate him and send a signal that all was not well, that the skies were falling on the world. Picking up a pawn and absently rolling it over her knuckles, she decided to play a gambit. A breach of secrecy in exchange for absolute power, for winning the game of empires.

In the Blackbird, while Cyclops and the others debated the consequences of their discovery and their future actions, Remy turned the mystery of Yvonne Montgomery over and over in his head like a shiny coin. She was somehow connected with the mysterious e-mail he had received from Carol Dee, he sensed, although how he was unsure. A Russian Doll, she was a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma, but he would pry open the outer image and discover the truth at its heart. He would understand her, would see her for who and what she truly was, or he suspected that all their efforts to prop up the sky would be inadequate. That, like Chicken Little, they would shout in vain while everything came tumbling down around them. That Yvonne Montgomery or Carol Dee or Magneto or any one of a thousand would-be rulers would then stand on top of the ruins of heaven.

1. My dad, who taught chess, is the master of the knight-fork. No matter how I try to avoid it, he smugly points out to me that he's trapped me again. Arggh.

2. Ynys Avallach is the Celtic\Gaelic name for Avalon in Arthurian Myth.


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