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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
Chapter 14
Chapter 15
Chapter 16
Chapter 17
Chapter 18
Chapter 19
Chapter 20
Chapter 21
Chapter 22
Chapter 23
Chapter 24
Chapter 25
Chapter 26
Chapter 27
Chapter 28
Chapter 29
Chapter 30


Written by Valerie Jones
Last updated: 03/23/2007 01:26:56 AM

Chapter 20

Remi opened his eyes and immediately recoiled with a cry of disgust. He was lying with his face only a few inches away from a charred skeleton. The smell was overwhelming. Gagging, he rolled away and came to his feet in a crouch, eyes searching for the threat, the fire. He collapsed back onto the ground almost immediately, his breath ragged. He was still disoriented from the gate, a mixture of dizziness and nausea that made everything around him waver in time with the throbbing pain in his back.

Renee knelt in the grass a few feet from him, her hands balled into fists in front of her mouth, muffling her constant cries. Those were dying down now, reduced to little mewls of distress. She didn’t seem to see him. Her gaze was locked on the crumpled skeleton that lay in a patch of blackened grass.

Remi missed the significance at first. But as memories of the last few minutes flashed through his mind, he understood in a rush of horror.


It felt like someone had stabbed him. Cody had been right behind him. Not more than a second or two. He, too, could only stare at the remains of his friend. How could this have happened? Had the Shadow King attacked before he’d gotten into the gate? Or had the nuclear blast overtaken him? But he had been controlling both the explosion and the gate. Surely he wouldn’t have misjudged it. It had to be the Shadow King. With Xavier dead and himself inside the gate, Cody would have had no defense. If the Shadow King had attacked in those last moments before Cody entered the gate, he would have lost control of the explosion. The thoughts tumbled around in Remi’s head as he replayed the events of their last moments on the submarine. He should have waited that last second. But he’d been so sure that there was enough time.

In the cool evening air, he began to shiver. Cody was dead because of him. His back ached horribly, burned by the body of his friend as they collided inside the gate. Hot tears filled his eyes and he squeezed them tightly shut, doubling over to rest his forehead on the ground. Eventually, his lungs began to burn and he realized that he’d quit breathing from the agony in his heart.

A strange howl, very close, brought his head up. He looked around to see a Hound perched on the nearby wall. It stared down at them with a mixture of curiosity and menace. Remi returned the stare blankly. He was sure the creature’s appearance held some kind of significance, but for the moment he couldn’t figure out what. All he understood was that something deep inside him was clamoring for his attention to its warning.

Finally, survival instinct overcame his horror. Remi began to think about where the were. He looked around as much as he could without taking his focus off of the Hound. He and Renee had landed in the midst of a well-manicured lawn. To his left and behind them, he could see the outlines of a large house, perhaps fifty yards distant. The windows that he could see were darkened, though a light shone on the back porch. To his right was more lawn, studded with shrubs, and beyond that a quiet street. Ahead of him was a tall brick wall, the Hound still perched atop it. The wall appeared to be decorative though it was tall enough to keep out a casual intruder, and behind it he could see part of the second story of a house.

As he realized he had seen this house before, relief rushed through him. They’d made it. The Hound before him was all the testament he needed to believe that they had arrived at the right time as well.

The Hound didn’t seem inclined to attack them just yet, so Remi cautiously moved toward Renee, crawling across the grass. The Hound watched them, snuffling and woofing softly to itself. It seemed playful, as if it were trying to decide the most interesting way to jump at them. Remi grabbed Renee’s shoulder and shook her without taking his eyes off the beast.

"Renee!" he hissed. She didn’t respond. He shook her again, harder. "Renee! C’mon! We have to go."

He felt her take a shuddering breath. "Cody—" It was barely a whisper. Remi risked a glance at her and was appalled by her empty expression. Her face was pale, so pale that what blood was there made her skin look mottled, and her eyes reflected her savaged soul.

"I know." He touched her mind lightly, enough to convey his pain as a sympathetic echo of her own, but also with a gentle urging to get up. It was probably an unethical thing to do, but he telepathically blocked her hurt, damping it to a level she could function under. The Hound on the wall gave him little choice.

"Do you recognize this place?" he asked as he climbed to his feet, pulling her up behind him. That way, he stood between Renee and the Hound. The Hound continued to watch them, its tongue lolling out of its mouth in a strange parody of a smile.

Renee looked around. "I... I think so. Where are we?"

"Cairo, Illinois. Do you remember when Ororo brought us here?" Ororo had been the most willing of all the X-Men to talk about Gambit. She had even shown them some of the places that had significance to his life. Most were in New Orleans, but she had also brought them here, to the place where she’d first met him.

With silent ease, two more Hounds appeared on top of the wall. This was, apparently, what the first Hound had been waiting for. Immediately, all three leapt toward Remi and Renee. Instinctively, the two mutants moved apart to give themselves room to maneuver, but kept their backs to each other. Renee’s staff appeared in her hands. Remi could hear the dangerous hum as she spun it. Her thoughts echoed the sound of the staff. All of her pain and anger at her brother’s death crystallized in that moment, and she channeled it toward the one who had killed him. The Hounds were simply an extension of the Shadow King. They would get no mercy from her.

Then there was no more time for thought. Remi ducked the first Hound that leapt at him. Its jaws snapped just behind his neck as he planted his shoulder in its chest and used its momentum to throw it across the lawn. It landed with a yelp, but rolled quickly to its feet. Another dodged and darted around Renee’s feet, seeking a way past her staff. The third gathered itself and lunged at Remi. He drew one of his precious few remaining spikes, charged it and threw. His aim was good, and the Hound collapsed with a ragged hole torn out of its chest. Like Renee, he could no longer see the Hounds as anything but a portion of the Shadow King himself. They would die, if he had anything to say about it.

He heard a squeal as Renee connected, but couldn’t see if the Hound was seriously hurt or not. The one that he’d thrown was back on its feet, snarling and leaping at him from the side. Remi drew another spike, but didn’t have time to charge it as the Hound hit him. He threw his arms up in front of his face instinctively, and let himself collapse under the Hound’s weight. He landed on his back, and the weight of the Hound on top of him knocked his breath away. The Hound dug its claws into his torso and strained forward to get its teeth at his face. Remi braced his forearms against its chest, turning his face away from the gaping jaws. He had charged the spike, but didn’t know what to do with it. If he dropped it here, the blast would probably kill him along with the Hound. But to throw it away, he’d have to let go of the Hound, and he didn’t think he’d be able to hold the creature off with just one arm.

The Hound shifted its weight, digging in with its hind claws. Remi felt the hot stabs of pain as the talons tore his skin. Then the Hound found its balance as its claws lodged against his hip bones, and Remi bit his lip against a scream. His vision filled with bright points of light and without thought he lashed out against the pain, driving the charged spike into the creature’s neck. He didn’t have much leverage, but the spike was sharpened to a clean point and went through the soft flesh without protest.

He let go of the Hound to cover his face with his arms and turned away as the spike blew. Hot blood splattered him. The body atop him immediately went limp and Remi pushed it away with an exclamation of disgust. Beyond him, he saw Renee bring her staff down on the skull of the third Hound with a resounding crack. It collapsed as if its strings had been cut. Renee nudged the body with the tip of her staff, and when she got no response, planted the tip in the grass and leaned against the staff for a moment, breathing heavily.

Everything around Remi began to spin. He tried to call Renee’s name, but he could no longer see well enough to tell if she heard him. There were so many things he wanted to say to her, to apologize, but he couldn’t force his mouth to form the words. As the darkness closed in, the only thing he could think of was that he was an idiot for not expecting the Hounds in the yard. The X-Men’s log even said that Gambit had avoided several sentries on his way into the house. He hadn’t remembered that until now.

Something warm and comforting touched him. It was a moment before he realized it was simply the lack of pain. The sensation spread from his head, expanding until it had run through his entire body. He opened his eyes to find Renee bending over him, her hands cupping his face. Her expression was frighteningly intense. She sat back when he looked at her, the momentary intensity fading to her normal expression.

"Don’t you dare leave me here by myself," she said quietly as she slid her hands back into her gloves. Remi could see the glimmer of tears in her eyes, so similar to his own. He sat up, quietly marveling at how good he felt, and drew her into a tight hug.

"Let’s go get Ororo," he told her after a moment. He would have liked to stay there longer, to let Renee gather herself, but they didn’t have time. The explosions would surely draw the Shadow King’s attention.

Renee clung to his hand as they stood. "What do you mean?" By unspoken accord they did not look back to where Cody’s body lay in the cool grass.

Remi studied the brick wall, trying to decide whether to go over it or through it. "Well, Gambit isn’t here to save Ororo from the Shadow King. So we’re going to have to do it." And do it right, he amended silently. He couldn’t afford any more mistakes.

He felt comprehension dawn in her mind just as two more Hounds leapt up on top of the wall, directly in front of them. Their presence decided him. He pulled out two of his remaining four spikes, charged and threw. They struck the wall squarely beneath the Hounds, and the ensuing explosion flung the creatures backward.

Remi didn’t wait. Pieces of brick and mortar dust rained down on them as he and Renee darted through the gap in the wall. They passed the bodies of the Hounds without slowing, and broke into a full out run to cross the fifty yards to the house. Remi tried to scan the house as they approached. He was dismayed by how weak he felt—the Shadow King’s blow had done him more damage than he wanted to admit.

The familiar malevolent presence filled his senses again as he pushed his thoughts toward the structure before them. The Shadow King was on the second floor, surrounded by his Hounds. There was a woman named Chen there, too. She was a Hound, Remi sensed, but not the same as the others. Ororo’s thoughts were almost unrecognizable when he found her. The structure of her mind was much the same, but without memories of her name or her life, she was just another child. The purity of her thoughts stood out against the Shadow King’s filth, but had Remi not known from history that it was her, he probably couldn’t have identified her.

"They’re upstairs, in the master bedroom," Remi told Renee. To his amazement, the Shadow King was still preoccupied with Ororo, and had not yet started looking for the source of the explosions on his lawn. Remi didn’t try to push deeper, for fear of drawing his attention. The closer they could get without his notice, the better their chances. But he had to bite his mental tongue to keep from reaching out to reassure Ororo. Her mounting terror was plain to him, and he could feel the Shadow King soaking it up with groans of ecstatic pleasure.

They worked their way around the edge of the house, coming at last to the front door. Remi grabbed the doorknob experimentally, and was suitably startled when the door swung open. They went inside, only to find themselves faced with another Hound. It sat halfway up the banister staircase and seemed to be waiting for them.

Mine, Renee said succinctly. Remi let her move past him. She walked to the stairs, staff held ready, and made as if to start climbing. As her foot touched the bottom step, the Hound leapt. Renee used the step as a launching point for a neat back flip. She landed several feet away just as the Hound struck where she had so recently stood. With the grace of a dancer, she brought the staff whistling around and hit the crouched Hound across the base of its neck. Remi winced at the sound of bone shattering, but didn’t let it slow him. Renee was already heading up the stairs three at a time, and he pushed to catch up with her.

They reached the upstairs hallway. Remi pointed toward the master bedroom and Renee nodded, pausing to allow him to retake the lead. Despite her desire for vengeance, he could feel very clearly her reluctance to face the Shadow King. He couldn’t blame her. He was terrified, too. This Shadow King wasn’t nearly as powerful as the one they had just left—he didn’t have the tormented population of an entire planet from which to draw his energy, nor did he have a network of telepaths to back him. But he was still a telepath of nearly unparalleled ability, and Remi was already taxed from the battle on the Dresden. A momentary vision of Deathbird swam before his mental eye. She was forever lecturing him about the honor of dying in battle for a righteous cause. Remi had generally ignored his war-mongering aunt, but for once he could begin to see her point. He was deliberately setting himself against a superior enemy because the consequences of not doing so were too devastating. He’d been there. He’d seen it.

Bolstered by his conviction, Remi touched Renee’s mind, erecting the shield he’d used twice before to hold off the Shadow King. He felt the Shadow King’s attention immediately focus on them, and knew that, inside the master bedroom, the Shadow King had turned toward the door. That left them nothing to do but go inside.

Remi quietly opened the door to the master bedroom and walked through with Renee on his heels. They found themselves facing a slickly handsome man of Middle-Eastern descent. He stood in the center of the room, surrounded by Hounds. An Oriental woman leaned against his shoulder in a sultry pose—the Chen woman whose mind Remi had brushed earlier. Ororo was on her knees before the Shadow King, held there by two Hounds. Her blue eyes, wide with fear, jerked to the door as Remi and Renee entered. Even though he was expecting it, Remi still found it strange to meet his aunt as a child.

The Shadow King’s eyebrow twitched in surprise. "More children?" Remi felt the touch of an exploratory probe against his shield. "And at least one is an adept. How fortunate." His smile was as cold as a shark’s.

Time seemed to slow for Remi as he thought through his options. None of the Hounds had yet moved. The Shadow King did not seem to consider them a serious threat. He and Renee had one precious opportunity to strike, but he wasn’t quite sure how to make the best of it. The Hounds holding Ororo seemed like the necessary first targets. Freeing her was their absolute objective. But he was uncertain how long he would be able to fight before the Shadow King attacked him on the astral plane. At that point, he would be unable to defend himself physically.

Through their link, he knew that Renee was ready. She, too, understood that the Hounds would primarily be hers to deal with after the first strike. Remi fingered his last two spikes, then drew them, the pinkish glow of his power radiating from the two pieces of metal. All eyes focused on him, and the Shadow King’s eyebrows rose in an expression of curiosity.

Before Remi could throw, Ororo drove her elbow into the ribs of one of the Hounds holding her with savage force. The Hound yelped and staggered, momentarily freeing Ororo on one side. A tiny lightning bolt leapt from the palm of her hand into the face of the other Hound. Distracted by its pain, the second Hound could not hold on to the fiercely struggling girl. Ororo twisted free of her captors and bolted to her feet. Although she was not quite panicked, Remi could tell that she had no thought of the two mutants in her mind. She simply wanted away from the Shadow King. Without hesitation, she turned and sprinted for the far wall and the bay window that overlooked the pool. Through the window, Remi saw the water glinting in the glow of the poolside lights just before the glass shattered. Ororo dove through the window headfirst. The two Hounds made as if to follow her, but a tremendous bolt of light ripped straight up past the window and they leapt back. The electric sizzle was frighteningly loud and the intensely bright light seared Remi’s sensitive eyes.

Through his tearing eyes, he took aim and threw. Now that Ororo was safely out, he could concentrate on the Shadow King. He knew that Ororo would land in the swimming pool. In his own time, Gambit had dragged her out and they had escaped together. Remi was fairly confident that she would be able to find her own escape route so long as the Shadow King was unable to pursue her.

One spike was aimed directly at the Shadow King’s chest, and Remi grasped at a momentary hope that he could be killed with a single blow. But then the Chen woman gave a cry of dismay and threw herself forward, trying to shield the Shadow King with her body. Remi’s spike struck her squarely between the shoulder blades and exploded on impact. The second spike exploded at their feet, throwing them both backward as the Shadow King instinctively held on to his dead Hound. The other Hounds in the room dodged the blast with yowls of terror, scuttling away from the two mutants.

The Shadow King screamed commands at the Hounds as he struggled from beneath Chen’s body. Remi had a momentary vision of attacking while the Shadow King was hampered, but he had no weapon, and didn’t for a moment believe that he could defeat the Shadow King in hand-to-hand combat.

Responding to their master’s commands, the Hounds turned on Remi and Renee. There were only three of them, but they were the most intimidating Remi had seen. He suspected that they were something more than regular Hounds, though not quite what Chen had been. They circled the two warily, snarling and snapping. The Shadow King climbed slowly to his feet behind the circle, but seemed content to watch his Hounds. Remi could read little from him, but he seemed supremely confident that Remi and Renee were no real threat. He seemed to be treating the entire event like a show being staged for his amusement, despite the blood that soaked his shirtfront. Or perhaps because of it. Remi could tell he was pleased the conflict would surely end in death on one side or the other.

Remi searched vainly for something else to charge. He was out of spikes and his uniform was form-fitting, without pockets or buttons. There was nothing on the floor around them, nor even on top of the nearby dresser. Perhaps in the drawers, but Remi didn’t think he’d have the time to go through them. He did have his X-Men insignia, but that wasn’t going to make much of a bang.

At first, he thought it was his own growing despair at the lack of weapons with which he could defend himself against the Shadow King. He felt like there was a tiny voice of panic clawing at the edges of his mind. The fear was suffocating and dark. He pushed it away with determination. He was not going to give in to his terror. But the voice came back, despairing, choking, calling out to anyone that would hear. Startled, Remi reached for the source of the voice, testing to see if the Shadow King was trying to manipulate him. Sensations flooded him at the contact—cold, wet darkness that sucked at him, tried to swallow him. It was impossible to fight back. He could not force his limbs to move, to struggle toward the rippling surface above him. He could not breathe in the darkness, and as it seemed to close in on him, terror of becoming trapped in that awful place filled him, nearly destroying his thoughts.

Remi broke the contact with a gasp. "Ororo!" But he didn’t get a chance to do or say anything else as the circle of Hounds attacked. Remi saw Renee’s staff flash as she swept it around and then there was nothing but the press of bodies, the putrid breath and the sharp stabbing pains of teeth and claws. Remi fought the Hounds desperately. Ororo was drowning, too badly stunned from her fall to swim to the surface of the pool. He tried to reach her telepathically, but she was too frightened for his appeals to draw a response.

Remi reached for the collar of a Hound as it closed its jaws around his forearm. Concentrating against the pain, he charged the studded leather and then pushed the beast away as well as he could. Its teeth shredded his arm as he struggled to free himself from the clenched jaws. Finally he could only duck as the collar exploded only a foot from him. Hot metal scraps from the collar studs were driven into his arms and shoulder by the force of the blast, but the Hound went limp and he threw the body away.

Remi risked a glance in Renee’s direction. Blood flowed freely from a gash in her thigh, but other than that she seemed to be all right. Beyond her, Remi could hear the Shadow King ordering other Hounds in the house after Ororo. He, too, had realized her danger. Remi was surprised. There was a sense of fear from him, as if Ororo’s life was precious to him.

Another Hound leapt at Remi. He spun tightly and kicked it in the ribs, deflecting its path. The Hound landed awkwardly, and in the single moment that it took to regroup and come after Remi again, the young mutant had a moment of utter clarity. The final pieces of the puzzle fell into place. Outside the window, Ororo was drowning as much from her own claustrophobic terror as the water. Gambit had never realized how paralyzed she was by her disorientation and the mistaken impression that she was trapped by the dark water. He had dragged a conscious girl out of the pool, not realizing his action was the only thing that allowed her to gain control of her fear. To him it would have seemed that he had only helped, that without him she would have climbed out of the pool on her own. That was why the Witness had not predicted the timeline Remi and Renee had just left. It had never occurred to him.

The most horrible thing was that Remi was only perpetuating the mistake. Ororo’s life slipped away even as he realized the truth, leaving only an empty gap where she had been.

The Shadow King’s cry of rage startled everyone in the room. The Hounds turned toward their master, cringing. Remi and Renee looked at each other.

"Ororo’s dead," Remi told her plainly, and her eyes widened.

The Shadow King spun on them. "You!" He stared at the two mutants. "This is your doing!"

Remi barely had time to strengthen the shield around himself and Renee as the Shadow King lashed out at them. The blow was staggering, and Remi felt Renee’s hands under his arm as he fought to keep the shield erect. Despair filled him, even as he tried to gather himself to step entirely onto the astral plane and meet the Shadow King on more even footing. No matter what happened, they’d failed. Ororo was dead, and Remi had no idea what the future would now hold. His mind spun as he tried to consider it. How pivotal had the X-Man Storm been in shaping the world? In directing the course of his own people, the Shi’ar? How many of her actions were the only ones that could set history on an acceptable path?

Sudden understanding flooded him. He straightened abruptly in Renee’s grasp. The Shadow King was not the problem, really. Remi firmed his shields as he turned the idea over in his head. He already knew how to force the course of history to go the way he believed it should. The Shadow King couldn’t stop him. In fact, he’d already tried and failed.

Remi couldn’t help his smile as he turned and caught Renee’s arms in his hands. But then his smile died as he realized what the cost would be. Without Cody, he couldn’t take Renee with him. His portal would kill anyone but himself. Remi stared into her red and black eyes, suddenly overwhelmed by the choice he had to make.

Even the Shadow King paused in his attack, as if realizing that Remi was ignoring him in favor of something of greater portent.

Remi found himself squeezing Renee’s arms rhythmically. "I’m sorry," was all he could find to say.

Understanding filled her eyes and she began to shake her head vehemently. "No! Don’t leave me!" Her fingers grasped at the torn cloth of his shirt, her eyes pleading with him.

Remi wished he had time to explain everything to her, but the Shadow King would not wait very long. Remi knew he could hold off a telepathic assault for a while, but there were still two Hounds who waited on either side of them. If the Shadow King decided to set them loose again, Remi would loose his chance.

He touched Renee’s mind, pouring as much of his thought process into her as he could in the hopes that she would get the chance to sort it out and understand what he had done. Beyond that, he could do nothing but try to express how much he cared about her, and hope that she would be willing to forgive him.

Remi pulled out of her grasp as the swirling black maelstrom of a time portal opened behind him. He had to do this. It was the only way to protect the future. But every step he took away from Renee was like a knife to his heart. Nothing would ever erase the knowledge that he had left her and betrayed the trust she had in him to somehow keep her safe.

Hating himself for it, Remi took the last step backward into the portal.

Renee stared at the shrinking black circle in numb amazement. Remi was gone. He’d really left her. Very slowly, she turned to look at the Shadow King, who watched her in return with a bemused expression. They remained like that for what seemed like a very long time, until the Shadow King shook himself and straightened.

"So, child, what shall I do with you?" His voice was mild.

Renee stared at the man who, in another life, had killed her best friend, her grandfather, and her brother. She began to tremble. The Shadow King smiled.

At an invisible command, his Hounds moved to flank her. Renee did not resist. She had no defense against him and they both knew it. But secretly, Renee tried to hold on to the knowledge Remi had passed her. He was going further into the past and the timewave would come rolling through the here and now as his actions changed the timeline. All she had to do was stay alive until it hit. She was immune to paradox—Remi had been certain of that.

The Shadow King crossed to stand before her, and for a moment Renee held to the fleeting hope that he would be stupid enough to touch her skin. She knew he could read every thought in her mind, and his expression told her that he had read the nature of her powers. But she didn’t know if he had read the end of his existence at the mercy of the timelines. He didn’t seem to have, as he appraised her with a hungry stare that made her skin crawl. With gentle fingers, he reached up to stroke her breast through her uniform and Renee felt a stab of pure terror. He knew about her powers and wasn’t afraid. She bit back a sob as the Hounds pressed against her on either side, forcing her closer to the Shadow King.

Then the world lurched, a sickening shake she had only felt one other time in her life. In an instant, everything around Renee changed. The bodies that had surrounded her so closely were gone. She staggered. The Shadow King stood across the room, facing away. He was looking toward the shattered bay window that overlooked the pool. His Hounds surrounded him, and the Oriental woman that Renee had seen die leaned out over the window sill, looking down.

The Shadow King’s head snapped around, his eyes narrowing when he spied Renee near the door. To him, she realized dimly, it must seem as if she had suddenly appeared out of nowhere as the timeline reformed around her. A small part of Renee rejoiced that Remi had been able to do something, and that if he was correct, the world had just been made right again. But most of her was terrified beyond reason.

The Shadow King turned his head slightly, back toward the window as if he was torn between Renee and the activity outside. Renee didn’t hesitate. She turned and ran.


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