Celeste scrambled to her feet, pausing to clutch her head as she caught her balance. She sprinted down the stairs, her feet barely touching the floor, fully prepared to see Logan's corpse sprawled in a pool of blood. Her heart contracted in her chest, making her stop in the doorway of the dining room to wheeze quietly.
The hamster began running on her mental wheel, and Celeste's steps grew stealthy. Her claws, fragile and easily breakable or not, were her weapon of choice. They slid from the sheath of her hands with a hiss made loud by the stillness.
One step forward. Celeste shut off all but her senses; anything else was a distraction now.
Two. The smell of old sweat mingled with a faint hint of Cayenne pepper. Celeste smiled. Gambit.
Three. Desert sand blown on a scented wind, across the empty Sahara. Storm.
Four. The aura of absolute command shaded the air a bright blue. Cyclops.
Five. A heavy animal pelt couldn't camouflage the scent of laboratory chemicals. Beast.
Six. Faint murmurs of a Southern accent hung suspended and silent in the air. Rogue.
Seven. The scent of old money, of a dream yet unfulfilled. Xavier.
Celeste stood in the foyer, staring at a crimson pool of the floor just before, and to the left of, the door. A Genoshan "necklace", abused and battered, lay forgotten on the floor. It was half slashed through, twisted and gouged by Wolverine himself. Celeste used her fingernail to pick slivers of bone from the metal. A syringe was nearby, meager drops of a bluish liquid still inside.
Celeste picked the latter up, sniffing delicately at the contents. A heavy sedative, enough to kill an elephant from the looks of it. Logan had probably been mighty dazed.
A loud crash shattered the still air, and Celeste whirled around, snarling at this new enemy.
The door banged against the wall, thrown by the chill autumn wind. It blew away the impressions of the past, leaving the room clean and sterile of Fate's fingerprints.
The blood stopped flowing in her veins. Something had happened, something big. All six X-men and Xavier had been taken and probably fitted with their own neckwear. Logan had been sedated, Rogue thrown against the wall, and, from the size of the dent, probably knocked unconscious. How had someone, anyone, not seen it coming? Surprising any one of the X-men was a military operation, but catching them *all* unawares?
And all this had happened while she had lain entranced, in bed upstairs. Celeste growled and realized what she was looking at. The kidnapper had left her a calling card.
There were precious few who were capable of such an operation, and there was only one who gave a damn about her. Celeste swore loudly. He had killed her mother only a day ago. It was only natural he should stick around long enough to cancel her, too. With her dead, there was no one to sit the throne. Except for her sister. Her sister, who was weak and petty and vain. Her sister, who would fold like yesterday's laundry. He would take over her empire and spread his poison into her people, her land.
But she'd be damned if she let that happen. And she'd be damned if she let the man she loved slip away from her, trapped in a prison of disillusionment and doubt. Again.
Celeste ran to the Ready Room. "Cerebro," she snapped. The metal helmet lowered from the ceiling, and she slammed it down on her head. "Scan surrounding area for any villain on file." There was no way Thepis was working alone on this. He always liked to have someone local to deal him equipment and supplies, as they were different in every reality. The computer beeped, and the screen blinked to life.
SUBJECT LOCATED: Mr. Sinister IDENTIFIED.
"Cerebro, scan for possible base of operation." Using her powers combined with the artificial intelligence of the computer, Celeste dove beneath the surface of the Earth. One thing she knew about Thepis was that he preferred underground lairs and dark, Gothic little caves to experiment in. She pulled back as she slammed into thick metal walls of an old bunker at least thirty feet underground.
LOCATION SECURE: Building IDENTIFIED: REGISTERED AS FERRYMAN Inc.
Celeste's lips twisted grimly. The Charon Sword. Charon, the ferryman of the dead in Greek mythology. "You're making this too easy for me, baby. You must be pretty desperate for my head on a stake, hmm?"
Shaking her head, Celeste turned away, racing along the hallway and out the door before she could think about the consequences of her actions.
A falcon with deadly talons and sharp golden eyes took to the skies a few minutes later. Human thoughts echoed in its brain, unchecked in Celeste's haste. She couldn't stop them, and refused to heed them.
What was she going to do if she walked into that tiny metal room and found the walls painted red, the X-men slaughtered on their knees? She'd be dead before she could inhale.
And her child would die with her, dead before it lived. A shrill cry burst from the arian throat. So she was pregnant. There was another nut in the fruitcake. Her next thought annihilated her concentration, and she plummeted into the trees before sailing high again.
If Thepis found out, he wouldn't hesitate to cut the child from her uterus, while the father watched. No. He would not discover her pregnancy. Her life and her monarchy depended on it. As the last of her line, she could not afford to die.
Her stomach knotted, and pure blind determination was all that kept her from turning, disappearing into the night, abandoning them all to their fates. Her mother's voice drifted past on the wind, a forgotten melody that whispered a vow of courage.
Celeste dropped from the sky to land on the roof of Ferryman, Inc. The building was small and inconspicuous, plain enough to pass for a warehouse and pristine enough to be taken for an office building. It was enough, period, to blend in and disappear. If she died here tonight, the building would be overlooked and forgotten. Hell, with the power of the Charon Sword, the whole damn building could be a figment of New York's collective imagination. The building could disappear; a floating, inconsistent crypt for six X-men, a man with a heart of gold, and a queen with an unworthy soul.
Celeste sighed and slipped into invisibility, pulling the cloak of the darkness around her so as to hide her indigo aura. Her customary combat uniform appeared on her skin, tight and familiar. The katana was a reassuring weight against her thigh. She glanced down and shook her head. No mere metal blade would do for this one. She needed something that was a warrior in its own right. She needed her mother's sword.
The Empire Sword, it's molecules pulled across the night wind, materialized at her hip. She cast the katana back were she left it, on the floor of the Danger Room.
When it was done, the pressure disappeared from her temples, and she relaxed in the shadows. If she wanted a snowball's chance in hell, she was going to have to time this just right....
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