"What's wrong wit' Rogue?"
Before Beast could answer Gambit's frightened question, angry shouts suddenly echoed down the long tunnel. A moment later, several bright beams of light erratically danced down the length of the sloping passage. The loud click of safety catches rang in sharp counterpoint to the thudding of a dozen heavy boots.
Wolverine staggered to his feet, warily sniffing at the air. "Guns!" he yelled. "The guards--they're onto us!"
Beast spun around, swallowing hard.
"Oh, dear!" he anxiously murmured. "It appears that we have attracted some unwanted attention!"
Wolverine glared around the chamber as rifle shots filled the air. A bullet careened by only inches from Storm's shoulder. "Crazy fools!" she raged, ducking to one side and raising her hands over her head again. "They will destroy the sacred treasure!"
"You gotta worry about somethin', darlin', worry 'bout us!" Wolverine snapped, glaring at her. "We're trapped in here! Like rats in a cage!" His long claws glittered and clashed together as brilliant lightning spilled from her fingertips.
Gambit lowered Rogue to the floor, then pulled a handful of cards from his inner pocket and grimly scrambled to his feet. "Not for long, mon ami," he vowed. Reddish light enveloped him as he swiftly charged the entire handful and hurled them at the tunnel mouth. Dirt and rock instantly cascaded down as they exploded, half-burying the entrance.
Another glowing pack seemed to spring into his fingers as he whirled toward the darkened portal, his eyes narrowed. For one brief moment, Xavier feared that he might destroy the priceless Egyptian artifact. Then he hurled the shimmering deck at the high ceiling and threw himself across Rogue's limp body, protecting her from the massive eruption that promptly rocked the big stone-walled chamber.
The thick granite slab disintegrated, bringing down several feet of heavy sand and dust. Xavier quickly threw up a powerful psychic screen, shielding his students from danger.
Storm lurched to her feet and imperiously spread her arms wide. "Whirlwinds, arise! Take us from this place!" she commanded, her powerful voice ringing above the alarmed cries outside the chamber. Thick, choking sand instantly enveloped them as a whirling tornado dipped down through the ragged opening and caught them in its forceful grip.
Coughing, Gambit scooped Rogue into his arms and held her tight against his chest as the floor disappeared from beneath his feet.
The Sphinx enclosure was in a pandemonium. Startled by the unexpected uproar, Henré staggered from his cot and hesitated just outside his tent, wide-eyed. Everywhere he looked, archaeologists and solders were yelling, running, firing pistols into the air. Several guards were stumbling out of the chamber tunnel, coughing. Billowing dust drifted through the air as they staggered and fell to their knees.
A cave-in? But what could have prompted them to enter the chamber at all, unless...
A sudden chill ran down his spine. Ororo and her friends! They were in danger!
Before he could move, the ground suddenly exploded outward, several meters beyond the darkened tunnel. Brilliant spotlights rapidly crisscrossed the ground, searching for the cause of the eruption. Then Henré caught his breath in startled wonder as a majestic white-robed figure rose from the flying sand, her slender arms spread wide.
His beautiful princess...Ororo, child of his heart...
She was gone again so quickly, hidden behind a thick curtain of whirling dust, that he almost doubted his own sanity.
But no, he could still just barely see her as she hesitated for an instant, her face turned in his direction. Then fierce winds swept through the large enclosure, whipping sand everywhere, half-blinding the frightened natives and stunned archaeologists.
Henré caught a quick glimpse of the condemning glower on Hassan's wrinkled face as he spun away, shielding his own eyes. His tent buckled and fell as the shrieking tempest spun past him. Then it was gone, and an uneasy silence reigned in its place for several long minutes.
Only he dared to move again...the terrified diggers were still face-down in the sand, whimpering frantic prayers to Allah. Nearby, he could hear Hassan's cracked voice muttering dire, angry curses as he turned and stared out past the huge pyramids.
They were gone. Only a distant flicker of lightning remained to mark their passage as the Blackbird rumbled to life and disappeared--black against black--into the darkness.
She was still unconscious...and not even Wolverine's magical healing abilities had helped this time!
His beautiful Rogue...what had those weird, piercing beams of light done to her? Gambit anxiously stroked her soft hair again, automatically tracing the white curls that fell over her pale forehead.
If only there was something he could do to help, to reach her somehow! He'd never felt so damned helpless before, not even when his old enemy Sabertooth had ruthlessly murdered his one-time lover, Genevieve Darceneaux, before his very eyes!
He'd nearly lost Rogue before, at Muir Island, but at least then he'd known what was wrong with her! She hadn't lost her mutant powers this time--she wasn't lying broken and bleeding in his arms. She was just asleep...
But he couldn't wake her!
Instinctively he glanced over at Professor Xavier, hoping that by now the brilliant psychic had figured out what was wrong with her. But Xavier was still deep in telepathic rapport with Jean, who was anxiously waiting for them back at the mansion.
And Wolverine and Storm were no help...they were sympathetically watching him, but they didn't have any miraculous answers! Neither did Beast, for all that he was sure the blue-furred scientist knew what was wrong!
Frustrated, he bitterly glared over at Xavier again. What was taking so long? Why was he still just sitting there, chatting with Jean, when he should be doing something to help?
Despite his intense concentration, Xavier could still sense Gambit's anxiety; it flowed over him like an icy bucket of water, chilling him to the core. He stubbornly thrust it into a corner of his mind, lest Jean catch a hint of it. Her emotions were already chaotic enough, overflowing with the last residual traces of panic and concern for his safety.
Xavier quickly broke the psychic connection before Jean could search deeper into his troubled thoughts. 'Is Rogue all right?' Her worried question echoed through his mind like a haunting litany as he opened his eyes again.
For several long moments, the room seemed to spin in a crazy, whirling blur. Somewhere overhead, an unfamiliar voice was urgently talking...
"What's takin' so long, Beast?"
Gambit moodily stared down into his empty glass of lemonade. What he really needed right now was a good stiff drink! But Jean hadn't allowed that, of course, not with Jubilee and Carly around. Maybe later he could slip away and head down to Harry's Bar for a while. It'd be even nicer if he could bring Rogue with him, but...
Rogue's heart began to pound as the door quietly slid open.
So much had changed so quickly!
The ringing of a distant church bell slowly drew Rogue from a deep, peaceful sleep. The blanket was tangled up around her legs. She drowsily pulled it back up, blocking out the cool breeze drifting through the open window.
"Remy?" For one brief moment, she thought she could feel him stretched out beside her...but no, it was only her pillow. Yawning, she forced her eyes open and blearily stared around the darkened room. "Gambit?"
He was gone...why had he left her alone?
Moonlight cascaded over her as she sat there, her knees drawn up to her chest, for several minutes. The memories were starting to fall into place now...it was getting easier to separate her own experiences from her teammates' vivid images. But there were still so many big gaps...
And the open window seemed to beckon to her. She hadn't dared to test her mutant powers yet, but instinct provided the impetus. Still half-asleep, she slipped out of bed and let the light breeze enfold her...
Just one more cup, and then he'd head back in. Yawning, Gambit wearily rubbed his eyes. How many hours had he sat out here, watching the moon drift across the sky?
Steam rose from his mug as he briefly charged it with kinetic energy, reheating his coffee. A heavy sigh escaped him as he took another long sip.
He should go back inside...he wasn't doing Rogue any good by sitting out here on the patio, staring up at her open window. Yet some instinct had prompted him to leave her alone, to give her some space to figure things out on her own, if she happened to wake up.
Just a few more minutes...
Yawning again, he propped his feet up on the table and leaned back in his chair. Overhead, the stars glittered like bright diamonds against the black velvety sky. Like the big diamonds he'd recklessly stolen from that grand old mansion down in N'Orleans, back when he'd just joined the Thieves' Guild. How Bobby and Pierre had cheered when he'd proudly spilled them across the gaming table that wild, crazy night!
And Henré...he'd stared like he'd seen a ghost! With luck, he'd never know that part of the money for his last several excavations had come from that shimmering pile of jewels! But Remy LeBeau took care of his own, always had and always would. He had enough money tucked away in a few safe places to last him and his kin a lifetime...
A soft sound roused him from his reminiscent thoughts. The moon was edging down toward the horizon now, throwing silvery light across the wide patio. His senses sharpening, he warily glanced around.
Up there...the curtains were moving. He sat up straighter as a dark shape moved into view and hesitated, staring out at the distant ocean. He got a quick glimpse of Rogue's face as she soared into the air and drifted across the wide yard. The setting moon silhouetted her slender body as she hesitated, then slowly turned west.
A moment later, she was gone.
Well, he'd expected it...and he'd bet his last dollar that he knew exactly where she'd headed.
Rising to his feet, he silently set his coffee mug on the table and hurried back into the mansion.
Caldecott County, Mississippi.
How many years had passed since she'd last been here? Rogue couldn't quite remember. It had been a long time, she knew that much. She'd been about thirteen when she'd run away from home, swearing never to return.
Well, she'd finally come back. And nothing much had changed. Somehow she'd figured that nothing would...down here, nothing ever did.
The sun was just peeking over the horizon now, lighting up the rolling hills. She could feel the warmth of it on her face as she languidly uncurled and sat up. From way up here in her old treehouse, she could see the entire river valley. That was why it had always been one of her favorite haunts--even back then, when she'd been a little kid, she'd loved to climb up high into the sky and try to touch the clouds.
Cody had carved steps into the thick bark so that they could clamber up here and play together. She'd even kept her secret treasures tucked in that little niche in the trunk. Some pretty stones, a faded scrap of paper, a few crumbling flowers--they must have meant something special to her once. She gently picked them up and stared at them, trying to remember...but nothing came to her. Nothing but a sudden gust of wind that scattered the fragile petals and blew them from her open palm.
Tears flooded her eyes as she watched the scrap of paper--an old note from Cody, maybe--flutter to the ground. Whatever was on it had long since faded away...and now it was gone, too. Like her past, like her memories.
Sighing, she tucked the little stones into her pocket. Those, at least, she could keep, no matter what else happened.
The leaves around her rustled as she rose to her feet and affectionately patted the old tree which had guarded her treasures for so long. Even a scrap of her old sleeping blanket had survived the long years...or had it been Cody's? A leftover from the nights when they'd crept out and stared up at the star-studded skies, whispering so her daddy wouldn't overhear them?
Well, there was nothing more that she could learn up here, and it was getting brighter out in the valley. Taking a deep breath to dampen her growing fears, Rogue slowly walked out along the sturdy branch and peered through the thick canopy of leaves. The early sunlight made her blink and rub her eyes.
There it was...a little white house almost hidden beyond the next set of rolling hills. Her old home, in a different lifetime. Until she'd discovered that she was a mutant, and she'd run away in the middle of the night...
She swallowed hard. Would her daddy still hate her for what she'd become? Could she ever make him understand that she wasn't some kind of evil monster?
Bracing herself, she floated up into the air, then reluctantly let the wind carry her down to the ground.
The house seemed entirely too quiet. No smoke drifting from the chimney, no old hound dogs or cats roaming around the big yard. Frightened, Rogue anxiously landed in the tall grass and hurried toward the wide front porch. A million crickets fell silent as she passed, then hesitantly started chirping again behind her.
The house was deserted. It had to be--the paint was peeling off the sturdy walls, and a jungle of weeds had taken over her little vegetable garden. Clinging vines had crept up over the porch railing and window sills, and one of the dirty windows was broken.
Her throat tight, Rogue nervously stepped up onto the front porch. The weathered boards creaked beneath her weight as she cautiously peered through the shattered glass. Only a few pieces of worn, sagging furniture were left, half-covered by faded gray sheets. All the pictures and nic-nacs that she'd loved were gone.
"Daddy?" Even as she uncertainly opened the front door and stepped inside, she knew it was useless. He might not have been the neatest man on earth, but he never would've allowed dirt and crumbling leaves to coat the living room floor!
Gulping, she slowly backed out of the room and let the door slam behind her. The clearing was empty...even the deep ruts in the driveway were filling in with dirt. No truck had driven over that dusty road in years!
"Daddy?" she whispered again, blindly staring around the big yard.
Over there, that was the big tree where he'd once hung a huge black tire for Cody and her to swing on. How they'd screamed with laughter as he'd pushed them higher and higher, until they were nearly touching the golden-green leaves!
And over there, that was where she'd played with Princess's last litter of puppies, before he'd sold them to the hunters over in the next county.
If only she could forget the most vivid memory of all...the raging fury in his eyes after Cody had been hurt! How he'd yelled at her...as if anger and hatred could change what had happened...
"I'm ashamed t' be seen with ya! Ya ain't my daughter--not anymore!"
She could still hear his deep voice, distorted with fury, and her own helpless pleas as she'd begged him for forgiveness, for understanding...
"Daddy, I'm sorry...I din't mean to...please, Daddy..."
So long ago, but it still hurt so much! Rogue dashed hot tears from her eyes as she angrily launched herself into the air. She must've been crazy to come back here! This wasn't her home anymore! She didn't belong here...
Her own tearful voice still ringing in her ears, she soared over the softly-rustling trees. Why, of all the memories Professor Xavier had restored, couldn't he have left that one out?
Then she scanned the thick forest, indecisively biting her bottom lip. This wasn't helping any, and Gambit was gonna worry when he found out that she was gone. She really ought to head back to the mansion...
Yet there was still one last place she needed to visit before she could leave, one last memory she had to face. Sighing, she reluctantly headed further west, toward a long, winding break in the trees.
The wide, slow-moving river hadn't changed, either. Obscurely comforted, she wiped the tears from her cheeks and settled to the soft, spongy grass, curiously glancing around.
There was the fallen tree where she had Cody had fished for those huge granddaddy catfish. And further down the riverbank, that was the muddy old swimming hole where they'd splashed and dunked each other, hysterically laughing.
"You ever been kissed before, girl?" She could almost feel the warmth of his hand again as his young voice echoed through her mind.
"I'm beginnin' to think I never will!" How innocent she had been, how oblivious to the horrible danger lurking inside her...
And then it had happened, so fast that she hadn't been able to stop it! All his thoughts, his emotions, his life energy had poured into her, stunning her with almost painful intensity! And Cody had fallen to the ground, unconscious...nearly dead...
"Cody!" Her terrified scream had rung through the trees as she'd fallen to her knees beside him, sobbing. "Cody..."
The thick, mossy grass was still just as soft under her hands and bare knees. And she was crying again, reaching for a young boy who no longer existed, as the trees blurred around her...
She looked so lost, so alone, that Gambit couldn't take anymore. He'd been waiting here since dawn, sure that she'd come back to the place where it had all started. He hadn't meant to let her know that he'd followed her...but he couldn't leave her alone like this! His throat tight with suppressed emotion, he pushed himself away from the shaggy old trees and silently moved out of the dark, concealing shadows.
Rogue sensed his presence before she heard him softly approaching. Gulping back the last of her tears, she scrambled to her feet and slowly turned around. Somehow she'd known that he'd follow her, that he'd understand what had called her back to the hills and valleys of her birthplace. She managed a tremulous smile as she slipped her arms around his waist and let him hold her close.
"Dis is where it all happened, ain't it?" Gambit murmured, his deep voice husky with compassion and understanding. "Where you first foun' out you were a mutant."
The painful memories made Rogue flinch. Then she reluctantly nodded as she glanced up and met his sympathetic gaze. "Cody's gone, too, ain't he?" she hoarsely whispered. "There's no one left here anymore!"
Gambit gently wiped the fresh tears from her cheeks. "Gambit still here, chér," he assured her. "An' he ain't goin' nowhere!" He held her close a moment longer, offering her what comfort he could, then soberly looked down at her again. "You hear me an' da P'fessor talkin' last night, nón?"
Rogue flushed and glanced away. "I had t' listen, Gambit!" she protested. "There's so many big holes in my head, it's drivin' me crazy!" Then she lamely gestured around the clearing. "I figured comin' back here might help me remember a little more."
He could feel her despair as if it was his own. If only there was more he could do...but Beast was right. He'd done all he could. Only Xavier could hope to find a cure now.
And right now, Xavier was probably worried sick, wondering where they'd both gone.
The rising sun cast bright shafts of light across Rogue's tear-streaked face as it slanted through the thick foliage overhead. Well, it might just be creeping over the hills here, but dawn had touched the ocean a good two or three hours ago. It was time to go back...for whatever good that might do.
His arm still curled around Rogue's shoulders, Gambit slowly headed downstream. Rogue automatically fell into step beside him as he forced a rueful smile. "You think it helped any?" he urged.
If only it had!
Rogue saighed and bitterly shook her head. "No...ain't nothin' on this planet gonna help," she muttered.
Suddenly she stopped and spun around, urgently staring up at him. "Professor Xavier's right, Remy! Whatever pulled Carol Danvers outa me musta sucked out my memories, too!" she insisted. "Only way I'm gonna get 'em back is if I follow her through that portal!"
Gambit hesitated, startled by her conclusion. "We don' know what's on de other side, chér," he warned, a pensive frown darkening his handsome features. "How many thousands o' years was dat portal buried? Dey might all be dead by now! Could be you get dere an' find nothin' at all!"
Rogue impatiently shook her head. "Professor Xavier said he felt somethin' tryin' to talk to him!" she protested, gripping his hands. "That means there's gotta be someone there! Please, Remy! I gotta try!"
Gambit hesitated a moment longer, staring over her tousled hair at the slow-moving river. "What if you get dere, an' dey cain't help you?" he finally asked, troubled. "What you gonna do den, Rogue?"
A shiver ran through her at the grim thought. Then she resolutely straightened her shoulders and met his narrowed eyes. "Then at least I'll know for sure!" she contended.
In all the years he'd known her, he'd never seen such intense determination in her pretty green eyes. It was useless trying to argue with her...and for all he knew, she might be right.
A resigned sigh escaped him as he slowly nodded and slipped his arm back around her slender waist. "Okay, chér, we give it a try," he relented. "C'mon, let's go tell P'fessor Xavier."
He'd hidden his mini-jet nearby, behind a thick clump of bushes and low trees. Rogue raised an appreciative eyebrow as he led her through the maze of underbrush, then nimbly climbed up the narrow ladder. He'd brought the two-seater...in hopes of finding her?
The cockpit slowly swung open. Smiling, she floated up and settled herself beside him in the passenger's seat. Fire erupted from the lower engines as the clear, heavy glass dropped back down over them. Despite her mutant invulnerability, she prudently strapped herself in.
Gambit programmed their course into the navi-computer as they smoothly rose into the air, and the dense trees fell away below them. Then he glanced over at Rogue and earnestly offered her his hand.
Rogue briefly hesitated, staring down at the golden ring sparkling on her finger. She must have loved him once...and maybe she would again, if she could only remember!
But whether those elusive memories ever returned or not, one thing was certain. No matter what else happened, Remy LeBeau was still the best friend she could ever hope to have. Whatever had happened between them in the past, and whatever might happen in the future, she would always have that.
A warm glow lit Gambit's eyes as she tentatively curled her fingers around his. "Whatever happens, ma chér," he promised, "we do it t'gether."
Rogue solemnly nodded. No matter where their path led, no matter what hurdles faced them, they would go there together. And maybe someday...
The wide, lazy river disappeared in the distance behind them as the plane tilted back and quickly rose into the air. Then it soared forward, toward the rising sun, and vanished beyond the rolling hills.
Click here to read Episode III of
"The Sphinx Saga" - "The Nexus"
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