"Come out, come out, wherever thou art!" Mirrin called down the hallway, the Askani sounding pleasant to her ears after so much exposure to English. The Mother Askani had made her memorize several pictures, all of them corresponding to places she would need to be in the late twentieth century. This was supposed to be one of Nathan's hiding places.
She had shown up twice before, both times to spend the night, but there had never been any signs of life. This sundown, however, a light was visible from down a hallway and Mirrin could hear the peculiar shuffle-shuffle-step-step gait that could only belong to one person.
"Who comes this way?"
"Blaquesmith, you overgrown pelliworm, whom, exactly, were you expecting?"
"Someone a little taller, about thrice your weight in stones."
The man in question emerged from the shadows carrying a wrench, looking the sweatsuit-clad Mirrin over critically with his large eyes, "and not dressed like a fugitive from the Canaanite training academy. From where did you acquire this raiment, Mirrin?"
"My contact within the X-Men," Mirrin spun around to show off her outfit and grinned wildly. "I find them quite warm and comfortable, therefore they must be completely inappropriate for public usage, correct? Although I have not drawn many stares as I wandered about this city."
"Not inappropriate, just very informal. Do you have your robes or do I need to procure you new ones?"
"But these are made from actual plants," she tried not to pout. In the face of Blaquesmith's unimpressed look, she walked over to the place where she had hidden her robes on the first night.
"You've been storing your things in the holographic projector?" Blaquesmith asked with a horrified frown. "It is fortuitous, then, that nobody has tried to use it. The laser imager would have burned everything to a crisp."
"Would that I were so lucky," she replied darkly, holding up the robes. "It would be just as well. These are sorely in need of cleaning and repair. My arrival in this time was a bit rough."
The small man went over to one of the banks of monitors and typed in a sequence. "I'll add in a warmer cowl so that you may change out of that... disguise. Do you need battle garb as well, Sister?"
"Subtle as always, Blaquesmith. I would have told you what you needed to know without subterfuge. Yes, I will need such."
There was a hum and a flash across the room and presently Mirrin could see a small pile of what she knew to be Askani-appropriate clothes. So much for her pretense of freedom.
"I don't even want to know how you got those so quickly," Mirrin muttered. "Apparently Greymalkin's loss has not proved a burden."
"You know about that?"
"We are not short of retro-cognitives, Blaquesmith. That is why I am here-and-now. And it is why you must return there-and-then presently."
Mirrin smiled inwardly as Blaquesmith started sharply - surprising the Mother Askani's pet meddler was a rare treat. "I'll explain after I change. Is there an appropriate place, or do I ask you to avert your gaze?"
Blaquesmith was pacing when Mirrin returned from what she assumed was Nathan's chambers within this safehouse. "Now, shall we discuss your mission?"
"My mission is not for your ears, dear Brother, as your knowledge of it would do damage to the timestream we both left in the there-and-then," Mirrin replied blithely, ignoring Blaquesmith's frown of dismay. "That is undoubtedly part of why you are to return to our native spot, but whilst you are at home, you will receive instruction on a new course of action hoped for by the time watchers."
"Has the entire Sisterhood fallen into Sanctity's thrall since we left?" Blaquesmith asked with a growl. He resumed pacing, his waving arms accentuating his words. "The time watchers would have me steer the Askani'Son in the direction of their choosing?"
"You accuse me, of all people, of choosing the Sisterhood's wishes over Nathan's free will? Over anyone's?" Mirrin's voice was quiet, yet the anger was enough to still Blaquesmith's pacing immediately. It had been a low blow, Mirrin thought, but a necessary one. It was also all the lower because Blaquesmith was not wholly wrong and she was relying on his guilt to make sure he didn't realize that.
"No, dear Sister, I do not," he said quietly, bowing in apology. "But I do ask what the retro-cognitives would like to... encourage of me."
"I don't know for sure, but I suspect that they would like to discuss with you the changes in the timestream that you and Nathan have already wrought," Mirrin said, then sighed. "Look, Blaquesmith, all I know for certain is that you can't be here-and-now during my mission. I assume that while you are there-and-then certain of my sorority would like to wield what little authority they have over you to make sure that Nathan is a good boy and all, but you are certainly experienced enough in their tactics to be impervious to their demands. The sum total of it all is that you need to be absent here-and-now and the rest is just politics."
Blaquesmith said nothing for a long moment, then smiled gently. "You have always been such a terrible Askani, Mirrin."
"On the contrary. I am a very good Askani. I just don't offer my blind devotion easily," she said, returning the smile and inwardly breathing a sigh of relief that Blaquesmith was not questioning her further. "What is, is, and the rest is just detail."
"You are too much like Nathan for everyone's good, do you know that?"
"So my Sisters tell me repeatedly," she agreed readily, then changed her expression to a more businesslike one. "I don't know exactly what sort of chronological constraints your return has been given, but I expect they'd like you back sooner rather than later."
"Bid Good Journey to Nathan and then go?"
"Presumably. But don't tell him that I am here."
Blaquesmith raised his eyebrows, but said nothing.
"I need to formulate some sort of plan before I greet him," Mirrin explained. "He hates it when I show up and look indecisive."
Blaquesmith smiled warmly for the first time. "It is good to see you again, Mirrin."
It had gone easier than Remy had expected. Which wasn't to say that things were going well, more that he had expected to be shot on sight by his former teammates and anything else came as a pleasant surprise.
That he'd be allowed to stay had never been an issue; that he wanted to stay was never considered. Nonetheless, he was back even if he wasn't yet actually welcome. The reactions of his once and current teammates ranged across the spectrum. Wolverine and Ororo treated him as they always had, Rogue wouldn't stay in the same room, and Joseph walked around looking guilty. But most of the rest maintained a sort of wary skepticism that ranged from Angel's diffident coolness ("Don't worry about it, Gumbo, Warren's not sure I belong here," Logan had told him) to Jean's concerned consideration.
It was Rogue's reaction that had puzzled and confused Remy the most. Although she had warned him that he had a place neither with the X-Men nor with her, she had not protested when it was announced that he would remain part of the team. In fact, she had not reacted at all. Remy, being a man of passions - either love or hate would do - was unprepared for the gray ambivalence.
More out of recognition of everyone else's concerns than his own, Scott had him on restricted duty. As such, the furthest Remy had gone was to Rockland County with Storm, The resulting extra shifts on the monitor had him ready to give up ever watching television again, in addition to giving him plenty of time to ponder the twists his life had so recently taken. That the Askani had seemingly disappeared into the mist after returning him to Westchester only made him more uncomfortable - he knew too well that no debt ever goes unpaid for long.
Over the last few days, however, Remy hadn't had much time to ponder either the Askani or Rogue. There were calls coming in from around the world concerning a rash of new anti-mutant activities. At first, they had thought them to be simple terrorist attacks, but soon it became apparent that something more dangerous was afoot.
The attacks were all on alpha-class mutants. A telepath from Geneva, whom Cerebro had indicated could be almost as powerful as Psylocke, was car-bombed. A US Navy SEAL with an advanced healing factor was aboard a boat that sank under mysterious circumstances. A Bangladeshi teenager with the ability to turn into a condor was shot with a high-powered rifle while in her bird form. A Wisconsin man who could store electrical energy was pushed out of a window. And that was just in one day.
What made the incidents all the more alarming was that there were no bodies being found. Even if the victims could have survived the attacks, they had not resurfaced anywhere. Bastion and his troops liked to leave their exemplars in high profile dumping grounds, so the chances of the disappearances being linked to Operation: Zero Tolerance were small at best.
The X-Men were searching the globe for likely suspects to be leading such a spree. Cable had reunited with some of X-Force to trace the Marauders in case Sinister was involved. Jean and Betsy were taking marathon shifts with Cerebro searching the astral plane for anomalies while most of the rest were rotating through scouting missions and routine duties. Except for Remy, who got to sit at the monitor and take messages unless there was a call in that no one else was around to handle.
Things had taken a turn for the worse this morning with reports of entire villages turning up massacred. One in Slovenia, one in Mozambique, and a third in Mexico. All three had had high percentages of mutants in their population, but the slaughter had been indiscriminate.
The Mexican town had originally been thought to be the victim of environmental poisoning - probably in the water supply - judging from the flu-like symptoms described in the records of a nearby hospital. But nothing had been found in the well and the toxicology screens by the local pathologists had come up clean. Yet a population of two hundred, mostly farmers, had died when their blood would no longer carry oxygen.
The settlement in Mozambique had been seemingly firebombed, although early reports sent back confused messages about the nature and path of the conflagration. The bones of sixty families had been found burned clean.
The village in Slovenia had been the most gruesome discovery. Ororo had gone off with Wolverine and Cannonball after a call reporting the massacre to Interpol had been intercepted. The three had returned a few hours ago, all in various states of shock. An ashen Ro had gone directly to her attic after delivering her report, not even stopping to greet her teammates. Sam Guthrie was a shadow of himself, and even Wolverine, the man fazed by almost nothing, was subdued.
"Do you know what's going on?"
"Pardon?" Remy's head snapped up from the computer screen he'd been reading. Psylocke was standing by the other end of the bank of monitors.
"Do you know what's going on? If Logan's not even snarling at Warren, then something must have happened," Betsy Braddock elaborated. "I've been in with Cerebro since morning."
"Another village was wiped out, comme ça," Remy answered, waving his hand in a dismissive fashion, disgust on his face. "This one was ugly, that's all I know."
"Ripped to shreds," Sam Guthrie said quietly from the doorway. "The entire town was full of body parts and blood. No whole bodies left, not a one. It was like a bomb had gone off and the dogs had come through. I've never seen anything so... thorough."
"You going to be all right, Sam?" Betsy looked him over critically.
Sam stiffened, pushing off the wall as if his leaning could be construed as weakness. "I'm a big boy."
"There ain't no shame in bein' rattled by this," Remy ventured. He was never sure where he stood with those who hadn't been around during the Antarctic mess. Mostly he took his cue by who that person was close to. Jubilee, for instance, was following Wolverine's lead and Kitty Pryde had shown him no negativity when he had communicated with Muir Island. Remy would figure Guthrie to react as Cable might, but the erstwhile Summers hadn't been around - probably explaining the Askani's absence, he thought idly.
Guthrie nodded noncommittedly. "I'm goin' to go wash up."
Remy and Betsy watched him go. "He'll be all right," She said once Sam's feet could be heard on the stairs. "He'll puke a few times, scrub himself raw in the bath, not eat meat for a day or two, and then he'll be fine."
She gave Remy a wry, sad smirk and then went back toward the room that held Cerebro.
After Jubilee had come and relieved him from monitor duty, Remy stopped in the kitchen to grab food and then went off to his room. He felt guilty sitting in the kitchen, unscathed and with no greater discomfort than dry and tired eyes, while the others wandered by after having been working to the bone.
He nearly dropped his apple when he turned on the light in his quarters and saw Mirrin perched on his bed.
"Good Evensong to you, fair friend," Mirrin stood up and bowed. "May the winds have been gentle at your back and the skies clear for your passage."
"Bon soir t'you as well," Gambit (Remy in his head, but she hadn't been given permission to use his given name and tried not to use it even in hers) murmured, inclining his head toward her. "Forgive me for not bein' overjoyed t'see you."
"I'm Askani, I'm used to it," Mirrin replied brightly. "You look wealthy."
"Hein?" Gambit's left eyebrow shot up.
"Perhaps that is not the proper translation," Mirrin mused as she sat back down on the bed and frowned. "In my own here-and-how, someone who looks healthy and well fed is usually quite well off in terms of worldly goods. In my own tongue, we use the same expression for both situations."
"Got a similar thing where I come from," Gambit said, accepting her words with a nod. "But you're not here to check out my well-being, are you?"
"'Without formalities, the world is but a casual reminder of days of yore.' But you are correct, I have more than just your health in my consideration," Mirrin agreed. "The violence of the last few days has brought me to you."
Gambit didn't even pretend to not know of what Mirrin was speaking. "This stuff is related to Cable? Why am I not surprised?"
"It isn't directly related to Dayspring, but it will be soon, sooner than I would like. The Kurioon is close to rising."
"The Kurioon. It is an army, after a fashion. It is very powerful, very dangerous, and extremely difficult to defeat. The leader impresses mutants to be lieutenants."
"Impress like pirates?" Gambit asked and Mirrin nodded. "That would explain why we didn't find any bodies a few days ago, but what about the villages? All the bodies were mutilated."
"The Harvesters don't need the corporeal parts of their energy sources."
Gambit sat down heavily on the chair by his desk. "This is starting to sound too big for just one man -- and one nun -- to deal with. If you're sure that you're right, we should bring in the rest of the X-Men."
"No!" Mirrin said sharply. "We have to keep Nathan as far from this as possible."
"Know you want to protect him and all," Gambit began, "but if he knows how to deal with this 'Kurioon,' then maybe..."
Mirrin held up a hand to stop him.
"The Kurioon is being assembled precisely because of Dayspring," she explained. "Someone sent back the kernel of a Kurioon in order to eliminate the Askani'Son here-and-now, before he finds opportunity to slay Apocalypse. They mean to avoid a nexus point that will prove unfavorable to the Chaos Bringer."
She shook her head and shrugged. "I don't know if that pale copy is who is behind the arrival of the kernel. All the retro-cogs could see was the when-and-where of the insertion. But it is really of no matter by whom - or even why - the Kurioon kernel was sent here. Just that it is eliminated before it grows large enough to succeed."
Gambit smiled weakly. "And this is where I come in, right?"
"I shall need you to keep Nathan away while the rest of your group fights the Kurioon," Mirrin answered.
Gambit gave her a dirty look. "Why do I get the feeling that you will have no problem sacrificing the lot of us to save Cable?"
"The robes give me a sinister air," Mirrin suggested, although she did not deny in her heart that, should it come to such, Gambit was correct. "Ideally, I would like there to be no casualty but the Kurioon. It is still early in the fight and the kernel could not have grown much. The Harvesters must feed long and deep before the genesis can begin."
Gambit didn't quite hide his reaction to that, but Mirrin had the grace to pretend not to notice.
"How many more villages?" he asked.
"It depends both on their size and on how much energy can be drawn from them," she answered with a sigh. The imprecision wasn't just related to the newness of the environment. A kernel there-and-then was hard to understand until too late as well. "It could be six, it could be ten, or it could be three."
"Is there any way to figure out which ones are going to be hit before it happens?"
"Not unless you have quite sophisticated detection devices," Mirrin replied with a frown. "Here-and-now, the Kurioon has a much greater variety of energy sources from which to choose. It will draw from all races and all geographic regions to better equip itself to fight in this time and place. It will want those familiar with the seas, the mountains, extreme warmth, harsh coldness... The Harvesters are what you would call connoisseurs. They take only the best. The villages already plundered must have been superior at some aspect of survival. The ones to be taken will be as well."
Gambit was about to reply, but a noise on the other side of the door caused the words to die on his lips. Mirrin stood, prepared to take action, but he indicated with a hand gesture that she still.
#It is a woman,# Mirrin spoke telepathically in Gambit's mind, careful, as always, to avoid contact with his mental shields. #She is very distraught, but I also sense her concern for you.#
"Stormy, that you?" Gambit called aloud.
"I was just about to knock, Remy," a woman's voice called from the other side of the door. "May I come in?"
Gambit looked at Mirrin, who nodded. "Yeah, sure."
She teleported out before the doorknob turned fully.