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Chapter 1

Moths to a Flame - REVIEW THIS STORY

Written by NicoPony
Last updated: 01/02/2007 02:01:11 AM

Chapter 1

In the year 1916, and for decades to follow, there occurred what was later called a Great Migration, in which 70,000 African Americans moved from the rural farms of the South to the industrial cities of the North. The descendants of former slaves and their families began a trek northward, in search of better jobs and a better life. Brought on by word-of-mouth advice, the North promised tolerance over the racism and oppression of the South.

In the year 2001, a second migration had begun. Fueled by fear and blatant displays of intolerance, the newly emerging minority known as Homo-Sapiens Superior began their journey not to the North, but southward, namely, to the city of New Orleans.

Along the various highways, and down the interstates that flow from the city like the tributaries of the Mississippi Delta, word spread. And the word was good to those who had sought acceptance in vain. Mutants everywhere came to hear that New Orleans was a safe haven for mutantkind. Overlaying the strict racial divides of the city was a gauze of southern generosity combined with a French laissez-faire mentality. This was a city of mixed heritage, whose citizens knew how to have a good time, and were content to sit and watch the world pass by from wisteria-covered porches.

New Orleans stood in stark contrast to the island nation of Genosha. That place too professed itself to be a safe-haven for mutants. However, the city of New Orleans was not a nation in itself. The city was a world apart, yet was safely a part of the United States. There was no mutant leader here. There was no stigma against the city's inhabitants. And the knowledge of the slowly growing mutant population remained largely underground.

The man who had carefully shaped New Orleans to be the haven it was whispered to be had tweaked and nudged the lines of social service that tied to the public as well as to the politic. Pieces slowly slipped into place, and if methods of bribery and blackmail were not entirely legitimate, the motives themselves appeared somewhat altruistic.

This man currently sat at the head of a long heavy table, turning the wooden gavel he held over and over in his hand. It was conical in shape, and its well-worn edges had rounded over time. He had begun to slouch in his chair, and his concentration had waned. The second-in-command of the infamous Thieves Guild, Theoren Marceaux, had again raised the same argument that had been pursuing him through the majority of this guild meeting.

"I don't think you understand what kind of danger you've placed us in!" Theoren reiterated.

"Please, Theo, why don't you tell me again what exactly the danger is?" the guild leader asked in a semi-bored voice.

Theoren was momentarily flustered but quickly regained his composure. "You've all but given our home address to the New Orleans Police Department," he said.

"I'm aware of the dangers, but I sincerely believe in Commissioner Ribault," the guild-head replied.

"We've never relied on outsiders before. After the losses we've suffered in the past year, is it worth the risk?" Theo questioned.

"You've done your best t'try t'make me understand your point of view, Theo. And I do understan' you. I understan' de risk," he sat up in his chair abruptly. "Now I would like to have you understand something," he reluctantly put the gavel down and pressed his fingertips together.

"Yes, we've suffered major losses in the past few months. De aliens known as de Brood kidnapped and killed our people, we were attacked by mercenaries sent by de Pig...as well as the ongoing...past altercations wit' de assassins," he paused then, and his eyes met the gaze of the woman sitting at the other end of the table. She was silent and serene. She noted his gaze, and nodded her head for him to continue.

"Which was why I went to Ribault. In one play, we get de city to ourselves, and can turn our enemies and competitors in ta de proper authorities and have immunity from them as well. We got no use fer common t'ieves, muggers, and drug dealers on de streets...our streets," he went on. "Not only dat, we extend a hand of good will to our new allies, by protecting mutants in dis city."

Good will. It was Remy LeBeau's newest mantra. Everything he did as leader of the Thieves' Guild was an act of good will and practiced compromise. His first big act as leader was to make a pact between the Thieves' Guild and the New Orleans Police Department, assuring the safety of his family as well as the safety of people of mutant persuasion. Of which, the entire Assassins' Guild consisted.

Bella Donna, the leader of the Assassins' Guild, and viceroy of both guilds in Remy's absence, smiled at Remy from across the table. It was a calculated risk, but one where the thieves proved their allegiance to the assassins.

Theoren had lapsed into silence during Remy's argument. He spoke up, but his voice was far softer than it had been before. "I just hope you can handle what you're gettin' into, Remy."

"I 'preciate your concern, Theo," Remy replied just as softly. "Now if dere's no other business to attend to," he paused, waiting for any at the table to speak. When there was none, he let the gavel fall to the table. "We're adjourned."

The various members of the Thieves and Assassins Guild stood, softly talking amongst each other as they filtered out the two huge oak doors at the front of the guild meeting hall. Two members stayed behind, remaining seated at both ends of the table. The numerous candles that lined the walls cracked and sputtered in the silence. Remy leaned his head back against the backboard of the chair, closed his eyes, and sighed. Belle sat eerily calm, as she had during the entire three hour meeting.

"You're not spreadin' yourself too thinly, are you, Remy?" she asked, the first words she had spoken all evening.

"Nah," said, waving his hand in a dismissive gesture. "I c'n run rings around both guilds, de X-Men, and de entire populace of Nawlins, an' still come home and make a five course meal fer ten."

Remy stood up then, his chair scuffing back on the worn stone floor. "So, having done dat today, I'm gonna take a nap." He stretched his arms above his head and yawned, to emphasize his point. He walked past her to the doors where the other guild members had exited. Before leaving the hall, he paused and turned his head to look back at Belle. She was still seated, her back to him. She reached forward and sipped from a glass of water. Remy opened his mouth to speak, reconsidered, turned, and left the room.

Belle remained seated until she was certain Remy had gone. She turned slowly in her chair to look at the doors where he had paused just a few moments before. She let out a sigh of her own, but it was not one of exhaustion, but one of sorrow.

Remy made his way to his bedroom. When he was in New Orleans, he lived in his father's, Jean Luc LeBeau, house. Although his father had gone, and the house was technically Remy's now, inherited by him along with the patriarchy over the Thieves Guild, Remy still used the room he had since he was a child. Remy passed the door to the master bedroom, which, even after all these years, he still regarded as off-limits. He could even imagine his father at his desk, toiling away at guild affairs, signing papers, giving lectures. Remy remembered the scene as it had been in the past. As a child he had peered though the door, which had been left ajar, silent eyes pleading for a moment of his father's time. The memory was fresh, perhaps because he had so recently spied on Commissioner Ribault, so familiarly working just as his father did, at his own desk at the NOPD.

Remy entered his own room, and not bothering to flick on the lights, or even exchange his guild uniform for more comfortable clothing, he flopped onto his bed. He lay on his stomach, face pressed into his pillow, just thinking about nothing. It felt good to have a quiet brain for once. He slowly turned over onto his back and pulled off his boots, letting them clunk onto the hardwood floor. As his eyes adjusted to the darkness, he made out the familiar lights and shadows that danced on the ceiling. There, on his left, was the shape that looked like a long spindly-legged monster. In reality, as he had learned years before, it was just the way the street lights shown through the fence outside and cast the shadow above. The other shadow was a toothy bear, its gaping maw open to gobble the sleeper below. But it was only the shadow of the tree outside his window. He'd made his peace with the spider monster and the bear a long time ago. There was no bogey-man under his bed, and the skeletons in his closet were only a figure of speech.

Remy might or might not have slept. It was one of those moments lost in time, where one closes their eyes only to wake seemingly seconds later, to find the clock had mysteriously jumped forward several hours. Remy was still looking at the ceiling, wondering if he had slept, and if so, what had woken him. He might have dreamt a bit, and he vaguely recalled the sound of sirens in the distance. Perhaps that was the reason he had awaked.

There was a knocking at the door. That sound was familiar as well, it drifted out of his dream-like state.

"Remy? Remy, are you in there?" came a voice from the opposite side.

"Uh, yah," he said, trying to get his mouth to work, and sit up in bed. "Hold on."

He stood and half-stumbled to the door. "Belle?" he said, after opening the door to see the person on the opposite side.

"I was beginning to wonder if you were really in there or not," Belle said. "I thought maybe you had gone to sleep in your father's bedroom."

"Sorry, I must've been dozing more deeply than I intended," he replied.

She smiled wanly at him. "Something has gone wrong," she said. "Dere's a problem in de city. I wouldn't have disturbed ye, if it weren't urgent."

"What's wrong?" he asked.

"There's a fire, downtown. Word has it that it's mutant-related," Bella Donna continued. "Thought you'd like ta know, since this whole 'good will toward man...and mutie' is your pet project."

Remy almost returned Belle's comment with a hot remark, but swallowed his flash of anger. "I'll go check it out," he said instead.

"Want any o' the guild members to tag along?" she asked.

"No," Remy replied, as he slowly closed the door. "Wouldn't want ta put any of dem in danger." The door latch clicked as he closed it on Belle's imploring face. After quickly changing into his other uniform, the one he wore as an X-Man, Remy opened his window to leave. He glanced back once, before turning to jump out of the window and make his way toward the now-urgent sounds of fire sirens, leaving the spiders, bears, and ex-wives behind.

Commissioner of the New Orleans Police Department, Thierry Ribault, looked at the raging fire before him. It was the first time he had ever seen a fire centralize itself, particularly to one building, as well as the first time he'd ever seen a green flame before. Not only that, but the fire wasn't exactly hot. But for some reason, that didn't stop it from destroying the building, blowing out the windows, and putting people in the hospital for smoke asphyxiation.

Thierry chewed on the end of a Bic pen in contemplation, a nervous habit he'd picked up after he had quit smoking. The radio in his car, an old tan Buick, squawked with the talk between the police, firemen, and ambulance drivers. While the fire fighters fought with the mysterious fire, the other members of the city's various rescue squads stood and watched in stunned silence. The only sounds were of the gushing water from the fire hoses, and the sound of crumbling as pieces of the building collapsed. The fire itself was silent, save for a faint and deadly sounding hiss.

So rapt was his attention to the fire, he failed to notice the tall thin figure standing directly behind him, until it spoke into his ear.

"Dere a problem, officer?"

Thierry jumped in surprise, the pen flipping from his mouth and flying from his hand onto the wet pavement.

"Remy!" he hissed, spinning around to face the thief. "Could you stop doing that? You're going to give me a heart attack one of these days."

"Sorry," Remy replied, smiling lightly. The light from the flames sent green ghosts dancing across his face.

"How did you get past the police lines?" Ribault demanded.

Remy shrugged. "Dunno...mebbe it's my charm?"

Ribault sighed and looked at Remy in disbelief.

"So what's the 411, chief?" Both men turned to resume their watch over the fire.

"It's an old building, condemned, mostly full of squatters and homeless," Ribault began with smooth efficiency. "Fire started about a half hour ago. The fire squad believes it ignited on the second floor," Ribault pointed to the window at the far right, "about there. Most everyone got out, but we believe the fire was caused by a mutant---."

"Do tell?" Remy interrupted, a false tone of disbelief in his voice.

"And that mutant is still inside...with hostages."

Remy was silent. Thierry turned to look at the thief, half-expecting a clever retort from the young man. Instead he saw him staring into the green flames, the light reflecting in his strange, black eyes.

"An dat's all you know?" Remy asked suddenly.

"At this time, yes."

"An dis fire, dangerous, non?"

"As any flame would be."

"Right," Remy said, before walking away.

"Where are you going?" Ribault said.

"Put de fire out," he replied smoothly, over his shoulder, as he walked toward the flaming building.

There were several shouts of warning from the fire's audience as they saw the young man striding towards the flames. They went unheeded and Remy disappeared into the alleyway between the flaming building and the one beside it.

Remy became aware of the hissing noise as he walked into the alley. He kept close to the wall of the adjacent building, the one that seemed immune to the green flames. He silently watched the fire as he walked. If it were a fire of the normal variety, he would not have been able to withstand the heat. But this fire was not hot. Instead, it ate at the brickwork of the old derelict building like a kind of slow working acid.

Fumes rose up from the flames, Remy judged that they weren't caused by the fire itself, but from the fire's interaction between itself and the building. Remy turned the corner and found himself at the back of the building. There was an old fire escape, half-detached from the wall. The flames sizzled on the ironwork.

Taking a deep breath, Remy leapt and grabbed hold of the first-story landing. He paused before hoisting himself up. The deteriorating fire escape seemed to be holding his weight. Cautiously, he made his way to the second story. The flames were stronger here, and they leapt from the broken-out window. With a silent prayer, Remy jumped through the flames and into the building.

When he landed on the inside, he was unscathed. His mutant ability included a type of shield around his body made of the same energy he used to charge up objects. Remy took a gamble relying on this shield, a power he was still unfamiliar with, to diffuse the strange flames.

The light from the fire was intense, and the footing was treacherous, since the fire had made quick work of the wood flooring. The bio kinetic field could protect him from getting burned, but could not protect him from the fumes. The light was harsh in his sensitive eyes, and he had to make his way slowly towards the source of the flames.

Remy crawled on his hands and knees down the hall, moving closer and closer to the area where the fire was the most intense. The "smoke" was burning his throat, causing him to cough and gasp for air. Finally, Remy stood. Crawling was painfully slow, and he feared he would be suffocated before he reached his destination. The floorboards would just have to hold. They would hold, Remy assured himself, even if they held though his will power alone.

Remy tried to run as lightly as he could down the hall. His eyes were squeezed shut against the light. He opened them periodically to be sure he wasn't going to make a false step that would send him plunging down to the floor below. At last, he made it to the far end of the building, to the room Ribault had indicated the fire had started. Flames leapt from the doorway blocking the room beyond.

Remy backed away a few paces, then jumped forward, hoping to land on something solid behind the wall of flame.

His eyes were closed when he landed. He cautiously opened them. Amazingly, the room was

empty of the strange green fire. Save for the black scorch marks across the floor and the broken windows, the room appeared to be for the most part, undamaged.

It was however, not unoccupied. Two men were huddled against the far wall. From the state of their clothes and their overall uncleanness, Remy judged that they were homeless. Or at least would be when the fire had done its work.

Remy noted that one of them had removed his shoes; they were lying beside him. The other had his belt unbuckled. Between them and the windows was a woman, in her mid-twenties. She was balled up, her head pressed against her knees, and her arms wrapped around her legs. The neck of the shirt she was wearing was torn, revealing her thin, trembling shoulder.

She looked up as Remy slowly approached. Tears had made white streaks through the dirt on her face. They flowed from green, pupil-less eyes. Remy paused, looking at her. He was slightly surprised to find the fire starter and mutant was a woman. She mistook his hesitation for fear.

"Please!" she cried in desperation, stretching out her thin arms. "I'm sorry!" she cried. "I didn't mean to---!" her voice was cut off by her racking sobs. She pressed her forehead against her knees, hiding her face.

"It's all right, chere," Remy said softly, slowly inching his way toward the woman.

"Please don't hurt me..." she moaned. "I didn't mean to. I didn't mean to!"

"I know, cherie," Remy knelt down on his knees, half-crawling to the girl. "S'an accident. S'gonna be okay..." he reached his hands forward, to touch her shoulders.

"Freak! Mutie!" one of the men cried out hysterically as he climbed to his feet. "She gonna kill us all!" He stumbled toward Remy. "Get us outta here, mistah! She gonna kill us!"

Remy spun to face the man, giving him a deadly look. The man froze where he stood, staring into Remy's eyes. One hand held up his pants, the other slowly went to his mouth. "Another one!" he shrieked.

His companion grabbed the back of his shirt, pulling the frightened man down. "Shuddap before dey both go apeshit!" he deplored.

Remy glared at them. "I'll be takin' care o' you two, rest assured."

The two men trembled.

"Get up," Remy said. When they failed to move, Remy barked: "I said 'get up'!"

The pair hurriedly clambered to their feet.

"You," Remy said, pointing to the bootless man, "take off yoah shirt."

He only hesitated a moment before whipping off his shirt, which had once been white.

"Now go over to de window."

"I ain't goin' near dat mutie! She tried ta kill me!"

"She be de least o' your problems if you don' do what I say," Remy said darkly.

Slowly the two men inched to the nearest window, giving the two mutants a wide berth.

"Now hang your shirt out de window. Dat's right. Like a flag," Remy said. "You see de firemen down dere?" The two nodded stupidly. "Good. Make sure dey see you too."

The bootless and now shirtless man pitifully waved the flag. His companion peered over his shoulder. There was a shout from the street below.

"Dey sees us!" one of the men cried.

Under Remy's hands, the girl began to shake in earnest. She moaned again. The flames suddenly rose up the side of the building, blocking the window. The men jumped back.

"Take it easy, girl," Remy said softly. The edge from his voice dropped away as he addressed her. "I won' let nothin' happen t'you."

"P-please..." she whispered hoarsely. "Don't let them hurt me."

"I won't. I promise," he replied. "You gonna be jus' fine. You gotta help me first, though. You gotta calm de flames."

"I can't!" she wailed, suddenly very loud. The fire seemed to respond, jumping up higher. Outside the window, Remy could see the rescue ladder attempt to approach the area where the men had stood.

"Yes you can, petite. I know you can."

She was shaking her head. A silent 'no' escaped from her lips.

"If you can make de fire bigger, petite, you can make it smaller too," he said soothingly. "Just tighten it down, reel it in, like you would a fishin' line, and dere's a big fish on de end. You ever go fishin', chere?"

She nodded, sending more tears down her face. "My-my dad used to take me...I'm from New England. From Rhode Island. We-we all know how t'fish. Even 'fore we-we learn to walk..." She smiled weakly, but her sentences were broken with her struggle to control her sobs.

He nodded and smiled reassuringly. "Dat's perfect. Den you know how to do it all ready. I got powers too, jus' like you. An dis is how I learnt to control em. You just pull it in."

She put her head back down on her knees. Remy could feel her shaking, but she was concentrating now. Taking deep breaths. The flames at the windows faded minutely.

"Dere you go, cherie!" he whispered in her ear. "S'workin' all ready!"

She let out a little gasp that was flavored with a breathless laugh. The flames began to fade. The ladder reached the window. Over the girl's head, Remy's eyes met those of the fire fighter, who was perched at the top of the ladder. He pointed silently at the two trembling men, and then pressed his finger to his lips, signaling the rescue-worker not to disturb the mutant girl.

Through his thick mask, the fireman nodded and silently beckoned the two men. They hurriedly shuffled to the window to be lead to freedom.

Remy held the girl's shoulders, trying to lend her his strength through his touch. Around them, the greenish glow of the flames slowly flickered, but did not die. The woman panted with her efforts. She looked up suddenly, to meet Remy's eyes. She looked around, and panic began to set in.

"It's not working!" she cried, despairingly. "What ah they going to do to me? What ah they going to do!"

"Chere, you gotta keep calm. No one is going to touch you, I swear it!" Remy struggled to keep his disappointment from his voice.

"No!" she cried, suddenly standing up, pulling herself from Remy's grasp. "This city is the same as any othah! They'ah gonna lynch me! I can't stop it!"

Remy stood up, somewhat shakily. The fumes from the fire had had some effect on him. "Cherie---!" he cried, reaching for her. She stumbled backwards, knocking his hands away.

"Don't you touch me!" she sounded frantic.

Remy slowly moved toward the girl. "You just gotta calm down," he whispered. He knew he had the ability to "charm" others into submission. He had been careful with her at first, hoping to teach her to learn to control her powers on her own. Failing that, he now laid his powers of suggestion on as thickly as possible, hoping to get close enough to subdue her or knock her unconscious.

The girl's steps began to falter, and she shook her head wearily, as if a sleeper awaking from a dream. "I...I just can't. I can't live this way...this way anymoah..." she said softly. She began to turn away, towards the door. The flames parted for her.

"Wait!" Remy cried, as the boards beneath their feet began to groan. He lunged for her, but the floor beneath their feet shifted and separated them. There was another groan as the floorboards splintered and snapped. The two mutants fell to the story below. It wasn't a long fall, but Remy hit the ground on his side, and had the breath knocked out of him. The moment he hit the floor, the flames went out, as if turned off by a switch.

Remy blinked, his eyes struggling to get used to the sudden change of light. Water suddenly came pouring down. Since the flames had died, the gallons and gallons of water from the fire hoses outside suddenly had access to the inside of the building. Soaked and half-blind, he looked frantically for the young girl. He didn't have to search long. As he stood, he saw above the wreckage that had separated him from the girl.

She was sitting upright, her face turned towards him, her blank green eyes staring into his own. Several wires, the lines that had once supplied the old building with power, were tangled around her throat. They held her up like a broken marionette. Her neck was bent awkwardly, and her head was leaned back. Her arms stiffly hung straight out from her shoulders, caught by the wires. The water poured down from above, down the twisted lines, over her body. A trickle of blood ran from the corner of her open mouth.

"Oh, cherie..."

Remy walked down the alleyway from which he had entered the building. He stood at the entryway until the familiar figure of Thierry Ribault approached him.

"Remy?" he said, keeping a few paces between them.

"Girl's dead," Remy said simply.

"Who? You mean the mutant?"

"Yah..." Remy said hotly. "De mutant." The word burned the air between them.

"I'm...I'm sorry," Ribault said at last.

"Wasn't your fault," Remy said, the anger melting from his voice. "Where are de two men?"

"The hostages?" Ribault questioned.

Remy was icily silent.

Ribault turned and pointed in the direction of the ambulance, where the two men sat in blankets, despite the hotness of the night. They were talking and gesticulating wildly as they explained their half of the story to the police.

"Have em arrested," Remy said.

Ribault paused in surprise. "What are the charges?" he said automatically. From the look on Remy's face, he was willing to accept any accusation Remy could come up with.

"Arson," Remy said quietly.

"But the mu---but the girl...wasn't she---?"

"And see if you can add sexual assault to that, too. Not that it'll stick."

Thierry nodded in understanding. "We can get it to stick," he said. "Like mud on a pig."

Remy stood quietly, and a silent conversation was held between the two men.

Finally, Thierry asked: "The body?"

"Taken care of," Remy replied, and he turned and disappeared into the alley.

The members of the two guilds stood silently at the edge of the swamp. A small raft was pushed out from the bank. The little craft glided quietly over the water's surface. Remy LeBeau raised a black-gloved hand, and the points of a pair of arrows, shrouded with fuel soaked linen, were lit. Two bows were raised and aimed, and with a simultaneous twang, two arrows were released into the night. They flew out over the black water, leaving tails of fire in their wake. The arrows struck the little raft with perfect accuracy.

From the bank, Remy could see the profile of the young mutant woman, black against the orange glow of the flames. Lightweight and made of dry bark, the little raft burned quickly. The guild members stood witness for a long time, watching until the waters below swallowed the funeral pyre. Then, slowly, they began to disperse, quietly unsure whether they should wait for their leaders' dismissal or not.

Two figures remained on the bank, staring out over the silent water.

"Do you blame yourself?" Bella Donna asked.

"I wouldn't be me if I didn't," Remy replied.

"You'd blame yourself for the national deficit, world hunger, and the deforestation of the rainforests, if you could," she said, turning to look at him.

He smiled sadly.

She said nothing as she looked at his handsome, but stoic, profile. She did not want to comfort him, nor accuse him. In either case, she would inadvertently be telling him 'I told you so.'

"There will be more mutants," she said simply. She didn't mean it to be taken as 'There will be another day,' it was simply a statement of fact.

"Yes," he replied, not meeting her gaze. "Maybe some will set fire to de city, maybe some'll kill, or steal, or rape. It's de same in every city. Same crimes. Different people. Everyone be capable of wrong-doing."

Remy LeBeau and Bella Donna Boudreaux listened to the sounds of the night around them. When Belle had decided that Remy had nothing more to say to her, she turned to leave, following the other guild members into the darkness.

Remy remained on the bank, alone with his thoughts. "It's not a matter of us against dem," he said quietly. "It's a matter of us against us. But it won't be one person, or one group of people, what get de blame. Not anymore. Not in my city."

His hands clenched at his sides, causing the leather of his gloves to creak.

"My city," he said, in quiet declaration. "With my people livin' in it."

In cover of darkness, they came. On buses, planes, cars, and even rides caught on passing trains. They were a voiceless minority, but as individuals, when they spoke, they spoke loudly. With explosions, with fire, in their appearance, and in the ways they thought. They were all different, but all were seeking the same thing...peace. It wasn't going to be found on an island nation, apart from the rest of the world. It wasn't going to be had under a dictator. The mutant population of New Orleans grew, silently and surely, under watchful and attentive eyes. Eyes which blazed in the darkness, red on black.


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