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Chapter 1

Tomb of Thieves - REVIEW THIS STORY

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

Chapter 1

"The Earth itself bends to my will," raged Magneto. "And so shall you all!".

Radiating waves of destructive energy like a savage, primitive god, the mutant terrorist ascended in the sky above Manhattan, the axis of an energy sphere forged from his magnetic powers and his own fierce will.

But he was not the only godlike figure in the heavens. Silhouetted against the clouds, an ebony-skinned woman glided with the wind currents as gracefully as an angel. Her voice rose with passionate intensity.

"The X-Men bow to no one," she commanded, "but you will bow to nature's power!"

Ororo Munroe wielded the power of the lightning, wind and rain, the primordial forces of the weather, as fiercely as Magneto commanded magnetism.

"That's tellin'em Stormy."

Ororo smiled to herself as she gazed at the trench coated man poised at the summit of an unfinished skyscraper below. Magneto would not be intimidated by the taunts of the mutant Remy LeBeau, but the Cajun X-Man known as Gambit flourished his provocative charm even in the midst of battle.

"Get me up there Stormy," he yelled. "I show ol' tin-head a trick or two, eh".

Gambit could charge inanimate objects with explosive force with the touch of his fingers. A hero with the heart of a gambler, he had befriended Ororo long ago when both of them were thieves.

Now, she was the leader of the X-Men, a team of humans gifted with extraordinary mutant powers, defenders of humans and mutants alike from the savagery of those like Magneto, who would destroy or enslave them.

At Ororo's command, jagged streaks of lightning radiated from the slender woman, spanning the heavens as far as one could see, attracting, then dissipating the magnetic wave generated by Magneto.

With a bellow of frustration, Magneto focused an energy vortex directly at the skyscraper. The tower shakes, twists, then finally collapses. As tons of steel and concrete break loose and hurtle downward,. Gambit disappears, a cloud of dust where he once stood. Swooping down to retrieve her teammate, Ororo Munroe vanishes with him as the horrendous tumult masks Magneto's escape. Storm, the mutant mistress of the weather, and Gambit, able to make ordinary objects into explosive things with a touch, powerful beings and now two of the unluckiest people on Earth, are entombed underneath tons of wreckage.

Ororo Munroe cherishes the freedom of flight, the liberating power to soar, to be at one with the winds. But now, she is surrounded by darkness, choked by dust, enclosed in a coffin of concrete and steel. Involuntarily, compulsively there is a scream, a roar, and soundless wail as her mind shudders and turns inward. The proud, confident leader is now in the shell of a frightened, trapped child.

A stillness blanketed the rubble, broken only by a roar of distant thunder.

The two X-Men had not faced Magneto alone. Regrouping inside their high tech airplane, the Blackbird, were their comrades: Scott Summers, called Cyclops because of the blast of his powerful and dangerous eye beams, Bobby Drake, the wisecracking Iceman, the Beast, scientific genius in the body of a humanoid animal, and telepathic ninja assassin Betsy Braddock. Jean Grey, keeper of the Phoenix force, could move physical objects with telekinesis as easily as she could read minds.

Miles away in their Westchester County headquarters, Professor X, Charles Xavier, the founder and mentor of the X-Men, followed their exploits through a two-way video monitor. The monitor allowed him access to the computer technology inside the Blackbird. But if he wished, Charles Xavier, could speak directly into the minds of the X-Men he had recruited and trained. "No sign of Ororo Munroe or Remy LeBeau," stated Beast, admitting what was bitterly obvious to them all.

"Maybe they took time out to go shoplifting, er shopping," cracked Bobby Drake. "There was a Bloomingdale's on the ground floor of that skyscraper, you know."

No one laughed, or groaned, or even chastised Bobby for his unwelcome irreverence. Bobby Drake without a decent comeback, thought Cyclops. Makes it worse.

"We believe they are imprisoned in the wreckage," continued Beast. "Magneto's energy field has incapacitated our instruments, and we can't get a decent reading about their current condition. Can barely distinguish human biologic material. (Bobby Drake winced at the words 'biologic material') but we can't identify what condition its in."

" There are two bodies deep inside, under tons of rubble." Beast stumbled over the words. "No way to tell more than that."

Cyclops, Beast, Professor X and the others continued, exchanging readings, discussing strategies, deciding, analyzing, and rejecting various plans of action. They estimated load factors, oxygen deprivation, weight variances, etc. etc. etc. the necessary chatter of engineers and scientists confronted with the problem of moving tons of debris to free two human beings who might not even be alive beneath it.

Bobby Drake heard it all in the background. As the youngest X-Man and the team jokester, he could safely check out of discussions like this. The team geniuses, Cyclops, Beast, and Professor X, would consult with each other as the professionals they were, leaving the quipster free to feel the fear and loss the others buried underneath their professional chatter the way the missing X-Men were buried under the mountain of debris.

He stood at the Blackbird's picture window, searching the skies.

"There is no way they could be alive, no way at all," someone said behind him.

Bobby Drake swung around, his youthful voice cracked with restless, startling emotion.

"No, Ororo's alive," he said defiantly. "She's got to be."

The others turned and faced him, grief etched in every expression.

From the big screen monitor inside the Blackbird, Professor X looked at Bobby Drake with sympathetic concern. Gently, as though he were still the headmaster and the Iceman a troubled schoolboy, he said:

"We must be realistic, Bobby," he said. "As mutants we have powers but," his voice trailed off, ''we are not invulnerable." "Look at the skies," said the Iceman. They turned towards the window.

They saw a unseasonable tornado veering to the right, a snowstorm raging on the left. A rainstorm thundered between them, punctuated by random, giddy patches of sunshine and clear skies. Hailstones appeared at random, melting, or pelting the ground depending on where in the weather patchwork they happened to land.

All impossible under normal circumstances, normal skies. As though an unruly child was playing games with the atmosphere. They knew only one being on the face of the earth could make the powers of nature do that mad, unseemly dance.

From underneath tons of concrete and steel, Ororo Munroe, their friend, sister, confidant, leader, and a sufferer of a paralyzing fear of enclosed spaces, was making the weather, and herself, go crazy.

Professor X sent his powerful telepathic mind to seek the souls of Ororo Munroe and the enigmatic Cajun, Remy LeBeau. He reached out and down into the tomb for the mind of the woman whose elemental will must have survived, as evidenced by the weather nightmare that raged outside, and for LeBeau, for whom there was no evidence at all. He reached out, then slumped in his chair, his face a pained mask of failure and confusion.

A heavy darkness. A small thought. The thoughts of a child. with a child's fears. Of being alone. Of being forgotten, abandoned, trapped. And scared. She cries and cries, a desperate sobbing with a child's intensity. And then, a voice. "Why you cryin', girl."

She can see no one, but can sense the presence of another small shape in this still narrow space. Startled, there is a second of fright.

"You a crybaby? "

An oddly accented voice starts singing softly:

"Crybaby, crybaby why you cry? You too afraid you gonna die. Crybaby, crybaby cry so hard. Crybaby crybaby pick a card!"

With a laugh and a flourish, the voice ceases its taunt, and suddenly a tiny glimmer of light leaps into the dark. A tiny living light that glows and expands. A cave of light is carved from the solid darkness. The light leaps from a small white rectangle, a Jack of Hearts. Just enough light that the Ororo child can feel it even with her eyes tightly shut. She peeks.

A ragged boy. A guttersnipe. Thin. Somewhat ungainly. She recognizes the hungry look of a child of the streets, for she is one herself. But a sly smile, and the bright eager eyes. Red pupils, on black. The eyes, some would say, of evil.

"I'm not a crybaby," she whimpers.

He leaned forward and whispered to her "you're a ghost!"

She startled. "Am not". "If I'm a crybaby, you're a, a devil!"

"You're a crybaby and you look like a ghost . You 're a ghost because you got white hair", he said. "Ghosts always have white hair." He said this with audacity, as though he had just read it in an encyclopedia and was eager to prove his point.

"I'm not a ghost", she said." I did cry a little bit," she admitted.

"I am a devil," he said, confident in his one upmanship.

"See I light the cards and everything" he said, as though that proved it.

Now that the boy agreed with something she said, she refused to believe it.

"You 're just a skinny boy. Devils don't look like that even with those funny eyes. My hair is white, but I'm not a ghost. I'm sure," she faltered.

Turning from that disturbing thought, she asked.

"Where'd you get the cards?".

He grinned, slyly. "I nicked'em," he boasted.

"Where'd you get the light?"

He looked puzzled, as though he had never considered the question. Not wanting to appear at a lost for words, he proclaimed, "I steal it," he boasted. "I steal it from the sun."

The girl child recognized the heart of one like herself. One with nothing must live by your wits, steal the food you eat, the clothes on your back, even your playthings must come by theft. They steal life, steal courage, and when caught must cheat, charm, or lose.

"Don't let the light go out" she begged. "It gets so dark."

"I'm not afraid of the dark," he bragged, "are you?"

Her fearful expression and desperate look as the light suddenly dimmed told him.

"I can make it light all the time." He touched the card again. There was a small glimmer at the tips of his fingers, an intense pinpoint that passed from his finger to the card that he flourished like a parlor magician. Again it was bright, and he laid the card carefully between them. She stared at it in wonder. Her gaze made him look with at the queen of diamonds glowing between him as though he had never seen such a miracle before. They were both silent.

"Let's play," he said, "Let's play blackjack."

She had heard of the game, and he made a show of explaining the rules to her. She plunged in happily, eager to forget her fears. Somehow, whenever she thought she had won, the boy always introduced some special twist in the rules, some quirk that applied only to the rare combination of cards that she believed proved her victory.Whenever she thought he had lost, he claimed that he had won.

"You just make the rules up in your favor as you go along," she accused him.

"Right," he said as though he was surprised that she realized that was the point.

They argued, they fought, they laughed and teased.

But over her shoulders, at the corners of her thought, there was always the fear waiting for her the instant she let go of the welcome distraction of the game. The boy did not seem to be afraid, but he played the game with the abandon of one whose life depended it.

Abruptly, a huge face, seemingly ten feet tall in the enclosed space, loomed over both of them. A head, with steely eyes, high cheekbones, a severe expression (the face of the headmaster when you are summoned to be punished, thought the white haired girl, the face of the judge when you've been dragged in by the cops, thought the ragged boy.) It loomed large and powerful, yet weightless over the both of them. Larger and larger, its mouth forming words, its eyes boring into them, coming closer until it seemed to cover everything, until it seemed to speak directly inside their heads.

She shut her eyes against the monster and thought of clouds, clouds with their weightlessness and their hidden electricity. She dreamed of a cloud of her own emerging and subsuming the giant face, covering its gleaming skull, and drowning out its monster words with thunder.

The apparition wavered, faded, and disappeared within the cloud. Soon the cloud disappeared too. The boy looked at her with renewed respect.

"I saw you do that," he said with both teasing accusation and awed jealousy in his voice. "I saw you make that cloud."

"I can do things too," she announced. "I'm not afraid of everything."

He nodded. But they both looked around carefully before resuming.

They played poker, they played spades, hearts, Old Maid; he showed her card tricks. They played every card game they could think of, and then they played solitaire together. Finally he even agreed to show her how to make the cards glow like he did. She touched them, as he did, but the tiny pinpoint of light never appeared for her as it did for him. Just as they decided to try to build a house of cards they felt another presence.

This apparition seemed mysterious and delicate. It did not inspire fear, for its coral colors formed the shape of a butterfly. But as the girl reached out to touch the floating form, to catch it and hold it, the gentle butterfly seemed to drop away.

Now it was a gleaming coral knife, held by a figure they could barely discern whose eyes were the burning eyes of an assassin. As the knife was raised towards Ororo, the boy picked up a card whose glow was more intense than light and threw it at the figure.

An explosion of light, no sound, but they felt a pounding as the figure vanished.

Betsy Braddock faced her teammates in the Blackbird, bitter disappointment in her eyes.

"I tried to reach them, but it is as the Professor said. " A wisp, a shadow of a soul, then nothing."

Outside, the weather raged uninhibited.

"I'm running out of cards," the boy said.

She saw that this was so.

"I'll light one, then we wait a while 'fore we light another. Better make'em last."

"Can't you light anything other than cards, she cried angrily.

"My hands are too small to light big things." He admitted, embarrassed.

"Cards, I have just enough to light cards. They aren't too big for me".

They sat next to each other. Shoulders touching, she could feel how worn his threadbare clothes were, how thin his arms under the worn coat. She noticed for the first time that the gloves he wore on his hands had half the fingers cut out. Noticing her look, he said,

"When I light the cards, it's like the heat goes out of my hands. My fingers get cold, but I have to be able to touch the cards."

They sat, and waited.

Cyclops turned to his wife. "Jean, you must try."

Jean Grey, an immensely powerful telepath in her own right, despaired as she began to focus. Her telekinesis, though formidable, could not move mountains. Once before, Jean, Storm and Gambit had been entombed, and her telekinesis maintained a bubble of safety while her calm words reassured Ororo, enabling her to free them all. Similar situation, yet now insurmountable.

For even if she could reach their minds, how could they free their bodies? How could they remove tons of wreckage? With intermingled courage and fear, she searched the tomb, possibly to share their dying moments. Would she feel the light wink out in their minds as they did with Annie Richardson, the childhood friend whose death first revealed to Jean her telepathic gift? With a desperate ferocity she reached out.

Suddenly light glowed again in the darkness. A frenzied red-orange, this flame did not come from the boy. Its luminescence flowed and coalesced into a radiant firebird. It made no sound, but they felt its eager all-encompassing power, the thrill of life incarnate, so great, so intense, it ached to possess them. It grasped for their lives, their souls. It hungered for their life force to feed its own.

She clasped both of his hands, and he did not pull away. They had to will it away. Fight it in their minds. Refuse to give in. The firebird yearned to embrace them. But they joined in thought to make a barrier. Together, they built a house of lighted cards infused with lightning to cage the terrible firebird. Entrapped, it struggled within the cage willed from their minds.

Finally it was over. The firebird was gone. But the boy only had a few cards left.

"Let's wait 'fore we do another one," he said.

They did not try to make jokes or play games in the dark. As the darkness surrounded them, he felt her sharp intake of breath, her shivering as she struggled against her fear. He heard the muffled sobs, but he didn't tease her. Strangely, as she grasped his hands, they did not seem like the hands of a boy. And they were cold, as he had said.

Finally the last card was laid between them. He made it faint so it would last. As the final glow began to waver, he stood up abruptly. She was shocked at his movement.

"What, what are you doing ?" she stuttered.

"I'm goin' to get more cards, girl."

"What, how can you? There's no where to go," she faltered. "We're here and we can't get out. There is no way out, no where to go. Please don't go."

"I'm goin' cause I'm tired of your cryin'. "

"I'll stop," she sobbed, "I promise."

"I'm goin'. I'm goin' now." He moved away from her in the darkness. She was paralyzed.

"I can't be by myself," she said, "not here."

His voice again. Faint, but teasing.

"Ain't you comin'," he said with a laugh. "I didn' say you couldn't come too." Then a gleam at his fingertips.

"I got the light," he teased.

She moved forward. A card, and a light was in his hand.

"You said they were all gone," she accused, angry and glad.

With a laugh in his voice, he said, "I always got a card up my sleeve. Come on girl".

The light moved away quickly, and with it his voice.

She followed him, it not knowing or understanding the way they were going. At first she felt crushed, enclosed in the darkness, and found moving forward difficult, hating to move because she felt the weight enclosing her, but he found a way, so she moved as he did. But it seemed hard to catch up. He was always a step ahead, with laugh or the light or his footsteps just before her, enough to show her the way, but she could not touch him or be at his side. But the tiny gleam of light, from his hands, or his cards, or his voice, always seemed to flicker slightly out of reach, but ahead. She ran so as not to loose it. But she had to be fast. First haltingly, then steadily, then quickly, then she was running, running for the light ahead. Running faster than she ever thought possible in that dark enclosure, not understanding the way, only that the light must be followed. She ran and her feet did not seem fast enough to move her, but speed was in her, so she leapt forward, and then her feet did not seem to touch any surface, any solid ground at all. But it did not matter for she felt herself flying. And once aloft she saw the light ahead of her flicker and start to fade. But it was all right.

"You can follow me now," she said, "I know the way. I can fly." She laughed confidently. "I told you I can do a lot of things. I can lift you. I can set us free."

She heard his faint footstep, his voice, again.

"I lit the way, you go ahead." Then the light flickered out.

As the last rages of the explosion gentled under her control, she soared to the Blackbird, joining her teammates, the X-Men, the friends who had last seen her as the doomed tower had collapsed upon her.

She embraced them joyously.

"Ororo, we did not believe you had survived." said the Beast. "Our computers could not get readings through the debris. They located your bodies inside, but trapped, immobilized."

"And when we tried to reach you and Gambit telepathically, our psionic scans were repulsed. Professor X, Betsy, we all tried, but it was no use."

This was from Jean Grey, one of Ororo's dearest friends. "We thought both of you were dead." said Jean. in a voice of mingled joy and pain.

Ororo, in her delight at her freedom, had been distracted from thinking of Gambit. Instinctively she believed he was as safe as she was. They had been trapped together, and she assumed that they had been freed together.

"Haven't you seen him," she asked Beast. "Can't you find him now?"

"Our computers show no further sign of life," said Beast.

Professor X 's face loomed into view from the monitor. "I'm afraid we must accept that Gambit is no longer alive." His face was impassive, but his eyes showed his pain.

Echoing her thoughts, the Beast said. '"It must have depleted him entirely to do that, taken every ounce of mutant energy he had. He couldn't let you die, Ororo. He couldn't let you die, but it must have killed him to do it."

The Iceman mused, "it was his last explosion, but it was his best."

Stricken, they turned towards the dusty remains of the skyscraper.

Tears pooled in Ororo's eyes. Beast embraced her, and Bobby Drake caressed her shoulder. They all had tears, but Ororo cried aloud.

She struggled to hold onto the remnants of the strange dream she had underneath the fallen skyscraper, to retain her last memory of her friend. The darkness. The fear. Herself as a child, not a woman. And the way it started:

But this was not a memory.

Behind them, Gambit stood triumphant, alive beyond all human possibility, with the capricious smirk of the con man who had aced his latest, greatest scam. He grinned and flourished the Jack of Hearts once again:

"Crybaby, crybaby, cry so hard. Crybaby, crybaby pick a card!"


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