Note: This story is based very loosely on the Mutant X universe; it’s more like an alternate universe from the Mutant X universe, I guess.  It doesn’t really follow any of the stories from that Universe, but has certain characters, names and elements from it.  And from here on in most of the other stories, including this one, are going to be rather long.  Sorry about that. ^-^


 

:: II :: The Ties That Bind

 

“You’re not my eater; I’m not your food.  Love you for God; love you for the mother.” (Black Milk, Massive Attack)


       Ah!  Blood.

       Only now, so close to the home and heart of Clan LeBeau, did she shed blood!

       The Rogue lifted one hand to her throat, caught the tail-end of the thin trickle on a single fingertip.  Under the flashing maelstrom of lightning she studied the bead of crimson liquid, green eyes narrowed.  Nothing could cut her; no wound inflicted could cause her to bleed, to shed her life’s essence.  Only this could.  Only this.

       Her curse.

      

       Night in Nouveau Orléans hung livid and foreboding over the dilapidated mansion, caught under a dry storm, an indigo sky luminescent with the soundless crack of fluorescent lightning – but no rain.  The heavy stench of the swamps mingled with the slumberous scent of the humid night; but one stroke of rain could pierce it, and the arid wasteland would disintegrate.  But not this night.  This night the summer heat held on as tenuously and fiercely as the fiendish occupants of this old mansion, and she… she was drawn to them; they drew her to them the way they drew the storm to their ghastly abode.  She could smell them.  She could smell them upon the blood on her fingertips.

       In coming here, she had made a fatal gamble – not the gamble of the life-death variety, for either way she was dead, and her curse could not be lifted.  And yet, standing before the crumbling castle, she possessed one last meagre chance.

       Revenge.

       Under the iridescent flash of lightning she made her way up the dusty pathway to the marvellous house, the living mausoleum.  No human had passed here for many a year; those that came here did not come of their own volition.  Wanderers, vagrants, tramps – these were the unwitting guests of Clan LeBeau.  Those that came willingly arrived armed, and with only death in mind – either their own, or that of the Clan.  It was the bones of these foolhardy men and women that the Rogue now stepped over, bones that littered the winding driveway, a stark reminder that those who sought to challenge the Clan did so at their own peril.  Peril.  The Rogue half-smiled.  There was no longer any peril in this.  She felt herself moving towards her destination as if under the influence of the tides…  The full moon hung, pearly white above the crumbling eaves, conspiring to draw her further into the romantic rapture that all these revenants enjoy – the sweet delights of the night, the somnolent, seductive dance of succubae and incubi.  She shuddered, momentarily, halting her determined course; the lightest of gasps escaped from her throat, shivered, jangled, fled from between parted red lips…  Instinctively, she touched her neck again, only to find it dry of blood – nothing.

       As she lowered her hand a small sound from behind her caused her to go very still.  For a moment the irresistible pull on her dissipated, and she stood, hand shooting warily to the silver knife at her belt.  Another sound; then another.  Her highly trained senses caught five assailants, and despite their natural propensity for blending into the dark, she needed no eyes to see them.  Watchers – the keepers of this place.  Never before had the Rogue trespassed onto the unholy grounds of one of the Clans.  She had heard of the Watchers, of their uncanny strength and agility; but she was battle-hardened, and had fought many of their kind – she did not fear them.  And with her own well-honed senses she was able to make out the location and stance of all five of them; their formation was tatty, incoherent – she could tell that they had not had to defend the Clan in many long years.  That did not surprise her.  After the war between the Six [1] and Dracula, few had been left to challenge the dark kindred – the Hunters had grown fewer and fewer, had been slain one by one.  She was the Last.  The only survivor.  It was a long time since she had faced a Clan member, let alone an entire Clan itself.  But if there was ever a time to face them, it was now.  The Clans had grown slothful and arrogant in their indolence.  The stink of their debauchery hung on the very air she now breathed.  That she should be walking into it, of her own free will, with only a single knife out of her entire arsenal on her person, with only those insidious memories… all these things made her want to retch.  But she swallowed the emotion, forced herself into an artificial calmness.

       The way of the hunter is to accept that he too can be prey…

       She thumbed the knife partway out of its sheath, took in a now level breath.

       “I know you are there,” she spoke out evenly; her voice, though rich, bore the hallmark of sorrow; shades of grey verging on red and black – this the Watchers recognised more than the words that she spoke. “And I warn you to come no closer.  I have not come to fight, but I will fight you if I must.  I come to Clan LeBeau in peace.”

       The shades hissed – it was a sound she had long grown accustomed to.  Laughter.

       “You have the stink and the garb of the Hunter.” Their voice was no more than a whisper, the susurration of wind on leaves. “Why should we believe the word of one such as you?”

       She swallowed.  She would not tell them why they should believe her.  That token was for the Head of the Clan himself, and only he.  She raised her voice again, throwing all the contempt she could into the words.

       “And why should I make my thoughts and desires known to the Watcher?  I will say this again: I come in peace, for there is something I crave from your master.  I do not wish to fight.”

       “You come armed,” they seethed; this time she knew that they had drawn closer to her in the shadows; their forms licked the frayed edges of the pool of moonlight she stood in, her only cover. “Why should we believe that you do not want to fight?”

       The Rogue snorted derisively. “If I had come to fight, would I not have brought with me all the weapons that the Hunters carry?  Would I not have slain you were you stand?  No – I bring my knife only for my personal protection, not for the Hunt.  But if you do not take me to your master, I will have no choice but to end you.”

       The hissing sounded again.  Closer and closer.  Already she was standing in the defensive position of the Hunter – feet set, knife raised, head cocked to one side, ears pricked.

       “Slay us with one knife?” they goaded. “Our master has no interest in what a human craves of him.  You are our prey, Hunter lady.  And tonight, we feast on your blood!”

       They moved in swiftly, encircling her from all corners.  She had to admire them – they were fast, faster than she was accustomed to.  But they were out of practice; and she had slain many of their kind on her journey to this place, with only her knife as a weapon.  They smelled vampire blood on the silver blade even before she whirled to meet their attack.  All the while they had been encroaching upon her, she had been evaluating them, their movements, their posture; it had not been hard to discern the chink in their armour.  It was the tightness of their onslaught that was their downfall.  She raised the knife, pirouetted with alien speed, with the silver swiftness of a bullet.  They did not even have time to scream.  In one whirl she had riven their heads clean from their shoulders.  The heads thudded to the floor, one, two, three, four, five, and rolled about her feet, hissing.  For a moment she thought they were laughing at her.  She looked down at the gaping mouths, impassive.  No – it was the blood seething from their severed arteries, boiling as it touched the air.  The Rogue heaved in a breath, pausing only to wipe the blood from her blade on the hem of her bell-shaped, calf-length skirt. 

       If this was the best Clan LeBeau had to offer her… …

       She resheathed her knife, looked back up towards the black, looming mansion.  Lightning cracked across the sky; it was only then that she realised that she had had an audience.  A young, raven-haired woman was standing in the ornate, pillared doorway, between the contorted statues of two demented gargoyles.  She was dressed in the colour and finery of a Clan aristocrat – purple; a tightly laced bodice and a full, ankle-length skirt, drawn back at the front to reveal the shorter, knee-length kirtle; the long white legs, the dark, embroidered brocade boots wrought with gold.  In her velvet-gloved hand she held a long, silver chain.  At the other end of the chain was hunched a man, the likes of which the Rogue had never seen before.  A feral man, half-naked, his entire body a tangled mess of dark, matted hair, his brown eyes glinting wildly in the moonlight, fixed ravenously upon her upturned face.  He was sniffing voraciously – was it after blood that he lusted, or her?

       “You are human,” the girl spoke after they had exchanged long glances over the driveway.  She was younger than the Rogue had first estimated her to be – perhaps sixteen or seventeen.  Her voice was still the voice of a girl, lilting, musical, bearing the strange quality that all her kind possessed; yet it belied a hint of womanliness, of that dark, rich huskiness so many mortal men found enthralling.  The Rogue shook her head.

       “No,” she replied in a low voice. “Mutant.”

       “Oh.” The girl’s expression was one of enlightenment, of sudden understanding. “Then you are like the Lord of the Clan.”

       Oh?  She had not known that the Lord of Clan LeBeau was a mutant…

       “You wish to speak with the Lord of the Clan?” the girl asked when the Rogue did not answer.

       “You heard what I said to the Watchers,” the Rogue replied, only casting a short glance back over her shoulder towards the blackened, bloody corpses.

       “Indeed, I did.  You said you came in peace.  That there was something you craved from our master.”

       “You are his daughter,” the Rogue stated, suddenly perceiving the truth. [2]

       “Yes.” There was a hint of pride in the girl’s voice as she titled her chin just a notch higher. “I am Raven LeBeau.”

       “Ah.” A slow smile played across the Rogue’s scarlet lips.

       Quoi?” the girl demanded, both annoyed at the faintly sardonic smile and admiring of the Hunter’s composure.  The green eyes moved to rest upon the girl’s own dark pupils, bitter mirth replaying in the brilliant emerald irises.

       “I once knew a woman named Raven,” she explained.  She was not interested in, nor did she expect any reply from the younger woman.  Her gazed shifted to the feral man, who was eyeing her greedily but making no attempt to move from his place hunched at his mistress’ side.

       “And him?” she asked, nodding in his direction.  Raven gave a tinkling laugh.

       “Him?  That is Logan.  He is my pet.  He protects me.  You think I would come and talk to one such as you without protection?  You may have killed the Watchers, but you will not kill Logan.  He is a mutant, like you.” She looked down indulgently at the gnarled, hairy man sitting obediently beside her. “Nothing can kill him.  Nothing can hurt him.  And he has the claws of the werwulf.  He has killed and maimed many of our kind in the past.  But he will not slay me, nor will he slay any of my Clan.”

       The Rogue’s eyes followed the length of the chain that bound slave to mistress.  Silver.  The touch of silver was like fire on a vampire’s skin.

       “He is one of your kind?” she asked quickly, her green eyes still upon those of the feral man.

      “No,” Raven returned nonchalantly. “If that were so, we could not control him.  No man or vampire was able to conquer this beast, but my father was able to do so.  He gave him the bite, when I was still a child, soon after the Six were destroyed.  But he did not drain his life’s essence.  Logan is merely under his thrall – he will do anything for Clan LeBeau.” She tugged at the chain playfully, and Logan whimpered, fawning at her feet. “But the touch of silver pains him, just as it does all vampires,” she explained with a slight smile, baring her dainty fangs. “And for this reason, he will do my bidding.”

       “I see.” The Rogue felt a pang of sympathy for this Logan.

       Then he is mutant too, and his fate is the same as mine…  If only I could break his bonds…

       “You are a Hunter,” Raven spoke conversationally, breaking her train of thought.

       “Yes.” The Rogue nodded.

       “Then you must be the Rogue,” she replied.

       The Rogue looked up at her sharply.

       “How do you know?”

       “All the other Hunters are dead.  You are the Last.  The scourge of all of our kind.  And you have the Mark.” The Rogue knew what she spoke of – the white streak in her hair.  The one that she had worn since birth and that all vampires recognised when they stood against her.  Raven passed her another tight-lipped smile. “We of the Clan LeBeau have all heard of you.  We heard how you destroyed Clan Rasputin in the wars with the Six.  And how you slew Bloodstorm two years ago.”

       The Rogue stood straighter, allowing the bitter memories to flood back into her consciousness.

       “She was a worthy adversary,” she rejoined after a moment.  She did not know why she was so reluctant to speak of this conquest.  Bloodstorm had been one of the pre-eminent vampires; she had even been invited by Dracula himself to be his queen.  The lock of snow-white hair the Rogue now kept in her pouch was the only trophy she had retained of that victory.  Somehow, vengeance for the death of her friends and comrades had not seemed so sweet when she had stared into the dead, white eyes of the famed and beautiful vampiress.  Never before in her life – except perhaps once – had she felt so helpless and alone as that single moment when she had had nothing and no one left.

       “No mortal, no mutant, no vampire had ever conquered Bloodstorm before,” Raven answered solemnly, as if speaking a last eulogy. “There are many here that fear you – and many that hate you also.” She paused, ruminating for a moment. “The night my father heard of Bloodstorm’s death, he swore that you would be his most hated foe until the day he died.  That if one among us were to slay you, it would be him.” Again the girl paused as if to let the words sink into the Rogue.  Involuntarily, the Hunter gave an inward shudder, the ominous sense of purpose coming over her again, that terrible premonition.... “My father and Ororo were lovers.” Raven continued after a moment, by way of explanation.  There was no bitterness, no enmity or jealousy in her voice.  Of course, the Lord of any Clan was allowed his share of concubines, usually mortal women held under his thrall – but mating between vampires was different; the bonds were ones of respect and honour as well as of love.  The Lord of Clan LeBeau already had a wife – Belladonna Boudreaux, the Assassin Queen.  But to take a vampiric lover – there was only one instance for that, and that was the ritual bond formed on the battlefield, between the camaraderie of warriors.  Many years ago, the Rogue had heard tales of the alliance between the wind-rider Bloodstorm and the Cajun thief called Gambit.  Once upon a time, they had been allies of the Six.  In the quiet hours they had staunched and healed their battle-wounds by feeding upon one another’s blood.  That was the bond of love and honour forged between the warriors of Dracula.  In many ways, there was no bond stronger than the sharing of one’s lifeblood with another.

       Raven’s gaze was pensive for a long while, before she suddenly seemed to shake herself from her reverie and returned her dark-eyed glance to the female Hunter.

       “This is why,” she began again in a low, velvety voice. “It does not matter how you come here, or for what purpose – you come only to your death.”

       The Rogue said nothing.  This was true.  Either way, she was doomed.  Either way, she was doomed to her end; all she could seek now was what last vestige of her honour she could salvage.

       Again, the Lady Raven marvelled at the woman’s poise and silence.  This was certainly the Rogue, the proud warrior, the legend, the Last.  Here was one who must die a death befitting of her status, one who must die at the hands of a Clan Lord, no less.  But that she came unflinchingly, and of her own free will… The young Raven could not help but wonder what it was that this Hunter craved of her father.

       A small smile curved the blood red lips, only thinly veiling an underlying and intrinsic haughtiness.  For now, Raven would wait for her answer.  She half-turned in the doorway, the purple velvet train swishing like bat wings upon the dusty threshold.  Gently she tugged at Logan’s silver chain.  The feral man whined, unwilling to tear his searing gaze away from the Rogue.

       Suivez-moi,” she said. [3]

      

       The mansion of Clan LeBeau was still, silent as if untouched by time, as if time contained it, held it to its bosom, caressed it.  Once, when the light of day had peered between the thick velvet curtains, this had been a bright and beautiful house where no shadow could chase you.  Now the house itself was composed only of shadow; its soporific repose haunted your every step, your every word, so that you felt the house was listening, watching, holding, containing, sucking inward, never again allowing an escape: a black void.  Every footfall was muffled by the dusty carpet, once burgundy, now the colour of bloodied ash.  Cobwebs hung from the highest places, clinging to high, worm-eaten beams, to the contorted gilt frames of ancient paintings, to the elegant statues of nymphs in Grecian costume.  The only source of light was the dimly burning candles that lined the corridor; vampires feared the daylight, but candlelight they loved, and for one reason – that in the candlelight the shades and the wraiths came to play, to entertain with their fleeting inconsistency, with their maddening waltz.

       Where the Rogue now stepped she knew no Hunter, no mortal had ever stepped before.  No mortal would ever have dared, and no Hunter would ever have allowed himself to be contaminated by an atmosphere so unholy.  But this was not the source of the Rogue’s sudden sense of disquiet.  She felt that the mansion embraced her rather than repelled her; she felt that every step she made was upon air.  Again the dread impulsion fell upon her and her breath quickened.  Now she walked to the inner sanctum of her doom, and she had no power to stop herself from treading towards it.  Her hand trembled as it moved instinctively to her throat…

       “I should warn you,” Raven spoke, her voice ringing sonorously down the entire length and breadth of the corridor, “that if you should make a move towards me with your knife, Logan will tear you to shreds without hesitation.”

       “I have no intention of hurting you,” the Rogue murmured in reply, glancing up towards the high vaulted ceiling.  She could see the shadows and the silhouettes playing up there; the faintest suggestion of their mocking laughter replayed itself along every nerve and fibre of her body, drawing out a sudden coldness within her.  She shook herself free of it with an effort.

       Beside her, Raven cast her a long penetrating glance; but she said nothing.

      

       At last they reached the old oak doors – the hinges gave with an ominous creak, opening up into the ruinous room.  The first thing she sensed was the stale decay of the grand hall; the opulence of ages was stored here, gold, silver, diamond, marble, ancient jewels and antiques, antiquated tomes and treasures beyond wildest dreams.  Once upon a time their collector and his ancestors had hoarded these things, cherished them, caressed them with loving hands – but now they had been left to be eaten away by the grime and dust of the centuries – always, always without fail there came a time in a vampire’s life where he recognised the baleful void of the many ages that would encompass him, where he would lose interest in all the earthly pleasures life had to offer him.  No mortal would ever understand why the dark kindred would leave a palace such as this in such terrible disrepair; but the Rogue understood, or thought she did.  For a long while she simply stood in the doorway, scenting the acrid odour of the decomposition of years, of wood-rot, of mothballs, of the sweet, familiar, deathly smell of the vampire.  And again the eerie laughter sounded from above; she caught the quick movements of those unearthly shades out of the corner of her eye, the swirling current of shadows as the wraiths swam over the threshold and up towards the further end of the chamber.

       To where she knew he sat.

       Behind her, Raven closed the doors to.  Then she took a candle from its niche by the wall, lifted it up, said: “Come.”

       The curtains that lined the hallway were soft, silken, the colour of diluted blood.  They stirred at their passing as though under a light breeze; but the Rogue sensed now what she would not have sensed before – that amongst the folds of the long draperies hid the assassins of Clan LeBeau, women to be feared and loathed, concubines all, but ones trained in the arts of their mistress queen.  And she felt them ghosting her as she moved past them, following her upon soft and silent feet, the knives loosened at their belts, their stances that of the attack.

       The Rogue ignored them, her thoughts suddenly consumed by other, far more sinister notions.  She knew that even if these women sprang upon her, even if they should be less superior in combat than she, she would be hard pressed to defeat them.  She was drawn to the dais at the far end of the room, drawn to the man that sat there, and the strength of that pull had taken her off guard.  She was trembling; however hard she gripped onto the hilt of her knife, she could not stop herself from doing so.

       Raven stopped, raised the candle.  The whole room ground to a halt.  The wraiths, the concubines gave something akin to a collective sigh.  The Rogue felt the sound penetrate through her like a jolt of lightning, as if she had been punctured to the very core of her being.  Dread expectation gripped her.  Her knees almost buckled.  She looked up.

       At the dais, in the darkest vaults of the shadows, sat the silhouette of the head of Clan LeBeau, the thief once known as Gambit, the man named Remy LeBeau.

       “Father, Mother,” Raven spoke, her tone self-congratulatory, mocking. “I have brought you a prize.”

       There was a long pause.  Presently, two women stepped out from the shadows at either side of the dais, carrying candles set in tall gilt stands, and laid them at either end of the high seat.  At the touch of the firelight the enthroned shadows seemed to come to life, to pour their features into the great chamber, as if the walls had given birth to them and spilled them unlovingly into the world.  It was then that the Rogue realised it – that these two were the shades that had followed her progress outside in the corridor, the creatures that had been laughing at her.  She quavered, wanting to lower her gaze from that of the couple that sat above her, but she could not.

       The man leaned forwards, his face encroaching into the twin circles of light.

       That face, the face that had haunted her dreams in so many shapes and forms for so many years… …

      

       The man once known as Gambit perused the face of the female Hunter before him, just as she did him.  He had watched her advance through the corridor, noting her clothes, her gait as she walked, her posture, every movement she had made.  From her dress, from the Mark, he knew who she was – all here knew who she was.  But for the first time since she had arrived, now he was able to lay his eyes upon her own.  And it startled him for one split second – though he didn’t quite know why – that her eyes were green.

       He had never seen green eyes on another before, whether mortal or otherwise.  But the image of green eyes was like a memory to him, a memory out of time and place… …

       “You are de Rogue,” he said at last, resting his chin into his hand, only slight amusement betrayed in his voice, though his face remained still. “De last of de vampire hunters.” He paused, dark eyes glittering liquidly. “At last, it seems we meet face to face.”

       He still had that lilt to his voice – an accent that had long since been banished elsewhere.  Even the Rogue herself no longer possessed the accent of her youth.  His clung to him like something nostalgic, like an ancient heirloom – something not entirely unfitting in this old and degenerate house.  Despite herself, the Rogue felt strange and sudden tears smart her eyes.

       “My Lord,” she murmured, lowering her head, half out of an instinctive sense of deference, half in an attempt to conceal those tears.  Beside him, his wife laughed at the greeting with a voice light and insidious.  The Rogue recognised it as the laughter that had haunted her in the passageway.  She glanced up at the woman calmly, met the imperious, icy blue gaze of the Assassin Queen with only mild interest.  The Rogue had heard many stories of Belladonna Boudreaux, of how she had sacrificed her humanity to be with the man she loved.  The golden hair, the azure blue eyes could not but speak of a creature far removed from the vampire; but the timeless expression, the cold stare, the long, patient fingers – these were the marks of the dark kindred.  The Rogue could not help but wonder whether she now considered that the price of her sacrifice had been too high.

       “Why do you come here?” Remy LeBeau asked after a moment, ignoring his wife’s mocking laughter. “You, a Hunter, and de Last – why do you come here into de jaws of your enemy, knowing dat we will not spare you?”
       “You have spared me thus far,” she answered quietly, moving her gaze slowly to his.

       “Thus far,” he repeated, a wry smile playing across his lips.  His face suddenly seemed to burst into life.  She got the impression that his face was locked in some kind of stasis, even as the faces of Belladonna, and their daughter, Raven, were.  It was the face of eternal youth, flawless and fixed outside of time; yet there was something in his features that gave the inexorable notion of humanity, as if one cold winter’s day his face had frosted over, yet the essence of his soul still remained underneath the frozen surface.  He was handsome, almost too much so – it was something he had always been famed for; the chiselled nose and cheekbones, the firm jaw line, the sensuous lips, and his eyes… Red upon black, a marker of his mutation, but a trait so much more powerful under the natural dark allure of his kind.

       The Rogue found herself having to fight just to keep still.

       “There is something I crave of you,” she muttered at last, feeling the heat rise to her cheeks.  For the first time in so many long years, the Rogue blushed!

       Behind her, in the shadows, the concubines tittered.

       “Of me?” The expression on LeBeau’s face was half surprised, half mocking. “And what is dis t’ing you crave?”

       “To be your servant,” she returned simply, trying to keep the desperation from her voice.

       A disquiet fell over the chamber.  Only Logan made a sound, whimpering, disconcerted, pawing nervously at his mistress’ feet.  Raven’s look was one of shock.  Belladonna’s gaze was intent, her blue eyes narrowed.  But Remy merely broke into the silence by laughing.

       “You?!  My servant?!” he cried. “Do you t’ink me a fool, Hunter lady?  Why should I trust you?  How do I know you are not here to slay me?  You are a vampire hunter, after all.  You are de Last.  And you are also my greatest foe.”

       “I have a token of my sincerity,” the Rogue replied softly.  Not waiting for permission, she untied the pouch at her belt, brought out the lock of hair she had cut from Bloodstorm’s corpse two years before.  Logan howled when he saw the hair – a long wailing howl that was taken up by the wraiths and the concubines and would have filled any mortal heart with horror.  Even the Rogue herself was unsettled by the sound, the wail of mourning she had heard many times before; but she raised her palm, proffering the lock to Remy.  The white hairs shimmered like the silvery moon in the gloomy candlelight.  Standing there, with the lock in her hand; standing before the head of the Clan, with his retainers lamenting so grievously for one they had lost; she regained a sense of her own power over these hideous creatures, of the terror she could wield over their hearts.  But she remained very still, palm outstretched, offering the gift to him.

       “How do I know it is not your own hair?” he asked very quietly, once the caterwauling had ended.  His face was suddenly ashen.

       “Scent it,” she replied.

       Slowly he rose from his seat and stepped down from the dais to stand before her.  The Rogue held her breath, not daring to meet his gaze, feeling the irresistible pull wrench at her stomach again.  He reached out for the lock; his fingers brushed her palm and she swallowed a gasp, unable to avert her eyes from his own.  She watched as he scented the lock of hair, but as he did so, his eyes were on hers the entire time, regarding her with a curious intensity.  She knew from the look that passed across his face that he smelt the fragrance of Bloodstorm, and that he knew she had spoken the truth.  Her proposal had intrigued him.  He did not understand it, but it intrigued him.  And nothing had intrigued him for a very long time; but for that passing and vague recollection of staring into deep, green eyes.

       “She speaks de truth,” he stated at last. “It is de hair of Bloodstorm.” A tremble went through the room, but no words were said.  Silently, Remy slipped the lock of hair into the pouch at his own belt.  He passed the Rogue one last, lingering look, one that made her knees turn to jelly.  Then he turned to his daughter.

       “Raven, you and Lila and Sekhmet will take dis woman to de baths and make sure she is properly attired and fed.  Den you will bring her to me.  Do you understand?”

       Raven lowered her eyelids, bending her will to that of her sire. “Yes, father,” she returned, but there was a certain distaste to her voice, as if her father’s decision had disappointed her.  Turning on her heels, she nodded to the two concubines standing at either side of the dais, then looked back at the Rogue, simultaneously pulling at Logan’s chain. “Come,” she ordered, and this time she made no attempt to hide the disdain from her tone.  There was nothing for it but for the Rogue to follow, her mind working rabidly against the lull in her senses.

       There is only one role that the female thrall fulfils for the vampiric master…

       As she left the great hall, she did not see the questioning look that Belladonna Boudreaux passed her husband.


       Deep in the recesses of the labyrinthine mansion, the Rogue was fed and cleaned and clothed in the plush yet long-neglected interior of a spacious bathroom.  The concubines tended to her wordlessly, all the while watching her ravenously from dark, seemingly vacant eyes – that is, the vapid stare of all vampiric thralls.  They knew what she was, and what she was soon to be.  The bell-shaped, calf-length skirt, the khaki bodice and jacket, the old, worn leather boots were all discarded for robes of fine, yet timeworn satin.  The silver knife, sheathed, was placed aside with her belt and her now empty pouch.  Throughout all this, Raven sat aside with Logan squatting dutifully by her side, her eyes narrowed.  She did not like the way events were turning – but who was she to question her father’s will?  Raven had no regard for the concubines; she had as little regard for the mansion, for the graveyard, for the family crypt, for the swamps and the dilapidated gardens.  She wanted to run, far away from the Clan.  She wanted to run as far as her legs would carry her.  And she wanted a glorious and bloody end to this woman, the Last of the Hunters.

       But who was she, to question her father’s will?

       When the Rogue’s toilette was done, Raven led her away again, up a grand staircase hewn from once-burnished oak, down long, grimy corridors all born of the same ilk; crumbling plaster, corroded gilt, paintings some of which she recognised, others which she did not – Matisse, Klimt, Renoir, Monet, all pale shades of their former selves.  At last they reached the bedroom; the Rogue was surprised to find that it was light and airy, perfumed with something that struck one only as being human; the draperies were thin, diaphanous; the silk sheets of the bed were cool to the touch.  But the room itself was empty of any presence but their own.

       Raven bid the Rogue sit at the end of the bed; then she bent down beside Logan and lovingly untied the silver chain from about his neck.

       “There are things I must attend to,” the girl informed her, standing again, placing a gloved hand on the feral man’s wiry crown. “But Logan will stay here with you while you wait for my father.  I warn you that if you attempt to deceive us, you will answer to his claws.  Remember this.  He will not hesitate to kill you.”

       She patted the man fondly, then turned and stalked out of the room, slamming the door shut behind her as she did so.  Logan squatted on the rug in front of the Rogue, his face expressionless, his eyes assessing.  Then, without warning, he unsheathed two sets of bony claws from his knuckles with a distinctive snikt.  The Rogue jumped, but managed to keep her composure.  She said nothing, only watched the droplets of blood trickle down the man’s hoary hands and drip onto the carpet.  Since she had bathed, she had felt better; that is, until this moment, when she saw the blood on his hands.  The giddiness came over her again.  Not now.  Not now, when her purpose in coming here was so near… …

       “Why are you doing this?” he spoke unexpectedly.

       If the Rogue had jumped before, now her sense of shock was even more acute.  The voice was gruff, uncertain, more animal than anything else – but the words were human.  She gazed at him, appraising the wild eyes carefully, catching only briefly the spark of humanity within them.  This man, she sensed, had once been a great man, a powerful man, a strong man, one not to be denied; but she also felt the wisps of a not unfamiliar pain emanating from him, mysteries not even he was able to unlock.  And she felt pity for him – not that he would ever have accepted any from her.  She knew he was like her.  She felt a kinship with him, the kind of bond that could only be born from two lonely, searching souls with nothing left to seek.

       “I promise you,” she replied quietly, never taking her eyes from his. “When this night is over, you will be free.”

       His eyes widened as the words sunk in.  No further understanding was needed between them.

       It was several minutes before Remy appeared.  The Rogue had known when he was approaching.  She could feel his presence inside her very bones, stronger than she had before in the great hall.  She begged silently for the transition not to occur, not now, not when she was so close.  Only a little longer; an hour or two was all she needed.

       The head of Clan LeBeau entered into the room as he entered all rooms – he spilled himself into the chamber from the shadows of the corridor as if moulded from blackness; it was, strangely, the light that gave him definition.  The Rogue stood, meeting the gaze of the man who was now her master.  His face was as devoid of emotion as it had been when she had first laid eyes upon him in the hall down below.  He wore a simple, maroon-coloured robe, tied at the waist with a gold sash.  The movements of his body rippled underneath the gauzy material like water, elegant, perverse.  Such grace, such charm these creatures had!  And he, he epitomised it all, all the things she loathed and yet loved.  He gave her a long penetrating look, then pushed the door wider, turning a meaningful gaze toward Logan.  The feral man lowered his head, passing the Rogue a sidelong glance before lumbering obediently out of the room.  Once he had left, Remy closed the door and turned back to the Rogue.

       “My wife thinks I’m being very foolish,” he stated frankly, after a moment.

       “It isn’t every day that the head of a Clan allows a Hunter into his harem,” she answered carefully.  He seemed to find something amusing in her statement.  A sardonic grin twisted his features.  She stared.  He hid his fangs well.

       “What is your name?” he asked at last. “Your real name?” He moved into the centre of the room as he spoke, passing a mirror as he did so.  She noticed that he cast no reflection in the glass.  There was a sudden pang in her heart, an odd burning.  Her throat constricted.

       “I have no name,” she answered, her mouth suddenly dry. “I’ve had no name since I was ten.”

       He seemed to understand that.

       “Den what do people call you?  Other den de ‘Rogue’?”

       She hesitated, feeling suddenly uneasy at his questioning, feeling it to be more intimate than anything else that would follow between them.

       “I had a man once.  He used to call me…Anna.” She forced out the word despite the sudden lump in her throat.  She raised her eyes to his again, her voice suddenly accusing. “His name was Erik Lensherr.  He was slain by your Clan.”

       Remy nodded once, impassive. “I remember,” he said. “He was a strong one, a worthy mate for one such as you.” Then he stroked his chin thoughtfully, saying: “Anna.  I do not like dis name.  It does not suit you.” The smile creased his face as he looked at her again. “Dere is too much balance in it.  Balance is a t’ing for vampires, not humans.  I t’ink ‘Rogue’ is de name dat suits you better, non?”

       She refrained from answering.  Again she felt the subtle intimacy of his words and they angered her, but she could not afford to break the tentative trust between them now.  She felt the silver knife in its sheath where she had strapped it to her right thigh before coming here.  It had been easy to slip it on, when the concubines were not looking.  She could be a master of silence, when she wanted to be.  She was not the last Hunter for nothing.

       “My daughter says you are a mutant,” he questioned her again when she did not answer. “What is your power?”

       “I am like you,” she replied, feeling an oddness in her own admission. “A vampire.” She paused, seeing his quizzical look. “But I leech souls, not blood,” she continued. “And what I steal I steal through the touch of my skin.”

       “And what use would I have for a woman I cannot touch?” he asked directly, as he began circling her, appraising every inch of her.

       “It is a power I can control,” she replied, clenching her teeth.

       “I see.” She knew that he knew that she could not bear to absorb a vampire, that if she did so she would become one herself.  Besides, her powers were a thing she had not used in many years – she had grown a deep aversion for the traumatic process that absorbing another entailed.  She waited until he had halted, having finished his perusal of her; his gaze was now penetrating, all mirth gone from his countenance. “So,” he questioned, his voice harsh. “Tell me – why are you really here?”

        So he knew already – or at least, he sensed it.  How much he had sensed, she was not certain.  She considered fishing for what he knew or presumed to know; but time was of the essence.  She must be brief, concise.  Nothing superfluous here.  An inkling of strength returned to her.

      “I am under the thrall of a vampire,” she said, meeting his gaze boldly, her voice now assured.  His glance was abruptly sharp, alert.  She knew she need make no further explanation.

       “But you display none of de signs…” he said on a breath, paused, began again. “If dat was de case, den you would not be here.  No thrall can leave its master.  A Hunter should know dis.”

       “You do not understand,” she replied patiently, averting her eyes again. “I was bitten by this vampire when I was only a child.  He did not bite me to enslave me, but rather as sport…  And he did not drain me.  As a child, I was able to remain human, to retain my humanity.  But now the bite begins to take effect… my blood is turning… soon I will be his and I will be human no longer.” Any further words she could have spoken were caught on the sudden lump in her throat.  She said no more, but would not look at him.  He felt a pang of sympathy for her, though he knew not from where it was born.  He understood her now, at least that part of her that stood before him.  He understood the Rogue, the Hunter.

       “What I ask for is your protection,” she continued, still looking at the floor, “from this man whom I loathe.  I cannot undo what has been done to me, but I can thwart him, at least in part.  I offer you my body.  In return, all I ask is that you shield me.”

       She finished, raising her eyelids to steal a furtive glance at him.  He returned the look, his dark eyes now narrowed, blazing in the dim candlelight, a frown distorting his lips. So dis is why she comes here.  Or is it?  For a woman such as her to sell her honour like dis…  No.  Dere is something else here…

       “You ask me to protect you?” he returned at last, disbelieving. “And why should I do dat?  Dere are many women I may choose from.  And you are my enemy.  You are de one who slew my beloved Bloodstorm.  She is de one whose wounds I licked on de battlefield.  Do you understand de import of such a bond?!”

       “I do,” she replied quietly, lowered her eyelids again.  Unexpected tears welled in her eyes.  Why did she remember now?  Why did the memories haunt her, when she was so close?  Of course, it was that closeness that caused her to recall them.  She could not help it.

       “Den I ask you: what need have I of you?” he questioned, his tone cutting.  Something in his voice renewed the sapped strength in her.  She raised her moist eyes, the green irises suddenly flaming.

       “I am a Hunter,” she said, pride ringing in her voice. “The Last.  They will say you conquered me, that you freed the land of my kind once and for all.” She halted, and whatever strength she felt she had regained suddenly slipped from her like sand through an hourglass. “Please,” she begged, imploring him with her eyes. “I cannot have people say that I was one of the dark brood from childhood.  I cannot have them call me a vampire that took the guise of a Hunter.  The Rogue must pass from the world of mortals with honour.”

       “Dere is no honour in dis,” he shook his head, though something in him seemed to have relented. “If you were to speak of honour, you and I would battle now, to de death.”

       “In truth, I have no honour left,” she answered quietly.  He stood, stroking his chin reflectively, as if evaluating the statement.  When next he spoke, his voice was silky soft.

       “Show me de marks,” he said.

       She knew instinctively what it was he asked for.  Lifting her hair from her neck, she bared the puncture marks to him, the ones she had hidden from the world for so long.  She was disconcerted and shocked to realise that since he had entered the room, they had begun to bleed again.  Her heart pounded in her chest.  He would scent her now – he would mark the scent of her blood in his mind, she would be his and all would be lost.  All would be lost!

       Remy’s eyes were on the smooth, white dip of her neck, his gaze greedy.  He noticed that she quivered like a candle on fire – why was she trembling so much?  She had come of her own free will after all.  She knew the ways of the vampire.  She knew what they craved most.

       “Your wounds are bleeding,” he stated neutrally.  Her eyes darted to his, confused, bewildered.

       “You will not drink of me?” she half gasped.

       “Is dat a part of our bargain?” he returned, allowing a grin to light his face.

       “Then you accept…?”

       “You are very beautiful,” he noted, both by way of explanation and by way of compliment.  He was amused to see her blush. “I have never seen a woman with green eyes before,” he continued, wanting to catch her gaze again, if only to rekindle the strange half-memory within him; but her glance remained averted from his.  He grinned at her sudden display of reticence.  He sensed it was a long time since she had felt the touch of a lover. “And you have a knife,” he added humorously.  She stiffened, but he made no move towards her.

       “You will not take it?” she asked after a moment, her voice tense.

       “Would I unarm my enemy?  Is there honour in that?”

       Her expression was one of surprise. “Do you consider what passes in the bedchamber a battle?” she asked candidly.

       “There is a certain violence to it,” he conceded, smiling slyly at her, wanting her reaction.  She swallowed hard, partly at the innuendo, partly that her treachery had been discovered.  That too amused him.  Mortals, he thought, were so easy to read.  Without warning he reached out, touching her throat, and she froze – the candle suddenly put out.  But he merely caught the drop of blood on his fingertip, trailing the digit upward to gather the rest of the liquid that had pooled in the hollow puncture wound.

       “Shall we sign de contract, chere?” he asked softly.  Her body remained frozen.  Only now, when he had accepted all her terms without question, did she show fear.  But she made no move to stop him.  And with great care he lifted the bloodied finger to his lips, tasted the red, red liquid she had bled for him.

       What does a vampire taste on the blood of another?  This is what they taste.  They taste memories; they taste the very essence of a mortal’s soul.  They taste the thing that they have lost – the thing that once made them human.  That is why they crave it so.  And on her blood, he tasted the thing that he had lost long ago.  The half-memory, of green eyes…  No, it was no dream, but real, unadulterated memory.  Sudden confusion had gripped him; his glance was sharp as he caught her gaze once more, so sharp that his eyes seemed to leap with crimson flame.

       “I have tasted you before,” he uttered, a part of him in part unravelled, in part redone.  This is a thing vampires dread – stark and blatant remembrance.  He took her by the shoulders, suddenly searching her face for something he knew he must one day recognise. “I have met you before.”

       “No,” she replied.  She knew the word had come too quickly, too forced.  Yet suddenly he seemed uncertain.  For she knew the way vampires see things – half their lives are made of dreams, even when they are awake – and when they live long enough, they can no longer tell what is dream and what is memory.  And even to her, those bitter memories – now she barely knew whether they, too, were real or not.  But still, they both felt it.  An invisible bond, too dreadful to speak of, an impulsion too insidious and wicked and unformed to be articulated.  This is what they had both feared, and what she had feared most – that the indifference necessary to this contract would be shattered; and now it was shattered, and the glass shards lay scattered on the floor.

       But he had not drunk of her.  And that was the most important thing.  If he had drunk of her, the mere minutes she had left would be gone and all her chance, all her desperate risk, would be wasted.

       “Tell me the name of dis man who enslaved you,” he finally spoke, his voice low, husky, his hands dropping from her shoulders to the bare skin of her upper arms; the touch of his hands was cold, yet strong, yet tender, a true and fleshly magic.  And in this she knew, there was no way of turning back.

       “First, I will fulfil my side of the bargain,” she whispered back. “Then I will tell you who he is.”

       No more words.  He unclothed her, and she let him do so.  It was only when he kissed her in the way mortals kiss one another that she knew the certainty of that bond between them; that she knew that before the night was over, her life would end with one suppressed, brutal, and moreover, decisive recollection.

 


       For a long while afterward, she lay there, with her back to him, feeling the lull in her senses, the irresistible tide she was caught inside, that she was unable to escape from.  Such transports of delight, such ecstasy did his touch already give her!  But a part of the Rogue was still there.  And now she knew it to be true – she had no honour left.  Only vengeance.  And despite the giddying bliss she felt simply lying by his side, the core of her heart was focused upon this one bright, burning thing – vengeance.  She had only one course of action now – anything else was inconceivable.  She could not break the curse on her, the curse that already pounded through her very veins.  But she could seek vengeance for it.  Vengeance.  Vengeance.

       So the mantra went.

       His hand touched her back.  She almost crumpled – the pull he had on her was that strong.  If that bright core had not burnt inside her, she would have turned and fallen back into his arms.  No – she had an inner strength.  She was the Rogue.  And all her strength must now be gathered to speak.

       “Rogue?” he said.  He spoke the word as if it were her real name.  How strange and enthralling!  Her heart burned.

       “I will tell you who it was that enslaved me,” she managed to speak, at last.  She was amazed at how different her voice seemed.  So withered, so broken.  Behind her, he made no reply.  But his hand almost felt warm upon her back.  She felt it.  She was turning…  She couldn’t turn now!

       “He was your father,” she continued, forcing each word out so that each syllable struck her own ears with a peculiar, ringing clarity. “Not Jean-Luc, but the man who sired you, who left you to Jean-Luc.  He was the one who bit me while I was still a child.  I belong to Clan LeBeau.  I belong to you.”

      She felt his hand withdraw, slow, wary, measured.  This was the signal, the sign, the all-decisive turning point.  And he understood.  She knew he understood.  Now the ominous purpose had met its reckoning.  Now was the time for honour, for glory.

       Quick as the Hunter that she was she rolled over, the silver knife flashing like lightning in her hand.  And it was only when she had plunged the blade into his heart that she saw that he had rolled towards her too, and that in his hand his own knife was also poised to strike.  He had known!  He had known!

       A wail took up through the mansion, a horrible thing to hear, the beginning and end of all nightmares – the Rogue felt that it had started within her very self, that it reverberated within her own soul and outward, into the soulless bodies of the phantoms that called this place home and this man, their master.  Her master.  But she made not a sound to bewail the loss.  And neither did he.  He dropped his knife onto the mattress beside him, his red on black eyes gazing into her own green ones as the blood bubbled from his wound and sprayed onto her breast.  It was only then that the clarity long bereft from his life returned to him, on the knifepoint of certain death.

       “I remember you,” he murmured.

       She half smiled, wrenched the knife from his breast, turned it towards her own.

       “I knew you would,” she said.


*     *     *     *     *

       Even the immortals know this: grief is the destroyer; it is also the healer.

       If she had had been able to grieve the death of her father, she would have done so, had it not been for the infinite strangeness that had come over her.  There she lay, aware of every detail with an odd, brightly-hued clarity – that she lay upon a highly grained wooden floor in the living room of her house in Caldecott Country, Mississippi, staring into the livid face of her father’s white and lifeless corpse, the eyeballs rolled back into the eye sockets, the mouth slightly open, caked blood gathered at the wounds on his neck.

       This ghastly picture would haunt her for many, many years to come; but not as much as the puncture wounds that she now felt to grace her throat, the ones from which she now felt the blood trickling down with a maddening slowness that threatened to throw her now fevered, hyperactive mind into insanity.  Her only thought was this: if only someone could stop the blood from trickling!  If only someone could end this endless action of the blood coursing down her neck, this thorn in her side, this splinter in her mind!  If only someone could wake her from this dream, from this living unreality that was the vampire’s kiss… …!

       She was dimly aware of the presence of another in the corner of the room; the faint, stifled monotone of someone weeping, a lone dirge sung for her.  The vampire’s son thought her as dead as the father.  And again, she questioned: was she dead?  Was this what it felt like to be dead?

       She struggled with the vain hope that she was not.  It took an age to move one muscle, an eternity to open her mouth and say:

       “P –”

       The weeping stopped.

       “P-please?”

       She heard the muffled thud, thud, thud of the boy crawling across the wooden floor and into the periphery of her blazing vision.  At first she was surprised – he did not look like a vampire, but for those eyes, red on black, the kind that vampires did not possess but should have.

       He stopped very close to her, put his face within an inch of hers, silent, considering, staring into her green eyes for a very long time.  Then he said: “My father hurt you.”

       She felt it then; a strange emotion, a mingling of hate and gratitude, that he was both the son and her comforter.  For since he had spoken the unbearable clarity had dulled somewhat.

       “Am Ah dead?” she asked at last.

       “No,” he answered shortly. “My father didn’t drain you, he only tasted you.  In time, de strangeness will pass.”

       Both knew the unspoken – that vampires could not recall the innocence of childhood, that the taste of a child was something forbidden and feared amongst them.  Even in him, in the boy vampire, she sensed that he was an adult too soon – as, now, was she.

       “What’s your name?” she asked.

       “Remy,” he replied.  It was a kindness, to give her his name. “What’s yours?”

       “Mah name…”

       She paused, confused.  Already she had forgotten.  He seemed to understand that.  He did not press her.

       “Here,” he said gently, shifting her head into his lap. “I will make amends for what my father did.  I will stay wit’ you ‘til de strangeness has passed.”

       Then he did a very peculiar thing, something that only in later years she would come to understand.  Very slowly, very deliberately, he bent over and licked the blood from the wounds on her young neck, cleaned the cuts for her with the most tender of gestures.  And she shuddered, not knowing what it meant, but feeling it; perhaps he did not know what it meant either.  Neither would know what it meant until very many years later, when the bond would be broken before it had begun.

       Across the room, in mid-action, she caught their reflection in the mirror; their reflection, hideous, malformed, blood curdling – for he cast no image.

       She knew then, that this was how it would be.

      

       That he would remain invisible, until the very last hour of the very last day of her life.

*     *     *     *     *


 

[1] Alternate versions of the Beast, Iceman, Archangel, Storm, Havok and Madelyne Pryor.

[2] In the Mutant X universe, Raven is actually the adopted daughter of Gambit and Belladonna, but I left it ambiguous.

[3] ‘Follow me’.

 

Next: “Sins of the Father” – Rogue finds herself pregnant, bringing along some sinister implications…

 

Home | Back to previous Thread | Onto the next Thread