part of the new "X+5" series
by Matt Nute
THE DISCLAIMER! Yes, the disclaimer! Be warned that the characters within are property of Marvel Comics, unless they're not, in which case they're property of me, and are mine, yadda yadda... Feel free to archive this story, just let me know first!
It all began in Africa. To be exact, somewhere in Egypt, about ten days walk from the Old Cairo settlement. The centuries of war had reached even to this desolate corner of the globe. What was once the proudest city on the continent was reduced to ruins, home to squatters and nomads. The few souls brave enough to leave the settlement were never heard form again. Whether they made it to some legendary oasis and a better life; or died a horrible death in the radiation zones, no word ever reached the settlement.
And so it was, when the two humans strode into the blowing sands, no one wished them good journey, there were no prayers of godspeed to guide them. The other settlers merely watched with impassive eyes. One less family to take up space, one less target for the High Lord's extermination squads.
The High Lord, En Sabah Nur, usually overlooked the insignificant humans that inhabited the desert ruins. There had been no cullings in recent months, yet still, few dared walk abroad after dark, fearing the sound of techno-organic killing machines stalking the night.
"Tek-no-gannic?" interrupted the young child sitting at Blaquesmith's knee. "Like Daddy talks 'bout how he useta be?" Blaquesmith stopped his tale and patted his "niece" on her head.
"Yes and no, Sara." he explained. "Your father could control the horrible virus inside him. These poor souls were not so strong, and became monsters."
"Okey. More story!" So Blaquesmith continued...
The two refugees walked for days, each taking turns carrying what appeared to be a small bundle of rags with them. The woman appeared to be deathly ill, yet they both walked with determination, almost madness, towards an unseen destination.
One day, while stopping during a rare break in the sandstorm, the woman slumped to the ground. Her husband knelt by her, uncovering her face. The skin lesions that were a telltale sign of radiation poisoning were clear. He closed his eyes and swore silently. He had miscalculated their route, and led his family through a rad-zone. Soon, he knew they would all be dead, unless they could make it to the oasis, where the legends said that all diseases would be cured, and there would be no hunger or fear.
He had no choice now but to believe. He helped his wife to her feet and took her bundle from her. Unwrapping it slowly, he smiled to himself. The child was awake, but not crying. It reached up to its father, perhaps out of recognition, or simple instinctive need for solace. The man wept silently, taking his son's tiny three-fingered hand in his own.
Three days later, the man slowly trudged on. His wife lay dead miles behind, having succumbed to the sickness only hours ago. He felt himself growing weak, and the rashes from the radiation sickness chafed and bled with every step. There was no sight of any oasis, but he had hope. For his son, he must have hope. And so, despite the nausea and pain, he strode onwards.
In the distance, he saw something through the blowing sand. Was it the oasis? His heart leapt with joy and hope. He began running, holding his son to his chest. The child awoke, crying out in startled fear. He hushed the baby and limped for the horizon.
Suddenly, he slowed, coughing. He dropped to one knee, wheezing for breath. It seemed as if all strength had left him. He held his son to his chest as he began hacking and coughing up dark spittle from his lungs. Placing the baby on the ground, he fell forward, defeated. Looking to the sky, he prayed to any gods that would listen.
"Save my child. I beg you. Let him live. Have mercy." As if in response, a shadow fell over him. He looked up through the blurred eyes of a dying man. All he could see was a vaguely humanoid shadow.
"Please..." he croaked. "For mercy's sake..." As his awareness of the world faded, he imagined he heard deep, booming laughter.
Then all was black.
"Did he die, Uncle Guff?" Sara Summers interrupted once more. Blaquesmith sighed and nodded. Sara wiped a tear from her eye. "Is this a sad story then?" Her "uncle" leaned his head back.
"It is a _true_ story, Sara. Now be still, for it is but only begun..."
The massive form reached down to pick up the child from beside the corpse of its father. Pulling the swaddling cloth away from its face, the figure gasped in astonishment. The baby was obviously a mutant, deformed and inhuman. For a long moment, the eyes of the infant met the eyes of the oldest being on the planet.
Then, for the first time in perhaps a century, En Sabah Nur smiled.
"Behold, this one is a survivor. As Baal of the Crimson Sands chose me, I shall choose this one." With that, the High Lord Apocalypse cradled the infant in his arms and strode through the sandstorm to his Citadel.
TO BE CONTINUED.
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