The Blaquesmith Chronicles: Part 5
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!
Ma'hali awoke with a start as she felt the transport slow, then come to a stop. She threw herself out of her bunk and slipped her feet into her boots. As she climbed the ladder up to the deck, she heard the familiar huffs of the child behind her. For the month-long voyage, he had been her shadow, with her every moment. She found it inconceivable that she would have been able to bear the trip without him.
As they stood at the bow of the transport, she looked down, seeing miles of green countryside below them.
"Yes, trees. And what are those?" she pointed to the horizon.
#Hills?# she shook her head.
"Bigger than hills."
#Mountains?# the child telepathically asked, astonished. She nodded. He grinned, jumping up and down. A shadow fell over them, startling Ma'hali.
"YOU WILL ACCOMPANY ME." the booming voice of En Sabah Nur commanded. Without question, Ma'hali took the child's hand and followed the High Lord to his personal jetty. The child grew silent, as he always did around his "father". Ma'hali understood about distant fathers. Hers had been so preoccupied being Prelate that he never had any time for his family. She remembered the chilling lack of emotion in his eyes as he had turned and left her in Apocalypse's Citadel.
But now she had the child. And they were family of a sort. No, more than family. In almost all ways, they were of one heart and one mind.
"'Cause you could talk with your mind, Uncle?"
"No, Sara. Because I did not HAVE to talk. We knew each others' thoughts, even without speaking."
"Like Grandpa and Gramma do when they look at each other all funny?" Blaquesmith had to chuckle at Sara Summers' observation of her grandparents' psi-link.
"Something like that." he explained.
Hovering over the trees, Ma'hali and the child gripped the rail of the jetty. Apocalypse stood majestically at the bow, a squad of techno-organic soldiers formed in ranks behind him. His majordomo, the cyborg called Rex, stood at his side, studying a complex scanner.
"The temporal distortion was localized around this area, my Lord." Apocalypse nodded. The jetty circled slowly. The child grabbed Ma'hali's arm and pointed to the horizon. She looked, and saw the telltale plume of smoke that revealed a village beneath the canopy of trees.
It did not escape the notice of Apocalypse either, who directed the craft towards it. Ma'hali prayed silently that if it were a human settlement, that they would all be gone in the fields, or at sea, or anywhere the High Lord's wrath would not reach them.
Despite all her hopes. though, the craft descended into the center of the village. Rex looked at his scanner, then up at Apocalypse.
"The temporal anomalies seem to be settling, my Lord. But what remains seems to be centered around here." Silently, Apocalypse directed his troops into the village. With screaming and kicking, a family of humans was brought to his feet and forced to kneel. The remaining villagers kept their distance, deathly afraid of what was about to happen. Then, the High Lord spoke.
"THERE IS A STRANGER IN THIS VILLAGE. REVEAL HIM, AND YOU WILL BE SPARED. DO NOT..." Without another word, Apocalypse pointed a massive finger at one of his hostages, a middle-aged man. A beam of crimson energy lanced forth, burning the man where he was held. His screams lasted but a moment before he was ashes on the deck of the jetty. His wife and daughters began sobbing uncontrollably.
Ma'hali held the child to her side, clenching the rail in frustration, unable to halt the atrocities. The townspeople muttered among themselves, but spoke nothing.
"WHERE IS THE STRANGER? BRING HIM TO ME, AND YOU WILL BE SPARED." When no answer was given, the High Lord placed his hand on the hand of the mother. Another blast of energy caused her to simply explode in a red mist. He pointed a glowing fist at the two surviving children.
"NOW! WHERE?" The townspeople shuffled back and forth in fear. A look of rage crossed the face of Apocalypse. He drew his hand back.
"Stop this at once!" Everyone turned to see Ma'hali standing in the middle of the deck, furious. Brazenly, she strode to the feet of Apocalypse and glared into his eyes.
"These people don't know anything? Let them go!" Apocalypse's face grew impassive as stone.
"HUMAN." was all he spoke, but the tone of his voice carried a meaning darker than the foulest epithet. Behind him, the child began shaking in fear. His eyes met Ma'hali's, unable to comprehend the reasoning behind her seemingly suicidal actions. Apocalypse turned his fist, crackling with energy to her.
"I SHOULD KILL YOU WHERE YOU STAND." he spoke it as a matter of fact.
"Will you then let these people live?" she asked, choking back her fear. Apocalypse narrowed his eyes.
"NO." In an instantaneous burst of energy, Ma'hali, daughter of Prelate Josavhatta, and the child's only friend in the world, simply ceased to exist. The townspeople began to wail in fear, terrified of a monster who would slaughter his own servant so cruelly.
"SUCH IS THE FATE OF THOSE WHO OPPOSE THE WILL OF APOCALYPSE." He returned his gaze to the shuddering children before him.
"FOR THE LAST TIME, WHERE IS THE--?" A blow from behind actually gained the High Lord's attention. He turned slowly, to see the child standing before him, wielding a rod of metal in an uncanny imitation of his guards' combat stance. He chuckled.
"YOU? YOU WOULD THROW YOUR LIFE AWAY FOR A HUMAN?" The child growled, the first sound anyone had heard him make save for his clicks and whistles. It was a low, feral sound. Apocalypse merely smirked. The child leaped, brandishing the rod like a killing weapon.
The blow never fell. The hulking High Lord caught the boy by the neck and held him suspended in midair. The child struggled in vain.
"NOW." spoke Apocalypse to the crowd. "BRING THE STRANGER! BRING HIM!"
"Her." came a clear alto voice from the edge of the village. A figure cloaked in heavy blankets pushed to the fore. Two soldiers aimed their weapons instantly.
"What was that?" demanded Rex sharply. "Who addresses the High Lord thus? What did you say?" The figure threw the blankets to the ground.
Before them stood a young red-haired woman, clad in a skintight suit of red and gold, with a golden bird of fire emblazoned across her chest. She raised her hands, energy crackling between them.
"I said, 'her.'" she remarked matter-of-factly.
Then the world exploded in flame.
"Shhh!" whispered Nathan Summers. "I think they're STILL awake." Domino arched an eyebrow.
"At one-forty in the morning? I'll have Blaquesmith's ugly head!" Nathan hushed his wife as they crept, silent as thieves, into the freighter's hold. Unseen in the shadows, they listened at Blaquesmith continued his tale to their daughter...
When the child awoke, he found himself by a river, propped against a tree. He instantly reached out with his mind for Ma'hali, but found... nothing. He remembered the jetty, people screaming...
And watching Ma'hali disintegrated at the hands of his "father".
And for the first time in his life, the child screamed. A howl of pain and grief, of utter despair and loneliness. Wishing nothing more than to run away from the pain, he bolted along the riverbank.
A voice behind him cried out, but he paid it no heed. No one could ease his sorrow. He ran, feeling his bare feet slap along wet rocks. He ran hard, until suddenly his feet slipped and the world disappeared beneath him.
He felt himself enter the rushing river, and felt the current drag him under. His lungs gasped for air, but choked with water. His hands thrashed wildly, but in the Citadel, he had never even imagined learning to swim. He knew then that he was going to die, and he welcomed it. As his vision began to go black, he felt a warmth surround him, flickering like flame.
Simple as he was, the child knew fire did not burn under water. He thought he saw Ma'hali reaching down for him as he ascended to the surface of the water...
Then suddenly, he was thrust into the open air, encased in a glowing sphere of force. He found himself slapped down indelicately on the ground, and realized instantly that he was unable to breathe. He felt hands on his back pushing roughly, and he began to spit water weakly from his mouth.
Suddenly, his lungs convulsed, expelling all the water in a painful cough. He rolled over, moaning weakly. As his eyes cleared, he saw the red-haired woman kneelinig beside him. His eyes met hers, and he could almost make out what she was saying. He coughed, and she leaned him up against a tree.
"My name is Rachel. What's yours?" No anger, no threats, just an introduction. The child looked up at her, and wheezed out a breath.
"Cough? No, that won't do, my little friend. I think I shall call you Guff? Do you like it?" The child raised a hand weakly. Rachel clasped it in her own.
"Well then, Guff. Let's get out of here." With that, the child stood, not knowing why he trusted the red-haired stranger, but following her all the same...
"Sara?" Blaquesmith whispered. The girl had fallen asleep in his arms. He smiled, then rose to put her to bed. Finding himself toe to toe with her father, though, surprised him immensely.
"Nathan? Domino? But I... I was just..." Nathan smiled.
"Relax, old friend. We just wanted to thank you for watching Sara." At the mention of her name, the child awoke, reaching out her arms sleepily.
"Momma?" she yawned. Domino took her daughter from Blaquesmith.
"There, there. Momma's come to take you home and put you into bed." Sara shook her head.
"But Uncle Guff's got more stories!" she protested. Cable laughed.
"Later, cutie-pie. Momma's going to take you up and put you in the car and we're heading home. Tell Uncle good night." Sara waved, that exhausted wave only a child can muster.
"G'night." Blaquesmith wiggled his three fingers in salute.
"G'journey, young Sara..." With that, Domino and the child left. Nathan and Blaquesmith sat down and faced each other.
"You never told me how you and Rachel met, did you?" Nathan asked. Blaquesmith shook his head.
"You were too old to hear stories at my knee, Askani'son." Cable stiffened momentarily.
"It's not that, it's just that... I never knew my sister. I wonder what she was like..." With that, he rose and headed for the ladder. "Goodnight, Blaquesmith. And thank you." As he climbed, he heard his friend call out,
"Nathan!" Cable turned his white-haired head.
"Yeah?" Blaquesmith stood quietly.
"She was the most beautiful woman I have ever known." he finally whispered. Nathan Summers smiled a sad smile.
"I bet she was, old friend. I bet she was."
That night, Blaquesmith sat alone in his chambers, rocking back and forth, cross-legged. He closed his eyes and began humming an old Askani melody. His eyes brimmed with tears unbidden, for he had not spoken so plainly about Ma'hali in decades. As he sang the Askani hymn to those lost in battle, he felt the familiar glow of psionic and temporal energy surround him. He steepled his fingers and bowed his head.
"Mother Askani, your servant still waits." As if on the wind, a reply seemed to come,
"...but for a while longer, old friend... a while longer..." Then, nothing.
Reaching the end of his meditation, Blaquesmith stood. Wiping his eyes, he shambled to his bed. As he climbed in, he ran his fingers over the carved medallion around his neck before hanging it off his bedpost. The golden bird of fire glinted in the moonlight.
"Good night, sweet Rachel." he whispered as he fell asleep.
AUTHOR'S NOTES: This is but the first chapter in Blaquesmith's history, and only the introduction to the world of "X+5". So you want to know what happens with Rachel and Guff? Wait until later, gentle readers. Like our protagonist, I too have more tales to tell....
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