by Cascade and Alicia McKenzie
This story fits into what the author's dear friend Lynxie has called the 'Danaverse'stories that involve Sarah's original character, Dana Hawkes, in a major or minor role. So far, the list, in chronological order, is 'A Laying On Of Hands' by Sarah Crauder (available at The Shifting Sands and at The Danaverse), and, by Alicia McKenzie, 'Dreamweaver' and 'True Believers' (both available at The Dayspring Archive). The authors' recommend reading at least some of that so you're not completely confused. 'Epinikion' is set 4-5 years after 'True Believers', and the authors would like to warn you in advance that there are numerous stories forthcoming to fill in that gap. So, the authors must walk a fine line between doing the future-setting justice and giving away too much. Either way, this story's 'Huh? Quotient' is liable to be up there, folks. Apologies in advance, but this was one story that had to be written. :)
DISCLAIMER: Most of the characters in this story belong to Marvel Comics, and are used without permission for entertainment purposes only. Dana Hawkes and her family belong to Sarah Crauder, although Alicia reserves the right to think of herself as their crazy aunt. Gina Bell belongs to Alicia, as do any incidental Askani or strange entities roaming the timestream. Please do not use any original characters without permission. Feedback is adored, and can be sent to either Alicia at firstname.lastname@example.org or Sarah Crauder at email@example.com
Picture a river. Not some tame river, winding through the heart of a city, all of its vigor harnessed and controlled by dams to protect the homes and possessions of oh-so-civilized suburbanites. But a real river, a wild, powerful river cutting through soil and rock, shaping the land. A force of nature, alive and unpredictable, surging with the pulse of the earth itself.
Then multiply that river's size and power by a million, by a million, and you might have SOME idea of what the timestream is like to a traveler lost in it. Probabilities thunder past you as you are carried along helplessly by its currents. You see civilizations rise and fall, wars lost and won, every action having an equal and opposite reaction, 'ripple effects' smashing into your awareness until you don't know which way is up and which is down.
And with every moment, home seems further and further away.
Rachel Summers dodged a wave of distortion. Well, there goes THAT particular timeline, she thought, figuratively glancing back over her shoulder to see an Earth consumed in a nuclear holocaust.
#No great loss,# her fellow traveler sent back sharply, picking up on the private thought. Rachel sighed inwardly, wishing she knew some way to ease Tanya's pain. Since the two of them had found each other in the timestream and bonded, she had been trying. But even in the rare, quieter moments, Tanya was unwilling to open up. It was as if some fire inside was consuming her. Rachel recognized the signs. And she could help, she knew she could. Hadn't she survived her own private inferno? But the sense of calm and serenity she'd had that morning on Muir Island when she'd exchanged places in the timestream with Brian was a swiftly fading memory with every moment she spent in this madness. She and Tanya had to find a way outsoon. The sensory overload would eventually drive Tanya insane, and though Rachel figured she was somewhat protected by her own temporal abilities, how long could that last? No, there had to be a way off this roller-coaster, somewhere
Everything went dark and quiet. Rachel suddenly realized she could feel her body again, hear herself breathe, hear her heart beating for the first time inhow long HAD she been in the timestream? I don't think I want to know
"Rachel?" The voice was soft, and afraid. But familiar, despite the fact that Rachel had only ever heard it in her mind. Reaching out, Rachel heard a gasp as she touched something that felt like cloth. "Rachel, is that you?"
"Tanya? It's all right," Rachel said quickly, pulling Tanya towards her. She put her arms around her companion's surprisingly gaunt form, holding her shuddering friend tightly as she remembered Tanya admitted, not long ago, that she was afraid of the dark. "I don't know where we are, but stay calm."
"It's so dark, Rachel"
"I know," Rachel said softly, trying to project comforting emotions. "But try and look on the bright side." Tanya gave a nervous laugh, and Rachel, despite the darkness, grinned. "No pun intended. But it feels like something might have just bumped us out of the timestream."
There was a sound in the darkness, and Rachel felt Tanya go rigid. They heard it again, and Rachel frowned. That sounded very much like someone trying to light a match!
And then there was light. The weak, flickering light of a candle, held by a tall, handsome, dark-haired man who was dressed like someone out of the Victorian age. He smiled at them almost pitying. "Sorry, luv," he said in a distinctly British accent. "You're not out of it quite yet."
"Who are you?" Tanya demanded, pulling away from Rachel. For the first time, Rachel saw her friend in the flesh. She was startled. Tanya was OLDER than her, probably by at least five years. She was attractive, but there was a sullen hostility in her eyes, and as she studied her companion's face, Rachel sensed an inflexibility that she didn't like at all.
The man stroked his neat mustaches and then pulled a gold pocketwatch out and looked at it. "No time for explanations now, dear lady. You might do well to keep in mind that the universe doesn't owe them to you, in any case." He beckoned them onwards. "We're late for a very important date," he said with a sudden, almost mischievous grin. Tanya hesitated, but Rachel urged her on.
"Rachel, we don't know who he is or what he wants!" Tanya hissed.
"He seems nice enough," Rachel said, pushing her forward. "And what else are we supposed to do? Sit here in the dark and wait for something else to happen?"
"We are rather pressed for time, ladies!" the man sang out. "And if we miss the 7:30 showing, I'm afraid there's no second chances! No late show, tonightor ever. A unique event, this is"
They followed him through the darkness for what seemed like forever. His candle provided little illumination, only a circle of light beyond which there was only the void. Rachel couldn't even tell what was beneath her feet, whether it was a floor, or something elseor nothing at all.
"Here we are, my dears," their mysterious guide said brightly, and tossed his candle into the air. There was a brief, roaring noise, and suddenly, they were standing in a low-ceilinged cave, in front of a fitfully burning fire that was little more than embers. "Final stop, all off the train. I'm afraid it doesn't have a name, but then again, it doesn't really need one, you see."
Rachel looked around in wonderment. The cave wasn't large. There was a small alcove for the fire, like a rough hearth, and in the center of the roughly circular cave, a small pool of water, its surface an unruffled black, like obsidian.
But over on the other side of the cave, there was an opening, almost liek a doorway. Beyond it were stars, but the opening was criss-crossed with countless brightly colored threads. A small child stood beside it, patiently pulling the threads out, one by one. Beside her, a lovely woman frowned as she took each thread from the child, making odd gestures as if she were measuring off portions of the threads. She, in turn, passed each to a much older woman, who calmly cut through them with a pair of scissors, very much like the ones you might find in any kitchen of the twentieth century.
Tanya gave a wild, scornful laugh. "What is this, you fool?" she demanded of the man, who didn't answer. "Some play put on for our benefit? You don't seriously expect us to believe that these are the Greek fates, do you?" A morbid light entered her eyes. "Maybe we've both gone mad already," she said furtively glancing sideways at Rachel.
Rachel scowled at her. "Don't even think it, Tanya." But she was fascinated by the scene before her. The FatesShe had always loved Greek mythology as a child. "So," she said, feeling oddly playful. "You would be Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos, then. Well, I'm Rachel Summers. Good to meet you."
None of the three so much as looked in her direction. The man chuckled, and as Rachel met his eyes, she was surprised by the warmth there. "Lovely to see you've kept your sense of humor, my dear. But they're just here as window-dressingI'm trying to make a point, in case two such brilliant young women as yourself hadn't guessed."
"And what point would that be?" Tanya asked suspiciously. The man knelt down beside the pool, gesturing them over.
"That tempting fate is, generally speaking, not a wise idea," he said in that so-cultured voice. "Something you should have learned by now, Tanya Trask." Tanya flushed, and the man gave them both a thoughtful look. "You two delightful girls are headed for some very considerable responsibilities at the other end of this long journey of yours. Consider this a waystation, and me a humble fellow traveler, here to offer you some friendly advice."
"Why?" Tanya asked bluntly. "What interest do you have in us?"
"Ah, now there's the question of the milennia." He gave them a slow, enigmatic smile, and then turned back to the pool, waving a hand over the surface. "Interest, self-interesthow to tell the difference? How do you know when you've gone too far, when altruism hardens into fanaticism, a blind determination that you and you alone know what's right for the rest of the world?" His voice was soothing, almost hypnotic.
Rachel knelt beside him, fascinated as an image took shape. She found herself looking into the face of a smiling, dark-haired girl, maybe a little younger than herself. There was humor and a lively intelligence in her sparkling eyes. "Who's that?"
"A mutant," the man said, sounding affectionate. "A very special young lady. Not immensely powerfulshe certainly wouldn't rival your family in that way, Rachel, but with very impressive gifts, nonetheless. Unfortunately, she came along a little after your time. Too badthe two of you would have gotten along quite well." Another wave of his hand, and a second image joined the first. Rachel gasped. "Ah, yes. Him, I knew you'd recognize."
"CannonballSam," Rachel said, and couldn't help a smile as the image changed to show the two embracing, smiling at each other in obvious affection. "They'retogether?"
"Oh, yes. Samuel Guthrie and Dana Hawkes, young mutants in love. Terribly romanticone of those predestined things without the nasty baggage your parents had to carry around." The man grinned at her, and waved his hand over the pool again. "And what about him?"
Sam and the girl Dana vanished. The tall, silver-haired man who replaced them awakened a deep ache of longing in Rachel, and she felt tears gather in her eyes. Unlike the other two, he wasn't smiling. There was the same somber, faintly haunted expression on his face that Rachel remembered from the second-last time she'd seen him, when he'd come to Muir Island before the wedding. Of course, he didn't smile much at the wedding, either
"Nathan," she whispered. Tanya stepped up behind her hesitantly, laying a comforting hand on her shoulder. "My brother," Rachel responded ot the unspoken question, wiping her eyes. "How are the three connected? I know about Sam being in X-Force, of course"
"Teacher and students," the man said quietly. "Spiritual father and children. Pick a description, and it shall probably fit." The pool shifted, until all three faces, Nathan and Sam and Dana, were all visible. "Important bonds, in any case. Loyalty and lovesuch rare commodities in your time, my dear girls." He reached out, just touching the surface of the water, and the three images froze, like circles of ice atop the still water.
Then, with a crack that sounded horribly like a gunshot, the image of Nathan shattered. Rachel gasped, and without thing, reached into the pool to try and grab the pieces, to pull them back together. But they vanished into the darkness, melting away as soon as she touched them. When the ice had broken, it had created ripples, ripples that reached out and touched the other two, distorting them. Her attempts to intervene only made the ripples deeper, more violent.
"What is this?" she demanded angrily, not thinking about how she was echoing Tanya's earlier words. The man grimaced, as if he found some task distasteful, but was determined to do it.
"A lesson. A list of do's and do-not's for the chronally-variant, if you prefer the colloquialism."
"Speak plainly!" Rachel felt the Phoenix-effect take shape around her as she rose to her feet. "Enough riddles! Why are we here?"
The man sighed. "To watch." He pointed at the pool, and Rachel looked down to see the X-Mansion on a beautiful, sunny day.
Home, she thought emptily, feeling every bit of the homesickness she had not felt since her departure. Part of her wanted nothing more than to step forward and into the pool, as if it were a portal back to the life she knew and the people she loved.
"After all," the man said, sounding terrible weary. "If you're going to save the world, you have to know what wire to cut. Red or blue, blue or red. Otherwiseboom. And all the king's horses and all the king's men won't be able to put Humpty-Dumpty back together again."
Rachel shuddered, but forced herself to sit down again. Tanya joined her after a moment, still looking suspicious. In the background, the Fates continued on with their terrible business.
And in the pool, new images began to appear
to be continued...
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