Disclaimer – X-Men: Evolution belongs to Marvel and KidsWB, not me. This is written without intent to make money, but with oodles of respect for those who birthed the original products.
'Fortune's Fool' By Scribbler
The sewers were pitch for the most part – a blackness lanced through only by thin pinpricks of light. These were at strategic points where workmen needed to access ducts and other underground workstations that only they knew the true purpose of. Other than this, darkness reigned.
Curved walls ran with slime and dense lichen sprouted from the brickwork, sucking all required nutrients from the filth. Waste abounded in all tunnels that made up the subterranean warren. Sometimes the scurrying of rats broke the monotony, but thick silence was usually the norm in this dark, dank place, where sunlight never ventured and people seldom went. Even when they did cross the threshold, only those who knew the way and could stomach the stench took refuge there.
Yet now a curious splashing could be heard, accompanied by the sound of ragged breathing.
Around the corner bounded a small figure, hand pressed against the wall for support. Foul water splashed up all about it every time it took a step.
It paused; head raised and chest rattling as it cast around to take stock of the surroundings. Pointed ears flicked back and forth in agitation. It seemed torn, unsure of which way to go.
"That way!" A loud voice rang out from the passage just left, and the ears lay flat as the figure picked an arbitrary direction and started running again.
No sooner had the spot been vacated then a trio of shapes followed after, yelling as they sighted their quarry ahead. It heard them and dropped to all fours, able to move faster that way. It kicked up spray and dodged left and right as it had been trained, so as to confuse the pursuers in the poor light.
Unfortunately, the one who had taught that manoeuvre was amongst the three, as well as two others also ruthlessly trained in the ways of escape and pursuit. The tactics did little but slow the prey down,
A carefully aimed knife went singing into the water just inches sort of its hand.
It relinquished the strategy and opted for a flat out gallop.
It nearly lost its footing as it turned the corner into a narrow passage devoid of even faint slivers of light, and clawed through the grunge like a mad thing to maintain its grip. The squat form disappeared into the gloom with a scrape and a hiss.
Then, quite suddenly the splashing of frenzied footfalls fell away into deathly quiet.
The hunters slowed as they drew near. The foremost stooped to retrieve where her knife had fallen. She was a tall woman, of broad stature, with dishevelled black hair and a piratical patch covering what remained of one eye. The knife dripped; an almost musical noise in the intense silence, and she gripped it in one hand, signalling to her cohorts that they should stop.
The remaining pair looked at her quizzically.
She motioned that they get behind her, as she slotted the blade into a notch at the end of a metallic bo-staff and crept forward.
This passage was a dead-end, they all knew, and the water barely rippled as it moved around their ankles. They were no strangers to the upper tunnels, though they rarely ventured there if they could help it. They worked speedily and efficiently, not unlike a pack of wolves.
The eye-patched female pressed her back against the wall and glared at the others to do the same. She was evidently the leader of the tiny group, judging by the way she carried herself and exuded authority. Her breathing barely rose above a whisper, yet her pulse raced with a mixture of anger and adrenaline.
She schooled herself into a state of readiness and counted to three with a warrior's patience.
Then she leapt out with her weapon readied in hands that clearly knew how to use it.
Except that there was nobody there.
For a moment she faltered, but only for a moment. The two behind her cocked their heads and blinked, the gloom providing little problem for their specialised eyesight. That was why she'd chosen them for this chase, after all. That, and they could keep up with relative ease when she was in full-blown hunt mode.
Imperceptibly flicking a finger, she moved off. They followed her as a tightly knit unit. The only exit was the tunnel mouth. Without having to say a word, one of them kept an eye on it. He was a burly male, with rounded shoulders and gangly limbs that, when offset with his chalk-white skin, made him look like nothing so much as a walking corpse.
The other two sets of eyes roved around, methodically searching for their apparently escaped prey. It was as if they picked apart the shadows with their gaze and then sent them whimpering away when they proved fruitless.
The passage was tapered, ending in a small vertical grate choked with refuse. The walls seemed to press in on them on all sides like a concertina. Yet theirs was the advantage, since nobody, no matter how slight, could get past them in such a constricted space without being noticed. If they had their way, one of those contained in here would never leave it alive.
The leader held up a hand and they halted. The last of their unit, a burly female just an inch or two shy of the male's height, but with a compact musculature he lacked, glanced up at her from beneath a gash of black hair. "What?" she hissed in an oddly sibilant voice.
The leader said nothing, but tightened her grip on her bo so that the metal squeaked under calloused palms. Her hyper-keen hearing strained, as did her remaining eye, and a shadow briefly passed over her features.
On impulse she looked up.
She let out a low growl, as something small and furry dropped from where it had been clinging to the arched ceiling like a limpet.
It landed on the other female, a mass of flashing teeth and claws, until the leader quickly brought up her bo and swung it like a club. Metal connected with skull, and the snarling figure went flying with a sickening crunch. It landed further up the passage, rolled once, and then didn't move again.
The eye-patched woman spared a momentary look at her companion. Both her cheeks, pasty from lack of sunlight, were scored with deep cuts. Blood leaked profusely, and a half-moon slash was perilously close to her left eye, but the eye itself had been mercifully left functioning. She'd scar, but live to heal, which was more than could be said for some.
The leader transferred her gaze back to the inert bundle of rags and yellow fur, half-submerged not three feet from her boots.
Ever the pragmatist, she approached with caution, bo at the ready and mentally checking off the cache of armaments secreted about her person. She was skilled in each, but the bo remained her preferred choice. She was deadly accurate with it both in and leaving her hands. Not that she left bodies lying around if she could avoid it, but she hadn't survived for so long down here without learning tricks no person should ever have to know.
She inched closer.
Still nothing moved.
Experimentally, she extended the bo and tapped at its side, but stepped back hurriedly as the 'body' sprang up with a snarl ran at her. Her reflexes were better than most, and the suspicion of playing possum stood her in good stead. Even so, despite this preparation she only had time to raise her arm as the shape struck, a veritable typhoon of whirling talons and gnashing teeth. There was no time for a counter attack. Sharp fangs fastened in her wrist like a steel trap.
She grunted in pain and turned to ram her unwanted burden up against the wall, although whether she was trying to dislodge it or breaks its spine was open to debate. Yet it was locked on tight and refused to let go, growling around the mouthful of torn flesh and welling blood.
The other female made to pry it off, but instead the figure abruptly turned on her, launching itself quite suddenly to land squarely on her chest. The force and unpredicted nature of the onslaught sent her crashing backwards into the mire.
She thrashed as a hand pressed to her throat, keeping her mouth and nose underwater, and searched blindly to push it off. Yet the pressure remained, and her struggles weakened visibly after a few oxygen-deprived seconds.
The eye-patched woman recovered rapidly from her attack, though her arm still dripped blood. She rushed forward, bo set. Out of the corner of her eye she saw the taller male do likewise, and they moved into a pincer-like assault, coming at the small figure from two different sides – she from near the grate, while his lanky form blocked the entrance and only exit.
The small figure looked up, furry face slicked with water and green slime. In the space of a few short seconds the hunted had become the hunter, and now the two pursuers sought to turn the tables back in their favour.
Yet instead of running from their attacks, the fanged mouth seemed almost to smile. The owner exerted more pressure on the other female's neck. Bubbles rose and popped into the remnants of a choked yell around them, and the strange toothy grin widened.
Too late, the leader female realised what it was doing. By the time she unleashed a warning cry the transformation had begun.
The other female's legs lengthened, joints reversing, and a massive waving tail ridged with wicked looking spines whipped out of the water. Since she couldn't see to steer clear of anyone, the lashing thing knocked the leader back. She collided with the grate, metal squares biting into whatever flesh they could reach. She retained her grip of her bo, but she could take no more than three steps forward, as the swelling bulk of her companion filled the narrow tunnel.
She caught a flash of slick yellow and grinning fangs just before bulging lizardine scales obscured her vision completely.
The transforming female's head broke the surface. It was now no longer even vaguely humanoid, but that of a roaring dragon straight out of a storybook, replete with roughly hooked snout and flashing gold eyes. The furry figure had wisely jumped from her chest when she first began to shift, and now stood looking audaciously up at her.
She rumbled deep in her throat, trying to right herself and do violence to the one who had nearly drowned her in a few inches of water, only to realise as her leader had that the transformation had been orchestrated solely because of the narrowness of the passage. The limited space ensured that she couldn't move, thereby taking out two of their team in one go and leaving the third at a disadvantage.
A frustrated bellow followed this insight, and though she started shifting back to human it was too little too late.
The wan male swung with a ham-like fist, but the small figure was lithe and darting and easily avoided the blow. He was no fighter; not really, and his reaction time was rather slow. It ducked under his arm and lunged at his chest, but he raised his knee at the last second and caught it a lucky, if crushing blow to the ribs. The figure gasped openly, struggling for air that was quickly expelled in a growling, yet peculiarly feminine screech.
It dropped to all fours, crouching in the muck and taking a fraction of a second to calculate its next move. The ears flicked back at the familiar schlooping that signalled the change from dragon back to human, and it bared its fangs in a silent snarl. Then it turned to dash back up the tunnel, towards the dead-end where there was no escape.
The tall male blinked in confusion, and hesitated in chasing after, unwilling to abandon his guard of the exit but not understanding what the quarry planned. He watched through narrowed eyes as the furry figure leapt, deftly evading what remained of the dragon-woman's claws to land on her diminishing belly. There it spun on its heel and leapt again in the other direction, using the extra height to propel itself – not upward, but in a sliding dive that took both by surprise.
The lanky male was knocked off his feet as a pair of clawed hands bit into his shoulders and the figure vaulted over his bald head, spine brushing the ceiling and leaving several hairs in the lichen.
"The exit!" their leader cried, able to see now but incapable of actually doing anything.
Yet it was too late, and their prey raced away even as they hurriedly regrouped.
The furry figure was little more than a blur as it arrowed through the network of tunnels. There was blood in its mouth and the coppery tang pervaded its tongue, digging into the nooks and crannies of its mouth and wrapping its fangs in red mist. Something stirred deep in its belly, niggling like a child anxious to be born, though the washboard stomach told a different tale. The sensation was disturbing, yet oddly thrilling, and as it sped along it felt a tremor of excitement trace the length of its spine.
Blood in the mouth, and blood on your hands.
The thought spiked into its skull with such ferocity that the figure stumbled and threw out its hands to steady itself. The slender chest heaved as it braced itself against the vaulted brickwork.
It stared into the murky water with something akin to terror.
"Blood on hands," it murmured, voice like the whispering of dead leaves. Then it shook its head at the wobbly reflection, closing eyes with pupils like Stanley knife cuts. "Not true. Not true. No blood, none. All clean, see?" Hands outstretched, turned over and scraped at their own palms, as if demonstrating the lack of blood. A few hairs skittered into the water, distorting the reflection more. They obscured it with a wire netting pattern, like they were crossing it out.
Death in your fingers, the unwelcome thoughts insisted. Follow, follow. Make clean. They'll make you clean.
"Am clean. No blood. Clean already. They kill - "
Follow, follow. Never clean. Blood always. Hurry! Coming!
"Coming." The figure pricked its ears and listened.
Sure enough, splashy footsteps approached.
It suppressed the urge to hiss, instead scuttling onto a nearby ledge and continuing on without similar splashes to betray its presence to them. Of course, it was a redundant movement considering the hyper-sensitive abilities of one of their number, but it made it feel better.
Its progress was even faster without glutinous water to wade through. Soon, it had reached the drier tunnels that signalled just how close to the surface it was. However, with practised ease it circumvented the known areas of human habitation. The many homeless sequestered around were completely oblivious to the frantic chase as it blew past in the deepest recesses of shadow. Most slept through the soft pad of footfalls that trod scant inches from their cardboard box homes, and those who heard hissing and spitting in their dreams attributed it to whatever dubious meal they'd scrounged up the night before, and not the pair of gold eyes that watched them with barely concealed hatred.
However, whatever emotions were motivated by being so close to flatscans were never acted upon, since any pause would have meant certain disaster. Instead, the living shadow moved on to even higher ground, until there was virtually just open space and a thin sheet of concrete separating the lower world with the surface; that enigmatic place where more affluent humans lived, walked and drove their cars without the faintest idea of what went on beneath their feet.
Light was more forthcoming now, mostly provided by the few light bulbs various down-and-outs had dragged in, and which were powered by siphoned-off electricity through a choice of no-doubt-dangerous wires and cables.
The number of dispossessed dotted around became steadily fewer. Gradually the light, too, dimmed. It didn't matter, however, since the fleeing figure could see just as well in darkness as in light. Its slit pupils dilated, drinking in whatever illumination they could and using it to their fullest advantage. Each footstep was accurate, each hand set down with unnerving precision. Hesitation was reserved only for choosing direction, and even then it was ephemeral at best.
At this level it didn't matter which path you took. They all ultimately led to the same place, it was simply a matter of how swiftly you got there.
A wire fence rose up, stretched from one side of the passage to the other. The figure didn't even waver, it just powered along and leapt, scaling the mesh in a few seconds and dropping easily to carry on with nary a step out of place. The fence was still reverberating as it twisted the corner and avoided the corpse of a dog that had somehow become trapped down there. The sewers had become the unfortunate creature's tomb, and as the figure bounded over the body it vowed, as it had done since this chase began, that it wouldn't share the same fate.
Minutes passed, as did more tunnels. Overhead sounds became more pronounced, although all the passageways looked much the same to the untrained eye. Then a shaft of brightness hove into view like something from a theophany, and the figure's pace picked up yet more as the proverbial finishing line was sighted.
Ten feet. Nine. Eight. Seven.
Its tongue lolled the closer it drew, thick and heavy in its mouth. Breath rattled in its lungs, and it took the last few steps in a single bound that landed it on the bottom rung of the metal ladder. Sickly light from a streetlamp in the world above filtered through the large sewer grate, and claws scraped on metal as it started to climb.
Freedom, so close...
Then something grabbed its leg, yanking it backwards so that its grip was nearly torn loose. The furry figure howled, but somehow retained its hold. It turned to glare down at whomsoever dared to deny it its freedom.
A single dark eye stared back, severe and determined. It glinted dangerously in the pale beam of the streetlamp, inwardly lit by victory as much as outwardly lit by actual light.
For a second fear and anger warred on the furry figure's face. Then anger won through.
It unleashed an unholy scream, lashing out with the captured leg. The eye-patched female skilfully avoided the blow, bringing her knife-tipped bo up to slice at her prey.
Along the tunnel thundered the two other hunters, slightly slower than their leader but fast enough to cause alarm. Their quarry screeched, leaping sideways off the ladder.
The leader stumbled, not anticipating such a backwards move. She thrust out her bo to take her weight so that she wouldn't fall. A millisecond later she was forced to bring it up again to fend off the shrieking figure as it pounced back onto the ladder.
It had no thought for keeping quiet so as not to risk detection. It was beyond such reason, the simple matter of escape all-consuming. The noise was disconcerting, but not a great problem.
The mohawked female dove forward and tackled it. They both went down and rolled, a mixture of grunts, screams and fur. She tried to pin its wrists, but it clawed at her face and neck, opening a fresh gash that efficiently split her ear. She yelped in pain, then again when her lip followed suit. Blood flowed, getting into her eyes, and for a moment she was blind.
It was all the opportunity her opponent needed. It brought its feet up to push against her belly and fling her over its head. She launched into the wall, sailing like a bird shot on the wing, and impacted with a stomach-churning crack. Then she slid into a heap.
The eye-patched female let out a strangled warcry that was as much frustration as it was anger, and advanced on the furry figure.
However, it was already up and running for the ladder again, insistent on its own escape. It succeeded in gaining no less than the eighth rung before she reached it and grabbed its tail. She pulled hard, and with all her enhanced strength. It barked in agony, then swung all its weight onto its hands and kicked out with both feet. The female was caught in the chest. She slipped a few inches.
In a desperate attempt to rectify the situation she drove the knife-tipped bo upward and at an angle, with the intent of burying it in the figure's back.
However, it saw the action coming and shifted sideways. The blade scored a red line across its waist before entering the fleshy part of its hip and half pulling out again. A spurt of hot, sticky blood hit the woman and ran into her hair. The wound was painful, but not fatal, and the figure kicked out with a frantic strength.
Already teetering, the eye-patched woman fell back. Her weapon pulled free as she toppled, bringing more blood with it. the smell of gore filled the air, cramming into her hyper-sensitive nostrils.
For a moment she dangled in mid-air, until her grip on the figure's tail loosed as well and she descended into a hasty crouch on the stony floor. The sound of a metal grate being forcibly thrown back made her look up, but the figure was already gone. She barely glimpsed the last tuft of fur as it sped away.
She growled, fury writ large on her face, and lunged at the ladder to pursue.
A large hand gripped her elbow. She looked back to see the tall man shaking his head.
"No, let her go."
She was surprised, and pulled away. He lay a cool hand on her shoulder and gestured to where the other female was getting shakily to her feet. "We can't follow her anymore. We shouldn't. Not into Upworld. She's gone, Callisto."
Callisto twisted her features into a mask of wrath, but it quickly evaporated as she looked between the two of them. She sighed as the buzz of the hunt abruptly went out of her like a doused candle. "I know. Any chance of tracking her up there, Caliban?"
Caliban looked at her askance, since she already knew the answer to that question. "My powers aren't limited to either Upworld or the sewers, as you well know. But it would be foolish to try tracking her in open spaces. Upworld is too large, with too many people, and there's the increased possibility of being spotted, even incarcerated, and the location of the Alley being compromised as a result. You know this."
She looked away, gazing almost longingly at the gaping hole in the ceiling. "I'm fully aware of the risks... but I wanted... I wanted..." What? What did she want? Vengeance? Blood?
No, a small, sensible part of her brain told her.
She let her chin drop onto her chest; she'd heard that voice before. It was the part that made her the competent leader she was, that had birthed the Morlocks and kept them alive by making tough decisions where the rest of her mind, too choked by emotion, could not.
"I wanted... punishment," she finished lamely, and the inadvertent tightening of her bo grip told them the not-so-hidden meaning behind her words.
"At the possible cost of the tribe?" Caliban kept his tone even, almost a monotone.
"You know me better than that."
They fell into silence, and stayed that way for several minutes. The streetlamp outside flickered, the bulb dying. During those moments of brief death the stars became visible, framed by the towering buildings on either side of the alley this grate led into. It was almost picturesque, like something one of the children might paint or work into their stories.
The mohawked female moved closer, rubbing at her head and sweeping blood from her face. "I'm sorry," she said, breaking the stillness.
Both Callisto and Caliban looked at her, puzzled.
"I let her get away," she said by way of explanation.
Then it was Callisto who shook her head. "She played us all for fools tonight. Each and every one of us. I just wonder how long the façade went on before we realised it..." Her voice turned wistful as she questioned her own capabilities at leadership for a moment.
Played for fools? Yes, that was probably the best way of putting it. Especially her, for letting such an indefinite entity into their midst – not so much a snake in the grass as an unexploded bomb you don't know is still live or not. A wild card. A hidden explosive.
She had been from the beginning, with her hungry eyes and strange, untamed air. They both had, but she more than the other. There was something about her – some knife edge that she straddled, cutting her feet on while stepping on either side. Callisto supposed that, in their need to recruit more Morlocks, more tribesfolk, they'd glossed over what she was underneath all that unruliness and unpredictability. They had ignored what she was capable of – the potential destruction in her wild eyes. Their story had been so plaintive, so needful that nobody had thought twice about taking her and her sister in and making each one of them.
She turned, shouldering her bo without cleaning it and stalking away. "Come on. We have to get back. Let the Upworlders have her. It's no more than they deserve. We have more important things to contend with this night."
Caliban and Scaleface cast a last look upward, and without a word Scaleface shinned up the ladder to close the grate with a loud clang. The lock was broken, she noted, but paid it little heed. This was the way most human and mutant homeless got into the sewers. It was the way she'd come down here, and no doubt the way countless more would. Perhaps more Morlock brethren, or perhaps not. Only time would tell.
She slid the length of the ladder and touched down like a moth. Her grace belied the bulky, ungainly form she could take if she so wished, and somehow turned her heavily built frame into something elegant and nimble.
Then, like ghosts, they were swallowed by the gloom.
To Be Continued...
A/N – And here we begin the opus that has been in production since March 2003. I began writing this before the Morlocks appeared in official canon, so it has strains of AU now, but after a bit of fiddling with minor details, not so much that it has any great impact on plot. The title comes from Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, Act Three, Scene One, after Romeo has killed Tybalt and Benvolio says, "Stand not amazed. The Prince will doom thee death if thou art taken. Hence, be gone. Away!" To which Romeo replies, "I am fortune's fool!" These lines have bearing on my fic. The actual plot of the play does not. No star-crossed lovers here. Nope.
Reviews are much appreciated. It won't take more than a few seconds to click that little button and tell me what you think. Please? I really did work hard and long on this puppy, so it'd be extremely nice to get some feedback on it.