It teased at the edge of her consciousness, drawing her away from her peaceful slumber. She tried to fight it, but it was no use. The sound wrapped itself through her dreams, leading her outward. An eye opened to stare blurrily at the Hello, Kitty! alarm clock sitting beside her bed. '3:20 am! Sheesh. This had better be good,' she groused.
Jubilation Lee, Jubilee to her friends, and active member of the teenage mutant team Generation X, slid out of bed. She debated putting a robe on over her boxer shorts and Ares God of War t-shirt. 'Nah. Robe'll only slow me down if'n I need to move fast.'
She made her way quietly down the hall of the girl's wing. Monet St. Croix - M - and Paige Guthrie - Husk - were still fast asleep in their rooms. As Jubilee passed their rooms, she deliberated against waking them. 'After all, why should I be the only one who can't sleep. Nah, Paige might not complain too much, but I really don't want to have to deal with Monet's holier-than-thou attitude this early in the morning.'
As she neared the main staircase, the noise that had woke her became clearer. 'Who's playing the piano at this hour of the night?' Glancing into the formal living room, she was startled to find no one seated at the mahogany grand piano. 'Then where...?' She slid into the rec. room, but the stereo and television were off. 'Curioser and curioser.' She followed the sound into the kitchen.
The kitchen was empty, but the back door was open to the night air. 'Man, Sean's gonna freak if he finds the door was left unlocked.' She took a step forward, intent on locking up, then froze. The music was coming from the other side of the door and she noticed that the piano was joined by a flute in a haunting melody.
'This is getting spooky.' She shivered lightly, gathered her courage, and strode towards the back porch. Her teammate, Jonothan Starsmore - Chamber - was sitting on the back steps. His knees were drawn up, arms clasped lightly about them. Jubilee noticed he was rocking gently back and forth in time to the music.
"Hey, Jono, watchya doin' up so late?" When he didn't answer, she huffed a breath and crossed her arms in annoyance. "Well, you could at least turn down your radio, you know? You woke me up." Still no response.
Exasperated, Jubilee leapt down the steps to face him. "Earth to Jono, I'm... Oh!"
Jono had apparently been sleeping. 'Or, rather,' Jubilee thought, 'is still sleeping.' His robe hung loosely upon his scant form. Hazel eyes were half-opened, focused on something only he could see. The bandages that wrapped his chest and lower face, in order to keep the pulsating psionic energy that resided there contained, gaped open in places and Jubilee could see the bio-fire pulsating with the music.
'It... it's coming _from_ him! How the devil is he doing that?' She stood mesmerized at the sight for a moment, she'd never been this close to Jono when he used his powers, then she gave herself a shake. Tentatively, she reached out a hand to touch his shoulder, stopping just before she made contact. 'If he's sleep-walking, should I wake him? I've never heard tell that he slept-walked. What if he's sick and this is some weird symptom?' She wished Emma Frost was home, but the resident telepath and current head mistress of the Xavier Institute was out of the country consulting with some big-wigs about receiving more funding.
"I'll... I'll get Sean," she told herself. "He'll know what to do." With a quick, "Stay put," at Jono, the youngest member of Generation X raced back into the house and up the stairs towards Sean's room, located at the end of the boy's wing.
She pounded on the door. "Mr. Cassidy. Mr. Cassidy! Wake up!"
Her calls caused two other heads to pop out into the hallway. "What's with all the noise, chica?" Angelo Espinosa - Skin - asked.
Everette Thomas - Synch - knuckled sleep from his eyes. "Jubilee?"
All they got for their trouble was a terse, "Chamber," before she resumed pounding on the door. The two boys looked into their friend's room and, finding nothing, shrugged at one another in confusion, hoping the mystery would soon be cleared up.
In a voice that could put a Siren to shame, Sean Cassidy - Banshee and current head master of the school - responded. "I heard ye the first time, lass. Lay off yer caterwailin'." The door was flung open and Sean stepped out into the hallway, hastily fastening his robe. "Now, Jubilee. Do ye mind tellin' me what all the yellin' is aboot?"
Jubilee blushed faintly in embarrassment by all the ruckus she'd created, but she still managed to explain herself. During her recitation, Monet and Paige wandered into the boy's wing as well. "So," Monet replied succinctly once Jubilee had finished her tale. "You found Jono on the back porch and didn't know what to do, so you woke us all up?"
Jubilee rolled her eyes at the older girl. "I didn't mean to wake you." She returned her attention to the only adult in the room. "But Sean, it was really creepy. He was just sitting there, not answering me, and this music was coming from him."
She felt a bit better when Sean nodded and patted her shoulder in a comforting manner. She felt less better at his next words. "All right, lass. Everyone go on back to yer rooms. I'll take care o' this."
She was on the verge of protesting such unfair treatment, 'I mean, really. I'm the one who found him, shouldn't I be involved in what happens next?' She could tell that the others wanted to protest as well when Sean made a very valid point. "Now look. How would you feel wakin' up in a place you didn't fall asleep in an' havin' all yer friends looking doon on ye?" He waited for their reply.
"Ah'd feel like crawlin' in a hole and pullin' it in after me." Paige said with a soft, Southern twang.
Synch spoke up, as well. "Confused. Probably a bit embarrassed if I realized I'd been sleep-walking."
"Exactly." Sean nodded and waited. One by one, the students gave their own versions of silent apology and headed back to their rooms. Jubilee was the last to leave. "Mr. Cassidy?"
Sean raised his brow at that, Jubilee wasn't much on formality. "Yes?"
"Would you let me, us, know if he's okay or not?" Jubilee hated not knowing what was going on, but this was more than just curiosity. Even though Jonothan didn't interact much with the other kids, Jubilee still hated the thought of anything being wrong with him.
"Aye, lass. I will. Now get on to bed with ye."
Jubilee turned to her own bed, she trusted the head master, but vowed to get the answers she wanted from Jonothan himself the next morning. 'If possible.'
Sean Cassidy waited until Jubilee was out of sight before allowing his brow to crease with worry. 'I hope the lad is no' sick. We've no experience with tryin' to fix a psionic illness.' He took comfort in knowing that Moira McTaggart would be more than willing to help in any way she could, should that be the case.
Once outside, Sean knelt down before the boy. He felt the hair on the back of his neck rise at the vacant stare and eerie music emanating from the young man's chest cavity. "Jono?"
The music was strangely familiar. 'Where have I heard that before?' But the answer slipped away before he could grasp it firmly.
"Jono? Lad? Can ye hear me?" The burly Irishman searched what he could see of the young Brit's face, but sensed no recognition or acknowledgment that he'd even been heard. He put a hand close to Jono's cheek, eyes widening in shock. 'Ach. He's burnin' up. If'n I cannot wake him, I'll carry him to the infirmary and see aboot contactin' Moira.'
He tapped Jono's cheek gently, hoping to wake the boy, and was startled when the music suddenly ceased. Sean "heard" a long drawn out sigh as Jono's eyes fluttered closed and he slumped. Sean caught the young man before he could hit his head on the steps. 'All right. To the infirmary, then, before anythin' else happens.'
With that thought, the headmaster lifted Jono, cradling the sleeping boy to his chest, and carried him down to the school's infirmary. 'I never realized how light he was. That chamber of his must take up more matter than we thought.' He tucked the boy into one of the beds, drawing the covers up over his form. Checking the medic file, Sean noted that Jonothan was notorious about letting his check-ups slide. With a shake of his head, he told the unconscious boy, "Well, guess we can take care of some of that tonight, as well."
Letting the bio-scans do their job, Sean settled himself in a nearby chair, watching over the sleeping boy. 'Jono's been quiet today.' He chuckled to himself, wryly. Jonothan Starsmore was not big on talking in general. Especially since the only way he had to communicate was through a type of low-level telepathy. 'But he seemed to have withdrawn into himself even further than normal today.' Not for once, Sean wished that Emma was home. Having a telepath on hand made it easier to deal with problems that were too difficult to talk about. 'On the other hand, Em's no' the type to deal gently with anyone. Mayhaps it's for the best that she is no' here.'
Jonothan stirred restlessly in his sleep and Sean could see a frown form between the boy's eyes. 'Course, we're all so used to his bein' moody, that I don't think anyone noticed him no' quite up to snuff.' He spoke softly, almost to himself. "What troubles ye, lad?"
The scans came up with nothing to explain Jonothan's condition. The heat Sean had felt earlier was gone now, and the boy seemed to be resting comfortably. Sean turned off the machines, and rather than risk waking Jono by moving him to his own room, piled another blanket on top and turned off the infirmary's lights on his way out.
At the *click* of the door closing, Jonothan's eyes snapped open. His limbs trembled as if he was struggling with something. Softly, as if from a great distance, the music started up again. A whispered voice drifted in the air. ~Sleep my child. We'll be together soon.~
Jono's hands clenched and he shook his head in denial, but was soon lulled back into an uneasy slumber as the music played.
Although breakfast had been hours ago, Jubilee sat slumped at the kitchen table, feeling morose and lonely. Everette and Angelo had scarfed down their breakfasts earlier and were spending the morning downtown with the two youngest members of the household. "After all," Everette explained, "They were cooped up here yesterday. So Angelo and I decided to take them to the park for a few hours."
Paige was currently on her way home for a family reunion. She had eagerly packed her bags into the van at the crack of dawn, though she had asked Jubilee to keep an eye out for Jonothan. "Tell him I hope he feels better." Jubilee had promised to.
Monet had volunteered to drop Paige off at the train station before also taking off for parts unknown herself. "There is only so much togetherness that one can stand. I'll return in a few days, after a much needed recharge."
That left Cassidy, Jubilee, Jonothan, and Penance in the huge mansion for the afternoon. 'Sean's in his office sending medical reports to Dr. McTaggert, and who knows where Penny is hiding,' the young mutant thought to herself.
Jubilee stared out the kitchen window at the lone figure that disappeared into the biosphere. She hadn't been able to talk to Jonothan as she had planned. In fact, the teen hadn't even bothered coming to breakfast that morning. Granted, he didn't eat, but he'd usually join in the conversations, and his remarks would almost always draw a chuckle from someone at the table. 'He's shutting us out of something. Something real important. But what?'
Mr. Cassidy stepped into the doorway and glanced around, a frown on his otherwise handsome face. "Whatcha lookin' for, Sean?"
"Ah, Jubilee. Have you seen Chamber around? I had somethin' I wanted to talk to him aboot."
"Yes, sir. He was heading towards the biosphere." She paused a moment, then said in a rush. "Is he okay?"
Cassidy sighed and ran a hand across the bridge of his nose. "That's what I'm hopin' to find out, lass."
Cassidy headed for the back but was brought up short by the doorbell. Detouring, he opened the door to reveal a young woman in her late twenties. Dark brown hair feathered down to her shoulders while light brown eyes gazed steadily up at him. "May I help ye?"
"My name is Genevieve McDougal. I'm here to see Jonothan Starsmore. Could you tell me where I might find him? It's very important." The voice was pleasant, clear, with a slight Scottish accent to it.
"He was headin' out back. Come on up to my office and I'll have someone fetch him." Cassidy let the young woman into the mansion. Then, mentally, he smacked his head. 'Where are me manners?' "By the way, I'm Sean Cassidy, headmaster here." She smiled in acknowledgment.
Passing the kitchen, he stuck his head in. "Jubilee, lass? Would you let Jono know I need him in my office?"
The girl glanced curiously over at the older woman. "Sure thing, Mr. C."
Cassidy conducted his guest to his office. He offered her some tea and the two made some light small talk, waiting for Jonothan to appear. Sean cleared his throat, getting to the heart of the matter. "Might I ask the nature of this visit, Ms. McDougal?"
"It's a family matter, sir."
"Yes," she replied, a small frown between her eyes. "I'm Jonothan's aunt. His mom..., my sister...," she paused. "Died a few days ago. I came over to tell him in person and to bring him home for the funeral."
Cassidy closed his eyes in pain. 'Hasn't the poor boy lost enough already?' A knock on the door startled them. "Enter."
Jubilee's dark head poked into the room. She appeared nervous and a bit upset. "He won't come."
Teeth scored her bottom lip as the teen repeated, "He won't come. I told him what you said. At first he ignored me. Then he told me to piss off before stalking away."
Genevieve shook her head wearily. Sean sighed, "Is he still in the biosphere?"
"All right. Don't worry about it, Jubilee. I'll talk with him." At the dismissal, the girl heaved a sigh of relief and ducked out of the door.
The two adults looked at one another. "Is he usually like that?"
Sean shook his head. "Moody at times. But he'd never deliberately hurt Jubilee like that, or any of the other students, not without a good reason."
The skin around her eyes tightened and she nodded curtly. "Let's go find him."
Genevieve followed the solid form of the headmaster as they made their way through the dense vegetation of the biosphere. She'd never seen anything like it, and under normal circumstances, would have loved to explore the area. However, she was concerned about her nephew. Sight-seeing would have to wait.
Mr. Cassidy had insisted on accompanying her until they found Jonothan. 'Glad he had. I'd have been thoroughly lost within five minutes.'
Ducking under a low branch, Genevieve saw her nephew huddled on the ground, his arms wrapped about his legs, forehead resting on his knees. Her heart gave a sudden lurch at the sight of a yellow paper dangling from the young man's hand. Cursing silently to herself, she motioned for the concerned headmaster to step aside.
Stepping forward, she saw Jonothan's head snap up. #Mom?#
Again, her heart gave a lurch, this time in pain. Although much younger, Genevieve and her sister, Mauve, had been mistaken for one another before. She shook her head sadly. "Hey, kiddo."
With what amounted to as a sob, Jono threw himself into her arms. #Aunt Ginny!#
Genevieve spent the next few minutes holding her nephew. She rocked him gently back and forth as he cried. 'Damn you, Michael!' she thought fiercely. 'Ya knew I was gonna break the news to Jono myself. What did you do?' Stroking his hair, she could feel the heat coming off him. "Are you sick, kiddo?" she asked softly.
He shook his head from its place in the crook of her neck and she felt her collar getting soaked with his tears. "Shhh. Shhh." She continued to hold him, half aware of the look of confusion and alarm on Mr. Cassidy's face.
She patiently waited and was soon rewarded when Jono gave a final squeeze with arms that had been locked in a death grip around her and took a step back. #Hello, Aunt Genevieve.# His "voice" shook a bit, and was softer than she was used to hearing, but was otherwise clear.
She smiled sadly. "Whatever happened to 'Ginny'? Humm?" She wiped the tears from under his eyes. "Genevieve, my foot."
Jono raised a shoulder indicating a short laugh and shook his head wryly. #Ginny, then.# He immediately sobered. #She's dead. Isn't she?# Statement, not a question.
Tears filled her own eyes at the anguish that shone in his. "Yes," came the faded whisper. "How'd you find out?" She had a theory, but desperately hoped it wasn't so.
Wordlessly, Jono handed her the paper he still had hold of, dashing her hopes. It was a crumpled, but otherwise legible, telegram.
Jonothan Starsmore -
My wife is dead.
She was killed by members of the Friends of Humanity.
I blame you.
Come to the funeral as you will.
May Loreena have you.
Genevieve's face paled at the last sentence. "Surely he's not as cruel as that. God, no."
Jono dismissed it. #Is it true? Am I the reason she was killed?# Before she could answer him, he jumped in with another question. #How did she die?#
Genevieve sighed and gathered her thoughts. "Mauve was protesting the termination of a school teacher. They found the man was a mutant. He had 'low level empathic rapport'. It wasn't harmful. Made him an effective teacher. But the parents and the school board didn't see it that way. Your mother and several others were picketing outside the school. Several died when a maltov cocktail exploded in their midst, supposedly thrown by someone supporting the termination. Your mom was one of them."
Jonothan slumped. #So... It wasn't... because of me?#
She took his hand, wadding up the telegram in the other. "No. It's not your fault. Michael just needed someone to blame."
Mr. Cassidy cleared his throat tentatively, "Jonothan, Ms. McDougal, why don't we take this indoors."
Jono gave a start, noticing his teacher for the first time. With the back of his hand, he wiped the last trace of tears away. He cast a baleful eye on his aunt. She shrugged apologetically. Jonothan linked arms with his aunt and led her back to the mansion.
Once inside, Ginny returned to her original concern. "When did you receive the telegram?"
#Yesterday.# He shot a glance at Sean. #Everyone else was in town.#
Cassidy nodded. Jono had decided to stay behind to watch Artie and Leech while the others went to town to go shopping.
She studied Jonothan, noticing the pale face, and remembering the heat she had felt coming off him earlier. "Has anything strange happened since then?"
He looked perplexed as he thought about the question. #I can't think of anything.# He shrugged in apology.
"Ye slept walked last night, lad."
Both turned to stare at Cassidy. #What?#
"Anything else?" Ginny added.
The large Irishman nodded slowly, confused. "Ye were playing music." At their looks he clarified. "There was music emanatin' from your chamber. Jubilee heard it, too."
#Loreena?# Chamber asked.
"Loreena," his aunt agreed.
"Who's Loreena?" Cassidy asked.
#She's...# Jonothan trailed off with a helpless shrug.
His aunt clasped his hand reassuringly. "We're gonna need some help here, kiddo." She turned to the headmaster. "Forgive my rudeness, but how close to your roots are ye?" Her Scottish brogue deepened at the words.
"I'm Ireland born and bred. Me family still has holdings in the old country. Why?"
"The McDougal's have always been in Scotland. Are ye familiar with a bein' most commonly known as a Siren?"
"Aye. 'Tis a mythical creature said to lure men to their deaths with their singin'."
Ginny shrugged with a shoulder. "The legends are only partially correct." She rose and began pacing the length of the office. "The creature is not a myth, but alive and well in the twentieth century. She does use her voice to lure people, men and women, but not always to their immediate deaths." She ran a hand through her shoulder length hair. The two men watched her, Sean, with a vaguely confused look, Jono, a bit warily. She sighed. "When Jonothan was three, his parents took him to a location that was known to be haunted. Michael, Jono's dad, was trying to gather a collection of stories about the various haunts of Scotland, but he wanted to visit them in order to 'absorb the local atmosphere', as he put it." She shook her head, sadly. "I tried to tell them not to take him, but no one would listen to a ten year old girl."
Sean interrupted. "How'd you know it would be dangerous for the lad?"
She turned to him with a gamin grin. "Ah. Well, ye see, I am the seventh child of a seventh child. Somehow... I just knew. Anyway," she continued. "While there, Jonothan wandered away from camp one night." She looked at her nephew who sat with his hands tightly clenched in his lap, his gaze fixed upon her face. "You don't remember this, do you?"
#No. At least, I don't think so. I know who she is, and that she tried to do something. It sounds familiar, but...# He shrugged helplessly.
"You were awfully young. And she might have done something to make you forget."
"Who?" Sean asked.
"Loreena, the Siren."
"You were there?" Cassidy tried to clarify.
"When his parents refused to leave him behind, I demanded to go along. I thought... Well, it doesn't matter what I thought. The three of us woke to strange music and Jono's sleeping bag was empty. We searched and finally found him climbing up a hill towards a lady." She looked at Jono and noted a glazed look in his eye. 'He's remembering.' "Mauve and I grabbed Jono up. Michael imposed himself between us. I remember that she looked surprised. As if defiance was uncommon."
*** Flashback ***
"Ye cannot have him!" Michael Starsmore screamed at the young woman standing above him on the hill.
~Who shall naesay Loreena?~ The woman's voice, the creature's voice, was both arrogant and seductive. The tones teasing on the edges of the mind and emotions. Music surrounded her, seeming to beckon them to come closer; a reaction each tried to hold off.
Michael drew himself up, desperate to protect his son. "Michael and Mauve Starsmore, his parents!"
Young Ginny cuddled the three year old close to her, feeling the boy tremble in sudden fear. He'd been having such a lovely dream. Why were his parents shouting so? Who was that strange lady that made him want to run to her arms and run screaming into the night at the same time. "Don't worry, Jono. I'll protect ye." His aunt's voice helped to calm him. The presence of his mother on his other side calmed him even further.
~I wish to claim the child as my own.~ The Siren towered over the small group, green/blue eyes flashing dangerously.
Mauve glared at the creature. "Ye canno' have him. He is my child! Not yours!"
~You would stand between me and that which I desire?~
"With my last breath!"
Ginny held hers, certain the Siren, for who else could be so beautiful or be accompanied by such otherworldly music, would strike her sister down.
A strange look came over the Siren's face. ~Such devotion,~ she murmured. The awed look passed and one close to a sneer appeared as she addressed the child's father. ~And what of you, man? Shall I ask of ye permission for the child?~
"Ye shall never have it!" Michael screamed in defiance.
She narrowed her eyes at him. ~It is not your decision to make.~ Suddenly, the music took on the lilting quality of a lullaby as the creature called down to the terrified toddler. ~Jonothan, my sweet. Will you come with me?~
Ginny clutched the child even closer to her chest, but she needn't have worried. Jonothan stared up at the Siren, hazel eyes scared, but determined. "No! Mommy and Daddy say no!"
The Siren's face twisted for an instant and Ginny feared for all of their safety. Bravely, as only a ten year old can, she stared into the Siren's eyes. "They said no, and that's final!"
The music suddenly ceased and the creature vanished in a flash of light. It was a moment before they realized that little Jonothan had passed out in his aunt's arms from the shock. Mauve turned to her child with a cry and scooped him up. As Michael escorted his wife and child off the hill, only Ginny heard the voice say in a whisper as soft as a faded memory: ~We shall see about that.~
*** End Flashback ***
Jono finished for her. #Father gave permission, didn't he.#
"Yes," she said miserably.
Jonothan then began cursing very softly. It took Sean a moment before he recognized the language as Gaelic. 'It shouldn't surprise me,' he thought. 'Jono might have a British accent, but he spent his first few years in Scotland.'
At a soft, "That's enough, kiddo," from his aunt, Jono stopped short, rose to his feet, and began pacing. Suddenly, he whirled to face them, a strange light in his eyes. #Why didn't Loreena just take me all those years ago?#
At the confused look his aunt threw him, he continued. #Why's she trying for me now? Ye can't believe that she held back simply because we told her no. She could easily have overpowered the lot of you. Either she's not as powerful as we believe her to, which isn't very ruddy likely, or...#
Sean interrupted, "Or there was something that happened or was present which required that she no' touch you until your conditions were met."
"By conditions, I assume you mean Mauve basically saying over her dead body, and Michael stating he'd have to give his permission before Loreena could make a play, right?"
Jono nodded. #Sounds likely. But... What was it that stopped her initially?#
"I don't know," Ginny admitted. "But we'd better figure something out. The funeral's in two days, and I've a feelin' that Loreena's power will be felt more strongly the closer we are to home."
Once apprised of the situation, Everette, Angelo, and Jubilee instantly agreed to accompany Jonothan and his aunt. "After all," Angelo maintained. "You mess with one of us, you're messing with all of us. Ain't no way this singin' witch is gonna get her mitts on you, hombre."
Still unable to contact Emma Frost, Sean resigned himself to allowing the students to go on their own. "I know ye'll do well. Besides, someone has to look after the wee ones. Don't take any unnecessary chances, ye hear?"
The students agreed, then they boarded a private jet on their way to Scotland. Halfway to their destination, Penance made an appearance, apparently having stowed away on the plane.
*** - Scotland - ***
The funeral was a large affair. Mauve McDougal-Starsmore had more family than any of the Generation X kids could imagine. Ginny explained. "Mauve was the third eldest of nine children. What you're seeing here is mostly Clan McDougal, brothers, sisters, cousins, ect. The rest are friends."
"What about Mr. Starsmore's family?" Everette asked.
"Michael doesn't have many relatives, and those he does have never really approved of the marriage."
Jubilee raised an eyebrow. "Why not?"
Ginny shrugged. "Thought we weren't good enough to mix blood with, I guess. We've never been a very rich Clan. That and the rumors that we are fey touched."
She gave a gamin grin. "Of course. But we tend not to advertise the fact. Not many people are very sympathetic to those who are different."
"Tell me about it." Jubilee understood. 'The possibility of magic frightens some people almost as much as the possibility of mutation.'
Throughout the service, it was painfully obvious that Michael Starsmore wanted nothing to do with his son. He sat alone during the church service, rode to the cemetery in a separate car, and stood on the opposite side of the coffin at the plot site.
Jonothan struggled to pretend that he didn't care about his father's reaction to him. 'After all, he just disowned me.' But he couldn't. Each slight cut down to the bone. His only saving grace was the support of his friends and his other aunts and uncles.
At the end of the service, Angelo caught Everette's attention. "Ev. What's up, ese? You look like you got a problema."
The young black man blinked at his friend. "It's weird. You know that my power lets me hook up with other people's mutant gifts, linking my aura with theirs."
"So, other than us, there aren't any mutants in the area, but I've been sensing 'ghost' auras from quite a few people here."
"Ghost auras? What's that mean, hombre?"
"Like, they aren't mutants, but they have a kind of power of their own. Most are real faint." He glanced back at the gravesite where Jonothan and his family paid their last respects. "Jono's aunt, Genevieve, is the strongest. But a good three-fourths of the family has it."
Angelo huffed. "What do you think it is?"
"I don't know." Everette was frustrated, he'd never come up against this type of thing before.
Jubilee sauntered up behind them, overhearing the end of the conversation. "Ginny believes that she and others in the family are elf-touched. Perhaps that's what you sensed."
Angelo started arguing against such a ridiculous suggestion, but Everette reached out with his power and gently touched upon the group on the hill. 'It's more than possible. I really can't think of any other possibility.' Now, concentrating only on the "ghost" auras, and fading out the familiar sense of a mutant's power, Everette could tell that only a few of the McDougal's were not so "blessed" as to be fey touched.
Michael Starsmore was completely normal, 'Whatever that means.' Ginny McDougal's aura, however, was almost as strong as a mutants. 'I wonder if I could synch up with it?' He decided to save that experiment for a later date.
Another aura caught his attention and he shook his head in confusion. 'Is that Chamber? No... it can't be.' Everette started fiddling with his senses, sure he was doing something wrong, but no, Jonothan's "ghost" aura was as strong as his mutant ability. Which is to say that it was formidable. 'Oh, I think I just figured out why this creature wanted Jono so much, and perhaps even why she couldn't take him before.'
He was about to mention his discovery to the others when he was bumped from behind. "Sorry." He turned and looked into eyes the deepest green - or were they blue? - he had ever seen. The eyes smiled up at him and then left, his discovery about Jonothan leaving with them. Everette shook his head, perplexed. What had he been about to say? He shrugged. 'Oh, well, guess it mustn't have been too important.'
The wake was held at Ginny's house - hers being the only one nearby large enough to accommodate the large group of family and friends. Penance prowled around the edges of the gathering, munching on an apple. Normally shying away from strangers, the young girl tolerated the close scrutiny of the young children, only drawing away when they tried to touch her. She watched her friends closely, aware that something was wrong because that's what the sparking girl - Jubilee - had said when the other girl had shown her where to hide on the large flying thing.
Penance had seen the green/blue eyed creature that had stared at the shining bright boy - Jonothan - so longingly and had made the black boy - Everette - look so confused. She made sure the creature hadn't seen her. Penance wished she could have told someone about it, but wasn't sure how to do so. She resolved to keep an eye out for the creature, it was dangerous. She knew it was after someone in her family and she'd protect her family, at any cost.
Angelo wandered through the house, marveling at all the items in the house. Genevieve seemed to have an affinity for the mythological - no matter what the culture. Dragons and elves stood side by side with gargoyles and angels.
Angelo had reached the library door; about to enter, he paused at the sound of a choking sob. #How can you say that?#
Angelo sidled up beside the door and heard Michael Starsmore respond to his son. "Isn't it obvious? If you hadn't been a mutant, my wife wouldn't have felt compelled to go to that protest and she'd still be alive!"
Angelo had to keep himself from leaping in there and setting Jono's father straight. 'Ai, caramba.' He silently cheered at Jono's response. #You knew mom for so many years, can you honestly say that she would have looked away from an injustice done, simply because she wasn't experiencing it personally? If so, than you didn't know her at all.#
"Don't tell me what I know or don't know about Mauve. I know that I loved her. I know that she's dead. And I know that it's ALL-YOUR-FAULT!"
Angelo cracked open the door and peeked in. The two men stood glaring at one another. Michael leaned forward, voice low in intensity, his finger pointed accusingly. "I never forgot what Mauve told the Siren all those years ago. That she'd protect you 'til her last breath. Well, now she'd dead - who do you think is to blame?" He whirled around and stalked out of the room, overlooking Angelo's presence in his rage.
Angelo watched the man's back, stunned at the ferocity he had heard. He focused his attention back on the room. It appeared empty. 'Where did he go?' He scanned the room, unable to find Jonothan at first. A slight movement in a corner drew his attention. The young man sat on the floor, Indian style, his face buried in his hands.
Cautiously, Angelo entered the room. He approached slowly, uncertain how to proceed. Jonothan spoke without looking up. #Well, that was a ruddy mess. Wasn't it?#
The young Hispanic pulled a chair over and sat on it backward, chin resting on his crossed forearms. "Trust me, hombre, I've seen worse."
That cause Jono to look at him in surprise. #Really?#
Angelo shrugged, a bit embarrassed. "Sure. Hey, at least your argument didn't come to blows."
#Kinda wish is had. Might not hurt so much. Ya know?#
"Yeah, bro. I know." He reached over and patted Jono's shoulder.
#I think... I think I could have handled his reaction better if I didn't already know what the consequences of his anger was.#
"We'll stop her man. Guarantee."
Jono gave a sad kind of laugh. #I'll hold you to that.#
Angelo rose, kicked the chair aside, and helped Jono to his feet. "You do that. Come on, everyone must be wondering where we are."
The two friends left the room, unaware of green/blue eyes following them. A snatch of song floated in the air, then silence.
Jubilee danced backwards as the front door burst open and Mr. Starsmore brushed past her without a word. "Huh, rude much." He got into his car and drove off, tires squealing. "Oh, now, that's mature."
Everette walked over, staring after the departing vehicle. "He's leaving? The wake isn't over, yet."
"Doesn't seem as if the man is very big on manners."
"Grief can do that to a person, Jubilee."
"Maybe, but I get the feeling there's something more to all of this."
She shrugged helplessly.
Moments later, they were joined by Angelo and Jono. Both declined to comment on Jono's obvious discomfort. #He leave?#
Jono nodded absently at Jubilee. #Let's go back to the others.#
For the rest of the day and far into the evening, the family regaled everyone with stories, both funny and serious, about Mauve. They ate, danced, and played music, all in a celebration of her life. The grief and sadness that had hung over the group began to lift with the sharing. "You know what they say," Ginny quoted. "Joys shared are doubled while sorrows shared are halved."
Jubilee motioned towards Penance where the young mutant played an adapted version of hide and seek, being cautious not to harm the children with her razor sharp skin. "Penny's seemed so tense all day, I'm glad she's started to relax."
Penance was only relaxed because the dancing, story telling, and good will had kept the green/blue eyed creature away and she felt no need to hide or keep watch - those would come later, she was sure.
All too soon, the gathering began to break up. Jono and Ginny saw each of the numerous aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, and friends to their vehicles, wishing them safe journeys. Alone, Ginny and the Generation X students made a half-hearted attempt at cleaning up. In an uncharacteristically clumsy movement, Jono knocked over a glass, spilling leftover liquor all over the table. Emotionally wrung out, the young man took it hard, swearing creatively in both English and Gaelic. Angelo's ears perked up, while Everette and Jubilee tried to ignore the tirade, aware of Jono's exhaustion. He stopped short at his aunt's weary, "Enough, kiddo," hugging her by way of apology.
Ginny threw her towel onto the table. "That's it for me. It can wait until tomorrow, it's not going anywhere." With a collective sigh, the kids collapsed on various pieces of furniture, physically and emotionally wiped out.
"What now?" Everette asked tiredly from his spot on the couch.
Ginny swallowed a yawn. "Sleep. Tomarra's the readin' of the will. Then..." She trailed off with a shrug. She struggled to her feet, determined to see the kids settled before succumbing to sleep herself. "Jubilee, you and Penance can share the guest room. There's two beds in there." She looked around, a puzzled expression upon her face. "Where is Penance?"
Angelo waved his hand, the skin loosely swinging with the motion. "Oh, she's somewhere about. I'm not sure she actually sleeps in a bed, though. Least, I've never seen her in one."
"I'll leave some blankets out for her. Looks like you gentlemen get to fight over the couch," she said with a grin. Leaving blankets and pillows for the boys, she escorted Jubilee to the guestroom.
Angelo immediately grabbed a set of bedclothes and leapt on the couch, spilling Everette to the floor. "Dibs!"
"Hey!" Everette cried indignantly.
"You snooze, you loose, hombre."
"Maybe Jono should get the couch. It is his aunt's house, after all."
"No, way. If he wanted the couch, he could have snagged it for himself. Right, Jono?"
There was no answer.
"Jono?" Both Angelo and Everette turned to look then gave unconscious sighs of relief. Jonothan had curled up into an armchair and fallen fast asleep. Without another word, Everette covered his friend with a blanket and settled himself in the other chair, leaving the couch to Angelo. "Rough day."
"Si." There was a pause as the two exchanged glances. "Night, Ev."
Penance crept back into the house, uncertain when the green/blue eyed creature would return, but wanting to be ready when it did. Entering the living room, she curled up like a cat at Jono's feet, waiting.
It was nearing three when Penance sensed, rather than saw, Jonothan stiffen in his sleep. The chair shook for a moment, in the little bit of light streaming through the window it looked like the young man was struggling against something. Penance drew her lips back in a silent snarl when she detected a soft strain of music that seemed to surround the boy that shone bright.
His eyes opened, and Penance somehow sensed that Jonothan was looking beyond what was actually in the room. He rose from his seat jerkily, as if fighting his own body. The music grew louder for an instant, driving him from his makeshift bed and into the middle of the room. Scurrying around the couch, Penance placed herself between him and the front door and for a brief moment, the real Jonothan looked out at her.
She had always felt a connection with the scarred young man. His was a kindred spirit, an outcast and loner even among the outcasts, just as she was. But that connection became even stronger when she saw the fright, rage, and helplessness storming in his hazel eyes. She had felt the same way when in thrall to the evil creature known as Emplate, and remembered how the shining bright boy had helped her to stay out of Emplate's grasp. She could do no less for him.
Neither spoke, only the music and the light snores from Angelo and Everette could be heard. Then Jonothan stepped forward. Penance raised her arms to block him, trying to keep him from leaving. In shock, she stared as he reached out and grabbed her hand, deliberately cutting himself on her diamond sharp skin. She wondered who was in control at that point, Jono or the creature, for the reaching out could have been a cry for help or contemptuousness on the Siren's part.
His eyes changed from their normally warm hazel brown to the green/blue mixture that marked the Siren's possession. Penance snatched her hand back, staring blankly at the blood that now stained her hand. Jonothan took another step forward. When Penance didn't move, he lunged at her. She dodged, not wanting to hurt the young man further. After all, he was family. With the way cleared, the creature marched Jono out the door and hurried him down the street.
Penance glanced back at the two sleeping boys, shoved a table into the wall, and then took off after Jonothan, trying not to lose him.
*Thump! * Jubilee woke with a start at the noise. "Wha... huh?" Swiping sleep out of her eyes, she stumbled out of the guestroom and into the hallway. The door opposite opened as well and Ginny poked her head out. They exchanged puzzled glances, though Jubilee thought she saw dread in the older woman's eyes. A not so muffled curse had the two women racing for the front of the house.
Everette was studying something on the floor while Angelo paced impatiently, cursing in Spanish. At the women's arrival, Everette motioned towards the stain. "It's blood."
Ginny looked around wildly. "Jono?"
Everette shook his head. "He's not here. Neither is Penny."
"I ain't waitin' no more, man. I'm gonna follow them, see what's up." Angelo grabbed his jacket and bolted out the door, the others close on his heels.
Jubilee thanked the stars that everyone had been too tired to undress. 'I even had my shoes still on.' The four quickly moved down the street. 'Good job, Penny,' Jubilee thought when she saw several slash marks scarring a tree. "Follow the claw marks, Ang," she called. "Penny's following Jono and blazing a trail for us." 'Good thing, too,' she thought as they entered the wooded area behind the house. 'Or we'd never be able to find them.'
They had been traveling at a pretty good clip for several minutes. "Do you see them?" Everette called up to Angelo, who was in the lead.
"No," came the frustrated response.
"They didn't have that much of a head start, how'd they get so far ahead?" Jubilee's voice shook, sounding scared and angry at the same time.
"Magic, lass." Ginny kept a tight reign on her own terror, knowing it would be useless against helping her find her nephew. "If we don't hurry, we could lose both of them." Ginny had paused briefly to catch her breath and had noticed that the slash marks no longer looked fresh, but as if they were several hours or even days old. She called to the students. "Focus on Jono and Penance as we last saw them." At their confused looks she just waved them on. "Trust me, it's important." 'Don't have time to explain how time with one of the Fair Folk is different than time in the real world. I just hope this works.'
Ginny and the kids followed the trail at almost breakneck speeds. The trail ended abruptly at the side of a hill. Angelo kicked at a rock, "Where do we go now? There aren't any marks leading out of this area."
Everette felt a tingling at the base of his neck. He noticed that Jono's aunt seemed to feel something, too. "We're here," she murmured. "We just need to find the door."
Jubilee wrinkled her brow. "Door to what?"
"The other side."
"Oh, that explains a lot." Sarcasm colored the words as Jubilee rolled her eyes.
Ginny huffed a breath. "Jono and your friend were taken by one of the Fair Folk. They live Underground. We have to find a way after them."
The tingling sensation increased and Everette relaxed his control on his power and gasped silently at what he sensed. Power flowed from the earth, much like how he saw a mutant's power flowing from them. Ginny herself glowed with this otherworldly power and Everette had the oddest sense of deja-vu. 'Where have I seen this before?' But he couldn't remember.
After a brief experiment, he found that he could control whether he sensed the mutant power he was used to, this other power, or both. Focusing, he could make out the outline of what looked like a door. "Over here. I think I found it."
The others gathered near him. Jubilee pointed out a set of claw marks that were nearly hidden by overgrown grass. "So..." Angelo got to the root of the problem. "How do we open it?"
They all stared blankly at one another. "Think, 'Open Says Me', would do the trick?" Jubilee joked weakly. Before anyone could respond, cracks appeared in the ground revealing the door.
Angelo spoke in hushed tones at the door. "Good work, chica."
"Guess they've got a sense of humor."
Angelo elongated his fingers, working them into the cracks of the door in order to lever it open. With a grunt, the door gave a soft *snick*, then opened. Exchanging looks, they took deep breaths, then entered the Hill. Before entering completely, Jubilee found a rock and wedged it into the doorjamb, hoping that would keep the door from closing behind them.
They followed the tunnel for close to an hour. No noise could be heard, and the group didn't want to call out, in case there were any unfriendlies in the area. It was dark, their only light was sporadically provided by Jubilee's fireworks. Each had the distinct sensation of traveling downward, and in a spiral. Suddenly, they hit what appeared to be a dead end. Before they could do more than exchange glances, the roof caved in upon them.
Everette was first aware of the dull ache that seemed to permeate his entire body. Then of hands pulling him from under the rocks. "Careful," came a voice. "I don't know if anything is broken yet."
Everette focused and found himself staring into a pair of warm hazel brown eyes. 'Jono?' he thought. But no, it couldn't be. The man leaning over him with such concern was somewhere in his late thirties. High cheekbones and a strong jaw-line with slightly pointed chin gave the man a faintly elven appearance. The voice was warm with a smooth Gaelic accent. "Can you move your legs?"
Everette winced in sudden pain, but was able to comply. "Are my friends, okay?"
The man jerked his head to one side. "We found three others. The last one is being dug out, now."
When Everette tried to rise, the man gently pressed him back. "Relax. You've been through a lot. You're friends are sleeping. Let's check for any injuries before you try move, all right?"
Everette reluctantly complied. He turned his head to see Angelo and Jubilee lying on makeshift pallets nearby. Minor scratches and bruising showed on their arms and faces, but they appeared to be sleeping peacefully. Hearing the sound of rocks being shifted drew his attention. A woman with deep red hair - also in her mid to late thirties - carefully dug out Genevieve McDougal. "Is she okay?"
The woman knelt over the fallen woman, then answered Everette's inquiry. "She's breathing. There's hope."
Everette felt a warm sensation flood his body and he fell into a healing slumber.
Some intermittent time later, Everette woke again. Although stiff, he no longer ached all over. To his confusion, he found himself wedged into a natural crevice in the cave with the others. The man who had helped him whispered quietly to him, his tone urgent. "Don't make a sound. They don't know you're here. If you're quiet, they might not find you." Both he and his companion piled stones in front of them, hiding them from... something, or someone.
Footsteps echoed down the tunnel, coming closer. The man and woman quickly moved away from their hiding place. Everette heard a silky voice purr, "There they are. Still trying to escape? Tisk tisk." The two made no reply. The silky voice sighed, sending shivers down Everette's spine. "It is time to return. Loreena is waiting. It will not do to upset her." The voice continued a bit maliciously. "You do remember what happened the last time, do you not?" A whispered yes was the response. "I thought so. Escort our two wayward guests back to the main hall. It is nearing the dining hour."
The footsteps faded away into the distance, Everette nearly jumped out of his skin when a voice sounded near his elbow. "Now, that took courage."
"Nah," came the sarcastic reply. "It's some other Mexican dude trapped under rubble."
"Well, whoever you are, move. You've got your knee in the small of my back." This was from Jubilee.
"They sounded scared," Genevieve commented quietly.
There was a pause, then Everette heaved a sigh. "Yeah. They did, didn't they?"
"You know," Angelo rationalized. "If a man saves your life, you're indebted to them. And these two saved our bacon twice."
Jubilee shifted slightly, alleviating cramped muscles. "Group rescue, then?"
The others agreed. "Group rescue."
Slowly, painfully, and with as little sound as possible, the quartet exited their hidey hole. The only light came from some luminescent moss that lined the walls, their gentle glow allowing them to keep their footing as they followed the tunnel in the hopes of locating their companions.
After what felt like miles, a noise like a waterfall washed over them as they turned a corner. Plastering themselves up against the side of the tunnel, they peered into the next cavern.
A small valley with low hills surrounding it came into view as if a veil had lifted. A tiny waterfall fed a crystal stream that laughed as it danced across the valley floor. The sky was a purplish blue - twilight. A few stars shone down on the gathering. There was no moon, but the very plants seemed to give off a light of their own, illuminating the scene below.
Several tables stood end to end upon the emerald grass, draped in cloth as fine as spiders' silk. Silver and gold platters weighted upon the tables. Crystal goblets and plates of amethyst adorned each place. At each place setting sat a being that, no matter how hard one tried, remained indescript and vague, as if from some half-remembered dream.
At the place of honor, in an elaborately carved throne and bedecked in flowers, sat the Siren, Loreena. Hers was the most distinct form, though even it shifted and varied from time to time. Though, in each change, her face remained pale, thin, with high cheekbones, and her eyes kept their startling green/blue quality.
The creature spoke to the two humans kneeling before her, her voice almost painful in its sweetness. ~Don't you know you cannot escape me, child?~ When there was no response, the Siren pouted, then motioned for her guards to come forward. ~I've lost my appetite. Take them to their rooms. I'll send for them later.~
As the guards hauled the two humans to their feet, their rescuers noticed pain flash across their faces at the cruel grips. As one, Generation X crept back down the tunnel, by unspoken agreement, deciding to follow the guards and rescue the two humans from the elves.
"Hey, Ev. You pickin' up anything?"
"I can't tell. Something's messing up my senses. I only know that our trail ends at those doors."
Genevieve placed an ear to the door and motioned for silence. A moment passed while the kids kept nervous watch. "I don' hear anythin'. I think it's safe." She tried to open the door and swore softly. "It's locked."
Angelo gave a grin as he reached into a pocket. "Not for long, tia." He soon maneuvered the thin pieces of metal into position until a satisfying *click* was heard. The door swung open smoothly and Angelo grandly ushered the others inside.
The room beyond took them by surprise. "It's the Professor's study!" Jubilee exclaimed.
"The Professor?" Ginny asked absently. She quickly took in her surroundings, noting the two doors opposite their own entrance as well as the window that overlooked a large yard.
"Professor Xavier founded our school. But..." Jubilee looked confused. "Why is this here?"
"Familiar surroundings for Loreena's new guests, perhaps?"
Everette strode to a door and placed a hand on the knob. "Then I guess we're in the right place. Jono would know this room. If that is what the room is for." He stopped just inside the door, staring into the next room.
"What is it, Everette?" Ginny moved up.
"If this is familiar surrounding, I'd hate to have known this." The next room was dark and cold, the walls shone wetly and the very air felt dirty.
Angelo had tried the other door, but it opened to solid rock. "No way we're going this way, ese."
Jubilee sighed heavily, suppressing a shudder. "I guess we go thataway."
"Do you really want to?" Ginny asked.
"There isn't any other way." Jubilee placed her hands on her hips, her tone stating she thought it obvious.
Genevieve grinned then walked over to the window. It was unlatched, she merely had to open it. The outdoor yard scene shifted, as if painted upon the glass itself. Through the opening, they could see another natural rock corridor. Ginny climbed through, letting the kids follow as they would. "How'd you know?"
"Things aren't always as they seem when it comes to the Fair Folk. You should never take anythin' for granted. I made a guess, and it worked."
The corridor opened to another outside scene. A two-story building stood in the center of an empty clearing. Trees encircled the area, leaving no room between branches for even a nimble squirrel to get through. Turning to look at their entrance showed that if the window was closed, the magic of the place would hide it completely from sight. Ginny nodded in approval as one of the kids ripped a piece of their clothing to mark the window.
They stayed close when crossing the clearing. 'We might make a larger target this way, but I think we have a better chance of surviving as a group.'
They soon discovered that the building was being used as a dormitory. Each room was set up with a bed, table and chair, wash basin, and a small chest for keeping personal items, but they appeared unused. It was as they neared the second floor that they began to hear some signs of life.
The group scattered to the sides of the stairs as a chair came crashing down upon them from further down the hall. A woman's voice could be heard, shrill with fury. "Leave us alone, you horrible things, or I'll have your guts for my lacings!"
Edging up the stairs a bit, they could just make out the forms of two guards backing away from one of the rooms - fortunately away from where they were hiding. An angry scream rent the air as another piece of furniture flew out of the room to smash above the guards' heads. With a final threat, the elves left and the door banged shut. A bright pulsating glow showed under the door and the kids gave nervous glances.
"Um..." Jubilee began hesitantly. "I don't think now is a good time to bother them."
Genevieve sighed then pointed towards the other doors. "Check the other rooms. See if you find Jonothan or Penance. I'll check on those two." She barely heard the relieved acknowledgments they gave her as she crept silently down the hall.
Inside the room, she found the henna haired woman sitting on the floor, her back to the door, cradling her companion in her arms. She rocked him back and forth while smoothing his sweat-soaked hair out of his face. "Shhh. Shhh," she crooned. "Relax. Don't tense up. It only makes the spasms worse."
Ginny noted that a golden glow seemed to emanate from the dark haired man, but she couldn't tell for sure. The woman paused briefly in her administrations to wipe at her eyes with a quick impatient motion. "Damn those elves." She turned her attention back to her companion, and after a few moments, the glow began to diminish. "That's it. Relax. Now. Concentrate. Bring it all together." With a shudder, the glow dissipated completely and the man lay still in her arms. She drew him close in an embrace. "Good. Good," she whispered, laying a kiss upon his brow before settling him down on the floor. She reached behind her for a blanket that lay on the floor, but since she hadn't taken her eyes off her companion, she didn't seem to realize how far away the cloth was.
Ginny stepped further into the room, picked up the blanket, and placed it into the woman's questing hand. The woman's red hair swirled about her as she turned to confront another possible antagonist. Her blue eyes shone with an inner fire, and Genevieve froze. The younger woman put a hand out. "It's okay. I'm here to help. If you'll let me."
Recognition flooded those blue orbs after a moment of intense scrutiny and Ginny found herself relaxing in relief. The woman took the blanket with a nod. "You were from the cave in. What are you doing here?" She turned to tuck the cloth around the man.
His brow was furrowed as if in pain and his face shone with a sheen of sweat. "What happened to him?"
The woman brushed her fingers lightly down the side of his face and a few of the lines smoothed out. "He tried to protect me and they used their damn fairy whip on him." At Ginny's gasp, the woman continued in a lower tone. "It's no ordinary whip. It drains your energy, leaves you confused. No concentration. And the pain..." She trailed off, her hands clenching so tightly that Ginny could hear the bones creak. The woman sniffed and brushed tears off her cheek, regaining her composure. "But you didn't answer my question. What are you doing here?"
"We came after my nephew and his friend. They were taken earlier today."
The woman shook her head. "No one was taken today. But I'd have to ask Thaniel to be sure." She turned to look down at her companion. "He's always in the main hall and so would know if anyone new was here. Though I doubt it. No one's been brought down in ages."
"How long have you been here?"
The woman sat back on her haunches, one hand upon Thaniel's chest, as if afraid he'd disappear if she turned her back on him. "It seems forever, but Thaniel says it's been about twenty years."
"Twenty?" Ginny whispered, horrified. How could anyone survive down here that long? She'd have gone crazy long ago.
The woman shrugged, about to say something, when they were interrupted by a low moan. "Nance... Nancy?"
Genevieve watched as the woman's - Nancy's whole attention instantly zoned in on the sound. She ran a hand lovingly across his brow. "I'm here," she hastened to assure. "Everything's going to be fine now."
Thaniel's hazel eyes stared into hers for a long moment before turning to Genevieve, then back to Nancy with an unspoken question. "She's looking for kin. The others are out in the hall, keeping watch."
At Ginny's startled look, Thaniel gave a dry chuckle. "Nancy's hearing is a bit better than most folks. Not much gets by her notice." He sat up with some help from the two women, though not without a grimace of pain. "Kin?"
Genevieve nodded. "Yes. My nephew and his friend. They were taken earlier today. We followed, but were caught in a cave in."
The man shook his head, pushing brown hair irritably out of his eyes. "I haven't seen anyone new in ages." He smiled in thanks as Nancy gave him something to tie his hair back.
"Perhaps Loreena locked them up somewhere else?"
"It wouldn't have made any difference. Loreena would have had everyone out in the main hall the instant they arrived in order to show off her new 'acquisitions'." This was said with a hint of bitterness. He got to his feet, shook off the last of his weariness, and began pacing. "Are you sure they were taken?
It was then that Jubilee's voice hissed out. "We've got company! What'll we do?"
Nancy and Thaniel exchanged glances. "What impeccable timing."
Nancy shook her head, grabbed Genevieve's hand and dragged the younger woman out of the room. She opened the door across the hall and herded the would-be rescuers through it. "Stay silent and maybe we'll get out of this alive." She shut the door, leaving them in darkness.
After a hurried synopsis of what she'd learned, Genevieve and the others crouched behind the room's scant furnishings, listening intently.
Everette reached out with his aura to get a sense of who or what was nearby. Jubilee and Angelo crouched to his right, their powers a warm glow. To his left was Jonothan's aunt. Her own unusual power flowed like a soothing brook, blending into the surroundings. At that moment, he realized just how easy he and the other Generation X members could be traced by someone who could read auras. It was a sobering thought. 'Course, if they can track me, I can track them. I might be able to track Jono and Penny through their mutant abilities.'
Cautiously reaching out into the hallway, he sensed two of the fair folk approaching. Their auras weren't very powerful, flowing out in a mere trickle. Everette unconsciously gasped at the power of the next aura, earning himself an elbow in the ribs from Angelo. If Genevieve's power was a calm brook, then this was a raging waterfall. "Loreena," he whispered. He felt the others tense around him.
They all heard the door opposite them open. "Go away!" Nancy screeched.
She moaned at the next words. ~My dear, is that anyway to talk to your host?~
There was a heartbeat pause. "I... I'm sorry, m-my Lady. I wasn't thinking."
~Much better. I decided I was hungry after all~
The four young people could only wonder at what was going on. "M... my Lady, if you please. He's not strong enough." Nancy's voice no longer held any sign of belligerence.
"He... he was whipped earlier, my Lady."
A cold note crept into Loreena's dulcet tones. ~Really?~
Everette felt a flicker as one of the elves' auras suddenly disappeared, drawn into Loreena's own. A slight *thump* was heard. He shot a wide-eyed look at Angelo. His friend drew a finger across his neck, questioningly. Ev nodded back, horrified.
~I'm sure this won't happen again. Will it?~
"Of course not, my Lady," replied the other elf, his tone only wavering slightly.
Loreena's voice was all sweetness and light, now. ~Good. Come here, child.~
"My Lady," Thaniel replied. "I fear it will not be enough to sustain you."
She chuckled, good-naturedly now that she'd established her superiority once more. ~Nonsense. But I promise, just a snack tonight.~
Everette once again felt a flicker, but this was slightly different. Instead of an instantaneous rush of power from the victim to Loreena, this was a slower drawn out process. Gentler, if you could call having part of your aura drained away as being gentle. As Loreena took part of Thaniel's aura into her own, Everette examined what was taking place in a horrible need to understand what was going on. 'Perhaps I can stop it.'
In what should have been an ocean of power - Everette could tell that much, even though very little of it remained now - another power, also greatly diminished, swirled about. 'Is that a mutant power I detect?' It was, but it was too difficult for him to synch to, the combination being too difficult to link up to.
Dragging his attention away from the horribly compelling event, catching sight of Thaniel's companion for the first time. Nancy's aura, her life force, looked like that of any other normal human's, save for a slight tinge that indicated a latent or dormant mutant ability. Not knowing what to make of any of this, Everette concentrated on not letting what was going on make him ill.
Loreena gave a small sigh as if in satisfaction. ~Thank you, my dear. Sleep well. I'll see you in the morning.~ They heard her leave, taking the other elf with her.
Several long moments passed with no movement from across the hall. Jubilee rose from her crouch, shaking life back into her legs. "I'm gonna find out if they're okay." She stood at the door and listened. Hearing nothing, she carefully cracked open the door, wincing softly at the creak it made. She checked out the hall, then darted across into the next room.
Thaniel lay huddled against the wall, his whole frame shaking. Nancy was nearby, her face filled with rage, fear, and an undeniable despair. Jubilee looked again at Thaniel, finally catching his eye. "You okay? You look horrible."
He laughed, a sound without humor. "Ask for me tomorrow," he quoted. "And you shall find me a grave man."
Nancy took a step forward, hands clenched tightly. "Don't!"
The older man reached a hand out in apology and Nancy dropped down to his side, grasping it fiercely as he struggled to calm his tremors.
Jubilee was confused and alarmed. "What's going on?" Peripherally, she saw the others enter the room and close the door.
Thaniel's voice was low, the tone broken with the sound of pain. "She took too much."
"Too much what?" She asked in frustration and no little fear. 'God, he looks three quarters dead.'
It was Everette who answered. "She's been eating your life-force, hasn't she?"
Thaniel nodded wearily.
"For how long?"
Nancy responded. "Since we got here."
They sat in stunned silence for a moment. 'Twenty years? She's been doing this to him for twenty years?' Jubilee started pacing angrily. 'How dare that witch do something like this! It isn't right! She's no better than Emplate!' In her agitation, her fingers began shooting off small fireworks.
Suddenly, she found herself the focus of two sets of extremely determined eyes. "You're a mutant?" Nancy asked.
The young teen nodded.
The others exchanged glances, wondering what this was leading to. Jubilee had the feeling that the answer was vital. She nodded again, perplexed as the two captives exchanged glances.
Nancy leapt up, a hopeful look on her face. "You have to shoot him."
"What?" Jubilee backed up, shocked, and sure that the older woman had lost her mind. "That could kill him!"
Thaniel looked up at her imploringly, but no longer had the strength to talk. She could practically feel him fade away before her eyes, and it scared her.
"Please," Nancy pleaded. "He'll die if you don't help him. You won't be hurting him, I swear. He'll absorb the power and it'll help him to recover."
Jubilee looked from Nancy, to her hand, to Thaniel, and back again. 'What do I do?'
Thaniel gave a small sigh as his eyes fluttered shut. Nancy moaned and sank down beside him, checking for a pulse. "Please," she whispered.
Jubilee looked at the others, then came to a decision. "Okay. Stand back." As Nancy scrambled out of the way, Jubilee took a deep breath. 'Hope this works.' Fireworks sparked from her fingers, slamming into the unconscious man's chest. *Paf! Paf! Pa-Paf! Paf! Pa-Paf! Paf!*
Stopping, she was surprised that although the shirt looked a bit singed, Thaniel looked fine. In fact, he opened his eyes and looked around the room. Nancy dropped back down to his side and the two stared at one another for a long moment before his gaze took in the others in the room. He looked down at his shirt, then up at Jubilee and gave the first smile that any of them had seen. "You pack quite a wallup, gel." He sighed, dropping his head back down as he took in a deep breath. "Thanks for the jump start."
Within half an hour of discussion while Thaniel regained strength, they had decided to check one other known place where Loreena kept her "guests". They hoped to find Jono and Penny there. "If they aren't there..." Nancy paused.
"Then what?" Jubilee asked.
"The only other being that would know where they are would be Loreena herself."
Angelo swallowed a curse, while Everette merely moaned and buried his face in his hands. Ginny shook her head wearily, then nodded to herself. Jubilee just shot off another firework in her frustration.
"We should get going." Thaniel rose and moved to the door.
Jubilee looked at him doubtfully. "You well enough, yet, to leave? I mean... are you sure you should be moving around so much?"
"I'm bloody well going to try. Besides," He flashed her a cheeky grin as he took Nancy's hand. "I wouldn't be able to stand being here all by myself while you had all the fun."
The group soon backtracked do the "window" gladdened to see that the strip of cloth had not been tampered with. When they arrived in the "study," both Thaniel and Nancy stared at the would-be rescuers. "How did you get through?"
Genevieve shrugged. "It was unlocked."
He gave her a strange look. "Only to the fair folk." He tilted his head. "Elf touched?"
At her admittance, he nodded. "Makes sense. Come along. We have to go through here." He led them through the door and into the room Everette had expressed dislike for earlier. Thaniel and Nancy ignored their surroundings, but the others couldn't help but shiver at such a desolate atmosphere.
Glancing around, there didn't appear to be any doors or windows save the one they had just walked through. "Yo, chica. Looks like a dead end," Angelo commented.
Nancy merely shook her head and walked over to the far wall. Counting down from the top, she placed her hand on a particular stone set into the corner and turned it counter clockwise. A scraping was heard as a section of the wall opened revealing another corridor.
"I could really begin to hate these tunnels, ese." Angelo looked skeptically down the tunnel, sighed, and followed after the others. 'Glad I ain't claustrophobic.'
They found another almost identical dormitory, but after a thorough search, discovered that it hadn't been used in a very long time. Angelo made himself useful by picking locks as they went through the building, but each door only showed an empty room. "Nada. Nothing. What next?"
Nancy took a deep breath. "We've got two choices. We can give up your friends for dead..." No one seemed to like that idea very much. "Or we go talk to Loreena."
Angelo and Thaniel walked side by side in the lead of their little party. Thaniel because he knew the way to the main hall where Loreena was most likely to be, and Angelo because he wanted to know more about this man that he and his friends were trying to save.
"What's it like up there?" Thaniel jerked his head upwards, indicating the world from which they had just come from.
Angelo glanced quizzically at the older man, not quite understanding the question. "You mean, what's it like, now, after twenty years?"
The man shook his head, a lock of brown hair escaping from the tail he had put it in and swinging gently into his eyes. "No. I mean, what's it like up there?" At the younger man's stare, he moved to explain. "I..." he glanced back at Nancy who was talking quietly with Jubilee and Ginny. "We don't remember much of our lives before we came here. Just snatches of memories. Nothing to really hang on to." His voice lowered and Angelo had to strain to hear. "First few years here did their best to drive away any memories." He seemed to give himself a shake, then absently shoved the lock of hair back where it belonged.
Angelo was curious. "Hombre, if you don't know what it's like out there, why are you so fired up to go?"
The Mexican was stunned at the grave seriousness that shown in the lines of Thaniel's face, and the determination and conviction in those hazel eyes. "Because it couldn't possibly be worse than this."
Angelo nodded and they continued in silence.
They found an empty room in order to plan their attack. There was pitifully little they could plan. They were outnumbered and possibly outpowered. "But, Loreena always did like defiance against all odds." Nancy laughed bitterly. "Though we're not likely to survive the encounter."
"You don't know that for sure, chica. Mi amigos and I have been up against worse odds than this!" 'Though,' he thought silently, 'I can't remember any, now.'
During their planning, the students explained their powers. Nancy demonstrated her ability to lengthen her nails and harden them to the point of being able to score lines in the stone floor. Thaniel was able to use his abilities to either heal physical wounds or shoot off energy bolts - it was this that had allowed him to absorb Jubilee's fireworks and use them to help himself. Explanations over, the six prayed that they'd be able to find Penny and Jono and defeat Loreena.
Jubilee was sitting next to the door, keeping watch. At a noise, she stiffened, poking her head carefully out the door. Turning back to the others she hissed, "There's a group of elves at the end of the tunnel." She took another peek out. "They've got some kind of dog with them. Ugly looking thing."
Nancy paled and whimpered softly, one hand unconsciously fingering a set of scars upon her throat. Thaniel had his lips drawn back in a silent snarl, the fury in his eyes taking Generation X by surprise. "Hell hound," he explained, voice shaking. "Their saliva is pure venom if it hits your blood stream." He wrapped his hand around Nancy's, trying to loosen her clenched fist.
The group searched the room desperately, laying their hands on anything that could be used as a weapon. As quietly as possible, Ginny broke up a chair, handing Everette and Angelo each a wooden leg, keeping two for herself. Jubilee placed her hands together, as if holding a gun, ready to fire off a volley of fireworks. Thaniel murmured something in Nancy's ear. She nodded, took a deep breath, and the two fell into fighter's crouches. Nancy's hands hooked into claws, Thaniel's held out flat as if ready to shove someone away.
Angelo swung his make-shift bat, glad for the weapon, but unsure of how successful it'd be against a Hellhound. No one spoke and the sounds of the elven group became steadily louder. At their bolted door, the Hellhound took up a screeching bark that sliced through eardrums and set teeth on edge. The door was thrown open, despite its lock and the Hellhound entered in a flurry of motion.
Hip high with an orangish-blue skin tone, the creature looked like the offspring between a Rottweiller and a Pitbull that was smashed by a truck. Thick ropes of saliva dripped from its open mouth and teeth the length of a hand glistened wetly.
Angelo flinched suddenly as Jubilee fired a few 'works into the creature's face, blinding it. "Eat sparks!"
The Hound gave an almost human scream of rage and pain as it pawed at its face. While distracted, Everette, Angelo, and Genevieve swept forward, wielding their weapons with grim faces. Angelo in particular spared nothing in his blows as he struck again and again. 'I ... *thunk* ... hate ... *thunk* ... dogs ... *thunk*!' He was only peripherally aware of his other teammates, most of his attention was on the Hellhound, which seemed to be able to withstand quite a bit of abuse.
Three elves crowded in the doorway, mouthing curses. Thaniel pushed out with his hands. A force streaked from his hands in a golden glow, striking the elves back and down momentarily. Nancy leapt over the Hound, making a slashing motion across its back as she did so. Angelo saw blood well and drip from the sudden cuts and a sudden, crazy idea popped into his mind. He shook his head, annoyed at the distraction. 'Test it later. Fight, now!'
Nancy bowled into the elves, knocking them back from the room and into the hall. The strikes, seemingly random, were enough to keep the older, more experienced elves from fighting back.
Jubilee continued to shoot her fireworks at the creature. A smell not unlike that of burnt rubber filled the room, clogging the fighter's lungs, making it harder to breath. Due to the proximity, Thaniel grabbed one of Genevieve's sticks and used it like a spear, rather than a club. The others soon followed suit. The animal lashed out, clawing and biting in a frenzy. At one point, the creature gave a howling cry, chilling their blood, then lay still.
They stood panting, sides heaving from exertion. "Is it dead?" Thaniel asked wearily, nursing a clawed hand to his chest.
For a response, Jubilee fired several fireworks along the length of the creature's body. It didn't even twitch. "It's dead." The others heaved a sigh of relief.
"Nancy?" Thaniel strode out of the room. Two elves lay dead in the hallway, their throats slashed open, a look of surprise on their faces. Of the third elf or of the henna-haired human, there was no sign. Before anyone could formulate a hypothesis as to her whereabouts, a silver sphere appeared from around the corner and floated serenely toward them. Thaniel, Genevieve, and Generation X froze in their tracks; Thaniel angry, the others wary.
Gently ringing chimes resolved themselves into speech. ^Loreena and your friend await you in the main hall.^
With a howl of fury, Thaniel blasted it with a bolt of energy. Arms wrapped about himself as if cold, the older man paced angrily muttering in Gaelic, English, and a language that poured like liquid crystal from his mouth. The thought that had come to Angelo earlier during the fight suddenly returned and flared when Thaniel pulled up short at Ginny's absent, "Enough, kiddo."
"Jonothan?" he asked incredulously.
Everyone - everything - came to a halt as the entire group looked at him like he was crazy. "What are ye on about?" The man asked sharply.
All the pieces fell into place for Angelo and a glance at his teammates showed that they were beginning to understand. "All the signs were there. The Prof's study, a place that you would feel comfortable with. The fact that there were only two prisoners. The hair and eye color similarities." Was he trying to convince Thaniel or himself? The young Hispanic wasn't sure, but he continued listing his proof. "The bolts of energy you used, so close to the psionic force you wielded. The way Nancy used her claws. Heck, even your names should have given us a clue, if we had thought about it. JonoTHAN, THANiel. PeNANCe, NANCy."
"Jesus, Mary and Joseph," Genevieve whispered reverently. She was staring at Thaniel as if she had just met him. "In all the excitement, I didn't notice... You look so much like your grandfather." She smiled at him, eyes filling with tears.
Thaniel had stopped muttering darkly, seemingly willing to listen to such outlandish theories. A strange light entered his eyes. "So... if what you're saying is true..." he stopped, then began again, softer, just a hint of denial in his tone. "We've been here twenty years. Why aren't you older?"
"Time moves differently Underground."
Any other denials Thaniel - Jonothan - wanted to voice simply disappeared in an accepting sigh and nod.
Everette noticed Thaniel - it was difficult trying to reconcile this older, self-possessed man with the scarred young man that Everette used to know - staring hard at him. He could almost see the gears whirling in the Scot's head. "What?" he asked nervously.
"Your power links up with auras, right?"
"Not all auras. So far, only those who have a mutant ability. It lets me duplicate their powers."
Thaniel paced closer, they had resumed their march towards the main hall to rescue Nancy, but all hoped to come up with a workable plan before they arrived. "Can ye synch with mine? I'm still weak, but the two of us combined could do some real damage."
Everette reached out hopefully, only to have those hopes dashed. "I can't. Somehow, your elven abilities make it hard to get a hold of your mutant power. The mix is too strange." Thaniel sighed and Everette wished he could have given some comfort. He glanced at the others, his gaze coming to a rest on Genevieve. An idea got his mouth to twist in an anticipatory grin. "Wait a minute. I've an idea." His teammates broke into large predatory grins of their own when he explained.
The quintet strode boldly into the main hall, a far cry from their previous skulking about. The grotto was as serene as before. Loreena had ascended her throne, again bedecked in jewels and flowers. She seemed unsurprised at their entrance. Nancy knelt beside the ornate chair, two guards stood at her shoulders holding her down in the posture of obedience. Otherwise, the grotto was empty of life. Even the small waterfall and brook sounded subdued.
~Looking for this?~ Loreena gestured towards the red head, her tone clearly one of borderline boredom and amusement, calculated to throw them off balance.
Genevieve placed a hand on her nephew's shoulder feeling the muscles bunch angrily. "Softly, now." Aware of his somewhat volatile temper, she didn't want him to do or say anything that would get someone killed.
He nodded curtly at her, pulling away from her grasp. She stifled a surge of hurt at the slight. She and Jonothan had always been close, but his twenty years in this hellhole, where kindness from anyone other than Nancy was only a means to cause more pain or humiliation, kept the man distant from his aunt. 'Damn you, Loreena. Damn you to hell!' Ginny grinned humourlessly. She intended to make sure that was where the Siren ended before the day was out.
Thaniel moved up, the others forming a semi-circle around him. Loreena leaned back in her seat languidly. With a slight smile upon her face she said, ~I'm so glad you decided to join us, child. I was beginning to hunger.~
That was the wrong thing to say. 'Though,' Ginny thought sardonically. 'I don't think there was a single thing that song witch could have said that wouldn't have set Thaniel off.'
"You're never feeding off me again, Loreena. We're leaving. You're not keeping us here any longer." The statements were said calmly enough, but the undercurrent of anger accompanying it caused the air to static in response. Ginny could taste ozone on her tongue and she shuddered involuntarily at the amount of power indicated.
If Loreena was worried she hid it well, raising an elegant eyebrow at the group gathered before her. ~Come now, child. Any more of this nonsense and I shall have no recourse but to punish you.~ Her tone was soothing, reasonable, a bit regretful, as if the very idea of punishing him was a repugnant but necessary duty she had to perform.
"I am not your child." That was all he said. His tone was even calmer than before, but it set the Siren and her guards rocking back slightly from the unspoken anger that went along with it. He put out a hand towards Nancy, silently entreating her to come to him. In a movement so quick that the guards had no time to grasp her, Nancy rose and crossed over to join Thaniel in the semi-circle. All six humans stared at the Siren with varying degrees of anger and defiance.
A cold look flashed in the creature's green/blue eyes. 'Uh, oh,' Genevieve braced herself. 'Now we're in for it!'
The music that seemed to follow Loreena everywhere, wrapped itself about the small group; driving them to their knees with an almost physical blow. "Now, Everette! Now!" someone screamed.
The plan was for Everette to synch with Genevieve's elven power. Theoretically, if it could be done, then he could use her power to gain access to Thaniel's power. He would use that power, as well as borrowing Jubilee's, Angelo's, and Nancy's powers as needed to defeat the Siren. 'Please let being the seventh child of a seventh child prove to be as lucky as all the legends have held it to be,' Ginny prayed.
Her prayer was answered. Genevieve suddenly felt a connection with the young mutant as his power synched with hers. She could feel him use her power to focus upon Chamber's extremely unique aura, trying to gain access to the energies the older man carried within him. At first, nothing seemed to happen, then Everette seemed to light up like a bottle rocket. Energies, both mutant and elven, swirled about him in a visible light show, then struck out at the Siren and her two guards.
For the first time, Ginny sensed Loreena's unease. The attack had come from an unexpected quarter and the strength of it had knocked her back. But the Siren soon regained her equilibrium and blocked the combined energy. After a moment, the creature was making attacks of her own upon the six humans.
Everette had to divide the power up again, part being used in a continuous attack, and another as a shield between Loreena and the group. Ginny could see the tremendous strain that Everette was under. Several times, the shielding almost collapsed under the weight of the Siren's attacks.
'Oh, God. We're losing.' Genevieve felt helpless. Since she didn't know how her powers worked she didn't know how to focus them and had to hope that Everette could figure it out himself. But before she had completely given in to despair, Jonothan's familiar telepathic "voice" filled her head. She couldn't help the savage grin that crossed her face at that moment. 'If he's able to use his telepathy, perhaps he's remembering his life before he came here and he can access his own mutant power.'
#Everette, can you hook up wi' Loreena's aura?#
Everette shook his head, not willing to let Loreena know what was going on, and too winded to spare the breath.
There was a pause, then... #Got it.#
Suddenly, inexplicably, Genevieve felt, not exactly a shift, but an augmentation of the power Everette was wielding. 'What the...?'
The swirl of energy that had confined itself between centering on Everette and striking at Loreena had swelled to include Thaniel in the centering. A focused beam of energy lanced from the older man to his tormentor then looped back again, causing the swirl to intensify and the energy striking the Siren to increase, like a circuit connecting to another battery will increase the voltage output.
Music with a quick pulsating beat filled the air countering the soft lilting music of the Siren's and Jubilee let out a whoop as she flung fireworks at the faces of the two guards. "Rock and Roll!" Angelo wrapped his fingers around the guards legs, gave a jerk, spilling them to the floor. Nancy threatened to rip their throats out as the three converged upon the elves, successfully subduing them. Aware of her inadequacies in such a fight, Genevieve kept an eye out for reinforcements.
Loreena's normally composed features were drawn back in a grimace. Her green/blue eyes flashed. 'Is that fear?' For every trick she tried, Everette managed to block the effects. For every spell thrown, Thaniel threw a counter spell. Through the "circuit" that he had established Thaniel somehow synched himself to the Siren, sending the siphoned power along the link to Everette.
#Hurry! I can't hold this for much longer!#
With her attention focused upon the battle of power before her, Loreena was forced to succumb to the more mundane attack of fist and foot. As she fell back, she shrieked, a knell that caused the bones to vibrate and the eardrums to pulsate painfully. "Stuff it, gel." Nancy landed a solid blow against the creature's jaw, dropping her onto the floor. "I've been waiting YEARS to do that!"
The flux of energies ceased the moment the Siren's concentration was broken and the following silence was almost deafening. Loreena sat up, her green/blue eyes held a confusing combination of shock, anger, and a glimmering of respect as she stared hard at the six humans. She rose to her feet and Generation X regrouped, Genevieve protectively in the center.
Loreena stared at Thaniel, a look of longing on her face. She broke the silence, the sound of her voice coming as a shock. She no longer used the smooth flowing tones as before, her voice hitched with what sounded like pain - ragged and harsh. ~I'll not let ye go. You're mine. Ye always will be.~ It was spoken matter-of-factly, as if this battle were merely that of a child rebelling against a parent, a battle that would be quelled soon enough.
Thaniel looked at the creature with pity? sadness? He shook his head slowly, one hand reaching out to grasp his aunt's, the other taking Nancy's. Soon, the entire group had linked hands. "I don't think so, Loreena. Goodbye." Together, they brought their powers to bear, focusing all their energies through Thaniel and Everette who in turn struck out at the Siren and their surroundings, trying, through sheer will alone, to reduce the place to rubble.
An unholy scream rent the air. Loreena was encased in the swirling energies. She clawed at the power surrounding her, desperately trying to dispel it, to no avail. There was another despairing scream, then the group was deafened and half-blinded by a tremendous explosion.
Genevieve found herself gratefully embracing oblivion as it rushed up to meet her.
Sunlight warmed her skin, and the sounds of birds gave Genevieve the confidence to finally open her eyes. She lay on a bed of leaves, tall trees creating a canopy over her head. Gingerly, she tested her limbs for injuries. 'Achy, but otherwise okay.' She pushed herself up on her elbow, swallowing a moan of pain. "Is it over?" she whispered to herself, hardly daring to believe that they had won. Trying to raise to her feet, she let loose an inarticulate groan as her body protested the change of position.
"I'll see your groan and raise you a 'yeowch'." Genevieve spotted Angelo lying a short distance away. The young man's skin hung loosely, spread beneath him like a gray blanket. "I am so wiped." He muttered to himself in Spanish, then huffed a breath. "Pull it together, hombre." Fascinated, Ginny watched his skin pull tight around his bones, no longer hanging off him in folds. A sagging at his jowls and in the webbing of his hands were the only indication of his exhaustion. She reached over and helped him to his feet. "Madre de Dios." Angelo stared about him, mild shock written on his face.
The clearing in which they had begun their adventure was completely decimated. The hill itself was gone. It looked like it had exploded from the inside and then had been leveled flat. Even the grass and flowers were gone. Nothing remained but a few rocks and scattered pieces of wood. However, the woods lining the clearing were completely unharmed. Genevieve swallowed with difficulty. "That was a lot of power." Angelo could only nod his agreement.
After a moment of stunned silence, the two began searching the area for the others, praying that everyone had escaped from Underground. Everette and Jubilee were easy to find, the latter yelling her head off. "Get me down! Now!" The unfortunate girl hung upside down, her ankle caught in a crook of a tree. All her flailing about only entangled her further in the branches.
Everette tried to calm the frustrated teen to no avail. "Relax, Jubilee. You're going to hurt yourself."
"Oh," came the sarcastic reply. "Easy for you to say, you're not the one stuck up in a tree."
Genevieve and Angelo let Everette deal with Jubilee while they continued their search for Jonothan and Penance. Maybe it was shock, or maybe they subconsciously knew that the two missing would be found, but Ginny and Angelo went about their search unhurriedly and without any undue concern. Almost as an afterthought, Ginny drew Angelo into conversation. "What do ye remember?"
The young mutant rubbed his temple, thinking. "I remember Jono and Penny being taken ... going into the hill after them ... then," he shrugged, his face lined with confusion. "Somehow defeating Loreena. There was some kind of explosion." He shrugged again. "Not much, actually. Strange. You?"
Ginny shook her head. "About the same. I know we had searched for some time, but... I can't seem ta remember any details." She went silent for a moment. "T'be honest, it doesn't matter ta me exactly what happened as long as Jonothan and Penance are found, and Loreena really has been defeated." Angelo whole-heartedly agreed.
Penance - Nancy - opened her blue eyes to the world. At the sight of sunlight shining through the living trees and at the scent of flowers blown upon the breeze, she smiled happily. She was free! She raised a hand up into the air in an unconscious embrace then froze, her heart dropping. Her skin was once again diamond hard and razor sharp. She sighed. Being normal had been so wonderful - to touch and to be touched without harming another... She sighed again.
Movement beside her brought her up to her knees defensively, claws extended. Was it an elf? Had Loreena survived the attack? Prepared for the worst, a pair of hazel eyes brought her up short. Instantly relaxing, her body language indicating apology, she moved over to her friend's side. The sadness she felt was echoed deeply in his own eyes. #Hello, luv.# Once again, bandages covered him from nose to sternum, containing the psionic energy that had reappeared.
Trying to speak his name, she could only mouth, 'Thaniel.' She closed her eyes briefly, stricken. Of all the difficulties she had with her mutant power, being mute was one of the hardest to cope with. Chamber shook his head, #Not Thaniel. Not anymore.# She saw the sadness deepen, lying heavily upon him. He raised a hand to cup her face and she jerked back, wanting the contact but unwilling to hurt him for it. He nodded and shrugged his shoulders in a silent sigh and attempted to change the subject. #What do you remember?#
She thought a moment, then shook her head making a motion with her hand indicating something flying away.
#Yeah. I'm forgetting, too. Funny. I don't seem to mind so much.#
They sat in companionable silence while most of their memories of the past twenty years gently slipped away. However, enough of them remained for them to come to a startling revelation. The same thought must have run through their heads at the same time, for they suddenly looked up at one another, stunned expressions on their faces. #We're young again. Perhaps...# he trailed off and Nancy held her breath, hoping that the words spoken "aloud" would make them come true. #Perhaps, now that we know it can be done, we can...# He reached a hand out to her once more and this time she didn't flinch. Gently, he placed a finger on a scratch she was unaware of obtaining. His brow furrowed in concentration and... #Yes,# he whispered. The cut healed under a golden glow.
Before they could comment further on their discovery or see if Nancy could work a similar wonder, they were interrupted. "Jonothan? Penance? Where are you?"
Angelo and Genevieve came into view, and the two ex-captives found themselves up on their feet, being fussed over within an inch of their lives... and loving every minute of it. The quartet retraced steps until they joined back up with Jubilee, who was much happier now that she wasn't in the tree, and Everette. The group made their noisy way back to the house, Jubilee claiming that she was never going overseas again, "Cause, really, we never get a normal vacation. _Something_ always comes up."
As they walked, Nancy quietly slipped her hand into Jonothan's.