DISCLAIMER: X-Men:Evo belongs to Warner Bros. And Marvel Comics. I have never, and shall never own them, no matter how much I may want to. I've simply warped them to fit my own twisted mind. However, this fic and any original work herein is officially mine, and anyone trying to steal it will find out how painful a weapon a computer mouse can when used by someone with imagination.

WARNINGS: This is an AU (Alternative Universe) fic. Everything has been transplanted into a fantasy universe of my creation. Inspirations, despite what you might initially think, aren't actually from a certain Peter-Jackson-esque film, since I started work on this before I ever *saw* that movie. Influences rather include Internutter's spiffy fic 'Mein Teuful' (if you haven't yet read this then go do it *now*!) and various other sources I'll explain later.

AUTHOR'S NOTES: After many months in the offing, computer breakdowns, ff.net failures and writers block, 'OBAB' (or, the fic that's talked about, but never seen) is finally here. Most notably of Internutter's Nutboard fame, it has spiralled out of control from the tiny boredom-prompted work it originally was. I have to admit, it's a bit epic, but I hope people enjoy reading it as much as I've done (and still do, actually) writing it. Please be gentle, but *do* let me know what you think however you can, Even a sentence would be appreciated, since I'm a feedback junkie. ^_^

'Of Beast And Blade' By Scribbler


'The beginnings and endings of all human undertakings are untidy.' ~ Anonymous


The tower rose out of the darkness like some giant stone monolith, tall and imposing against the night sky. A cold wind howled around it, snarling and battering at the erratically placed shutters like an intangible wild beast. But the ancient edifice bore the attack with silent strength. It had weathered many terrible storms before. This one would be no different.

Inside, incongruous to the gale beating against the outer brickwork, a fire burned merrily in the grate, illuminating the rounded room with a warm, comforting glow. Flickering shadows were cast upon the curved walls, giving them a stretched, somewhat distorted quality. Jars and various other paraphernalia became leering phantoms; deceptive silhouettes as they contorted themselves in the wavering light.

It wasn't an especially large room, but was made smaller by the many things crammed into it. Rich tapestries adorned the walls, threads of spun gold twinkling as they caught the light. Likewise, assorted brightly coloured mats and rugs were spread across the scrubby wooden floorboards, and on them dwelt numerous items of furniture - none of which matched, and all of which were occupied by reams of parchment, beribboned scrolls and several quills that needed sharpening. It seemed that someone had attempted remodelling the place in different decors at various stages, but never gotten around to finishing any of them, and so everything was a mish-mash of colour, shape and design. Eastern dragons roared alongside stiff necked Egyptian art, accompanied rather discordantly by swirling gothic patterns, incongruous in their dark hue to the splashes of yellow and red here and there from thick, dusty books, laid flat in a variety of bizarre places with their spines breaking on pages the reader had left off and somehow never gotten back to. And, riding high above them all swung an aged, unlit chandelier of wrought black metal that looked like it hadn't seen new candles in many decades.

A door on the far side of the chamber, across from the shuttered window where the wind screamed to be let in, suddenly creaked open a few inches. A skinny streak of light snuck through, and half a face pressed itself to the crack.

Abruptly, from the folds of unmatching fabrics on one of the deep chairs came movement, closely followed by a thin, brittle voice.

"Come in, child. I've been expecting you."

The face at the door blinked, curious as to how it had been noticed when the person in the chair was facing the opposite direction into the blazing fire.

Cautiously the door was pushed open. It was an old thing, made up of thick oaken panels, each shot through with iron bolts, and creaked loudly. The owner of the face darted inside and shut it quickly, not wanting to spoil the warm atmosphere with harsh outside influences. This cluttered chamber was like a separate little world. Untouched by the rest of the sprawling complex and the people in it. He pattered over to the speaker, pausing behind the chair and scuffing his feet self-consciously. It didn't seem right to just barge in like this, and he was struck by sudden embarrassment at his unannounced arrival.

He need not have worried.

"Come into the light." The thin, reedy voice came again. "Where I can see you." There was a commanding tone to that voice, no matter how weak and frail it sounded, and it was clear that it was not to be contravened. Without a doubt, this was someone used to being obeyed.

Scuttling forward, the intruder found himself bathed in the firelight's glow. It was a wonderful feeling - much warmer than any fire of that size he'd ever felt before. Much warmer, in fact, than a fire this size had right to be. But then, things in this chamber were not always what they seemed, as he'd learned many times in the past. There were often stories of strange goings on in this secluded part of his home. Tall tales cooked up by idle minds, designed to scare young ones for a laugh. The latest rumour told of how naughty children were brought up and pickled in jars as an example to the rest, and put on show every few years or so. But he knew these to be nonsense. Then only things pickled up here were frogs and toads from the pond, and they most certainly never left the room because their glass cases were so delicate with age, as were so many archaic objects - although you wouldn't know it from how they were scattered so haphazardly around the floor and tables. There was no order anywhere, but instead of clashing, the chaos was strangely homey. Comfortable, even.

A cough sounded behind him, and he turned from the fire to face both the chair and its occupant.

An old woman sat therein. She was as much a relic as the chattels around her. Her skin was wrinkled and prune-like, and seem shrunk to fit her knobbly bones. Many shrouds enfolded her tiny, wizened body, already cosseted by old robes of an unidentifiable dye in the poor light. About her bony and careworn face hung thick curtains of long, greying hair, shot through with shards of white and pushed back to rest behind one ear. Around her hung an air of great age and wisdom, like a veil of importance she wore along with all her years. She looked as she was - ancient.

Yet from the sunken sockets gleamed a pair of eyes so brilliant and sharp one almost wondered what they were doing in so aged and wan a face. They were sprightly and bright, and would've seemed more at home nestled in smooth, unsullied skin, couched in youth and new-beginnings. They glittered now at the small boy stood before them, regarding him with a commanding gaze that spoke of authority and great power. This, they seemed to say, is a very important person you're speaking to, so show some respect you young whipper-snapper!

The youngster gulped and stared pointedly at his feet. But the old woman smiled and reached out with one emaciated hand to tilt his chin up again. He stared at her, unable to look away, and saw a playfulness also present in her eyes, pushing past her age to dance like a little girl's light-heartedness at him. Somehow he was reminded of soft Summer breezes, good friends and childish games in the paddock all at once, and a cosiness spread from the tips of his fingers to the ends of his toes. It warmed him even more than the spelled fire, and he found himself smiling back.

"Bren, isn't it?" She said questioningly, and released him from her grasp. "And what brings you to my chambers on such a horrible night? Shouldn't you be asleep in your dormitory by now?"

The small boy shook his head, and replied shyly.

" 'Tisn't time for bed yet."

"Really?" She raised an eyebrow. "I would've thought this storm would drive any youngster under the covers anyway. I've never seen lightning like it, nor heard thunder so loud. Aren't you scared?"

As if to emphasize her words another clap rumbled across the sky above them, and a streak of lightning illuminated around the shutters where the rain beat to seek entrance through the cracks. The boy shivered, but steeled himself and stood up straighter.

"I ain't no fraidy-cat! Only girls is fraidy-cats, an' I *definitely* ain't no *girl*!" He sounded quite incensed at the idea, and the woman's brown eyes sparkled with amusement. He couldn't be more than six years old, yet already he sounded like his father. And his grandfather too, for that matter. Yet his looks were that of his grandmother, undoubtedly. He had her heart-shaped face and pale complexion, as well as her hair-colouring. A chuckle rose in the back of her throat as memories came unbidden to her mind, but caught in her gullet, dissolving in wheezing coughs that wracked her feeble body as if there was an earthquake beneath her feet.

At once the boy was at her elbow, a concerned look on his face.

She raised a hand at him for patience before assuring; "I'm fine. Don't worry about me."

His expression told her that he wasn't convinced, and it stayed plastered in place until her retching subsided. She heaved a deep breath, feeling balmy air rush into her lungs and turned to face him once more.

"Now. Bedtime and fraidy-cats aside, just why *have* you come to visit me, little one?"

"At dinner," He said warily, with more than a hint of hopefulness. "You promised you'd tell me a story, Temple Mother."

"That I did." She nodded. "And I always keep my promises. Come up and sit by me, child," One hand patted the arm of the deep chair beckoningly, "Where it's more comfortable."

The little boy did as he was bade, scrambling up to perch on the wide arm of the chair. He took care not to jar the woman's old bones and positioned himself where he could pay attention properly, yet still enjoy the delicious warmth of the fire. Instantly enrapt, he listened as she began. Tales such as this were given whenever the chance arose, but usually with a larger audience. Times like this were a rare treat for anyone fortunate enough to merit access to these chambers, and he valued them more than most.

The elderly lady rearranged herself slightly, scooching around some so that she could look at her young audience of one. Which tale to tell him? She'd lost track of which he and the other children knew and which were still unknown to them. A fairytale, perhaps? Toadstools, fairies and skipping sprites beneath the moon. No, not for the likes of him. He didn't seem like the type of boy who'd like that sort of story. That was, to use a word of his own choosing, 'soppy'.

But what then? What tale could she relate that would entertain him?

A few stray memories swam into her mind, which was still as clear and unfettered as when she was a girl. They surfaced, throwing recollections her way and providing her with an idea. There was one story she was certain he didn't know. She'd never told it before, but today it seemed apt to relate it. What with the storm raging outside. Another storm had rocked this place long ago, but it hadn't been quite like this. No, that was quite a different time altogether....

"Listen to me, child." She began. "All you see around you. Everything you touch, you do so as a free person. The food you eat, the air you breathe, and the stars you look upon. Yet things were not always this way. Oh, no. Many years ago, long before either you, or even your parents were born, this land was a very different place. It was a cold and cruel time, where sorcery and the sword ruled. Ach, that was a time of great fear for folk such as you or I. Earth-Realm was corrupt; being eaten away from the inside. Tyrants rose and brought everything under their iron rule. Even nature itself. Strong fighters rose up and were cast down again, and slowly a choking darkness spread across Earth-Realm, draining everything and everyone until we thought we would all die.

"Ah, I grow old. My senses are not as honed as they used to be, nor is my body as strong. Youth has left me by the roadside, and yet I still have my memories. For you see, child, this story is a true one. I can still remember it as if it were only yesterday. So many years have passed, and yet I see events and people clearly in my mind."

"You mean you were there?" The little boy was enthralled. "You actually *saw* it?"

"Yes." She responded softly. "And more besides. Ach, I was young then, and foolish. I didn't truly understand the magnitude of what I was mixed up in, nor how my actions would affect our future - the future of *all* Earth-Realm. I was idealistic and young, but I believed. And sometimes, just believing in something is all you need to triumph. Hope can go a long way. It can build bridges, or bring down mountains. All you need is a little faith.

"Listen to me, young one, and heed what I say. I shall tell you now a tale of long ago. A tale of friendship, true love and fighting darkness so intense it boggles the mind. An evil such as the world had never seen, and I pray never will again. I will tell you of peaceful folk and warriors, unassuming in their ways of life, yet thrust together by fate and expected to do the impossible to preserve our world. Listen to me closely, child, and I will tell you everything...."