When he closed his eyes, he could still see her, and feel the touch of

her hand on his cheek.

 

He wondered when the dream had all gone wrong.  Their early years

together, troubled as they were, gleamed like shining silver in his mind

in comparison to those horrible final months, culminating with their

being kidnapped by the alien Shi'ar and their final battle on the moon,

his allies by his side.  And the terrible choice she made, to save them

all.

 

"Patricia," he whispered to himself.  "What am I to do without you?"

Her absence from his mind, sans the telepathic link they'd shared for so

many years, was as painful as her physical absence.  My head is full of

corpses, he thought to himself.  And I am left with nothing to show for

it.

 

His reverie was interrupted by a knock at his cabin door.  The Crimson

Cavalier stuck his head in.  "Chevalier?"

 

Chevalier Bretagne looked up.  "Yes, Jacques?"  Jacques Duquesne had

been one of the founding members of the Escrimeurs' Entente.

 

"We have a visitor."

 

In response to his old ally's tone of voice he rose to his feet and

ventured out onto the deck of their sailing vessel, the Blackbird.  He

did a double-take at the sight he witnessed.

 

A woman, at least the form of one, flickering in and out of visibility.

Her skin swam with black and red energy like molten lava.  Aside her,

swords drawn and pointed at the apparition, were his teammates Paul

Richarde, known as Le Sabre, and the fabled Fourth Musketeer, who had

only recently joined their company.  "What is it?"

 

"We know not," said the Fourth Musketeer, "but 'tis most passing

strange, and brings with it a premonition of naught but future

darkness."

 

As he stood before it, the apparition seemed to focus on him.  The

flickerings slowed, and she tried to speak, her voice like the rumble of

a volcano. "Chris ... Christopher Summers?"

 

Chevalier Bretagne removed his cap.  "It is I."

 

The energy patterns across her body stabilized, and she seemed to enter

fully into reality.  She was naught but a teenage girl, bright red hair

cropped close, wearing the tattered garments of a prisoner, her face

gaunt with hunger and terrible memories.  She lunged forward, wrapping

her arms around him and sobbing hysterically.  "Father!"

 

 

Escrimeurs' Entente in, "Glory Road"

 

 

"That's impossible."

 

Duquesne put a hand on his friend's shoulder as he peered out the window

portal.  "She did say she was from the future, maybe ... "

 

"If Patricia had a child from me, you don't think I would know about

it?" Summers snapped at him.  "I wish Professor Viridian were here, he

could delve to the bottom of this in no time."

 

The Musketeer entered the meeting room.  "She sleeps," he said.  Having

caught Summers' final words, he ventured, "We must carry on with our own

best judgment, it seems."

 

"I'm lost here."  Summers sat down at the meeting table.  "Do either of

you give credence to her story?"

 

His teammates looked at one another.  The Musketeer sat down aside him.

"Chevalier, I came to walk the Earth centuries after my physical death,

in time to assist my people in a war which spanned the world.  In the

war's final days, I was caught frozen in a trap, only to walk again

decades later, and stand by thy side.  I have seen much that amazed me,

that I would have thought a madman's dreams in my youth."

 

"Christopher," Duquesne added, "as a member of the Chevalier Bretagne

Corps you have traversed time and dimensions.  Could she be ... the

child of yourself in another possible world?"

 

Summers' eyes widened.  "That had never occurred to me. We've all seen

divergent futures, but Merlyn tends to proscribe us from encountering

our divergent counterparts.  Maybe ... good lord."  He sighed.  "A world

in which Patricia Hope never died?  A world in which we married and

lived out our lives, gave birth to this daughter, Rachel Summers?  It

sounds too much like a black comedy.  Why am I cursed to be here, rather

than there?"

 

"You're forgetting something," Duquesne added.  "She also said the word,

'Sentinelles.'  Several times, in fact.  Her future may not be so ideal

as you think.  Something brought her back, that is certain."

 

The Musketeer nodded, "She hath the look of a prisoner about her.  Her

lot hath not been a joyous one."

 

Summers templed his fingers and rested his chin on their tips in

thought.  "I will speak to her after she awakens, and we will see."

 

Their discussion was interrupted by a loud crash, the sound of a

whirlwind, and profuse swearing.  The three ran outside, to see Rachel

Summers stumbling across the deck, the ship's gear swirling around her

as if she were haunted by a poltergeist, and Paul Richarde, battleaxe

and shield in hand, trying to protect himself.

 

"She has inherited her mother's power, that's for sure."  Summers raced

over to her, standing at the centre of the storm.  "She's asleep."

 

"Then wake her up," shouted Richarde, "before she destroys the ship!  I

tire of dodging these missiles."

 

Summers took her shoulders in his hands. "Rachel.  Rachel!"  He shook

her gently, and slowly her eyes opened, and the objects around her

dropped back to the deck.

 

"Oh."  She looked around her in dismay.  "Sorry ... I ... I guess I must

have been having a nightmare."

 

He put an arm around her shoulders.  "Come back into the warmth."

 

As she sat at the central table of the meeting room, he brought her a

cup of coffee.  She drank it eagerly, holding the cup like a squirrel

with a nut.  "Thank you.  Father ... I've seen Uncle Jacques and Uncle

Paul, but where's Mother?  And ... that man in blue, I don't know him at

all."

 

He thought for a moment, measuring his words, and chose to be direct.

"Patricia Hope is dead."

 

Her mouth fell open, and she almost dropped the cup onto the table.  She

winced at the spilled coffee on her hand, shaking it out to cool it.

"But that's impossible.  You ... you died at her side."

 

"I almost did," he said.  "She and I had been kidnapped by the Shi'ar,

in an effort to keep secret their existence from Earth.  Eventually

Jacques, Paul, Patricia, and I managed to arrange a trial by combat with

members of their Imperial Guard.  During the battle, the power of the

Phenix reawakened in her, but she chose to slay herself rather than

allow us all to be slain."

 

"No, that's not what happened!"  She shook her head wildly.  "The Shi'ar

placed psychic blocks on Mother, she was left powerless ... "

 

He sighed.  "Rachel, you're physically almost my age.  You're from the

future, aren't you?"

 

She bit her lip, and nodded.

 

"I am not an experienced time traveler myself, although I have traversed

many alternate worlds in my time with the Corps.  Rachel, I think you

have traveled to a past that is not your own, one in which your mother

died before you were born."

 

She shook her head again.  "But she's not dead!  I couldn't have come

here if she were!  I'm a telepath, I know!"

 

He blinked.  "What?"

 

Rachel Summers closed her eyes.  She was silent for a moment, and then

said in a low murmur, "I can hear her, she's singing to me.  She misses

you, Father."

 

Christopher Summers could not breathe for a long moment.  "I must speak

to the others."

 

Later, the team assembled on deck.  "So it's decided, then?"

 

Duquesne gave a flourished bow, "You are Chevalier Bretagne ... the

Crimson Cavalier stands by your side, as always.  Le Sabre and the

Fourth Musketeer have agreed as well."  The others nodded.

 

"Sibyl Girl here will act as our guide," Christopher Summers said,

ignoring his teammates' queried looks at the use of Patricia Hope's

original alias.  "She is evidently in touch with Patricia's essence,

residing as it does in something she calls the Egg of the Phenix."

 

Rachel Summers gave a small, hard smile, and set herself at the forward

part of the ship, eyes closed and arms gesturing to the horizon.

 

As they set en route, Richarde pulled the Musketeer aside.  "Tell me, do

you believe the girl's story?"

 

The Musketeer lay a finger across his lips in a pensive gesture.  "There

are legends, even in my own time, of sirens ... beautiful women who lure

men to their deaths at sea.  I do, indeed, fear she will serve that

purpose for us ... whether that be her intent, I know not."

 

Richarde glanced over at her.  "Christopher is obsessed."

 

The Musketeer smiled gently.  "He is in love.  Hast thou never felt

eros' sting?  It leads men to great things ... and great tragedies.  We

shall see."

 

Days later, Christopher Summers at the helm, Rachel Summers turned back

to look at him from the bow where she had spent her days perched,

"Father, why have you turned the ship south?"

 

He blinked, "I didn't."

 

She narrowed her eyes, "Yes, you ... oh, I see.  There's a psychic

barrier on the port side.  It diverted you from your original path ...

shift the helm to starboard and I'll guide you in."

 

Chevalier Bretagne focused his enhanced perceptions on the space before

him.  Every instinct that he had led him to believe he was heading the

wrong way.  It felt like sailing off the edge of the world.  Finally,

his head cleared, and he stared aghast at the island that rested before

him.  The ground below was a grey-black desert surrounded by a mountain

ringwall like a lunar crater, and a mile-high tower filled the place of

a central peak: it dominated one whole side of the island, more a

mountain than a building, black and monstrous.

 

The Fourth Musketeer looked on, aghast.  "I hath seen the borderlands of

Hell, and they didst resemble this land before us."  He placed two

fingers between his lips and gave a piercing whistle.  "Renoncule, to

me!"  From nowhere came a ghostly yellow stallion, which whickered

softly as his owner mounted him.

 

Le Sabre, likewise, approached the stone gargoyle which stood at the

prow of the ship.  He placed his hands upon it and from them flowed

sorcerous energy, after which the beast shook itself into motion and

fluttered into the air.  "Welcome back, Goliath," he said to the mobile

statue, as he climbed aboard the beast.

 

Sybil Girl stamped her foot.  "Father, you're not leaving me behind ...

you raised me with a sword in my hand as soon as I was able to walk."

 

The Crimson Cavalier laughed.  "I have many, for every occasion."  He

ducked into his cabin, returning with a small, light, foil which was

perfect for her size.  He tossed it to her and she caught it, easily.

 

Chevalier Bretagne scowled, but knew the girl deserved to come to her

mother's aid ... if indeed she had been summoned for that purpose.

"Very well then, we shall proceed.  Allons Enfants de la Patrie!" he

shouted as he rose again into the air.  With Sybil Girl telekinetically

supporting herself and the Crimson Cavalier, the quintet crossed over to

the beachfront and approached the base of the tower.

 

As they paced around the base, speculating about the existence of an

entrance, Renoncule suddenly began to snort and stamp.  "Easy boy," said

the Fourth Musketeer.  "What do you hear?"

 

As if in response, from several of the craggy rocks which surrounded the

tower came the defending army.  They were two-legged animals: from the

belly up they had the torso of a man and the head of a bull, save for

long horns which stuck up and forward; from the waist down they were

splay-footed satyrs.

 

The Crimson Cavalier struck first, pressing buttons on the hilt of his

Makluan sword and projecting first energy beams with great concussive

force, and then disintegrating rays, at their attackers.  Chevalier

Bretagne's twin epees materialized in his hands, the Fourth Musketeer

drew forth his own sword and Le Sabre drew forth his battleaxe.

 

Several of the creatures gave great, goatlike, leaps into the air,

forcing the team back against the walls of the tower.  They used their

horns with expert skill, displaying more than animal brute force.

Renoncule's hooves and Goliath's claws joined with the humans' flashing

blades as they held themselves in place under siege.

 

"Chevalier!"  The Crimson Cavalier's sword emitted a large jet of flame,

and then an electrical blast, which took down another pair of the

creatures.  "Go and seek out the Egg of the Phenix ... we shall cover

your escape, and join you anon."

 

Chevalier Bretagne hovered into the air for a moment, raised his sword

to his forehead in a silent salute to his companions, and then flew

upwards in a spiral, circling the mile high tower as he sought an

entrance.

 

Near the top, was a window cut into the stone, the size of a man.  He

entered the interior of the tower.  It was dark and unornamented,

rough-hewn stone as was the exterior.  Down the hallway was an open

door, through which was a lit room.

 

He walked towards it slowly, swords sweeping ahead of him, glancing at

the open rooms to the right and left, which seemed long abandoned.

Finally, he entered the room ... and found himself in a library.

 

He rested on a platform, every wall covered in shelves of books.  He

looked down, and saw the platform led to a staircase, which led to level

after level of walkways which descended down through the mile-long

interior, and every wall was filled with books.  The tower was nothing

but a massive library.  He could scarcely imagine it.

 

He turned, and saw the egg, roughly six feet in diameter, set on an

ornate gold platform.  Its surface swam with gold light, which was the

sole source of illumination in the room.  Glancing up, he also saw a

strange contraption: what appeared to be an ornately carved wooden box,

covered in small glass spheres which appeared to be dewcatchers.

 

As approached the egg, he heard footsteps behind him.  He turned to see

a man cloaked in shadow.  Despite the light which radiated through the

room, he seemed himself to be in perpetual darkness, so Chevalier

Bretagne could not discern his features.  "Greetings, monsieur," said

the man.

 

Chevalier Bretagne raised his sword in salute.  "Greetings," he said

warily.

 

"I am the Eater of Souls," said the man.  He stopped, knees bent, wrist

straight, left arm back, and point for Chevalier Bretagne's heart. "Your

name, sir?  I like to know what I'm killing."

 

"I am Chevalier Bretagne," he said, "the champion of my nation.  I have

come for the Phenix."  He raised his twin swords in response.

 

"No doubt," said the other, and lunged into a killing stroke.  Chevalier

Bretagne parried, his other sword sweeping forward in an aggressive

response, and found it likewise blocked.

 

They began a duel, shifting offense and defense, and Chevalier Bretagne

found himself against the greatest swordsman he had ever encountered.

His opponent's movements seemed effortless, and despite his enhanced

physical abilities, he could not make headway.  And then, the man began

to sing:

 

"Lunge and counter and thrust,

Sing me the logic of steel!

Tell me sir, how do you feel?

Riposte and remiss if you must

In logic long known to be just."

 

Their blades sang accompaniment, the sounds of metal on metal filling

the room.  At the endings of the last two lines, the Eater of Souls

stomped on the ground with his boot, as if to accentuate the rhythm.

Chevalier Bretagne knew this was a common trick to distract his eye, and

he did not shift his gaze from his opponent's weapon.

 

"Shall we argue, rebut and refute

In enthymeme clear as your eye?

Tell me, sir, why do you sigh?

Tu es fatigue, sans doute?

Then sleep while I'm counting the loot."

 

With the final word, his opponent's sword hooked into the hilt of his

own, and his right-hand sword went flying into the air.  Evidently he

was expected to be distracted by the gesture, because he saw an opening

and thrust his left-hand sword into his opponent's forearm.  The Eater

of Souls backed away for a moment.  "Excellent!  First blood, monsieur!"

He shifted his sword to his left hand. "Let us continue!"

 

Chevalier Bretagne swore to himself.  Despite his own ambidexterity, he

was used to dueling with right-handed opponents.  He expected the wound

to give him an advantage, but the man he faced was as skilled with his

left hand as his right, and now his own weaponry was halved.

 

The Eater of Souls pressed his advantage, and Chevalier Bretagne soon

found himself on the defensive.  A strike, and another, and he feared he

would be joining Patricia Hope, when the combatants were interrupted by

a sound at the entranceway.  Le Sabre, the Crimson Cavalier, Sybil Girl,

and the Fourth Musketeer charged into the room, bruised and battered but

still whole.

 

The Fourth Musketeer led the charge.  "Cease and desist!  Chevalier, how

art thou?"  He turned to the Eater of Souls.  "Sir, thou art

outnumbered, a surrender would be no shameful thing."

 

"Surrender?  Even to the hero of my youth?"  The Eater of Souls laughed,

and gestured as if to draw aside a curtain ... and the shadow was

withdrawn from his features.  He was an ugly man, tall and

broad-shouldered; his eyes and grin were merry and proud.  His most

prominent feature, however, was his nose.  "D'Artagnan, did you ever

know me to surrender?"

 

"Cyrano?"  The Fourth Musketeer leaped down from his steed Renoncule,

and ran to embrace the other man.  He turned to the others, "This man

aided me in rescuing the Mystery Knight from his prison at the Mont

Saint-Michel, and with me founded the original Escrimeurs' Entente,

along with Captain Blood and Oliver Tressilian."

 

The Crimson Cavalier gave a deep bow.  "Even in this day we know the

name Cyrano de Bergerac.  Sir, would you keep the Chevalier from his

lady love?"

 

"Ah, he seeks an incarnation of the Phenix."  He walked over and touched

the Egg.  The surface shimmered in response to his touch, and the

Entente thought they viewed, for a moment, the form of a woman encased

within.

 

[[Christopher, my love?  Rachel, my child?]] They all heard the words in

their minds, a delicate and familiar touch.

 

"We are here, Mother," said Sybil Girl.  "We've come to take you home."

 

"This is her home," said Cyrano.  "She is not whom you seek."

 

"Patricia Hope was the Phenix," said Chevalier Bretagne.  "She belongs

with us."

 

Cyrano shook his head.  "The woman you speak of is long dead."  His face

was compassionate.  "At times, the Phenix will rise from the corpse of a

woman with whom she feels an affinity, take on their thoughts and

memories ... and their feelings.  But she is not them.  She is fire, and

life incarnate.  I admire your dedication in your search, but sir, if

you release her from the Egg you will have a facsimile, nothing more, of

the woman you loved.  And the pattern of death and rebirth which is part

of the cycle of the ongoing creation of the universe will be broken."

 

Chevalier Bretagne scowled.  "Are you saying that the last several

months had been a lie?  The woman I lay with was nothing but fakery?  I

was linked to her mind, I knew her thoughts."

 

Cyrano said, "She is life incarnate, as I said.  She partakes of the

souls of all lives, including your beloved."

 

Chevalier Bretagne walked to the Egg, slipping off one of his gloves and

touching his bare fingers to its surface.  "Is this true?" he enquired

of the woman within.  Within the Egg she swiveled to face him, and what

he saw was not the face of Patricia Hope.

 

Slowly, ignoring the ache in his heart, he turned away.

 

Sybil Girl screamed, "Mother!  Come home to us!"  She bolted from the

rest, running towards the Egg, and the figure within opened its arms as

if to embrace her.  The Crimson Cavalier drew his sword and it emitted a

stream of gas which rendered her unconscious.  She fell to the ground.

 

Le Sabre shook his head.  "Let us leave this place, there is only pain

to be found here."

 

Chevalier Bretagne nodded, and turned to salute his former opponent.

"Perhaps you had the better of me, sir."  He leaned down and picked up

the unconscious form of Rachel Summers, holding her as tenderly as if

he'd held her as a baby.

 

"It was an honor, Sir," said the Eater of Souls, once more drawing a

curtain of darkness around himself.

 

Aboard the Blackbird, Christopher Summers lay the girl down on her bed,

and then quietly left the room.  "How is she," enquired Duquesne in

hushed tones.

 

"She will be fine, I'm sure," said Summers.  "When she awakes, we will

discuss her future ... all of them.  Perhaps she will wish to return

home; perhaps she will wish to join our company.  And she must speak to

Professor Viridian as well, clearly, about these things."

 

Inside the room, Rachel Summers opened her eyes.  A smile was on her

face.  From outside, the two men did not see the flare of the firebird

that danced within her small hands, illuminating the room and all within

it.

 


 

All characters trademark and copyright Marvel Comics, Inc.

 

Thanks to Jean-Marc Lofficier for developing and naming the team

(Escrimeur is the French for sword fighter and Entente could be

construed as a group's name), and for recommending that I read Robert A.

Heinlein's Glory Road.

 

The song "Lunge and counter and thrust" copyright the estate of Robert

A. Heinlein.

 

Information on the characters can be found online:

Chevalier Bretagne:

http://www.psysdomain.com/alliesa-f/chevalierbretagne.html
Crimson Cavalier:

http://www.marvunapp.com/Appendix4/crimsoncavalier.htm

The Fourth Musketeer:

http://www.internationalhero.co.uk/m/musketeer.htm

Le Sabre:  http://www.marvunapp.com/Appendix/sabrele.htm

Phenix I / Patricia Hope: http://www.coolfrenchcomics.com/phenix.htm

 

 

 

 

 

Michael Norwitz