The Hades Wave 3.0
The Quest for Acheron
Rating PG-13 (Strong language)
Gargoyles/ X-Men Crossover
Genre: Suspense/Science Fiction/ Fantasy
Characters: Goliath, Hank McCoy, Jean Gray-Summers, Wren Summers-Nightkind, Demona/ Dominique Destine, David Xanatos, Professor Charles Xavier, Scott Summers, Elisa Maza
10/31/01 12:50:27 AM
AUTHOR'S NOTE: THIS IS A SEQUEL TO "AND ANGELS WEPT TO WINGS UNFURLED" as well as the next installment in the Hades Wave story arc. It's just full of twists and plot turns. Buckle up and hold on!!! Please be kind: read and review.
DISCLAIMER: I DON'T OWN GARGOYLES. THEY BELONG TO DISNEY. I DON'T OWN X-MEN. THEY BELONG TO MARVEL. ALL ORIGINAL CHARACTERS IN THISE TALE ARE PROPERTY OF THEIR DEITY, DENIGODDESS2001.
IN NO WAY TO I CONDONE OR RECOMMEND HACKING OR INVASION OF ANY COMPUTER SYSTEM. IT IS AGAINST THE LAW.
I'D LIKE TO GIVE THANKS TO CHRISTINA HANSEN, DORIAN DELPHYNE, AND SERENA WOLFCAT FOR THEIR VALUABLE IMPUT ABOUT HADES AND GHOSTS.
Goliath and Hank made their way to the laboratory down the hall from the War Room. Goliath cloaked his wings about him and followed the big blue behemoth walking in front of him. The last time he walked these corridors had been the night that his beloved Elisa died. Because of the one called Wolverine, Elisa died in the hands of madmen Nathaniel Essex and Anton Sevarius. The urge to bellow in unrestrained grief was almost more than he could bear.
[When this is over, Wolverine will not live to see the next sunrise. Elisa's death will be avenged.] Goliath's eyes blazed with righteous fire of vengeance and fury. Gargoyles knew how to wait and Goliath waited patiently for almost five years for this night to take revenge on Logan, alias Wolverine.
He had made arrangements as soon as Wren had called him. Diane and Peter Maza were caring for his six-year-old son, Darius. He lamented that he may well never again see the lad's bright eyes staring at him. Greer was in the custody of the clan in New York. He knew Angela and Brooklyn were attentive, doting foster-parents. He spoke nothing of his plan to anyone. Sitting in the War Room near Demona for the first time in months, he finally empathized with her smoldering hatred for Homo Sapiens. [I know only loathing for Logan. I hope whatever god he prays to will welcome him this night.]
The dreams of his beloved Elisa during the previous day's stone sleep had driven him to the brink of nothingness. He thought he smelled the sweet-scented essence of cinnamon and jasmine that was exclusively Elisa. He heard her soft, sensuous laugh at the edges of his distressed mind. He felt her touch upon his suede skin as he held her in his arms and feeling her warmth against his bare chest. Yet, the visions were torturous, elusive dreams. [Morpheus plays cruel tricks in the realm of slumber.]
Stirrings in stone sleep evoked visions in waking of his soul mate. Goliath recalled the first time he caught her when she fell from top of the Eyrie building. When the choice was made between Demona and Elisa whose life to save, the answer had been obvious. When his beloved detective suffered from Puck's magick and became a Gargoyle, his heart came alive for the first time in a millennium as they glided over a sea of neon. When she kissed him upon the parapet of Castle Wyvern the dawn following Hunter's Moon, Goliath heart surged with exultation. The first time they became of one body, he felt the splintered shards of his heart unite in one blessed moment of ecstasy and devotion. It was Elisa. It had always been Elisa.
Goliath turned his head and closed his eyes to block out the rushing fury of memories invading his mind. He remembered how Elisa looked so delicate and frail lying upon the table. Drained of life for the sake of resurrecting Wolverine's dead wife, she had paid the ultimate price with her life. That night his world and all that made his life worth living fell into the fires of oblivion. It was the night that a part of his soul was slaughtered along with his beloved wife.
Puck, in his own well-meaning fashion, attempted to save lives with his magick that inauspicious evening. He forged together two bodies into one. Two minds become one thought. He created a gestalt of Elisa Maza and Jaye Morgan that formed a new individual with an independent heart and a separate soul. Into the world with vivacity and ardor came Adrienne Jade Westfall.
Goliath had once felt a smattering of pity for Wolverine's loss. From the recollections of Scott Summers and Professor Xavier, Jaye Morgan had been impetuous and passionate in her quest for living and her devotion to the X-Men. It was X-Men legend how she adored her Logan. It was legend that Wolverine eventually fell into the arms of Jean Gray-Summers. Jaye's heartbreak had led her to risk herself on a foolhardy mission. It had led to her death.
When he looked into the sensitive, gentle eyes of Wren Summers. He caught visions of his beloved Elisa. When Adrienne became enraged in a fit of temper, he knew only a stranger that must have been Jaye Morgan. Still, Adrienne brought Goliath euphoria and thirst that obsessed his mind and filled his senses. The physical magnetism for her could not be denied. Goliath had found his heart enraptured by her. She brought brightness into the empty depths of his fractured spirit.
Yet, as years had passed, his heart proved it's true loyalty to Elisa. In the depths of passionate coupling, he called out her name. Adrienne retreated from her him after that fatal mistake. She spent more time with Puck and Armand than she did her husband. When Lord Oberon had called all the Children of Oberon back for the Gathering of 2005, she left and had yet to return. Adrienne left behind an inconsolable gargoyle and their four-year-old daughter, Greer.
On the same evening as Wren's disturbing phone call, Adrienne returned to New York. She packed her things and told him that she felt incongruous amongst humankind. She found identity with the Kiari and the Children Of Oberon on Caledon Isle. She seemed quite civil and distant as she efficiently packed her things. She loved Goliath dearly, but her destiny demanded that she take her place beside the Kiari Sovereign, Queen Mab. Without hesitation or remorse, Adrienne bid him a final good-bye. Then, she committed the definitive deed of treachery that sent Goliath to the brink of lunacy; she permanently severed the empathic link that bonded their bodies, minds and souls to one another. Again, Goliath was alone.
One bittersweet tear traced a scalding path down a lavender cheek. Then another fell. Goliath squinted his eyes to block out the raging anguish of Adrienne's desertion. Thrice, a mate left him alone in the world. Demona betrayed him. Elisa died. Adrienne abandoned him. Only his beloved Elisa had remained steadfast until Wolverine, Essex and Sevarius murdered her for their malicious ambition.
The roar echoed along the endless twists and turns of the sublevels. At the surface, those playing poker in the first-floor recreation room heard the resounding bellow through the floor. They looked at one another questioningly and then returned to their card game. Hank instinctively crouched in a defensive position and turned to face his unseen foe. What he found was a lavender leviathan sobbing and broken on his knees.
"Oh my stars and garters." Hank quickly made his way to Goliath's side. "Goliath, what's wrong?"
He longed to return and find conclusion and peace to that night of anguish that haunted his soul. Yet, none came. Goliath felt only rage. His heart knew only anguish. His mind experienced simply torment. Free of the empathic bond that held him for practically half a decade, repressed feelings of love and devotion ascended with alacrity to the forefront of his mind and heart.
"Elisa..." He gasped.
"I'll call the Professor at once." Hank reached quickly for his comm badge.
A large taloned hand stayed his motion. Goliath mutely shook his head. Hank looked at the Gargoyle with a questioning expression. Goliath wiped away the tears and turned his back to the blue furry mutant warily scrutinizing him. [He surely must have lost his mind.]
"Give me a moment to collect myself." The voice grated. The lavender Gargoyle turned his back to his concerned comrade. Goliath brutally forced the thought of Elisa from his grieving mind. He clenched his fists and concentrated only on the pain. Talons dug deeply into his resilient flesh and blood pooled in his palms. The throbbing of the wounds brought clarity of mind back to him. [I must remain strong to bring Wolverine to justice.]
"Are you in need of a doctor?" Hank asked softly remembering the young woman he fought so desperately to save a night several years prior. "Is there anything I can do?"
"I am well now, Hank." Goliath nodded curtly. He found renewed vigor in his desire for vengeance against Wolverine. "We have research to complete. Lead on."
In the shadows, a specter watched and her heart grieved. An ethereal hand passed through the lavender Gargoyle without notice. [Goliath, don't leave....]
Wren lay on the table in the school's infirmary. The cold gel that Jean applied to her temples did little to soothe Wren's raging headache. She looked upwards and watched as Jean reached for the electrodes and placed them carefully on Wren's temples.
"So, how long have you been with Demetrius?" Jean's warm voice distracted Wren from her nervousness.
"We met in March....started dating in July. Since then, about four months."
"How did you meet him? He seems like he's a wonderful guy."
"I met him ...on the job while working for Mr. Xanatos." Wren thought it wise not to reveal the secret of Caledon Isle. [I hope Jean isn't playing telepath right now.] "He started out as my executive assistant and progressed to the position of my heart's desire."
"He's also a mutant, isn't he?" Jean walked over to a panel across the room. "I sensed that some psychic abilities."
"He's an empath." Wren explained. "He has the abilities to sense others' emotions, physical sensations. He's able to bond empathically with his chosen mate."
"Like Scott and myself?"
"Exactly." Wren breathed a sigh of relief that someone understood the fantastically exceptional bond she shared with her dark warrior.
"Jaye and Logan shared something similar." Jean's grim reply banished the feelings of ease beginning to settle over Wren.
"I didn't know Jaye well." She remembered how the enigmatic X-Men dazzled half the males on the team with her raw presence and languorous sensuality. Wren felt a twinge of guilt when old feeling of jealousy returned. [I don't like talking about this. It's just too creepy.] "Jean, tell me about this procedure."
Jean nodded knowingly that a change of subject was in order. She turned in the direction of the panel against the wall. "The device you're connected to is a brainwave holographic converter. The electrodes register your brainwaves once you enter REM sleep. The connectors act as a conduit to translate the waves into binary. The computer analyzes the data and converts the binary readings into holographic imagery that will projected here."
Jean pointed to a screen on the wall. "We'll record it and when you awaken, we'll discuss the images recorded."
"How am I going to fall asleep?"
"I'm going to help you." Jean tapped her temples. "I'm just going to give you a tiny telepathic nudge to bring you into sleep mode. Then, I'll give another to start you reliving your dream."
"Oh, joy." Wren relied deadpan. "Just what I love most, people poking around in my psyche."
"You haven't changed a bit."
"Thank God for small favors."
"Are you ready?"
"Let's go for it." Wren resigned herself to letting her mind be turned into Swiss cheese by the world's second most powerful telepath.
Jean walked over to Wren's side and took her hand. "Close your eyes."
Wren smiled weakly and did as Jean requested. [Wren...I want you to listen to the sound of my voice and only to the sound of my voice. Clear your mind and let me past your defenses.]
[What defenses?] Came the dry reply.
[You have natural defenses that you haven't had before that are shielding your mind from me.]
[They're probably a result of my gestalt with Demetrius. Gargoyles are naturally immune to psionic scans.]
[Can you lower them so that we can get you into REM sleep?] Jean asked.
[I'll give it my best shot.]
Wren let her thoughts drift absently to Demetrius. She watched him stand fierce and majestic atop the highest tower of Castle Ex Cathedra on Caledon Isle. With wings unfurled and talons curled ready to strike, he was a stunning icon of Kiarite stone. The last warm rays of the Scottish sun beamed across the North Sea and covered the small Isle in a golden layer of brilliance and light. She turned to see a stunning redhead standing beside her garbed in scarlet and gold and bearing the "X" insignia.
[Welcome to my world, Jean.] Wren couldn't contain the pure joy of returning to her adopted home.
Jean leaned over the parapets and looked west to the sea. She inhaled deeply the sweet heather-laden scent of the island. Wren saw the look of child-like wonder on her face. She knew that she was in awe of the brilliant hues splashed across the Western sky. Jean's quiet voice tried desperately not to break the surrealistic ambiance of Wren's mind. [This is breathtaking. Where are we?]
[Home.] Wren replied softly.
The crimson orb dipped below the horizon. A familiar crackling sound caught Wren's ears and startle Jean. Jean turned around abruptly to see fissures appear in the several statues standing guard along the tower's edge. Eyes glowed with argent fire as fragments of Kiarite flew like shrapnel. Wren put her arms around Jean's shoulders and brought her closer to the ground. [Duck or you'll be a target.]
Jean watched in fascination as eight proud icons stepped from their stone shrouds and roared deafeningly to greet the night. Each leapt to the top of the parapets and caught a fierce updraft underneath their unfolded wings. Each waved in turn to the redhead and the brunette watching them mutely. [Where are they going, Wren?]
[The clan is going on nightly patrol.] The sentimental note in her voice brought a tinge of joy to Jean as she watched the world through Wren's eyes.
Jean withdrew slightly from their telepathic link and watched the monitors. The extraordinary vision of the castle and the magnificent sunset were the passing through of Wren's mental barriers. She observed that monitor registered Wren as deep within REM sleep. She looked down and noticed that Wren's body held a slight emerald hue. Jean gently touched the skin and found it cool to the touch and reminiscent of stone. She checked pulse and heartbeat and found everything to be exceedingly slow. She noticed that Wren's respiratory rate to be one a quarter of what a normal human experienced during slumber. All the slowing of vital signs reminded Jean of one thing. [She must be in some kind of hibernation.]
Jean descended easily through the vortex of light, sound and memory into Wren's mind. She found herself again at Wren's side atop the highest tower of Ex Cathedra. "Wren, we need to find your dream that you had about Elisa. I need to see the information you retrieved."
The gentle gales that blew along the tower increased in strength. The gales became violent gusts of wind. The sky of rose and fuchsia darkened as billowing storm clouds sped furiously across the sky. Their impenetrable veil hung heavily over the castle. Branches of lightning danced on the horizon. The thundering bellows of the electrical storm caused Jean some dismay. [Wren's mind doesn't want to return to that dream. It's obviously a source of discomfort for her.]
[Wren, I know that it's unpleasant, but if we are going to prevent a tragedy, we need your help to do it.] Jean pleaded above the deafening crashes of lightning.
[Follow me.] Wren motioned for her to follow her. Somewhere, wings burst forth from Wren's back and she jumped off the edge of the parapet.
[Wren doesn't have wings.] Jean thought in amazement.
[In dreams, all things are possible.] Wren gave her the 'thumbs-up' sign. [Here we can do anything and be anyone. Come on.]
They soared over the craggy tors and the rolling green hills of Caledon. Jean noticed the bonfires that were light along the beach. She surveyed the winged creatures below her engaging in life, liberty, and the pursuit of libations. Beyond the hills they soared to a darkened, desolate side of Caledon Isle. Instead of a glorious castle, there remained only ruins of a once great wall.
"It's over there." Wren spoke for the first time and pointed beyond the ruins. "You're not going to like what you're going to see."
The clouds parted like mist and revealed a dark, starless sky. A blazing streak of light made a path across the sky. Wren silently took Jean's hand and led her through the fog. They found themselves walking through mud and leaving the pavement behind them. Wren saw that she stood on the bank of a very large river. The low moans of desolation and hopelessness wafted upon the cool breeze that danced past them.
"Where are we?" Jean asked Wren. "No river runs like this in Nebraska."
"I'm not sure, but watch. You need to see this. That's all I know." Wren found herself repating the same words to Jean that Elisa had spoken to her just two a night prior. She turned her attention in the direction of the blazing mass falling from the sky. Wren nodded in understanding and watched the blazing sphere plunge into the murky waters of the unnamed river. She saw debris falling from the sky like rain. A rather large piece landed only a few yards from her. Wren glanced the side to further study the piece. What met her eyes brought shock to her system.
The piece of debris was metal. Wren knelt beside it for further study. She noticed black letters that were partially covered by the char caused from the burning descent. Wren took the edge of her jacket and wrapped it around the edge of the metal. She rushed to the river and dunked the large metal scrap into the cooling waters of the river. She heard the hissing sound of cold water chilling searing metal. She pulled it out and used her coat sleeve to wipe away the last residuals of the black char.
"Venture?" She asked aloud. "What does that mean?"
She noticed another piece of metal floating along the bank of the river where she stood. She discarded the first piece and bent over to quickly retrieve the second from the strong current the second piece was about the size of a briefcase and bore an emblem and letters. Wren felt somewhat queasy when she recognized the emblem to be the American Flag. Wren felt abject horror as she spotted the black letters underneath it.
She returned her gaze to the murky waters of the river. She spotted broken vials and large canisters floating along with the current. The black cloudiness of the water seemed to shimmer oddly in the moonlight that broke through the haze. The darkness gave way to a strange mustard color. Things began bobbing to the surface. Shoes... tires... fish... so many fish.... Deformed and misshapen. Deformed and seemingly burned.
"What in the world?" Wren remarked as the stench of decay reached her nostrils. This was truly a nightmare because the images reminded Wren of one too many late night horror and apocalypse flicks. [Dead fish aroma in dreams is NOT a good thing.]
"Whatever you do, don't drink the water." Elisa told her. "Don't eat the food."
"Elisa!" Wren cried out in the mists. "I know you're here. Please, help me. I don't understand."
"While in the underworld, don't drink the water and don't eat the food." A husky voice called out behind Wren and Jean. They turned to see a young woman step from the mists. Black hair flowed along her shoulders. Wren recognized the red leather bomber jacket.
"Elisa.... What do you mean by the Hades Wave?" Wren rushed forward. "Is the space shuttle going to crash? I don't understand."
"I'm not sure. I only know that I am allowed to give bits and pieces." She shrugged helplessly. "How did you find me?"
"Jean is a telepath. She's using her abilities to help me find you." Wren nodded to the redhead next to her. "Where are we?"
"You're in the Underworld." Elisa laughed sadly. "I died before it was my time. This is where I'm at for eternity."
"Elysium fields?" Wren asked hopefully.
"Okay, who sent you to tell Wren about the Hades Wave?" Jean laid a hand on Elisa's shoulder.
"Hades? As in hell?"
"As in god of the underworld." Elisa explained.
"But Hades was killed 2000 years ago." Wren thought that she was in a very bad dream inspired by too much stress and too much pepperoni pizza.
"True. Even gods have souls, Wren." Elisa walked to the edge of the river. "This is the river Styx. It leads into the underworld. Not long ago, a mutant by the name of Mystique found a passage in Macedonia to the underworld. She found the river of Styx and stole waters from the five rivers of Tartarus. The waters of those rivers combined will unleashed plagues and curses upon the world of the living unlike anything you have ever seen. Because Hades' soul is trapped in Tartarus, he's unable to stop her. Morpheus allowed me to send a message to you to warn you."
"Do you know what she plans to do with these collected waters?"
"I don't know." Elisa wailed. "I just don't know. So much is so hazy. But, if she releases those waters of the underworld into the living world's water supply, life on Earth will end as you know it. It will be a barren wasteland."
The apparition of Elisa Maza flickered like a candle in the wind. She reached out to Wren and her lips opened by no sound came. Wren grabbed onto Elisa's arms. "You can't go."
"Stop Mystique. Free Hades. Release me from the Elysium Fields....." Elisa flickered one and faded. She reached out to Wren but her hand passed through the young mutant. "Please...." The vanishing specter mouthed a few more words but no sound came. Then, she was gone....
"Jean, we're in trouble." Wren whistled.
"I can see that." Jean said. She watched Wren fall to her knees. "What's wrong?"
"I feel fatigued." She looked up at the woman beside her. "I want to sleep."
"You've been under too long." Jean knew that Wren wasn't able to maintain this kind of psionic activity for very long. Too much caused the neo-cortex of the brain to deteriorate at the cellular level. [Listen to the sound of my voice, Wren, only to my voice. We're going to come out of the dream and we're going to slowly come awake. I'll count backwards from ten to one. Let yourself awaken slowly. Do you understand?]
[Good. Ten... nine... eight...]
The cold, eerie banks of the river disappeared. Wren found her and Jean standing atop the highest tower of Castle Ex Cathedra. She looked over at the redhead and she focused solely on her voice. She felt as though she were clawing her way back from a bottomless chasm to the real world.
[Seven... six... five....]
The dark, ominous clouds parted slowly over them. Wren looked upwards to see a dark velvet sky lit brilliantly with thousands of distant stars. The stench of death and decay faded as the scent of heather filled her senses. She gave Jean a silent thumbs-up sign to let the telepath know that all was proceeding well.
[Four... three... two...]
The world grew dark around the two women. Blackness shrouded them in a warm cloak of lucidity between slumber and consciousness. Wren heard the hums of monitors and the workings of machinery around her. She heard several blips that she knew came from the nearby computer panel. She sighed deeply in relief.
Hazel eyes opened to meet concerned emerald. "Five more minutes, huh, Mom?"
"Rise and shine, Wren." Jean chuckled. She went over to the holographic converter and flipped a few switches. "No, we have everything we need to present tomorrow at the briefing."
"I hate this." Wren slammed her fist on the infirmary bed. "Why me? Why can't I just have a normal life? Now, visions of the dead are inside my mind and I can't even find peace in my dreams."
"I wish I could answer that."
Hank and Goliath spent the next several hours cross-referencing data in the Institute's data base with the terms "Hades" and "Venture." Goliath watched vigilantly as Hank's large, furry fingers became a blur as he typed entry after entry on the keyboard. The big blue behemoth squinted as he hunched forward to better read the small print on the screen.
"Well, my gargantuan acquaintance, it would seem that we are at a disadvantage." Hank took a sip from his eighth cup of coffee. His heavy sigh confirmed what Goliath feared most. "There are no correlations founds between Hades and Venture."
"Surely, there must be something!" A clenched lavender fist came crashing down and made a dull metallic thud. It also left a sizable dent in the metal cabinet next to Hank's computer. "I know that Wren's dream is more than some wild, unexplained coincidence."
"It may very well be, Goliath, that her dream is simply a serendipitous expedition into the strange and unexplained." Hank pulled off his spectacles and rubbed the fatigue from his eyes.
"You need rest, Hank." Goliath laid a gentle hand on his friend's shoulder. "I can take over and conduct some of the research. The screen must be difficult on your eyes."
"It can be, but the Professor wants results by 8:00 this morning." The big blue behemoth rose from his seat and made his way to the coffee maker. He proceeded to pour himself a ninth cup. "Would you care for some?"
"No." Goliath held up his hand to stay Hank's offer. "I do not care for coffee."
[Elisa lived on it. When she visited, Broadway always had a fresh cup waiting for her.] An aching twist of sentiment knotted in Goliath's stomach.
"I am of the same mind as you, my friend, that I am in need of a break." Hank sank into his chair at the computer. He turned and examined the considerable indentation left in the metal filing cabinet by Goliath's massive fist. Hank gave his companion a mocking look. "Remind me to never let you redecorate my office."
"I apologize." Goliath felt rather shamefaced for losing his composure before someone he didn't know well. Goliath searched for the words to form an apology but Hank cut him off before his pride allowed the words to come forth.
"Not a problem." Hank winked. "When I was searching for a cure for the Legacy Virus, I spent many nights reconfiguring the shape of much of my laboratory equipment."
Hank opened the drawer to the injured cabinet. "Take a look. All I have to do is simply apply pressure to the depression and-"
A sharp clanging pop filled the room. "Voila! It's fixed and good as new."
"You are a..er..." Goliath eyed Hank's colossal blue form. "Mutant of many talents."
"Thank you, Goliath." Hank spoke appreciatively. He admired the lavender leviathan beside him. The X-Man realized Goliath was contemplative and polite to a fault; he was a being of honor and integrity. Throughout the night, they discussed everything from Mutant/Human affairs, the great Bard, and Hank's favorite love: astronomy. He knew that he and the Gargoyle were on their way to becoming fast friends.
Goliath nodded subtly in acknowledgement.
Hank closed his eyes to block out the florescent lighting of the laboratory. He let his mind become blank. He leaned back in the chair and perched enormous feet on his desk. He let his mind wander into the void. He wished he could lay his head against a soft, fluffy pillow and just dream. [Rest is the wicked they traveled the road to Hades. And we all know that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.]
Hank became very motionless as the last phrase echoed incessantly inside his mind. [The road to Hell... or to Hades in a hand basket. We all have to get there somehow...modes of travel in the underworld... Oh my stars and garters!]
Hank shuffled through the ever-growing pile of printouts from his computer. He felt as though he had found the long-lost piece of an incomplete 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle. "We know that Hades is the underworld. We know that it's divided into several sections. What is the connection in Wren's dream between Hades, the Space Shuttle Venture, and the river? Even in Hades, one needed mode of travel and that was usually by the river Styx."
"According to Greek mythos, there were five rivers." Goliath said slowly as Hank's train of thought becoming increasingly clear to him. "The plague in Wren's dreamed need a mode of travel-"
"Thus, the river!" Hank and the clan lead exuberantly hugged one another as that small speck of illumination brought them the first encouraging clue since their search began.
Goliath peered over the scientist's shoulder. He read the sheet from beginning to end and shook his head. Goliath longed to roar in celebration but curtailed the rather primal urge. "The five rivers of Hades in ancient myth were the Phlegethon: river of fire, Acheron: the river of woe, Styx; the entry point into the underworld, Lethe: the river of forgetfulness where the dead drank and forgot their earthly lives and Cocytus: the river of lamentation. Is there any correlation between this and Wren's dream?"
"Dream interpretation is not my strong suit." Hank carefully shuffled the disheveled stack of information into a tidy pile. He gave the lavender Gargoyle a forlorn glance. "Hopefully, the ladies are having better luck."
"My friend, I do believe that you have inspired me!" He swirled in his chair to face the computer. His fingers flew furiously as they stroked the keys of the keyboard. Goliath's wings flared in anticipation and he leaned over his friend's shoulder.
"What is your idea?"
"Let it suffice that I am conducting an innovative invasion of NASA's database." Hank's grinned widened as concentrated on the task at hand. "Now, we take those names of the five rivers, cross-reference those with anything having to do with the Space Shuttle Venture. We add the word Hades to the mix: stir well and we'll see what this new perspective gives us."
Hank's baby blues widened as several screen brought forth a cornucopia of information. "Oh my stars and garters!"
A Picture and information popped up onto the computer screen within a few seconds of the entry. Hank scrolled quickly through the information as he sped-read the gigantic volume of information appearing on the screen. "I have set up a few mouse traps so that our selective scything isn't traced back to the Institute. We don't have long until their Intelligence realized that their catalog has been hacked by an outside source. But, Goliath, I think we may have the information that you seek."
Goliath felt the frustration lessen at the first tidings of good news.
"I think the Professor is going to be pleased with our results." Hank hit the "Print" option on the tool bar of his computer screen.
David Xanatos eyes the younger man sitting across from him. He was tall, muscular with definitive All-American good looks. Scott Summer's presented a strong profile with his Roman nose, square jaw and cleft chin. He had worked with the X-Man and previous occasions and found him regimented, inflexible, and anxious. He also knew that Scott was the mettle of man that one could rely upon in times of crisis. In many ways, he reminded Xanatos of his majordomo, Owen.
He carefully studied Scot Summers and the way he carried himself. His good posture, assured mannerisms, and sagacious demeanor were the marks of a good leader. David knew from previous encounters that the younger man possessed a strong intellect and impeccable moral character. Now, he needed Cyclops's steady temperament and analytical mind to decipher the bothersome riddle presented them. (See the story "Even Angels Shall Weep." Also titled "And Angels Wept With Wings Unfurled.)
David plugged in his laptop and began using his dubious computer skills to bypass several security measures of the NASA mainframe. He managed to get hold of a shuttle launch schedule not listed on the NASA official website. The smile coming alive on his face indicated extreme satisfaction as the shadow list of launch dates appeared on the computer screen. He briefly scanned all dates for the following year.
"I think we have it." David said to the young man peering over his shoulder. He turned the laptop so that Scott also saw the information that brought that wide grin to the older man's face. "Space Shuttle Venture (Nova-17A). The launch date is November 3rd, 2005. Launch Pad 39-X. Estimated Departure time is 12:00AM with a launch window of 2 1/2 to five minutes. This isn't listed on the official schedule."
"How do we know that this is the one that Wren saw in her vision?"
"We don't." David's tapered fingers easily typed a steady cadence on the laptop keyboard. "Now, let's see what they're going to be doing on the shuttle."
"How are you going to bypass their firewalls?" Scott asked. "NASA has some of the best anti-intrusion security measures in the world."
"Ah, but who do you think designed the software for them?" The deep chuckle and the smug expression on David's face caused Scott to unconsciously squirm. He considered the possibility that David Xanatos was one that had a surreptitious agenda.
'PASSWORD' the computer screen flashed in vivid blue letters. With a few keystrokes, Xanatos made his way past the first set of code-verifications. As each screen asked for more passwords and security code sequences, Scott knew that there was far more to David Xanatos that he being another billionaire business entrepreneur.
[He likes the thrill of the chase. He wants the challenge. He's not above doing whatever it takes to get the job done. How low will he go?] Scott worried.
"All right, we are in. I have the Shuttle mission protocols right in front of me." He stroked his goatee in contemplation. His eyes widened in horror as he read the scrolling information on the laptop view screen.
Scott detected the instantaneous change of Xanatos's haughty poise transmute into stunned disbelief. Scott asked anxiously, "What is it?"
"The crew of the Venture will be conducting new experiments on five new Mutagens while in space. They want to see how they affect certain living tissues." David's voice stilled to a mere whisper.
"Go on." Scott urged.
"The five mutagens are codenamed CLASP. They are prototypes for new biological agents being tested and researched by the Government." David hit the keys of the laptop heavily in his unspoken frustration. "I can't get past this firewall. I've tried once, if I try again, that'll set off the software intruder alert."
"You're needing a password?"
"Exactly. NASA's reset the codes and sequences without my authorization. They've violated their contract." David stared at the keyboard.
"You think this is what we're looking for?" Scott probed the billionaire.
"I wouldn't be one to discount it quickly." He leaned forward to stare at the blinking image in front of him. [How do I get past this last safeguard?]
"What about an encryption decoder?"
"It would take too long and I don't have the program with me."
"Damn." Scott fought the urge to kick something. [How do we crack this wide open? It's all smoke and mirrors. We're going off a dream for the basis of everything in this operation... hey waits a minute!]
"Were there any obstacles or safeguards in Hades to keep people in or block them from entering?"
"Of course!" Scott stared hard at the computer screen. "I remember when I read about this stuff in High School. There was a three-headed dog that guarded the gates of Hades. His name was-"
"Cerebus." David finished for him. He typed in the ancient name and prayed that Scott's instincts were correct. Otherwise, he'd be in a precarious position explaining his break-in involving a classified government site.
The icon flashing "PASSWORD" blinked obnoxiously for several seconds. David and Scott looked at one another with uncertainty regarding the elusive password. They turned their attention back to the screen. "Let's hope this works."
[I wouldn't want Xanatos as an enemy. If this is it, our government's still full of idiots.] Scott shook his head in amazement. Scott found himself crossing his fingers as he focused his eyes upon Xanatos' computer screen. Scott let loose an audible sigh of relief when the screen blinked the words 'PASSWORD VALID.'
"We're in." David rubbed his hands together in mock glee as he navigated throughout the protocols to find the much-needed information. He let forth a low whistle as he scrolled through the endless screens of information. "Pay dirt."
"Listen to this, Scott." David cleared his throat. "While in orbit, the space shuttle crew of Venture will study the five newest strains recently added to America's weapons arsenal. The Hades Wave is a series of biological agents and viral mutagens that will specifically target specific population."
"Keep reading." Scott said tersely. He didn't like what he was hearing. A cold, heavy feeling settled at the bottom of his queasy stomach.
"The five prototype mutagens, also known as CLASP, will be tested on collected samples from various specimens of Homo Sapien Superior genetic material. Xanatos finally remembered to scrape his jaw from the edge of the table after it fell in amazement. "Scott, NASA's conducting experiments on biological agents that are specifically test-rigged for Mutant DNA."
"Is there more information?"
"Oh, yeah. The five strains are named Cocytus, Lethe, Acheron, Styx and Phlegethon. Each strain is designed to attack the nuclei of Mutant cells and cause them to implode, decay, or be misshapen. I'm just briefly going through this but it's theorized that this will also latch itself onto normal organ tissue."
"Why do those names sound familiar?"
"Because, Scott." Dark eyes focused upon the visor. The grave tone in his voice caused the heavy, empty feeling in Scott's stomach to magnify tenfold. "Those five names are also the names of the five rivers of Hades."
"We're in deep."
"Let's get this information organized and back to Xanatos by morning." David attempted banishment of the fatigue causing his eyes to drift close. He knew he needed sleep. He knew pleasant dreams were non-existent for the near future.
He said a silent prayer for guidance and good luck. He didn't look forward to the morning's meeting.
The night wore on for all the team. At 7:56AM all were seated with extensive information ready for presentation sitting in front of them. Demetrius spent the evening assisting the Professor with various tasks around the Mansion that required additional help. [When this is solved, Milady will have dire need of long rest.]
He noticed that each was dressed in clothing far more individualized that he had previously seen. Scott still wore his visor but was dressed in dark leather that reminded the dark warrior more of armor. His wife Jean wore the same dark leather garb. Demona long since vanished with the rising sun and her alter ego, Dominique Destine seemed ready for battle dressed in a body-hugging flying suit of the same black leather. Wren appeared an outfit quite similar. The Annulus hung off a loose belt. Unlike the others who wore the dark leather battle-gear, Wren wore a hooded cloak made of a mysterious shimmering fabric. It seemed to move with her in unity.
Demetrius nearly fainted when the hulking form of his clan leader entered the room. Goliath took his place beside Dominique garbed in full battle armor. Around his neck he wore something akin to a slave's collar. It appeared to be fashioned out of some glittering metal and adorned with flashing lights.
"Goliath, you're awake! But how can this be?"
"A marvelous device called a Mutant inhibitor collar." He tapped the metal constraint around his neck. "It normally neutralized Mutant power emissions. However, Dominique altered it to recognize my particular genetic signature. Without robbing me of strength or agility, it hinders my become stone at sunrise."
"Very much like the seashell amulet given to me by Aphrodite." Demetrius hummed in understanding.
"I must say, that your Human form is rather unexpected."
"I have become accustomed to it. It serves its purposes." Demetrius almost purred when he cast an impious glance towards his beloved mate.
"Good morning." Hank grumbled as he stumbled in and found his chair.
"Good morning everyone." The professor greeted them as they took their places around the table. "Scott and David, what did you find out regarding the space shuttle."
"It's prepared to launch tomorrow at 12:00AM." Scott gave handouts to the group of the detailed launch schedule and mission protocols. "We know that it's going to be piloted by Dr. Christina Hansen with a science crew."
"Indeed. She's one foremost geneticists in the nation." Hank agreed. He took several of the papers in front of him and gave each at the table a copy. He turned his attention to a lowering view screen. "If everyone would turn their attention, you'll see on the screen a diagram. Goliath and I found out that the project they're experimenting with contains biological agents they've codenamed the Hades Wave. They plan on testing the effectiveness of five mutagens collectively called Clasp and each is named for a river of Hades. They intend to test each mutagen against specific genetic and tissue samples all gathered from Mutants."
"Skeh-high-larr Darranu." Demetrius spoke in the ancient language of his people. Dominique stared at him as if he spoke gibberish. Goliath appeared truly mortified and Wren giggle.
"Sky-larr Dar-ran-new." Scott botched the melodic language as he tried to repeat the lilting words. "I don't understand.
Wren leaned forward and whispered softly in his ear. "It's from the ancient Gargoyle tongue called DeMahri. It literally translates into "dragon dung."
"Or oh, shit?" A ghost of a smile tugged at her former team leader's lips.
"You catch on quickly." Wren did nothing to hide her mirth.
"You must get aboard to that shuttle and secure those mutagens from falling into the wrong hands. According to Wren's premonition, the shuttle wreckage was found along the banks of a river. We must prevent any disaster that would allow those mutagens to become airborne. We also theorize that they're able to molecularly bond with the oxygen molecules in the water supply and contaminate the drinking water within six hours of exposure." Hank used his pointed to point to the diagram of the molecules on the viewing screen. "If we don't, then we will see the Twilight of Mutantkind."
"Breaking into government installation isn't usually our style." Wren's eyes narrowed in suspicion. "If we're caught breaking into Cape Canaveral, we're going to pay a high price. I won't let the government get hold of me again, I promise you."
"That's why we need to formulate a plan for a preemptive strike, Moirai." The Professor called her by her codename. Taken aback by the formal address, Wren suddenly straightened her posture. "That is why we're here."
"I care little for involving myself in mutant affairs." Dominique's green eyes confronted the steady gaze of the Professor. "I have given my aid because Xanatos asked me."
"Dominique." Goliath's quiet voice seemed a calming influence to the rising tensions in the room. "I assume not to counsel you, but I realize that Human tribulations frequently develop into Gargoyle dilemmas. This virus may well affect those whom we know and love."
"I love no Mutant." She spat.
"No Milady." Demetrius bowed deeply. "Perchance not, but with the altered genetic stock of the resurrected Wyvern clan, they may well be afflicted by these ...mutagens. They carry the X chromosome within each of them because of the life-giving sacrifice given to us by a Mutant Child of Oberon named Adrienne Westfall. Fate might deem it so that Gargoyles of my clan will know anguish from these substances."
"Present your plan, Professor." She growled. He nodded silently as she took her seat.
For the next hour the group discussed strategies and options. A battle plan quickly manifested. Wren suggested that there be two groups working cooperatively: one on the ground and one on the shuttle. It was agreed.
"Scott, you'll like the shuttle team. You'll be piloting the shuttle here." The Professor surveyed each of the table in kind. "Jean, you'll be going as Second-In-Command on this mission. Wren, we'll need your probability manipulation to alter events in our team's favor. Dominique, I want you to accompany them and act as advisor. David informs me that your scientific and technical skills are extraordinary."
"Yes, they are." Came the silky reply.
"Goliath and Demetrius, you will accompany Hank to the base and provide a distraction while we get the other group onto the shuttle. David and I will be monitoring everything here by computer. He'll be circumventing security systems. Once the mutagens and samples are sequestered, bring them immediately to Hank's lab."
"Cyclops, Phoenix, Moirai, and Dominique; good luck and Godspeed." The Professor spoke softly. Tremors coursed along Wren's skin. She knew that she was once again called to duty as an X-Man. [Maybe this time I won't get anyone killed.]
"Scott, I just don't know if I can do another mission like this." Jean whispered to her husband. "The last time when we were on the shuttle, Star Core, everything compounded into a disaster."
"Don't worry, Honey." He wrapped a comforting arm around her. "There's no Phoenix entity to hurt you this time."
"I can't believe I'm going on an actual mission." Wren whispered to Demetrius as they left the War Room. "I never saw action like this when I was on the team. They kept me on the ground and away from anything fragile. Usually, my powers caused things to break or people to get hurt."
"Times have changed as you have changed, Milady." He took her smaller hand in his and brought it gently to his lips. He brushed a tender kiss against her sensitive skin. "I have the utmost faith in you and your abilities, Wren. We will prevail and be victorious."
"I'm scared." He heard the tremor of sheer terror in her voice.
"Milady, Skylaris' blessing is upon you. I am always with you if not in body then in mind. I go where you go. You have skills and wisdom brought to you by previous adventures. Be not bereft of conviction in yourself. Go now, Moirai of the X-Men. What is the saying that you I have heard on the Wrestling shows? 'Kiss ass, take names, and leave no survivors."
Wren laughed at the audacity of such crass words coming from her tenth century Scottish warrior. How far they had come since those first chilly nights on the beaches of Caledon Isle. They had made their way from tentative friendship to deep, abiding devotion. She longed for Demetrius' wings and tail to wrap around her. Unfortunately, they vanished with the light of day. So, she pressed herself tightly against him and embraced him.
"I love you, Demetrius. I always have."
"As I love you. Go now." He urged her towards Cyclops, Phoenix, and Dominique. "They need you."
She pulled the cloak of unstable molecules around her. She knew that the fabric also acted as a barrier against heat, cold and various attacks. Yet, sadly, it did nothing to protect her from the foreboding despondency skulking on the edges of her consciousness. She nodded curtly and turned abruptly to join the others.
And the Wraith of Elisa Maza nodded in approval as she watched the last of the group filter from the room. Her heart twisted itself as she watched Goliath pass her. She reached out to touch him and he stopped. He looked around and found nothing out of the ordinary. Her feelings plummeted as Elisa realized that she was, again, alone.
TO BE CONTINUED>>>>>>>>>>>