GRAIL: The Lady of the Lake
>> See notes section for introduction <<
There is ever, only one phoenix.
She's barren except in death, and she dies in excruciating agony, her
flamelike plumage consumed by fire. Then and only then is she reborn
from the ashes of herself -- without mother or father, without kith
or kin, without mate. She is alone. Death and life and death -- she
is the release of the spirit from earth's bondage, and she rises in
glory. Percival's purity, guardian of the Grail, herald of the New
Age. Her blood burns, her tears heal, yet she's always solitary in
Resurrection isn't all it's cracked up to be.
Shivers of awareness flicker across her consciousness, and a filter
of light streams in sheets of gold, scintillating but fuzzy, like the
skin on a peach.
"You paid a *drachma* for a peach?"
"What's wrong with that? It's what? Fifty cents?"
She held it up to show it off, perfect and golden, not a bruise or
mar. "I saw it and couldn't resist." They stood beyond a market
near the docks of Kavalla, where fishing boats of various sizes had
been tied up at harbor. The boats were painted blue and white and
red, looking small and old and sea-battered next to the one great
cruise ship that sat off shore. Now and then, the ship's horn could
be heard all through the town. On the horizon to the north, east,
and west were pine-covered mountains enclosing this ancient town on
the *Via Egnatia* -- the Roman road that had led from Italy through
Greece into Constantinople . . . Istanbul, these days, but the Greeks
refused to call it that. There was a sign not far from where they
stood that read 'Constantinople,' followed by some number of
kilometers. Scott had thought it funny, and had taken a picture
while Warren had rattled off night spots and good restaurants to be
found in Istanbul, and Hank had launched into an explanation of how
'Istanbul' was probably a corruption of the Greek phrase "*eis ten
polein*" (meaning "to the City"). "'The City' was never Athens,"
Jean had rolled her eyes at all of them. Never go sightseeing with
men, she'd said.
They'd split up not long after, Hank and Warren heading for the old
Norman fort on the acropolis above, and Scott and Jean meandering
through the lower town, buying bread and cheese for lunch. And a
"I'll share," Jean said now, and took a bite, then held out the peach
to him, bright and enticing in the Greek sun. Not quite Atalanta's
Gripping her hand, he pulled it closer, but not to bite into peach
flesh. Instead, his mouth came down on her soft wrist, licking a
trail of juice that had slid over her skin.
She sucked in breath, nearly choking on her bite, and he smiled while
slapping her back. "You okay?" he asked. Butter wouldn't have
melted in his mouth.
"Bastard," she said when she could speak, tears sliding down her
cheeks from her coughing fit. She wiped them away with her free
hand, so she didn't have to look at him.
"You offered to share."
She looked up. He was watching her, wearing that sardonic smile he
had down to an art, but there was something else behind it, rising
like Olympus in the distance across the Thermiac gulf, half shrouded
in cloud. Daring, testing, she held up the peach again, level with
Bending forward, he bit into it.
The water rocks her, tremulous, caressing. There is a song somewhere
in the voices of fishes.
Hush little baby, don't say a word,
Mama's gonna buy you a mockingbird,
and if that mockingbird don't sing,
Mama's gonna buy you a diamond ring,
and if that diamond ring turns to glass,
Mama's gonna buy you a looking glass,
and if that looking glass gets broke ...
Thousands of tons of water had shattered her. It had happened
instantly, every bone in her body broken, her ribcage and pelvis and
skull smashed like glass goblets, flattening her internal organs,
puncturing and collapsing her lungs, and crushing her brain. Forget
drowning. What had remained of Jean Grey had been human pulp, torn
by the force of the water.
It had been too fast for more than an instant of pain, but that had
been a horrible, piercing agony like nothing she'd imagined could
exist, far worse than the racking pain she'd shared with Annie at her
moment of death, oh so long ago.
*Don't die, don't die, don't die ...*
*Don't die ...*
*Can't breathe anymore. Hurts ...*
*Don't die ...*
*Too tired, Jeannie. Hurts ...*
*Don't die. Please, don't die. Don't leave me all alone down here
in this well.*
*I can't find my way out, Annie! Don't leave me here!*
Being dead is a relief. She's been floating here in the water, like
one of those translucent glass fish, barely visible, for she doesn't
know how long. But the sun's so lovely, breaking apart through the
water, and she loses herself in it. What meaning does time have, for
Divested of anything so cumbersome as a body, she rolls in the little
lake waves, flitting about beneath the spring-cold water and awaiting
the sun each morning. And each morning, it gets a little warmer, the
light a little more green. All around her, life wakes from
hibernation and reproduces itself. In her gossamer state, she
reaches out to touch the infant flickers, brilliant, fleeting . . .
beautiful like the sun. Life is beautiful because it will end. She
understands that now. Who wants to live forever and taste joy grown
cold on the tongue, enervated and senile? That isn't living. Better
to die suddenly, burn richly, and end as ash.
"You're a pyro, Warren. What *is* it about men and fire?"
"What do you mean?" He was playing with a lighter for no apparent
reason beyond seeing the tiny burst of flame and hearing the click of
the lid as he snuffed it out.
"Every guy I know has to play with fire. You. Hank and his Bunsen
burners. The professor and the little fires in his suite fireplace.
Scott running fingers through a candle flame. It's nuts."
Warren glanced up at that. "I think fire's fascinating -- beautiful.
But Scott's playing with fire for a whole different reason."
"And what reason's that?"
Warren looked back at the copper lighter in his hand, engraved with
the Worthington crest. He snapped it shut. "Scott wants to get
burned so he knows he's alive."
She's not alive. Or at least, she died -- she knows that much. But
why she's still hanging about here, she can't say. Shouldn't she
have passed on somewhere else by now? Or was this the fate of all
human spirits when they'd shuffled off their mortal coil, to flit
about unseen but still anchored to this earth? Yet if so, where were
the others? Surely she wasn't the only person to have died here in
the hundreds of thousands of years of human existence? It's a
She isn't sure just when rolling in the waves and following the lake
creatures isn't enough, but she becomes fitful. The water is languid
and cool, a pleasant place to rest, recover -- and to forget. For
instance, she had a name once, but she's not too sure now what it
was. She had a physical body, as well, but it's gone, eaten away and
rotted by water. The bones remain fetched up against submerged
concrete, clothed still in bits of leather and metal fasteners. She
doesn't go to that part of the lake. She can barely remember what
her body even looked like.
But she remembers him. She remembers the awful surge of terror and
desperation that had rolled off him when he'd realized what she was
up to, and what it would cost. And she remembers telling him
goodbye. Feelings are easier for her to revive than details and
events; they lie closer to the heart. She'd made a choice, but what
the choice was, or why, she couldn't say. She knew only that, for a
few minutes, she'd felt impossibly *powerful*. And she'd felt
powerful regret, too, because she was leaving him. Leaving them.
She missed them.
It grew slowly, the missing � like her discontent -- and by the time
the full warmth of summer had hit the valley and her lake, the
missing had become a fire that couldn't survive drowning any longer.
She had to return, and she began to circle the place where she'd been
standing when she'd died, rarely venturing far from that spot. She
was gravid with something she couldn't quite diagnose.
Once, a stray camper told the locals in the Alkali Lake Store that
he'd seen a red glow, like will-o'-the-wisps or fox lights, some way
out in the lake, reflecting beneath the water. The surface there had
seemed to boil. The owner told him he must have seen a big fish and
phosphorescence. It had, the camper said, been mighty bright for
phosphorescence. A few days later, a hiker said he'd seen a woman
walking on the water. Laughing, the store owner had suggested
mermaids, and the man had departed, disgruntled. There were more
reports, as summer ground on, and the white locals took to calling
the phenomenon the Lady of the Lake, while the Esketemc Nation said
someone must have died there, and they left offerings of tobacco ties
on the cedars around the new shore's edge, and little carvings of
birds, hoping her spirit would get the message and fly away.
In a manner of speaking, her spirit did. On July fifteenth, the Lady
of the Lake rose fully from the waters, exactly thirty-four years
from the day she'd emerged from her mother's womb. She drew up the
mists around herself in a swirling, pulsing robe, lit red from
within, and then she walked across the water to the shore, setting
one ephemeral foot on summer grass.
Mnemosyne sought to remember.
Notes: The Lady of the Lake is often believed to be the Celtic water
goddess Coventina, whom the Romans equated with Mnemosyne, or Memory,
the mother of the Muses. There is, in fact, a little native reserve
called the Alkali Lake Band, in British Columbia. Amusingly, one can
read about the Esketemc via the 'Phoenix' engine.
The Medicine Wheel: X-Men Fanfic
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