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The Death Card: Chapter Three

Mac O'Roni

This is the way the world ends...
This is the way the world ends...
This is the way the world ends...
Not with a bang, but a whimper.

-T.S. Eliot, "The Hollow Men"

     A golem made of coal, with two bright rubies for eyes, stepped ponderously into the laboratory. With each step, the crust of blackened skin cracked and crackled ominously. "Beautiful, isn't he?" Sinister said, with real reverence. "Unfortunately, this isn't quite the final product. It remains to be seen exactly what lies beneath. Still, one can appreciate the brute elegance of this new form without knowing the ultimate result of our labors."
     The great behemoth stopped before the geneticist and the power-hungry tyrant. From the floor to the top of its head, which was covered with a dead growth of brittle white hair, the creature was over eight feet in height and correspondingly broad through the shoulders. The pupils of its glittering and seemingly soulless red eyes were narrow and vertical, like a cat's. "Finish it," it demanded, its fine, high, masculine voice contrasting oddly with its massive and monstrous form. "Whatever you have to do, finish it. Don't just leave me this way."
     Sinister made a dismissive gesture with hands and head. "It's nothing. Just break the husk off, my boy. Emerge from the chrysalis, as it were."
     "The husk. The dead remnants of what you were. Break it off, and reveal who you've become."
     Uncertainly, the creature raised huge, chunky hands to its face. Tentatively, it poked at the thick, cracking skin of one cheek. The shell broke away easily, revealing a patch of pure, smooth, ultra-pale skin beneath. With real urgency, the creature began tearing at its outer shell, ripping it away. It crumbled in a pile around its feet.
     What was underneath was, ultimately, the mutant once known as Gambit. Only bigger. Much bigger. Skin that had once been a handsome shade of dark tan was now nearly snow-white, and hair once a honeyed shade of auburn was now red as blood. There were other changes, but they weren?t immediately apparent.
     Apocalypse smiled; never a pleasant sight. "A red-headed man. I would call you 'Set,' had I not another, better name for you. But like that god of old, you 'shall thunder in the sky, and be feared.'"
     "An honor, Suh," Gambit said dryly. "Am I to thunder butt nekkid, or am I allowed some clothes?"
     "A suitable wardrobe will be provided," Sinister said.
     "Yes. A uniform suited to your position as my greatest Horseman. All shall tremble before you, for you shall be Death."
     "Do I get a pale horse to ride?" Gambit/Death asked. "Me being the pale horseman and all."
     "Your sense of humor is appreciated," Apocalypse said. "But don't overdo it."
     "Certainly not, sir."
     "Sinister, see to it that this man is clothed and outfitted accordingly," Apocalypse commanded, striding away. He turned back at the door. "I've been giving some thought to the question of what to mount the horsemen on this time. I know we've used mechanical horses in the past, but nothing beats a good flesh-and-blood war horse, in my opinion," he said, sounding for all the world like a pompous military general. "See if you can't engineer me some really spectacular ones. That should be easy enough for a scientist of your caliber."
     Apocalypse got halfway through the door this time before turning back. "Make his a pale one," he said, with a nod and a gruesome smile at his newest incarnation of Death.
     "As you will, my Lord," Sinister said, and bowed as En Sabbah Nur finally left the laboratory.