An Excerpt from the novel
by Richard Lee Byers

(copyright 1999 Marvel Characters, Inc., Byron Preiss Multimedia, Inc., Berkley Boulevard Books)

Editor's note: This excerpt was used with permission from the author who is a fencer himself. As you know, fencers have to earn a living and Mr. Byers gets paid to tell stories. Occasionally, he has the opportunity to put a little swordplay into his work and here is an example of one instance where he was able to slip in a fencing scene.

Angus Graham advanced down the copper fencing strip with short, crisp steps, his knees deeply flexed, his arm straight, and the point of his electric epee threatening Kurt Wagner's sword hand. The score was all tied up at four touches each, but Angus was smiling confidently behind the wire mesh of his mask, and Kurt wasn't surprised. The Scot was an A-rated fencer and a force to be reckoned with here at the Edinburgh Open or any other tournament in Britain.

Kurt let his arm droop, exposing his wrist, encouraging his opponent to take a shot, and Angus seemingly took the bait. Kurt spun his epee in a circle-six parry. But Angus disengaged, evading the defensive action, and his point streaked on toward the target.

Kurt frantically hopped backward and parried again in four, barely catching the other man's weapon and sweeping it safely to the side. He whipped his arm down, his blade bowed, and his point flicked down, catching Angus on the white nylon sleeve of his jacket. The buzzer in the scoring box brayed, signaling a touch.

"Halt!" the director barked. "Point left. Bout."

The two fencers saluted one another, removed their masks, and shook hands. "Nice match," said Angus, grinning, "but I'll get you next time."

"I wouldn't doubt it," Kurt replied.

He unplugged his body cord from the cable that had connected him to the reel at his end of the strip, handed the line to the next fencer, wished him luck, and vacated the playing area. When he looked around the gymnasium, where a dozen bouts were being fought at once while other fencers looked on to assess the strengths and weaknesses of the competition, he felt a surge of pure happiness.

Lord, but he loved to fence. He'd fallen in love with the idea of swordplay when he was just a boy, upon viewing swashbuckling movies like Captain Blood and The Mark of Zorro, and the reality had more than lived up to his expectations. He was grateful for

Charles Xavier's holographic image inducer, which allowed the mutant known as Nightcrawler--a blue-furred, yellow-eyed, three-fingered elf of a man with a prehensile tail--to assume the guise of Douglas Flynn, a devilishly handsome but otherwise seemingly ordinary human. Kurt preferred not to use the inducer for the most part, feeling it hypocritical to fight for the acceptance of mutants among humanity while simultaneously hiding his true face. But without it he could never have been accepted into events like this as just another amateur athlete.

A slender blonde of medium height sauntered up to him. She was Amanda Sefton, sorceress, his sometimes comrade in the team of adventurers known as Excalibur, and, despite some rocky times, the abiding love of his life. "Well," she murmured in a voice too low for anyone else to overhear, her blue eyes shining mischievously, "doesn't the mighty super hero looked pleased with himself for beating up on a poor unsuspecting weekend warrior?"

Nightcrawler arched an eyebrow. "If I'm not mistaken, liebchen, Angus was Scottish national champion three years back. That makes him a relatively formidable "weekend warrior." And you know, it's not as if I have inhuman speed like Quicksilver, or incredible strength like Hank. I'm no faster or stronger than a normal human."

"Provided that the human used to be a trapeze artist and has kept himself in perfect shape ever since."

Kurt shrugged. "The point is, that while I can teleport and cling to a sheer wall, my gifts are such that I can choose not to use them, and compete with other fencers fairly."

"No," she said, massaging her temple with her fingertips. "I mean, it just feels like the start of a headache. If I can't rub or meditate it away, I've got some aspirin in my bag. I was starting to say it's noon-ish." Her mouth tightened as if at another twinge of pain. "Shall I run out and buy us some lunch? There's a caf? right around the corner. I can be back in plenty of time to cheer you on through the direct eliminations."

"I know that," the sorceress said, relenting. "I was only teasing. Sometimes you get so puffed up when you're doing well at these things that it's hard to resist. It's--" She winced. "Is something wrong?" asked Kurt.

The mutant caressed her cheek with his free hand. "You," he said, "are a ministering angel. I probably should eat something, especially since I still have the sabre competition after this. But before you go anywhere, why don't you sit down and relax for--"

Amanda's eyes rolled back in her head and her knees buckled. Dropping his mask and epee to the floor, Kurt grabbed her to keep her from falling.

The young sorceress thrashed as if she were having a seizure, slumped, and then, to Kurt's astonishment, calmly straightened up, shrugged off his hands, and gave him a contemptuous sneer that was utterly unlike any expression he'd ever seen on her face before.

If you want to know what happens next, you'll just have to go out to a bookstore or hop over to and buy the book.

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