Said to be the next stage in human evolution, mutants are hated and feared in a world of anxious humans. It is often the heroics of Professor Charles Xavier and the X-men that keeps the human/mutant conflict from erupting into a full scale war. What often fuels these conflicts is the poor understanding and inability to control mutant powers. Time and again, a lack of control has often led to great destruction.
The X-men have faced a great many powers that were beyond their control. They watched as Magneto became corrupted by power when he tried to use a machine to amplify his mutation. They watched as Kevin MacTaggart became consumed by his Omega level mutation, causing a rampage in Liverpool, England that took many lives including his own. Now the team is facing an equally grave situation with one of their own in Jean Grey.
Since the battle with Proteus, Jean has been struggling with a mysterious ailment stemming from the growing instability of her powers. Her condition became so severe that Professor Xavier accepted help from Jason Wyngarde, a mysterious man recommended by former X-man, Emma Frost. But the so-called help he offered turned into a disaster. Wyngarde and Emma were revealed to be working for Sebastian Shaw, a man whose agenda has led to numerous clashes with the X-men. Through trickery and deceit, he abducted Jean and much of the X-men. Only Logan and Warren remain and it is up to them to save their friends from Shaw’s plot.
Xavier Institute – Hanger
It was a race against time to catch up with Jason Wyngarde and their kidnapped friends. Logan and Warren didn’t have time to recover from their splitting headaches. Taking two blasts from that psionic disruption was anything but pleasant, but there was no time for pain and even less time for planning. Having gathered themselves just enough to get suited up, the two X-men met in the hanger where the X-jet was prepped and ready to go. Warren was still rubbing his head, not having the luxury of a healing factor to recover. He still had plenty of incentive to tough it out. This was personal for him and not just because his friends were in danger.
“Damn…I can’t believe Emma would betray us like this,” the winged mutant mused as he followed Logan onto the jet.
“Believe it, wings. She’s got the scent of someone who stabs people in the back!” snarled Logan, in full uniform and out for blood.
“But it doesn’t make any sense! Emma is one of us!” Warren argued, “Sure, she came from a shady background and always had an attitude, but she’s not a monster! There must be a reason for her to do something like this!”
“Don’t waste your time trying to figure it out, bub! Far as we know, she’s the enemy! Just like Wyngarde! Just like Shaw!”
Warren was still somewhat hesitant. He knew Emma better than Logan. He had been with the team when Emma was on board. Something just didn’t add up. It didn’t look like he would have time to figure it out. Logan rushed him onto the jet and started powering up the controls.
“Tell me you can work the scanners on this thing!” said Logan as he sat down in the main pilot seat.
“I may have skipped a few training sessions, but yeah. I can handle it…I think,” said Warren, trying to sound more confident than he was.
“Then bring ‘em up and get a fix on that vapor trail! Those two choppers were built for volume, not stealth! We gotta follow these dirtbags and take them down!”
“Sounds simple enough,” said the winged mutant as he powered up the scanner, “Do we have a plan for how we’re going to handle them?”
“Who needs a plan? We get in, find Wyngarde and Shaw, catch up with Frost, and beat the hell out of anybody who gets in the way!”
“No offence, Logan, but that isn’t much of a plan. We’re talking about some very resourceful people here!”
“I got all the resources I need right here, bub!” snarled Logan, briefly showing his claws.
That didn’t ease his concerns in the slightest. As far as Warren was concerned, this was a disaster waiting to happen. Logan had little tactical skill and working primarily off rage. The entire team had been abducted including Jean, his ex-girlfriend, and Miss Munroe, his current girlfriend. He had every right to be angry, but that may not be enough.
While Warren went to work on the scanner, Logan rushed through all the preliminary checks with the jet and opened the launch tunnel. With the push of the throttle, the engines were ignited and the advanced jet shot out through the tunnel.
“I have a very bad feeling about this,” groaned Warren, “And it isn’t just the lingering headache from that pulse.”
“I’ve had that same damn feeling since this shit began so we’re even,” grunted Logan, “But since Shaw and his cronies made their move, we know what we’re up against. That’s gonna work to our advantage. The man is probably arrogant enough to think we can’t screw up his plans! We need to prove him wrong!”
“By being a little arrogant ourselves?”
“If that’s what it takes!” snarled the feral mutant.
“That’s rarely the case when dealing with all these unknowns, Logan. There’s always something else ready to bite you in the ass when you go barging in like this.”
“Then I hope your ass is numb because we’re short on options and even shorter on time!”
Hellfire Manor – Downtown Manhattan
‘What have I gotten myself into? Of all the times for my old life to come back and bite me, why does it have to be now? Scott and Charles are going to hate me when they see all this. If not, they damn well ought to!’
Once again, Emma Frost found herself in the aptly named Hellfire Manor. Thus building, which dated back over 200 years, was known for its opulence and its collection of assorted artifacts. By day it was the sight of an exclusive, private social club. By night, it was something much more sinister. The last time she had been here, it marked a turning point in her life. It was only fitting that this visit would be similar in that respect, only for a very different reason.
Jason Wyngarde and the rest of Shaw’s thugs kept a close eye on Emma through the whole trip. They seemed ready to pounce on her the moment she showed any signs of betrayal. It was a good thing too because she was definitely tempted. She had to sit by and watch as Shaw’s people restrain every one of the X-men, including the Professor. They had their hands cuffed behind their backs, their legs shackled at the ankles, and power inhibitor collars locked around their necks. They would all be kept nice and docile so they would not interfere in the ceremony to come. It was going to be quite a show for them because standing at the heart of this ceremony was Jean Grey.
Everything was set up on the top floor. All the windows had been covered with elegant purple drapes. All the walls had been lined with an array of artwork with mysterious symbols etched around them. A equally elaborate array of candles illuminated the room in a soft and eerie glow. The only other source of light came from an elaborate opening built into the ceiling. This opening hung directly over the center of the room where a large symbol had been carved into the floor. The symbol resembled that of a bird surrounded by fire. It was on this symbol that the unconscious Jean Grey lay upon. She was still unconscious, but wouldn’t be for long.
“It’s time,” said a dark, sinister voice.
From the back end of the room, a collection of cloaked figures entered the chamber. There were at least two dozen of them, all dressed in similar attire. The men were dressed in neatly tailored Victorian style suits and women were dressed in elegant yet revealing lingerie with matching heeled boots and leather gloves. Among them was Sebastian Shaw, who was always the most well-dressed. Following closely were Harry Leland and Donald Pierce. Leading them was the dark yet alluring presence of Selene, the woman they all knew as the Black Queen.
Emma watched stoically as they gathered around the center where Jean was lying. She along with Jason Wyngarde, Shanobi Shaw, and a team of masked Hellfire guards were tasked with watching over the X-men. They had all been lined up in a corner, propped on their knees so they could witness what was about to transpire.
“Go ahead and wake them,” said Shaw once he and his cloaked associates were in position around Jean, “They deserve to be part of this.”
“How generous of you, Sebastian,” muttered Emma dryly.
“I would watch your tone, Frost. Your behavior from here on out will determine how painful your fate will be once this is over,” said Selene coldly.
Emma was willing to make snide remarks to Sebastian Shaw, but Selene was a different story. Even she wasn’t bold enough test her limits. With the help of a quick telepathic wake-up call, she roused her former friends.
‘Wake up, X-men. Come join in the nightmare.’
“Ugh!” they all groaned.
Professor Xavier along with Scott, Hank, Bobby, Ororo, Kitty, Kurt, Rogue, and Remy nearly keeled over as they were forcefully jolted back into consciousness. They were roughly held up by the masked guards, all of which were heavily armed. It was a painful feeling, but not painful as it was to take in their new surroundings. When they saw where they were and who was surrounding them, it was pretty obvious this wasn’t a friendly place.
“Augh! That’s a wake-up call I can do without!” groaned Bobby.
“I think I’m gonna be sick!” groaned Kitty, “Where the hell are we?”
“I don’t know and Remy be pretty sure he don’t wanna know,” said Remy as he looked around at their surroundings.
“Too bad because it looks like ve’ll find out either way,” groaned Kurt.
The X-men quickly discovered they were powerless, bound, and trapped by whoever these people were. Seeing Emma and Wyngarde reminded them of how they probably got here.
“Emma! What in God’s name have you done?!” demanded Professor Xavier.
Shanobi delivered a quick blow to the Professor, silencing him and sending him falling to the floor.
“Charles!” exclaimed Hank angrily.
“Silence peasant! You’re in the presence of the Inner Circle now. And you will show respect!” he barked.
“Cut me loose and Ah’ll show you respect, pretty boy!” spat Rogue defiantly.
That earned her a blow from Shanobi as well and since her powers were being held back, her invulnerability didn’t protect her.
“That goes for the rest of you!” said Shanobi strongly, “Such attitude will not be tolerated! As Emma herself will tell you, we can be very persuasive.”
“Don’t flatter yourself, Shanobi,” muttered Emma under her breath.
“Don’t humble yourself, Emma,” said Ororo, “After what you’ve done, it doesn’t suit you.”
Her words were harsh, but Emma didn’t contest them. She had as many angry eyes on her as Shanobi and Wyngarde, if not more so.
“You’re wasting your time chastising her, X-men,” said a very snide Jason Wyngarde, “She’s just a pawn. She always has been.”
“And as a good pawn, she has led her bounty to the King and Queen,” said Sebastian Shaw from the center of the room, “And oh what a bounty it is.”
The Professor and the X-men turned their attention away from Emma and towards the center of the room. There they saw Shaw and his mysterious cohorts move aside so they could see the unconscious Jean Grey lying on the floor.
“Jean! What have you done to her?!” exclaimed Scott in a rage.
“Silence boy!” spat Selene, “We’ve done nothing to your precious squeeze yet, but that’s about to change!”
“If you so much as breathe on her I’ll…”
But Scott never got to finish his threat. The eyes of the sinister woman known as Selene flashed dark violet and in an instant, Scott felt himself being choked by an unseen force.
“Ack!” he gagged, nearly falling over again.
“I don’t appreciate such irreverence! You have no idea who you’re dealing with!” she proclaimed.
“Let him go, Selene!” yelled Emma, trying to hold her former lover up.
Selene responded by doing the same trick on Emma, her eyes flashing again and choking her as well.
“That goes double for you, Frost! I have no patience for such disrespect! Not when I’m this close to fulfilling my destiny!”
“Dang! And you all thought Wyngarde was creepy,” said Remy under his breath.
“Quiet Rogue!” said Ororo tactfully, “We cannot afford to push our luck here!”
Selene’s display of force got the message across. The X-men were prisoners. As much as it pained them to see their friend at the mercy of these mysterious strangers, there was nothing they could do about it. Eventually, Selene let Scott and Emma go. They wisely stayed silent this time, but Scott’s worried gaze remained on his unconscious lover. These people had her restrained and dressed up in some strange new outfit. She was wearing an unmarked body suit with black pants, and a green halter-top, yellow boots, and matching yellow scarf around her waist. It was like she was dressed for a ritual of sorts and not the peaceful kind either.
While Scott, Emma, and the X-men recovered from Selene’s outburst, Sebastian Shaw stepped forward. Now that they were awake and aware of the seriousness of the situation, an explanation was in order.
“Thank you for settling them down, Selene. These X-men are the rambunctious type, as indicated by their recent intervention in Panama,” he said.
“You know about that, eh?” said Remy dryly, “Guess that makes you this Sebastian Shaw fella we been coming across.”
“Ah, so we already know each other.”
“We know you’re a devious man who enjoys keeping devious secrets,” scolded Kitty.
“Ve also know you cause trouble,” said Kurt sternly, “First zhere vere zhose sentinel thefts. Then you make a deal with Omega Red. Vith all due respect, you keep some lousy company.”
“Such is the nature of this business. And as you can see, it is much bigger than just little old me,” he grinned.
Not allowing Shaw to hog the spotlight, Harry Leland and Donald Pierce stepped forth. The rest of the cloaked figures remained in the background, each maintaining their dark demeanor.
“Well put, Sebastian,” said Leland, “You see, we are more than just men of business, wealth, and power. We are part of an organization with roots going back to the very dawn of civilization. We are Kings and Queens amidst a world of lowly pawns.”
“In other words, you are every Dan Brown novel ever written,” remarked Hank.
“I’d say that sounds pretty accurate,” said Xavier.
“Oh we’re much more than some childish club dreamed up by conspiracy theorists,” scoffed Pierce, “What we are a part of goes beyond money, influence, or even mutation. It strikes at one thing and one thing only…power.”
“I don’t know. Sounds like conspiracy theory fodder to me,” commented Bobby.
“We have gone by many names over the centuries. But in modern times we go by one title…the Inner Circle,” Pierce went on, “This elite group contains only those deemed worthy of wielding great power. Whether it involves the power of wealth or the power of mutation or, as in my case, the power of technology the goal is the same. Power is a means with which to bring order out of chaos.”
“And it is only through power that we as mortal beings can be fulfilled,” added Leland.
It sounded like the ideology of a cult. Looking around these strangely dressed people, it was easy to see how power played into their identity. Each man and woman carried themselves as if they were more than human. There was little trace of humanity or compassion, further indicating that these people were of a very devious breed.
“Mr. McCoy, is there even a word for how messed up that is?” asked Kitty.
“There is indeed, Kitty. It’s called narcissism…the very severe kind,” replied Hank.
“So it’s power you’re after? What does that have to do with Jean?” demanded Scott.
“That, my boy, is a little more complicated,” grinned Shaw, “For that, I’ll let her majesty herself explain.”
Shaw, Leland, and Pierce stepped aside, allowing Selene to step forth. Of all the dark figures present, none sent more chills down everybody’s spine than this woman. She had a cold, sinister demeanor. The only worthy comparison would be to that of a vampire or a witch. After her earlier show of power, that could very well be the case.
“Never thought Remy would say this about a pretty femme in lingerie, but this lady gives Remy the creeps,” said Remy.
“You’re in good company, mien friend,” said Kurt, sensing something very evil from her.
Selene casually stared down at the X-men, gazing at them almost as if they were captive animals. She conveyed to them a sense of disgust, as if they were unworthy to merely be in her presence even as captives.
“So you’re the famous X-men?” she said coldly, “I have to say I’m underwhelmed. I’ve followed your exploits. You’re one of those idealists that believe you have the power to change the world for the better. Yet you might as well be pouring a glass of water into the ocean. To exact true change you need real power! And not one of you has ever known such power!
“And you have?” said Xavier critically.
“Oh yes…I most certainly have,” she said with a grin that could have frozen Hell itself, “You see, I am part of a heritage that goes back well before the first civilization dragged itself out of the Stone Age. I am Selene Gallio, the living embodiment of pure, undiluted sorcery.”
“Is that your official title or is that just your way of making an entrance?” scoffed Rogue.
“Hardly,” she scoffed, “I come from a long line of strong, powerful women versed in the mystic arts. These women build upon the foundations of what would become the Inner Circle. The organization, location, and nature of it may change, but one constant remains. It is ruled by the Gallio bloodline under the title of Black Queen.”
“And it’s all through magic, you say?” said Kurt, being fairly knowledgeable of the mystic arts through his time with the Azazel, “I assume you’re referring to zhe dark arts.”
“You may think that, but there’s much more to it than that,” said Selene with a taunting gesture, “You see, every woman in my lineage wields mystic power on a vast level, but that power did not come from just anywhere. Going all the back to my distant grandmother, it started with a singular source. It is that very source that has brought you and Jean Grey before me.”
Selene casually snapped her fingers and a new set of doors opened on the other side of the room. From this door, a team of six masked guards entered the area carrying an elaborately decorated table that had on top of it a mysterious object shrouded by a silk veil. The six men carefully set this table down just in front of the unconscious Jean. Upon respectfully bowing to Selene, they removed to veil to reveal spectacular sight.
It was a brilliant, glowing crystal. It radiated with a powerful pinkish energy that gave off a sense of power that was truly unique. It stood about five feet high and six feet wide. It was not well-cut, hinting that it was a shard of sorts. This jagged, glowing structure filled the entire room with an ominous presence, almost as if there was something holy about this relic. When Selene saw it, she smiled in her distinct eerie manner. With affection that seemed unfitting of her demeanor, she ran her gloved hand over the structure.
“Millennia ago, a small meteor crashed in what is now the Balkans of Eastern Europe. But this meteor was no ordinary meteor. No…it was a powerful relic forged in the deepest recesses of the cosmos. It has gone by many names, but we know it as the M’krann Crystal. My distant grandmother, came across it when she was frozen and near death. When she laid her hands on it, the crystal imbued her with great power…the kind of power lifelong shamans and mystics could only hope to attain.”
“Zhat does not sound like any mystic artifact I’ve ever heard of. And I’ve heard of many,” said Kurt critically.
“Oh this is something even that fool, Azazel, never could have contemplated,” scoffed Selene.
“Azazel? You knew my father?!” exclaimed Kurt.
“Oh yes…very well, in fact,” she grinned, “Believe it or not, he once warned me about this relic.”
“And probably for a very good reason...one I’m sure you did not heed!” said the German mutant.
“Your father was in no position to understand what he was dealing with! Since my ancestors found it, they have passed it down from mother to daughter. With each generation we grow more powerful, mastering new levels of mystical prowess. But the true nature of the crystal goes beyond its mystical potential.”
“Let Remy guess…it got some special mojo to unlock it’s full power?” surmised Remy.
“Wrong!” retorted Selene, “It isn’t just the power that the crystal possesses, which by itself is very vast. It’s the power this crystal is connected to that makes it truly unique.”
“And that same power, in turn, is connected to Jean Grey,” added Shaw, “You’ve already gotten a brief taste of it. But that was just a fraction of what she’s capable of.”
Selene’s story seemed unbelievable, a crystal of such power granting mystical abilities to those who wield it. But the mention of Jean and the mysterious power she had shown against Proteus made it a bit more believable. Now the X-men were intrigued. Professor Xavier was especially concerned, having been inside Jean’s mind and sensed the potential brewing within her.
“So what exactly is this power?” asked the Professor intently.
“As if we’re not going to regret asking,” groaned bobby.
Selene grinned and gestured towards Shaw and the rest of the Inner Circle. In response, they all removed their cloaks to reveal an ominous symbol on their attire. It was a similar symbol to the one on the floor, depicting a bird surrounded by flames. For Selene, this symbol was at the heart of her destiny.
“It’s called the Phoenix Force,” she revealed, “It’s a power unlike no other. Imagine for a moment an entity so powerful that it has the ability to create and destroy with the same ease as breathing. It is beyond magic…beyond mutation…beyond anything a mortal mind can comprehend. It is power, pure and absolute…the kind of power the Inner Circle has been seeking since its inception.”
“And as it just so happens, Jean is the key to unlocking this power,” said Shaw.
“But why?! Why does she have to get caught up in this mess?!” demanded Scott.
“That, boy, is the purpose of this ceremony,” said Selene, “As my mother told me, the Phoenix Force can only achieve it’s true power when it manifests within a special mortal host. Why it chose this woman among countless others is known only to the Phoenix itself, but the reasons are not important. What is important is how the host provides a fertile body through which the Phoenix can be born into its full potential.”
“And what do you plan to do once that happens?” asked Xavier suspiciously, “You say this Phoenix Force is ultimate power. How do you expect to control such power?”
“Don’t patronize me, Xavier! That’s exactly what my ancestors have been training for! This is where the M’krann crystal comes in. Think of it as a beacon. It is through this medium that we shall draw the Phoenix Force into Jean Grey!”
“By we, that means the Inner Circle as a whole,” added Donald Pierce, “You see, it is not enough for just one person to channel the Phoenix. It takes men and women of great prestige to control this power. In other words, it takes us.”
“Indeed,” grinned Selene, “That is why the Inner Circle recruits only those deemed worthy through their use of power. It is only though such power that the Phoenix can rise from the ashes as it should! By doing so through this ceremony, we bind it to our whim! Through my magic and the collective life energy of the Inner Circle, the Phoenix and the limitless power it possess shall be ours to wield!”
“And we, the Inner Circle, will be gods in our own right,” said Leland, “This power will be the means by which we create our own perfect kingdom on this world.”
“But like every kingdom, there must be Kings and Queens,” added Shaw, “As for your precious Jean…well, let’s just say she’ll make a fine crown!”
Such a prospect horrified the X-men. These greedy, sadistic people were going to use Jean to attain ultimate power. It was madness on an entirely new level. Having seen first hand what absolute power led to with Kevin and Magneto, there were plenty of reasons to dread what Selene and this Inner Circle was doing.
“No! I won’t let you use Jean like this!” yelled Scott.
That earned him another hit from the masked guards. But this time, he wasn’t alone in his struggle.
“You people are crazy!” exclaimed Kitty, “Completely stark, raving, in-need-of-medication crazy!”
“That’s being generous!” scoffed Rogue.
“You vould be foolish to zhink you can wield such power!” said Kurt.
“You won’t just doom, Jean! You’ll doom us all!” said Hank.
But Selene would not be denied.
“Silence!” she bellowed, her eyes flashing again and using the same choking spell she used earlier.
This time the whole team suffered. The X-men felt the air being forced out of their lungs, causing them to fall over again and nearly pass out. The guards didn’t catch them this time. They just watched as they fell onto the floor, defeated and helpless.
“So much for the mighty X-men,” snickered Shanobi Shaw.
“Indeed,” said Wyngarde, “And to think, I once respected them.”
“Even those worthy of respect can still be pawns, I suppose.”
While Wyngarde and Shanobi laughed at their misfortune, Emma cringed. She tried to help Scott up, but he shook her off. She was the last person he wanted to see at this point. Hiding the hurt she felt from his reaction, the moved to help the Professor who looked even more disappointed in her.
“Please Emma…you have to stop this!” he urged.
“Charles I…I’m sorry,” was all she could say.
“Quit wasting your breath, you two. You have precious little left as it is!” said Selene as she released her mystical choke-hold on them, “Nobody can help you!”
“You’re...you’re wrong! Jean will fight you!” said Scott, seething with determination despite the hit he took.
“Jean is already long gone,” grinned Shaw, “Were it not for Wyngarde’s wondrous machine, she would have already gone on a rampage that would make Proteus look like child’s play.”
“That would probably be an understatement,” said Wyngarde, “From that little test I did, I discovered that such a fate is unavoidable for one such as her. Her ill-prepared mind simply cannot control the Phoenix.”
“You underestimate her spirit!” grunted Scott.
“And you overestimate her limits,” he quipped, “Near as I can tell, the Phoenix chose her years ago before she even met you X-men. It’s been on her way ever since. It’s only recently that her powers have grown enough to tap some of it’s power. As it draws near, that power will continue to grow unstable.”
“Which is why the ceremony should have been done long ago,” said Shaw, “Since you X-men got so suspicious of my activities, we had to come up with a more cunning plan to get Jean into our midst. It’s a good thing too because from the looks of it, she and the Phoenix are drawing closer.”
As Shaw said those words, Jean began stirring in the center of the room. It was not a promising sign. Just like the infirmary, she started manifesting a strange fiery halo around her body. The X-men now knew this as a sign of the Phoenix. Even with Wyngarde’s machine, it could not be contained.
“It is too late now! The ceremony must begin!” she proclaimed, “We must guide the Phoenix in and assert control!”
“No! You can’t do this!” urged the Professor.
“Oh they can, Charles. And they most certainly will,” said Shanobi.
“If anything, they must!” said Wynegarde ominously.
The X-men, still reeling from Selene’s blow, remained on the floor as they watched Selene and the Inner Circle begin the ceremony. Jean was at their mercy and so were the X-men. It made for a sickening sense of helplessness. All they could do at this point was wait and watch.
With Selene leading them, the Inner Circle gathered around the M’krann crystal. They were positioned directly in front of the unconscious Jean, who still appeared to be fighting this mysterious power that was drawing near. One-by-one, each member of the Inner Circle placed their hand on the crystal. As they did, the crystal began shifting colors. It changed from bright pink to a fiery red, similar to the fires that had been forming around Jean. Through this brilliant display, the Phoenix symbol on the floor began glowing with equal radiance.
“Yes! Let us beckon the fires of creation and destruction!” proclaimed Selene, her eyes now glowing brighter than everyone else’s, “Together now, we the chosen ones of the Inner Circle, reach out to the Phoenix! Come to us! Heed the words of the ancients forge with us a new order out of this chaos!”
Outside Hellfire Manor
The race to rescue Jean and the others was on and Logan and Warren were falling behind. Between Warren’s fumbling with the X-jet scanners and Logan’s aggressive, often reckless handling of the flight controls it turned into a bumpy ride to say the least. They still managed to stay on target. The advanced X-jet scanners were able to pick up the trail of the transports before they dissipated.
“Over there! The trail ends right over that old historic building!” Warren pointed out from the cockpit.
“You better be sure, bub! Because I don’t think these assholes are gonna give us a second chance!” snarled Logan as he took the jet in lower.
“I’m sure, Logan. I may not be able to read everything on this gizmo, but I know that’s the place,” said Warren assertively, “They must have landed the transports atop nearby buildings and snuck them in!”
“What makes you so damn sure?”
“Because according to Worthington records, that historic manor is owned and maintained by Shaw Industries.”
That was all the assurance Logan needed. Warren may not have been as astute as Hank or the Professor, but when it came to Sebastian Shaw he had proven he could expose his secrets. After taking the jet into hover, the feral mutant scoped out the area below. At this time of night, the grounds were closed to the public. The whole area around the manor was gated off and being watched by security personnel. It was hard to tell from this distance how heavily armed they were, but to Logan it didn’t matter if they had howitzers. He was going to rip through every one of them to get to Jeannie and the others.
“This guy knows how to pick interesting hideouts. Should make for an interesting fight,” muttered Logan as he undid his restraints.
“So what’s next?” said Warren, “Is there still no plan?”
“Since Cyke and the Prof ain’t here, we ain’t equipped for strategy. So I figure I’ll just go with the drop down, fight my way in, and gut everyone that gets in my way!”
“If Cyclops or anybody for that matter were here, they would say that’s a pretty foolish, Wolverine,” said Warren critically.
“You gonna try and stop me?”
“Would it matter? Even if I was Cyclops?”
“Probably not,” scoffed Logan as he headed towards the back of the jet “Besides, if you were Cyke I would have called you a prick at least three times by now.”
“And he would have found some way to work around your oh so brilliant tactics. But since I’m not him, can we at least try to put something together? Shaw is a cunning bastard and you’re not going to stop him with brute force alone.”
“Still couldn’t hurt to try,” said Logan, now standing near the hatch, “But I ain’t that dumb. That’s why you ain’t coming along.”
“What?! Don’t tell me you’re going to sideline me for this! Shaw is a personal enemy. If we’re going to attack him, I’m going to be a part of it!”
“I know, wings. That’s exactly why you’re staying behind. He attacked us in more than one way, using Wyngarde and Frost as distractions before blindsiding us! The way I see it, if we’re gonna beat him we gotta give him a taste of his own medicine.”
It didn’t sound like the kind of detailed strategy that Cyclops would put together, but it was better than nothing. They were outgunned and outmanned. For that and countless other reasons, Warren was anxious.
“Since I can’t think of a better tactic, I guess we’ll go with it,” said Warren, “But how do you expect me to hit him in the same way he hit us? I don’t exactly have much to work with.”
“You got wings, a halfway decent brain, and a high tech jet,” said Logan, “Use your imagination!”
“I appreciate the vote of confidence, but what if…”
“We ain’t got time for what ifs Warren! We gotta act now! Ain’t no telling what they’ll do to Jeannie if we give ‘em the time!”
Ignoring the rest of Warren’s concerns, Wolverine hit the button on the wall to open the hatch. A sharp gust of crisp night air surged through the jet as it hovered just over the old manor. Looking down, the feral mutant saw a clear patch in the front yard to land and plenty of guards on which to vent his frustrations.
“Hold back for no more than five minutes!” said Logan as he prepared to jump, “That should be all the time I need!”
“Wait! Are you going to put on a parachute or something?” said Warren.
“Parachutes slow me down! Now stop worrying about me and focus on how you’re gonna knock Shaw on his ass!”
Clenching his fists, Logan drew his claws as he eyed his target. Then with nerves as hard as his adamantium bones, he jumped out into the crisp air and let gravity take him to his destination down below. Warren could only watch as the feral mutant began his assault. While he still thought his tactics were brash, he didn’t envy the people who would try to stop him from getting to their friends.
“Jeez, how does Cyclops deal with that?” sighed the winged mutant.
Taking a deep breath, the winged mutant left Logan to do his thing while he closed the hatch and headed back into the jet. He wasn’t too concerned about how Logan would fare against Shaw’s forces. If he was to do his part, he had to think of a way to strike at Shaw in a creative yet effective manner. He contemplated this notion as he made his way back to the cockpit. As he sat down in the pilot’s seat, he looked over the layout of the manor and the situation he found himself in.
‘If only we could all have the luxury of Logan’s brazen attitude. Seriously, how does he expect me to hit at a guy like Shaw when he’s already gotten the better of us? Am I going to have to do something just as crazy?’
He kept thinking about this as he looked over the manor. He then found himself looking back at the controls to the X-jet. Suddenly, he got an idea. It was every bit as crazy as Logan’s idea to jump out of the jet without a parachute, but it was still an idea.
‘Guess it couldn’t hurt to try. Crazy has worked well so far. Let’s see how Shaw holds up to a little crazy, X-men style!’
Hellfire Manor – Front Yard
The outside grounds of Hellfire Manor were on high alert tonight. Every guard had been called in to watch over the grounds while Shaw and his associates conducted their secret business behind closed doors. There were few times this historic building was ever so secure. Guards dressed in all black uniforms carefully patrolled ever inch of the front and back areas. Any intrusive activity was supposed to be dealt with swiftly and severely.
They were simple orders. The staff that guarded this manor had heard them before. But as prepared as they were, nothing could have prepared them for what came falling out of the sky through the brisk night.
Wolverine’s feral howls echoed through the night as he descended onto the grounds of the mysterious manor. He didn’t care that his roars alerted the guards. He didn’t care if his roars alerted the whole city. He wanted Shaw and his cronies to know he was coming.
For the guards, the enraged growls quickly drew their attention. Four guards, all armed with small semi-automatic Uzis looked up to see the costumed figure of Wolverine fall their way. One guard was unlucky enough to be directly under him. In a panic he pointed his gun up and fired, but the bullets did little to dissuade the determined mutant.
“Whoa shit! Somebody get the-AHHH!”
The pained cries of the guards erupted as Logan landed feet first on his shoulders, the force of his fall knocking him out and breaking a good deal of the bones in his neck and shoulders. Landing with a hard thud, the body of the hapless guard cushioned his fall somewhat. It still sent a heavy shock through his system, but it wasn’t enough to slow him down.
“Errrrrr! Out of my way!” roared Wolverine.
“We got company! Begin emergency lockdown!” yelled one of the guards.
All nearby guards had little time to be shocked at the sight of a very angry-looking figure landing right on one of their comrades. Immediately, the five other guards convened on the path leading to the front door. Getting in low, they took aim with their weapons. However, the threat of gunfire did little to dissuade Wolverine. He kept charging face right into their line of fire.
“Shoot him! Shoot him! Take that creature down!” yelled one of the guards.
On that order, the guards and their reinforcements opened fire. The guards with the Uzis fired first, sending a shower of bullets towards the raging Wolverine. Now nearly lost in his berserker rage, he was slowed only briefly as a half dozen rounds ripped through his flesh. His determination and healing factor kept him going though and he leaped into the air above the line of fire and descended towards the platoon of guards with his claws drawn.
The guards watched with dread as they fell back while trying to redirect their weapons, but they weren’t fast enough. Wolverine landed right in the middle of their formation and went on a tear, stabbing two guards right in the chest and back kicking two more. One tried to hit him over the head with the butt of his gun, but Logan was able to counter with a spin moved followed by an arm grab. After a quick knee to the gut, the guard was down for the count.
“Is this the best you can do, Shaw?!” he yelled out with the body of six guards lying in his wake.
Almost immediately, he got his response. The front doors to the manor burst open and more guards stepped out. Only these guards were much more menacing. They were the same masked guards he saw with Shanobi in Panama and looked much more intent on bringing him down. They were also better armed. Each guard was wielding what appeared to be a night stick, only this one was glowing with intense blue sparks.
“This is as far as you go, animal!” one of the guards said, “Our orders are to terminate trespassers on sight!”
“Go ahead and try! I dare you!” spat Wolverine.
With another primal roar, the former living weapon charged the masked guards. This time, they were ready for him. The first ones managed to dodge his initial attacks and get in a quick blow with their energy sticks. When Logan felt them, it was like a huge shock to the system. Having metal bones sure didn’t help either. It was even worse than getting shot, but he couldn’t afford to be slowed down at this point. Ignoring the pain, he kept fighting.
Gritting his teeth, he slashed with his claws at the two masked guards that struck him. The first slash destroyed their energy sticks. The next severed an arm of one of the guards and an ensuing roundhouse kick took out the other. But there were still plenty of masked personnel to go through. While still stunned, they all surrounded him and began countering with an attack of their own. They didn’t give him anywhere to maneuver. There would be no cover or escape. It was just him versus them.
Still working off his berserker rage, Wolverine began another attack. This time he was met with a far more forceful response. Three masked guards coordinated to strike him simultaneously with their energy sticks. As if one wasn’t painful enough, three really sent Wolverine into a world of hurt.
“Arrrrgggghhhhhh!” he roared in pain.
“Keep going! Don’t let up!” said a masked guard.
More joined in the assault. Soon there were six masked guards striking the feral mutant with their energy sticks at once. Wolverine tried to fight them off, landing a few kicks and slashes. It wasn’t enough. The shocks were too powerful and his healing factor wasn’t able to heal him fast enough. His flesh became charred and his muscles convulsed, making it difficult for him to keep his bearings.
“Hrrrrrrrr! Can’t...won’t...stop!” he roared.
“Shut up, peasant!” spat one of the masked guards just as he struck him on the head.
Logan let out more pained howls. It seemed as though Shaw was ready for an attack. His men were armed with just the right tools to take down someone like him. Gritting his teeth in agony, Logan stayed on his feet and slashed through a couple more energy sticks. But more reinforcements came. Soon he had nearly a dozen masked guards surrounding him on all sides. They all ganged up on him, beating him with their weapons and kicking him in the newly created wounds. Eventually, it became too difficult for him to stand. His enraged state kept him conscious, but it could not keep him fighting.
Finally, he fell flat on his face as four energy sticks struck him on the back at once. This sent a paralyzing surge through his body, causing all his limbs to fail him. Even when he was down, they kept striking him. These guys were not taking any chances.
“Hnn…can’t pass out!” he grunted, “Must…get to…Jeannie…and Ro.”
“You’re not going anywhere!” spat a masked guard as he struck him in the heat.
“AUGH!” yelled Logan, feeling half his face bruised by the blow.
“Bosses orders are to terminate on sight,” said another, gripping his weapon intently, “We were warned that you X-men were pretty resilient. We can do this all night if we have to. We can go until there’s no flesh left on your bones!”
“That…supposed to…scare me?” grunted Wolverine.
“It should give you an idea of what you’re in for!” said another, “His majesty requested that no one interrupt. And his decree must be obeyed!”
The masked guards continued their assault, striking Wolverine again in a ruthless show of force. This was no longer a battle. It was an old fashioned beating, except this one utilized high tech weapons. As more pain surged through his body, Wolverine felt the world around him start to spin. The pain and the damage was too great, even for his healing. He couldn’t pass out. He couldn’t fall unconscious. Jeannie, Ororo, and the rest of the X-men were at the mercy of these monsters. He could not fail them. At this point, however, he needed something…anything to turn the tide.
One of the masked guards stood poised to deliver the final blow. He was about to strike him right on the head. But just as he was raising his weapon, an authoritative voice rang out.
“Enough! Step away from the intruder!”
The masked guards quickly recognized that voice as belonging to Shanobi Shaw. Instinctively, they stopped what they were doing and turned their attention towards the front door of the manor. There they saw Shanobi standing ever so casually as he looked down at Wolverine’s prone form. His presence was a surprise to them, but they respected it none-the-less.
“Lord Shanobi! I…I thought you were assisting His Majesty for the ceremony?” one of the masked guards said.
“I was, but Father saw fit to have me check up on you miscreants. It’s a good thing too. You were about to put this animal out of his misery, weren’t you?”
“Aren’t we supposed to? That is what His Majesty ordered.”
“His orders have changed,” said Shanobi as he walked up to the ailing Wolverine, “He wishes to handle this pest personally.”
Wolverine snarled at Shanobi’s snide tone, but he was in too much hurt to fight back. His healing factor wasn’t working fast enough.
“Now if you’ll excuse me, I had best take our new prisoner to the chamber,” said Shanobi.
“Of…of course, my lord,” said one of the masked guards, “But we’ll still have to confirm this with His Majesty.”
“You dare make light of my orders?” scoffed Shanobi.
“Certainly not, sir. But His Majesty made it clear. We are to clear every change with him, no matter who it comes from.”
“You don’t say?” said Shanobi dryly.
“Those are his orders,” said one of the masked guards.
Shanobi looked down at Wolverine again and then back at the guards. He let out an exasperated sigh as he watched one of the masked guards take out his communicator.
“That’s quite a shame. I was hoping to avoid this,” he said.
What happened next was completely unexpected, even to Wolverine. Shanobi reached into his finely tailored jacket and took out two black Glock 9 millimeter handguns. While the masked guards were frozen with shock, he opened fire.
“Lord Shanobi?! What are you…” exclaimed one of the masked guards.
That was all he would get out. The first two shots went straight through the heads of the two masked guards, including the one with the communicator in his hand. Terrified, the others backed away from Wolverine, unsure of what to do. Shanobi kept firing, showing lightning fast reflexes. Within the span of a few seconds, nearly a dozen masked guards were gunned down. When a few finally realized that something was amiss, it was too late.
“What are you waiting for? Shoot back!” yelled one of the guards.
“But what about-ungh!” began another before a bullet went right through his head.
“Quit hesitating! His Majesty’s orders still stand! Take down all threats!”
As surprising as this was for the masked guards, Wolverine was every bit as shocked. He was still lying on the ground, reeling from the blows he took earlier. Then it dawned on him.
“You…you ain’t Shaw!” he yelled.
The figure of Shanobi Shaw hardened as he took out the last masked guard. He then revealed his true form. His body shifted from that of the neatly dressed young man into a figure Wolverine knew all too well. It was Mystique and for some unfathomable reason, she jut saved his life.
“Don’t let it go to your head, Wolverine,” she muttered, now in her blue bodied form.
“Why the hell not? They were gonna finish me off!”
“And your point is?” muttered the shape shifter as she helped him up.
“You didn’t have to save me, but you did. You gonna give me a reason or am I gonna have to fill in the blanks?”
Raven Darkholm was silent for a moment as Wolverine rose to his feet. He was every bit as suspicious of her as she was of him, yet there was a strange mix of feelings with this moment. She didn’t have to save him. It would have been easier if she didn’t. But she did and her reason for doing so escaped them both.
“To be perfectly honest…I have no idea,” she said, abruptly turning away.
“Funny, ain’t that the same reason I gave when I saved your ass back in Morocco?” Logan pointed out.
“Does it even matter, Wolverine?!” spat Mystique, turning back around and shooting him an angry glare.
“I’d sure as hell say so! Don’t you find it the least bit fucked up that ever since that mess on Genosha you…”
But before Wolverine could finish, they heard a commotion from the side of the manor. Mystique’s gunshots didn’t go unnoticed. Reinforcements from inside the building and the other side of the site were closing in fast.
“Over here! I heard something!” said a masked guard.
“Hurry up and silence it before His Majesty becomes annoyed!” said another.
“Ah hell! Guess we’ll have to finish this later!” grunted Wolverine.
“As if I’ll give you the chance!” scoffed Mystique, “Now come on! I saved your life so you might as well make yourself useful!”
Still reeling from his earlier injuries, Wolverine limped away from the manor and followed the shape shifter. She seemed to know where she was going, making her way to the southeast end of the grounds. Wolverine wasn’t sure why he was following her. For all he knew she could be leading him into another trap. But for reasons he didn’t understand, he went along.
“I see them! I see them!” yelled some security guards from the side.
“Take them down! Now!” yelled one of the masked guards.
“You’re welcome to try!” scoffed Mystique.
While running at full speed, Mystique opened fire and took down the two guards before they could aim their Uzis at her. A few masked guards, all armed with same energy sticks, tried to rush their position. Since Mystique was still busy taking down the guards with the Uzis, Wolverine took care of them. Still pissed from the beating they gave him earlier, he drew his claws and made quick work of them. He stabbed two just before they could strike him and used their bodies as shields for when the others attacked. From here, he was able to finish off five more masked guards with a couple of jump kicks and a few lethal slashes.
The first wave defeated, more reinforcements came from the manor. It was becoming increasingly apparent that Shaw was not taking any chances. He must have had an army guarding the interior. Storming inside was pretty much impossible. Wolverine was still determined to fight his way in. Mystique, however, was a bit more strategic.
“Don’t waste your time, Wolverine! If you want to get inside, follow me!” she said as she shot two more guards while avoiding a hail of bullets.
“You seriously want me to take my chances with you?” he scoffed.
“Be my guest! You did so much better on your own!” the shape shifter retorted, her words dripping with sarcasm.
As much as Wolverine hated to admit it, Mystique was right. He couldn’t fight his way inside by himself. Shaw already proved he was ready for them. For the sake of Jeannie and the others, he had to take a chance with Mystique.
“Errr…I better not regret this!” grunted Wolverine as he took down another masked guard.
“Me neither!” replied Mystique.
The two determined figures went back on the move. His healing finally kicking in, Wolverine followed Mystique as she kept firing at various sentries. The return fire was getting intense. They weren’t going to last much longer without some sort of cover. With this in mind, Mystique stopped shooting and ran full speed towards the outer wall. She led Wolverine to what should have been a dead end, but instead there was a grappling hook and rope still lodged over the wall. Wolverine surmised this was how she got in. Using that same rope, she climbed out. Wolverine followed suit, using his claws to get out and over the wall even faster.
“They’re getting away! After them!” yelled the masked guards on the other side.
It was clear they weren’t going to stop chasing them. Shaw’s orders were to terminate any trespassers. They could already hear them scaling the walls so Mystique and Wolverine had to move with greater urgency.
“This way!” she said, “I know another way inside!”
She abruptly stopped running near a manhole in the middle of the street.
“The sewer?! You gotta be kidding me!”
“If you’ve got a better idea, I’d love to hear it?!” the shape shifter exclaimed.
Hearing that the guards were closing in, the feral mutant grunted to himself and used his claws to pry open the manhole.
“Things I do for Jeannie and Ro,” he groaned.
“The things I do for my kids are ten times worse,” she quipped.
As soon as the sewer hole was open, Mystique jumped in and Wolverine followed. He made sure to cover the entrance as soon as they were inside to the guard would not be able to follow them. After a few tense moments, they appeared to give them the slip.
The fighting was over for the moment, but the mission was still on. Wolverine was still determined to fight his way inside, but now he had to rely on Mystique as an ally. It was an unexpected turn to say the least. A part of him was still very suspicious of her, but she did save him back there. For that, he gave her whatever trust he could manage. After climbing down the shaft, Wolverine and Mystique set foot on a dingy concrete path overlooking a river of sewage. It wasn’t the first time Wolverine had to carry out a mission in the sewer, but that didn’t make the smell any less repugnant.
“Well that certainly could have gone better,” said Mystique as they paused for a moment in their dingy surroundings, “You just had to blow my cover, didn’t you?”
“You gonna bitch about it or are you gonna get me inside this dump?” retorted Wolverine.
“You know you’re lucky I wasn’t able to get in on my own! Otherwise I would have been much more inclined to leave you up there with those bastards!”
“But you didn’t. So stop making such a big freakin’ deal about it and tell me what you’re doing here!”
“Do you even have to ask? These maniacs have my kids! Is that not reason enough?”
“It should be, but it ain’t is it? You can bullshit me all you want, but I know you! There’s always another reason!”
Mystique’s groaned in frustration. Why on Earth did she go out of her way to save this man anyways? All he was doing was complicating her mission and getting on her nerves. Whatever the case, she didn’t have time to fight this man. She had to save her energy for her real enemies.
“Fine…” she said, “I’ll tell you, but we have to keep moving. Time is not on our side!”
“Ladies first,” said Logan dryly, “Even if you did save my hide back there, I ain’t taking any chances.”
“Or are you just looking for an excuse to stare at my ass?”
“Don’t flatter yourself, darlin’. I have a girlfriend who’s gonna owe me all sorts of crazy jungle sex when this is over. Now get moving and get talking! It’ll give me fewer reasons to gut you!”
“As if you could,” scoffed Mystique.
Wolverine snarled, but Mystique didn’t push him. Instead she put away her guns and started making her way down the narrow sewer paths. Wolverine kept a close eye on her, following closely as she led him into a series of corridors. As they walked, she began talking.
“If you’re really that curious, I’ve been trying to infiltrate these people for a while now. Ever since you and your X-men so kindly destroy Azazel’s diary, I’ve had to use other leads to investigate. His mission is still important to me and I’m not going to stop until I get answers.”
“And you think these pricks have them?” questioned Wolverine.
“That I haven’t surmised, but they’re clearly hiding something!” said Mystique as they entered some utility corridors, “This building we’re under is called Hellfire Manor. A couple hundred years ago it was the meeting place for this organization called the Hellfire Club. Don’t be fooled by the name. It’s not as intimidating as it sounds. It was basically this old social club full of rich people who liked to drink, boast, and indulge in decadent orgies.”
“Sounds like a fun crowd,” commented Wolverine.
“If only they had stayed that way,” said Mystique, “After World War II, the club was taken over by a new organization with much more dubious goals. They call themselves the Inner Circle and they seem to be more obsessed with power than your usual decadence. They’re the ones I’m after! They’re the ones who played a part in the destruction of the Azazel!”
“How do you know that?” said the feral mutant skeptically.
“Azazel often spoke of such power-hungry groups. They were always at the top of his list of enemies. So I investigated, but getting the truth out of these people isn’t easy.”
“You mean you’ve been trying this long and you ain’t learned anything?”
“Don’t patronize me! They’re a cunning and resourceful breed! But I did find out they were planning a very big operation tonight. When I learned the X-men were going to be caught up in it, I tried to act!”
“Well ain’t that nice of you,” said Wolverine dryly.
“Don’t make too much of it. I could care less about the X-men. It’s Kurt and Rogue I’m worried about! It’s bad enough these people may be responsible for what happened to Azazel, but if they think they can take my kids away from me they’ve got another thing coming!”
“So why didn’t you stop them before they got the jump on us?”
“You think I didn’t try? This whole place is locked down! Even I haven’t been able to get in!”
“Well now there are two of us so I’d say it’s a much fairer fight!”
Mystique scoffed as she led Wolverine into a smaller entry point that they had to crawl through. Wolverine had already been more nuisance than help. But like it or not, he was involved in this.
“Glad you’re so confident,” she scoffed, “So now that you know why I’m here, mind filling me in on your story? How did Xavier’s charade get caught up with these people?”
“That’s a much longer story, darlin’,” Wolverine replied, “All you need to know is they abducted the others and I’m gonna make them pay! If you can lead me to them, it’ll solve both our problems!”
“Right…so we’re just supposed to trust each other?” said Mystique dryly.
“I’m the enemy of your enemy. It ain’t like we got a choice,” retorted Wolverine, “How about this…you get me inside and I might just leave these pricks alive enough for you to torture. Maybe then you’ll get some of your precious answers.”
“You don’t know how to bargain very well, do you?” quipped Mystique.
“I got other talents that make up for it,” he said, showing his claws to reinforce his point.
Mystique still wasn’t convinced, but if dealing with his presence increased her chances against these people she was willing to take that chance.
“Fine…but I’ll hold you to that. Try and screw me over and you’ll wish I let those clowns finish you!”
“And here I was thinking you had a soft spot for me,” said Wolverine dryly, “Now can we please speed it up? I don’t know what these guys are up to, but I’m pretty sure we gotta crash it!”
Setting aside their petty disagreements, Wolverine and Mystique refocused their efforts on the task at hand. They stepped out from the tunnel and in an area with various restricted and no trespassing signs. They soon came face to face with a heavy utility door, which looked much more reinforced than the average entrance. It was an ominous sign of what they were up against, but it was a way in and that was all they needed.
Hellfire Manor – Ceremonial Chamber
“Yes…YES! The Phoenix is drawing near! I can feel it!” seethed Selene as the mysterious ceremony continued.
“Praise to the Phoenix…rise from the ashes. Praise to the Phoenix…grant us thy power,” Shaw and the rest of the Inner Circle chanted.
The whole chamber simmered with power beyond mortal comprehension. The strange yet powerful M’krann crystal was pulsing with a mysterious yellow glow, filling the room with a light that was almost blinding at times. Selene led the ritual, chanting various phrases in old languages. Shaw, Leland, Pierce, and the Inner Circle followed her lead, repeating Selene’s words at times while keeping their hands on the crystal every step of the way.
As the ceremony progressed, the area around Jean Grey grew much more active. Lying in the center of it all, spires of burning embers surrounded her and flared with increasing intensity. Even though her abilities were being held back by Wyngarde’s device, it was reaching it’s limits. Jean continued to thrash and contort, groaning at times as the mysterious power drew near.
For the X-men, it was painful to watch. Scott, Bobby, Hank, Ororo, Rogue, Remy, Kurt, Kitty, and the Professor were helpless to stop this. They remained under the thumb of the masked guards. Shanobi Shaw kept a close eye on them as well, making sure they wouldn’t interfere. Emma was stuck watching too, but she tried not to pay attention. She didn’t need any more reasons to hate herself. They were all stuck having to watch these monsters use their friend.
“Mien Gott…zhey are really going to do it,” mused Kurt.
“You’re the magic expert here, Kurt. What usually happens when a bunch of crazies try to wield ultimate power?” asked Bobby.
“It depends. More often zhen not, it results in a lot of bloodshed.”
“In other words, we be screwed,” said Remy.
“Don’t say that, Remy. Logan and Warren are still out there!” said Ororo.
“Well they better hurry it up! Ah really don’t like where this freaky ritual is going!” said Rogue.
“You’re in good company, Rogue,” said Hank as he watched Jean’s condition intently, “With that disruptor device, they’re only causing the pressure in Jean’s mind to build! Like a proverbial volcano, if it erupts…”
“Please don’t describe it! I’d rather not think about it!” groaned Kitty.
“Then think about how we’re going to save Jean! We can’t let them do this to her!” said an equally anxious Scott, who was also watching Jean with growing dread.
“Do not keep deluding yourselves,” said Shanobi ominously, “It’s almost done!”
“Yes…I can sense it,” said Wyngarde, “In all the history of psychic beings, this is destined to be the most momentous!”
“Is that all you’re here for, Wyngarde? To be a witness?!” spat Emma.
“I have my reasons,” he answered, “To bad you won’t be around to appreciate them anyways!”
It seemed to get worse by the second. If Wyngarde was right and the ritual was almost over, then they were running out of time. The M’krann crystal erupted in another burst of fiery energy. It was so powerful it knocked a few pictures off the wall and toppled some candle stands. This burst also caused the fires around Jean to coalesce around her. In a dazzling display of fire and power, the Phoenix symbol under her erupted in a column of light. This column shot out from the floor, up the room, and through the glass opening in the ceiling.
Then they saw it. Up in the night sky, they could make out a large fiery figure descending down from the heavens. It was in the shape of a bird and as it drew closer, they could hear a fiery screech that shook the whole building to its very foundation.
“Yeeessssss! The Phoenix is here!” proclaimed Selene.
“Try and contain your excitement, Selene!” said Shaw as he and the others gripped the crystal with more urgency, “You must finish the ritual!”
As the fiery flames drew near, Professor Xavier pulled himself up and gasped. Even though he couldn’t use his telepathy, he could sense the sheer breadth of this power. He got only a taste of it when he was trying to help Jean. Now it was coming at her in full force.
“No! You must stop this immediately!” exclaimed the Professor, “You don’t know what you’re doing! This power you’re summoning cannot be controlled!”
“Maybe you can’t control it, Xavier! But we can!” said Selene, “This is my destiny!”
“But you’ll destroy us all!”
“Quiet, Xavier! We know what we’re doing!” said Harry Leland.
“It is too late to turn back now!” grinned Shaw, “The Phoenix is here! The Inner Circle is ready to ascend!”
With burning anticipation, the X-men and the Inner Circle braced themselves for the arrival of a truly awesome force. The lights flickered and the building continued to shake. As soon as it reached the windowed opening in the ceiling, the glass and surrounding roof shattered under the force. From this new opening, the fiery creature let out a deafening cry as it descended onto the waiting form of Jean Grey.
As the fires gathered around her, the psionic disruptor keeping Jean unconscious finally failed. All the blocks and safeguards that were holding her back shattered in an instant. In that same instant, Jean’s eyes shot open. Like before, they were glowing in a fiery halo. The glow matched that of the Phoenix, showing that these two beings were destined to be linked. Another blinding light consumed the chamber. This was the most intense light yet, forcing everybody to shield their eyes. In this brilliant burst, the massive form of the Phoenix consumed the body of Jean Grey. As they merged, she let out a passionate cry as if a new creature was truly being born.
“JEAN!” Scott cried out as he watched this mysterious being consume the love of his life.
“No…they’ve really done it,” lamented Charles Xavier.
“Yes…and it’s so beautiful!” said Jason Wyngarde distantly.
More fiery bursts followed as the flames gathered around the glowing form of Jean Grey. Pretty soon every smoldering ember was swirling around her. Selene and the Inner Circle, huddled in closer to the M’krann crystal. This spectacle was more intense than they ever could have anticipated. For a moment they weren’t even sure if the building was going to hold.
“Is it supposed to be this chaotic, Selene?!” demanded Pierce.
“Everything is going exactly as it’s supposed to!” grinned Selene.
The Inner Circle braced themselves and so did the X-men. Their gaze locked on the blinding light in the center of the room, they saw this great power take it’s final form.
“YES! AT LAST, MY SEARCH IS COMPLETE! THROUGH THE ASHES OF THE COSMOS AND THE MORTAL FLESH OF THIS BEING, I AM REBORN!”
“Jean! If you can still hear me, please keep fighting it!” urged Ororo.
“Listen to your friends, Jean! You do not vant zhis power to overtake you!” yelled Kurt.
“NO! THE BEING ONCE KNOWN AS JEAN GREY IS NO MORE! THERE IS ONLY I! CREATION AND DESTRUCTION! I AM FIRE! I AM LIFE INCARNATE! I AM PHOENIX!”
These powerful words echoed through the chamber, striking some with awe and others with dread. The figure that was once Jean Grey was now literally burning with power. Her body was still visible, only now her flesh was glowing with a radiant aura. Hovering majestically just a few feet off the floor, the mysterious attire the Inner Circle dressed her in earlier had shifted as well. Now there was a golden emblem of the Phoenix on her chest. She really did look divine, as if she had ascended to a state beyond mortality.
“My God…they really did it,” gasped Kitty.
“Does this mean Jean is…” began Bobby, his words trailing off with dread.
“No! It can’t be!” exclaimed Scott, not willing to contemplate such a notion.
“Even if she ain’t, what now?” wondered Rogue.”
“Remy don’t think he wants to know,” said Remy.
“Too bad because you’re about to find out!” said Shanobi Shaw.
As the Phoenix flexed its new power, Selene and the rest of the Inner Circle scrambled to get back into position. Now that the Phoenix was here, they could start tapping its vast power. That all hinged on the M’krann crystal and Selene being able to work it properly.
“This isn’t how you described it, Selene!” said Leland anxiously, “You said we would be able to wield this power ourselves once it manifested!”
“And I meant it,” affirmed Selene as she fervently waved her hands over the crystal, “We just need to start channeling the power through the crystal.”
“Well would you please hurry?! I don’t like the way that thing is looking at us!” urged Shaw.
The rest of the Inner Circle gripped the crystal intently, hoping Selene would be able to finish the job. She started chanting again. The crystal continued to pulse ominously, but this didn’t seem to be affecting the Phoenix. She just continued to hover in the center of the chamber, soaking in her newfound form.
“Yes! This is the sensation I’ve been seeking! The feelings, the exhilaration, the rush…all extending from this mortal shell! It’s so invigorating!”
“What the hell is she talking about?” said an increasingly anxious Emma Frost.
“I’m not sure,” said Xavier in a mix of awe and dread, “But there appears to be some form of conflict.”
“Conflict and absolute power? That is never a good combination!” said Hank.
“And yet it may be…necessary,” mused Wyngarde.
Jason Wayngarde seemed like the only one not worried. He continued gazing at Jean with a sense of curiosity and wonder. Even as the ritual and the danger intensified, he remained more intrigued than concerned.
Selene and the Inner Circle continued chanting relentlessly. They grew more determined with each passing second the Phoenix lingered. So much power was surging through this room and they wanted all of it no matter the risks.
“By the power of M’krann and the authority of my heritage, I command thee to heed the call of destiny! Through us, the worthy, heed our calls for power!” proclaimed the Black Queen.
“Power of the Phoenix! Heed our calls! Power of the Phoenix! Heed our calls!” Shaw and the Inner Circle chanted.
The crystal continued to erupt in random bursts of energy, but the Phoenix didn’t seem to be affected. Still burning with power, she eventurally turned towards the glowing crystal and took note of what was happening.
“What’s this? Someone dares to taint the shard of M’krann?”
“You must acknowledge the crystal!” Selene ordered, “It is tied to your fate!”
“Damn it, Selene! Finish it already!” exclaimed Shanobi.
“Silence, Shanobi! It’s almost done!” she said, her eyes glowing brightly as she clenched her fists over the crystal.
“Better…hurry!” grunted Pierce, feeling the strain along with the others.
“Indeed…we’re all short on patience!” grunted Leland.
Selene seethed with intensity, pushing her mystical talents to the limit. Her body was now glowing in a similar hue to that of the crystal. That same glow soon extended to the rest of the Inner Circle. The Phoenix still looked unaffected, but was growing increasingly agitated.
“Something is very wrong here,” said Emma as she watched on distantly.
“It appears they aren’t as worthy as they think,” Xavier surmised.
“If that’s the case, they’re just making it worse for Jean! We have to stop them!” urged Scott.
“We know, Cyclops! You keep saying that, but in case you haven’t noticed we’re a little tied up here!” said Kitty in frustration.
“At this point we gonna need more than a little luck to stop this boondoggle,” said Remy as he and the others gazed up at this ominous display of power.
As Selene’s ritual raged on, everyone braced themselves for the outcome. Either the Inner Circle would succeed and have the power of the Phoenix at their fingertips or they would fail and the Phoenix would be completely untamed. It seemed like a total loss for everyone.
Suddenly, the chamber was struck with a new round of turbulence. The whole area started to shake violently. Only this time, it didn’t come from the Inner Circle or the Phoenix. Through the shaking a deafening noise ripped through the area. It sounded like a jet engine and it sounded uncomfortably close.
“What the hell is that?!” exclaimed Emma.
“Oh dear…I think I recognize that sound,” said Hank.
“GET DOWN, X-MEN!” urged Professor Xavier.
In a split second, the thunderous sound intensified and the whole manor was struck by a huge jolt. Something had literally just crashed into the side of the building. It shook the very foundation of the structure, causing lights to flicker and floors to shake. Then through the opposite wall where the X-men were being held, a jet literally plowed through the structure and into the chamber with an avalanche of debris and came to a rest just outside the central area where Phoenix was still hovering. It caught everybody completely off guard. Selene and the Inner Circle were literally jolted away from the M’krann crystal. Selene, Shaw, Leland, Pierce, and the rest of their associates were right in the jet’s path and were knocked clear across the room. Leland used his powers to change his mass so he could resist it. Shaw absorbed the force while Pierce’s cybernetic body aided him. Selene bore the worst of it, ramming right into the back wall at high speeds.
Shanobi and the masked guards fell back as well. Emma and Wyngarde stumbled with them, falling next to Xavier and his X-men who had wisely taken cover. They both hit their heads hard on a couple of candle stands, nearly knocking themselves out in the process. Shanobi stumbled next to them, but didn’t take quite as hard a blow. While everyone was momentarily dazed, many of the X-men were quick to recognize the jet.
“The X-jet!” exclaimed Kitty.
“Talk about a hell of a landing!” grinned Rogue.
Stumbling up in confusion, Selene looked up to see the nose of the X-jet sticking right into her carefully prepared chamber. The rest of the Inner Circle was dazed. They too felt the sting of being ripped away from the power they craved. The ceremony hadn’t been completed and the whole area was in ruin.
“NO! My ceremony!” Selene exclaimed as she struggled to recover..
“Tell me we can still finish it!” said Shaw as he helped Leland up.
“I don’t know! But if we can it’s going to be much more difficult!”
Her words were quickly vindicated as the top hatch of the X-jet opened up and the source of the turbulence revealed itself. It was Angel and he wasted no time in getting involved.
“I knew that light show on the roof was a bad sign! Good thing I crashed the party!” he said as he flew out over the chamber.
“Errrrrrrr somebody shoot him!” ordered Sebastian Shaw upon seeing the source of this distraction.
“You heard him, boys! Take him down!” yelled Shanobi.
The dazed masked guards stumbled to their feet and took aim with their Uzis. They started firing wildly, but Angel flew high and fast to avoid the onslaught. The masked guards tried to coordinate better, but they would never get the chance.
“Now’s our X-men! Fight back!” urged Scott.
“Finally!” grunted Bobby, “I’m due for another concussion!”
Despite being bound and powerless, the X-men tried to help their winged friend by tackling the masked guards back to the floor. Scott, Rogue, Remy, and Kurt were able to ram a few guards and pin them to the ground. Hank, being the former star football player, took down two using his ape-like reflexes to roll right into them. Kitty, Kurt, and Bobby were more nimble, rolling back and kicking the weapons out of their hands. When one masked guard tried to shoot them, Ororo came in and kicked the man right in the groin to make him keel over and drop his gun.
“Ooh, that be a trick you learned from Wolverine?” commented Remy.
“It works, doesn’t it?” retorted Ororo.
This chaos and confusion prompted Shanobi to get involved. The sight of his masked guards being humiliated by a bunch of powerless X-men enraged him. Clenching his fists, he got up and rushed over to take command.
“You incompetent fools! Do I have to do this myself?!” he grunted as he stormed towards the chaotic scene.
But before Shanobi could start making a difference, another surprise jolted him and his forces from their once dominant state. The chamber door behind him was abruptly breached. Two sets of claws slashed through the sides before it was kicked in. From this new opening, Wolverine and Mystique emerged.
“Speak of the boyfriend with impeccable timing,” said Ororo, smiling for the first time during this whole ordeal.
While she was certainly happy to see him along with the X-men, Shanobi was only further enraged.
“You better step the fuck back, bub! I just walked through a freakin’ sewer to get here and I ain’t in a very forgiving mood!”
“Neither am I!” said Mystique, gripping her guns intently.
“Mother?! Vhat are you doing here?” exclaimed Kurt.
“I’ll explain later, son! After I’m done with introducing myself!”
Mystique wasted no time in unloading a few rounds towards Shanobi. He instinctively made himself intangible to avoid it, but while he was in this state Wolverine charged at him and burst right past him. With his sights now set on freeing his friends, Shanobi tried to turn around and stop him.
“Get back here, rodent!” yelled Shanobi.
But in his frustration, his concentration lapsed and he became tangible again. Mystique used this as an opportunity to sneak up behind him and hit him over the head with the butt of her gun.
“Ungh!” he grunted as he fell over.
“You’re lucky I just ran out of bullets!” she said as she walked over him, stepping on his gut in the process for good measure.
With Shanobi out of the way, Mystique ran with Wolverine towards the masked guards who were still guarding the others. They were still in disarray with the X-men trying to tackling them to the ground. Angel swooped in as well, drawing their fire and knocking out more guards along the way. A few managed to get their hands back on their Uzis though and attempted to subdue the still restrained X-men.
“Argh!” cried Ororo as she was forced back to the ground.
“That’s enough!” spat one of the masked guards.
“Hey! Hands off my girlfriend, bub!” roared Wolverine.
The former living weapon literally dove into the crowd of masked guards. He started with the one that struck Ororo, slugging him right across the face and breaking his mask in the process. He then tore into every masked guard within range. His rampage quickly drew the attention and the fire of the rest of the masked guards, who quickly panicked.
“Holy shit! Shoot him already!” exclaimed one of the masked guards just before he got clawed right in the thigh.
While Wolverine occupied the guards, Mystique started freeing the X-men. Using a special laser cutter she always carried with her just in case, she undid the restraints of Kurt and Rogue first.
“What are you up to this time, Mama?” said Rogue suspiciously even as she undid her restraints.
“Same thing I always am, Rogue…doing what’s best for us,” she said sternly.
“For once, let’s not make zhis another family feud!” said Kurt as he awaited his turn, “Ve have to act fast!”
While Mystique freed her son, Rogue used her newfound strength to free the others. She quickly walked by Remy, Bobby, and Kitty and ripped off the restraints and power suppressing collars with a quick yank. As soon as Kitty was free, she helped out as well.
“Finally!” she exclaimed as she felt her powers return to her, “We so needed a little good luck!”
“Less talking more phasing, Kitty!” urged Scott, who still had his eye on the Phoenix.
Kitty quickly finished the job, using her phasing powers to free Scott, Hank, and Ororo. As soon as they were free, they began helping Wolverine take out the rest of the masked guards. He already took care of half, either knocking them out or crippling them so they couldn’t fight back. He took his share of bullets in the process, but nothing was going to slow him down.
“Take five, Wolverine! We’ll take it from here!” said Bobby.
“No…I ain’t done yet!” grunted Wolverine, who was now bleeding profusely from a few bullet wounds.
“Listen to him, Logan,” said Ororo as she rushed to his aid, using a quick lightning strike to take out a masked guard trying to shoot him, “Let us help you now.”
“The stakes are much higher zhan any of Shaw’s cronies,” said Kurt.
While Ororo came to her lover’s aid, the other X-men got into the act. Remy, Bobby, and Hank helped take out the last half of the masked guards. Remy and Hank took them down with some solid hand-to-hand combat skills and Bobby froze them in place to make sure they wouldn’t get up. Any foolish enough to keep fighting were taken out by Mystique, Kurt, and Rogue. Kurt teleported around, taking out masked guards trying to get some distance so they could shoot. Rogue used her invulnerable form to deflect incoming rounds while Mystique took care of the others, using her now empty guns as weapons.
Pretty soon, there were no masked guards left to look after the Inner Circle. The X-men were gaining ground, but their main concern was still Jean. Scott, who was the last to be freed by Kitty, ignored the guards and kept looking up at Jean. Angel soon joined them, landing next to them after helping Wolverine take out a few more guards. At this point, the winged mutant was also taking note of Jean’s condition. Her fiery form seemed oblivious to the chaos around them, almost as if she was taking it all in.
“What’s going on with her, Scott? She looks…I don’t know where to begin!” said Angel.
“You don’t know the half of it,” said Scott as he gazed up at her hovering form, “I…I think she’s confused. The Inner Circle must have done something unexpected with the ritual!”
“So how do we undo it?” asked Kitty.
“I don’t know! Maybe the Professor can…”
But Scott’s words quickly trailed off. The mention of the Professor reminded him of something. Looking around, he saw that he was nowhere in sight.
“Wait…where is the Professor?!” he exclaimed.
Warren and Kitty quickly looked around. During such chaos, it was easy to loose track of everything. But the Professor was one person they had to look after. After a brief but frantic search, Kitty located him.
“Over there!” she exclaimed, pointing towards the M’krann crystal.
It was surprising. Through the chaos, Professor Charles Xavier managed to slip past the fighting and crawl his way towards the crystal. He figured if they were going to have a chance, it would be with this relic. One person who took notice and went after him was Emma. Still rubbing her head from the fall she took, the former X-man stammered up and rushed towards her former mentor.
“Charles, what the hell are you doing?” she exclaimed.
“The crystal!” grunted Xavier in determination, “I have to…”
But as soon as Selene saw what he was doing, she stormed forth in an effort to thwart him.
“NO! Get your hands off my birthright!” she roared.
“Oh no you don’t!” retorted Emma.
The enraged woman charged towards him. Xavier was within a few feet of the glowing crystal and Selene was just as close to getting her murderous hands on her. Emma, despite a throbbing head was close as well. It looked as though they would clash at the last second. But to everyone’s shock, they were all stopped just before they could reach the crystal.
“You’re birthright?! You foolish mortal! You have no idea the power you’ve unleashed!”
In an intimidating display of power, the Phoenix surrounded them with her fiery flames and levitated them in mid air. The feeling was jarring, causing Xavier’s restraints to come off. He, Emma, and Selene could only groan in discomfort, watching as the Phoenix held them up so they were hovering just in front of her angry gaze.
“Augh! No!” said Selene, now trapped in the Phoenix’s grasp, “This isn’t how it was supposed to be!”
“This is exactly as it was supposed to be! I’ve waited so long for another vessel. And here I am! Reborn and hungry for new sensations!”
“Damn you, Selene! I knew you would screw us all over with your bloody rituals!” spat Emma.
“Silence! I’ve heard enough of your mortal ramblings!”
To emphasize her point, the Phoenix gave the three of them another painful psionic jolt. A sharp burst of flames shot out from her body. The X-men were forced to fall back and shield themselves. Shaw and the Inner Circle had yet to recover and were forced to do the same. They were all watching anxiously as the mysterious being raged. Whether there was even a trace of Jean Grey left anymore, they all had reason to be anxious of what she would do next.
“Jean…Phoenix…pleases!” urged Professor Xavier, “Let us help you! You don’t know what you’re doing!”
“Don’t mock me, mortal! I know exactly what I’m doing! You fools thought you could use my crystal to wield my power? You thought you could control the very fires of creation? You and your kind will pay for your arrogance!”
“Way to go, Selene. You just pissed off a cosmic entity!” groaned Emma, feeling the strain of her psionic bind.
“You’re mistaken, Phoenix!” roared Selene, “This power was meant for control! It is written in the annuls of destiny!”
“My destiny has already been determined! And so has yours! You want to experience the true power of the Phoenix? I’ll show you! I’ll burn this whole planet with my flames…starting with YOU!”
Next Issue: The Phoenix Saga Part 5
Read Comments ( 4 )