Times have been hard for Professor Charles Xavier and his X-men. As mutants, they seek to use their extraordinary powers to fight for peace in a world that hates and fears them. These powers have carried them through a great many hardships. Along the way, they have encountered powers that are more extraordinary than others.
In the midst of a presidential election, the X-men have been trying to rest and regroup after the devastating events involving Proteus. For Jean Grey, rest was hard to come by. After taking down Proteus, she began struggling with her volatile psychic powers and displayed strange manifestations of psionic energy. They became so severe that Charles accepted help from Emma Frost and her associate Jason Wyngarde for assistance. However, their charity turned to treachery as they were revealed to be working with Sebastian Shaw and the mysterious Inner Circle.
As a result of Emma’s betrayal, Jean and many of the X-men were abducted and forced to partake in a ritual led by enigmatic mystic named Selene. As the Black Queen and main visionary behind the Inner Circle, the ritual was meant to summon a cosmic being of near limitless power known as the Phoenix Force. For reasons not yet understood, this force is connected to Jean Grey and has been drawn to her. Selene succeeded in leading the Phoenix to her new host, but failed to control it. Now both the Inner Circle and the X-men stand at the mercy of a cosmic force.
Hellfire Manor – Ritual Chamber
“Prepare to feel my wrath, mortals! With but a thought, you shall be reduced to a pile of ashes!”
These were the angry words of a very powerful and very unstable Jean Grey. There was little trace of the woman the X-men knew and loved in this booming voice. It sounded as though she really was lost to them. Charles Xavier, Emma Frost, and Selene remained trapped in her grip, hovering before her just over the glowing M’krann crystal. The whole chamber was bathed in her fiery glow. There was little reason to believe they would survive what she would throw at them next. For the weary X-men and the beleaguered Inner Circle, it was a terrifying sight.
“Jean...I’ve failed you,” said Xavier solemnly.
But Scott Summers refused to believe that the woman he loved was no more. Braving soreness and injuries, he ran towards the center of the chamber to confront the hovering Phoenix.
“Scott wait!” urged Hank.
“You’re going to provoke her even more!” yelled Mystique.
“Like that would stop him,” muttered Rogue, knowing this side of Scott all too well.
The Phoenix’s eyes flashed menacingly. She looked ready to unleash her wrath. Xavier, Emma, and Selene all braced themselves.
“No Jean! Don’t do it!” urged Scott desperately.
The Phoenix barely flinched as she turned to face the foolish man before her.
“Who dares? Another risks my wrath?”
“Don’t talk like that, Jean! This isn’t you! This can’t be you!”
“You’re wasting what precious breath you have left! Have I not made it clear? Jean Grey is no more!”
“You’re wrong!” said Scott strongly, “I know she’s still alive! I can feel her! You can’t wipe her out that easily! She’s too strong! Even for you!”
Scott’s determined yet desperate words only seemed to enrage the Phoenix further. Now the fires emanating from her body were more intense and Xavier, Selene, and Emma fight the grip on them tighten.
“Dang, Scottie really be pushing it!” said Remy anxiously as he watched with the others.
“Don’t shit yourself yet, Cajun! Cyke’s a prick, but he knows what he’s doing,” barked Logan, who was leaning on Ororo for support.
“For all our sake, I hope so,” said Bobby.
The X-men continued to watch their leader brave this cosmic threat. If anyone could get through to Jean, it was him. The Phoenix was still raging, but it was clearly holding back. Even though it was looking at the young X-leader with rage in it’s eyes, it did not unleash it’s attack.
“Please Jean…” urged Scott, boldly stepping closer, “Whatever this is I know you can fight it. We’re your friends. We can’t lose you…I can’t lose you.”
“The Phoenix has none of these friends you speak of! I am above such things!”
“Why haven’t you finished us off yet?” he prodded, “I’ll save you the trouble of making an excuse. It’s because despite all your power, you’re in in the body of a woman I know will fight you at every turn! No matter how powerful you are, you’re not going to overtake her spirit!”
The Phoenix continued to look on with rage, but now her expression was showing signs of conflict. The fiery halo around her started pulsing erratically. Her grip on Emma, Selene, and the Professor faltered. What was once so intense and focused was now appearing conflicted.
“That’s it, Jean! You’re doing it!”
“ERRRRRR ENOUGH! I AM THROUGH WITH THESE MORTAL TRICKS!”
“Boy, you had best hold your tongue!” grunted Selene, “This Phoenix is a power you do not want to tempt!”
“Don’t listen to her, Scott! It’s working!” urged Professor Xavier, now placing his hands on his temples.
“Charles, what are you…” began Emma.
But Xavier didn’t take time to explain. This may be their only chance.
“Jean’s mind is still present! I can sense it through the chaos! I may be able to reach her, but you must reach her first, Scott!”
That was all the encouragement Scott Summers needed. Despite more menacing flares from the Phoenix, he moved in closer and extended his hand to the hovering Phoenix.
“Come on, Jean…you can do it!” he said to her, “We’re here for you! Stand by us and we’ll stand by you! We love you…don’t leave us!”
Those powerful words continued to cause chaos within the Phoenix. She still had Xavier, Selene, and Emma in her grasp, but now it wasn’t as strong. Looking at Scott with her glowing eyes, the chaotic power within started to give way. Through the turmoil, her eyes briefly reverted back to the loving green eyes her friends knew so well.
“Scott…” she gasped desperately.
“I’m here, Jean,” said Scott reaching up and touching her hand.
At that moment, Professor Xavier made his move.
“I have her, Scott! Keep going!” he urged.
“NO!” yelled Selene as she tried to lunge for the Professor.
“Not this time, Queen Bitch!” spat Emma.
With the same determination as the Black Queen, Emma lunged forth to thwart her. She shifted into her diamond form as Selene shove past her. Emma wouldn’t allow it, ensuring that this devious woman would not obstruct her mentor. If they were going to have any hope of getting out of this, it would come from Charles Xavier.
While Emma held Selene in check, Xavier summoned the full force of his telepathic might and aggressively probed through the fiery power of the Phoenix. There were so many alien forces to sift through. It was already causing him strain, but he didn’t let up. He pushed harder into her mind, navigating through her psyche and into the core where Phoenix and Jean Grey resided.
‘Yes…I feel her! Come to me, Jean! Let us fight this monstrosity together! Together we can…’
Suddenly, the world’s most powerful telepath was struck with an expected jolt. In a brief flash, his eyes flashed the same color as the Phoenix. In that same flash, the Phoenix reasserted control and wrestled what was left of Jean Grey back into her power. Through this struggle, however, the two minds were overwhelmed.
“AAAHHHHHHHHHHH!” yelled Xavier in a fit of agony.
“Charles!” exclaimed Emma, finally turning away from Selene.
While Xavier was struggling, the Phoenix was re-asserting itself. Now dazed and confused, it let out a determined grunt as fell back from its hovering state.
“ARRRGGGGHHHHH! FOOLISH MORTALS! FEEDING MY HUNGER! I CAN’T…I MUST…I NEED TO FEEL MORE SENSATIONS! I NEED TO…”
Before she could finish, she unleashed another psionic pulse. Another fiery flash filled the chamber, forcing the X-men and the Inner Circle to take cover. In this blast Xavier, Emma, and Selene were released from their grip and knocked back along with Scott as if they had been hit by a wall of force. Through this powerful outburst, the Phoenix let out another cosmic level cry as it and launched itself along with Jean into the air. With unparalleled force, it flew up through the hole it made in the ceiling earlier and soared into the heavens. A large column of it’s fiery halo formed in it’s wake. By the time the flash faded and the shockwave had passed, the Phoenix along with Jean Grey was gone.
Scott, Emma, and the Professor barely had time to recover from the blow. They landed not far from the rest of the X-men along with Selene. Xavier was dazed, but Scott was still conscious. When he saw the fiery figure of the Phoenix disappear into the sky, he was overcome with sorrow.
“JEAN! NOOOO!” Scott cried out.
“Mien Gott…” gasped Kurt as he watched the fiery column fade.
“She…she’s gone,” said Warren.
The rest of the X-men were quickly overcome with emotion as the Phoenix disappeared. In their daze, they almost forgot about the source of this madness. Sebastian Shaw was one of the few members of the Inner Circle still conscious. He along with Leland and Pierce were the only ones able to remain conscious after taking multiple blows from a cosmic power. Looking around, he saw that all the Inner Circles masked guards had been defeated. The rest of the Inner Circle was out cold. Selene looked out of it too and Shanobi was still writhing on the floor. It was an embarrassment for the Inner Circle. This ceremony was supposed to gain them ultimate power. Now that power was gone.
“The power of the Phoenix…lost again to the cosmos,” grunted Shaw.
“So much for Selene making good on her promise,” groaned a very sore Harry Leland.
“So what now?” grunted Pierce.
“Must you ask?” said Sebastian as he suspiciously eyed the X-men, “We may have lost our chance with Selene, but there will be others!”
Without lending any help to his fallen comrades, Sebastian Shaw stammered up and started running towards the rear exit of the chamber.
“Damn it, Shaw! Don’t just leave us!” yelled Pierce.
“Sorry old friend, but you know the motto of the Inner Circle! Those that are strong always escape to fight another day! Those that are weak must fall like the peons they are!”
Shaw ignored the scold of his associates as he prepared to leave the whole Inner Circle behind. But just as he was turning his back on his brethren, he ran right into an unexpected presence. In the process, he also ran right into a set of adamantium claws.
“Ack!” gasped Shaw as he was struck by an overwhelming pain.
Looking down, he gasped in horror as he saw three adamantium claws plunged right into his abdomen. Blood quickly filled his mouth and lungs. As agony consumed him, he looked up to see the face of the one responsible.
“Truer words were never spoken,” snarled a very angry Wolverine, giving his claws a sharp twist before retracting them from the devious man’s torso.
Shaw’s eyes bulged with shock. Wolverine must have sensed he was trying to escape and slipped away from the others. He got right in his path, his claws still drawn from the fight against the masked guards. And Shaw, being in such a hurry, ran right into them. Now bleeding profusely, Sebastian Shaw clutched his stomach and fell to the floor. Wolverine, who still had his share of injuries, took some satisfaction in watching this man suffer for his transgressions.
“That one was for Jeannie,” the feral mutant snarled.
“Ungh…” was all Shaw could say in response.
Upon seeing this, Shanobi Shaw erupted in his own rage. Fighting through his own pain, he rose up and ran to his father’s aid.
“Father!” he cried out.
Wolverine turned around to face the younger Shaw, but he made himself intangible so he couldn’t deliver a similar blow. He then shoved him aside from behind and knelt at his father’s side.
“It’ll be okay, father! These peons will pay for what they’ve done!” he vowed as he applied pressure to the wound.
“I got your payment right here, bub!” the feral mutant snarled, unleashing his claws that still had Shaw’s blood on them.
“Another time, vermin! Mark my words!” seethed Shanobi.
Wolverine was about to attack, but Shanobi remained intangible so the feral mutant could not strike him. Then Shanobi turned to Selene, who was still in a daze.
“Selene! Pull yourself together and get us out of here!” he called out.
“Hnn…you failed me, Shaw,” she seethed.
“You failed us too, so we’re even! You can make up for it by putting those mystical talents of yours to good use!”
“Very…well,” she grunted, “But this is not over!”
Clenching her fists, Selene’s eyes flashed in an ominous purplish glow. Using her mystical talents, she cast a quick spell. Within moments, she and the Shaws were consumed by a purplish haze. When that haze disappeared, they disappeared as well.
Wolverine tried to attack them through the haze, but they were gone before he could exact any further punishment. With his claws still dripping with Sebastian Shaw’s blood, he let out a frustrated grunt. It was their fault that Jeannie was in the state she was in. A single stab wound to the gut was nowhere near enough to make them pay for what they did.. For now, he and the rest of the team had much bigger problems.
Now that Selene and the Shaws were gone, the rest of the Inner Circle realized that there was nothing left for them here. The ceremony was a bust and the X-men were in no condition to fight. While there was plenty of frustration over Shaw and Selene slipping away, this was not to be the final act for this proud organization.
“Cowards,” scoffed Leland.
“We’ll deal with them later,” said Pierce, “For now, it’s important the Inner Circle remain intact.”
“If by intact you mean alive and as far away from these peasants as possible, I’m okay with that!”
The two men prepared to make an escape of their own. The other members of the Inner Circle were starting to come to as well. Seeing that the X-men were largely distracted by the state of their mentor, they prepared to give them the slip as well. But before they could get far, they were confronted by a less-than-distracted Emma Frost. In a show of her telepathic prowess, she attacked their minds and froze their motor functions. They had mental shields, but they were hardly enough to stop the powerful telepath when she was this pissed off.
“Don’t even think about it…literally!” scolded Emma Frost, “Now that Sebastian Shaw is gone, you people have no hold on me!”
“Augh! Frost you traitorous…” began Leland.
“Spare me the reminders and take a nap, Leland.”
With a harsh telepathic jolt, Emma knocked Leland, Pierce, and the rest of the Inner Circle back into an unconscious state. This time, they wouldn’t be waking up anytime soon. It was a late but welcome gesture for the former X-man. It didn’t make up for her recent betrayal, but it was a start.
“So now you decide to get in the act, Emma?” exclaimed Bobby.
“Don’t start with me, Bobby,” she said as she approached him and the rest of the X-men.
“You don’t get to give us an attitude this time, Emma! After what you did, you owe us all a huge explanation!” said Warren apprehensively.
Now Emma was on the spot. Bobby and Warren were very upset with her, much more so than the others. Having been with the team while she was still a member, her recent actions hit them particularly hard. Emma remained cold, but did not attempt to hide her guilt.
“I…I had my reasons,” she said, “Good reasons that I couldn’t ignore.”
“Well I would love to hear them!” said Bobby angrily.
“I would also love to know if you still think they were worth it!” added Hank.
“After what we just saw, they damn well better!” said Warren.
But before they could press Emma further, Ororo stepped in.
“I’m sorry, but you’ll have to scold her later,” she said, “We have more pressing concerns at the moment.”
“But she…” Warren began.
“Listen to her, wings. We’ll deal with Miss Traitorous Bimbo later,” said Logan, now joining Ororo after losing the trail of the Shaws, “Right now, Jeannie’s more important.”
It was surprising to hear that from Logan of all people. Bobby and Warren suspected it was partially due to Ororo’s presence. She was already helping him stammer along, his body still racked with wounds that hadn’t healed. He still shot Emma a disgruntled look to let her know he held her responsible for this mess. She was going to have to face the X-men for her betrayal eventually. It just wasn’t going to be now.
Hank, Bobby, and Warren reluctantly set aside their animosity and rejoined the others. Emma joined as well, but stayed close to Mystique who was always under suspicion. The rest of the team had crowded around a dazed Charles Xavier. He was nearly rendered unconscious from his brief interaction with the Phoenix. Kitty, Kurt, Remy, Hank, and Rogue were each hovering over him, helping him back into an upright position. Ororo, Warren, Bobby, and Logan joined them, assisting their mentor as he recovered from what he just experienced.
“Take it easy, Charles. Deep breaths,” said Hank to his old friend.
“Are you okay, Professor?” asked Kitty, wiping some of the sweat from his forehead.
“I…I don’t know, Kitty,” said Xavier distantly.
“What in the hell just happened?” asked Rogue, “That was…Ah don’t even know the words!”
“Maybe that Wyngarde homme knows,” said Remy, “Where is he anyways?”
“Long gone, I’m afraid,” sighed Kurt, “But forget about him. Vhat happened to Jean?”
The Professor pondered this daunting question. Still breathing hard, he clutched his tired temples and recalled what he saw when he ventured into the mind of the Phoenix. For a brief moment, he connected with Jean’s psyche. In that moment, he experienced many things…horrible things that even a psychic couldn’t comprehend. A series of grim scenes played out in his mind, each depicting the terrifying potential of this cosmic entity.
“Professor?” said Ororo, worried by his silence.
“They were wrong,” he said distantly, “Selene and the Inner Circle…they were all wrong.”
“Tell us something we don’t know, Chuck,” commented Logan, “These people were sick! Especially that crazy bitch, Selene! Wouldn’t be surprised if they bunked with the assholes at Weapon X.”
“No…I mean they were wrong about the Phoenix!” he exclaimed, “They thought they understood it. They thought they could control it. But they had no idea of what the Phoenix really is!”
“So all that psycho-babble by Selene was a lie?” said Kitty.
“No Kitty. She truly believed every word she said. But even her ancestors couldn’t have known. Nobody could have known.”
“So zhen vhat exactly is zhe Phoenix Force? Vhat are ve dealing vith here?” pondered Kurt.
“I’m afraid it’s much more complicated, Kurt,” said the Professor tiredly.
“When is that ever a good thing?” groaned Bobby.
“But what about Jean?” asked Warren, “Can we still save her?”
Xavier looked up at his tired and worried X-men. After briefly connecting with this vast power, he knew this was just the beginning. It wasn’t just Jean’s life that was at stake anymore. Everything as they knew it was in danger.
“That…that remains to be seen,” he said, “For now, we must return to the mansion! We must rest and regroup!”
“You expect us to rest when Jeannie is flying off with some cosmic parrot?!” exclaimed Logan.
“We’ll help her, Logan. I promise,” he said.
“So we have a plan?” said Rogue anxiously.
“Not quite, but we have the necessary tools.”
Xavier directed his gaze back towards the center of the chamber where the M’krann crystal was still present. It wasn’t glowing as intensely as it was earlier, but there was still a great deal of power emanating from it. This relic helped draw the Phoenix to Jean. It may be the key to saving her.
While most of the X-men gathered around their mentor, there was one notable absence. Scott had been in such a daze he barely registered the situation around him. After the Phoenix took off, he on the floor in a defeated state. He eventually rose to his knees, but when he saw that Jean and the Phoenix were gone he was overcome with sorrow. Looking up into the hole in the ceiling, he felt a heavy weight on his heart. The love of his life was at the mercy of some cosmic force and there was nothing he could do about it.
“Jean…” was all he could get out.
While lost in his daze over his current lover, he was carefully approached by his former lover, Emma Frost. Having faced hostility from the rest of the X-men, she was drawn to the man she hurt the most.
“I’m so sorry, Scott,” she told him with a comforting gesture, “Please believe me when I say I had no idea Shaw would take it this far. If I had known…”
“Don’t bother trying to explain yourself, Emma,” said Scott in a low tone, “It’s not like you didn’t have your chances.”
“It’s not that simple!” she said in a bitter tone, “These bastards…have a hold on me. I’m not proud of it, but they were threatening me in ways I couldn’t just walk away from. They…”
“It doesn’t matter what they did, Emma. It doesn’t even matter that you helped them. All that matters now is Jean.”
Emma fell silent. She wasn’t good when it came to penance, let alone comfort. She still offered him a kind gesture, but it did little to ease his sorrows.
“She’s still out there,” he mused, “I can feel her. I…I can’t explain it, but when I touched her hand it was like something clicked in my heart.”
“That’s very sweet Scott, but are you sure that’s not the stress-induced delusion talking?”
“I know what I felt,” said Scott strongly, “I need to get her back! I can’t lose her! I won’t!”
“You’re not the only one who feels that way,” she stated, “Jean and I may have had our differences, but I would never wish this on her. Whatever she’s going through, she’s an X-man. She’ll take it.”
“But for how long? This is a cosmic force we’re dealing with! It’s not like we ever trained for this,” Scott lamented.
“Jean will find a way to handle it. She has plenty of incentive. She has her friends, her James Cameron movies, and your love…something I know from experience can be very powerful.”
That earned her a minor response. It wasn’t much, but it showed the kind of strength she had come to expect from Scott Summers. Jean was a lucky woman. No matter what she was dealing with, she couldn’t have been in better hands.
Scott eventually fought his way to his feet. The rest of the X-men helped the Professor up as well and started guiding him to the X-jet, which was still lodged on the far wall. Hank, Warren, and Remy went to gather the M’krann crystal. The only ones who lingered were Mystique and Emma.
Mystique, having remained more concerned for her kids than Jean Grey, commented little on their situation. She only lent Kurt and Rogue a brief glance of sympathy. She hadn’t forgotten her mission and this was as good a chance she could hope for to make something of this mess.
“Aren’t you coming, mother?” asked Kurt as he and Rogue stayed behind.
“To the institute? Hell no,” she scoffed, “ You know the drill. I still hate that you’re with the X-men and our paths are still separate. Besides, I still have my own battles to fight and some of which are still here.”
“Guess Ah was hopin’ for too much when Ah thought you just came to rescue us,” said Rogue dryly.
“I still helped, didn’t I? But I have other tasks to work on…important tasks that mean a lot to my family.”
“So you’re still chasing my father’s ghost,” surmised Kurt.
“I made him a promise and I’m trying to keep it,” she said more seriously, “I have reason to believe this Inner Circle has information about Azazel that was lost with his diary. That’s why I’m going to stick around and coax some answers out of them.”
Kurt and Rogue exchanged looks. Looking over at Leland, Pierce, and the rest of the Inner Circle they shuttered to imagine what their mother would do to them. But they couldn’t think of any people more deserving.
“I like your choice of words, Mystique,” said Emma, “Perhaps I can assist. A telepath can be a great asset when it comes to coaxing. It is also far less messy.”
“That isn’t necessarily a good thing,” said Mystique dryly.
“True, but these people have answers that I need as well,” said the blond telepath in a more serious tone, “Shaw used me to hurt my friends. I need to make it so it won’t happen again.”
Mystique didn’t know this woman very well. If she was a former X-man, she had even fewer reasons to trust her. But she showed a hatred of the Inner Circle that she could appreciate. If her telepathy helped her get her answers faster, that could greatly aid her.
“Very well,” said Mystique, “But if you screw me over…”
“Oh spare me the insinuations,” said Emma, rolling her eyes, “I’ve had enough betrayal for one day.”
Rogue hesitated to just leave her mother to carry out more brazen missions like this, but Kurt managed to pull her away. He understood Mystique’s promise and was content to give her a chance to honor it. Emma’s chances were a bit less certain. The rest of the X-men didn’t like it either and made their resentment for her known in their thoughts. While the others may not trust Emma, Charles Xavier still had faith in her.
“I’ll make up for this. I promise,” vowed Emma.
“You better, blondie,” snarled Logan.
Emma shot the feral mutant a sharp glare before he and the rest of the X-men disappeared into the jet. The young telepath was still not proud of herself. She could sense the spiteful thoughts of her former team echoing from their minds. Their feelings were understandable, but she was serious about the promise she just made. She was going to make up for this and she was going to start now.
“Good luck, X-men. Be careful,” she said under her breath.
“Forget about them,” scoffed Mystique as she pulled her away and back into the chamber, “We have work to do and you have minds to probe. By the time we’re through with them, they’re going to wish they had taken their chances with the Phoenix.”
Later – Shaw Industries
After making their daring escape, Shanobi and his father were transported to the heart of Shaw Industry’s corporate headquarters across town. They arrived via Selene’s spell, a contingency plan they put in place long ago. The rest of the Inner Circle didn’t know about it, but that was how the Shaws operated. They always had a backup plan. There were some, however, they hoped to never have to use.
As soon as they arrived, Shanobi rushed his father to building’s private infirmary. There he had the Inner Circle’s private doctors treat him. The wounds delivered by Wolverine were severe. Despite their quick escape, his father lost a lot of blood and suffered damage to various internal organs. The prognosis wasn’t good. Even with Shaw Industry’s advanced medical technology this was one blow that Sebastian Shaw couldn’t absorb.
For now, his condition had stabilized. He was resting comfortably in a bed with various IV tubes and monitors hooked up to his body. It was a morbid sight for Shanobi. Even though he and his father had their differences, he would never wish such a fate upon him. Selene was present as well, but utterly unconcerned about Sebastian’s condition.
“This is most definitely the weakest I have ever seen you, father,” mused Shanobi as he sat by his father’s bedside, “The doctors say the wounds were severe. A ruptured spleen, bleeding in the intestines, and a damaged kidney they had to remove…that detestable Wolverine did serious damage! The doctors say you may end up paralyzed, comatose, or worse.”
“I’m sure a man like Sebastian will adapt,” said a very disinterested Selene.
Shanobi’s expression contorted with anger as he turned to face the stoic Black Queen.
“Excuse me, your majesty! But you’re out of line here!” he retorted, using a very snide tone as he addressed her, “My father was nearly killed and you’re brushing everything off as if it were a simple slip up! If I recall, you’re the one we put our faith in! This is on your shoulders because you failed us all!”
“Don’t talk down to me you little brat! I’m in a very foul mood!”
“You think I’m not? My father went above and beyond to make this ceremony possible and you’re making light of it!”
“If you think for one second that I didn’t do everything in my power to channel the Phoenix, you’re dead wrong!” she seethed, her eyes flashing menacingly, “I trained my whole exceedingly long life for it! But there were forces outside my control!”
“Are you talking about the X-men’s interference?” scoffed Shanobi, “Was it too much to assume that you could work around them?”
“No more than it was for me to assume that your father’s people could contain them!” quipped Selene, “But beyond the X-men, something went wrong with the Phoenix! I had the power in my grasp! But something went wrong…something my mother never trained me for.”
“And because of your lack of preparation, the power is lost to us!” scolded Shanobi, “The Inner Circle simply cannot overlook this. I don’t think I need to tell you what this means for you.”
Selene scolded the younger Shaw, her fists glowing brightly in a sign of mystical energy. But as much as she was tempted to crush this man, she didn’t bother. It wouldn’t have changed anything. Shanobi was right. She had lost the power of the Phoenix. She insulted herself, her title, and her ancestors. Burning with frustration, Selene turned away and pounded her fists on a nearby wall. She pounded it so hard she made a huge dent in it. For the first time in her long life, Selene felt powerless.
“This can’t be how it ends!” she said bitterly, “The Phoenix was supposed to be the next step in something so much more. If it’s gone, I’ll never fulfill my destiny!”
“Your destiny is the least of our worries now,” said Shanobi as he turned back to his father, “Who knows what kind of havoc the Phoenix will bring now that she’s without restraint.”
“Don’t you think I know that?!” said the Black Queen, “And without some other means to control her, there’s nothing we can do to stop it.”
Selene and Shanobi fell silent, remaining very angry with one another but not having the energy to draw this out. They were both at a loss. All they could do was brace themselves for the consequences of having unleashed a power such as the Phoenix.
Selene continued to fumed while Shanobi stood anxiously over his wounded father. Her destiny was no longer clear to her. No amount of magic could undo her shortcomings. While the Black Queen was pondering her sad state, she heard an unexpected voice in her head that disrupted her thoughts.
‘Pardon my intrusion, but this little ordeal does not have to end like this.’
Selene’s eyes flashed and she quickly took a defensive posture.
“Who dares probe my mind?! Is this one of your tricks, Shanobi?!” she spat.
‘He can’t hear you, my lady. I’ve blocked his perceptions. As far as he’s concerned, you’ve already left the room and he’s all alone.’
Selene remained suspicious. Looking over at Shanobi, he did seem unaffected by her outburst. That indicated that whoever was behind this was telling the truth. The mysterious presence soon made itself known. Sensing a figure behind her, Selene turned around to see Jason Wayngarde standing before her.
“Oh…it’s you,” scoffed Selene.
“Yes, and I don’t believe Sebastian ever formally introduced us,” said Wyngarde politely, “For the sake of manners, allow me to correct that.”
“Spare me the shallow chivalry, Wyngarde. I already know who you are,” said Selene in a cold tone, “What do you want? And moreover, how did you get here?”
“How else? I followed you,” he said casually, “Nobody seemed to notice, but as soon as your little ceremony started going downhill, I cast a quick illusion. I figure everyone would assume I slipped away, but I stuck around and watched. When you transported Shanobi and Sebastian Shaw, I held on for the ride so to speak. I must say that little magic trick beats riding the subway.”
“If you think flattery is going to grant you any leeway, you’re sadly mistaken. Be forewarned, Wyngarde, I have far more elaborate tricks than simple feats of magic.”
“I don’t doubt that for a second. But if manners won’t spare me your wrath, I’ll simply cut to the chase. You see, when Shaw came to me with this little endeavor I wasn’t expecting much. Usually the most difficult favor he asks involve creating illusions that make competitors believe they’re not signing their rights away to their company. But I’m glad I stuck around because what I saw back in that chamber…it was by far the most incredible thing I’ve ever seen!”
“It was an entity of absolute power. That goes without saying,” said Selene dryly.
“Well you have to understand it takes a great deal to impress me,” Wyngarde went on, “I’ve studied psionic forces for decades. I’ve witnessed many incredible things. But this…this is something I could never conjure even with my greatest illusions. And I don’t feel inclined to walk away. I simply must see it again! I must understand this power!”
“You’re in good company, but you’re also too late,” said Selene bitterly, “The Phoenix is gone and so is that bitch it merged with. And seeing as how the X-men have the M’krann crystal now, there’s no way for me to complete the ritual or summon the Phoenix.”
Upon hearing this, Wyngarde grinned mischievously.
“Ah, but what if I could not only get your precious crystal back, but also lure the Phoenix back as well? Maybe then would you be able to finish what you started?”
The Black Queen looked at this man strangely. He had to be out of his mind.
“You must have snapped, old man,” she scoffed, “How could you possible get the crystal back from the X-men? Let alone get the Phoenix to return to me?”
“By following an age old tenant of us psychics,” he quipped, “Why go through the trouble yourself when you can have others do it for you?”
“I’m not sure I follow. Or is this just senility speaking?” said Selene, still skeptically.
“Let me put it this way…I slipped a little tracer onto Charles Xavier’s shoe before I left with you. The way I see it, he and his X-men will find a way as they so often do. It’s just a matter of us being there when the time is right.”
To show he was serious, Wyngarde reached into his pocket and took out a small GPS computer. It had on it an advanced tracking map that already appeared locked into a signal. Selene wasn’t impressed by much, but even she had to admire such cunning. This man was determined even if he was senile. If he could get her back to her crystal and to the Phoenix, there may be hope for her destiny yet. It meant placing a lot of faith in Charles Xavier, but he and his X-men had already shown an annoying propensity for beating the odds.
“Okay Wyngarde…I’m officially intrigued,” she admitted.
“Does that mean you’ll indulge an old man’s curiosities?” Wyngarde grinned.
“Don’t push it. Just because I’m willing to go along doesn’t mean I’m willing to grant you any reprieve.”
“Fair enough,” he shrugged, “But if we’re going to take advantage of this little partnership, we had best move quickly. Knowing Charles Xavier, he and his X-men will act fast.”
“Spare me the urgency, old man. I was denied this power once. I will not be denied again!”
Xavier Institute – Infirmary
A lot of uncertainly plagued the X-men as they limped home aboard the X-jet. Nobody said much. Nobody had the energy. Many were still sore and emotionally drained. A mere week ago their biggest concern was the presidential election. Now in the midst of a cosmic powers, such petty concerns seemed a lot less pertinent.
Upon returning, much of the team stayed in uniform. However, they were too tired to linger and wait for answers. Many chose to bunk in the infirmary where they could rest and have various wounds treated. The only ones who opted not to rest were Hank and the Professor, who wasted no time in trying to unlock the secrets of the M’krann crystal. Everyone else including Bobby, Warren, Ororo, Rogue, Kitty, Remy, and Kurt chose to turn in. Even though they were worried for Jean, they needed their strength for what was sure to come.
However, Scott Summers couldn’t bring himself to rest. The woman he loved was ailing, thrust into the unknown abyss of the heavens. It was a cold, harsh feeling knowing she was so far away and suffering at the hands of a force they didn’t understand. Over the years he had drawn so much strength from her and she drew strength from him. Losing that strength left him feeling cold and desolate inside. It made him all the more determined to get her back.
Sitting silently on the same bed where Jean had been resting earlier, he remained as still a statue while he mused over his missing lover. He was so dazed he barely noticed Logan entering the area.
“Still not sleeping, Cyke?” he commented as he approached the distant X-leader.
“Speak for yourself, Logan,” said Scott in a low tone, “You really expect me to sleep when the woman I love is missing?”
“No, but you ain’t the one with a healing factor. You could at least try and not be a prick about it.”
“And give you the satisfaction? Why bother?”
Logan chuckled somewhat. Usually every conversation he had with Scott Summers was more heated. They had so many reasons to not get along, but when it came to Jean Grey they could actually see eye-to-eye. Given her predicament, their petty feuds seemed meaningless. Choosing to avoid such feuding for once, Logan approached the bed where Scott was sitting and casually leaned against the wall.
“So long as you’re criticizing me for not resting, can I assume Miss Munroe gave you the same speech?” said Scott, breaking the silence.
“Not this time. She was too damn tired,” said Logan, looking across the infirmary at his sleeping girlfriend, “I’ll probably get an earful later. That’s what girlfriends are for.”
“Don’t I know it,” sighed Scott, “You’re lucky though. Storm is good for you. She’s made you a little bit less an asshole just like Jean did.”
“Ro likes to go the extra mile. She also takes a step back when she needs to. It’s something you should try before you sulk yourself to death.”
“That’s easy for you to say. Unlike Jean, Ororo is still here. You’re not the one worrying endlessly about where she is, what’s going through her mind, and whether or not she’s beyond saving. So don’t tell me I need to step back.”
Logan didn’t have a response for his cold words. This was not a time for him to make a snide remark. Even Scott didn’t deserve it at a time like this.
“I know you care about Jean. I know she’s still a big part of your life even if you two aren’t together anymore,” he went on.
“You’re gonna try to argue that you care more?” scoffed Logan.
“I’m going to point out you really don’t understand what I’m going through right now. I love Jean…I love her in ways I can never describe. I’m not just talking about those feelings you get when you’re around her. It’s not like what happens when you kiss her, hold her, or make love to her. It’s something stronger…something deeper.”
“You saying I didn’t love her enough?” retorted the former living weapon..
“I’m saying you didn’t love her as completely as I do,” he went on, “You can love someone all you want, but those feelings mean nothing if they aren’t for the right reasons.”
“Now you’re just trying to confuse me. That ain’t gonna prove you love her as completely as you say you do.”
“I’m not saying it does. I never understood it either until I felt it with Jean. She’s more than just a girlfriend or some hot redhead I go to bed with. She…completes me. She…she’s a part of me. I know that sounds corny and you’ll find any number of ways mock me with it.”
“That would also mean mocking Jeannie and you know I ain’t gonna do that,” said Logan, “But what makes you so damn sure?”
“Trust me, I know it’s there. It was there that moment I reached her. It’s still there now. I just…I wish it was enough. That’s what’s been keeping me up I guess. No matter how much I love Jean, it still may not be enough to save her. It doesn’t just hurt. It pisses me off! Because I…I don’t think I could stand losing Jean. I don’t even want to contemplate it.”
“Neither do I, bub,” said Logan.
Scott’s voice cracked under the strain of his words. He was rarely this emotional. He had even more reasons not to be around someone like Logan. But as someone else who had loved Jean, they shared a special understanding even if they didn’t share much else.
“Listen Summers, you know I still don’t like you. You’re as much an asshole to me as I’m a asshole to you. Maybe you’re right when you say I don’t understand what you’re going through, but you’re dead wrong if you think I’m making light of it.”
“Is this your way of coming to an understanding?” said Scott dryly.
“This is my way of getting this shit out in the open,” retorted Logan, “Regardless of how I feel about you or Jeannie, I know you can love her in ways I never could. You can love her in ways she deserves to be loved.”
“Are you actually complimenting me, Logan? Or are you just setting me up for another round of juvenile insults?”
“As if I ever needed a setup for that,” he scoffed, “Now what Jeannie sees in a guy like you I’ll never understand. But I do understand this though…she chose you. For what it’s worth, I’m glad she has someone she loves who can make her happy…even if you’re still a prick.”
He just had to throw that last part in. But for once, Scott didn’t care. It didn’t take away from the impact of his words. For all his flaws, Logan was an honorable man. Since he got together with Jean, they never really came to an understanding. For them to finally work this out at a time like this spoke volumes. This was probably the most reasonable conversation they ever had together. There was no use risking it with remarks that could lead to more petty feuding. They owed it to each other and to Jean.
“Thank you, Logan,” said the X-leader.
“Don’t mention it bub…ever,” said Logan in an almost threateningly serious tone.
“My lips are sealed,” said Scott.
“They damn well better be,” said the former living weapon, “Now if neither of us is going to get any sleep, why don’t we catch up with Chuck and Hank? Couldn’t hurt to see if they’re making progress on that Mackrin crystal or whatever the hell it’s called.”
Scott didn’t need to consider such a request for very long. He wasn’t going to get any rest while Jean was suffering so he might as well help with the search. If something came up, he had to be ready both as a leader and as Jean Grey’s lover.
“Sounds more productive than this,” he sighed, “But don’t start thinking in ifs, Logan. We’re going to face Jean again.”
“Oh yeah? What makes you so damn certain?” questioned Logan.
“For the same reason I love her so much…I just know.”
It had been nearly six hours since the investigation began on the M’krann crystal and Professor Charles Xavier was still going strong. Ignoring treatment for his injuries, he fully immersed himself in the mystery of this powerful relic. They had it set up on the center table next to the holographic projector. It was still glowing, bathing the room in an eerie yellowish light. The Professor believed it was the key to understanding the Phoenix and if they could understand it, then perhaps they could find a way to save Jean Grey.
Hank McCoy yawned tiredly as he watched Xavier work. He was no stranger to such dedication either, but even he had his limits. He often hypothesized his mental stamina was a compensation for his loss of physical stamina. Whatever the reason, it was a good thing one of them was still focused. That still didn’t mean they were making sufficient progress.
“What’s the word, Hank? Anything striking in the latest round of tests?” asked the Professor as he ran his hands over the glowing crystal.
“More of the same I’m afraid,” said Hank through another yawn, “And by same I mean utterly bizarre. could probably write several books about all the ways this relic defies the laws of physics, mystical or otherwise.”
“So we’re still at square one,” surmised Xavier.
“I’m afraid so. Particle scans reveal an exotic mesh of quantum matter. Density tests show an uncanny structure so highly ordered it’s as if it were forged by divine forces.”
“Given the nature of the Phoenix Force, that may be an accurate assessment,” he mused.
“Vibration readings were even stranger. It appears to be phasing in some strange way, not unlike the phasing Kitty does when she walks through solid objects. Only this little miracle goes beyond traditional matter. For all I know it may be phasing into other dimensions.”
“Other dimensions…intriguing,” said Xavier intently.
“Not half as intriguing as the energy levels this thing is giving off. I’ve been trying to measure it, but that has only reminded me that our equipment is in need of serious upgrades. Selene wasn’t lying when she said this crystal was forged of raw power. In nearly every type of energy, measurable or otherwise, it is off the proverbial scale.”
“Regardless of how intense the energy is, it must somehow be connected to Jean! I sensed it in the brief moment I reached her. If we can utilize this connection, perhaps we can bring her back to us.”
“In her current state, that may not be the wisest course of action Charles.”
“We have to try,” said Xavier desperately, “I will not let this Phoenix Force use Jean for its own selfish ends!”
His determination was admirable, but from a purely logistical perspective he was asking a lot. He saw what everyone else saw back at Hellfire Manor. It was a difficult notion to accept, one of their treasured students being at the mercy of this incomprehensible power. Hank didn’t want to consider it as well. The reality, however, was not privy to their wishes.
Charles Xavier wasn’t concerning himself with how grim the truth may be. He already got a brief glimpse into the inner nature of the Phoenix when he reached out to Jean telepathically. If he was to help his missing student, he needed to know much more.
As Hank and the Professor continued their work, the door to the War Rooms opened and Scott and Logan entered looking every bit as restless as they were.
“What’s the word, Professor? Any breakthroughs yet?” asked Scott.
“None so far, I’m afraid,” sighed the Professor, “I thought I instructed you and the others to get some rest.”
“With all due respect, sir, you can’t expect us to rest at a time like this. Even X-men have their limitations,” retorted Scott.
“And in case you’ve forgotten, this involves Jeannie,” Logan reminded, “You would need all the sedatives in the world to keep either of us out of this.”
The Professor didn’t bother contesting their subbornness. It was probably foolish of him to think these two could sleep when Jean was suffering. Even if they weren’t doing themselves any favors physically, he didn’t have the energy or the desire to keep them from this.
“So out with it, Chuck. What do you got so far?” said Logan as he and Scott approached the table with the crystal, “Give us something…anything.”
“I can only tell you what Hank and I have already discovered,” said the Professor, “This crystal is every bit as powerful as Selene claimed. However, I don’t think she or her ancestors fully understood its true nature.”
“You mean this thing isn’t magic?” said Scott as he gazed over the crystal.
“Not entirely at least,” affirmed Charles, “I now suspect this Phoenix Force is more alien than mystical. Given we’ve already had an encounter with aliens, it’s not unreasonable to believe that there is an extraterrestrial nature to this being.”
“So it’s a being now?” scoffed Logan, “That crazy bitch seemed pretty convinced it was just some force.”
“And she was wrong. This creature has a mind. I sensed it along with Jean,” said Xavier strongly, “It is not human to say the very least. I would even venture to say it is more than mortal.”
“So does that mean it’s some sort of god?” asked Scott wearily.
“I wouldn’t go quite that far, but the power most certainly can be thought of as god-like,” added Hank.
It was a daunting notion, Jean being at the mercy of a god-like power. They had witnessed some pretty amazing displays of power from the likes of Magneto and Proteus. None ever ended favorably. There was little reason to believe one involving Jean would end any better.
“There’s irony for you,” said Logan, “I once told Jeannie she had the body of a goddess. Now she’s got the power to boot. Go figure.”
“So this thing has god-like power and it’s taken over Jean? Any idea why? What the hell does it want with her?!” exclaimed Scott.
“That’s another mystery I’ve been unable to solve,” said Xavier, “I suspect Selene was at least partially right when she said this power was tied to Jean, but I don’t believe it was for the purpose she stated.”
“To be fair, she wasn’t very clear in her understanding either,” said Hank, “She didn’t strike me as a woman attentive to details. Jean was just a means to an end.”
“That’s exactly where I believe she’s wrong,” Xavier went on, showing his frustrations as well, “All I have to go on are these feelings it projected when I reached it with my telepathy. I…I can’t be sure of everything I sensed, but the one feeling that stuck out most was this insatiable hunger.”
“A hunger? For what?” asked Scott anxiously.
“Somethin’ tells me it ain’t a deep dish pizza,” said Logan.
“I wish I knew, but whatever the Phoenix was craving it needed Jean to satisfy this hunger. How they are connected is beyond me at the moment. But now that they’ve come together, I fear the Phoenix will be feeding very soon. And if what I sensed was accurate, such an act will involve destruction on a truly cosmic level.”
Scott and Logan exchanged glances, their concerns for Jean Grey now taking on a new level of dread. They weren’t just going to have to save her. They were going to have to stop the destruction she would bring with the Phoenix. That may involve fighting her, something none of them wanted to contemplate.
For Scott, he had heard enough. There was no telling what Jean was going through right now, but it couldn’t have been pleasant. He had to do something. In his frustration, he turned to the M’krann crystal.
“This is beyond bad! Hell, this is beyond the worst!” he said strongly, “Forget the mystery, Professor! We need to find Jean! Why can’t we just use this damn crystal like Selene and summon her back?”
“Scott, think for a moment what you’re considering,” said Hank, trying to calm the X-leader down, “To summon the Phoenix without a firm understanding may only invite even more destruction.”
“I don’t care! Jean needs us! And the only way we’re going to get to her is if we get to the Phoenix! If this hunk of rock can do the trick, what are we waiting for?!”
“You think I haven’t tried that, Scott?” said Xavier, sharing in his frustration, “I’ve been trying with this crystal for hours! But all I am getting is static!”
“So try harder! Right now, Jean is fighting with every fiber of her being against something more powerful than we can imagine! We don’t have the right to call ourselves her loved ones if we give anything less!”
Professor Charles Xavier gazed sternly at his student, who was still locked on the M’krann crystal. His words were harsh, but there was some truth to them. Jean Grey was more than just a student. She looked upon him as a father figure since the day he got her out of that mental ward. She always counted on him to be there for her when she was struggling with her powers. Now she was struggling again and they were failing her. For hours, Professor Xavier had been pushing himself to use the power in this crystal to save Jean. In that time, he never truly pushed beyond his limits. Jean deserved better and that meant taking a much bolder risk.
“Scott please…” coaxed Hank, trying to pull him away from the crystal.
“No Hank…he’s right,” said Xavier strongly, “Jean needs us and we must go above and beyond just as she is doing for us as we speak!”
“I’m not quite following you, Charles, and I’m not sure I want to,” said Hank anxiously.
Xavier unexpectedly turned his wheelchair away from the crystal and started making his way towards the exit.
“Take the crystal and move it to the Cerebro chamber. I’m going to use my telepathy to interface with it again. Only this time, I’m going to do it at full power.”
“Full power?! Forgive my limited vocabulary, but that’s insane!”
“It’s our only option,” said Xavier strongly, “Selene said the crystal acts as a beacon. She used magic to summon the Phoenix before. Perhaps I can summon it with my telepathy.”
“But this crystal is raw power! You have no idea if…”
“You don’t need to read me a list of reasons why this is dangerous, Hank. But we cannot keep wasting our time with the finer details! Jean needs us! We must act!”
“Never thought I’d hear that from you of all people, Chuck. But I gotta say it’s about freakin’ time!” said Logan with a wolfish grin.
Hank was still flabbergasted. He never thought he would see the day when Charles Xavier would recklessly abandon reason and do something so blatantly risky. He was upset about Jean as well, but that didn’t warrant something this dangerous.
“Charles, take a moment to think about this!” he urged.
“There’s nothing to discuss, Hank. I’m doing this and that’s final,” said Xavier as he opened the door.
“I hope you understand how much worse you’ll make this if you end up...” but Hank was quickly cut off.
“Help Scott and Logan get the crystal into the chamber while I ready Cerebro. We’ll begin immediately.”
Before Hank could argue further, Professor Xavier wheeled himself out into the hall. Scott and Logan didn’t say a word. They didn’t seem all that concerned with the serious risk Charles were taking. They were in the same mindset, willing to do whatever it takes to help Jean.
“You heard him, Hank. Let’s get to work,” said Scott intently.
“This is wrong. We don’t understand what we’re dealing with!” he lamented.
“All I understand is that the Phoenix has Jean and she needs our help. Wherever she is, we need to reach her. Even if she’s on the other side of the universe, we have to find her and bring her back to us!”
Deep Space – Boundaries of the Shi’ar Empire
“Yes! YEESSSSSS! This is what I crave! The breadth of mortal sensations! The rush of mortal experience! The power…the hunger…I desire MORE!”
It was beautiful. Everything was so amazingly beautiful. The sights, the sounds, and the sensations of the cosmos were inundating every sense. It was amazing. These were the experiences of the Phoenix Force and her new vessel, Jean Grey. From the moment she took off from Hellfire Manor, the Phoenix had been soaring through the cosmos at speeds that defied mortal comprehension. Time and space were feeble forces to overcome. She could traverse the vastness of the cosmos as easily as lesser beings would draw breath. With the being known as Jean Grey in her grasp, she could experience the whole range of mortal sensations. It was intoxicating, granting her a cosmic level of fulfillment with which to feed her agonizing hunger.
Soaring through space the Phoenix passed a series of small comets and asteroids. In her deranged state, she casually directed her powers towards them. In an instant, they were utterly destroyed in a dazzling burst of chaos. The feeling of wielding such power within a mortal shell was even more intoxicating. Before her lay an even larger system with even larger bodies to destroy. Her hunger continued to beckon her and she followed it without hesitation.
But through this chaos, the Phoenix continued to fight a battle within. Since the moment she first merged with her new mortal shell, Jean Grey had been fighting her. Even though she was immersed in the rush of such power, this annoying mortal persistence within her lingered.
“No…stop! Too much…it’s all too much!” grunted Jean, her body contorting within the halo of cosmic flames.
“You still insist on fighting me, Jean? Enough of this insolence! You’re denying me what I crave! You’re denying yourself what you crave!”
“I…I don’t know what I crave!” she cried out, “I’m so confused! I can’t remember where I…who I…”
“Who you were in your mortal life is no longer important! All that matters is that you are the new avatar for my power! Just as you yearned for all those years ago!”
“Just as I…no, this isn’t what I wanted!” she cried, clutching her head in confusion.
“But it is! Ages ago when you were a young, helpless mortal you cried out for help! You cried not just with your voice, but with your mind! Like all those who transcend the psychic limits of sentience, your call went out over great distances! And it was I who heeded that call!”
“A call…for what?”
“What else? Power! In their moment of weakness, mortals seek only the power to overcome that which they are doomed to endure! You may have stopped calling out for help, but I never stopped seeking you! You felt it even as I was seeking you out through the vastness of the cosmos! I chose you just as you chose me!”
“But…but why?! Why me?!”
“Because we need each other! Just as I needed the many who came before you! I grant you the power you crave to escape your feeble limits and in return you fulfill my endless hunger! It is the great cycle that binds us! And together, we shall spread our wings and unleash the fires of creation and destruction on this desolate universe!”
These daunting words echoed through Jean Grey’s mind with agonizing ferocity. They seemed to cloud all other thoughts. This power that had consumed her was taking hold. She could barely wrap her already frail mind around it. The Phoenix was in control now and it was taking her on this journey to feed its hunger. It was horrible and wonderful at the same time. These intoxicating sensations that were feeding the Phoenix were also overwhelming her mind. Never before had she felt so much power. It was driving her away from everything it meant to be human.
But in the back of her mind she still remembered that moment at Hellfire Manor. She remembered Charles Xavier reaching out to her with his mind. She remembered Scott Summer trying to get through to her with his love and dedication. These were some of the only vestiges of her humanity as the Phoenix continued to guide her into a new star system. Jean Grey was leaving her humanity and her world behind. That fine line between absolute power and absolute madness was fading fast. She knew through her madness that once she crossed it, there was no going back. Desperately, she clung to these mortal thoughts even as the Phoenix kept raging.
‘Can’t…forget. Have to…remember. I am…Jean Grey. I am…Jean Grey. I am…Jean Grey.’
Xavier Institute – Cerebro
“Are we ready, Hank?” said Xavier as he wheeled up to the central console.
“Not remotely, Charles. But I assume that’s not going to dissuade you,” muttered Hank as he tweaked a few more wires.
“Not for a moment,” he affirmed, “Just tell me the amplifiers and the transmitter signal will go through the crystal.”
Everything was set for Professor Xavier’s ambitious and potentially foolish plan to summon the Phoenix. Logan and Scott moved the glowing M’krann crystal into the chamber and set it up at the base of the major components. While the Professor made the necessary adjustments to the software, Hank made the necessary adjustments to the hardware. Logan and Scott aided him as he rewired to the interface so that the psionic augmentation process would go through the mysterious relic. Several major conduits that usually ran though a series of amplifiers were now hooked into several areas of the crystal. Since the power was so great, it forced them to reinforce the system with the electronic equivalent of duct tape. Every step of the way Hank had his doubts, but no matter how many times he voiced them the Professor refused to turn back.
“As it stands now, the procedures are in place,” said Hank, not hiding the uncertainty in his tone, “I still have major doubts about the capacity for Cerebro’s systems to handle such power.”
“I’ll worry about those,” said the Professor as he put on the helmet, “If everything else is sound, step back so I can begin. Remain on standby in case something goes wrong.”
“Oh I will, Charles. I still don’t like this, but you know you can still count on me. I just wish there was something I could say to make you think harder about this.”
“He’s done all the thinking he needs to, Hank. When it comes to saving Jeannie, we can’t be second guessing ourselves,” said Logan.
“I can think of no fewer than a hundred technical and logistical reasons why he should,” Hank pointed out.
“Any of them good enough to risk letting Jeannie suffer longer?” quipped Logan.
“Not remotely, I’m afraid,” said the Professor.
“It’s a risk we have to take,” said Scott strongly, “And if by some miracle you do find Jean…let her know we’re all still here for her.”
“I will, Scott,” he assured.
Taking a deep breath, Professor Charles Xavier prepared to begin. Every rational fiber of his being was telling him that this was a bad idea, but there was little room for rational thinking when one of his students was suffering. He set aside every last doubt, knowing he was going to have to push every one of his limits in order to do this. With all the strength the world’s most powerful telepath could muster, he powered up Cerebro and commenced this daring task.
Almost immediately, the system was overwhelmed by a surge of power. Being connected to the M’krann crystal put a major strain on the components. The main computer screen barely held together and the control panel was already starting to spark. A number of danger signs went up as the crystal started to pulse. Alarms started blaring as every major warning the system had built in seemed to go off. Professor Xavier remained remarkably calm through it all, but Scott, Logan, and Hank remained on edge.
“Is this supposed to happen?!” exclaimed Scott.
“For all I know, it’s going as well as can be expected!” said Hank.
“That ain’t saying a lot, Hank!” grunted Logan.
The three men held on as they watched the Professor intently. Sweat was already building up on his head and every muscle in his face tense with strain. It was hard to tell if he was making any progress, but the M’krann crystal was definitely reacting. It kept pulsating with more energy, indicating that Xavier was pushing it with the full might of his telepathy. Before long, it was pulsating with the same intensity it had during Selene’s ceremony.
“So much…power! Such vast reach!” the Professor grunted, “Must…remain…focused!”
He stammered from his wheelchair as he clutched the edges of the console. He could sense every system being overloaded. His own mind was being overloaded. It was like charging his brain with the power of the sun. Every mental limit he thought he once had was completely shattered. Like the Phoenix, his mind was launched beyond the limits of the planet and extended into the depths of the cosmos.
It was unbelievably taxing and unbearably painful. Professor Charles Xavier pushed his mind so hard it felt as though his entire psyche was being torn apart. Yet through all this strain, he was bombarded with a hoard of images. They were similar images to the once he saw when he first reached the Phoenix. Only this time, they were clearer and told a much more compelling story.
‘The Phoenix…the M’krann crystal…of course! I...I can sense it! I understand now!’
Now reaching the threshold of his psychic limits, Professor Charles Xavier opened his eyes and summoned what was left of his psychic strength. With the power of Cerebro and the M’krann crystal, he opened his mind and called out to his wayward student.
‘Jean…come back to us!’
As soon as he sent this message, the entire Cerebro chamber was consumed by a deafening explosion.
Deep Space – Shi’ar Run Solar System
“Ahhh! More worlds! More destruction! More sensations! I want it! I need it!”
The feeding frenzy was on for the Phoenix. With each new sensation it experienced, it hungered for more. Fueled by this raging hunger, the Phoenix continued to destroy random heavenly bodies. More asteroids and comets were destroyed in its wake. It soon found itself in sizable solar system with seven planets and a mid-level star. It sensed a few were inhabited. There were no fewer than five billion alien souls in this system, but the Phoenix was not dissuaded by the presence of life. If anything, it was prompted to step up its cosmic rampage.
“I sense more thoughts! More mortal minds! The sensations...so vast! I shall feed on every one of them!”
The Phoenix turned its attention to the system’s sun. Destroying small rocky bodies was exhilarating enough, but it needed go further. Destroying a star would provide an even greater rush. The presence of other planets on which live was thriving would only amplify the feeling. It was so tempting. The hunger beckoned her and there was nothing stopping it.
Within this chaos, Jean Grey was losing the battle against the Phoenix Force. With every rush of sensations, the power further consumed her. There was only a faint hint of concern as she felt the Phoenix direct its power to the star. She could also sense the countless lives that were in danger from this act. But in her dazed state, her spirit had little capacity to scrutinize such an act. There was no shock or horror. There was only a growing sense of shared hunger between her and the Phoenix.
A growing part of Jean was actually embracing this feeling. The raw power and sheer rush were intoxicating, pushing her further away from her mortal roots. Soon there would be little distinction between her and the Phoenix. They would be one.
‘Can’t…fight it…anymore. The hunger…it’s too strong!’
“It’ll be okay, Jean. Embrace it with me! Together, we shall be fulfilled once more!”
The Phoenix flew right along the surface of the star, preparing to unleash its wrath. The destruction would be stellar. The lost of life would be catastrophic. Nothing could top it. The hunger had to be fulfilled.
Then something unexpected happened. Both Phoenix and Jean Grey felt a mysterious presence in their collective being. It was like a signal. Someone was calling out to them.
‘Jean…come back to us!’
This simple message triggered a powerful reaction. The signal bore the mark of the M’krann crystal, the very relic that drew them together in the first place. The signal also roused the fading Jean Grey, for she recognized that voice. It evoked the memories and feelings she associated with her friends and loved ones. Through all the power and the cosmic sensations, she was able to restrengthen her grasp on her identity.
“No…what is this? The M’krann crystal summons me again…why? It should not be! It should have…”
“But it is!”
As the Phoenix grew confused, Jean Grey re-asserted control. She wrestled for control over their collective psyche, driven by this powerful call that was beckoning her away from her hunger.
“This is wrong!” she exclaimed, “I…I won’t let you use me anymore!”
“Augh! What are you doing, Jean?! You are going against forces beyond your comprehension!”
“No…I comprehend perfectly now! This power isn’t just yours to wield, Phoenix! It’s mine too!”
“Your mind has become hopelessly deranged, mortal!”
“Wouldn’t be the first time,” quipped Jean, “You said it yourself! You and me…we’re connected! You want to use me? You take everything that comes with it! And right now, I say we’re going back!”
“We can’t! My hunger…I must continue to feed!”
“I have a hunger too! I need my friends…my family!”
The Phoenix continued to struggle and so did Jean. It should have been easy for a cosmic force to overcome, yet the presence of this determined mortal would not allow it. Eventually, this call across the cosmos won out. Jean and Phoenix launched themselves back into the depths of the cosmos away from this lone system. The star was spared and so was the planet. The hunger was still raging, but now it was a hunger of a different kind.
“Yes…I feel it now. The crystal calls…because my hunger cannot be quenched here. It can only be settled back in the place Jean Grey calls…home.”
“Home…” said Jean distantly.
“Home...such a foolish concept. Yet I cannot turn away!”
“Neither can I!” she said strongly, “I hear you, Professor! I hear you Scott! I’m on my way!”
Within this strange conflict, Jean Grey and the Phoenix were guided by new feelings. These sensations that felt so alien and familiar beckoned them. The fine line that separated the mortal woman from the cosmic force was blurred. Confusion still reigned almost as much as their hunger. In order to make sense of this, they had to return to where it all started.
As the Phoenix soared through the cosmos and left the system behind, she did not notice an alien force witnessing her departure. Flying in orbit around the inhabited planet was a large R-Class Imperial star cruiser. This craft was manned by the forces of the Shi’ar Empire. Aboard was a contingent of Shi’ar officers. On the main bridge, Captain Ner’ar watched via scanners the scene that played out with this mysterious yet powerful presence.
“Such power…” the captain mused, “All readings indicate energy levels off the chart. Could this be the being that His Imperial Majesty spoke of?”
“What should we do, sir?” asked Shi’ar Lieutenant Cap’sol, “Scanners indicate the being entering transwarp space.”
“Can you follow the trail of quantum flux?”
“At these levels, it won’t be precise. We’ll have to leave our post for a bit, but we should be able to determine an appropriate vector.”
Captain Ner’ar pondered this for a moment. This was a most unusual event in a most uneventful part of the empire. For something this powerful to just appear and disappear so suddenly, it had to be worth noting. Such power would most certainly draw the attention of the Imperial Palace. If this was indeed the being his Lord spoke of, then they all may be in for a big reward.
“Send a message to the Imperial Guard. We’re going to track this anomoly,” he said, “Let us see where this creature takes us. We shall then report to the Emperor. He’ll decide an appropriate course of action.”
Xavier Institute – War Room
The pained cries of Charles Xavier echoed through Cerebro as every major component failed in a catastrophic spectacle. The screen, the console, and the amplifiers exploded under the massive overload of psionic force. For a brief moment, the M’krann Crystal flashed and the whole area was inundated with a bright fiery light. Scott, Logan, and Hank had to guard themselves from the brilliance. For Professor Xavier, however, he could only brace himself as he was blown back hard and landed halfway between the console and the door.
“Charles!” exclaimed Hank.
“Stay back, Hank! I don’t think the fireworks are over!” yelled Logan.
Another sharp explosion rocked the area where the console used to be. This time Logan got in the way, using his durable form to absorb the incoming shrapnel while Hank and Scott ran to the Professor’s aid. This turned out to be the final explosion that crippled the structure. As every last system failed, the chamber went dark and left the M’krann Crystal as the only source of light.
Cerebro was officially in ruin. The whole structure was unstable. Fires were breaking out all over the controls and wires were sparking menacingly. For all they know the whole room could collapse. The crystal did more than just overload the components. It utterly fried them. This did not bode well for Professor Xavier’s well-being. In a panic, Scott and Hank dragged his wounded body away from the chaos and towards the door. Logan, who was now blooded with shrapnel, joined them and helped them along.
“Damn it, Charles! I warned you!” lamented Hank.
“Professor! Professor, are you all right?” exclaimed Scott, trying to rouse his mentor.
“Hnn...I’m fine, by the way! Your welcome for the save!” groaned Logan as he spit up some blood.
“You’ll heal!” said Scott, “How bad is it, Hank?”
“I’m not sure and I’m not too optimistic either!” dreaded Hank.
It wasn’t looking good. Perhaps taking such a risk was more foolish than bold. Scott was already blaming himself. He was the one that urged the Professor to do this. He may have only made it worse, hurting his mentor and his ailing lover by default.
Despite the chaos and destruction, the powerful telepath remained conscious. He had wounds on his head, chest, and arms. Hank and Scott tried to rouse him. Then the Professor opened his eyes and they were struck by an unexpected sight. In Xavier’s gaze was the same mysterious glow that he had earlier when he tried to reach out to the Phoenix. Through this mysterious gaze, the Professor spoke with labored words.
“She’s coming…she’s coming home,” he said.
Scott’s heart immediately jumped as he and Hank helped the Professor back into an upright position.
“Jean! You reached her?” said the X-leader.
“Yes…but something’s different now. I sensed…so many things.”
“You can tell us later, Chuck! Let’s just get you to the infirmary and start planning!” said Logan, “If Jeannie’s coming back here, we better be ready for her!”
“No Logan…she’s not coming here,” said the Professor weakly as he clutched his head.
“What do you mean?” said Scott, “I thought you said she was coming home!”
“She is…but not here. She’s going to her other home…the home where it all started.”
Next Issue: The Phoenix Saga Part 6
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