In a world that hates and fears them, Professor Charles Xavier and his X-men fight for peace and understanding between humans and mutants. They’ve taken on renegade humans, mutants, robots, and even aliens. But the most complicated and mysterious threats are often driven by magic.
One person who wields magic with unparalleled skill and malevolence is Selene Gallio, the Black Queen. She’s tormented the X-men before. As head of the Inner Circle, she brought the world to the brink when she sought to usurp the Phoenix Force. She lost that battle, but she still seeks to obtain vast power. And with help from her lover, Sinister, she stands poised to gain such power in the secretive city of Nova Roma.
Hidden for over 2,000 years, Nova Roma is the last vestige of the Roman Republic. It has prospered in secret thanks to a mix of technology and magic. Much of that magic flows from Mount Anton. Its power allowed Selene’s ancestors to forge the lands for this city out of the jungles of South America. Now Selene seeks to finish what her ancestors started. She intends to extract the source of the mountain’s power, the Blood Stone of Set. And she intends to use Colossus’ sister, Illyana, to do it.
However, Mount Anton harbors other dark secrets unknown to both Selene and the X-me. Some of those secrets strike at the heart of those tasked with protecting Nova Roma.
Nova Roma – Five Years Ago
“Daddy, I’m still hot!” whined a 13-year-old Amara Aquilla.
“Just a little bit longer, princess,” coaxed the anxious Lucius Aquilla.
“You said that an hour ago. I would almost rather be stuck in class.”
“Let’s not start with that again. I promise you it’s almost over.”
Lucius lamented seeing his daughter like this. She had been sitting in a special doctor’s office for most of the afternoon. Any 13-year-old could be forgiven for being upset, but Amara had even more reason to be angry. This was probably the longest she had been in the same room as her father in months. Between his work as a Nova Roman Senator and her year-round schooling, they had little time for family bonding. Now Lucius was forced to make time for his daughter because of a recent string of distressing symptoms.
“Senator Aquilla, sir. I have the results,” said one of the Nova Roman doctors.
“Please be brief,” said Lucius firmly, “I would like to get my daughter out of here as soon as possible.”
“I understand, sir. But these tests have yielded some rather powerful and familiar results. I don’t think I need to remind you of the implications. If I recall, your wife went through this same ordeal.”
Lucius scolded the doctor for mentioning his wife. It evoked some very painful memories. Many of them started in this very facility. As a senator, he had access the best medical care in Nova Roma. A special clinic was set up near the Curia where all the senators and their families were treated for everything from cancer to the common cold. This clinic had every possible tool at its disposal, both technological and magical. So when Amara started showing symptoms of an all too familiar condition, he reasoned that this would be the best place to deal with it.
However, reason did not always pan out. That same rationale brought his wife to this facility. She once sat on the same table as Amara. The observation room was like an operating room, sterile and brightly lit. The doctors were dressed in special white medical gowns while the mystics were dressed in special robes. They surrounded Amara with various instruments of science and magic. Their goal was to treat this young woman in a way that helped her avoid the fate of her mother.
“I um…will do my best to summarize our analysis,” said the doctor, using a careful tone before the scrutiny of the esteemed senator, “Your suspicions were correct. Amara’s symptoms are very similar to those experienced by her mother.”
“Does that mean what I think it means?” he asked grimly.
“Yes. Like her mother, your daughter is a mutant. Her powers aren’t the same, but they’re still quite potent. I won’t get into the long list of details. I’ll only add that her mutation has the potential to grow, thus making it harder to manage.”
Lucius never took his eyes off his daughter. The thought of her going through the same hardships as her mother was unbearable. She was all he had left. He couldn’t lose her. He didn’t dare contemplate that possibility. However, this left him with few options, but only one was viable.
“Can it be fixed?” asked Lucius.
“Of course it can…fixed being a relative term,” said the doctor, “I’m well-aware of the Republic’s policy towards mutants. While our technology has been struggling to keep up with new developments, our mystics should be more than capable of suppressing her powers.”
“That’s exactly what you said about my wife,” he said grimly, “In the long run, it did her little good. Based on what I’ve observed, it rarely does any mutant much good.”
“I admit there are risks,” the doctor conceded, “Nova Roma has taken that risk for centuries, but there are good reasons for it. Our mutant birthrate has always been above average and you know better than most how volatile mutants can be.”
“Is that because of their powers or because of how we handle them?” questioned Lucius.
“That is an issue we’re currently exploring. You’ll be happy to know that our techniques have been refined over the centuries. Our mystics have made significant strides since the unpleasantness your wife endured.”
Lucius’s expression hardened. The memory of what happened to his wife still tormented his every waking hour. She went through the same hardship Amara was about to endure. Like her mother, Amara had some exotic power that allowed her to generate a great deal of heat. And like all mutants in Nova Roma, she was required to have those powers suppressed through magic. It would allow her to live a fairly normal life, but mixing mutants and magic often led to tragic complications.
His wife ended up dead and his daughter never got to know her mother because of those complications. That affected him and Amara in so many ways. She was aggressive and rebellious, not taking kindly to authority, including his own. Now he was going to give her even more reasons to resent him.
“What guarantees can you make that Amara will not suffer the same fate as her mother?” asked Lucius.
“You’re a standing senator, Mr. Aquilla. You and your daughter have access to the best mystics in Nova Roma,” the doctor said to him.
“That doesn’t sound like a guarantee, Doctor.”
“I’m sorry, sir. But magic by its very nature cannot offer guarantees.”
“What of those so-called advances you told me about?” he said with growing frustration.
“All the advances in the world won’t render it fully functional. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be magic,” the doctor replied timidly, “We’ve taken as many precautions as possible. We just flew in a few high priests from Mount Anton. They’ve gathered energy right from the source. They just need your approval to begin.”
“Treating mutants like this is mandated by law. Why would you need my approval?”
“Like I said, you are a senator. If there’s another course you would like to take…”
The doctor’s words trailed off, choosing not to get into specifics. It left Lucius a precarious position. He could either walk the same path that killed his wife or fight the very laws he swore to uphold.
Lucius watched as more mystics gathered around Amara. She was still looking very uncomfortable. She was young and didn’t fully understand what was happening to her. As a father, his every inclination was to avoid going the same route that cost him his wife. But as a Nova Roman Senator, he was bound by the laws of the Republic. If he fought it, he would risk losing everything. Knowing his daughter may end up hating him, Lucius Aquilla made his decision.
“Do it. Suppress her powers,” he said flatly, “May the gods have mercy on my soul.”
Nova Roma – Present Time
“I can’t believe that guy! Using magic on his daughter to suppress her mutation?” said and outraged Kitty Pryde.
“That’s some mutant policy,” said Bobby, “They’ll accept them, but so long as they can’t use their powers. It’s like Hodge-lite.”
“Even worse, this guy had the power to change it and he didn’t,” said Jean, who couldn’t help but feel for Amara.
“Heck, he’s giving mah mama a run for her money in the worst parenting award,” commented Rogue.
“The guy still got us some help, didn’t he?” Scott pointed out, “We’ll criticize his parenting skills later. Right now, we’ve got an overpowered Selene to deal with.”
Everyone in the X-men expressed their share of outrage for Lucius Aquilla and the Nova Roma Senate. Since their arrival, they had been less-than-welcoming and a major obstacle in their efforts to stop the Black Queen. While they eventually agreed to help, it took a volatile outburst from Amara and an eruption from Mount Anton.
The dark clouds over Mount Anton were growing, indicating that Selene was kicking her activities into high gear. The X-men had to work fast and so did the Nova Roman Senate. They quickly arranged for one of their private hover transports to take them to the base of the mountain where they could confront Selene. They also provided them with some instructions on using their equipment so they could track the source of the activity.
Once the transport was ready, the X-men assembled on the private landing platform behind the Curia. The team that would go out and confront Selene consisted of Scott, Jean, Bobby, Ororo, Remy, Betsy, Kitty, and Piotr. Rogue and Kurt chose to go along as well. Even though they weren’t officially active, they needed all the extra help they could get. That left Margali, Shaman, and Professor Xavier to stay behind with the comatose Amanda.
“Are you sure I shouldn’t stay behind, Herr Professor?” asked Kurt as he prepared to get on the transport, “I don’t feel good about leaving Amanda behind in her condition.”
“Amanda isn’t going anywhere, Kurt. The senate has already agreed to watch over her with their top mystics,” said Professor Xavier.
“Zhese are zhe same mystics that have put Amara Aquilla in danger. Forgive me if I don’t find zhat very comforting,” he retorted.
“We’ll still be with her. Rest assured, we won’t allow them make her condition any worse,” said Shaman.
“Besides, you should to be with your friends on this, Kurt. Amanda wouldn’t want you to keep sulking over her,” said Margali strongly.
Before Kurt could argue further, he was pulled onto the hovercraft by Rogue.
“Enough with the second guessing, Kurt,” she told him, “Look at it this way…you have a chance to get back at Selene for what she did to Amanda. Take advantage of it!”
His sister’s strong words gave Kurt added incentive. The look on his face finally shifted to one of confidence, something he hadn’t shown in quite some time. It came as a relief to Rogue and the rest of his fellow X-men. They all needed to be strong if they were to stand a chance against the Black Queen.
The X-men were now fully aboard the hovercraft. Scott manned the controls while Jean and Ororo handled the navigation equipment. Remy, Kitty, Bobby, and Piotr made their way to the front of the craft where they could get a nice view of where they were heading. Rogue, Betsy, and Kurt lingered near the ramp a bit longer. The engines were firing up and the craft was about ready to take off. But before they departed, Lucius Aquilla ran towards them to offer the X-men one last bit of help.
“Wait X-men! Before you leave, the Senate has one last contribution to make,” he said as he ascended the ramp.
“You mean other than the full force of your army and witchdoctors?” said Betsy dryly.
“As I stated earlier, the bulk of our forces must remain within the city to protect our fellow citizens,” said Lucius, “However, our mystics conjured up one last trick that should aid you in battle. It won’t defeat Selene, but it will buy you some time.”
“So long as it ain’t just a good luck charm, we’ll take it,” said Rogue.
Lucius quickly handed over the small object to Kurt Wagner, who was the only X-man versed in magic. It didn’t look like much. It appeared to a small box with some Greco-Roman symbolism etched in it. But when Kurt grasped it, he definitely felt the power within.
“That box is what our mystics call a Pandora Collector,” Lucius explained, “Use it when you get close to Selene and it will start soaking up mystical energy like a sponge. That should slow down her activity.”
“Sounds simple enough,” said Kurt as he scrutinized it for a moment, “Are zhere any dangers ve should know about?”
“It’s magic. There are always dangers,” he said stoically.
“I suppose you would know. If not, your daughter sure does,” added Betsy.
Those words hurt, but Lucius was in no position to be outraged. In this instance, Roman pride had no place in a crisis. Everything that was happening to Amara was his fault.
“Please…if it’s not too much to ask, save my daughter,” he urged them, “I know I did her wrong. I only ask that you give me a chance to make it right.”
“You’ll get zhat chance, even if you don’t deserve it,” said Kurt, showing a bit more understanding, “If you vant to show us any gratitude, you’ll help Margali treat Amanda vhile ve’re risking our lives for your city. She needs you as much as you need your daughter.”
Lucius nodded, offering no other meaningless pleas to the X-men. Rogue and Betsy locked up the gate to the hover platform and went to rejoin the others. While it took off, Lucius made his way down the ramp to meet up with Xavier, Margali, and Shaman.
“So Nova Roma deals with mutants by using magic to hold them back,” stated Shaman in a critical tone, “It saves you guys from dealing with them in a mature way. It would be brilliant if it wasn’t so selfish.”
“Enough Shaman! I think we’ve scorned him enough,” said Margali strongly.
“I agree,” said Xavier, holding back further criticism, “Although I can’t help but be curious as to what exactly happened with your daughter. You mentioned that something similar happened to your wife.”
“Yes, and if it’s all the same to you, I would rather not get into details,” said Lucius flatly, “All I know is that the magic used to contain mutant powers tends to have unusual side-effects. They often coincide with strange activity from Mount Anton. So for all our sake, I hope your X-men are equipped to deal with it.”
“The X-men always do their part, Senator,” said the Professor, “That being said, don’t be surprised if victory comes at a cost.”
Lucius Aquilla looked back towards the mountain. The dark cloud that had been growing from the peak was starting to blot out the sun. In the distance the terrified cries of the city’s inhabitants echoed through the humid jungle air. The Praetorian Guard, along with every other legion in the city, had been deployed to protect the people. All their hopes rested with the X-men.
Once Lucius, Margali, Shaman, and Xavier cleared the platform, the X-men disembarked on their hovercraft. The engines roared and the vessel ascended several hundred feet into the air. Upon calibrating the navigation instruments, they began moving forward.
“These scanners indicate that the source of the disturbance is coming from the southwest part of the mountain,” reported Ororo.
“Then that’s where we should find, Selene,” said Scott as he steered the hovercraft in the appropriate direction.
“How long until we reach her?” asked Piotr as he gazed out towards the mountain, “Illyana is in the thick of that madness. I know it!”
“If this thing is as fast as the Senate boasts, we should be there in under twenty minutes,” said Ororo, using the data from the navigation console.
“What about Wolverine?” reminded Jean, “I haven’t been able to link up with him through all this magic interference.”
“Either we’ll back him up or he’ll back us up,” said the X-leader, “We don’t have time to coordinate. We just need to get to Selene and hope we still have a chance to mess up whatever the hell she’s trying to do.”
“In other words, we don’t have much of a plan at this point,” groaned Kitty as she and the others held on for the rough trip, “I’m sure if Beast were here, he would calculate just how much the odds are stacked against us.”
“Guess that makes him the lucky one,” groaned Bobby, “I don’t know why he’s MIA, but I’m sure it’s less nerve racking than this.”
Shaw Industries Corporate Headquarters – Lower Levels
“Hey! You’re not supposed to be here!”
“You have no idea,” snarled an angry Beast.
With a primal roar, Hank McCoy tore into another wave of Shaw’s henchmen. He and Sage had been navigating through Shaw’s decimated facility. Making it past the construction crews on the outside wasn’t the problem. Sage’s telepathy was more than enough to shield their entrance. It was the presence of Shaw’s more equipped workers that presented a challenge.
These men were armed and ordered to subdue anyone who got to the more sensitive areas of the building. Telepathy wasn’t enough to get them out of the way so Beast needed to use his X-men training and his pent up frustration to take them down. It proved effective, at least from a purely pragmatic standpoint.
Sage watched with mixed emotions as her lover tore into three workers, each armed with high powered Uzis. He showed off his ape-like reflexes, using the nearby walls and the limited visibility of the corridors to take them down. He was pretty forceful in subduing them, knocking two of the workers out with heavy blows to the face and using his feet to slam the other one against the wall. It was painfully clear that it wasn’t just the workers he was fighting.
“Hank, I think they’re…” she began.
“I know,” said Beast flatly as he allowed the final guard to pass out, “We should continue. The lab you mentioned is just up ahead.”
His tone hadn’t changed since Sage’s revelation. It created an ominous tone for this mission. Once they made it into the building, Sage hotwired a freight elevator to take them to the lower levels. From there, they traversed some mangled rubble to get through the security barriers guarding the labs. As expected, Shaw still had this section closely guarded. The lighting was poor, the air was stale, and a number of paths were blocked off. These obstacles remained a secondary concern for Sage.
‘He’s never cut his mind off from me like this. I’ve never seen him so…disgusted. I suppose I can’t blame him. I would be revolted by anybody who confessed to sleeping with Sebastian Shaw. But Hank is supposed to be the most reasonable man I know. Is he really going to let this destroy our relationship?’
It seemed like a very real possibility that she would lose this man’s respect and love. The thought of losing this man triggered emotions that she wasn’t equipped to process. As they ventured through the ruins of the last security checkpoint, she tried to confront him.
“Please stop doing this to me, Hank,” she urged him, “There are only so many emotions I can turn off.”
“I thought we agreed to discuss this after we completed the mission,” he replied.
“Damn it, Hank! Are you really going to let something like this to destroy us? You’re too smart to believe that’s reasonable.”
“This has nothing to do with reason. All the science in the world cannot rationalize what we’re experiencing right now.”
“Then why are you treating it like a failed experiment? Did I really disgust you that much by saying I slept with Shaw? What do you want from me?”
For once, Sage’s computer-like mind failed her. Her outburst caused Hank to stop and turn around. He looked around him for a minute to ensure no other workers were coming their way as a result of her outburst. Seeing that pained look in her eyes finally caused his demeanor to falter.
“Sage, do you really think that you having relations with Sebastian Shaw is the issue here?” he said in a more serious tone.
“Are you going to tell me it isn’t? You’ve shut me out ever since I told you,” she said bitterly.
“That’s assuming I’m unwilling to forgive instances of poor judgment. Being guilty of that myself, it would be utter hypocrisy for me to condemn you. There’s no need for forgiveness on my part. What happened wish Shaw is in the past.”
“So…if it’s not that, then what is it?”
Hank paused for a moment before turning around and resuming their journey through the decimated facility. They made it past one of the final barriers. The self-destruct blast that Shanobi Shaw initiated hit this area hard. He had to use his gorilla-like strength to pull away several heavy girders, creating a space big enough for him and Sage to crawl through. The entrance to the lab was now in sight. As they made their way towards it, Hank gave Sage the explanation she craved.
“When I first met you, we conversed on a wide range of issues,” he told her, “Whether it was science, ethics, or philosophy we always managed to come to the same conclusion. Our minds were on the same page. I always took comfort in that. Now I’m not so sure.”
“So sleeping with Shaw somehow makes our minds less synchronized?” she questioned.
“The act of sleeping with him doesn’t repulse me as much as your reason behind it,” Hank went on, “Sage, you’ve demonstrated time and again how far you were willing to go to do the right thing. You took risks with District X and with the X-men in doing good when it was neither easy nor reasonable. Now all of the sudden you tell me you were as morally ambiguous as Shaw himself…so much so that you were willing to literally sell yourself in order to further your research. That crosses so many lines that even I can’t begin to rationalize it.”
Sage’s lips quivered with sorrow. She could have surmised any number of ways to argue the merits of her misdeeds. She could have pointed out her youth, her burning aspirations, or the fact that she used what she took from Shaw to found District X. None of that would make a difference though. Hank was too smart to overlook the cold hard facts.
Her silence said enough and Hank re-focused on the mission at hand. They resumed their mission. They now stood at the final barrier that would lead them to a special storage vault. This barrier was still active with an electronic lock. Upon reaching it, Sage went to work on it with her hacking skills.
“The rest of the workers are still busy clearing out the main lab. I’ve sent some telepathic messages keep them there,” she said as she linked into the hardware, “They should leave us alone the rest of the way.”
“What of the sample you referred to earlier?” said Hank, not put off by her shift in demeanor.
“I kept it in a secret compartment. I always kept some back-ups in case Shaw got too greedy with my work. I’m guessing his workers destroyed every other piece of incriminating research. I doubt any of them are smart enough to get through the defenses I installed.”
She spoke with hallow confidence while under the harsh gaze of her lover. He maintained a watchful eye on their surroundings, ready to pounce on any worker that came their way. Since this part of the lab was in such ruin, it was doubtful any of them would show up. It promised to make this final part of their mission much easier.
Sage made quick work of the electronic lock. It was a little clunky due to the damaged structure, but it still opened to reveal a darkened storage room full of various containers, safes, and computer disks. Sage went right for her special storage area, which was built into the side of the wall.
“Before we become too comfortable with the silent treatment, I need to put this out there, Hank,” she said, “What is this going to do to us?”
“By us you mean…” said Hank, his words trailing off.
“I mean us,” she said with more conviction, “Is this the beginning of the end? Will there still be an us when all is said and done?”
Hank pondered this difficult notion while Sage opened the special containment safe. Inside were series of disks and sealed containers that harbored the legacy of her old life. It was this life that gave Hank cause for concern. He thought he knew this woman so well. After what he just learned about her, he wasn’t so sure anymore.
“To be perfectly honest, Sage…I don’t know,” he admitted, “I haven’t stopped loving you. Don’t think for a second that I haven’t. What concerns me are the ways in which these secrets reflect our insecurities. If what we have is to be truly special…”
“No…” said Sage, stopping Hank’s train of thought.
“Wait a minute! I didn’t mean to imply we should part ways,” said Hank, fearing he had sent the wrong message, “I’m merely suggesting…”
“No Hank, it’s not that. The container…it’s gone.”
Hank looked closer and saw what Sage was referring to. There was a certain area in this hidden compartment that was vacant. It was located in the top right corner. If the patterns of dust around it were any indication, something was definitely there and it had only been recently removed.
“By stars and garners!” he gasped.
“That was the only remaining sample of my research! It was a prototype, but even a half-competent scientist could unleash untold horrors with it,” lamented Sage.
“Is it at all possible that Shaw’s men got to it and destroyed it?”
“They couldn’t have. Shaw never knew about this. Nobody knew,” she said, her emotions once again growing beyond her control, “There’s only one conclusion we can reach here. Someone stole it! Someone stole the EVA neuro-mutagenic matrix.”
Nova Roma – Mount Anton
Selene Gallio was brimming with excitement. The Blood Stone of Set was within her grasp. Mount Anton wasn’t giving it up without a fight. Towards the peak, dark clouds laced with an ominous mystical lightning were growing. The rocky slopes around the mountain shook with powerful tremors, causing small rockslides that damaged nearby jungle. The cries of confused animals echoed from the tree tops. It was pure chaos and that’s exactly what the Black Queen wanted.
The mystical array she set up was teaming with bursts of mystical energy. From the symbols she painted on the ground, a large ball of light shot into the sky. This light was augmented by the circles of amplifiers, which were drawing energy directly from the mountain. At the summit where Illyana Raputin was making her contribution, a column of reddish energy radiated throughout the landscape. It was this energy that Selene needed to channel in order to obtain the Blood Stones of Set.
“And so it was brought forth…the gateway to the aether. The foundation for every power in the realm of the beyond…I command thee to bridge the gap between our worlds! Bring forth the power within!”
“Jeez, is every ritual like this? I feel like I’m listening to a bad Shakespeare play,” groaned Blockbuster, who was watching the perimeter with the rest of the Marauders.
“Are you kidding? This shit’s better than the Fourth of July!” grinned Harpoon as he looked up at the mountain.
“Or Chinese New Year,” said Riptide, who was taken by the sights as well.
“Try not to look too impressed. Even if you don’t care for the spectacle, you should be mindful that this is Sinister’s woman you’re watching. Her plans are intrinsically tied with our own,” warned Gabriel Summers, now immersed in his Vulcan persona.
“A couple that plays together stays together,” shrugged Arclight.
The Marauders maintained a defensive position, trying not to get too distracted. It was harder than expected. The mountain looked like it was cracking open. It wasn’t a full blown Earthquake, but it certainly felt like it could become one.
While some were caught up in the mystical light show, Sinister remained hard at work collecting data. Since the ritual began, the amplifiers were glowing with an ominous yellow light. That light was being directed into the central area that Selene had set up. From this point there were all sorts of bizarre readings.
“So much power,” he mused, “It’s like a black hole being formed without the hassle of a city sized particle accelerator.”
“It gets better!” grinned Madelyn, who was standing beside her mistress, “I feel the gateway to the aether opening. It’s just like the gate I use to summon my goblin hoards. The mountain is the lock and we’re the key.”
“A lock indeed,” said Selene, who paused for a moment to gaze into the glowing ball of light before her, “Except this lock seems to be fighting the key. I’m sensing some sort of interference.”
“What kind of interference, Mistress?” asked the Goblin Queen.
The young apprentice got her answer in an unexpected way. Right above them, they saw a string of flames streak across the sky. Both Selene and Madelyn looked up to see that the fireball was actually a figure. Whoever that figure was, they literally plunged into the side of the mountain. The impact resulted in a sudden burst of magma that started seeping from the mountain.
“Well I’ll be,” laughed the Black Queen, “Those Nova Romans are even more foolish than I thought.”
“That was not part of the ritual, I take it,” surmised Vulcan.
“It’s more of a side-effect,” said Selene, watching as the magma flows grew, “It will end up making this ritual a bit messier to say the least.”
“Which definition of messy are we referring to?” asked Sinister.
“The kind that means a river of lava will inundate everything within a fifty kilometer radius of the mountain,” Selene explained.
“Inundation and lava…okay, that could be a problem,” said Madelyn.
“Not to worry, my apprentice. We should be able to complete the ritual, obtain the Blood Stone, and make our escape long before the lava reaches us. However, we’ll have to step up our time tables. I’ll begin the incantation. You focus on the gateway.”
Trusting her mistress, the Goblin Queen followed her lead. She summoned the full range of her mystical talents, focusing on the glowing column of light in the center of the array. Her eyes glowed bright red while Selene moved in closer and seemingly embraced the power before her.
“I hereby recite the incantations of the aether! Allow destiny to guide the Blood Stone of Set to its rightful wielder!” she proclaimed.
Selene began her chanting, speaking in a string of mysterious words in the language of magic. No one besides Madelyn understood it. Whatever she was saying, it got a reaction from the column of light. From this column, a glowing reddish portal being formed a gateway to a realm radiating with power. It seemed like this power didn’t want to come through, but Selene and Madelyn were ready to force it through.
As the portal grew, the tremors from the mountain intensified and the clouds above them grew darker. Sinister remained as calm while the Marauders grew nervous. The fireworks they had been admiring earlier were now becoming more like a volcanic eruption.
“I am so ready for this to be over now,” said Blockbuster with another groan.
“Don’t be a pussy, big guy. You heard the lady. We’ll be outta here in time to watch this baby blow its top,” said Riptide, “That should be a hell of a show!”
“You’re assuming nothing will go wrong,” said Arclight.
“She did say destiny was on our side,” said Vulcan, “That’s all the assurance we need.”
The rest of the Marauders should have taken comfort in that. Vulcan threw a hardened scowl to reinforce his point. Then those assurances were unexpectedly shaken by a mysterious outburst from the portal.
“What’s this?” said Sinister, “The portal is shrinking!”
“No! That’s not possible,” grunted Madelyn, trying to use her powers to stabilize it, “It must be those clunky amplifiers of yours.”
“The amplifiers are fine. Something appears to be soaking up excess energy.”
“What could possibly be capable of that?” exclaimed the Goblin Queen.
Madelyn got her answer in the form of a large hovercraft emerging from the canopy of the jungle. It had been moving undetected because of the noise coming from the mountain. Atop this craft were some familiar figures. One in particular caught the Goblin Queen’s attention.
“Heya cousin! It’s been a while,” said Phoenix from the front of the craft, who was wielding the mysterious box that Lucius Aquilla gave them.
“You guys can’t honestly be shocked,” said Shadowcat, “You had to have known we were going to show up and kick your ass at some point.”
“If you really thought we weren’t going to pull some magic of our own, then I’m just plain insulted,” said Iceman.
A series of groans reverberated thought the Marauders. Facing the X-men with a lava spewing volcano in the background was not how they wanted this to play out to say the least. Even if they shouldn’t have been surprised, they couldn’t help but be frustrated.
“Damn it to Hell! I should’ve known,” grunted Vulcan.
“About those assurances you mentioned earlier,” said Arclight.
“Shut up! Marauders, subdue the X-men. Don’t let them disrupt the ritual!”
“And find the source of that interference while you’re at it,” said Sinister, who was trying to adjust his amplifiers, “I cannot channel the necessary energy like this.”
“We’ll take care of it, Uncle!” said Vulcan as he summoned the full force of his powers.
The Marauders gathered in a clearing in front of the mystical array. Once the hovercraft cleared the tree line, it descended to the ground. Standing front and center were Cyclops, Phoenix, Iceman, Storm, Shadowcat, Rogue, Nightcrawler, Gambit, Psylocke, and Colossus. They looked undaunted by the powerful display of Selene’s ritual. Sinister and his Marauders were used to having the jump on the X-men. It didn’t look like that would be the case this time.
“Hit them hard, X-men!” said Cyclops assertively, “Storm, I need you, Gambit, Rogue, and Psylocke to back me up with the Marauders. Phoenix, go with Nightcrawler, Shadowcat, and Colossus to disrupt Selene’s ritual.”
“Exactly how are we supposed to disrupt it, fearless leader?” questioned Shadowcat.
“I figure we’ll start with annoying the hell out of her and go from there. This gizmo Lucius gave us should come in handy too,” said Phoenix, who was proactively holding the Pandora Collector.
“What about my sister?” asked Colossus.
“Pound the answers out of Selene. I’m sure she knows a thing or two,” said Shadowcat.
It was as good a plan as the Russian could hope for. His gaze narrowed on the Black Queen. His body now in full metal, he stood ready to make her pay for hurting his family. However, not everyone was comfortable with their roles.
“What about me, Cyclops? Did you conveniently forget my name again?” asked Iceman.
“No Iceman. I have a special mission for you,” said the X-leader, “I need you to take the heat for us and scale that mountain.”
“You mean that same mountain that’s in the process of spewing magma?”
“Do you see any other mountain?” said Cyclops, “Cool yourself down as much as you can and see if you can reach Amara. Whatever is happening with her, we’ll make this mission a lot easier if we stop it.”
“Skip fighting Sinister and Selene for rescuing a hot blond who likes walking around naked…seems fair to me,” shrugged Iceman.
“Try not to burn yourself, homme…in more ways than one,” added Gambit.
The X-men had an erupting volcano, a bizarre ritual, the Black Queen, and Sinister’s Marauders standing in their way. It was already a heated situation and promised to get more difficult. Vulcan and the Marauders looked ready to fight back as the hovercraft settled over the area.
“You think you have the advantage, X-men? I’m actually glad you showed up. It gives me a chance to put my full power to good use,” Vulcan called out.
“I was counting on that, brother,” said Cyclops from the hovercraft, “Phoenix, I’m assuming you’ve already read my mind and you know what I need you to do.”
“I have, babe. And for the record…you’re sleeping on the couch for the rest of the week after this,” she responded.
Vulcan stood with Blockbuster, Arclight, Riptide, and Harpoon behind him. His body now glowing with reddish energy, he unleashed the first blast of the battle. It was heading straight for the hovercraft, threatening to blow it out of the sky. That’s when Cyclops literally jumped into the action.
Guided by a telekinetic shove from Phoenix, the X-leader brazenly leapt out from the top of the hovercraft and plunged towards the ground below. His fall was guided in a way that led him right into the crossfire of Vulcan’s incoming blast. The moment it hit him, the intense energy was chaotically absorbed and dispersed in a destructive spectacle that lit up the jungle. Since Cyclops and Vulcan were brothers, the blast didn’t harm him. It only slowed his descent.
“NOW X-MEN! ATTACK!” he shouted from the blast.
“God Ah missed seeing that,” grinned Rogue.
“Vhat? Your ex-boyfriend making a spectacle or zhe action?” asked Nightcrawler.
With Phoenix leading Cyclops, Storm led everybody else. She summoned a powerful whirlwind and levitated herself along with Rogue, Shadowcat, Nightcrawler, Betsy, Gambit, and Colossus. Iceman went his own route, forming ice slides and using Vulcan’s burst as cover to get away from the action. His sights were set on the erupting mountain while the rest of the team prepared to face off against the Marauders.
“Work quickly, you lugheads! Hold off those damned X-men while we figure this out,” shouted the Goblin Queen.
“Not enough time,” grunted the Black Queen, showing signs of fatigue, “The portal…it’s too small. I can continue the ritual, but…”
“The Marauders will get things back on track, my love. They damn well better,” said Sinister in a menacing tone.
The Marauders took that as a subtle way of being ordered not to fail. They didn’t need any extra incentive to take on the X-men. They had gotten in their way before. They weren’t going to let them get in their way again without paying a very painful price.
The X-men landed right on top of them. Cyclops kept Vulcan’s blast contained while Storm, Gambit, Rogue, and Psylocke landed behind him and went straight for the Marauders. Phoenix guided herself, Colossus, Shadowcat, and Nightcrawler. Harpoon tried to use his energy bolts to intercept them. His aim was thrown off by a psionic blade from Psylocke.
“Hold on there, luv. Wouldn’t you rather poke me with that thing first?” she taunted.
“I’ll do you one better, sweetheart,” retorted Harpoon.
Forming two energy bolts now, he attacked the incoming X-men. Psylocke used her ninjitsu agility to avoid them. She also drew Harpoons attention long enough for Gambit and Rogue to land behind her and go after Arclight and Blockbuster. Even though Rogue had been away from the team for a while, all the skills she learned as an X-man came rushing back to her.
“Dibs on the chick!” said Blockbuster as he lunged forth.
“Dibs on the butt-ugly brute,” grinned Rogue as she lunged right back.
The two super strong mutants clashed, their firsts literally banging together with a hard thud that ruffled the trees of the nearby jungle. Their respective strength was pretty even so they ended up locked in a powerful grapple. While they began their struggle, Gambit took on Arclight. Armed with his bow staff, he couldn’t help but notice Rogue was enjoying herself.
“Having fun yet, cherè?” he teased as he stared down Arclight.
“Worry about your girlfriend later. I’m the only woman in your life right now,” said Arclight as she powered up her fists with energy.
“You gonna flirt with Gambit? Or fight? Because I’m good at both!” the Cajun taunted.
Arclight slammed her fist into the ground, causing a wave of force to shoot out at Gambit. The Cajun was ready for it though. Using his bow staff, he pole vaulted over the incoming blast and landed within a few feet of the bewildered Marauder. She tried to charge up again. However, Gambit casually slipped to his side to avoid her, using his bow staff again to trip her up.
“Alrighty then, guess we doing both,” he said.
“Now I have to torture you before I kill you!” spat Arclight.
“We already that serious? Dang! Even Remy can’t be that charming.”
While Gambit got under Arclight’s skin, Storm kicked up more winds in the fight against Riptide. This clashed with the winds Riptide was creating by spinning his body at high speeds. It created a miniature tornado between them, one that seemed to be more a battle of will over wind. Storm tried to push harder, throwing some lightning and thunder into the mix. Riptide added some elements of his own, shooting off barrages of bone spikes towards Storm. Many of these were deflected by the winds, but he shot out so many that a few reached her and the resulting scratches disrupted her concentration.
“I can do this all day, sweetheart. Can you?” he taunted, “Assuming there’s any flesh left on your bones?”
“I’ve had shaving cuts on my legs worse than this,” retorted Storm, “I also have other forces of nature at my disposal.”
While the winds and bony projectiles were flying, Storm’s eyes flashed bright white. This time clouds emerged from which large balls of hail formed. She directed this hail right at Riptide. His spinning body deflected most of them while some of the larger balls of hail hit him right on the head.
“Ungh! Now you’re stealing my act,” Riptide grunted.
“Funny, I never saw you do this.”
Storm supplemented her hail attack with a few bolts of lightning. This forced Riptide to abandon his wind attack and pull back. He was sent tumbling to the ground in the process, having to be extra nimble to avoid the lightning.
“Fucking show-off,” he cursed in frustration, “That’s it! Time for a little strategy.”
Riptide quickly scrambled to his feet and began spinning again. This time he stayed on the move, forcing her to spread out her weather attack. It wasn’t clear what kind of strategy this was, but Storm kept using the full force of the elements to occupy her foe.
Some of these elements found their way to other battles. Cyclops and Vulcan were both close by, staring each other down in another round of Summers sibling rivalry. Cyclops made it all the way to the ground, taking the brunt end of Vulcan’s energy blasts in the process. It messed up his uniform, almost to the point where the entire top half was practically gone. However, Cyclops remained relatively unscathed.
“Is this how you solve all your problems, Gabriel? By shooting them when you know it won’t have any effect?” taunted Cyclops.
“I don’t need my powers to effect you in order to hurt you,” he seethed, “And don’t call me Gabriel. It’s Vulcan!”
“You’re my brother. Name-calling is something brothers do. It has as much effect on me as your powers. Now do you want to continue with the theatrics or be smart and listen?”
“You’ve got nothing I want hear,” spat Vulcan, “I don’t even need my powers, I’ll tear you apart with my bear hands!”
Ignoring the howling winds from Storm, Vulcan attacked his younger brother with a barrage of frantic punches and kicks. Cyclops quickly discovered that while his wayward brother was a powerhouse, his fighting techniques were not very refined. Even Alex was more skilled. He was easily able to counter Vulcan’s moves, using years of combat training to gain the upper hand. He landed a few tough body shots against Vulcan. He even got him to cough up some blood. This slowed him down, but did little to stem his rage.
It was a rage that baffled Cyclops. He remembered their last encounter. He gave no reason for wanting to strike him down. He figured Sinister’s influence was behind it all, but he saw more than just misguided hatred in Vulcan’s glowing eyes.
“Come on, Vulcan! I’ve already gone through this with Alex,” said Cyclops upon landing a tough face shot on his older brother, “If you won’t listen, then talk to me. Where is all this hate coming from?”
“Ha! You really think an explanation will help you sleep easier at night?” scoffed Vulcan as he wiped more blood from his face.
“I’m a light sleeper. Just help me understand, damn it!”
“You’re a fool, little brother. Fools never understand,”
“That’s Sinister talking. Not you!” Cyclops shouted, “Don’t let him use you.”
“Use me? Sinister is saved me!” exclaimed Vulcan, “With or without him, I would still hate you with every fiber of my being. You and Alex are a product of our father’s sins. I’ll never rest until he owns up to them.”
“Then you’ll never rest. Our father is dead,” said Cyclops sternly.
“Is he now?” said Gabriel with an ominous grin.
This caught Cyclops completely off guard. Gabriel exploited this to the fullest, using his brother’s momentary shock to land a punishing blow to the chest that fractured a few ribs. Cyclops was forced back on the defensive, having to contend with Vulcan’s unending rage and the sudden possibility that he knew something about their father that he didn’t.
The clash with the Marauders was quickly turning into a stalemate. But this worked to the X-men’s advantage. Cyclops, Storm, Rogue, Gambit, and Psylocke only had to occupy them. This gave room for Phoenix, Colossus, Shadowcat, and Nightcrawler to slip by and confront the Black Queen. She was stuck trying to keep the ritual going while the Pandora Collector they had in their possession was hindering the magic. It left the X-men with the clear upper hand.
“So you’re Selene Gallio,” said a very angry Colossus, “I am normally respectful when it comes to fighting a woman, but I make exceptions for those who abduct my sister.”
“With that in mind, why don’t you tell our angry friend here what you did with Illyana?” asked Shadowcat, “That way it saves us the trouble of figuring out how much we have to hurt you.”
Selene grunted from the center of the array, trying to keep the ritual going. She needed more time. She also needed to stop whatever was sucking away the energy she needed.
“Annoying little shits! Madelyn, put my teachings to good use this instant,” the Black Queen ordered.
“As you wish, Mistress,” said the Goblin Queen.
“I shall aid you as well, my darling,” said Sinister, “The amplifiers are in overdrive now. Keep going while we deal with these minor inconveniences.”
“There is nothing minor about what I do to those who harm my family!” yelled Colossus.
Not waiting for his teammates to attack, Colossus charged in towards Selene. Madelyn and Sinister were standing in his way, but he didn’t care. He was ready to run right over them if he had to. The Russian mutant was completely focused on beating Illyana’s location out of the Black Queen.
Madelyn turned to her uncle, who just nodded with a mischievous grin. She only stepped out of the way slightly so that Sinister was in Colossus’s path. The Russian was just about to plow through him when Sinister retrieved a small donut-sized disk from his belt. Colossus motioned to shoved him out of the way. Then Sinister moved to the side, but in the process he slapped the disk right onto Colossus’s forehead. As soon as it was on, it unleashed a series of bright sparks that consumed the Russian mutant.
“Arrrrrggggghhhhhhhh!” Colossus yelled out as he fell to the ground, now paralyzed and writhing in agony.
“Peter!” Shadowcat cried out.
“Relax, it won’t kill him. It’ll just make him wish he was dead,” grinned Sinister.
“Just for zhat, you’ll be sharing in Selene’s torment,” said Nightcrawler.
“I’d love to see you try and fail miserably,” seethed the Goblin Queen, “But first, you’ll have to go through my little helpers.”
Madelyn summoned her own mystical talents and opened several portals in the ground in front of Phoenix, Shadowcat, and Nightcrawler. From these portals, dozens of her goblin minions poured out and attacked. They yelled and screeched with horrible cries, pouncing upon the three X-men.
Phoenix expected this from her deviant cousin and used her telekinesis to deflect some away from Nightcrawler and Shadowcat. She then surrounded herself in the flames of the Phoenix Force and prepared to take on her cousin. But before she began her attack, she tossed the Pandora Collector to Nightcrawler.
“Hold onto this! I need to have a little family time with my cousin,” said Phoenix.
“By all means,” said Nightcrawler as he caught the box, “Any idea on how to put zhis zhing to good use?”
“You know more about magic than all of us, Kurt. You’ll have to figure it out. Now get us away from these goblins!” said Shadowcat.
Nightcrawler grabbed his teammate and teleported her away from the goblin hoards. Once they disappeared, the goblins turned their focus on Phoenix. Using a her cosmic flame, she unleashed a powerful burst that practically bulldozed the little creatures away from her. This annoyed the Goblin Queen while at the same time motivating her. She had another chance to best her cousin and this was the perfect setting for it.
“Quit having your pets fight your battles for you, Madelyn. Be an honest deviant for once and face me!” shouted Phoenix.
“An honest deviant?” she scoffed, “At least I don’t hide behind a cosmic force. If you were really intent on finishing me you would have vaporized my every cell without a second thought.”
“Unlike you, I have a capacity for mercy. Your still family, Maddie. I still believe it’s possible for someone to beat some sense into you.”
“We’ve long since crossed that point, Jean,” she said firmly, “Now if you quit hiding behind cosmic fires and I quit hiding behind goblins, we’ll finish this like family. And by family I mean with telekinesis!”
It was a risky prospect, playing by her cousin’s rules. She never played fair to say the least and there was every indication she was going to find a way to fight dirty. Regardless, Phoenix lowered her cosmic aura and prepared to face her cousin.
“What are you doing, Jean? She’s clearly trying to make you vulnerable.”
‘It’s okay, Phoenix. I got this. Some battles have to be fought on a certain level…especially personal battles.’
The cosmic entity didn’t fully understand. Never-the-less, she trusted her host. The two young women took aggressive positions and readied their minds. With intense focus, Phoenix and Goblin Queen unleashed a burst of telekinesis at one another. The wall of force struck somewhere in the middle between them, creating a powerful shockwave that disrupted some of the energy surging into the amplifiers. It forced both women back a bit, but they dug their feet into the ground and relentlessly pushed back.
“We don’t…have to keep doing this,” grunted Phoenix.
“No Jean…this is bigger than us. This is…destiny!” yelled the Goblin Queen, forcing her cousin back with her telekinetic onslaught.
While Phoenix clashed with her cousin, Shadowcat and Nightcrawler appeared just outside the mystical array. Now the only one in front of them was the Black Queen herself. She was still stuck in place, having to use her mystic talents to keep the waning portal to the Blood Stone open. Armed with the Pandora Collector, they had everything they needed to thwart her.
“Have you figured it out yet, Kurt?” Shadowcat asked as she looked at the glowing box.
“Nien, but for zhis bitch I can improvise,” he said sternly.
The German mutant clutched the box as he approached Selene, watching as she continued to struggle with the ritual. His anger for her and what she had done would not allow for any mercy.
“Zhis is for all zhe pain you’ve done to me and Amanda!” seethed Nightcrawler.
“Ungh! A little help here, darling?” grunted the Black Queen.
Nightcrawler was within a few feet of the central area when he and Shadowcat were unexpectedly stopped cold in their tracks. An invisible wall of telekinesis shot up in front of them, courtesy of Sinister and the power he absorbed from Jean Grey.
“Umf!” groaned Shadowcat, rubbing her head along with Nightcrawler.
“You really didn’t think I was going to forget, did you?” said Sinister as he approached the two mutants.
“Could’ve fooled me,” retorted Shadowcat.
“You know I could teleport right past you,” threatened Nightcrawler.
With a mischievous grin, Sinister attacked with another round of telekinesis. This time, he used his psionic powers to grasp the two X-men by the neck and lift them off the ground. He literally went for the jugular. He held them in a grasp that was so strong that it was difficult to breathe, which also made it difficult to teleport.
“Ack!” choked Nightcrawler, now struggling to hold onto the box.
“Whatever that contraption you’re holding is, you would be wise to hand it over,” said Sinister as he casually approached, “It’s causing my dear Selene too much discomfort.”
“Ungh! You’re…dear Selene?” grunted Shadowcat, choking both on the telekinesis and the notion of him and Selene.
“Spare me your youthful squealing and hand over the box,” he said firmly.
Shadowcat and Nightcrawler exchanged looks. They couldn’t afford to hand over the one thing that seemed to be holding Selene back. With so much at stake, Nightcrawler’s X-men training and his training with the Azazel came back to him. Shadowcat knew him well enough to sense when he had a plan.
“To quote my favorite American saying…zhink fast!” said Nightcrawler.
In a move that caught Sinister off guard, the German mutant roughly threw the Pandora Collector right at Sinister’s head. Since he was so focused on holding them with telekinesis, he wasn’t in a position to catch it and it ended up hitting him right in the face.
“Ungh!” grunted Sinister, his telekinetic grip on the two X-men faltering.
“Can’t believe zhat vorked,” grinned Nightcrawler as he fell back to the ground with Shadowcat.
“Hope this works just as well,” said Shadowcat eagerly.
While Sinister was reorienting himself, the young mutant lunged at him with a shoulder tackle. This only knocked Sinister slightly off balance, but it wasn’t Shadowcat’s intent to knock him down. As soon as she struck him, she reached into his belt where he had another one of those donut-shaped disks he used on Colossus earlier. Once it was in her hand, she swiftly slapped it onto Sinister’s forehead.
“You little-ARRRGGGGHHHH!” he cried out as the device activated.
“Don’t blame me. It’s your fault for making them work so well,” taunted Shadowcat.
Sparks flew and Sinister’s body went ridged. He writhed in a paralyzing pain, unable to use his any of his powers or cunning to strike back. He unceremoniously fell flat on his face, the Pandora Collector mere inches from his head. Now powerless to stop his enemies, Nightcrawler walked by him and picked up the glowing box.
“Now zhen…where vere ve?” said the German mutant as he approached Selene.
“I believe you were about to put a certain bitch in a world of pain,” reminded Shadowcat, “If memory serves me right, she’s the same the same bitch who loves to run around in thongs, fool around with cosmic forces, and torment girlfriends.”
“Danke for zhe reminder. I also seem to remember her mentioning my father. Zhat’s more zhen enough reasons for me.”
Nightcrawler teleported from where he was standing to the area right behind Selene. Armed with the Pandora Collector, he was poised to rob her of her destiny once more.
“Errrrrrrr! You miserable seed of Azazel!” she grunted as she struggled to keep the portal open, “I should’ve killed you when you were still in diapers.”
“Yes…you should have,” said Nightcrawler in a calm yet menacing tone.
“You think you’re so noble. You’re worse than your father. At least he had the good sense to die!”
“If you’re trying to tempt me vith secrets about my father, don’t vaste your breath,” he told her, “I don’t care how you knew him or vhat role you played in his mission. All I care about is vhat you’ve done to Amanda and vhat you’re doing now.”
“What I did…was destiny,” grunted the Black Queen, “You have no idea what the Seftons are guarding. They’re still hiding behind their secrets. And you’ll only keep suffering for it. Attacking me won’t change that.”
“Maybe it von’t,” Nightcrawler conceded, “But at least you von’t be able to make it worse.”
Holding up the glowing box, the last son of Azazel opened the Pandora Collector. His basic mystical knowledge had kicked in. If this box was drawing away the energy Selene needed, opening it fully would allow it to absorb even more. Focusing his strength and spirit into this relic, Nightcrawler used the Pandora Collector to draw away the power that Selene craved.
The box erupted with a series of flashes. The light from the center of the array and the amplifiers surrounding it flickered. It was then drawn away from the array and into the box, causing the portal at the center to shrink.
“No! The portal…the Blood Stone,” grunted Selene, now on her knees in desperation, “I CAN’T…I WON’T…MY DESTINY!”
Nova Roma – Curia
The city of Nova Roma was in chaos. The dark manifestations from Mount Anton triggered widespread panic. Thousands of confused citizens cowered in their homes and ran aimlessly through the streets. Every legion in the Nova Roman army was dispatched. They were given the daunting task of maintaining order when it seemed the gods had turned against them.
If that weren’t enough, the mysterious activity caused Nova Roma’s hidden mutant population to react in ways that made their task more difficult. Like Amara Aquilla, the magic that held back their powers had been disrupted. Now mutants throughout the city who never had to worry about their powers were manifesting all sorts of diverse abilities. It led to more cries of anguish from every corner of the city.
“MY DAUGHTER! SOMETHING IS WRONG WITH HER!”
“THE MUTANTS! THE MOUNTAIN HAS ABANDONED THEM!”
“THE MOUNTAIN HAS ABANDONED US ALL!”
“OUR CITY! OUR REPUBLIC! WE’RE DOOMED!”
It was horrific, hearing so many people lamenting with fear and dread. Even at the heart of the republic, there was no escape. The Nova Roman Senate cowered in the Curia. Their faith no longer rested with the gods. It was the X-men in which all their hopes now resided. If they couldn’t stop the Black Queen, then the last trace Roman glory would be forever lost.
Also seeking refuge in the Curia was Professor Charles Xavier. He, Shaman, and Margali Sefton had to listen to these horrible cries as well. Unlike the Senate, they stayed in the upper levels of the structure, which gave them an unabated view of the city and Mount Anton. This also happened to be the infirmary. There were no doctors or mystics present. Margali was not willing to put her daughter through any more rituals. She was still in a coma and despite all the horrors going on around them, she was Margali’s greatest concerns.
“My precious little girl,” she mused, “So quiet…so lost. I almost envy that she’s not awake to see this madness.”
“That shouldn’t prevent you from trying to treat her,” said Shaman, who never stopped working, “The Nova Roman mystics may have been horribly under-qualified, but one of them gave me the keys to their artifact collection. I found some potent rune stones, a few incantations, and various healing oils. With the right treatment, we may be able to rouse her from this coma.”
Shaman had in his hand a flask of glowing oils. He motioned to pour it over Amanda, who was lying motionless on a special bed. But Margali stopped him, pushing the flask aside and standing protectively over her daughter.
“No Shaman…no more spells. Not now anyways,” said Margali, “I’ve subjected Amanda to so much. She deserves some rest.”
“Margali, do you honestly believe she would care to rest when Selene is on a rampage?”
“She’s my daughter. I’m her mother. I’ll do what I feel is best for her.”
“Just because it feels right doesn’t mean it is right. You of all people should know that,” scorned Shaman.
Margali almost cringed while clinging to her daughter more protectively. Professor Charles Xavier, who had been looking out towards Mount Anton, turned around in his wheelchair and offered a comforting gesture to the desperate mother.
“That’s enough, Shaman. I don’t think you need to remind her,” said Xavier.
“Sorry Charles, but you know I’ve never been comfortable just waiting around for the world to end,” said Shaman.
“The world isn’t ending. Not while my X-men are still out there,” he said strongly, “This whole affair has gone beyond magic. First, I’m told Amanda’s ailment is somehow connected to the power within Mount Anton. Then I’m told that same power is connected to all the mutants here in Nova Roma.”
“You think this is setting a dangerous precedent? Magic mixing with mutation?” said Shaman.
“I can’t imagine two more volatile elements. The confirmation that Selene is working with Sinister opens all sorts of possibilities. Perhaps we’ve only been working with half the story. What if there are mystical elements to mutation? What if there’s a connection between the two that we’re not aware of?”
It was a troubling suggestion. Magic and mutation were complex enough on their own. This was the first time they had to deal with both. The destructive potential was obvious, as indicated by Mount Anton’s current activity. Even if the X-men could somehow put a stop to this, the connection had already been made. Something had to give and there was no telling what form the results would take.
The only one who had a faint idea of the possibilities was Margali Sefton. She didn’t take her eyes off her daughter. She lovingly held onto her lifeless hand, scolding herself with each passing moment for letting it get this bad.
“You’re not the first person to pose that question, Charles. You’re not even the tenth,” said Margali, “Magic and mutation each affect the very fabric of our reality. It’s only natural they have some connection.”
“You sound like you’ve pondered this before,” said Xavier, “Is there anything you can tell us? Something I can relay to my X-men?”
“If I knew, I would have told you at the beginning,” said Margali sadly, “I come from a family of mystics. We’ve never been able to ponder the sciences. I only know that there’s always the potential. One comes from blood. One comes from spirit. I’ve never tried to mix the two, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been tried.”
“Do you know anyone who has?” asked Shaman.
“Besides Selene? No,” she muttered, “The closest I’ve seen is Kurt’s father, Aazel. I’ve always suspected that some of Kurt’s mutant abilities had connections to mystical forces. We already know that when he teleports, he accesses a dimension that is thick with mystical energy. However, most of that is still raw science. The real unknowns are in the spiritual aspects.”
“So you’ve never tried to explore it,” Xavier surmised.
“I wouldn’t know where to begin,” Margali sighed as she gently stroked her daughters face, “Amanda has enough burdening her soul. I chose not to push her any further than I already have. I always figured she and Kurt would just…”
Margali’s words trailed off and her expression shifted. Shaman and Professor Xavier looked at her curiously, worried about her dire state of mind.
“Just what, Margali? What did you figure?” asked Shaman curiously.
“Does it have something to do with Kurt’s heritage?” asked Xavier.
“Amanda…” she said distantly.
“Yes, I know she and Kurt were involved, but…”
“No! I mean something’s happening to Amanda.”
Margali was about to explain when her daughter’s unmoving body did the explaining for her. The strange marks on her body started glowing with such radiance that Margali, Shaman, and the Professor backed off cautiously. Then a powerful green light erupted from her eyes and a mysterious halo surrounded her body. There was no spell or ritual to fuel her this time. It was as if everything was coming completely from within.
“By the spirits! What the hell is going on?” exclaimed Shaman.
“Amanda’s mind…it’s still active,” said Xavier, clutching his temple.
“That’s not all that’s active,” said Margali distantly.
The mysterious green halo continued to intensify. It seemed to emanate from her eyes and chest. As it intensified, the greenish light formed a cloudy glowing mist that hovered just over her body. It remained in place for a few moments. Then as if guided by its own whim, it shot out like a rocket through a nearby window and towards Mount Anton.
Once the glowing mist was gone, everything fell silent. Amanda’s body stopped glowing, her eyes closed, and she went back to being motionless. Xavier was still clutching his temple, trying to make sense of what he just sensed. But being experienced mystics, Shaman and Margali didn’t need telepathy to surmise what had just happened.
“Was that…” Shaman began.
“I have no idea. But it looks like it,” said Margali distantly.
“But that’s impossible!”
“It’s magic, Shaman. Nothing is impossible.”
The battle against Selene, Sinister, and the Marauders continued to unfold with increasing chaos. Sinister had been taken out of the fight while Nightcrawler continued to disrupt Selene’s ritual with the Pandora Collector. Phoenix was still locked in a telekinetic battle with Goblin Queen and Shadowcat was trying to aid the paralyzed Colossus. It seemed like the X-men were gaining the upper hand. Selene couldn’t keep the portal open for much longer. It was only a matter of time before she gave out.
However, the tide of the battle was turning on other fronts. Cyclops, Storm, Rogue, Gambit, and Psylocke were still locked in combat with Blockbuster, Harpoon, Arclight, Riptide, and Vulcan. They had battled themselves to a stalemate early on. The fight between Arclight and Gambit or Blockbuster and Rogue remained that way. However, the tide turned with the battle between Vulcan and Cyclops the moment Vulcan dropped an ominous hint about their father. Then Riptide unleashed the next part of the strategy he had been developing against Storm.
“You cannot hide from my winds,” she proclaimed, still hovering in the sky surrounded by swirling winds, “Can’t you see that your side is losing this battle?”
“It ain’t over till the lady in the thong stops bitching,” grinned Riptide, “And since you won’t show me your underwear, I’ll keep fearing her wrath more than your pathetic winds.”
Storm tried to silence him with a lightning bolt. Riptide kept spinning and avoided the impact. In her rush to finish him off, Riptide had a window for a clean shot. Only this time he didn’t aim towards Storm. Instead, he set his sights on Gambit, who had been making Arclight’s life miserable. Still spinning at high speeds, he fired a barrage of boney projectiles. Since Gambit wasn’t even facing him, at least a half dozen hit. They tore right into his flesh, four going into his right leg and the other two going into his back.
“Arrrggghhh!” Gambit cried out.
“Finally! Something to shut that dirty mouth of yours,” said Arclight.
Charging her fist with energy, Arclight finished the job and slugged the Cajun with pulse wave that knocked him back and essentially took him out of the fight. When Storm and Rogue saw this, their once intense focus faltered.
“Remy!” Storm cried.
“Not even the Cajun deserved that,” yelled Rogue, who was still locked in a grapple with Blockbuster.
“Just wait till you see this,” grinned Riptide.
With Storm was distracted, Riptide turned his assault on her. He unleashed a new barrage of bony projectiles. It forced Storm on the defensive, but this time she took more shots with two hitting her in her lower leg and another hitting right above her elbow. The pain was intense and she tried to fight through it. Then Arclight came into help. Her hands still glowing with the same energy she used against Gambit, she combined the energy into a single burst and unleashed it as a pulse wave that pushed through Storm’s winds.
“Ahhhhhhh!” she cried out as she tumbled through the air.
“Storm!” yelled Cyclops, watching as his teammate hit the ground hard.
“You’re about to share her pain,” said Vulcan.
Using his brother’s distraction to his advantage, the oldest Summers brother laid his sibling out with punishing right cross. This blow put the X-leader into a world of pain, knocking him off his feet and onto the ground right next to Storm. He was still conscious, but visibly dazed. It looked like he would have a nasty concussion as a result.
Rubbing his fist in satisfaction, Vulcan joined up with Riptide and Arclight. With two X-men down, they set their sights on Rogue and Psylocke.
“Not bad, Riptide…using their focus and excess compassion against them,” said Vulcan.
“Work smart, not hard,” he said proudly.
“And Selene scolded us for our laziness,” said Arclight, rolling her eyes, “So who gets the last two?”
This turn of events did not go unnoticed by Rogue and Psylocke. They were still battling Harpoon and Blockbuster to a stand-still. When they saw their friends go down, they knew that had to change.
“Any chance we’ll get some backup, Rogue?” grunted Psylocke as she deflected another bolt from Harpoon.
“To hell with backup! These fellas are fightin’ dirty. So we’ll fight dirty too,” said Rogue.
Not giving the others time to formulate a plan, Rogue got more daring with Blockbuster. The oversized mutant had broken the grapple they had been locked in and tried to rush her again. Rogue responded by pulling off a nimble spin move, getting out of the way just long enough to grab Blockbuster by the arm. Once she had a firm grip on him, she flung him as hard as she could right towards Riptide, Arclight, and Vulcan.
“Whoa shit!” exclaimed Blockbuster.
“Son-of-a…” began Riptide.
He didn’t finish his expletive. Blockbuster impacted Riptide head on. The two Marauders crashed into one another, leaving them dazed and a tad humiliated. Vulcan and Arclight managed to avoid it while not being too daunted.
“I take back what I said about you earlier, Riptide,” said Arclight dryly.
“That ain’t all you’ll take back,” said Rogue as she took to the air.
She was in a rage, her sights set squarely on Arclight after what she did to Gambit. Now hovering a few feet above ground, she flew at high speeds right towards her. Arclight didn’t appear too threatened though. She had Vulcan right next to her.
“May I?” said Vulcan casually.
“By all mean,” Arclight grinned.
While Rogue was speeding right towards them, Vulcan charged up his powers so that his body was glowing in a bright reddish aura and took aim at the incoming figure. She was a mere ten feet from striking them when he unleashed a powerful concussive blast that lit up the nearby forest. When this blast hit Rogue, she was sent flying in the exact opposite direction.
“AHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!” she grunted.
“Here’s now I work smarter,” grinned Vulcan.
The impact didn’t just thwart Rogue’s attack. Vulcan made sure that he hit her in a way that sent her flying towards Psylocke and Harpoon. The two of them were still locked in a battle and were trading blows from psionic blades and energy spears. As it just so happened, Psylocke had her back to Vulcan and did not notice Rogue flying right towards her. Harpoon saw it coming the entire time and grinned before the impact.
“Bloody-UNGH!” was all Psylocke got out.
Both Psylocke and Rogue took each other out of the fight, leaving them writhing on the jungle floor in a daze. Now the Marauders were the ones with the edge. They hadn’t forgotten Selene’s order to protect the ritual. From afar, it looked as though the X-men were making a mess of it.
“Ha! These hot ninja chicks ain’t so tough,” said Harpoon.
“You’re welcome, Harpoon,” said Vulcan dryly, “Now that we’ve contributed, why don’t you make yourself useful?”
Harpoon looked towards the ritual array. He saw Selene faltering while Sinister was lying flat on his face in utter defeat. The Goblin Queen wasn’t in a position to be of much help either. She was too focused on fighting her cousin. That left no one to handle the lone X-man using some glowing box to paralyze the ritual. Since he wouldn’t hear the end of it if he didn’t do something himself, Harpoon formulated his own plan.
“Take five, boys. I got this!” he grinned.
Upon getting into position, Harpoon formed another spear-like bolt in his hand and took aim. He stepped into his throw and heaved the bolt at full speed towards Nightcrawler. The lone X-man didn’t notice it coming. Had it been aimed at him he would have stood no chance, but for once he was not the target. Instead, the bolt struck the Pandora Collector he was holding.
“Vhat? NO!” he exclaimed.
As soon as the bolt struck the box, it blew a hole right through the sides and caused the flow of energy to reversed course. In a blinding flash the box exploded in Nightcrawler’s hands, knocking him back a good ten feet. In the process he dropped the box and all the energy that had been holding the Black Queen back was unleashed all at once.
This sudden energy burst surprised even Selene, but in a very welcome way. As soon as the box ruptured, the array of amplifiers surrounding the central area erupted in a new burst of blinding white. When this light was concentrated onto the portal that she had been struggling to keep open, it stopped shrinking and started growing.
“The portal…it’s opening!” she said through excitement and fatigue.
“Hnn…no,” groaned Nightcrawler weakly.
“Hold on, Nightcrawler!” said Phoenix, who was standing close by.
The telekinetic battle between her and the Goblin Queen was still not progressing. Family rivalries were not a priority for this mission. Phoenix abruptly abandoned her telekinetic fight with her cousin, allowing her psionic burst to blow right past her so she could aid her friend. When Madelyn saw this, she reacted swiftly.
“Not so fast, cousin!” she yelled, “You don’t get to give up that easily.”
Before Phoenix could get to Nightcrawler, the Goblin Queen went back on their earlier agreement to make this a psychic-only battle. She quickly opened a portal in front of Phoenix’s path, allowing her goblin minions to jump out and swarm her cousin. When Phoenix saw this, she tried to guard herself with her Phoenix Force powers. Madelyn didn’t let her. She used a healthy dose of her own telekinesis to slam her to the ground so her goblins could pin her.
“Damn you, Maddie! Still the dirty cheater,” grunted Phoenix as she tried to fight off the goblins.
“It’s not cheating if it works,” grinned the Goblin Queen, “You’re all clear, Mistress. Finish the ritual!”
Phoenix and Nightcrawler could only watch with dread. Now the Black Queen no longer had to struggle to keep the portal open. She could finish the final incantations. As soon as the last words were spoken, the mystical array shifted ominously. The entire mountain reacted violently, the clouds above unleashing a new round of flashes. The blinding light coming from the amplifiers changed from white to red. These flashes coalesced in the center, forming a clear circular gateway.
“I see it! The Blood Stone of Set!” said the Black Queen, having to take a step back from the light.
“The mountain certainly doesn’t seem keen on giving it up,” commented her apprentice, looking up to see Mount Anton erupting with more ferocity.
“Nothing ever gives up its power without a fight. This mountain has harbored this ancient relic long enough. Now destiny has brought it to me!”
From the gate, the powerful artifact was taking shape. It was only the size of a large egg, but it radiated with energy the likes of which could only be matched by the M’krann crystal. It was crimson red, resembling crystallized blood. It glowed brightly as it fully emerged from the portal, hovering silently and just waiting to be taken by a worthy hand.
“Two thousand years and generations of frustration finally at an end,” mused the Black Queen as she approached the stone, “Mother, if only you could see me now!”
She approached the stone in a daze, ignoring the increasing activity of Mount Anton and the desperate eyes of the decimated X-men. Her destiny was literally there for the taking. Then she was unexpectedly jolted from her daze by the sound of a feral roar in the distance.
Selene and Madelyn turned to their right just in time to see the figure of Sabretooth fly in as if he had been shot out from the surrounding jungle. He tumbled through the air and hit a nearby amplifier, causing it to short circuit violently. The broken amplifier caused the mystical light focusing on the gateway to destabilize. Even with the Blood Stone hovering silently, it unleashed rapid bursts of energy that forced Selene back.
“God damn you, Sabretooth! What the hell happened to you?” exclaimed the Goblin Queen, looking over his bloody form as he lay atop the busted amplifier.
“That would be me,” came a voice from the jungle.
Madelyn and Selene looked up to see Wolverine emerge from a shroud of trees. He wasn’t nearly as tattered as Sabretooth, although he looked every bit as pissed. As soon as he hit the ground, he ran straight for Selene at full speed.
“Logan!” yelled Phoenix, who was still pinned by Madelyn’s goblins, “The stone…don’t let her get that stone!”
“Can’t argue with a desperate ex-girlfriend,” grinned the feral mutant.
“But I can!” seethed, Madelyn.
The Goblin Queen tried to slow Wolverine down, using her mystical talents to open up another portal for her goblins to attack from. The feral mutant saw this coming. Just as the hideous creatures attacked him, he jumped atop the still wounded Sabretooth and flew over the goblin hoards. The feral mutant ended up landing right in front of a bewildered Goblin Queen. His sights still set on Selene, he ran right through her like a football player breaking a tackle. It put Madelyn Pryor flat on her back, leaving no one left to protect Selene.
“Mistress, look out!” she cried.
“I will not be denied again!” exclaimed the Black Queen.
Braving the chaotic bursts of light, Selene Gallio reached out in a desperate gasp to seize the waiting Blood Stone. Her hand was mere inches from the stone. Then Wolverine came in and with his claws, he severed her arm from her elbow in a single clean cut.
“AHHHHHHHHHHHHH!” she cried out in pain.
“Consider yourself denied,” growled Wolverine.
Her arm now reduced to a bleeding nub, the Black Queen fell to the ground in a heap of agony. Blood gushed from the wound, leaving her pained and weakened in a way she was not used to. As she was on her knees writhing in agony, her blood seeped onto the center part of the mystical array. It washed over the symbols she had drawn earlier and mixed with the blinding light. From this mixing, something bizarre happened.
The portal shifted colors again. It went from red to a dark violet. During this change, the mountain became even more volatile. Intense tremors rocked the whole area. New bursts of lava shot out from the side of the mountain. The clouds above darkened even more, erupting in a new surge of lighting. While this was happening, the Blood Stone of Set began to crack. For Selene Gallio, despite being in a world of pain, it was a dreaded and dangerous sight.
“No…the blood…the stone!” she gasped through the pain, “YOU FOOL! YOU’VE DOOMED US ALL!”
Next Issue: Civilization No Longer Lost Part 4
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