The X-men have vowed to use their extraordinary powers to protect a world that hates and fears them. Yet there are many other mutants who would use their powers irresponsibly. It has led to social unrest, widespread bigotry, and all out terrorism. Adding to this list of challenges, the X-men have had to confront these issues without Professor Charles Xavier.
Yet X-men were able to ban together and thwart the Mutant Liberation Front. They planned to bring humanity to it’s knees by unleashing an EMP that would cripple all major infrastructure. They came so close that it ended up costing the life of Polaris. This loss was in addition to the damage done to the southern United States. Millions could have been left without power or major utilities. Then Genosha stepped in, working out a deal that would prevent further chaos. It was a bold victory for the X-men, even if it was incomplete. The world is left to catch their breath while others are left to catch up.
Among those who fell behind, Rogue recently rejoined the X-men. With full control of her powers and a blossoming relationship with Remy Lebeau, her once chaotic life has stabilized. This hasn’t stopped other issues from festering behind the scenes. Tension of a very personal nature continues to grow in unexpected places.
Nova Roma – Training Arena
“Prepare to face the wrath of Mars, night creature!” said a confident Nova Roman gladiator.
“Talking in your native tongue is hardly intimidating,” said a less-than-threatened Kurt Wagner, “Also, zhe name is Nightcrawler. You’ll respect it vhen I’m done vith you.”
A well-armored man who stood at nearly twice the size of Kurt let out a war cry. Armed with a blunted sword and shield, he charged the young mutant with determined fury. In the culture of Nova Roma, gladiators were the equivalent of superstar athletes. Their ability to wound, maim, and subdue was legendary. Kurt, who was only armed with a simple blunted sword, showed no fear. If anything, he looked bored.
It was a feeling that grew more apparent over the past few months. Ever since the Legacy Virus, Kurt had been on edge. It wasn’t just because he was still worried about Amanda. Living in the isolated luxury of Nova Roma just didn’t feel right. Every day he received news about the conflicts affecting the outside world. He followed the many exploits of the Mutant Liberation Front and how the X-men defeated them. While he kept in touch, not being part of their struggle was getting to him. Recently, he drowned his sorrows in the gladiator training circuit.
“FOR THE GLORY OF NOVA ROMA!” yelled the gladiator.
The angry Nova Roman relentlessly slashed and shoved his way into the waiting mutant. Kurt didn’t flinch as he countered each slash, allowing the gladiator to push him back. He frustrated the oversized man, ducking and jumping over his attacks with his superhuman agility. The imposing man never lost focus, keeping up the furious pace of his strikes.
Kurt was trained by the Azazel to treat every battle as if it was their last. He wasn’t supposed to be this bored. Even if this imposing man was merely an amateur, he was still fairly skilled. He just wasn’t skilled enough to give Kurt a challenge.
“You’re zhe fourth contender I’ve faced today,” he said as he dodged the next three slashes, “Zhey made zhe same mistake you’re making.”
“ERRRR! SUBMIT YOU SON OF A HARPIE!”
“I’m still learning your language. I take it zhat vas an insult,” said Kurt, now using his own wooden sword to block the attack, “Very well, I’ll put this in words you can understand. You need to do better.”
The gladiator was started upon hearing the young mutant speak in native Nova Roman. Even in his German accent, the message was clear. Kurt added to it by launching an attack of his own.
Using his agility once more, Kurt slipped under his opponent’s sword and rolled to the side. As the gladiator turned around to block, Kurt went in low for another strike. He landed it right on the back of the knee, sending a sharp sting through the powerful man’s leg. This kept him from moving around as quickly. It allowed Kurt to get in behind him, deliver a punishing blow to the back, and follow up with a strike to the head.
“Ungh!” he grunted.
“Now it’s your turn to submit,” said Kurt in an overly calm tone.
Since the man was so disoriented, it was a simple matter of slipping around again and striking his arm. This caused him to drop his sword, which in a Gladiator match was grounds for disqualification. Kurt kept him from retrieving it by stabbing him with the tip right in the sternum. Even through his armor, the man felt it. He fell back in defeat, getting the wind knocked out of him in the process. He was defeated, yet Kurt took little satisfaction in the victory.
“I didn’t even have to use my teleportation powers,” the German mutant, “Training used to be so rewarding. I almost wish our roles vere reversed.”
“Hnn…” groaned the gladiator.
He clearly didn’t listen or understand. It added to Kurt’s frustration. Few could understand his predicament. It was a bad sign when training was his only solace. Nova Roma’s famous markets, bath houses, and parties were of little appeal. How could they when the woman he loved was in a coma? Shaman and Margili worked on a daily basis to resolve her condition. Ever since Selene’s defeat, there had been no progress.
Kurt sighed and tossed his wooden sword aside. Gladiators always refused help from the victors so he didn’t bother offering a hand. He would have to find another opponent now. He had defeated nearly every amateur and a few professionals. As the training grew blander, his outlook wasn’t as hopeful. He was so jaded from the monotony that he didn’t realize Amanda’s spirit appearing behind him.
“Wow, even in spirit form I’ve never seen someone so indifferent to victory,” said the astral figure of Amanda Sefton.
“Guten tag to you too, Amanda,” said Kurt flatly, “I take it Shaman has taken a break from zheir latest round of failed spells.”
“They’re taking a break to give Illyana some training. I hope that’s not disappointment in your voice.”
“Nein, I’ve grown used to the lack of progress. Your own indifference shows that you have as well.”
“Perhaps it has. That’s not necessarily a good thing.”
“I never said it vas.”
Kurt’s demeanor remained stoic as he walked out of the training arena. Amanda’s spirit followed him closely. She tried flying in front of him, but he kept on walking. He nearly walked right through her. It was one of the many frustrations of only being able to communicate in astral form. They couldn’t embrace one another, make love to one another, or share a simple kiss. It bothered her as much as it did Kurt.
“Come on, love. I hate seeing you like this. You look so…”
“Distant? Jaded? Upset?” offered Kurt.
“I was going to say bored, but now you’ve given me more reasons to worry,” said Amanda as she hovered next to him.
“I don’t mean to concern you, liebe. I’m my own greatest frustration. After seeing zhe X-men defeat zhe Mutant Liberation Front, I realized something. Other zhan worrying about you, I’m doing nothing of value. Me being by your side is not making a difference.”
“I don’t believe that. Not for a minute,” said Amanda strongly, “Having you here has made all the difference. My spirit would be outshined by a candle if it weren’t for you.”
“I feel like I should be doing more,” mused Kurt.
“You’re doing plenty. It’s not like we’re completely cut off. Ever since Shaman taught me more about astral forms, I’ve entered your dreams on a regular basis. All that astral lovemaking has made a difference. I can feel it.”
“Not zhat I don’t enjoy it, but it still doesn’t change anything. You’re no closer to vaking up from your coma. At zhe same time, I’m just vasting time in zhe lave of luxury while zhe X-men fight all zhese battles. I even heard zhat Rogue rejoined zhe team. I vas trained to fight. I vas taught to make a difference. Yet here I am, doing as much as I can vhile doing less zhan I should. It just feels…wrong.”
Kurt kept on walking, feeling Amanda’s presence close by with each step. She didn’t offer an immediate response. He didn’t expect her to give one. This was an issue before she was in her coma, him having all these skills yet not being able to utilize them. It was a major source of strain and it was only getting worse.
After a prolonged silence, Kurt stopped walking. He sighed and held his head low. This wasn’t fair to Amanda. She had it way worse than him, yet he was the one complaining. Swallowing his frustrations, he turned to face his ghostly lover.
“I’m sorry for brooding, my love. I don’t mean to…”
Kurt froze the moment he saw Amanda’s ghostly form. Something was wrong. She was no longer in a clear form.
“Kurt…feeling something…the Cheyarafirm…help me!”
“Amanda! Amanda, vhat’s happening?! You’re breaking up!” he said with new urgency.
Kurt reached out to her, but as soon as he touched her astral form it dissolved. It faded so quickly that she literally disappeared in his arms. He had that sinking feeling again. Amanda was often the victim of forces beyond her control. This felt like something new.
“So much for being bored,” said the German mutant groaned, “I’m coming, Amanda!”
Xavier Institute – Kitchen
Rogue was used to restless nights. For most of her life, she coped with never feeling fully rested. That was why she had a tendency to be late and fall behind. It fed her rebellious personality. So it was pretty jarring when she actually slept soundly on a regular basis.
All that restful sleep was for good reason. Since rejoining the institute, Rogue had been more at peace than she had in years. She was back to the rigors of training and class. It was challenging, but in a good way. She found such rigors more fulfilling. It also helped to have a lover in Remy to curl up with at the end of the day. Since her return, they skipped the awkward adjustment period and moved forward with their relationship. It made for many nights of passion that were just as fulfilling.
‘Damn, how am Ah ever gonna get used to this? A full night sleep, waking up in a good mood, and a steady dose of lovemaking does a girl well! Maybe Ah shouldn’t get used to it. That way Ah don’t jinx it.’
It was early in the morning. Most were still sleeping and the sun was just coming up. Rogue, enjoying her newfound restfulness, decided to get up early and get a head start on class. She fell behind a great deal during her time away. She had a lot of catching up to do and it helped keep her busy.
Dressed in her green robe, she entered the kitchen with a tired yawn. She arrived to see Jean already sitting at the kitchen table in her own robe, drinking a cup of coffee and reading the paper.
“Morning Rogue,” greeted Jean, “This is the fourth day in a row you’ve woken up early.”
“You almost sound worried, sugah,” laughed Rogue as she retrieved a coffee cup from the pantry.
“I’m not worried. I’m just not used to it,” she said, “I remember a time where you wouldn’t emerge from your room until after ten.”
“Ah remember those times as well as you and Ah don’t miss ‘em. Ah’ve got a new outlook on life and Ah’m enjoying it.”
“That mean you’ll be in the market for a new codename? This new outlook doesn’t seem very Rogue-ish,” teased Jean.
“If you probe Remy’s mind for last night’s memories, you’ll see why Rogue still works better than any other name,” she said coyly.
Jean snickered at Rogue’s tone. She underwent quite a transformation. There was a time when the two of them were at each others’ throats. Now Rogue was friendly and more positive. Jean was certainly pleased with this new outlook. She could also tell in the way she was walking that there were other reasons for her good mood.
“Speaking of our favorite Cajun, you and Remy have settled into a nice rhythm so-to-speak,” said Jean as Rogue sat down next to her, “I notice your hair is a lot messier in the mornings and you’ve been alternating between which bedrooms you sleep in.”
“If that’s what you call a rhythm, then Ah guess we’ve done plenty of settling,” she said, “Although Ah like to think of it as catching up. Remy and Ah had to jump through a lot of hoops to be together. First it was mah powers. Then it was Betsy. Then Ah had to up and leave. In terms of beatin’ around the bush, we dang near killed it.”
“I know how that can feel. I went through the same ordeal before getting together with Scott,” said Jean, “But it was worth it. I’d do it all again if I had to.”
“Same here, sugah!” said Rogue confidently, “In a ways, it was good that we couldn’t touch each other at first. Don’t get meh wrong. The lack of intimacy was frustrating as hell. But if we just jumped right into it, Ah don’t think Remy and Ah would relate to one another like we do now.”
“You had to take the hard way. Nine times out of ten, that’s the right way,” Jean pointed out.
“It’s also a lot more rewarding. It’s like every kiss and every touch is that much more important. It doesn’t just make for great sex. It makes everything more meaningful.”
“That it does. It’s good for us while making past conflicts less important.”
“Yeah, about that…Ah don’t think Ah ever fully apologized for giving you a hard time back then,” said Rogue in a more serious tone.
“You don’t need to. It’s in the past,” said Jean with a warm smile, “So long as you consider me a friend and not a rival, we’re good. That and maybe a double date or two would make us even.”
“Oh Ah don’t think you’d be able to keep up with meh and Remy,” teased Rogue.
“Hey, Scott’s no pushover. He’s had a new outlook as well. Especially since he’s taken on his new role, he’s a different man from the one you dated.”
“Sounds to meh like you’re pitching a challenge, Jean.”
“Call it what you will. So long as we’re both enjoying stable relationships, we might as well find ways to keep things interesting.”
Rogue chuckled at Jean’s remark. This was nice, being in a good mood and sharing it with a friend. She spent a lifetime rubbing people the wrong way with her personality. She still did to some extent, but she had friends who understood her. That’s what made coming back to the Xavier Institute so rewarding.
The two women sat in a comfortable silence while Rogue sipped her coffee. This was going to take some getting used to, seeing Rogue in a good mood every morning. Jean certainly didn’t mind adapting. She understood all too well what it was like to struggle with emotional baggage. The more they could leave behind, the better. She remembered the many issues that nearly drove her away. Some, she recalled, hadn’t been resolved.
“While we’re on the subject of challenges, have you found time to confront some of the other issues you’ve been putting off?” asked Jean.
“Ah still got a lot of issues, sugah. You’ll have to be more specific,” said Rogue, still in good humor.
“One in particular comes to mind. It begins with M and rhymes with antique,” she said in a more serious tone, “That same issue relates to another. This one begins with a W and rhymes with submarine.”
“What’s with the word games? Ah ain’t even halfway done with mah coffee,” said Rogue before taking a large gulp.
“If you’re already dodging the question, then that means it’s still an issue that’s bothering you. A few nights in Remy’s bed won’t change that.”
Rogue’s good mood was soon sobered. Jean was killing her afterglow. Maybe she was more used to this new mindset than she thought. Her old habit of avoiding certain issues hadn’t completely faded.
“You always this serious in the morning?” asked Rogue.
“I figure I would bring it up when you’re in a good mood,” said Jean, “Sorry if it’s too soon.”
“Don’t apologize. You have every right to bring it up,” she sighed, “Ah haven’t talked about mah mama in quite some time. Ever since Ah found out that she and Logan had a history, Ah’ve had a hard time just thinking about it.”
“Imagine how I feel. I dated Logan and then I find out he was serious with my friend’s mother,” added Jean, “A certain amount of awkwardness is to be expected.”
“It ain’t just awkward. For a while, I was just waiting for Mystique to barge in on meh and take control of mah life again. Then she finds out about Logan and she can’t even face meh. The most she’s done is send meh and Kurt notes through Logan.”
“Have you sent any back?” asked Jean.
“What would Ah even say?” Rogue wondered as she stared distantly into her cup of coffee, “The truth changed her. She admits that. Ah’m just not sure what the truth changed her into and neither is she for that matter. She ain’t ready to confront meh and Ah ain’t ready to confront her.”
Jean offered Rogue an understanding smile. Mystique was always a touchy subject. By admitting that she wasn’t ready to confront her, it showed that she wasn’t avoiding this issue. As the one who helped Logan uncover the truth about Mystique, Jean was somewhat responsible for Rogue’s current predicament. So she offered her support.
“In cases like that, sometimes patience is the best approach,” said Jean, “Especially with women like Mystique.”
“Thanks for understanding,” said Rogue, “Ah half-expected you to say Ah should go look for her.”
“I have the support of a cosmic entity and even I’m not that brave,” she joked, “However, there are other ways of dealing with this issue. There’s someone else you can confront and you can find him by staking out any bar within a five-mile radius.”
“Ah ain’t sure talking to Logan would be any easier,” Rogue muttered, “How do you talk to a guy who used to sleep with your mama?”
“It’s a lot deeper than that. I helped Logan uncover all those lurid details. You think it doesn’t bother him either? He’s been avoiding you as much as you’ve been avoiding him.”
“That why he does his morning Danger Room session right when Ah get up?”
“It’s one of the reasons and growing in importance with each passing day. I bring it up because Logan and I are still close friends. Now that you’re back, this issue is only going to get more difficult. Logan usually comes to me when he’s troubled. I think this is one issue where he should go to you.”
Rogue thought about it. She was in an awkward position and there was only so much Jean could do with Logan. Sooner or later, they would have to sit down and have a long talk about Mystique. It wasn’t going to be an easy conversation, but if Logan was going to be part of her mother’s life then they had to address it.
Jean finished up her coffee and set aside the newspaper. She got up and walked towards the kitchen sink, leaving Rogue to mediate on this issue.
“I’m not saying you need to resolve it today. I’m just saying it should be in the back of your mind,” said Jean as she washed out her coffee cup, “Logan will be grumpy from training all day and I won’t be in a position to cheer him up. I have exams and Scott is visiting the Professor on Muir Island.”
“Is there ever a good time to talk to Logan about touchy subjects?” grumbled Rogue.
“It’s not easy, but once in a blue moon he is in a good mood. Later this week, he’ll visit Laura at the Academy of Tomorrow. That usually has a way of mellowing him out. Maybe when he gets back, you corner him before he gets grumpy again.”
“You want meh to corner Wolverine?” scoffed Rogue, “Ah’m pretty durable, but only to a point.”
“I never said it wasn’t risky,” shrugged Jean, “Logan is frustratingly dense. So if you want to get it out of the way, you’ll have to confront him before he confronts you. It’s a family matter. You shouldn’t let those kinds of issues fester. Trust me on this.”
Jean was serious when it came to family advice and Rogue didn’t doubt her. Family issues had burdened her way too often. So long as she was in high spirits, it may be a good time to deal with this. Who knows when she would get another chance?
While Rogue was contemplating how she would talk to Logan, Jean put her dishes and a few left over from the previous night in the dishwasher. Like Rogue, she had a long day ahead of her. Just as she put away the final dish, the institute phone rang. Since Rogue was still deep in thought, Jean went to get it.
“If this is Mystique, I’ll give you a warning,” said Jean.
“Ah appreciate that, sugah,” said Rogue with a smile.
Jean smiled back as she picked up the phone. This early in the morning, it couldn’t be too catastrophic.
“Hello,” she greeted, “Xavier Institute, Jean Grey speaking. How may I…”
Jean froze as soon as she heard the voice on the other end. Her expression quickly changed, which didn’t go unnoticed by Rogue.
“Who is it?” she asked.
“Hold on…no, the Professor isn’t here. I doubt he’s ever heard of the Cheyarafirm either…take it easy, Kurt! Just explain to me what happened!”
“Kurt!” exclaimed Rogue, “What’s going on? Is something wrong?”
Jean had to set the phone aside and turned towards Rogue, who looked worried for her brother and for good reason.
“Remember what I just said about family matters?” said Jean in a distressed tone, “Well if you wanted proof, you’ll have plenty when you hear this.”
Muir Island – Psychic Isolation Chamber
A big part of being a good X-man was always being prepared. As Operations Commander, Scott Summers had to be more prepared than most. The others relied on him to be the strongest when the going got tough. They may have forgiven him if he wasn’t as strong for this particular mission.
Muir Island was a very different place since the Proteus affair. The complex had been rebuilt and expanded. It was a lot more secure in addition to being better equipped. Moira MacTaggart and all the people that supported her housed some of the most advanced research on mutants. Now they were housing something even more precious and that was why Scott was here.
As Moira and Rahne escorted him through the complex, his emotions were mixed. Professor Charles Xavier had been contained here since he stepped down from the institute. He didn’t talk to the media. He didn’t issue any statements. He didn’t even send the X-men any words of encouragement after they defeated the Mutant Liberation Front. In between his duties as Operations Commander, Scott took it upon himself to catch up with the Professor.
“So how has he been? Or is that the wrong question to ask?” said Scott as Moira led him through the lower wing of the facility.
“I wouldn’t say it’s wrong,” said Rahne, “I’ll only say it’s a difficult question to answer.”
“Well put, lass,” said Moira in a saddened tone, “Medically speaking, he’s getting better. The damage done by those pills is steadily healing. Our latest results show his damaged opiate receptors are mostly repaired.”
“What about the non-medical issues?” asked Scott warily.
“That’s…a bit harder to explain,” said Moira, her voice getting a bit choked up.
“It’s as hard as ye would expect for any addict,” said Rahne, “Getting clean is a painful process. In the Professor’s case, the pain is on a different level. When ye be the world’s most powerful psychic, the brain and the mind don’t always heal the same.”
It didn’t paint a very promising picture. Professor Xavier was like a father to him. The idea of him suffering was difficult to digest. The X-leader gathered every bit of will and strength as he approached the main door to the psychic isolation room.
This special section of Muir Island held many bad memories. This was the same area where Proteus had been contained. Forge had since modified it, making adjustments to accommodate Charles Xavier. The area itself was no bigger than mid-sized bedroom. The walls around it were extremely thick, containing every kind of psychic dampening technology in existence. It was probably the most psychically isolated place on the planet. It was also the only place where Xavier could heal his mind.
“As ye know, we installed a number of psychic dampeners,” explained Moira as she entered the access code, “It may be a little…confined. We’ve tried to make him as comfortable as possible. His mind is a bit fragile so try not to induce any major strain.”
“I’ll be sure not to bring up politics,” said Scott, “But he deserves to know what’s been going on. I’d rather he hear it from me before he sees it on the news.”
“Yer a brave man, Scott,” said Rahne, “If it’s all the same to ye, I would rather stay behind.”
“I don’t blame ye, lass,” said Moira, who hesitated for a moment, “This has been so much harder than any of us imagined.”
The door finally opened and Scott was led inside. Rahne held back, not even attempting to sneak a peak. If she had she would have seen a ghastly sight. Inside a dimly lit room with white walls, a twin bed, a table, and a TV there sat the sickly figure of Charles Xavier.
He was pale, even more so than the last time Scott visited. He looked thinner as well, an unfortunate side-effect of not being able to eat much. There was a bucket next to him, which appeared partially full. Scott didn’t dare contemplate what was inside. The smell alone let him know that it wasn’t pleasant. The Professor looked as tired as he did sick. There were dark circles under his eyes, hinting that he hadn’t had much sleep. There was also a cold sweat covering his face, hinting at the pain he was enduring. When Xavier saw him, he managed a weak smile through the agony.
“Scott…I’m glad you could make it,” he said in a raspy voice.
“Hello sir,” said Scott, his emotions betraying his tone, “You look…”
“You don’t need to say it,” said Xavier with a touch of humor, “I…I know I’ve looked better. I’ll do my best to make this bearable for both of us.”
“I’d rather you not strain yourself, sir.”
“I’ll have to eventually. I might as well start now.”
The Professor sounded a lot stronger than his appearance would indicate. He turned towards Moira and nodded, who respectfully stepped back so they could have some privacy. Scott then approached the small table next to his mentor’s bed and sat down. An awkward silence followed. How was he supposed to begin? There was a lot they had to talk about and Xavier had only so much strength to work with.
“So tell me, Scott…how are the X-men?” the Professor asked, “I’m told they’re holding up well. Well being a relative term, of course.”
“I’d say it’s still appropriate,” said Scott, “Classes are still going smoothly. We’ve been keeping up with our training. Everywhere in between, we still worry about you. It’s hard to pretend everything is okay when you’re over here suffering.”
“It’s not suffering. It’s healing. And sometimes healing involves pain,” said Xavier sadly.
“Pain is pain, no matter how you spin it.”
“Sometimes it’s necessary. I won’t lie and say it’s been easy. This is the longest time I’ve gone without reading the thoughts of another. As a telepath, that’s akin to being a bird who cannot fly. It’s still not as uncomfortable as the headaches, the nausea, or the chronic lack of sleep.”
“I don’t see how that makes it necessary,” Scott pointed out.
“For my arrogance and deception, it’s more than appropriate.”
The Professor had to pause for a moment as another headache set in. His frail body ached from the damage he did to it. The pain pills he abused put him in more agony than they could ever relieve. Scott stood up and tried to support his mentor, helping him stay upright in his wheelchair.
“I’m sorry, sir. Maybe this isn’t a good time after all,” said Scott.
“No Scott…this will pass. It’s part of my…treatment,” said Xavier through a strained voice, “Due to the effects of the pills, I cannot take any additional pain killers. That means no morphine or methadone.”
“Can you at least take an aspirin?” asked Scott, watching as his mentor’s expression contorted with agony.
“No…I must do this cold turkey, thereby forcing my brain to fix itself. Moira and the doctors here have helped by applying a wide-range of treatments. My diet is highly regulated. Half of it is administer through a feeding tube. My blood is being filtered every six hours and Moira has implemented a few special telepathic procedures. It’s slow, but it is working.”
“So why does it look like the pain is getting worse?”
“Because…it has to get worse in order to gets better,” said Xavier in a stronger tone, “This is how it must work. I’m at a critical point in this process. That’s why I asked you to come. I need to know what’s going on with my X-men. That way I have more incentive to get through this.”
There was desperation in his tone. No amount of pain was going to dissuade him. He wanted all the details, good and bad, that he could handle. His X-men were still very important to him. As the one who led the X-men, it was only fitting that Scott carry this out.
“Okay,” he said to his mentor, “I’ll tell you as much as you can handle. A lot has happened recently so it may take a while.”
“I have plenty of time,” said Xavier with a smile, “Thank you, Scott.”
“You can thank me by coming back to the X-men healthy,” said the X-leader, “There are any number of reasons, but one of the most recent is Rogue.”
“Rogue? What about her? I hear she was still on sabbatical in District X.”
“It’s a long story, Professor. Since it relates to a lot of other issues, I’ll start from the beginning. If your head starts hurting at some point, let me know. It’s gotten pretty complicated and it’ll probably get worse before I even finish.”
Xavier Institute – Foyer
‘God damn this shit! I can’t believe I’m even thinking about going through with this. I should at least have ten beers in me before I even try.’
Logan was more restless than usual. He had a new mission and for once it didn’t involve digging his claws into anyone. He spent the last three hours tearing up the Danger Room. That was supposed to prepare him for this. So far, it hadn’t made much difference.
‘You picked a hell of a time to come back, Rogue. I know everybody else is glad to see you. The Cajun sure enjoys steady sex you’ve been giving him. None of them have to pull you aside and talk about how they used to bump uglies with your mother. She’ll probably strangle me if she finds out I’m still bumping uglies with her on a less serious basis. She kept her distance after I told her about Mystique being Rose. I was more than happy to give it to her while she was busting heads in District X. Now that she’s back, something’s gotta give. If you won’t come to me, then I’ll have to go to you.’
The feral mutant dreaded the upcoming conversation. He just finished his final Danger Room session. Hank insisted that there was nothing left for him to destroy until repairs were made. It was too bad because this was hardly an appropriate time. It was still early in the morning. Most of the runts were on their way to morning classes. Rogue was either sleeping in or already there. He decided not to wait. He was going to confront her even if he had to pin her down.
He restlessly entered the foyer. He planned on checking upstairs first. Rogue was usually getting ready for class or running late by this time. He might as well catch her before she had a chance to avoid him. As he reached the steps, Remy and Piotr were on their way down.
“Don’t you look chipper,” commented Remy, “What’s the matter, Wolverine? Didn’t bust up the Danger Room enough?”
“Shut up, Cajun. Where’s Rogue?” asked Logan in a harsh tone, “You reek of her scent from all the humping. I’m guessing you know where she is.”
“Maybe Remy does. Maybe he don’t,” he shrugged innocently, “Or maybe she ran off and told Remy not to tell anybody.”
“Quit being a prick! That’s Cyke’s job!” barked Logan, “You gonna tell me or not?”
“Sorry Logan, but Remy ain’t about to test a pretty femme’s trust. Especially when that femme be strong enough to snap Remy’s spine with her pinkie.”
Logan muttered a string of curses. The Cajun was keeping something from him. Rogue must have already talked to him about this. He wasn’t going to do anything to get on her bad side. Now that he was sleeping with her, Remy had too much incentive to keep her secrets. It left Logan back at square one.
“Before you give me that same look, I assure you I do not know where Rogue is either,” said Piotr in more serious tone, “All I know is that she’s not here and neither is Jean.”
“Well that’s just peachy,” said Logan dryly, “Guess that means I can’t coax Jeannie into finding her with Cerebrum.”
“Why you so eager to find her anyways?” asked Remy, although he already had a pretty good idea.
“You’re boning her. You should already know,” said the feral mutant as he barged past the two men, “I gotta make a few phone calls. If you do see her, tell her we need to talk and I’ll hunt her down if I have to.”
Logan stormed off angrily, leaving Remy and Piotr more than a little perplexed. It wasn’t unusual seeing Logan in a bad mood. In fact, it was more unusual to see him in a good mood. It was a lot more pronounced when something was bothering him. He usually didn’t settle down until he confronted it. It gave Remy reasons to be concerned.
“Are you going to tell me what that was about, Remy?” asked Piotr.
“You better off not knowing, Pete,” sighed the Cajun, “This be one of those issues that’s gotta resolve themselves. No matter how messed up they be.”
Nova Roma – Mystical Research Chamber
“Kurt, Ah’m your sister and Ah love you. But what the hell have you gotten us into?” said a confused and outraged Rogue.
“You know, I said the exact same thing when he asked me to help out,” said an equally bemused Illyana Rasputin.
“And to think, I gave up a nice relaxing exam for this,” said Phoenix, who was struggling to keep up a telekinetic barrier.
Nightcrawler shared in the frustration of the two X-women. He hoped to not bring them into this conflict, but he had no choice. This situation with Amanda devolved quicker than he expected.
Shortly after Phoenix got the call, she and Rogue changed into their X-men uniforms. Illyana arrive shortly after via teleportation and transported them directly to Nova Roma. When they arrived, they were met with a frantic Nightcrawler. He led them directly to a special area in the lower levels of the Curia. This area was set up shortly after the Selene affair. Now that Nova Roma had lost much of its mystic potential, the senate put new resources into researching magic. Margali and Shaman were entrusted with much of the responsibilities. It also allowed them to work on the comatose Amanda Sefton. If these results were any indication, progress was slow if not regressing.
The whole research area was laid out in a way similar to Beast’s lab. Instead of high tech components, there were mystical artifacts and stacks of books under the cold fluorescent lights. At the far end of the room was a special glass chamber with a series of Latin engravings. This was where Amanda had been placed after the Selene incident. Nightcrawler said it was supposed to keep her body strong while they sought to wake her. Their latest attempt backfired in a way that released a new danger.
“YOU FOOLISH HUMANS HAVE COMMITTED A GRAVE ATROCITY! THIS GIRL’S FATE WAS SEALED LONG AGO! BY OPPOSING IT, YOU UNDERMINE THE PROPER ORDER! YOU DO NOT DEFY THAT WHICH IS RIGHT! AS SUCH, WE MUST TAKE THIS GIRL TO OUR REALM!”
“How the heck is kidnapping some poor girl right again?” wondered Rogue.
“Don’t bother arguing vith zhem, Rogue. Zhey von’t listen. Zhey never listen,” said Nightcrawler grimly.
These booming words came from the source of this chaos. The whole room had been inundated with a dark, purplish mist. This mist was relentlessly pushing anything and anyone away from Amanda’s chamber. Margali and Shaman had already been swept up and were pinned firmly against the back wall. Phoenix put up a telekinetic bubble to protect them from the same fate. It was all coming from a glowing portal that formed on the wall behind Amanda’s chamber. From that portal, a dozen ominous beings emerged.
They were humanoid in appearance, standing at over six feet tall with distinct angel-like wings on their back. However, their skin was anything but human. It was dark blue with these mysterious bulging veins covering their neck and coursing throughout their bodies. These veins formed a series of intricate patterns with mystical symbolism. It radiated with power, which seemed to be fueling the magic that had filled the room. This same magic restrained Margali and Shaman against the far wall so they couldn’t help. These devious creatures were powerful, testing even Phoenix’s cosmic potential. Nightcrawler knew all too well the extent of that power.
“Zhese creatures that are trying to take Amanda from us are Cheyarafim,” Nightcrawler explained while hiding behind Phoenix’s telekinetic bubble.
“Ungh! Sounds like a New Age rock band,” commented Phoenix, who was struggling to hold off their power, “I take it these guys are powerful.”
“You vould be correct, Phoenix,” said Nightcrawler anxiously, “Zhey are an ancient race of beings from zhe same realm my father is from. As you’ve probably figured out, zhey are bit overzealous!”
“They tried to cut my head off just for asking a question!” said Illyana, “There are old associates of my brother’s that are more reasonable!”
“Zhat’s because zhe Cheyarafim are set in their vays. Everything is either right or wrong. Zhere is nothing in between. Zhey vere so convinced zhat my father’s people were wrong to interfere in human affairs zhat zhey fought a great war! It vas a war my father helped win. As you can imagine, zhey aren’t very happy to see me!”
“That still doesn’t explain why they want your girlfriend!” said Rogue.
“After Selene unlocked her potential, her fate vas sealed,” he went on, “She’s destined to unleash zhe great power zhat her family has been protecting. Vhen zhey found out zhat ve were trying to change it, zhey took action! My father’s people banished zhem to a remote part of his realm so zhey are taking a great risk by coming here! Zhey vill not leave until zhey do vhat zhey think is right!”
“Which is why you must stop them!” yelled Margali, who was still trapped on the far end of the room.
“SILENCE!” yelled one of the Cheyarafim, “YOU’RE MORAL AMBIGUITY HAS DONE ENOUGH DAMAGE TO BOTH OUR REALMS! WE WILL NOT ALLOW THAT WHICH IS WRONG TO RISK FURTHER DESTRUCTION!”
Nightcrawler’s father had some colorful enemies to say the least. These Cheyarafim were determined in a disturbing way. They all gathered around Amanda’s chamber. They were using these strange glowing swords to damage the structure. The mystical text around it was glowing, creating a shield of sorts that prevented them from reaching Amanda. That shield was weakening with each blow. Something had to be done.
“Ah’m sick of playing defense! We need to take the fight to them!” said Rogue in a determined tone.
“We can’t as long as we’re stuck behind this mystical wind tunnel!” grunted Phoenix.
“I can try and do a counter-spell!” suggested Illyana, “Although it may be a few levels above my skills.”
“Do vhat you must,” said Nightcrawler, “Rogue and I vill buy time! Are you up for it, mien sister?”
“Always, little brother!” replied Rogue.
Nightcrawler grasped his sister’s shoulder and teleported her out from behind Phoenix’s protective bubble. Seconds later, they appeared right in front of Amanda’s chamber. The Cheyarafim were startled. Their spell was supposed to keep the humans away from them while they retrieved the girl. In this moment of vulnerability, Rogue laid into them with a couple of devastating haymakers. Two of Cheyarafim dropped their glowing swords, which Nightcrawler retrieved.
“If you creatures believe saving my love is wrong, zhen my father vas right to vanquish you!” said Nightcrawler as he clenched the two swords.
“YOUR SOUL IS DAMNED, SON OF AZAZEL! THE WRONGS OF THE NEYAPHEM SHALL BE RIGHTED!” yelled one of the larger Cheyarafim.
While Nightcrawler and Rogue took the fight to these zealous creatures, Phoenix was left to protect Illyana from the mystical onslaught. She still felt like she was in the middle of the tornado. The room continued to swirl this glowing purplse mist. Only the areas around Amanda were clear. It was relentlessly pushing her back, forcing her to tap more cosmic power.
“This energy…it is not like anything I have dealt with before. It’s not even from this universe!”
“Add more cosmic force if you need to!” grunted Phoenix, “If Nightcrawler could have teleported us behind this thing, why did he only take Rogue?”
“Because this very attack is part of what’s keeping them in our realm,” said Illyana, her mystical knowledge kicking in, “Someone has to stay behind and defeat this spell. Doing so will send the Cheyarafim back through the portal.”
“By someone, I assume that means you!” said Phoenix through the strain.
“They already subdued Shaman and Margali. They knew they were capable of stopping this attack before it started,” reasoned Illyana, “They did not see fit to subdue me. I’m just a student!”
“So prove them wrong! Do what you have to do and send these overgrown chickens back where they came from!”
Phoenix solidified her telekinetic barrier, using the cosmic flames of the Phoenix Force to reinforce it. This gave Illyana Rasputin room to work. Margali and Shaman could not guide her through this. They were trapped in mystical restraints so strong that they could never hope to break them in time. This was her first major test as a student of the mystic arts. She had to pass.
‘This is my chance. For so long, I relied on my brother and my teachers to protect me. I cannot hide behind their protection forever. Piotr, if you were here I know you would already be yelling at me to run away. I cannot run anymore. I must use my gifts as you have used yours.’
Closing her eyes, Illyana began channeling the mystical energy that now filled the room. Soon, her hands started glowing and so did her eyes. She had to utilize every lesson she ever learned from Shaman and Margali. They were counting on her and so was Amanda.
For the moment, the Cheyarafim’s magic kept them free from most interference. The only ones who dared oppose them were Rogue and Nightcrawler. They fought in a somewhat confined space. Their main strategy was to prevent them from getting to Amanda’s chamber. It was feeble strategy, seeing as how it assumed that Illyana would be able to break their spell.
“You are strong for a human! Such strength is useless when we can heal from all Earthly ailments!” said one of the Cheyarafim, who was rubbing his head from Rogue’s blow.
“That included a cracked skull?” questioned Rogue, “Why don’t we find out?”
The Cheyarafim had been surprised by Rogue’s enhanced strength at first. They were quickly adapting, working out a new strategy to subdue her. Five Cheyarafim surrounded her. A couple of them already endured a few punishing uppercuts from her and preferred to not heal from them again. So they kept their distance, using their swords to stab and slash at her. This kept them just out of range from her blows. While her durable form kept the swords from vanquishing her, their mystical properties added some extra sting.
“Ack! Damn it! What am Ah, a kabob?” grunted Rogue as she was poked in the back and cut across the face.
“Feel the pain of that which is wrong!” yelled a Cheyarafim that managed to slash her across the face.
“Ha! It doesn’t hurt as much as this will!”
When the next Cheyarafim tried to stab her, Rogue grabbed him by the arm and threw him back like a rag doll. The creature was surprised by this sudden tug, but not as surprised as the two other Cheyarafim that Rogue threw him into. The impact sent them tumbling back towards the portal. For the rest of these creatures, Rogue took to the air and lunged with a devastating right cross.
“Argh!” the creature yelled out.
“Even if it’s wrong, it feels so good!” grinned Rogue.
The remaining Cheyarafim had to take to the air as well to attack. Since the ceilings weren’t very high, they didn’t have much room to work with. It still allowed Rogue to avoid being cornered again. She led the three angelic creatures away from Amanda’s chamber. This allowed Nightcrawler to better defend his girlfriend.
Armed with his two glowing swords, the German mutant stared down four determined Cheyarafim. They were as big as the gladiators he had been training against earlier. Hopefully they went down just as easily.
“Every breath you take is an insult to our people!” spat one of the Cheyarafim, “Azazel’s kind have left our realm in ruin! To allow him and his seed another moment of life is the most egregious of wrongs!”
“Zhat’s zhe problem vith you Cheyarafim. Always thinking in terms of right and wrong,” grunted Nightcrawler as he countered the incoming attack, “My father vas no angel, but at least he had reasons for doing what he did!”
“Reason is just another excuse!” yelled another Cheyarafim that tried to stab the young mutant right in the back.
Nightcrawler teleported away from the attack, appearing behind the creature and using his swords to cut his wings off. This blow left the winged being in a great deal of pain.
“Zhat’s something else I learned from my father,” grinned Nightcrawler, “He told me all about your kind. Beyond losing much of your power when your wings are severed, he said you vere hopelessly deluded. You started zhat war zhat devastated your realm. You start every conflict because you feel you’re so right. Zhe burden is always on zhe others you hurt to finish it!”
“DIIIIEEEEE DEMON SEED!”
Driven by irrational rage, the two remaining Cheyarafim simultaneously attacked Nightcrawler. The nimble mutant demonstrated his sword-skills, deflected and dodging each attack. They tried to push him back towards the swirling mist. Nightcrawler made sure that didn’t happen. When he got close, he teleported behind them again. In the process he badly wounded the left wing of another Cheyarafim. The other two tried to kick him back. So he ended up teleporting again, appearing to the left of one of them and effectively cutting off another wing. It wasn’t long before the determined creatures showed signs of panic.
“The son of Azazel can wait. Get to the cursed one!” yelled the Cheyarafim who lost one of his wings.
“Leave it to me!” said the wounded creature that lost both his wings.
Nightcrawler was still busy fighting off two armed Cheyarafim. They shoved him back, pressing their glowing swords against his. This way he couldn’t teleport without taking them with him. The wingless Cheyarafim used this window to run full speed towards Amanda’s chamber. He picked up a discarded sword along the way and used it to chip away at the weakened mystical defenses.
“Rogue! Zhey’re making a break for it!” yelled Nightcrawler.
“Ah seem him!” said Rogue, who was still hovering in mid-air.
One of the more muscular Cheyarafim tried to sneak up behind her. When he went to grab her, she countered by grasping his shoulder and throwing him as hard as she could into the last Cheyarafim in front of her. They tumbled to the ground, leaving them stunned. Before they could get up and counter, Rogue flew full speed at the de-winged Cheyarafim hacking away at Amanda’s chamber.
At this point, the mystical shielding that protected and nourished Amanda’s body was fading fast. The Latin inscriptions that covered the container were damaged by the Cheyarafim’s glowing swords.
“I almost have her!” the Cheyarafim announced as he raised his sword one last time, “This vile beast shall wrong no one else!”
The creature was about to strike the container one last time. Suddenly, a disembodied spirit shot out from within. It was the spirit of Amanda Sefton. As she appeared before the wounded creature, she flew right into him.
“No! You bird-brained fools don’t know what you’re doing!” she exclaimed.
“Ahhhhhhh! The cursed one has me!” the Cheyarafim lamented.
As Amanda’s spirit clashed with his, the creature stumbled back from the container. He ended up stumbling right into Rogue, who arrived in time to slug the Cheyarafim so hard that he was knocked flat on his face.
“Not so angelic anymore, are ya?” commented Rogue.
“Nice shot, Rogue. But it may be too late!” said Amanda as she looked at her comatose form, “The magic box that’s keeping me alive is losing its magic! If it opens up, I’ll be sucked into their realm!”
“Then Ah’ll just have to fly you outta here! If these buzzards know what’s good for them, they won’t follow meh!”
Unfortunately, she was already making her move. Rogue reached for the container, passing right through Amanda’s spirit in the process. The yellowish aura was still flickering. When Rogue grabbed it, the Latin inscriptions erupted in a burst of bright sparks. It hit Rogue with an unexpected shock.
“Auuugghhhh!” she cried out.
“Rogue!” shouted Nightcrawler, who was stuck battling two pesky Cheyarafim.
“It appears the harlot has done the right thing for once!” said one of the creatures.
“The cursed one is ours!” said the other triumphantly.
Nightcrawler watched with horror as his sister was knocked back over teen feet from the container. In the process, the mystical chamber housing Amanda’s body burst open. Her disembodied spirit quickly faded and was absorbed back into her comatose body.
“Kurt…mom…help!” she cried out before disappearing in ghostly mist.
“Amanda!” exclaimed Margali, who could only watch from across the room.
The mystical seal broken, Amanda’s body was pulled out of the container. The swirling blue mist formed a large clawed hand that grasped the unmoving figure firmly. With this ghostly grip, the large hand pulled Amanda towards the portal.
The Cheyarafim were close to fulfilling their twisted sense of righteousness. Nightcrawler watched intently while using his two swords to push back against the winged monstrosities bearing down against him. They knew they had to hold him for just a few more moments. With Margali looking on and Rogue too dazed to assist, Nightcrawler summoned every last ounce of his strength.
“No…I vill not fail her!” he grunted.
“You already have, son of Azazel,” said one of the Cheyarafim bearing down on him.
“I…I can’t. I…made her…a promise.”
In a show of strength that surprised the two winged creatures, Nightcrawler shoved them back. Before they could slash at him again with their swords, he teleported above them and did a nimble split kick. This delivered a stinging blow to the head that dazed the two creatures, allowing the young mutant to focus on his girlfriend. She was almost at the portal. He saw only one chance to save her.
“I’m coming, Amanda!” exclaimed Nightcrawler.
“Somebody stop him!” yelled the Cheyarafim that just got kicked in the head.
A couple of winged creatures ran after them. They were tackled to the ground by Rogue, who recovered from her earlier shock. She grabbed them by the legs and pulled, causing them to fall flat on their faces.
“Oh no ya don’t!” she taunted, “Go on, little brother! Save your girl!”
Nightcrawler appeared within ten feet of the glowing portal. Since it took up an entire wall, it radiated with intense energy. It was like being at the mouth of a giant vacuum cleaner. Even with his agility, it was hard to keep his balance. Despite this, he managed to appear just before Amanda was sucked in. As she was dragged past him, he grabbed her by her arms with her feet mere inches of the portal. It seemed to glow brighter as she drew near.
“Let…her…go!” demanded Nightcrawler.
“Quit resisting that which is right! She needs to be in our realm! That is her fate!” yelled the other Cheyarafim he kicked.
Nightcrawler ignored their ramblings. The glowing hand had a firm grip on Amanda. It was slowly dragging her in. He tried to get better footing, but found himself being dragged as well. He watched in horror as part of Amanda’s feet were pulled into the portal. This caused a wave of yellowish sparks to shoot out. The energy was intense, but he refused to let her go.
Time was running out. Phoenix saw Nightcrawler’s hope literally slipping away. She was still stuck behind the swirling mist, protecting Illyana so she could fight this magic with some of her own. She had been chanting for what seemed like a lifetime. Keeping up this telekinetic barrier was too much of a strain. Her face tensed as she tried desperately to hold back these powerful forces.
‘It’s too much, Jean! I must summon more power! It’s the only way we can stop this!’
‘No Phoenix! Not yet! Too much power will create more problems than it solves!’
‘Trust me. There’s a time and a place for power like that. This isn’t one of them…not yet anyways.’
The Phoenix Force was aching to grow. Phoenix refused to allow this. Through the strain, she turned back towards Illyana.
“Not to pressure you, Illyana! But we could use some magic of our own here!” she urged.
“Hold on…I feel something,” said Illyana, now no longer chanting, “I…I’m not sure I did the spell correctly, but it’s definitely working!”
“It doesn’t matter if the spell is done correctly, Illyana. Magic is only as strong as the spirit that channels it,” said Shaman, still unable to break free from his mystical restraints, “Focus until the powers is yours. Then unleash it!”
Illyana clenched her fists, pulling in more of this mysterious power. Her body was glowing in a bright yellow halo. Within both fists, two powerful balls of mystical energy formed. Through labored breaths, she pushed her strength in ways that would have made her big brother proud. She pushed it until sparks started erupting around her body. When the time finally came, she unleashed the power.
“This…ends…NOW!” she cried out.
With those determined words, the yellow sparks shot out from Illyana’s hands. These sparks engulfed and redirected the swirling mist. Within seconds, it overtook the entire room. The purple haze that had kept them from reaching Amanda turned yellow. In the process Margali and Shaman were released. Phoenix was able to let down her telekinetic barrier as well. The Cheyarafim mystical edge was fading.
“It’s working!” said Margali with a sigh of relief.
“Hurry! We must get to Amanda!” said Phoenix, who was finally able to rest her mind.
“We don’t have to,” said Shaman cryptically.
Shaman knew enough about magic to know what would happen next. Illyana’s yellowish energy didn’t stop at containing the mist. It continued to swirl, gathering at the other end of the room around the Cheyarafim. From there, it started flowing back into the portal. As a result, the gateway shifted colors. It started pulsating erratically, causing a new wave of mystic bolts to shoot out.
“The portal!” exclaimed one of the Cheyarafim.
“What have you immortal creatures done!”
As the portal continued pulsing, the glowing hand let go of Amanda. By then her body was already halfway inside the portal. This meant Nightcrawler still had to pull her out. The Cheyarafim’s realm wasn’t giving her up without a fight.
“I’ve got you, liebe!” he told her.
“Kurt, you must get back!” cried Margali as she ran over, “Hurry before…”
But her fears had already begun. As more of Illyana’s yellowish energy swirled around the portal, it caused another major shift. This time the mist gathered around the Cheyarafim, forming claw-like hands that captured every one of them before they had a chance to fly away. Then like dogs on a leash, they were pulled back into the portal.
“This is wrong. It’s all so very wrong,” said one of the struggling Cheyarafim.
“What’s happening to them?” wondered Phoenix as she caught up with Rogue.
“The Cheyarafim cannot stay in our realm. They are still anchored to their own,” explained Shaman, “Illyana’s spell cut the lifeline that was keeping them here.”
“So recess is over. They’re getting corralled like cattle,” surmised Rogue as she rose up, “What about Kurt and Amanda?”
“I’m afraid that’s where my mystical knowledge ends,” said Shaman grimly.
One-by-one, the Cheyarafim were sucked into the portal. They struggled with all their might, but it was no use. Right or wrong, this battle was over.
“YOU ARROGANT FOOL!” yelled one of the winged creatures as he disappeared into the portal.
“THAT GIRL WILL BE THE END OF US ALL!” yelled another.
“YOUR FATHER MADE A MISTAKE! NOW WE’LL ALL PAY FOR IT!” said the last remaining creature.
These warnings echoed with Nightcrawler. Their sentiment was not lost on him. His father never told him all the details of his mission in this realm. The Cheyarafim may have been right on some levels. That didn’t make him any less determined.
Once the last Cheyarafim passed through the portal, it started closing. All the yellowish energy emanating from Illyana was forcing it shut. Amanda still wasn’t fully out yet. Powerful mystic sparks kept flashing around him. Nightcrawler pulled harder, trying to get her out before it completely closed.
“Get out of there, Kurt! You need to teleport!” yelled Margali as she ran towards them.
“I’m…trying!” grunted the German mutant.
“Hang on, little brother! Ah’ll pull you out!” said Rogue.
Following close behind Margali, Rogue soared towards her brother. The portal was almost closed. It threatened to cut Amanda off and probably Nightcrawler as well. They ran in as fast as they could. Then they were forced to stop by another burst of mystic bolts. This time, they did more than just light up the room.
Still clinging to Amanda, Nightcrawler felt the mysterious energy sparks swirl around them. It was as if they were drawn to his form. He kept trying to teleport, closing his eyes and concentrating hard. It was like having a massive weight on his back. As the portal was just about to close, the yellowish mist completely engulfed him and Amanda. In a loud ‘bamf’ they disappeared from the room.
“KURT!” exclaimed Rogue.
“AMANDA!” cried Margali.
For a moment, a great dread set in. The portal finally closed and the rest of the yellowish mist faded. The Cheyarafim were gone, but so were Nightcrawler and Amanda. It wasn’t clear if they were sucked into the portal or transported to some other nether realm.
“What…what happened?” said Illyana anxiously as she, Phoenix, and Shaman caught up.
“They’re gone,” said Rogue through a strained voice.
“No, that can’t be all there is to it!” said Phoenix, doing a quick psychic scan, “I can still sense traces of their minds.”
“Only traces?” exclaimed Rogue.
“Calm down, Rogue. We’re dealing with magic here,” Phoenix reminded her, “As Beast would say, there’s always more to it.”
“She’s right,” said Shaman as he investigated the area where the portal had closed, “Kurt and Amanda were not pulled in. The reaction would have been much more violent.”
“How do you know?” demanded Rogue.
“He’s right,” said Margali as she started processing what just happened, “If Amanda was gone, I would have felt something. We’re all in once piece so that means she and Kurt are somewhere else.”
“But where could they be?” asked Illyana, “I’m not entirely sure what I did with my spell. They could be anywhere!”
Rogue was still anxious. Phoenix had to come over and support her. She trusted Margali and Shaman’s expertise. If they said Kurt and Amanda were still out there, then she was inclined to believe them. There were still plenty of reasons to worry. Finding Nightcrawler and Amanda could prove every bit as difficult as beating the Cheyarafim.
While Margali and Shaman were still investigating the scene, Rogue’s X-men communicator went off. Jean’s soon followed. Startled, the two X-women checked the call. When they saw the name on the display, their eyes widened.
“Could it be?” wondered Phoenix.
“Only one way to find out!” said Rogue.
With renewed strength, Rogue activated her communicator and barked into the receiver.
“Damn it, Kurt! Where the hell are ya?”
Eiffel Tower – Paris
Kurt Wagner was used to bizarre twists of luck. Being the son of Azazel and being immersed in a world of magic had that affect on someone. This was one of those rare occasions where he was genuinely surprised. It was akin to a brilliant stroke of luck and a practical joke gone horribly wrong.
“Take it easy, Rogue. I’m okay. So is Amanda,” he said into his communicator.
“You said you just appeared on top of the Eiffel Tower! How is that okay?” said Rogue’s enraged voice on the other side.
“Vell…Amanda always vanted to see Paris,” said Kurt with a somewhat humored tone.
“Dang it, Kurt! Be serious! We’re sending Illyana over. We got a lot to talk about.”
Kurt was still in a daze. He almost didn’t want to face Rogue because she sounded pretty upset. He couldn’t blame her. The last thing he remembered was feeling the portal close around him. It felt like he and Amanda were going to get crushed. Then somehow, he managed to teleport them out just in time. He didn’t intend to appear on top of the Eiffel Tower with Amanda in his arms. As soon as he appeared, he had to smile awkwardly for a few tourists looking up from the observation deck. Something strange had happened and it clearly had a lasting effect on him.
While holding onto Amanda’s unconscious form, Kurt noticed that his hands were still sparking with yellowish energy. It left a strange tingle throughout his body. It was different from the feeling he usually got when he teleported. This was more intense, as if he had just discovered a new muscle and was learning to flex it. He wasn’t skilled in the mystic arts, but he knew enough about magic to recognize the signs. As the sparks faded, he realized what was going on.
“Actually, I’d rather you not send Illyana,” said Kurt into his communicator.
“This ain’t time for a vacation, Kurt! We need you back in Nova Roma right now!”
“I know. And I’ll be zhere,” he assured her, “I just von’t be needing Illyana’s assistance. Tell zhe others to stand back for a moment and you’ll see vhat I mean.”
Muir Island – Psychic Isolation Chamber
Professor Charles Xavier was proud of his X-men for many reasons. Time and again, they proved their worth in ways that exceeded his expectations. His concern for them was always on his mind, no matter how sick he was. So when he heard from Scott how the X-men triumphed over the Mutant Liberation Front, his pride in them overshadowed whatever pain he was in.
“So you convinced Wanda to let the X-men oversee the withdrawal of international forces,” Xavier summarized, “Despite the devastating loss of her sister, she trusts the X-men to carry out her decision. Moreover, she’s willing to make the decisions that avoid further conflict when it would be easy for her sorrows to cloud her judgment.”
“I wouldn’t give her too much credit,” said Scott, “Wanda is too logical to use it as an excuse to lash out. Pietro probably does enough of that for both of them.”
“She still deserves plenty for being reasonable. I imagine it can’t be easy for her,” he said, still saddened by what happened to Lorna, “I’m interested to see where she takes this new deal. Utilizing advanced Shi’ar technology always comes with risks.”
The Professor never failed when it came to understatement. Just talking about this issue was enough to overwhelm Scott. Now that he was the one dealing with this, it weighed on him heavily.
It wasn’t the only issue he dealt with as Operation Commander. For the past hour or so, he went over the X-men’s many recent tribulations. He told the Professor about the debacle with Mojovision. He then told him about Madison Jefferies and how he led to the showdown with the Mutant Liberation Front. Somewhere along the way, Rogue got involved with her new friend Domino. She uncovered the secret dealings of the CIA, the GRSO unit, and Henry Gyrich. All this came in addition to the smaller issues like Rogue returning, Logan dealing with the revelations about Mystique, Ororo’s growing closeness to James Proudstar, and Warren’s ongoing ailments. It was a lot to take in. Some of it eased Xavier’s concerns while creating new ones.
“I don’t know if she has an endgame…yet. Between this and the public backlash from Mojovision, I’d say human/mutant relations are mixed,” sighed the X-leader, “For the moment, it’s pure leverage. Beast said this alien reactor is advanced enough to power the whole Western Hemisphere. She hasn’t taken it that far just yet. She’s basically exporting these handheld batteries that receive power from the main plant. It helped get the electricity back online after the Mutant Liberation Front took it out.”
“I assumed that helped ease the blow on mutant relations.”
“Not as much as we would like,” said Scott, “Granted, the people were happy to get the power back in less than twelve hours. It saved a lot of lives and spared a lot more damage. It hasn’t made the public any less cynical. They see it a PR stunt that boarders blackmail.”
“And you agree with this?”
“To a point,” he conceded, “Wanda isn’t sharing this technology for charity. She’s already started exporting it all over the world. In exchange for cheap, abundant electricity, she’s convinced major governments to crack down on anti-mutant policies. It seems like a fair trade, but at the same time it puts Wanda in a position to abuse this new power.”
“The X-men won’t allow that to happen. I’m sure of it,” said Xavier confidently.
His encouragement was reassuring. The Professor’s ailments hadn’t stemmed his faith in people. Scott always admired that. It was difficult for him to share because he was the one dealing with these issues now. He wasn’t the same visionary as his mentor. That was beneficial in some areas and detrimental in others.
“I hope you’re right, sir,” said Scott distantly, “I wish I could be as optimistic as you. Now that I’m the one juggling all these issues, I can’t help but be a little overwhelmed at times.”
“I know the feeling. It’s a challenge in every possible respect,” said Xavier, offering his student a reassuring smile.
“A challenge that’s damn near impossible at times,” he added, “Dealing with Wanda is hard enough. Getting General Grimshaw and the President to go along with it has been a test in patience.”
“Yes, I know how difficult they are to deal with. That’s one duty I honestly don’t miss.”
“I don’t blame you. I sat down with the President and his advisors. They told me all about how they were working on this bold new mutant initiative behind everyone’s back. I say it’s bold because it involved using Bastion and stolen Genoshan technology.”
“I remember you telling me about that. Were you ever able to figure out what happened with Bastion or the men behind it?”
“I asked Warren to look into that, even though he’s been slowed by that condition I told you about.”
“I hope he doesn’t allow it to get serious like I did. From what you tell me, Betsy has kept him from losing focus.”
“Among other things,” added Scott, “She was the one that helped him look into this. Bastion was under his company’s supervision. We’re still trying to figure out how he ended up with the CIA. The guys who used him, Henry Peter Gyrich and General Kincaid…they’re trouble. From what Grimshaw told me about them, they’re in the same league as William Stryker or Graydon Creed.”
“Then there’s a good chance you’ll face them again. I hope to be ready when that time comes,” said the Professor.
“You’re not the only one. Beast and Storm have been organizing new training regiments in between classes. The focus now isn’t so much on renegade mutants as it is potential weapons that humanity can throw at us.”
“Do you agree with that?”
“I think it’s necessary, but that’s not what concerns me the most.”
Now Scott was the beleaguered one. It was a major role reversal him and the Professor. There was a time when the Professor would be the one lamenting over these issues. Scott was thrust into the role of Operations Commander abruptly and he had to adjust to his duties on the fly.
“It’s all so fragile right now,” Scott went on, “President Kelly is backing the MSA again, but only because General Grimshaw agreed to be more aggressive in combating major mutant threats.”
“Aggressive how?” asked the Professor.
“He was vague about the details. That says to me that he’s hiding something or he’s waiting to show his hand. Now that President Kelly doesn’t have a foothold on Genosha anymore, he’s a lot more anxious about mutants taking sides. He says the MSA would have to work closer with the CIA to identify mutant threats before they happen. He’s also expanding their authority to arrest mutants when they show signs of open rebellion as he calls it.”
“It sounds like a dangerous precedent.”
“It has the potential to be an equally dangerous trend,” said Scott grimly, “President Kelly just isn’t as reasonable as he used to be. Losing his son has made him a lot less sympathetic towards mutants.”
“Has it made him any less reasonable?” asked Xavier.
“That remains to be seen. I convinced him to hold off on being too aggressive. But I can’t convince him to reach out to mutants directly. He still sees them as potential threats. This certainly doesn’t sit well with District X and Genosha. Ever since the Legacy Virus, these two mutant communities have become the de-facto home front. Mutants aren’t as scattered as they used to be. It seems wherever one emerges, they’re cast out and forced to choose where they need to set up shop. It’s just easier on some societies and it has the effect of making mutants more vulnerable.”
The X-leader had so much to worry about. It was hard to imagine anyone coping well under these circumstances, yet Scott Summers still showed poise. He may not have realized it, but Professor Xavier saw it in his demeanor. Even without telepathy, he sensed a strength in this young man that went well beyond that of a student.
“It sounds like you understand the complexity of this situation. That’s the first and most important step of confronting it,” said the Professor, “I’m confident you’ll make the right decisions when the time comes to act.”
“I appreciate the vote of confidence, sir,” said Scott with a somewhat less anxious tone.
“It’s not just confidence. After everything you’ve told me, I’m convinced. I made the right decision in appointing you Operations Commander. You’ve always been more astute than others when it comes to confronting challenges. That’s why the rest of the team looks up to you. That’s why they follow you into battle with utmost confidence.”
“Except for Logan,” Scott pointed out.
“Yet even he would concede that you’ve made impressive strides in your new role. You’re not just a student anymore, Scott. You’re not just a leader of the X-men. You’re an inspiration. You have the fortitude and strength to deal with these difficult issues. That says to me that there’s a future for mutant-kind that will carry on regardless of my health. And that future couldn’t be in better hands.”
It was a strong sentiment from a man Scott looked up to as a father. Through his many worries, he smiled at his gesture. He had Professor Xavier’s undue pride in addition to his support. Scott hadn’t convinced himself that he was doing enough for the X-men and mutants everywhere. Yet Professor Xavier was already convinced. He was the right man for this job.
Having heard about the current state of mutant affairs, Professor Xavier was more than satisfied. There was always room for improvement. He had faith that Scott would continue to make good decisions. He still had more questions. Then his condition caught up with him. Out of nowhere, a new round of stabbing headaches overwhelmed him.
“Ungh…not again!” the Professor groaned.
“Sir?” asked Scott anxiously.
“I’m…I’m okay, Scott. Just my head reminding me that I have a ways to go,” he said while clutching his head, “On that note, we may have to cut this short.”
Scott got up and helped his mentor stay upright in his chair. The door opened and Moira rushed in as well.
“Oye, it’s happening sooner than expected,” she said.
“What is? What’s happening?” asked Scott anxiously.
“His brain is going through the final stages of rewiring itself. It also happens to be the most painful stage,” she said sadly.
“Is there anything I can do to help?” asked the X-leader.
“No Scott…you’ve done plenty,” said Xavier through the pain, “Go back to the X-men. Tell them I’ll be okay.”
“That’s asking a lot, sir. You don’t look okay,” argued Scott.
“It’s the truth. I promise,” he said strongly, “In the meantime, keep doing what must be done. I trust you…to make the right choices. Even when they’re not the easiest.”
It was difficult to leave his mentor’s side when he was in so much agony. Scott assisted Moira as best he could. This pain was definitely worse than before. The Professor could barely stay in his wheelchair. He helped Moira get him into his bed. He tensed and groaned every step of the way. He only settled once he could lie down. The pain in his expression was apparent.
Moira did her best to make the Professor comfortable. This was going to be a difficult phase to get through. Scott lingered for a bit, but honored the Professor’s request. His mentor had his own personal battles to fight. He still had the many battles facing the X-men. Before he left, Scott received one last look of encouragement.
“I won’t let you down, sir,” he said, “I promise.”
Whenever a conflict involved magic, it often had a complicated resolution. Magic didn’t follow logic. It had many unpredictable effects. After the battle against the Cheyarafim, those effects had many implications.
Kurt returned from Paris with Amanda safely. This was a big relief for Margali, seeing her daughter in one piece. Kurt prevented the Cheyarafim from taking her to their realm, but the way he did so was unexpected. Teleporting from Nova Roma to Paris was no easy feat. Kurt’s teleportation powers had always been limited. He could teleport anywhere within a two-mile radius. Something clearly happened to him during the fight. He was able to teleport back from Paris with much less struggle than earlier. From there, Shaman examined him while Margali tended to Amanda.
“Fascinating,” Shaman mused, “It seems the energy from the portal affected the trans-dimensional shift of your powers, Mr. Wagner. In your effort save Amanda, the mystical potential radiating from the Cheyarafim realm reacted with your mutant potential.”
“Mah grades have been improving, but not that much,” said Rogue, rolling her eyes, “You mind dumbing it down for those of us who ain’t mystically inclined?”
“I think he’s trying to say the magic from the portal enhanced Kurt’s powers,” said Illyana.
“You are correct, my student,” said Shaman, “Although I suspect there’s more to it. In theory, it is now possible for our friend to teleport anywhere in the world. It’s not unlike Illyana’s ability. However, the process of how that ability works is very different.”
“Is it a good kind of different or the nasty kind?” asked Rogue.
“It’s hard to say,” said the Native American as he scrutinized Kurt closer, “It may be that this is a logical progression of Kurt’s abilities. The portal merely jump-started it. Or it could just as likely be a symptom of a much greater process. One that might not be entirely natural.”
There was a deeper concern in Shaman’s tone. That concern was shared by Illyana and Rogue. Being able to teleport all over the world was a handy ability, but given the circumstances it may come at a cost. Even if that cost wasn’t clear, it was worth keeping an eye on.
“So how do we figure out which it is?” asked Rogue, “Because it sounds like information like that would be pretty handy.”
“I’m not sure yet. Illyana and I will have to do more research,” said Shaman.
“It can vait,” said Kurt, who seemed less concerned.
“I don’t think that’s wise,” said Illyana, “I was having many problems when my powers first emerged. Ignoring them only led to more problems.”
“I’ll confront zhem as zhey emerge. For now, I have other concerns,” said the German mutant.
Kurt brushed off Shaman’s scrutiny and teleported over to Amanda, who was lying on a special bed in the back of the room. Jean and Margali were hovering over her, checking her vitals and ensuring the power she sheltered was still safe. Margali didn’t look too optimistic and neither did Jean. She had been using her telepathy and the Phoenix Force to probe Amanda’s comatose mind. The results weren’t very promising.
“I’ve been scanning her mind for a half-hour now,” said Jean, her hands placed softly on Amanda’s temples.
“I have also tapped the essence of the cosmos to reach this young woman’s soul.”
“And still you can’t get through to her?” said Margali sadly.
“It’s hard to say yes or no,” said Jean, “Her mind is still there. The Phoenix Force still senses her spirit as well. It’s just…silent. It’s not like she’s knocked out or anything. It’s more like she’s hibernating. It doesn’t make any sense.”
“I can still draw some unfortunate conclusions. None of which are promising.”
“And just vhat are zhose conclusions?” asked Kurt as he appeared next to Margali.
Her spirit was shaken from the battle against the Cheyarafim. The relief from saving her daughter from the attack was overshadowed by the effect it left. As Jean backed away from Amanda, she lightly held her daughter’s hand. They were still warm, yet otherwise devoid of life. The marks on her body seemed a lot sharper now. It said to her that her family legacy was still bearing down on them.
“The Cheyarafim may be arrogant, but that doesn’t mean they’re wrong. Not completely anyways,” she said, “They had every reason to attack. We’ve had all this time and done nothing to change her fate. She’s still at the mercy of the power that binds her. Those creatures don’t want it released anymore than we do.”
“That doesn’t explain why we can’t summon her astral form,” said Jean, “Something inside her has changed and it’s not a minor change either.”
“The Cheyarafim didn’t change anything. They simply pushed Amanda into the next stage of her grim fate,” said Margali sadly, “In escaping their grasp, Amanda’s spirit was weakened. In order to continue, she needs to be much stronger. So her spirit, mind, and body have entered a deep sleep. It’s not technically a coma anymore. This state is supposed to rejuvenate her.”
“Isn’t that a good thing?” questioned Jean.
“Not as much as I’d like,” she replied, “In this state, she can’t communicate with us in any way. Not even through astral form. It also means we’re running out of time. More so than before.”
Kurt was silent. It seemed every new development with Amanda led to more bad news. Nothing was changing. His faith and love in her didn’t make the slightest difference. It was hard at the beginning. Now he was becoming numb to it. With a hallow expression, he approached Amanda’s peaceful form. He caressed her face, conflicted over how he should react to this.
Rogue eventually caught up with him. Shaman and Illyana followed close by, who also offered their sympathies. It didn’t seem fair. Her life had gotten progressively better. She gained control of her powers, she rejoined the X-men, and she was in a happy relationship with Remy. All the while, Kurt’s life kept getting more complicated.
“Ah’m sorry, Kurt. If Ah could switch places with ya, believe meh Ah would,” said Rogue, “Ah’m more used to life screwing meh over than you.”
“I vould argue ve’re both used to it,” said Kurt flatly.
“If you want, Ah could stick around for a bit,” she offered, “We could hang out and catch up. Ah ain’t been much of a sister since Ah left ya on your own.”
“Nein, you don’t have to do zhat. I don’t vant you to,” said Kurt, turning back towards Rogue, “You should be vith zhe X-men. Zhey need you more zhan me.”
“Well now that we don’t have to send the X-jet to pick you up, maybe you could visit us,” suggested Jean, “We’re your friends. We want to support you.”
“I appreciate zhat. I really do. But zhis is something I have to deal vith on my own. For months, I’ve been beating myself up for being so powerless. After a mess like zhis, I’m starting to accept zhat zhere’s nothing I can do for Amanda. Zhat doesn’t mean I have to do nothing at all.”
“So what are you gonna do?” asked Rogue.
“I’m not sure yet, but I have a good idea on how to start,” he said.
“That something else you have to do alone?”
“You’re my sister. You’ve been down zhe same road. You know better zhan me vhy I must do zhis.”
It didn’t make a lot of sense on the surface. As Rogue thought about it, she saw where Kurt was coming from. She went through that process when she moved to District X. He needed a new approach and he needed to find it on his own. That wouldn’t stop her from worrying about him, especially now that he could literally be anywhere and get into any kind of trouble.
“I take it this means you won’t give us a lift back with your new powers,” said Jean.
“I can if you vant,” said Kurt.
“That’s okay, little brother. You do what you gotta do. If you ever need help along the way, you know where to find us,” said Rogue, “Heck, you’re just a teleportation away from mah bedroom.”
“Just be sure you knock,” teased Jean, “Otherwise you’ll get into trouble with Remy.”
“Danke, Rogue. You too, Jean,” he said with a smile, “I’m sorry zhings got so messy. I’ll try to meet up under better circumstances.”
“We’re X-men, Kurt. We’re used to it,” said Rogue.
The two siblings shared an affectionate hug. Jean gave Kurt her regards as well. This conflict with Amanda wasn’t over, but for now they had their separate battles. Despite having to battle a bunch of zealous angels from a mythical realm, it was nice catching up with one another. In their conflicted family, such moments were very precious.
Once Jean and Rogue said their goodbyes they met up with Illyana, who was prepared to teleport them back to the mansion. Shaman and Margali waved goodbye as well. This had been a messy affair, but it could have been a lot worse.
“Are you two ready?” asked Illyana.
“We’re ready, sugah. Take us home,” said Rogue, already exhausted from a hectic day.
“If you hurry, you might be able to watch Rogue finally catch up with Logan. They’ve been meaning to have an awkward moment or two,” said Jean, which earned her a glare from Rogue.
“I’ll settle for catching up with my brother and his girlfriend,” grinned the Russian girl, “I’ve been meaning to have some awkward moments as you say with him as well.”
Within moments, the three of them disappeared in a yellow light. Kurt watched until they were completely gone. He remained in a daze as he contemplated where to go from here. Something had to change. Some of those changes probably wouldn’t go over well with Rogue or the X-men.
“So what now, Kurt?” asked Margali and she and Shaman hovered over Amanda, “What do you intend to do with your new powers?”
“I plan to start small,” said Kurt, “To do zhat, I’ll need to catch up vith my mother.”
Up next: Stranger Things
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