The characters in this story are copyrighted to Marvel Comics. Use of these characters for any profit making reason is both immoral and illegal. This story is for enjoyment purposes only.
Ashes in the Wind
An Elseworld's Style X-men Story
J. A. C. Delaney, 1996
The Shadow King screamed as his mind slammed back into the body of Jacob Riesz. The man had been dead when the Shadow King had possessed his body and used his psionic powers to reverse the damage done by a fatal heart attack. The man had been respected in his community and a superlative investigator. These connections and skills had served the Shadow King well.
But now, drained from the battle with Phoenix, the Shadow King no longer had the energy to keep his primary host alive. The woman had nearly beaten him back there at Muir Island even with the aid of the transformed Malice. Weak as she was with psychological disorders, the sheer amount of power she wielded was immense. Given time and a more stable wielder she could have killed him. The thought brought a rush of terror to his black heart.
He fought to move his body, suspended as it was in a net of life support equipment. Dr. Shen had done a wonderful job, but it wasn't enough. His degraded nostrils could smell the gangrene that had spread over most of this body. It was a pity, this identity had been most useful to him. He finally forced his limbs to move despite the immense degree of degradation that he had suffered.
He needed a new host; that much was obvious. Yet who would make the perfect vessel? Now that he had transferred his mind to the physical realm, it was no longer a trivial matter to walk between bodies. The energy and pain required to "burn in" a new host would be immense. And he was tire and hurt. It was too soon for Christopher Summers, the lad was why too young and too psionically powerful. The same went for Jean Grey.
Then he realized who he wanted. It was so obvious and the victim was easily accessible with a little bit of finangling. It was the perfect insult to Charles Xavier and a logical step in his revenge on his most hated foe. He would trade his connections and skills for the charisma and leadership of the greatest of the X-men.
After all, then he could play the game from two sides.
<Washington, D.C. : A prison cell>
"Hello, Scott. I hope you have been keeping well since our last conversation." the Shadow King gloated as he stumbled in, leaning heavily on the arm of Dr. Shen. She looked at him in a look mixed with deep hatred and utter, undying concern. His flesh had gone greenish black and he looked like a dead man walking. The effort to continue to animate this corpse was visible.
"You can't keep me here forever you know. When you let me go I'll hunt you down like the monster that you are."
"Poor little Scott Summers, you are used to dealing with a completely different sort of villian aren't you? Pitiful Magneto who never really wanted to hurt you or incompetent scientists like Mr. Sinister. Sorry BOY, you are dealing with me now and I am not incompetent and I do want to hurt you."
"I'm not afraid to die. I knew that might happen when I put on the uniform of the X-men. Go ahead and do your worst, it will only hasten your downfall given the media attention given to my incarceration."
The Shadow King tore himself from Dr. Shen's grasp and stumbled to the bars of the the cell, his fetid breath burning in Scott's face. "I can do much worse then kill you." With a wicked smile he projected an image of a redhead. She was trying to be brave but she started to scream when the knives began to cut into her. They gagged her to stop the cries as they vivisected her. A tall man in a banded costume and a diamond in the center of his forehead watched with great interest and helped himself to the old tissue sample. It seemed to go on forever.
"That's . . . that's a lie." Scott stared into the dead eyes of the Shadow King.
"You know it is the truth. And you know what? I was with her as she died every minute of it. And you, with your psi bond severed, sat here in complete ignorance as she died." The Shadow King laughed, mocking the grief stricken leader of X-factor. Then , when the wave of despair and self-loathing reached it's peak he struck with all the force at his command. He bored into Scott's mind like some sort of worm, eating away at the core of Scott Summers.
Scott fought him with all the courage and passion of a lifetime of training by his mentor. Their minds mingled in a dance of will, power and passion as Scott strove to drive the obscenity that was the Shadow King from his mind. Ahmal Farouk used every trick of deception and pain that he had learned in his long life. He grappled at Scott's guilt; his abandoning his wife and child, the times he had failed. He snatched at his fears; of failure, of getting too close to a person. He seduced his ego; his pride in being an X-man, his moral code that he lived by. And slowly, by inches, he began to break into the soul of the man.
Scott began to think differently as he struggled with the grotesque Shadow King. Why was he a follower of Xavier when he had fought him so long ago in Cairo? Or was he? Who was he? And in this doubt and uncertainty he was lost. In the end he saw how he had been deceived; Jean was still alive and sitting in an FBI holding cell on the other end of town. But the Shadow King had used the illusion to lever his way into Scott's soul and make him think he had failed Jean just like he had failed Maddie. In those failures he had betrayed both his principles and the dream he fought for.
Scott Summers ceased to be in a FBI holding cell in the bowels of the capital of the United States. What looked forth through eyes that restrained optic blasts was something quite different and vastly more evil.
"It's me, Dr. Shen." The new person replied. "let me out, we have work to do."
The slave of the Shadow King hurried to do his bidding. He reached for he as she unlocked the cell and extended his mind. No longer needed to maintain the body of Jacob Riesz, she had become a liability. He could no longer afford those and he needed the power. So like a toy that was no longer useful, he drained her of her life and her essence like he had done her colleague before. He left her whithered corpse on the ground, it's face frozen in terror and pain. And yet, somewhere, the soul of Dr. Shen was finally free.
<Washington, D. C.: Jean Grey's Cell>
"Scott!" Jean called out in relief as the man she loved walked into the cell and into her arms. She stiffened as she embraced him, something was very wrong about him. The sort of subtle thing that even the closest of friends might miss; but a very low grade telepath wouldn't. She stepped back and looked into his visor; behind which burned eyes of fire.
"So, I wasn't sure how much residual talent you possessed, Jean, and whether you would be able to detect the... changes in me." Cyclops said in a voice that was utterly Scott Summers.
"What has happened to you, Scott? Did they do something to you?" Jean asked in a frantic tone of voice.
"Nothing happened that wasn't an improvement, dear Jean. I made you an offer a while ago on the astral plane. The time has come for an answer."
Belatedly, recognition flowed into Jean Grey as she pieced together her jumbled memories and the dim telepathic impressions she had gotten during the embrace. "YOU! What have you done to Scott?"
*Nothing he didn't deserve.* The Shadow King relished the pain that flowed through the first of the X-men as she was reminded of her head-blindness at the same time as she saw the true extent of the corruption of her lover. *Time to choose, Jean. There is only me or the void, no other choice is possible.*
"Wrong answer!" Jean responded and kicked at his face. There was only one person that could help her now. The Shadow King fired a low intensity optic blast and sent her flying across the room. The air filled with the smell of burned flesh and fired electronics. "And wrong move!" The battered woman replied. His blast had shattered the psionic inhibiter that kept her formidable powers at bay. She responded with a whiplash of telekinetic energy that sent him flying. He was unused to fighting in this form, but it would be only moments before he recovered enough to use the combat abilities stored in the brain of one of the best of the X-men. She couldn't kill him, not so long as there was any chance that Scott could be saved.
*Ungrateful cow! You'll scream for mercy before you die.* The Shadow King raged.
"Take your best shot." Jean replied and went for it with all she had.
<Washington, D.C. (yet again): Some time later on the steps of the capital building>
The reporters swarmed around the tall, handsome figure who addressed them full of confidence and assurance. Beside him stood Valerie Cooper, the current President of the United States and a couple of generals. Little did the reporters know that, through the access he was granted via Val Cooper, the Shadow King had made them all his puppets.
"It is this sort of corruption that we have to stand against no matter what the cost. The death of FBI agent Jacob Riesz is linked to an entire plot against the American way of life. Using mutant hysteria to cloak a far more sinister agenda, these conspirators have sought to undermine the very way of life we lead. The discovery that one of the members of X-factor was involved in this plot only further reinforces the basic problem: we can trust nobody. As a result a special committee is in the process of being formed with the powers needed to ferret out this sort of evil and corruption that has festered outside of the eyes of the public."
"Who is going to lead this campaign, Mr. President."
"That is one of the issues that is going to be discussed in the upcoming meetings. However, I can assure you that final responsibility will rest with me." And my master, the president mentally added.
"What about the rogue member of X-factor, Jean Grey? What is her status?"
"She is wanted on multiple felony charges and for treason against the government of the United States. Her family, also co-conspirators, has been arrested and all efforts are being made to capture her as soon as possible. Like all enemies of the state, she will be brought to justice."
"Enemies of the people? Isn't that vaguely Stalinist?" The Shadow King noted the reporter, one more to die when the time came.
"We are talking about the sort of person who would whip up hysteria against her own kind to cover acts that would be questionable under any moral code. That sort of person cannot be called anything less and as far as I am concerned has given up any sort of human rights." Valerie Cooper replied.
"You wouldn't have said that once, Val." A shadowy figure added to the discussion. Colonel Vashkin pulled out his gun and began to fire into the dignitaries on the stand. "What they are saying is all lies!" he cried out, not excepting anyone to believe him. He was willing to die for a chance to kill the Shadow King and he had accepted the price he would pay in infamy. He felt bullets entering his body as the secret service fired back and fell backwards into darkness. But I got the bastard, he thought, and then all was blackness.
The Shadow King lay in a pool of blood, his own mixing with that of his slaves, desperately feeding off of the energy of the dying around him in an attempt to draw in enough psionic energy to heal himself. He fought to stay awake long enough for the paramedics to arrive.