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Ashes in the Wind
An Elseworld's Style X-men Story
J. A. C. Delaney, 1996
"It is a grim day out there." Bobby commented as he looked into the rain and drizzle that greeted the trio of assassins as they entered the nations capital. It wasn't the sort of group that one would expect to see on a mission to murder somebody; consisting of an accountant, a professor and an international terriorist (okay, the last might have been vaguely suspicious).
They were on the trail of the mutant madman known as the Shadow King; once a crime lord who had been killed by the professor but now an astral entity of surprising malice. The oldest of the group in chronological (although not physiological) terms was nervous and irritable. It had only been a couple of days since his companions had attacked him along with two of his children. In the process of that altercation and it's aftermath, two people had been hospitalized and a family had been reunited. There was some cause for joy on the part of the tall, brooding man with dead white hair; but the nightmares still haunted him whenever he tried to sleep. He would not rest until he had defeated the Shadow King and sent him back to hell where he belonged. It was rare that a person survived long after making this sort of enemy of the master of magnetism. However, if anyone was likely to do so it would be the Shadow King.
Professor Charles Xavier was worried about his old friend and long time enemy. For the first time in over 30 years they were on the same side again. Their companion, Robert Drake (aka Iceman), had not even been born when they had fought together to resuce Xavier's lady love from the Nazi's. Sure, they had co-operated during the Secret Wars in a distant galaxy and Xavier had left the X-men to Magnus when he had gone on a mission to save Lilandra (another one of his paramors). But it had been a long time since they had actually fought as a team and Xavier realized how much he missed it. This was, however, somewhat mitigated by the fact that he saw Magnus' deteriorating condition due to sleep deprivation. Xavier was not used to disorders of the mind being beyond his ability to cure; but Magnus wouldn't let him into his mind to try and undo the damage from his duel with the Shadow King.
"I still think we should have asked the others to meet us here." Bobby commented. The stony silence being observed by his traveling companions was vaguely unnerving. "Storm has managed to beat Farouk before and Rachel is a first class telepath. They should be here."
Magneto turned and looked at Bobby. People often underestimated Drake because of his sense of humour and his weak personality. But he was sharper than he looked and was brave and loyal. Perhaps it was time to discuss things with him more thoroughly. "I don't think that Storm would work with me and Rachel doesn't have the self-discipline for a telepathic battle of this magnitude. By bringing in more people we create more possible targets for the Shadow King to telepathically coerce. If we fail then Excalibur will take over."
"But what if the Shadow King has super-powered allies or has taken over a form we cannot beat?" Bobby asked.
"A discreet contact with Hank over at the Avengers indicates no signs of such an attempt. Besides, he was investing his powers in his little 'project' at Muir Island. The point of striking so fst is to ensure that he doesn't have time to recruit more followers." Xavier explained while Magneto waved down a cab. Using commerical air had been a way of slipping in undetected in case the Shadow King was looking for signs of Magneto slipping in. The downside of Magnetic phenomenon interfering with telepathy was the real possibility that the Shadow King could detect Magneto using his magnetic abilities.
The crowd around the cab stand yielded quickly to the implacable glare of the tall man wit piercing blue eyes and in sort order they found themselves heading for a government building where hearings were taking place on the actions of FBI Agent Jacob Reisz. "I still think we should strike at him immediately. You can trace his telepathic residue and that will lead us to him. Quick, clean and efficent. I don't know why we are going to contact Scott first." Magneto argued.
"We already discussed this, Magnus. That Scott is leading hearings into the condut of Jacob Reisz, who we know was the host of the Shadow King from Storm, then he already has the apparatus in place to mobilize significant government resoruces on our behalf. The result is our ace in the whole. Scott's own mutant powers should be enough to deal with any of the Shadow King's henchmen." Xavier responded.
"He is an unnecessary complication that you are introducing because of an emotional attachment."
"Say what you will, Magnus, but he have agreed to this step already."
"Over my objections." Magneto retorted.
"So noted. Listen, we can use to Scott and his taskforce to flush Farouk out and then we can blindside him when he least expects it." Xavier snapped back.
"Listen, folks, how about a bit of a time out here? We have a plan so let's stick to it. I just wanted to know what it was before I risked my life implementing it. I think that the Professor is right and it will be nice to work with Scott again. I was really worried about him and Jean when they quit. No offense intended, Mag-man, but you are a little too paranoid. Let your hair down a bit and live a little." Bobby babbled trying to defuse the air of tension in the cab.
Magneto turned his gaze on the young man, his eyes glowing red with magnetic energy. His voice was choked with pain and anger as he he spoke to the X-man. "Do not presume to judge me, little man. I have lived a life in which I can only rely on myself and I see no reason to assume differently now. 'Letting my hair down', as you so quaintly put it, ceased to be an option in the inferno of Auschwitz. Everytime I do so people DIE." The master of magnetism stopped, choked in the hold of a memory. He remembered his time at the mansion and how he had let himself stop fearing and start living instead. He remembered the corpse of Doug Ramnsey. The fall of Magik. The seduction of the New Mutants by the soul-less mercenary Cable. The slaughter at the Hellfire Club when the Shaodw King returned to his place of power. What if the members of the clube were there when they found the Shadow King? Would this great mistake have one last tragic chapter? He remember the taste of Emma's lips and the feel of her body as he lay with her. Would he have to kill a woman he had lain with and loved?
Oblivious to these thoughts, the cabbie played with the radio that suddenly wouldn't work. Too much interference of some kind. Strange. The cab pulled up to it's destination and the cabbie breathed a sigh of relief. You picked up a lot of wierdos driving a cab, but these ones took the cake. "Okay, Mac, that will be eleven dollars please."
"Pay the man, Robert." Magneto ordered and exited the cab. He had a dim feeling of foreboding.
<Elsewhere in Washington, D.C.>
Jean winced as she crouched behind the brick wall. She had been hunted for two straight days by the demon sorceress Amanda Sefton and the result was starting to break her. The hounds of the Shadow King were everywhere and she had killed two demons using her TK (they seemed immune to telepathy). While she ahd heard rumours about Magik and her demons, these were the fisrt ones she had ever fought. SHe didn't even know that they could be killed. Now, tired and alone she didn't have much left to keep fighting.
Christopher screamed, hungry, cold and tired. Jean embraced the child and considered her options. She was close now to the goal she had been working towards. Captain America and a couple of the Fantasic Four were in town to listen to the evidence that Scott was presenting. Or that thing pretending to be Scott. If she could just reach them in time she would be safe and they could help her to save the child that should have been hers and Scott's. She cautiously stood up and walked across the street. One more block to go and they would be safe.
Instinct saved her as a sword appeared out of nowhere and nearly cleaved her head from her shoulders. Amanda Sefton grinned as she stared at her prey, weak and finally at bay.
"You should have run, Jean. Out there you might have had a chance to hide from my master for a time. Trying to contact other heroes, I'm afraid that was too predictable."
"Your master can go to hell, bitch."
"Oh, I'm afraid that he is much worse than anything you will find in hell. I should know after all. Surrender, Jean. Join us and become the Shadow Queen to our Shadow King. He will take you if you beg him. Who knows, you might come to enjoy it."
"I'd rather die." Jean smashed the sorceress with a bolt of telekinetic energy. It broke through Amanda's shields and sent the sorceress sprawling. Careless, she had never left herself that open before. Jean reached into her brain and snapped a blood vessel. It was kinder than letting her live as this monstrousity. It sickened her but it cleared the way to freedom. She took to the air with her TK as she heard the howling of hounds, people that the Shadow King had twisted into merely being beasts of prey. She could see the hotel ahead of her and could taste freedom. Then an impossibly hard object struck her from behind.
She landed on the street hard as she had to use her body to protect the child. How many of the Avengers were there? Enough for her to try one last gamble she hoped. She turned and faced her attacker.
Rogue looked down at her prey with the gloating smile of a hunter. One of her eyes and half her face had been torn by Wolverine's claws. Good for him, Jean thought, and then with a hollow feeling realized how unlikely it was that he was still alive if Rogue still was. Jean focused a burst of TK at the invunruble woman who used a punch to shatter it. The feeling was like having her mind shattered.
"Well, Sugah, Ah guess Ah get th' last laugh here. Time ta die, Jeanie." Jean tried to protect herself as Rogue swung at her but she wasn't strong enough to deflect the blows. She tried to be strong but she found herself screaming as Rogue slowly broke her body.
"Inside the hotel, Iron Man was surprised as anythig to see a baby float in through the window. He called the others over and reached for his helmet. So much for a boring mission to some bland misconduct hearings. This was action at last.
Outside, on the street, Rogue reached down and grabbed Jean's head. The redhead looked at Rogue with sad eyes. She had accepted her fate and refused to fear what wa about to happen to her. Rogue snapped her neck in frustration and kissed Jean as she slowly died. She had hoped to savor the dying agonies of the woman, but instead she found a calm acceptance and a sense of serentity. She also found out how she had been played for a fool. In her eagerness to torture Jean she had failed to pay attention to Christopher's whereabouts.
She turned and faced the shocked group of superheroes who had rushed out too late to stop her grim murder of Jean. She smiled at the nearest Avenger (Captain America) and licked Jean's blood off her lips. "Ah don't suppose y'all will just turn the kid over without a fight, will ya?" She looked at the impacable faces that stared back, sickened and horrified at the scene on the street. Repulsor beams blazed across her skin by way of reply. "Ah guess this means we get ta play den!" Rogue hurled herself against the superheroes, driven by an irrsistable compulsion that had been implanted by the Shadow King. He might have stopped her had he been paying attention, but he was busy elsewhere at the moment.
The three assassins strode into the antechamber with a grim sense of purpose. Xavier asked directions from a guard, who directed them to a room in which Scott was conducting interviews with potential witnesses (little did they know he was actually implanting flase memories in those witnesses).
Magneto continued to stare around, his sense of unease growing. That is enough, he told himself, you are just not used to working with others on an equal basis and are upset because you aren't calling the shots. He was jumping at shadows. He knew he was wrong as soon as they stepped into the room and he felt the presence of the Shadow King.
Beside him Xavier screamed as, in a classic example of bad timing, he felt Jean's death strike him like a hammer blow. He had been psionically bound to her since she was a child and the effect of her dying a violent death staggered him. His cry distracted magnus for the fraction of a second it took the Shadow King to register who had stepped into the room and fire an optic blast into the master of magnetism. Unprepared, Magneto had a hole punched through his torso. He reacted instantly and fired a blast of lightening at his opponent, but it was too little, too late. He fell to the ground with a heavy thud.
Robert Drake looked at his too companions in confusion and disbelief. He still hadn't had time to react when a second optic blast tore him to shreds. He died, not knowing why his friend had turned against him.
Xavier forced himself to refocus his concentration as he looked at the Shadow King. He fired a telepathic bolt at the grim mockery of his favorite student, but it shattered against shields as strong as he had ever encountered.
"And so it ends, Charles Xavier. I always knew that I would overcome you and have my revenge for your actions against me. With you gone there will be nobody who can stop me. Goodbye, old enemy. I hope this hurts." The Shadow King healed the damage from Magneto's lightening barrage with a simple thought.
The Shadow King launched a telepathic assault against Xavier. How could evil be so strong, Xavier wondered. What is it that makes him so powerful? I can barely resist him let alone fight back. The Shadow King smiled at his opponents helplessness and walked forward, intending to finish him off. He would do this slowly and enjoy watching Xavier die by pieces. An optic blast could be such a precision tool when employed properly, and he wanted to enjoy this.
That was his mistake. He focused too much on killing Xavier and forgot to make sure that Magneto was dead.