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Ashes in the Wind
An Elseworld's Style X-men Story
J. A. C. Delaney, 1996
The Shadow King fired an optic blast into Xavier who winced in pain as the ruby red beam sliced into his shoulder. The face of Scott Summers looked at him, but it was a demon wearing his form that acted. Besides Xavier lay the body of Robert Drake and the desperately wounded Magneto. "I have waited a lifetime for revenge on you, Charles Xavier. While you grew soft teaching your students and your talent succumbed to luxury and the aging of your flesh, I grew in power. How did you ever think that you could beat me?"
Xavier stared back and continued to concentrate his telepathy on the rogue telepath. He could see the Sahdow King as he appeared on the Astral plane, a bloated and twisted creature filled with hate and anger. When he last fought him (as Amhal Farouk in Egypt) there had been some trace of humanity. That was all gone now and only the monster remained.
Locked in their battle, neither notcied Magneto stiring from the pool of blood in which he lay. The optic blast had punched a hole through his torso and removed his left kidney, but the master of magnetism still lived. He forced consciousness through a pain induced fog. He had always had a driving will to survive even in the worst of conditions and he summoned all of it now in order to fight back the rising tide of blackness. He knew that if he let himself sleep that he would never awake.
Ironically, the mental damage that the Shadow King had inflicited aided him in his struggle. This close to the Shadow King he was forced to once again relive all of his failures and all the people who had died because he couldn't save him. The pain and rage of the spirit that this aroused in him gave him the will to force himself to rise above the pain of his body and fight back.
The Shadow King was having fun as he continued to torture Xavier by firing optic blasts intended only to graze. Xavier tried to fight back on the physical plane, but the well trained body of Scott Summers was more than his match in hand to hand combat even without the blasts. He had all but given up when the visor that Cyclops was wearing twisted and gouged into his face. The Shadow King roared his frustration through Scott's mouth.
Magneto grabbed Xavier with his magnetic power and punched through the ceiling of the building. He flew away from the raging Shadow King with all the speed he could summon, not stopping until his power finally gave out. They landed hard and Magneto passed out immediately.
Charles Xavier tried to lift his old friend but the weight of Magneto's armor defeated his efforts. He settled for dragging the wounded man into a nearby barn. There he applied what first aid he could and then he settled down to wait for the right opportunity to act. His psionic contact with Jean, re-established only at her death, had given him an idea and the means to implement it. But first he had to be patient and wait for Magnus to awake.
<An Island in the Bermuda Triangle>
Warren awoke slowly and looked around. He was surprised to be alive at all. The last thing that he remembered was terrible pain as Magneto had torn his fragile body apart with his magnetic powers. Why was he still alive? He looked around and saw another person lying in a critical care bed. Lee. He looked away in shame, remembering the sense of estacy he had felt when he had used his wings to maim her. It was almost as if he had been a different person then and was looking back at that person's actions through a foggy mirror.
He tried to move his wings and couldn't. He looked back and couln't see them. His wings were gone! He screamed in horror at the nightmare that he had awoken to. The last time this had happened he had tried to kill himself and for good reason. Without his wings he was nothing. He realized with a chill that he would sell himself to Apocalypse all over again just to get his wings back. They had been cold and mechanical, but they had made him special.
He heard footsteps approaching and looked up to see who it was. Wanda was walking towards him with a concerned look on her face. "I heard you call out, Warren. Is something wrong."
"Wrong? What could possibly be wrong. Your f***ing father tore off my wings. How could I possibly be upset at something like that. I'm going to kill that son of a bitch if it is the last thing I ever do." Warren screamed at her. She blanched at the force of his venom and then her face hardened.
"I would be the last one to claim that my father has a spotless record, but he did this to save your life. If the wings had remained then you would have become a slave of Apocalypse. The bio-mechanical portion of you was slowing subverting the rest of you into something evil."
"I don't care what it cost. At least I could still fly. You don't understand bacause you can't fly, but it is worse than being crippled to have such a thing and lose it." Warren began to cry.
Wanda sat down next to him. "Listen to me, Warren. I know that this is hard but you are going to have to be strong. The X-men need you wings or no wings. You still have enhanced agility and vision. Focus on what you have left and not what you have lost."
"I have lost everything. There was no price too high to pay if it meant that I could fly."
"Even those insane acts of violence that the wings drove you to? Look closely at Lee and see what those wings of yours have done. Be glad you are rid of them, they were evil things."
"I would gladly cut up a hundred worthless human bitches if I could fly again. She is nothing but a cheap slut that whored herself to Magneto. She deserves what happened to her." Across the room Lee Forrester glared venom at Warren. She couldn't speak, having lost her vocal cords to a cut throat when Warren attacked her, but her eyes spoke volumes about what she thought about that comment.
"I am disappointed that you feel that way, Warren. Perhaps we wasted out time in saving you if that is the way that you feel. You are supposed to be a hero, why don't you try acting the part for once. I know that you have suffered a shock, but there is a limit to what can be tolerated and you are getting awfully close to it." Wanda got up. "If you feel like talking like a rational person there is the call button. I'm leaving now and if I were you I would think on exactly what you just said and what it means. Nobody 'deserves' to be cut up that way." Wanda walked out of the room leaving Warren to contemplate her words. He didn't care what she said, he still wanted Magneto dead. He glanced over at Lee and registered the look on her face. Perhaps he had gone a bit far in his words and for a moment he felt a pall of shame settle on him. But what could he say to her that would make a difference. Unable to say sorry, he lay in silence.
The Shadow King struggled under the minstrations of the medical personal who had finally arrived. The altercation had drawn quite a bit of attention and the appearance of Magneto had managed to panic half the security forces in Washington. That he would strike at Cyclops right now was puzzling and dozens of analysts were struggling to figure out just exactly why he had chosen to attack now.
The Shadow King raged at the blind twist of fate that had cost him his victory. He should have made sure that Magneto was dead. Now things were out of his control again. The corner had already removed Bobby's corpse and by morning they would ahve a positive ID. Then the questions would start. He was able to use his telepathy to manipulate a surprising number of people, but there were limits. In this guise he had no authority other then that granted to him by virtue of his current crusade. Once certain elements of various security agencies began to suspect something fishy, the gig was up. Damn Magneto! Things had a nasty tendency to go wrong everytime he showed up.
He would have to make other plans. It was a pity Rogue had failed to secure Christopher as he would have made the perfect host and it was an appropriate time to try and jump bodies again. He did have to admit that the strain was beginning to get to him to some degree. There was a limit and he was pushing it.
But he only needed to win once.
<Elsewhere in Washingon, D.C>
Rogue rocked slowly back and forth as she cried tears of geniune sorrow. She had been forced to run from the encounter with the Avengers and had barely evaded Iron man's determined pursuit. But that wasn't what was bothering her.
Years ago she had tried to murder Carol Danvers and had ended up with Carol trapped in her head. The result had nearly driven her insane, but Danvers wasn't a telepath. Somewhere, deep inside Rogue, the mind and soul of Jean Grey lived on. A second personality trapped inside the same body as the woman who murdered her.
Dying hadn't stripped Jean of her telepathy, and slowly and carefully she was stripping Rogue of the Shadow King's programming. He had turned her into a bloodthirsty monster, the pride of his hounds and the master of his wild hunt. But that wasn't the real Rogue and a slow, careful restoration could still bring the original person back. Not even Xavier could have done it, but Jean was bonded to Rogue far closer than any person could ever be.
As she slowly recovered from the damage that had been done to her, Rogue became aware of what she had been and who had done it to her. She was also aware of the kind and patient efforts of the woman that she had murdered. Jean could have tried to erase her and take over Rogue's body; there had been so little of the original Rogue left it could hardly have been called murder. But instead she had put her efforts into saving what was left and healing what had been so callously destroyed. It was also of great assistance that Rogue still retained some of her Kree physiology and the Shadow King had done an imperfect job of destroying what was there due to his incomplete understanding of the alien structure of her mind.
It was a thin edge, but it was enough. And so as Rogue slowly returned to being what she had always been, she lived in horror at what she had done and terror that the Shadow King would summon her before she could be free of him at last.
Then, then she figured that she was going to kill him. It was the least he deserved after all that he had done. She could feel the part of her that was Jean uneasy with the idea of deliberate murder, but she could see no other way. This could not be allowed to happen to anyone else.