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Ashes in the Wind
An Elseworld's Style X-men Story
J. A. C. Delaney, 1996
<Outside Washington, D.C.>
*Jean!* Xavier called out (involuntarily) as he felt the brush of a familiar mind. He had been calling out to her as a type of grief reflex, forcing himself to accept that she was dead. That the little girl he had counselled and mentored had been murdered. The feel of her alive was jarring after the psychic impression of her fading into the endless void. He turned and saw a very different image than he had expected.
Rogue was battered and torn. One side of her face was still raw from the impact of Wolverine's claws which had torn the left side of her face to pieces. She looked bone-weary and her single eye spoke of innocence lost. Xavier rose from his sitting position on the ground and prepared to defend himself against his former student, now the most dangerous of the Shadow King's hounds. He could feel the psychic scars where the Shadow King had torn into her and he could feel the strange being that had emerged.
"Don't worry, Charles, it is me." Xavier could feel the brush of a telepathic probe he knew too well. "Listen, link your mind with mine, I can explain it more easily that way." She didn't talk like Rogue normally did; the accent had vanished. What did it matter one way or the other. Xavier realized that he was hardly going to defeat her in a physical duel and her natural shields were like iron. The dying Magneto would be of no help to him here.
He touched her mind and he knew horror like he had never dreamed existed. The Shadow King was a beast and deserved to hunted down and destroyed for this act alone. He could see the successive patterns of damage to Rogue's mind. The slow eroding of the person and it's replacement by some sort of wild beast. Worse than a beast, perhaps, because it would kill for pleasure. He could see the crude psychic surgery where the erased portions had been replaced by the mind of Jean Grey. A fragment of Jean must have survived her death at Rogue's hands and managed to find refuge in Rogue's body. The new person was a combination of both. *How are you handling the merger? How has the alteration in personality affected you?*
*It is hard to say. Charles. I am no longer either Jean, Rogue or hound but a mix of all three. I don't have any sense of being one and then the other. They are all part of me, but me is all of them and something greater as well. I don't miss what I used to be, because _I_ was never that previous person. Rogue was killed by the Shadow King and Jean died that I might come into existence. I remember them, but I am not them.*
*I will have to spend some time working with you... what do I call you anyway?*
*Rogue. It seems to be the simplest way. Or Jean if you must, I am both in a way.*
*Um, yes, Rogue, I was saying that I will have to do some work with you now. There is a lot of mental scarring that has taken place and I can now directly work with you. Unlike before, your telepathy enables me to use direct contact to guide you . . . * Xavier wanted to help her desperately, the fragment of Jean crying out to him. But he could not call her Jean.
*There will be time to talk about this later. If there is a later. If there isn't then it won't matter. The Shadow King is out there waiting for us. I can feel him calling me home, and I have to fight to resist it. I will have my revenge on him and I will have peace through it. I can't fight him forever and his hooks are in my soul. He made me into a monster and then he murdered me. I will kill him for that.* Rogue's single eye danced with rage.
*Listen to me, Rogue. Taking revenge in your current state won't be productive. What are you going to do, murder everyone who offends you. Killing for personal reasons is wrong.*
*YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT HE DID TO ME! To Scott. To so many others. Christopher has lost both his parents tonight. He has to be stopped for the sake of everyone else he might harm. He treats people's minds and lives like play-things for his amusement. He is as close to true evil as I have encountered. I must stop him, or else . . . or else . . . *
*Or else what, child?*
*Or else I will never sleep again knowing he is out there waiting for me.* Xavier looked at the traumatized woman with grief and sorrow. So much innocence lost and so much happiness brutally destroyed by the Shadow King. Why was evil so strong? Why was it so much easier to destroy than to create? Why would God have created a world like this?
<Washington, D.C.: SHIELD Headquarters>
"Colonel Fury." The FBI agent said as he walked up to the commander of SHIELD. He was a handsome man of middling height dressed in a dark suit.
"What is it, son. I'm busy right now. There are reports that Magneto was sighted attacking earlier this evening. I am following up on it now and I really don't have time for BS right now." Fury held a special grudge against Magneto after the master of magnetism had betrayed him by killing Zaladane. He had trusted the man, and Mangeto had betrayed that trust. Magneto had crossed the line and proved that he couldn't be trusted. Fury would make him pay for his treachery and his deceitfulness.
"We have bigger problems than that, sir. A call came in from Storm of the X-men."
"I know. I wouldn't take it. I told you, Mulder, I am busy right now." The grim Colonel stared at the young man with an eye that shone like ice.
"I see. Are you aware of the phenomenon of life after death?"
"I really don't have time for this right now."
"It gets better. What if a telepath were killed and somehow managed to come back as some sort of astral entity. We know that telepaths can survive outside their bodies using a technique know as astral projection. What if this happened and the telepath was able to come back a possess people with unusual sensitivity to the astral plane."
"Let me guess, you think some spook is on the loose and you want to lead a bunch of us on a wild goose chase. I told you, I don't have time for this."
"Listen to me, this isn't hypothetical. We have a telepath out there with the instincts of a serial killer and the mind of a crime lord. There is evidence that he has tampered with over a dozen high ranking officials."
"Great. We have an insane mutant dictator wannabe and some telepathic maniac on the loose. Wonderful. Any more good news tonight?"
"Yes. I was following the arrest reports on Scott Summers and his subsequent actions. Look at this. A hospital orderly assigned to his room was drained of his lifeforce. We can prove proximity to the original host agent Reisz when he died under mysterious conditions. Think about assassination attempt by Colonel Vashkin that killed everybody else except Mr. Summers, who survived despite three bullets from a crack shot and expert in assassination. Now reports indicate that the dead body of the unindentifed assailant who attacked Cyclops at the Justice Building is that of Robert Drake aka Iceman; a known associate of Cyclops. And yet killed by Cyclop's optic blast. Now a couple of witnesses say that Professor Charles Xavier was with Magneto. Now what could bring all of this together at once. Now couple this from a call by Captain America and a dead body that happens to match the description of Jean Grey . . . Suddenly all of Mr. Summer's associates seem to be dying like flies, and some of them are trying to kill him. Now why is that? It is too much to be just coincidence, sir. I smell a conspiracy here." The agent waited, expectantly, barely keeping the eager look from his handsome face.
"You said the same things about UFO's as I recall. That there was too much to be a coincidence and that a government cover-up was involved."
"And I seem to remember being right about that."
"Okay, Agent Mulder, I'll assemble a SHIELD Esper squad and suit up for engagement. Let's go see Mr. Summers and see if we can get to the bottom of this. Do we have any more reports on the Grey woman's corpse?"
"Agent Scully is over at the morgue doing an autopsy as we speak. She is the best doctor I have ever worked with and my ex-partner. If anyone can find something then she can."
"Let me know the second that you know anything." The Colonel of SHIELD stalked out and began to call together a team. This was bad news and might give Magneto the chance to escape. If it did and turned out to be a false alarm then Spooky Mulder was going to be a spook for real.
"I should wake Magnus and see if he is strong enough to make it to a hospital before he go after Farouk." Xavier mused.
"Maybe we should just put him out of his misery." Rogue replied.
"It's not like he ever did anything except bring people misery. He would be better off dead than acting like the lying sleaze that he normally is. One less mutant dictator would probably make the world a better place, I figure."
"He has changed, Rogue. I would have thought that you would know that by now."
"Really? I remember a power mad dictator, an incompetent who couldn't babysit a bunch of children without getting one killed and a lying sleaze who betrayed me. Which one of these incarnations of the sleazebag are we trying to save exactly?"
"He is a person and he deserves to be treated like one. That means that we don't abandon him to die. He is also my only real friend."
"Buy a dog, Charles. It would be a hell of a lot more loyal then this piece of human garbage. Besides, look closely at that wound in his gut. He is hardly going to be getting over that. He is tough, but even he has his limits. He needs a hospital and we don't have time to take him to Muir Island. Any local hospital would turn him over to the government. They'll kill him too, but only after an expensive trial. Better to finish him off now and kinder than what will happen to him if we just leave him. He put dogs out of their misery."
"And I guess I'm no better than an animal to you, Rogue." Magneto rasped.
"You're awake!" Rogue exclaimed.
"Magnus!" Xavier asked with a guilty start.
"Yes, Charles. I'm awake."
"Look, Magneto, we were just talking about you. Rogue is distraught and she doesn't know what she is saying." Xavier argued.
"I don't have time for excuses and I don't really care one way or the other. We have to stop the Shadow King, that is what counts now. I don't have a lot of strength right now, so listen to me and listen carefully. He is going to return to his old place of power. The place where he was safest and strongest. At heart he is a coward and we have hurt him badly all things considered. He can only cover up so much and after today he will face exacting scrutiny. There is only one logical place for him to go; he will return to the Hellfire Club. We have to stop him before he recovers or we will never stop him. It has cost us far too much already and we are greatly diminished. If we don't finish him soon then we never will."
"Right, old man. Age and infirmity have robbed you of your wits. Even if we listened to you, the two of us could never attack the Hellfire Club on our own. That is, if this isn't a trap." Rogue snapped.
"Not on your own." Magnus grunted, his face contorted in pain with the effort of his conversing. "Charles, you need to bring the X-men here, to America."
"So you can ambush them too?" Rogue quipped. Magnus looked at her in surprise. This was not at all like her. Something had happened to make the girl hate him. The scars on her and the new mode of dress told him a lot. The world had not been kind to Rogue since they had last been together. Whatever had been between them was gone now, drifted away like ashes in the wind.
"Enough." Xavier barked. "Listen to me, Magnus, there aren't any X-men anymore. They are dead. Slaughtered by the Shadow King at Muir Island."
"Combine the survivors with Excalibur or the New Mutants. That will be enough to punch through the defences at the Club, or at least those that I can't simply bypass. As Grey King I know most of the control codes."
"How long until he replaces them, Magnus? It is risky to try such a thing. Everytime we have faced him we have suffered grievous losses. I don't think we can afford another mistake. Someone has to remain to preserve the dream."
"Don't let your egocentrism blind you to the truth, Charles. If he wins over us, then it doesn't matter where the X-men are. He will hunt them down and slaughter them. Please, don't make everything in vain. Don't make me regret saving you." Magnus stared at Xavier with fevered eyes.
Charles Xavier stood there thinking while Magneto slowly passed out due to exertion and shock. He was reluctant to bring them over, but the bastard was right. He had no choice. "Rogue, I want you to take us to a hidden base in the Bermuda Triangle." The look on her face was one of shock and rage. "I will brook no argument in this. He is right. We have to bring everyone and destroy him once and for all; if not for our sake then for the sake of every living being on this planet. Left alone he will drain it dry and then leave for greener pastures. I don't know that I have encountered anything more evil than he is."
"And I suppose you are going to want to save him as well. What makes him different than the Shadow King? What?"
"He cares, Rogue. It might be buried beneath a lifetime of hurt and jade, but in the end he still cares. The Shadow King is an abomination far beyond any such emotion. That is the difference between the two; that with Magnus we might still hope that he will see the light. The Shadow King is darkness itself."
"I don't know. He was always our enemy, Professor, and it seems wrong to suddenly trust him. I did, and he betrayed my trust and that of all of his allies. Without trust we can never be sure of him; never be sure that he isn't going to turn on us like a rabid dog. Professor, I'm afraid of him."
"Don't be, child. I have always protected you before and I will protect you now. Trust me."
Together they headed off into the sunset.
Optic fire blazed into the SHIELD Esper squad and telepathic tendrils burrowed into their minds. It was over as far as the shape of Scott Summers was concerned, but the Shadow King still hadn't recovered enough to make another transfer a realistic option. So he fought and the agents died like lambs led to the slaughter. The odd bullet struck him, but he used the psionic energy he drained from the dying to heal the wound instantly. He was a master of the astral plane and the body he wore was a warrior without peer. It was just that Scott had never really let loose before. He remedied that as he unleashed the full potential of one of the most powerful mutants to have ever arisen.
Colonel Fury retreated, a grenade covering his desperate escape. He dashed down a street and turned the corner. He took a second to catch his breath before calling back to SHIELD Headquarters. The Shadow King got him standing there, grabbing his mind and slowly turning it to his will. Colonel Fury fought, but it was a losing battle. He sank to the pavement wracked in agony when he felt a metallic object being slipped on his head. Suddenly the voices went away. He looked up at the FBI agent who had saved him.
"High grade telepathic inhibitors, don't leave home without them." the crazy FBI man joked. He seemed much less phased then Fury would have expected, almost as if he dealt with this sort of thing all the time.
"What now, agent Mulder?"
"Now we run for our lives before that critter gets around to burning through these gizmos."
"After you." As they ran, Nick Fury sent a carefully arranged series of signals out. Within a few hours, everyone who needed to know about the Shadow King knew that a rogue telepath was loose.
<POV: Shadow King>
Curse you, Xavier and your lackeys. You may think that you have won, but all you have done is delay the inevitable. I will win eventually no matter what you do. Because you are finite and I have gone beyond that. I will kill you and I will kill Magneto. Both of you will die in agony for balking me this way. It is inevitable that I will triumph over all of you.
But now it is time to concede your petty victory here and retire behind the scenes. I have done more damage in days then you will be able to repair in years. Behind the scenes I can work in decades to destroy all foolish enough to oppose my will. It is a large world out there, full of pain and suffering, and I am very hungry.
So I will return to where I became great. I will go back to the Hellfire Club and reign once more as it's hidden monarch.
It is only a matter of time until I destroy you, Xavier. Savour these pain free moments, for they will be your last.