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Ashes in the Wind
An Elseworld's Style X-men Story
J. A. C. Delaney, 1996
<Point of View: Wolverine>
I sniffed the air of the island and couldn't rid myself of the impression of an unholy and monstrous stench. There was something about the island itself that was just plain wrong. Not the influence of some skull scanner gone mad, but something deeper and more fundamental. Even with the blocker Forge had placed in me, I could feel the red animal rage just beneath the surface. I growled softly, because it seemed the right thing to do and then I turned back to my companions; Forge, Banshee and the unconscious Rogue.
"How is the kid doing, Forge?" I said, fighting down the urge to kill; the sort of berserk rage that I usually kept deeply buried.
"My rifle doesn't have the power to fundamentally harm someone of her abilities. Just give her a few moments for the blocker to take effect and for her to regain consciousness. Then we can head out and who else is wandering around this little island paradise." Forge replied; his attempt at sarcastic humour falling flat.
"Listen to me, Bub. Are you certain that doohickey of yours is effective? After all of these years, why haven't we seen one of these for use against skull scanners and mind rapists before?"
Forge turned to look at me with a glance of genuine annoyance. He was getting angry way too quickly I thought. But then that just helped confirm the suspicions that where running through my mind. I had seen this before somewhere, if only I could remember where. "Because it only blocks the diffuse field of psions that he has scattered across the island to encourage us to violence. It would be useless against the direct psychic assault of a first rate psi. Kinda like trying to turn back the tide with your bare hands."
All he was doing was confirming a sick and horrible suspicion that was lurking in the recesses of my brain. I sniffed the air experimentally and began to take in all of the scents around me. Both Forge and Banshee were on the verge of losing their temper for no understandable reason. It was expected that they would be on edge in a potential combat situation, but this was different. Something sick and loathsome was growing in each of them. But it was Rogue who convinced me. The smells coming from her were a combination of blood, violence and sex. Not at all what I would have expected to find. There was no way the Shadow King could have caused this much personality shifting all by himself. Not at this kinda range. It was something else. Something utterly rotten and completely evil. Shady was just along for the ride, feeding off of it like a hideous parasite; growing stronger as the madness on the island increased.
"So, if there was another source of this madness that infected Muir Island, your injection there would be useless?"
"Leave the technical stuff to people who know what they are doing, beast man! Just get out of here and do what you do best -- abandon friends when you are needed!" Forge barked. This was way out of line . . . and way out of character.
"Laddie, there is no call for that!" Banshee replied, glancing up from the prone form of Rogue. It was still there then. Whatever it was, Forge had only partially blocked it. The surface effects. But you see, I run closer to edge than most and I can feel it reaching and and trying to drag a bloody handed murderer to the surface. I glace around, there is nothing for me here.
I turn and walk away, ignoring Banshee's pleas for me to stay and Forge's taunts. If I am right, the injections that Forge gave them won't fundamentally alter the problems that has infected this island. Whatever is going on I have to face it alone. Because, whether I like it or not, there is nobody else.
<An Island in the Bermuda Triangle>
Lee Forrester forced herself to keep running despite the pain in her lungs and the bands of agony that her legs had become. It was always like this after a long time at sea, she had to recover both her wind and her balance. She loved the wild and free feeling she got from running alone on the beach, all by herself against the fury of nature. At moments like this she was actually content.
She had administered a sedative to Magneto before she had set out and watched his demon-haunted sleep fade into normal slumber. Damn the man that he could still raise this level of concern in her. When she found the hussy who had stolen him away she would kill the harlot with her bare hands.
Not that she hadn't had her fair share of men over the years; ranging from serious boyfriends to one night stands. Yet, among them all, this man stood forth to her as somebody special; somebody she would like to share the rest of her life with. If only he would her. If only she would let him.
She rounded the last corner in her early morning run. It was an old path she had learned from when she had been on the island with Magneto; back when they had first been together. The island was covered with strange alien architecture from some long lost race. When she stared at the inscriptions on the buildings she could help but feel uneasy. Whatever had once been here was best buried.
She slowed to a trot as she finally reached the building she had left Magneto in before her run. It had been equiped with Sh'iar medical equipment at some point in Magneto's tenure as headmaster. She had remembered how to use a few of the machines and left them on to monitor him as she went out to run. She wiped her face to remove some of the sweat that had coated it and started stinging her eyes and poured herself a glass of water. Then she went to where she had left Magneto. Her heart almost stopped when she reached his bed and saw he was missing. She glanced about with a sudden wariness. Had something happened while she was gone. Then she saw a tall, cloaked figure step into view.
"Do not concern yourself, Miss Forrester, I am perfectly alright." spoke a granite voice. "It appears my metabolism has speeded up in the wake of my power boost back in the Savage Land. As a result your timing was off." Lee watched in fascination as machinery melded itself beneath his hands. "It is time to begin the process of tracking my opponent. These devices are modeled on Charles Xavier's Cerebro machine. They should be capable of detecting his psionic signature."
"So what if you find him. In the shape you are in there is no way you are ready to fight him." Even after all that had happened it seemed Magneto hadn't lost his arrogant self-assurance.
"Ready has nothing to do with. I have spent my life not being 'ready' and as a result how many of my people have been slaughtered because I wasn't there for them. There is no ready or unready, there is only doing or not doing." Magneto was dressed in armour again; his eyes reduced to glowing pools of red flame. At moments like this he seemed less like a man than like an indomitable force of nature.
"If you find him what are you going to do about it."
"My researches into psionic effects has convinced me that psionic power is fundamentally electromagnetic in nature. What else is consciousness but a glittering web of electronic impulses implanted in a skull." Magneto gestured and a nearby screen lit up showing a map of the electromagnetic impulses of the brain. "To the best of my knowledge, the Shadow King had enough control over his own electromagnetic brain patterns to sustain them after his death. At this point he drifted aimlessly for some time until he found a psionically sensitive individual over whom he could superimpose his own brain patterns. That individual was Karma of the New Mutants. Eventually she was freed from his thrall and he found another host. Either another psi of some sort or a completely defenceless mind of some sort. Either way, if I can find that host and kill it I will have effectively ended his sick existence."
"Even if you are right, and a lot of what you say contradicts the notes in Xavier's file on Farouk, how does that keep him from simply finding a new host."
"You have read Xavier's files?" Magneto returned with a look of sharp alertness. What was he trying to do? Hide stuff from his only ally?
"You gave me the password or don't you remember that? Or maybe you want to forget that period of history entirely? Stop avoiding the question, Magneto."
"Some time ago I altered the electromagnetic field of the Earth to inhibit telepathic communication so as to hide myself from Professor Xavier and his Cerebro machine. Such an alteration could be done on a local scale to limit the range of telepathy to an almost arbitrarily small distance. If the host were to be killed at this point then the Shadow King would be effectively destroyed."
"What is the catch?"
"What do you mean."
"Even with you playing cold, dark and mysterious, I know you well enough to know when you are hiding something. You have never been a good liar, Magnus, not even by omission. What is it that you aren't telling me?"
"In order to achieve this level of electromagnetic manipulation I will have to be close. I might try it a but further away, but only at the risk of massive damage to the Earth's geomagnetic fields. Even as powerful as I am this will require all of my power."
"How close, Magnus? How close will you have to be?"
Magneto looked away, unable to meet her eyes. "A few meters. Maybe less."
"A few meters? And just how are you going to manage to get that close to a telepath that powerful without him detecting you."
"I won't. I will have to fight my way in."
"Listen to me, Magnus. There is no reason for you to throw your life away on a mad gesture like this. Surely we can come up with a safer way, something with a better survival chance."
"I have always been a survivor, Lee. It is my curse to watch all that I love die while I alone continue to survive it all. I am so used to the horror that it no longer bothers me; and I think that scares me more than anything else. I will not, I cannot, let Auschwitz happen again. And that is just what that maggot will do if I let him."
Magneto gestured and the mini-Cerebro device he had been working on was encased in a steel rocket housing. He began to glow as he pulled in electromagnetic energy from the Earth's local field. As his eyes began to spark with lightening, he formed a hole in the ceiling and released the rocket upwards into the sky. He rapidly repeated this operation with two more rockets.
"Now what, Magnus?" Lee asked.
"Now we wait." Magneto replied. "Wait and pray that a miracle occurs before we are forced to face him." He stepped back startled as she stepped towards him. "Careful, Lee, it is dangerous to touch me when I am so highly charged."
"It doesn't matter. Do you realize that this is the first time you have said 'we' since we got to this place." Lee put her arms around the rapidly discharging Magneto and kissed him. To his surprise he found himself returning the kiss. "I think I can think of a way to pass the time while we wait for the results of the rocket." Lee muttered in his ear and was shocked and surprised to see him blush.
Even if they had no future they at least had this time together and Lee resolved to be content with that no matter what the future brought with it.