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Ashes in the Wind
An Elseworld's Style X-men Story
J. A. C. Delaney, 1996
<POV: Charles Xavier>
I have every confidence that Peter will successfully contact Excaliber and have them ready for me when I arrive in Scotland. But first I have two trips I need to make, one to visit an old friend and the other to turn his children against him.
I think back on my previous encounters with Ahmal Farouk otherwise known as the Shadow King. He is still a brutally powerful psi and he still feeds off of negative emotions; especailly fear, pain and lust. But he is not a god and I wonder at the amount of power being ascribed to him at the moment. From what I can gather it appears that he has taken control of Muir Island. Yet if he were that powerful he should have smashed my defences like cheap glass when he rode Colossus in an attempt to kill me and Stevie Hunter. No, from what I remember of him, he cannot hold the entire island on his own. Or can he. Has he changed this much? If he has then it makes my search for Magneto all the more imperative because if the Shadow King has grown to such a size then we will need Magneto's power on our side. When dealing with a high grade telepath it is far more important to have a nucleus of strong willed individuals of great personal power than an army of friends who might be turned against you. I have used Cerebro, at grave risk of being attacked by the Shadow King when I would be most vunruble to him, and I have learned Magnus' location. I know where he is and there will be a reckoning between us; for all that he has done and failed to do.
So now I am going to try and use Magnus' children against him. We were never all that good with children; either of us. We only learned of the identities of our children after they were grown and we never learned to give them the time to know us. In that we have both made mistakes; one I promise I will rectify as soon as I deal with this crisis. Then I will take the time to get to know David.
But why does this excuse seem hollow, even to me? Will there ever be the time when I am free to be a man and not a hero upon whom the fate of the world rests? Or am I doomed to be like Atlas of legend with the weight of the whole world resting on my shoulders?
I ponder these questions without answers as the plane brings me ever closer to a meeting that I dread.
<A hotel on the West Coast of the United States>
<POV: Charles Xavier>
"... and so I hope you understand why I felt it was imperative to contact you immediately. In the past Magnus has shown extreme reluctance to overtly injure either of you and that is an edge we are going to need. I wouldn't be here if there was an easier way but I see no other option at this time." I stare at the two figures in front of me, hoping beyond hope that they will respond appropriately; whatever else, I don't want to begin this operation by mind controlling them into doing my bidding. Such tricks are for the likes of the Shadow King.
I glance into Wanda eyes and watch her drop them. She can't meet my gaze and that meant she understands her reluctance is wrong. I start to speak again when Pietro interupts. "I care nothing for your tales of 'hidden mutant telepaths'. My sister has just lost her children, her husband and been brutally used by Immortus. It isn't fair to ask this of her." He puts his arm around her shoulder protectively. He is still a fool. In shielding her from me when I can to recruit them as X-men so long ago, he had brought them both into Magnus' clutches. I wasn't going to repeat that particular mistake. Ever.
"Fair? What is fair? You were born able to move faster than the eye can see. Is that fair? I spent half my life crippled. Is that fair? Warren had his wings cut off due to the actions of a bigoted madman and his body twisted by a monster. Is that fair? Search your soul, Pietro Maximoff, you know what I am asking is just. It isn't fair but it _is_ the right thing to do!" I see a flash of anger in his eyes and I regret my venom. Still, I need him and his sister. Wanda involuntarily glances at the twisted form of Archangel as he stands behind my right shoulder. Perhaps she does understand.
"Listen to me, Professor Xavier, I have had enough of you threatening us and guilting us. We aren't going on any mission to fight Magneto and that's final." Quicksilver looks ready to explode in anger.
"No, Pietro, he is right. We do have to go, but not for the reasons he says." Wanda speaks for the first time. I notice her eyes are dark with lack of sleep and her features are prematurely creased. She has had a hard life and the last few weeks have been particularily bad. She is old before her time. The same age as Jean, she looks a decade her senior.
"What are you talking about, Wanda?" Pietro replies, unable to keep the shock from his voice. Ever one to wear his heart on his sleeve was this speedster.
"He is our father, Pietro, for better or for worse. From what I can see of Nick Fury's briefing he is hurting, badly. I know what it is like to be all alone in the universe with nobody you can turn to..." she stops for a moment and fights back tears. "He is alone and hurt and scared up there, Pietro. That is enough for me. Reason enough even if he weren't the most feared mutant on earth. If we ever lose our sense of compassion then we aren't any better than he is." She grabs his arm and squeezes it tightly, hanging on like a drowning woman.
"This is insane! He is a madman!" Pietro replies, a wild look in his eyes. "You aren't ready for this..."
"Not ready? Don't you dare tell me that. I am damn well ready for this and I am going... with or without you. For heaven's sake, Pietro, he is our father." Wanda rises and stares Quicksilver in the eyes.
"He abandoned us..."
"Through no choice of his own."
". . . and abused us!"
"Is there any one of us who hasn't done something that they have regreted. No, Pietro, it is time for us to stop denying that he is our father and learn to deal with what that means. Now, are you coming or not." I watch a range of emotions flood trough the speedster. Finally, he sighs with resignation and embraces his sister.
"Somebody has to take care of you, sis. Might as well be me." Over her shoulder he gives me a look filled with venom. I don't have to be a mind reader to realize it bears the promise of dire revenge if she is harmed. I wish I had a choice, but Magneto is needed. I will pay any price to insure that he is there to be used against the Shadow King... and to ensure he never menaces my children again. Wanda wants to go to heal and that may yet prove her doom. I sigh and rise, the feeling of elation at my success is gone and replaced by a profound sense of self-loathing. "We will be leaving in about half an hour. I have left directions to the airport on the table." I get up and leave the room. Drake and Worthington follow me as we leave the siblings to one last moment together. Why did you have to go to compassion, Wanda? If you had your brother's grave dislike of your father I might have been able to spare you. But now, with all that is coming I cannot be certain of this. When I strike Magneto I cannot afford to have anything go wrong. Sweet child, your compassion may prove your undoing for while I pray you are not present I cannot afford to let you stop me. One way or the other I must ensure that Magneto never murders again.
"Agent Reisz, are the reports of a group of mutant terrorists planning an assasination of the president true?" an overeager reporter shouted at him. He moved away from her and fought his way towards the House of Representatives. Val Cooper turned to the young reporter and replied.
"We are uncertain of the truth at this time. Early reports from the FBI counter-terrorist squad indicate the possibility of such a plot, but we cannot be certain at this time."
"Dr. Cooper, how many alleged terrorists are being held and can you tell us their identities?" Another reporter shouted at her. "The identities of the persons being held for questioning is classified until such a time as the FBI finishes it's sweep for more members of this organization. We will tell you everything just as soon as we are able."
"What about the reports that some of the terrorists have links to the organization known as 'X-factor'?"
"I'm afraid I cannot comment on that at this time." Val turned and forced herself to follow Jacob Reisz into the building. She hurried to catch up to him, a lapdog following her master.
"Silly cattle, they hate so easily, and if you feed that hate they will believe anything." Reisz commented.
"I'm still not sure such an aggressive move was wise. Summers and Grey have friends in the government..." Cooper began.
"Who will fair no better then you, my pretty little pet. You are, after all, only human, and thus no match for me. Let them protest, and I will find out who they are and deal with them."
"As you wish, my master." Even though she was filled with disquiet, Dr. Valarie Cooper stared at Agent Reisz with naked adoration. She was a willing slave, having been mind-controlled by the Shadow King when she failed to heed the warnigs of KGB Colonel Vashkin. He was another one they would have to deal with soon enough, like all of his enemies. And deep inside, part of her screamed.
<RAF Ruthymere. Home of Wierd Happenings Organization. England.>
"Some strange things have been happening here of late." Brigadier Stuart commented. "We had Excalibur's balckbird stolen out from under us under mysterious circumstances, and cloaked by some most unseasonable weather." The Brigadier stared pointedly at Storm, who showed the good grace to look slightly guilty.
"We made the best decision we could at the time. We couldn't be sure that WHO hadn't been compromised. We had the right to take back what was ours to begin with." Storm replied.
"I'm not so sure about right and wrong in this case, but I do find your paranoia far fetched. Next thing I know you will be asking me to jump at Shadows." Stuart replied.
"That might not be a bad idea, Brigadier." Storm locked her eyes with the youngest Brigadier in the British Forces. "The Shadow King is a telepath of the highest order and completely ammoral. He is capable of twisting anyone to his foul desires, no matter how much they try and resist. I have felt the strength of his mind and he rivals my Mentor Charles Xavier for strength. Only, instead of being noble, he is uttelry corrupt. I have felt his grip once, and trust me, you don't ever want to find out how hard it was to break free." The Brigadier noticed how strange her eyes were, blue cat's eyes in a dusky face. But strange or not, they shined with a burning intensity.
"It can hardly hurt to be sure." Alistaire Stuar interjected. He was the head of the technical division of WHO and the Brigadier's brother.
"I've been on Muir Island recently and I fought with the residents against the Reavers. I saw nothing wrong then."
"That was months ago, Sis, and Banshee himself thinks things have gone a little strange with Moira. The actions of Legion should be proof enough that things have gone sour there." Alistaire replied.
Brigadier Alysande Stuart stared at the group of assembled heroes. She didn't know the big Russian, Colossus, or this impassioned weather goddess, Storm. But the rest were friends and, if she doubted their competence at times, she never doubted their hearts. "Okay, I will have the tech people fit us up with the experimental shields and I'll bring a crack unit of WHO troops with me. I don't want any mistakes, these are friends and not blood enemies. We go in, we look around and we do what's necessary. When I say so and not a moment before. Is that understood?" A chorus of reluctant agreement greeted her demands. Alysande shook her head. What was she getting herself into?
The mind of the Shadow King hovered and danced around the chaos that had broken out over the island as everyone there exercised their darkest desires. Never had he dreamed of such an orgy of lust and pain and evil as he sampled here. And the best thing was that he hadn't had to expend any energy to obtain it.
Sure, he had expended the effort to gain control of Legion, Xavier's bastard son, but that had been a mere sampling of what was to come. The actions of the mad Ruler of the Savage Land, Zaladane, had brought forth the most interesting little bauble in the form of a new Lorna Dane. Possessed by Malice when she had been drained of her magnetic powers, the powers of Malice had somehow been inverted. No longer encouraging the dark desires of the person that it possessed, now it encouraged the desires of the people around it. Best of all, it was permanently trapped in Lorna Dane's frail body.
With the sort of cunning that had made him a criminal mastermind he had seized this opportunity to have his Legion puppet place Lorna Dane into a containment cell intended for Proteus! The chances of her escaping where miniscule and the inhabitants of the island were so caught up in their dark desires they didn't even think to search for her. The result had been like paradise for him.
Sure, several of the X-men on the island had disappeared form the psion web he was using to suck out their energies but that was only temporary. Soon the effect of Forge's devices would wear off and by then he would be too far gone in madness and evil to construct another. Or to want to.
With Muir Island as a power source he realized he could be much more than he had ever hoped. No longer Ahmal Farouk, a petty crimelord that had risen to become the Shadow King of the Hellfire Club. No, he could be the master of this pitiful globe and make everyone a plaything. The idea had certain merits. And in the end he would track down and slowly murder Charles Xavier, the only man who had ever defeated him.
In the cold darkness of the Astral Plane, something monstrous smiled.