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Ashes in the Wind

Chapter 6

An Elseworld's Style X-men Story

J. A. C. Delaney, 1996

 

<An Island in the Bermuda Triangle>

 

Archangel soared across the island in the middle of one of the most infamous areas on the high seas. He kept his speed below mach 1 to ensure that he didn't reveal his presence with any sonic booms. His unusually keen vision scoured the island looking for the haunt of the Master of Magnetism.

None of the X-men who had been to this island before were still availible; and only Scott had even been safe to talk to. The others were across the Atlantic ocean; possibly fighting for their lives against the Shadow King. That is where we should be too, he thought, not looking for this piece of filth. It was a mistake not to have killed Magneto back in the old days when we defeated him and then let him go. We could have saved ourselves a world of heartbreak if we had just been a bit more realiztic in our approach.

He swung around the island for one last pass. It seemed the odd looking complex was the only reasonable place for Magneto to be hiding. Well and good, they would get this over quickly then. Xavier thought that he needed Magneto against the Shadow King; but Warren Worthington III was going to make sure that this was one enemy who would haunt them again.


<Military Aircraft enroute to Muir Island>

 

Peter Rasputin watched the face of Rachel Summers with growing concern. The scarred woman interested him in the same way one might be interested in a cobra or a viper; she was strong and beautiful but infinitely dangerous. Just like Calisto. He wondered what had happened to set up the barriers between her and the rest of the Excalibur. She seemed to be a natural outsider; never really a part of the group but rather orbiting it at some great distance.

She would have been a classic beauty once, combining the strength of Scott Summers with the beauty of Jean Grey in her features. But someone had cut her face to pieces at some point in her career. Usually she covered it with a psionic illusion that pretended that nothing had ever happened to her face; that it was still beautiful. But when she let her concentration slip, the whole patchwork of cuts became visible. It was sad that she felt she needed to hide the truth of her disfigurement this way. Perhaps if Wolverine had managed to get to her the way he did with Nightcrawler she might have felt differently. But then, given her last encounter with Wolverine, maybe this was best.

He remembered her when she had first joined the X-men so long ago. A spoiled child who was filled with the scars from a concentration camp in her own world; a future variant of ours that the X-men had prevented from ever coming to pass. She had been emotionally disturbed and impossible to get close to; alternately demanding too much and demanding too little.

How had the scared and abused child of nineteen become this leather clad S&M queen? She was covered in skin tight red leather that left nothing to the imagination and had sharp metal spikes protrouding from her costume. It was blood red; just like Magneto's costume. It was, as far as he could recall, alarmingly similar to what she had worn as a hound. What scars could be on her psyche to make her wear the symbol of her degradation so openly?

But it wasn't her costuming or her attitude that had attracted his attention. It was the look on her face like pain as she seemed to focus on something. That was what had drawn him away from the joy and comraderie of his old friends. Something was frightening the girl terribly and this was the strongest psi he had ever met. Whatever frigthened her was of immediate concern to the rest of them.

"Girl, Peter? I hardly think I am that." Rachel spoke suddenly and arched her back to emphasize her breats. She ran her hands down over her body in a slow, provocative manner. "More like a woman I'd say. Wouldn't you agree?" she mocked. He looked away in embarrassment and started to head back to the front of the aircraft.

*Peter, wait. I'm sorry about that. It's just that the girl thought annoyed me,* she telepathically told him. *and I'm really on edge right now.*

"What's the matter?" Colossus replied, stiff as if he was in his armoured form. Her little perfromance had interested him more than any clean blooded son of the Rodina should have been interested. Besides, he was committed elsewhere, if she was still alive after the Shadow King had ambushed them. Besides, what was she doing reading his thoughts like that.

"Muir Island, there is something wrong with it. The closer we get to it the more that I sense the sickness and despair that it is radiating. It is like a giant mouth on the astral plane that is seeking to devour our souls. I am so desperately afraid that if I go there I'll sink into a pit of madness from which I will never recover." She looked at him as a scared and innocent child, craving that somebody else believe her. That is all she is, he realized. Her childhood was stolen from her and she was never really close to any of us. An eternal outsider who was never able to forge bonds of care with anyone. Just the scared and helpless child who is all alone, except that she has the power to move mountains. What miracle is it that she managed to avoid becoming another Magneto? Is this the way he started down his dark path?

"I don't doubt you, Rachel, but what can we do about it? We can't leave our friends there if it is the horror that you describe. Is there anything that can be done about this feeling of yours?"

"Yes, we should go on ahead and find out first hand what is going wrong. Before we drag the others into it as well. Oncwe we all get there we will be trapped. It is waiting for us like some sick vampire seeking it's next victim."

"We? Why me?"

"Because you are the only one who cared enough to ask me what was wrong. Because you mastered your fear of the Shadow King enought to confront him with no defences. Because, even then, you couldn't kill. And because I trust you."

"Then I guess we have no choice." Peter shivered as he said these words with the sense of an irreversible choice having been made.

Seconds later they had left the aircraft behind and were speeding towards Muir Island.


<Muir Island>

 

Wolverine struggled against the red rage that burned through his body as he fought against Gambit. It was costing him his edge to be fighting in the inside as well as the outside. A lesser man whould already have been dead from the dozens of slashes tht Gamit had made with a makeshift blade attached to his staff. His healing facotr was still enough to keep him on his feet, no matter how badly it was working these days. But it wouldn't work much longer.

"Haven't even touched me yet, old man. I figure all the stories that I heard about you were exagerated, mes ami." Gambit cut sideways with a wicked slash that Wolverine barely avoided.

Fight smart, Wolverine thought and slashed at the staff. His claws cut through it like a hot knife through butter. The Cajun was fast, but he only needed to make one mistake for me to put him down. Kill him! the red rage told him. Murder him! it blazed in his skull. No, Wolverine swore, not unless there is no other choice. But then, his options were being whittled away as his strength faded.

There was another way. Wolverine ignored the pain and began to focus deep inside himself. It had been a long time since he had tried to use the spiritual side of his martial abilities; but he had learned them so long ago. Before he had fought in two world wars and been turned into an adamantium enhanced freak, he had sought this out hoping it might be the secret to the rage that enveloped him. Flow, strike, be one with yourself.

He launched himself into a flawless counter to the Cajun's swirling attacks. If he had done this sooner he would have been able to win this encounter, but he wqs too badly hurt now. But if he died it would be as the man, Logan, and not some bloodcrazed monster. He barely heard the cry as his claws found flesh for the first time him his encounter.

Then the Cajun made a mistake, a little one but it opened him up to a classic counter attack. With one smooth, fluid maneaver, Logan split the Cajun from crotch to throat. He watched, distantly, as the Cajun's eyes filled with disbelief and he toppled to the ground. He was desperately trying to keep his guts from spilling out and failing terribly. He was dead, he just didn't know it yet.

Wolverine sank down on the ground next to the mortally wounded Gambit and placed his hand on the man's forehead. He could see the eyes clearing as the malevolent force that gripped the island slowing let the dying pawn go free. As Logan stared at the sack of flesh that had once been a living and breathing human being he felt tears coming to his eyes. With the X-men he had thought that he had found a better way. The boy had been cocky and arrogant but he hadn't deserved to die this way. Deserve has nothing to do with it a lifetime of killing reminded him. But he couldn't stop the welling of compassion and sorrow that was building up in his body. He swore he would end this, not out of revenge but to stop this senseless killing.

As he got up to leave he failed to notice the red rage he left him. Little did he know the evil was a consequence of Malice being altered by the application of one of Zaladane's device to her host Lorna Dane. He didn't realize it, but compassion was the perfect remedy for malice. The injection that Forge had given him made him immune to the psion web that the Shadow King had used to orchestrate the murder on the island. He strode forth to meet his destiny, aware at last of what he was and confident he had mastered himself. It was the last thing he had desired in this life and it came only now, just before the end.


PART7

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