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Ashes in the Wind
An Elseworld's Style X-men Story
J. A. C. Delaney, 1996
<Muir Island: Maximum security detention wing>
But nobody noticed as the charred ruin of a man began to crawl towards a destination that seemed impossibly distant from him.
<An Island in the Bermuda Triangle>
Magneto stared at the screen as his sattelites presented him with a very confusing picture. The psionic energy pattern of the Shadow King seemed to be spread out and diffuse. The energy required to be able to do this was tremendous; the Shadow King had found an incredible source of power somehow. Or maybe he had always been this strong. There was an extremely strong pattern at Muir Island mixed in with another that he recognized. So Phoenix was dueling the Shadow King. He reached for his helmet; this was not something that he would let her do alone; he knew her and he had faced Farouk before, she didn't have what it would take to win. He would leave a note for Lee and then head there immediately. Lee would understand that she couldn't possibly help in this sort of confrontation . . . and if he tried to say good-bye his courage might fail him. At about Mach 5 it would take him about...
"Hello, Father." Quicksilver said. "What plan of world conquest am I observing now? Or is that just a reminder or past failures." He stared pointedly at the map of the world.
"What?" Magneto enveloped himself in a personal force shield. "What are you doing here?"
"Why I am just visiting my beloved father, just like a dutiful sibling should." Pietro replied, venom dripping from his comment.
"I don't have time for this nonsense now. I have more important things to attend to."
"Really, like screwing that human girl you have sleeping in the next room? That is a form of bestiality for you, isn't it?" A magnetic hand gripped Quicksilver by the throat and began to choke him.
"This . . . is . . . more . . . like . . . what . . . I . . . expected. Always . . . ready . . . to . . . abuse . . . us . . . aren't .. . . you . . . father?" Pietro gasped out. Magneto stared at him, his eyes pools of magnetic fire. Magneto thought for a moment and released him.
"Bah, I have had enough of this sparring. I have made mistakes but it is too late to atone for them here. I have other things to do that are far more important."
This isn't working, thought Pietro, he really is preoccupied with something. I need to push him just a little further and show Wanda that he really hasn't reformed, no matter how much it hurts. "Of course there isn't enought time. There never was for us, was there, Father? except when you abused us. You always had time for that I remember." It isn't working, Pietro noted, he is ignoring me and preparing to leave. "I always wondered what happened to Mother, you know. She ran screaming from our birthplace claiming you were going to kill her. I think now that maybe she was right and that's why we never found her. I think you found her first and finished her off. After all, she was only human."
"That is ENOUGH." Magneto turned and lightening leapt at the speedster. He dodged, barely, a bolt that would have hospitialized him. "Have you nothing better to do than torment me? Why are you here and how did you find me? I cannot believe you are here to merely to torment me with absurd accusations!"
"How absurd can they be? They must have some element of truth in them to upset you so much!" Pietro tried to dodge the web of lightening that shot forth from the blood-red clad warrior but it was too dense and there was nowhere to run. He screamed as electricity burned through him. Had he pushed it too far, too fast? Surely Xavier was almost here .. . . and Wanda with him. Just when he thought he could stand no more he heard a voice ring out.
"Enough, Magnus, enough! What kind of Monster preys on his own children?" Xavier cried out. A psi bolt cracked across the astral plane and the force of it brought the master of magnetism to his knees. Magneto looked up to see his daughter rushing towards the injured Quicksilver while his oldest friend and two of his oldest foes stared at him. A second psi bolt struck him, and as he concentrated on resisting it he let his shield drop. A flight of razor sharp feather cut into him, slicing through his legendary armour. He felt himself being slowly paralyzed. An instant later, chains of ice formed around his body as Bobby Drake added to Warren's lethal barrage. Xavier continued to batter against his shields as he slowly lost consciousness.
The last thing he saw as the world faded to black was the screen on which the battle between the Shadow King and Phoenix was being displayed as a chain of numbers indicating psion fluxes. I'm sorry, child, he thought; and then darkness claimed him.
And so it was that Magneto was not at the final phase of the battle of Muir Island.
Dr. Shen had been a physician before she had become the slave of the Shadow King. She had been a conservative woman from a wealthy oriental family before he had tapped into her dark side and made her his slave. He couldn't have hurt her worse than that, he had made her into a mockery of everything that she had believed in right after draining the life out of a dear friend of hers.
And yet she had no choice but to serve the sick, twisted bastard. She looked at the corpse he had made his own with involuntary concern. He was fighting another pitched battle with a major league psi. The fight with Xavier had almost finished him; another so soon was extremely hazardous. If he lost this host it was uncertain if he would have the energy to possess another, or if he would be forced back into the astral plane.
It was her duty to prevent that as much as possible, and yet she sighed with the hopeless of the task. If he continued to push himself like this then he was bound to crack, sooner or later. There was a dark corner of her, far from his control, that would love to see that.
Rachel screamed as the psionic duel pressed her to the limit of her telepathic powers. It was rare that she had even been challenged in the use of her powers, let alone bested. But she was losing against this black monstrosity that polluted the astral plane. How had it become so dark so fast? Or was it the island itself, radiating a cold and sick evil that polluted everything that came close.
Images danced in her head; of her youth as a hound. She had been a hunter and a killer; a pawn in the hands of her masters. He was slowly twisting her towards that, attacking her higher functions and seeking to render her into an animal, a pet. Into what she despised most.
She fought them with the insane will of one who has survived the grim process of genocide. She harnessed the intense will to live that had enabled her to survive as everyone she knew had been killed around her. She saw the faces of those she had led the hunters to in the days before the prolific growth of the sentinels had made human hunters unnecessary. She had seen the destruction of everything that she had cared about and the death of the dream.
He tempted and taunted her with the bliss that absolute surrender would bring. No more responsibility, instead she would be takne care of by a loving master to whom she had value. The last had a seductive kind of logic, Rachel had always felt alone and worthless. She ahd never been wort anyone's time and so she had dressed like a harlot in a desperate bid for attention. Any kind of attention was better than being ignored. Being left alone with the evil that she was.
No! Across the psi link with Colossus she could sense the mind of somebody who accepted her, however briefly. She remembered her time woth Kitty Pryde and the attempts of the likable teenager to make her part of her world. The group Excalibur cared about her, and it didn't demand that she give up her soul to be accept. Fully aware of the loathsome trick that the Shadow King had played on her, Rachel struck back.
She exploded with rage which pushed her power further than it had ever been. But she knew, with a dark sinking feeling, this was exactly what he wanted. For in the red rage that carpeted this island lay submission to his twisted will.
Colossus dodged the bare hand that sought to touch his armoured skin. He knew full well that if Rogue managed to touch him that he was a dead man. He kicked and was rewarded with her flying across the room from the force. He followed her at a run; he couldn't give her the time to recover.
She was dazed and unused to the loss of her right eye; these were the only things still operating in his favor. He didn't want to injure her further, but he could see no other way. If only he could knock her out and them shut down whatever was in that cell, maybe they could do something for her.
If not, it was just a matter of time until she killed him.
So this is how it ends. Not in the heated glory of combat but crawling on my belly towards a distant goal, old and sick. I always knew I was gonna die someday but I never let it bother me. It was living that was so much more important than dying.
Now I would give the world to have back some of the strength I once squadered on cheap bar fights. This is the end of the line and if I don't pull through then nobody does. Whatever lies behind that door has to be stopped.
I pull myself against the wall, nearly there, and examine the locking mechanism. I can't stand as my legs were pretty much destroyed by the kerosene and my healing factor is barely responding. I lever myself up and slash at the thick metal with my claws. It will take time that I don't have but I am going to do what has to be done.
It is the path of honor and duty. It is my obligation to my family the X-men who are dying around me and to the world that will be next. It is the way of the warrior. Despite the agony that I feel with every second, I am at peace within at long last.
<An Island in the Bermuda Triangle> <POV: Charles Xavier>
Subduing Lee Forrester was a relatively simple operation after defeating Magnus. She tried to run but Warren used his new razor wings to stop her in her tracks. For a second I thought he was going to behead her, but he settled for cutting her up. Whatever has been done to him I will have to determine soon. This sort of action is simply unacceptable. Fortunately, Lee seems to be responding well to a blood transfusion and some extensive stitching. Warren has flown away to brood about his sudden loss of control, and I wish I could be there for him. But things are happening too fast and I have other concerns.
Still, the results are better than I had any right to hope for. Magnus has been subdued at the cost of only one casualty on our side. Pietro has been lightly burned by a lightening barrage. It suits my purposes to let Wanda think that Magnus did it out of spite or malice instead of extreme verbal provocation. Not that the provocation would make the actions correct, but they might have kept the spark of sympathy alive in her.
I wonder if what I am doing is any better than what Magnus has done in the past. I am planning to use him and then to kill him. In this I may be making a severe mistake. But I don't know what else to do. Farouk is far stronger than I am now, and I cannot beat him without aid. Magnus is that aid, but he is also too dangerous to let live.
I am coming to a crossroads I fear, and for better or worse my decisions will haunt me for the rest of my life. If I kill him, will I be any better than him? If I let him go, am I not responsible for the evil he will do for the rest of his life? I ponder this for a long while as I stare at a screen he was using. Then I realize what the screen represents and how drastic my error has been.
He was planning to face the Shadow King and I stopped him! Sick with dread I scroll back through the time log and read the reports of a battle already finished. Then I activate the long range communication systems and contact Storm. It is even worse than it appears.
At long last I learn the price of turning my back on the idealism of the dream and embracing the doctrine of force.