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Ashes in the Wind
An Elseworld's Style X-men Story
J. A. C. Delaney, 1996
Wolverine crawled through the hole his adamantium claws had made in the heavy metal door and into the prison cell. There, chained to the wall by some strange sorcerous growths, was the X-woman Lorna Dane, once known as Polaris. She looked up at the torn ruin of a man in confusion, until her mind registered the adamantium claws jutting from his knuckles.
"Logan?" she inquired in a voice that was unsteady with terror.
He looked at her with the one eye that could still see and examined the chained woman. The red rage seemed to pound forth from her in waves of almost visible intensity. "Why, Lorna? Why are you doing this to us? We are yer family after all."
"It's not my fault. That bitch Zaladane did something to me while I was possessed by Malice. People around me, they seem to turn bad in some subtle way. I don't understand it." she sobbed. "The Shadow King caught me here after he possessed Legion and trapped me here in this cell. I don't want this!"
Wolverine sighed, the motion causing pain in his torn lungs. "It don't seem to matter what we want, girl. More it seems to matter what we have to do. Can you stop it?"
"You know what that means, don't you?"
"Please, I don't want to die."
"Don't you see, they're ripping each other apart out there while that flaming psionic leech sucks them dry. I don't have any choice, not if anyone is to be saved. If we had a skull scanner here . . . "
Lorna closed her eyes as she listened to the torn and broken man pulling himself towards her. "Make it quick them, Logan. Please?"
"Count on it! I'm sorry, but there isn't any other way. I'm too badly hurt and they aren't winning out there. If you aren't shut down, sooner or later they are all going insane." With an act of will that nearly finished him right there with the pain, Wolverine stood up. He looked for one instant at her face and them drove a claw into her chest with all of his remaining strength. He continued downwards and hit the floor. His body exploded in agony and the n slowly began to shut down. He numbly watched Lorna go limp and them white as he lay in a rapidly expanding pool of her blood. "I'm sorry." he whispered, as tears ran down his grizzled cheeks.
The Shadow King screamed in incoherent rage as the aura of violence around the island faded and vanished. Deprived of his power he fled, ordering his slaves to follow him.
<Military Transport landing on Muir Island>
"What has happened here?" Brigadier Staurt voiced in a choked voice as the surveyed the carnage in front of her. The soldiers behind her muttered in fearful voices at the grim sight that the cold evening light displayed. Bodies lay twisted and torn as a running fight between several groups of high powered mutants and the human tenemant farmers had climaxed here. The humans had won, barely, the mutants who survived the fight had paid the price in blood and terror.
"They were killing each like animals!" her brother said, stating the obvious. It was clear he was making a massive understatement. Whatever had happened on Muir Island, it had gotten nasty very fast.
"It's... it's awful!" Kitty blanched as she looked at the ghastly horror, made only worse by the fact that many of them were people she had known; either ex-patriot Morlocks or pleasant farming families.
Storm stepped forward and raised the head of a broken figure that had been crudely crucified to a tree. "The Morlock Erg. One of my people. I should have been here."
"Be realistic, Storm. Had you been here all that you could have done is to add one more corpse to a list that looks too long already. Corporal Wheeler, send back to WHO HQ for another unit of special forces and three medical evac units. It looks like we might need them." the Brigadier ordered.
The brave soldiers began to spread out into protective patterns. With what they had just seen, not even the most foolhardy of them was going to take any chances as they combed the island for survivors.
"Stay close, Storm." Nightcrawler said to the weather goddess.
"How can you say that, Kurt, with all of my nearest and earest out there possibly dead or dying?"
"You are not the only one to have people out here that they care about. Kitty has Wolverine. Brian has Betsy. I have Amanda. This is hard on all of us." He stopped to look for a moment at Meggan who was undergoing horrible shape shifts as her latent empathy picked up the residue of the horror that had occurrd here. "Phoenix and Colossus made the mistake of going on ahead and heaven knows what's happened to them. Don't make the same mistake."
For a moment it looked like Storm might agree, then she saw a single figure flying out and away from the island. "No, I'm going to find out what happened." With a rush of air she took off into the sky.
"Brian, I know this is a difficult request, but would you follow Storm?"
Captain Britian looked up at the elfen leader of Excalibur. "But Meggan . . ."
"Is in shock. Yes, I know. I will make sure she is okay but you are the only one who can follow Storm. Please, enough people have died today. Let's not add one more to the list."
Captain Britian hesitated for a moment and then headed after Strom in a blur of motion. Nightcrawler sighed, this was not going well at all. "Kitty. Alastaire. Follow me. We have to make sure that there is nothing else we can do to help."
"I just feel so helpless before this. It's like the stories of the concentration camps, only far more savage." Not knowing what else to do, Alastaire hugged the shocked teenager.
"I know. We just have to do our best to help the survivors." Nightcrawler said and led them forward into the scenes of horror that blanketed the island.
<An Island in the Bermuda Triangle> <POV: Charles Xavier>
I hesitate as I approach the controls for the device we have Magnus trapped in, like a fly in amber. The device drained his magnetic power and used it to create a field to hold him immobile. The harder he struggled the stronger it held him. Hopefully it would be capable of holding him no matter how hard he struggles.
I am uncertain what to do next. For the first time in my life I gave up my dream and accepted the nightmare that the world seems to have become. The result has been horrific beyond words; I have prevented Magneto from assisting Phoenix and now I don't know whether or not she has been lost to use. The uncertainty is dreadful, as is the sudden and ominious silence that has descended over the island.
We were both slaves to a particular vision and we remained slaves to it. I never forgot that shining hope that we might all be united by our common humanity regardless of whether or not we had powers. He never forgot the grim terror of Auschwitz; the price that is paid for the dream failing. I no longer know whether or not my dream was the right dream; but I know now that I can never pursue his.
Yes, we both believed in the same basic principle; that life is sacred and that killing is wrong. For, despite occasional lapses under extreme provocation, like sinking a Russian Submarine after it fired nuclear weapons at him, he has never been a killer. He has been an avenging angel, practicing a grim form of frontier justice on those who would do evil but he has never been a murderer. Except for Zaladane; she was his own flesh and blood. That I will never understand. And my students, who didn't deserve to be dragged along in a one man vendetta agains the world.
Now I stand at the twilight of my life and my enemies are legion. In my absence the Shadow King has sought to build a power base of telepathic slaves. The mutant overlord Mr. Sinister has sought to control mutant-kind. The mad darwinist Apocalypse seeks to cull the herd and rule over a "paradise" where the strong are made stronger and the weak die. The Hellfire club plays with the finances of the world and seeks to strangle it. The Upstarts have begun a game of power that will only end in a mutant dictatorship. Magneto has once again turned to evil and brings the risk of a charismatic movement for mutant separatism. I alone remain to guard against this with my few students behind me.
These students have changed and not for the better. They are not the idealistic bunch of crusaders who would change the world anymore. Strom has grown hard and cruel. Psylocke is an Asian assassin (something that would have once been inconceivable for one of my students). Wolverine walks an edge towards madness. Banshee and Forge are new leaders but a harder kind. Jean and Scott have lost faith. And Warren, well, what he did to Lee was inexcusable even if she does recover somewhat from being torn to pieces. In his mind I can see it; the wings drive all of the darkness in him and make it far, far worse.
There has never been a time that my dream was needed more because without it there can be no hope. If my dream is dust then I might as well join Magneto and seek to rule the world wisely. Far better than to be sent to the latest version of a concentration camp (we gas, bake and dump all in one place). If I am to stand for anything in this world I have to stand for hope; and hope does not involve ambushing friends or murdering them no matter what their crimes.
Magneto did try to reform. He was willing to face his death at his trial and he was willing to follow me and to learn. Perhaps it is not he who betrayed my dream, but me who betrayed him by not being there for him. He wasn't ready to be a leader and the old habits lay just beneath the surface. I made a mistake and I have to take some responsibility. Still, there will be an accounting in full. Could he have done a worse job with the New Mutants? I don't really see how.
I extend a probe into his mind and I see the horror he has recently endured. The truth about what Zaladane did and the nightmare of the Shadow King. Perhaps I judge him too harshly; or not harshly enough. Because, beneath it all, my old friend of so many years ago is still there beneath the surface. Scarred and bitter with a lifetime of war, but it is still Magnus. I feel a tear roll down my cheek. When did this world make us into monsters.
I make a decision and I am willing to live by it. I came to this island to kill a hated enemy after ruthlessly manipulating him and that was wrong. I have been wrong and it is time to stop making mistakes. If I had asked for help instead of assuming evil where there was none perhaps the Shadow King would already be defeated.
So I step forward and release Magneto. He falls to the floor with a thud. I wince, I should have expected this. But the fall wakes him and he looks forth with his piercing eyes. Quicksilver will hate me for this and Warren and Bobby will think me made, but Wanda will understand. At some point we have to face the future and make the best of it. If we cannot do it with trust and hope then it isn't worth doing. That is my dream and, at last, I am certain I am willing to die for it.
I have let the monster loose, now it is time to see if my dream is strong enough to survive his wrath.
<Muir Island: Maximum Security Detention Wing>
Peter Rasputin checked the pulse on the dazed Phoenix and then helped her to her feet. She was battered and bruised from her fight with the Shadow King, but looking in her eyes he could see that worse was done mentally. He scanned the area quickly to see if Rogue was likely to return, and then concluded that she must have fled instead of trying a ruse.
"Are you alright?" Peter asked.
"Been better. Seen worse. I'll recover. What happened to the short guy?"
"That is precisely what I am going to find out." Peter replied. he strode forth and used his incredible strength to tear down the door that Wolverine had cut through.
"Silly boy, I could have done that much more easily with my TK." But the look in her eyes showed this to be bravado, she was desperately weaken mentally after her fight. Scared too, that anything could be so strong and so evil.
They entered the room and were greeted by the lifeless body of Lorna Dane still hanging from the wall. Beneath her lay the shattered body of the X-men's feral berserker. Peter walked over to the dying Wolverine and knelt down.
"Comrade, how bad is it?" He did have a healing factor after all.
"Bad as it gets, boy. Don't have much longer and there is too much to say. Whatever happened here Lorna was the source. She said something about Zaladane whoever she is being responsible." Wolverine began to try and sit up.
"Don't struggle, Logan, you need to give yourself time to heal."
"It's too late for that. My healing factor was pushed to the max and I went far beyond it's limits. Ain't no hope for me now." He grabbed the big Russian by the shoulders, blood and gore staining bright steel. *He's telling the truth. He is dying.* Rachel broadcast to Peter. "There is a girl," Wolverine forced himself to say, "by the name of Jubilation Lee. No parents or anyone else to lookout for her. Take care of her for me?"
"Of course, Logan." Peter replied.
"We both will!" Rachel added with emphasis.
"Good. There is little else that needs settling now. No other obligations that must be met. Good-bye, Peter, and tell the rest I did the best that I could. I'm sorry about Lorna but there wasn't any other way. It's funny, I always wanted to die in the wild, but here I am dying in a flamin' cage." He tried to laugh but he mostly coughed blood. "I just wish..." he trailed off the sentence as he began to fade.
Suddenly he was enveloped, along with Colossus, in a field of TK. With an effort so visible that it was frightening, Rachel Summers used the last of her mental energies to bring them up through the hole and into the outdoors.
There, in the dim evening light on a small wooded hill where she took them, Wolverine ended his violent and lengthy career. He slipped away quietly, a remarkably peaceful death for one who lived life so loudly and fully.
<Air Above Muir Island>
Rogue spotted Storm as she approached from about a kilometer away. She sped up as she struggled to obey her master's command to vacate Muir Island but Storm matched her speed. Well then, she thought, if I can't get away I might as well have some fun. She ceased running and turned to face the weather goddess.
"Rogue, it was been a long time since I have seen you last." Storm commented, noting the skimpy clothing and the torn face. The poor girl had lost an eye in a fight against someone, and recently too. But something told her that this was wrong, and the carnage below on the island told her to be ready for anything. Besides, the marks on the right side of her face looked remarkably like Wolverine claw marks.
"Hello, Storm. Didn't expect to see you alive again. Legion was the toughest one on the island. Even Ah found him hard to beat in a straight fight."
"He met people who were even tougher. What is this? You are an X-man. Rogue. We are your family."
"Maybe Ah like the other side. Had a taste of evil and loved it. Or maybe Ah never really reformed. Does it matter?"
"No, I suppose it doesn't. The other X-men?"
"Mah lover tells me that they are mostly dead. Couldn't take the pressures of the wild hunt Ah guess. Pity."
"The Shadow King. You remember him, don't you, Ororo. You were his back then in Cairo. You will be his again."
"Over my dead body."
"As you wish." Rogue swooped to attack Storm and was knocked back by a ferocious barrage of lightening. She felt the air around her begin to melt away and become very, very cold. She forged ahead and grabbed Storm by the collar. "Ah'm gonna enjoy this."
"Well, I'm not." Brian Braddock exclaimed as he tore the battling women apart. He looked between them seeking an explanation. He can be forgiven for this mistake, as he was still unaware of just how potent the Shadow King was at subverting people and in the heat of the moment he had forgotten Rogue's power. As he held on to them, Storm began to warn him but Rogue was quicker. She reached out and touched his face with a single bare hand and then watched him fall as his power was absorbed into her along with his consciousness.
"Time to choose, Stormy. Save him or try and stop me. Either way, Ah win." Rogue turned and began to fly away at maximum speed, the telepathic summons in her head still urgent.
Storm glared at Rogue and then went after the plummenting Captain Britian. By the time she retrieved him and he came to his senses, Rogue was nowhere to be found. Too many mistakes, Storm thought, but no more. You wanted me, Farouk, well now I'm coming to get you. The score between us has been open too long and I am tired of you hunting me and hurting those I hold dear. No mercy, King of Shadows, no mercy.