Kurt “Nightcrawler” Wagner bamfs onto a beach below some cliffs, after receiving a call that was placed directly to the center of his brain: “Nightcrawler! Alone! Now!”, followed by a series of co-ordinates. Kurt tells himself that he supposes he should be annoyed at the Professor’s assumption that he would drop everything as though he does not have his own responsibilities as leader of Excalibur. ‘Ah, Kurt Wagner - - you are kidding yourself. Once an X-Man…always an X-Man!’ Nightcrawler thinks to himself. ‘Whatever dire emergency awaits, at least I will face it in…the company of…good…friends?’ Kurt tells himself before noticing a large weapon placed to his head.
‘Save us both the effort…and hold that pose until I’ve completed the final configurations’ Forge utters, surrounded by equipment. ‘Caution is admirable, Forge - but rest assured it is me, Nightcrawler’ Kurt exclaims. ‘Easily said. Not quite as easily proven’ Forge replies as he fires a weapon. Forge was born a creator, blessed with an inventive ability that goes far, far beyond that of genius. In this case, he has created a containment gun capable of enveloping a target in a restraint cocoon. Fortunately for Nightcrawler, he is not without his own genetic attributes. The crackle of flame, a burst of brimstone - a sudden implosion of air rushing in to fill the void - are all manifestations of his ability to teleport from one place - to another.
And he does so, just before the containment field wraps around him. ‘Is it just me, mein freund - or have you always been this tense…and I simply never noticed?’ Kurt asks. Forge ignores Kurt’s comments and tells him to listen closely, as he only has time to go over this once. Forge announces that there is a sixty mile “dead zone” here along the northern coastline of France - an unnatural phenomenon which Cerebro’s mutant-detecting sensors cannot penetrate. Forge tells Kurt that when Xavier arrives to assure him that the portable booster unit he requested should help identify the source of the interference. ‘You are leaving!’ Nightcrawler exclaims.
Forge replies that any technology capable of hiding mutants is probably as adept at locating them. ‘The fewer mutants in the immediate area - the less chance you’ll be detected’ Forge explains as he collects his equipment and begins to walk away. ‘And what of it? This would not be the first time you and I have faced -’ Nightcrawler begins, placing a hand on Forge’s shoulder. But Forge shrugs Kurt off, declaring that he is not an X-Man anymore. ‘I came here tonight strictly as a favor to Xavier’ Forge explains, telling Kurt that if he wants to fight the “good fight” he can enjoy himself.
‘I prefer to live in the real world’ Forge declares as he steps onto a hover-pad. ‘Are you suggesting the rest of us are living a fantasy?’ Kurt asks. ‘A group of mutants - risking their lives to create a world where everyone is treated equally? It’s the stuff of dreams, Kurt - and dreams are for people that sleep’ Forge declares as his hover vessel takes off into the night, as the rain begins to pour down. Kurt tells himself that he prefers to think of dreams as windows, glimpses of the world as it can be tomorrow, instead of the way it is today.
Kurt holds onto the mini Cerebro unit and teleports onto the top of the cliff, telling himself ‘Which does not mean we do not make allowances for reality. If we did not, the X-Men would never have begat Excalibur…the New Mutants - for better or worse - never would have evolved into X-Force…and X-Factor would not have assumed the responsibilities that once belonged to Freedom Force’. Kurt adds that one might argue that the world “mutant” is synonymous with “change”.
Nightcrawler remembers the worlds “Can you help me be normal” - one of the first questions he ever asked Charles Xavier, who had the decency not to laugh in Kurt’s face, even though he, more so than any other man, knew the folly inherent in the question. Kurt gazes out over the ocean, and thinks that for in a world where every human life is as unique as a drop of water in the ocean - there is no such creature…as normal. ‘So speak to me, Cerebro…point me in the direction of the newest mutant. Tell me he or she may be the one that will bridge the gap between humans and mutants. Even if it is not the truth, tell me there is still a reason…to hope’.
Sixteen miles south, a reunion of another kind was to take place - on a country estate owned by the Clan MacTaggert…but tragedy arrived instead. And, as is often the case…the X-Men followed in its wake. Piotr “Colossus” Rasputin, Wolverine a.k.a. Logan and the enigmatic Bishop smash their way through a burning building, and Colossus exclaims that it is clear, adding that Doctor MacTaggert is nowhere to be found. ‘Doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have bothered’ Wolverine points out, while Bishop agrees, adding that at the very least, their recon confirmed there are no bodies amidst the wreckage. They leave the burning building, and meet up with their teammates - Jean Grey, Bobby “Iceman” Drake, Ororo “Storm” Munroe, Warren Worthington III a.k.a. Archangel, and Professor Charles Xavier.
The Professor telepathically tells Storm that it is important they do not allow the fire to spread to the surrounding area. ‘Certainly, Professor Xavier!’ Storm exclaims. There is a reason Ororo is the leader of this faction of the X-Men - the Gold Team. Not the least of which has to do with her mutant command of the elements. It takes something less than a conscious thought, and a self-contained hurricane howls forth from nowhere - and vanishes - just as quickly.
Wolverine announces that the good news is that Moira was never in the fire. ‘The smell of burnt flesh is distinctive that way’ he adds, while Charles remarks that, nevertheless, someone wants them to think that Moira is dead. Rain begins to pour down, while Colossus exclaims ‘All the more reason to -’ however he is interrupted, as something pings against his armoured form. ‘By the white wolf -?’ Colossus exclaims, and all the X-Men turn around - to find an angry mob carrying weapons standing nearby. ‘Mutant swine!’ one of them shouts in their native French. ‘Clearly it was they who set the fire!’ another suggests. ‘We should have suspected as much!’ someone else declares.
‘Ye olde angry townspeople have arrived. My cue to erect an ice shield between -’ Iceman begins, but Xavier telepathically tells Bobby to wait a moment, to let the crowd voice their concerns. ‘Your kind are not welcome here, X-Men!’ one woman shouts. ‘Or did you think we’d forgotten the damage you did last time you came to France in your so-called “trial” for Magneto?’ Bishop steps forward, energy ready, he exclaims ‘We are acting in your best interests’ and orders the crowd to disperse immediately, but Xavier tells Bishop that there is no need to exacerbate the confrontation. He touches Bishop on the arm and tells him that the civilians have every right to defend their homes from what they perceive to be a threat.
The rain continues to pour down, and Xavier apologizes to the crowd for any inconvenience, and announces that the X-Men will be on their way. Suddenly, the crowd can no longer see the X-Men. ‘What - happened? They are gone!’ someone shouts. ‘And not a moment too soon’ another declares. ‘But to where…?’ someone asks. ‘What does it matter - they are gone and we are safe!’ someone points out. But Archangel hovers overhead and asks ‘Did I miss something? Why are they acting like…we’ve left?’ Xavier telepathically explains that because in the minds of the mob, the X-Men departed as requested.
‘Mind control, Chuck? Don’t seem like your style’ Wolverine exclaims as the X-Men make their way into the Blackbird, waiting nearby. ‘Desperate times. Desperate measures’ the Professor replies telepathically, telling Wolverine that he imagines that he, more than any of the others, would understand that. ‘Didn’t say I don’t understand it. Just don’t like it much’ Wolverine replies. ‘If it is of any comfort, Logan…I like it even less’ Xavier declares, and as he makes his way into the Blackbird, he tells himself that life seldom quite works out the way one plans, and his mind wonders back….
Flashback, years ago:
Moira MacTaggert lounges on a blanket on the ground, a glass of wine in her hand, a picnic basket nearby, while Charles Xavier is in a wheelchair. ‘Yuir serious? Ye been talking of this for years…yuir going to start a mutant strike force?’ Moira asks. ‘Hardly, Moira - my intent has always been to open a school’ Charles explains. ‘A place young mutants could go to learn to use their genetic attributes - an institute set up to accommodate their unique needs’. Charles holds up a small folder and asks Moira if she would care for a peek at the freshman class. ‘Try’n stop me’ Moira replies from under her glass of wine.
Moira looks at photographs of several youngsters - Jean Grey, Scott Summers, Bobby Drake, Hank McCoy and Warren Worthington III. ‘Acch - they’re only wee bairns…children!’ Moira exclaims. ‘I prefer to think of them as impressionable - eager to learn’ Charles replies. ‘And these?’ Moira asks, looking at photos of Ororo Munroe, Piotr Rasputin and Kurt Wagner. Charles explains that each is powerful in his or her own right, but that he believes their international citizenships would complicate things at this point. ’Should the need arise, I foresee these as the next generation of X-Men’ Charles adds.
‘“X”-Men, Charles? Not too egotistical’ Moira remarks. ‘As in “Xavier”? I hadn’t even thought of that’ Charles admits, explaining that the “X” stands for something extra in their genes - the x-factor which separates humans from mutants. ‘Then let’s be praying these children have that something extra’ Moira begins as she reaches into her picnic hamper and pulls a file from it and announces that if Interpol is to be believed, the kids are going to be needing this something extra sooner than later. ‘This came over the wire an hour ago’ Moira declares, handing Xavier the file.
‘He’s back?’ Xavier whispers, shocked, looking at a clipping of a familiar face. ‘Worse ‘n back. He’s plotting something as well. He was after the security parameter for Cape Citadel’ Moira explains. ‘Can ye imagine the world’s nuclear arsenal in the hands of -’ she begins, ‘Magnus’ Xavier utters.
‘Magnus! Mag - Mag - Mag - Mag - Mag -’ someone exclaims, while a monitor depicting Magnus’ image begins to go fuzzy, and the Acolyte Milan exclaims ‘I am sorry, Lord Cortez…I am losing the transmission’. Inside a large communications chamber in the home of the Acolytes, two high-ranking members of the Acolytes - Fabian Cortez and Amelia Voght stand before several monitors depicting Charles Xavier and the X-Men. The young Acolyte called Neophyte nervously collects some plates and cups, causing them to clatter against each other. Milan stands next to an orb where Dr Moira MacTaggert is held captive in a living purgatory between pain and suffering.
Cortez tells Milan that he has done nothing wrong, as the task he set himself was monumental, using his mutant ability to psionically transfer mental impulses into electromagnetic video images is difficult to apply under the best of circumstances. ‘Having to fight this human’s formidable will makes it nearly impossible’ Cortez points out, adding that he is confident that wherever Magnus is - their true lord and master has blessed him for his efforts. Voght tells Milan that he has squandered his gift enough for one day, so he can now rest and start fresh on the morrow, if he must.
Milan declares that he feels as if he has failed his brethren. ‘If only we knew exactly what this flatscan knew of Magneto, we could -’ he begins, hand placed against the orb where Moira is held prisoner. ‘You heard what Voght said. Secrets - like good food…are best when savored’ Cortez exclaims. ‘Not in this case, Cortez!’ Amelia declares. ‘After the sins she committed against the lord - the very least we should be doing is chewing on her entrails instead of trodding about her brain cells!’ Amelia shouts. Cortez warns Amelia not to question him - ever, and announces that, for the moment, Dr MacTaggert lives.
Cortez tells Milan not to make the mistake of dismissing Moira MacTaggert simply because she is genetically inferior. ‘This same gene-trash was responsible for rearranging Magneto’s DNA structure. She is not someone to underestimate’ Cortez declares. ‘Yes, Sir…I’ll start fresh in the morning ‘Milan replies as he takes his leave. ‘Making us all beholden to a human, Cortez? If Magneto hadn’t already died, this would certainly have killed him!’ Amelia exclaims.
As Amelia and Cortez’s argument rages, the young Neophyte is ignored by the higher members of his order. Were he allowed to speak, Neophyte might question their actions. The man he has chosen to follow, of his own free will, had no great love of humans…true. But Magnus understood what it means to extend kindness - not excluding one’s enemies. Neophyte places some water and food down by the orb, and a panel opens, enabling Moira to reach through and grabs the jug of water. Magneto once wrote “Even the fly should feel at home in the web” - even if that home - is a castle. Or in this case, the abandoned monastery that is the Mont Saint Francis.
Inside the Blackbird, which streaks across the raining night-time Paris sky, past the monastery. ‘Currently? We’re thirty miles away from our rendezvous with Nightcrawler. But I didn’t call to give you a progress report - rather to receive one’ Colossus tells Stevie Hunter, asking how his sister is feeling. Stevie appears on a monitor and replies that Illyana is resting as comfortably as possible, and her cough seems to be breaking up. Colossus asks about the fever, to which Stevie replies it is climbing, and tells Colossus that she will keep him posted. ‘See that you do, Ms Hunter’ Colossus declares.
Bobby peers over to Piotr and tells him to relax. ‘I know just how it feels when you’re wait -’ he begins, but Colossus tells his teammate that he doubts so. ‘Pardon?’ Bobby asks. ‘I came from a close, loving household - only to have lost each member of my family to one tragedy after another’ Colossus exclaims, declaring that Illyana is the most important person in his life. ‘Without her, I have nothing’. Piotr tells Iceman not to demean his feelings by claiming that he “understands”, and gets up to walk away from Bobby, telling him that he does not understand. ‘Excuse me for caring! Tin head!’ Bobby mutters.
Up the front of the jet, Storm and Scott “Cyclops” Summers sit in the pilot seats, while Xavier sits behind them, and Bishop stands to the side. Storm announces that, according to the records that they “appropriated” from the FAA computers, an unidentified aircraft was spotted in the airspace of Middleborough two days ago. ‘It is safe to assume it was the Acolytes escaping after their attempted “genetic cleansing” Storm declares. Bishop announces that Cerebro projected a flight plan, combined with the information the Professor gathered over the past twenty-four hours ago, indicating that the Acolyte base is somewhere in the North of France.
Cyclops points out that unless Forge’s augmented console can puncture their cloaking device, this could mean weeks of searching for the proverbial needle. Sitting back from the others, Bobby creates a large snowball and mutters ‘Like there’s something wrong with being an only child - “almost nonexistent”. His aluminium foil-head is gonna be non-existent when I lob this mega snowball upside his face’.
Except for Bobby’s muttered ramblings, the cabin falls silent at the mention of Forge’s name. For though no one would dare mention it, unless she brought it up first, there is unfinished business between “the Maker” and the “Wind Rider” named Storm. A short while ago, Forge asked Storm to marry him - to leave the team that had become her family. Storm’s decision was taken out of her hands when Forge retracted the proposal - convinced she could never be a complete person outside of the X-Men. Ororo has been waiting for the opportunity to convince Forge, and perhaps herself as well, that he is wrong.
The X-Men emerge from the dry Blackbird into the pouring rain. Nightcrawler approaches his friends, while Jean Grey and Archangel take to the air. ‘Kurt, you are…alone?’ Storm asks. Kurt replies that he is as surprised as she is, remarking that ‘I assumed Forge would stay at least until the rest of you arrived - yet he bolted out of here as if…the Sentinels were…did I just stick my tail in my mouth?’ Kurt asks, before Storm embraces him: ’HA! Not at all, my friend. Tell me, have you been taking care of Kitten?’ she asks, referring to Shadowcat.
Meanwhile, thirty miles up the coastline, inside the Acolyte’s base, Cortez declares that Moira MacTaggert will live up until the moment she is of no use to them. ’Remember, I was there when she used her technology to turn the X-Men against each other! While they eventually proved too strong willed for the process to last…think how many new recruits we could enlist to our glorious crusade!’ Cortez tells Voght. Amelia tells Cortez that their ranks have grown strictly from mutants who have seen the wisdom of Magneto’s way, and asks why the movement should be sullied with reluctant converts. ‘Because the entire world is not as bright as you and I, Voght’ Magneto declares as they stand near the orb holding Moira prisoner.
Cortez exclaims that most people are like lambs who will go silently to the slaughter at the hands of humans - if they do not protect them in Magnus’s name. ‘And most importantly. Because I said soooooooo!’ Cortez yelps as Moira reaches through the panel in the orb and grab Cortez’s long hair. ‘Wouldn’t want ot argue with you, eh, Fabian? Not you…the man who murdered -’ Moira begins, while Fabian tells her to shut up, otherwise the Acolytes will kill them both. ‘No on is interested in your lies!’ he exclaims.
‘It’s the truth, Cortez. Remember…I was there, too - when you -’ Moira begins, but Fabian breaks from her hold and shouts ‘Enough’ as he calls Moira a “human sow”, and informs her that she has abused even the modicum of courtesy he has extended. ‘Our beliefs may seem foolish to you, but Magneto is our religion…this place is our temple!’ Cortez exclaims, declaring that they will not have it tainted by the blasphemous rantings of a condemned woman. ‘Both know…truth’ Moira declares wearily.
Cortez tells Amelia that she was right - that Moira is undeserving of their compassion, and asks her to contact Milan immediately. ‘Take the remainder of her memories at once - and do what you’d like with the mindless husk that remains’ Cortez exclaims as he leaves the chamber, followed by Voght who exclaims ‘Gladly’ as she leaves in a different direction. However, yet again the two senior Acolytes ignore the young Neophyte. To their eyes, he is as much a part of the monastery walls as the stone and mortar. Their mistake. As a person, he has his own fears - his own frustrations - his own doubts. He begins to carry some more dishes, when suddenly, Moira exclaims ‘Pease…help me!’
Neophyte spins around and informs Dr MacTaggert that he is not allowed to talk to her. ‘Why is that?’ Moira asks, slumped against the side of the orb. ‘Could it be they’re afraid…of a mere human?’ she suggests, before informing Neophyte that she sees the way he looks at Cortez when he thinks Cortez is not looking. ‘In your heart you know he’s lying’ Moira coughs as she presses her self closer to Neophyte, who has also moved closer to her. Neophyte begins to quote: “Lord Cortez was with our savior at the moment of his death. Magnus entrusted him with the -” he begins, before Moira exclaims ‘Didn’t anyone ask…didn’t you wonder…why Cortez was the last to see him alive? How he managed to escape while the other Acolytes died?’
Neophyte continues to quote: “They so loved Magneto, they gave their lives so the word might reach the Children of the Atom who -”, but Moira interrupts, declaring ‘No. They didn’t sacrifice themselves. Cortez left them to die - after he used his power to kill Magneto!’ ‘Nein!’ Neophyte exclaims, covering his ears, he drops the dishes onto the floor, ‘I will not listen to your lies another moment!’ Neophyte exclaims as he uses his powers to slowly sink through the floor, while Moira tells Neophyte that Cortez will abandon him as surely he did his “brethren” on Asteroid M. ‘He’s using you - using all the Acolytes…when he’s done…he’ll slay you all - as easily as he killed Magneto!’
Ten miles away and one mile in the air, the rain pours down hard on Archangel, who glides through the sky, carrying Bishop as he goes. Warren informs Bishop that he was not overly thrilled when he joined the X-Men. ‘Indeed? Here I thought you were cold, rude and dismissive to everyone’ Bishop replies. ‘I am. But that’s another story’ Warren admits, adding ‘I just wanted you to know that your double-barrelled take no prisoners direct approach is -’ Warren is interrupted by Bishop who exclaims ‘Totally inappropriate for this era. So I’ve been told on more than one occasion’.
Archangel informs Bishop that what he was going to say is that it is having an effect on the Professor. ‘We’re not waiting around the Mansion for one evil mutant or the other to attack - we’re actually taking the initiative again’ Archangel declares, explaining that everyone from Thunderbird to Wolverine to Cable was unable to inspire Professor X to alter his method of operations. ‘I think Charles might take your presence in our century as a sign that if you’re the future…he might best get started forging it now’. Bishop calmly replies that he is honoured if he has had any effect on such a revered man, before asking Archangel to put him down.
Given that they are still hovering over the ocean, Warren is surprised by this request, while Bishop motions to the monastery ahead: ‘A veritable fortress…surrounded by water on all sides…buffed by scores of, no doubt, innocent civilians…I spent a lifetime tracking prey, Archangel. Trust me. We’ve found the enemy’ Bishop exclaims.
Inside the monastery, Fabian Cortez booms ‘GAMESMASTER! I demand an audience!’ The Acolyte declares that the Gamesmaster claims to be an Omni path, his mind in all places at all times. ‘As leader of the Upstarts, I demand you to contact Shaw, Fitzroy and Creed! It appears I have need of their resources!’ Cortez declares. An illusory image of the Gamesmaster appears and tells Fitzroy that, as usual, his reach far exceeds his grasp. ‘Wile it is true, you’ve accrued the majority of points in the Upstart competition to date - it seems I need remind you that dominion over the other Upstarts only comes upon completion of the game’.
At that moment, Neophyte walks through the wall into the chamber where Cortez is speaking with the Gamesmaster who tells Fabian that, for the moment, he will have to make due with the herd of mindless sheep that he has taken such care to tend. ‘If you’ve been observing everything, as you claim you do - you know my hold on them is founded on the assumption I am Magneto’s chosen successor. You also know that assumption is totally false’ Cortez declares. ‘You’re saying if they knew the truth…?’ the Gamesmaster begins, ‘…about what I did to that relic? They would turn on me in an instant if they knew it was I who killed their precious Magnus. That’s why I may need the protect-’ Cortez announces, before suddenly, ‘NO!’ exclaims Neophyte.
‘Eh?’ Cortez mutters, spinning around. ‘I came to hear you deny her lies!’ Neophyte exclaims. ‘Instead I learn they’re all true!’ he declares as he begins to fade back into the wall. ‘What?’ Cortez exclaims, before ordering Neophyte to stand where he is, only to realize that he is too late. ‘You knew he was there, didn’t you? You set me up! WHY?’ Cortez asks the Gamesmaster, who tells Fabian that the answer should be obvious - ‘Anything to keep the game interesting. Otherwise…why bother?’ and with that, the Gamesmaster vanishes. ‘I have dared much - sacrificed everything…only to see my plans frustrated by a child!’ Cortez exclaims as he presses his hands against the wall.
Cortez has the mutant ability to enhance another mutant’s power to the furthers degree. Neophyte is capable of traversing great distances through mass - with Cortez’s unexpected and unwanted “assistance”, that journey could prove fatal - as Neophyte is ejected from the monastery at great speed - landing some distance away, in a large pool of mud. After everything the young mutant has heard this day, his illusions shattered, his trust betrayed - he would just as soon surrender himself to this deadly embrace of mud and water, while the rain pours down on him.
Meanwhile, at the base of the monastery, inside a cave, ‘What - you’re throwing a party and forgot to invite the Acolytes, bub?’ Wolverine jokes as he, Cyclops, Jean, Storm, Iceman, Colossus, Nightcrawler and the Professor meet up with Bishop and Archangel. ‘We opted to wait for the rest of you - to move in as a unit’ Bishop explains. Cyclops declares that they cannot invade the monastery without some sort of proof that Moira is being held here. Storm steps forward and reminds Cyclops that she is in charge of the Gold Team. ‘Bishop’s instincts have proven -’ she begins, before Xavier telepathically announces ‘Correct, it would seem. Cerebro has located an unidentified mutant…just this moment regaining consciousness’ Xavier declares.
At that moment, ‘Bonjour’ a voice exclaims. Neophyte looks up from the mud, while the voice remarks ‘At least you’re alive. That’s a good sign’. Neophyte sits up in mud, ‘VAS! You - you’re a human, aren’t you?’ he asks. The young woman crouched beside Neophyte replies ‘I don’t think anyone has ever phrased it that way, but…yes. I’m human. Guilty as charged’. Neophyte is confused and exclaims that he doesn’t understand why she is helping him. ‘Do you know who - what - I am?’ he asks. The young woman replies that she knows he is not very bright for catching a nap in the grotto five minutes before the tide comes in. ‘Other than that, you’re a person in trouble’ the young woman adds, asking ‘What more do I need to know?’
‘Now let’s get you -’ the young woman begins, before a blast of energy strikes her in the back - and she is dead before a sound can escape from what were, until only moments ago, her lungs. Her body falls into Neophyte, who utters ‘I - I don’t even know your name’. But the deadly Senyaka, holding his whip, exclaims ‘As you said, Neophyte she was a human…proof enough that Cortez was telling the truth’. His Acolyte teammate Spoor stands next to Katu and exclaims ‘He said ye were cavorting with the enemy. We were sent to “escort” ye home!’ Neophyte realizes that they are Lord Cortez’s private guard, and asks them why they had to kill the girl, as she did nothing to them, and was no threat to those with mutant abilities.
Someone quotes “By their very existence, homo sapiens pose a threat to mutants everywhere! The one must reject the other!”, while Senyaka’s whip lashes around Neophyte’s neck, ‘Ack! Paralyzed by Senyaka’s psionic whip’ Neophyte tells himself, while Senyaka begins pulling on the whip, asking Neophyte if he has been away so long that he has already forgotten Magneto’s lessons. He tells the smouldering body of the young woman on the ground that she should be more cautious of the strays she chooses to adopt in her next life, as one will never know what company he will bring with him.
Suddenly, ‘No, bub…ya never do!’ Wolverine exclaims as he slashes the whip, causing a psionic backlash to reach Senyaka, who falls to the ground. ‘Whoops. Guess severing your psionic whip caused enough feedback to temporarily fry your brain. How embarrassing’ Logan exclaims, while Spoor rushes towards him, causing him a lousy traitor, he declares that Senyaka was a devoted follower of the cause, and that he has no right to be mocking the man while he is down. Spoor boasts that h will have Wolverine regretting what he did to Senyaka.
Wolverine doesn’t even flinch as a large iceberg drops down behind him - landing on Spoor. ‘Not likely. As ya can probably tell by the ton of ice…courtesy of the Iceman…I got a few friends of my own. Bub’ Wolverine exclaims as the iceberg lands with a SLAM. ‘Here I was hoping for a “splat”!’ Bobby jokes from above, while Neophyte whispers ‘Could it be, Katu? Are these…the misguided?’ he asks. Katu begins to run away, telling Neophyte not to feign ignorance. ‘It’s clear you lured us here - outside the shielding of the monastery walls…alerting these heathens to our whereabouts!’ Katu declares angrily.
Katu continues, exclaiming that it does not matter, as he will warn the others of the X-Men’s arrival - only for him to be knocked over by an optic blast courtesy of Cyclops. ‘On behalf of us “heathens” - we’d just as soon tell them ourselves. Thank you’ Scott exclaims. ‘I don’t understand. She was no threat to them, yet…they killed her only because she was human?’ Neophyte gasps as he kneels over the motionless body of the human girl, while the x-Men gather around him. Neophyte reveals that he read of the death camps in which Magnus was raised, and exclaims that he cannot - will not - believe the only thing he left them, his “children” - was more of the same unreasoning hatred that caused the slaughter of his family. ‘I’ve dedicated my life to the man. His life must be…more…than this’ Neophyte exclaims.
He rain continues to beat down as Xavier tells Neophyte that there is another way. ‘A path which even Magneto walked for a brief time. There are those of us who believe the world is large enough to accommodate both mutants and humans. We fight - it seems, every waking moment of our lives - to bring to fruition a dream of a better world’. Professor X tells Neophyte that the X-Men want to insure the horrors which so scarred his chosen avatar never come to pass again. ‘Tell me, Neophyte - are you strong enough to live the dream? Will you help us?’
Inside the monastery, Cortez slams his fist down onto some equipment and exclaiming ‘Just outside the monastery walls…? How could they’ve gotten this close without us knowing?’ Scanner informs Cortez that her scanning ability was muffled by the cloaking device which shields this sacred place, but that the X-Men are so near she can sense their presence - nine in all. While the other Acolytes stand nearby, Cortez announces that the time has come - the final battle in their holy war to claim this world in Magnus’ name. Cortez declares that the Acolytes will draw first blood, and orders Javitz to bring him the woman.
Fabian thinks to himself that if the Neophyte reveals his secret, betrays him, word of his actions will surely turn his followers against him. He tells himself that his only hope to prevent the X-Men from convincing the Acolytes of his hand in Magnus’ death is to raise the stakes. Moira lands with a WOMP against the side of a platform as Javitz throws her to Cortez, who announces that he has often wondered how his mutant ability would effect a flatscan. ‘After the X-Men have found your lifeless husk - maybe they will let me know the final results?’ Cortez exclaims as he grabs Moira and prepares to use his power on her.
Suddenly, ‘Speaking for myself - I enjoy the suspense! A variation on theme, eh - mein friend? This time I hit them high and you hit them low!’ Nightcrawler exclaims as he teleports himself and Colossus into the chamber. Colossus doesn’t reply though, at least not in words. For though he stands and fights this day, his heart is not in the winning or the losing. It is invested in the hopes and dreams of a little girl some three thousand miles away, across the sea. He punches Javitz, while Nightcrawler kicks Cortez in the neck, knocking him away from Moira. ‘There is no way they could have gotten so far - so quickly - without help!’ Cortez booms.
Neophyte rises through the floor, touching Bishop and Cyclops, he brings them with him. ‘I don’t believe anyone ever accused the X-Men of turning down a hand’ Scott remarks as he unleashes an optic blast, while Bishop sets his targets as the Kleinstock Brothers. He greats them in their native Swiss, before remarking that considering what happened last time Jean Grey slammed the two of them together, they can understand why he has opted to take them out in a single blast, and he does so, unleashing his energy at them.
At that moment, Wolverine, Jean Grey, Storm, Archangel and Iceman burst into the chamber, with Iceman exclaiming ‘Listen to you, Bishop - you finally get to draw on your past experiences in the twentieth century - and suddenly you’re an expert on all things Acolytal’ Archangel mocks his friends’ remark: ‘“Acolytal”, Snowball?’ he asks. ‘Hank assured me it was a word’ Bobby replies, referring to their absent teammate, the Beast. Hank lied’ Warren replies, while Jean telepathically exclaims ‘Guys - please!’ and Storm agrees, announcing that total concentration is paramount.
Ororo points out that they have never faced a group as focused and fanatic. ‘They seem more than willing to die for their cause’ she adds, while Wolverine, claws ready, declares that works out fine, and he is willing to accommodate them. ‘The child -?’ Bishop remarks as Neophyte begins to sink back through the floor. ‘He’s done his part - let him go!’ Cyclops exclaims.
Milan approaches Moira MacTaggert and exclaims that while the others are distracted, he can fulfil his sacred responsibility to siphon the memories of what she did to their lord and master - but before he gets the chance to, Archangel unleashes a barrage of razor-sharp “feathers” and exclaims that he thinks the good doctor has been through enough. However Milan cannot hear Archangel’s words over the sounds of his own scream.
Similarly, the sound of shattering glass joins the cacophony which rocks the ancient building to its core. As the bank of monitors explodes, the information that Milan gathered - the life and times of Moira MacTaggert - is lost to the Acolytes forever. Bishop notices Fabian Cortez do a runner and thinks to himself that Cortez is eager to extricate himself from his followers without so much as a by your leave. ‘Hardly the leadership qualities I admire most in a person’ Bishop thinks to himself, while wondering if Cortez’s agenda far exceeds his aspirations as an Acolyte.
Suddenly, ‘Less than a week since we nearly killed you, Archangel - and you’re foolish enough to again oppose our will?’ Carmella Unuscione asks, extending an exo-skeleton force field which slams into Warren, causing him to fall to the ground. ‘Took it as…lucky omen’ Warren whispers, while Nightcrawler teleports across to grab Archangel, telling him to go limp. ‘No prob there, Elf. Feel like Unuscione’s psionic exo-skel closed down my nerve synapses.
Nearby, ‘Please…enough…’ Javitz pleads to Colossus, who shouts ‘Hardly enough, Acolyte! You and your brethren have begun a reign of terror that -’ but Colossus stops in his tracks as Unuscione attacks him with her exo-skeleton, boasting that the Acolyte’s reign of terror will continue long after she has crushed his metal frame in her psychic grip. But Colossus breaks Unuscione’s exo-skeleton, telling the young woman that she is as short on power as she is on compassion. Carmella is knocked backwards as a result, and Colossus strides over to her, declaring that perhaps he should show her the same mercy she prepared to shower on the children of Middleborough.
But before Colossus can do anything to Unuscione, Nightcrawler exclaims ‘Yo, Tovarich!’, causing Piotr to spin around, ‘Eh?’ he asks, while Nightcrawler is against a wall, holding onto the unmoving Archangel, exclaiming that they could use a hand over here, organic steel or otherwise, as the Kleinstock Brothers approach them. Kurt tells himself that Warren is too weak, so he dare not risk teleporting him to safety. ‘I’m on my way, Kurt’ Colossus calls out, while thinking to himself that he is once again compromising his desires in place of his responsibility.
‘Pathetic!’ Joanna “Frenzy” Cargill shouts as she punches Iceman, telling him that he is as much a waste of a mutant-gene as he was when he founded X-Factor. ‘Those were the days, huh?’ Bobby exclaims. ‘I, on the other hand, am stronger! I found acceptance…what - wha - what are you doing?’ Frenzy asks as Iceman slams a rather oversized fist into her, ‘Adapting!’ Iceman exclaims, announcing that the last time he was beaten this severely by Mikhail Rasputin, who showed him there was a lot more to his power than he realized. Bobby’s increased jagged ice form looms over Frenzy as he declares that he has not had the opportunity or the reason to be this aggressively creative. ‘Until now. So, who’s next?’
Javitz is back in the game and has his oversized hands around Cyclops’ face, revealing that, for years he has observed from afar Cyclops and the X-Men suppressing any mutant who did not embrace the mainstream. ‘You were so eager to maintain the status quo!’ he exclaims, before declaring there are those mutants who will not longer be oppressed by humans - even if it means killing fellow mutants. But before Javitz has the chance, Cyclops’ optic blast forces Javtiz to release his grasp, while Scott declares that he could barely hear underneath all those fingers. ‘But I get the gist of your argument’ Scott remarks, before firing an optic blast into Javitz’s stomach, which causes him to get stuck in the ceiling. ‘And you’re wrong. The X-Men fight to protect the rights of all living human beings - regardless of whether they’re humans, mutants - friend or foe. You’re welcome to live any life you want…up until the moment you threaten someone else’s!’ Scott exclaims.
‘MOIRA?’ Jean calls as she drops down beside her all. ‘Please please please be alive’ Jean telepathically exclaims, while Moira’s thoughts reply ‘Ye had to wait…for the final reel?’ Jean picks Moira up in her arms: ‘You know Charles - he thrives on these last minute rescues’ Jean remarks. Jean tells Moira to hold on tight, when suddenly, she cries out in agony, as someone scratches her back, while a voice exclaims ‘Height of rudeness - height of - first you crash the party - crashed it! Then you try to scooter off with the host of honor!’ Jean spins around, ‘Look at you…didn’t realize Mephisto had any kids’ she jokes while rubbing her wound.
‘Sorry, not all mutants are drop dead gorgeous. But my appearance fits my purpose…cause Seamus Mellancamp is your worst nightmare, baby!’ the grotesque mutant exclaims. Jean’s eyes flash yellow as she replies ‘You might believe that. But I’ve already lived my worst nightmare…more than once’ and asks Mellancamp if he would like her to share it with him. ‘In my worst nightmare - I’m just myself. Not the Phoenix. Not Madelyne Pryor. Not even Marvel Girl. I’m just Jean Grey - one of the most powerful psis on the plane!’ Jean exclaims, adding that the frightening thing is that in her dream she is not afraid to lose herself in her mutant ability.
‘I cut loose. Completely!’ Jean announces as she attacks Mellancamp with brute telekinetic force. ‘That’s my worst nightmare’ she shouts as Mellancamp is propelled from the monastery - landing somewhere in the Pyrenees, while Jean flies herself and Moira to the X-Men’s Blackbird and to the medical facilities within it.
While that battle concludes, the X-Men have no illusions that they have won the war, as they regroup, Cyclops announces that the Acolytes are down, but the Professor and Bishop are among the missing. Xavier telepathically replies that he is in no danger, before informing Scott that Bishop may need their assistance in the monastery’s turrets.
At that moment, Xavier enters another chamber, where Amelia Voghht stands at some sort of altar and whispers ‘Oh, master of the energy that blankets mother Earth - please deliver us from your enemies - so that we, your children, may continue to seek our rightful dominion over Earth…now and forever. Amen’. Xavier then calls out ‘I knew it was you, Amelia. Your psi-patterns are unmistakable’. Amelia turns her head ever so slightly as she replies ‘Are they, Sir? After all these years?’, while Xavier reminds her that they are years she spent on her own, because she had convinced him that she wanted no part in his class of original students. ‘You claimed you had no desire to take sides in-’ Xavier begins, but Amelia exclaims ‘That was when I still had a family…people who cared for me! Before I lost everyone I love - lost them to the flatscans! That was before I found another way…HIS way!’ Amelia announces.
Xavier looks perplexed as Amelia motions to an altar where Magneto’s helmet sits, candles burning brightly around it. ‘How did you get this, child? Where did it come from?’ Charles asks. No answer is forthcoming - only a blinding flash of light to mark the vanishing of Amelia Voght - a failure from Xavier’s past - somehow tied into the struggle yet to come. Xavier just stares at Magneto’s helmet.
While high above the Mont Saint Francis, Cortez clings to part of the roof while the rain beats down on him. ‘Curse this storm! It interferes with the satellite capable of transporting me out of this fiasco! C’mon, woman. Look on. Look on…’ he whispers. In another thirty seconds, he would have been gone -unfortunately for him, Bishop is unwilling to wait that long as the newest X-Man reaches up through the roof, and grabs Cortez by the ankle. ‘Unhand me you - temporal aberration!’ Cortez shouts as he falls through the roof.
‘Maybe. Eventually. But first, explain something to me’ Bishop declares. ‘You’ve got all the trappings of a major player, but - get this - in the future where I was raised…no one has ever heard of you’. The men begin fighting, with Bishop wrapping a hand around Cortez’s neck, declaring ‘That either means you scratched somewhere along the line…or maybe you died in the here and now!’ But suddenly, ‘Bishop, no!’ Storm shouts as she appears overhead, through the gaping hole in the roof, carrying Wolverine, who tells Storm to get closer, as Bishop cannot hear her over the roaring wind.
Cortez grabs the hand around his neck and exclaims ‘If you don’t know who I am - then I’ll assume you’re ignorant as to how my powers work’, and with that, there is a blinding flash as Cortez demonstrates his power, explaining that they are based on energy, and his ability to amplify it to any degree that he chooses. ‘You see, I make it a point to be intimately aware of every aspect of my enemies - potential or otherwise. Their strengths, weaknesses…their limits - and well beyond!’ and with that, the top of the tower where they battle seems to be engulfed in energy.
Storm sees this and gasps ‘Goddess, no!’, while Wolverine declares that Cortez is frying Bishop with his own power. Cortez declares that he knows that Bishop, for all intents and purposes, is a walking power cell, only as strong or weak as the amount of appropriated energy in his body at any given time. Energy begins to pour out of Bishop, while Cortez asks him if he has ever dared exhaust all that energy, expend it from every part of his body in a single blast. ‘I’ll take your silence as a “no”!’ Cortez exclaims as Bishop collapses at his feet. ‘Now, as much as I’ve enjoyed this diversion - I must be going. You’ll forgive me, of course, if I kill you before I leave?’ Cortez exclaims.
But, Cortez is unaware that young Neophyte is rising up through the floor behind him. ‘Guide my hand, Magnus…that your will be done’ he exclaims, before shouting ‘Cortez!’ as he punches Cortez in the head, knocking the Acolyte about. ‘I won’t stand by and let you take the life of another mutant - the way you turned Magneto from savior to martyr!’ Neophyte exclaims. Cortez readies some energy and turns to Neophyte, exclaiming ‘What I did to that fossil, boy is nothing compared to the fate that awaits you! A single blast will reduce you to -’ he exclaims, before Wolverine’s claws are shoved into his body. The shocked Cortez falls to the ground and gasps ‘I…I’m still breathing?’ he asks, to which Wolverine mutters ‘Lucky you’.
Soon, the rest of the X-Men, Xavier and Nightcrawler gather in what is left of the tower. Bishop, weak, utters ‘Ororo?’, to which Storm tells him to rest easy, as Iceman is brining the Blackbird back, while Neophyte stands with his arms folded and head hanging down, exclaiming ‘I suppose you will interrogate me - subvert my will and enlist me in your cause?’, but Cyclops tells him that despite what he may have been taught, the X-Men do not work that way. Xavier tells the young mutant that if the day comes he chooses to stand with the X-Men, it must be his own decision.
‘When that day comes, that I can trust again…you will hear from me’ Neophyte replies. ‘Until then, I am afraid I must find my own way in the world. For you and Magneto are both great men, Professor Xavier - and your dreams might be more similar than either of you realize’. And with that, Neophyte leaps from the tower and “runs” into the rain, while Professor Xavier remains ever silent.
Fabian Cortez always believed himself above petty sensations such as pain. Writhing about in agony was for lesser beings…for humans. That was before Wolverine, however. Before cold, hard adamantium pierced his chest, puncturing the heated cavity which housed his fragile lungs. Certainly, it was before he found himself in the grip of Amelia Voght’s transubstantiation process. Naked, Cortez writhes about in agony, while Voght stands nearby, using her powers on him, she tells him that it will hurt less if he ceases his struggles. ‘You are almost here m’lord’ Amelia adds.
‘WITCH!’ Cortez exclaims as he falls to the ground. ‘I was in the hospital for a week! Why’d you wait s’long to liberate me?’ he asks. Voght tells Cortez that, as he experienced first hand, her mutant mode of transport is nowhere near as enjoyable as, say, Nightcrawler’s, so she had to insure that his wounds were sufficiently healed. ‘Thelast thing I need to be accused of is trying to kill our anointed leader’ Amelia remarks. Fabian looks up at Amelia and thinks to himself ‘Her tone - does she suspect? Did she learn the truth while I was recovering?’, before telling Amelia that sarcasm is not her strong suit. He clenches his teeth while sweat pours down his face as he adds that sarcasm is hardly the tone in which to address he who speaks the voice of Magneto. ‘No, Fabian. It is not’ Amelia replies as she walks out of the room.
Suddenly, ‘What’s the matter, Cortez - trouble in paradise?’ a voice booms. ‘Gamesmaster!’ Cortez gasps, as the Omni path materializes in the room. ‘Excellent! No doubt you’ve come to award me points for the death of the X-Man, Bishop - he must have died while I was recovering in France’ Cortez exclaims, boasting that his leadership of the Upstarts will be undisputed. ‘On the contrary, Cortez…on both counts’ the Gamesmaster replies, revealing to Cortez that it seems Bishop is more resilient than anyone gave him credit for - the exception being Fitzroy. ‘As to your role of czar of the Upstarts…let’s just say you should hold off changing the title on your stationery anytime soon…’.
The Gamesmaster tells Cortez that he is sorry to inform him that recent complications have arisen, which necessitate that he take away all the points Cortez has acquired to date. ‘NO! I will not allow this to happen!’ Cortez shouts, exclaiming that Magneto’s death was a direct result of his actions, he asks what possible “complications” could change that. ‘Figure it out for yourself…’ the Gamesmaster replies as he fades from view, smirking, just as Cortez, still naked, lunges at him: ‘Don’t fade away on my while I’m speaking to you! I’m not like the rest of the Upstarts: I was born royalty - and I will not be dismissed like a bothersome child!’ he exclaims, landing against a window.
‘Curse him’ Cortez thinks to himself, admitting that his hold over the Acolytes is growing more tenuous by the moment, while his dominion over the Upstarts is no longer an amusing diversion, it is now a matter of salvation. ‘How could I possibly lose the points for Magnus’s death, unless…?’ his voice trails off, he goes wide-eyed, ‘NOOO!’ he shouts as he smashes the glass in front of him.
Meanwhile, at Professor Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters, Salem Center, Westchester County, New York. There was a time when this mansion served as a training facility for the young mutants known as the Uncanny X-Men. Sometime between then and now, it became their home. Inside a room deep within the mansion, Dr Moira MacTaggert presses some buttons on a panel and tells Charles that she did not know that this “ready room” of his existed, and reminds him that she even posed as his housekeeper for some time. Charles looks at some holographic DNA and replies that, until recently, he deemed this room off-limits to everyone but himself, justified, he believed, by the occasional need to escape.
Charles explains that, at Jubilee’s insistence, he became, as she put it, “more nineties”, and is trying to make himself more accessible. Moira replies that she is impressed, even more so by the Shi’ar technology Charles has at his disposal. ‘By inputting all the pertinent data on the anomaly…we’ve managed to piece together from the medical reports and exams on victims of this genetic disorder - we’ve come up with an amalgamated holographic projection of an afflicted DNA helix’ Moira remarks, before ordering the computer to overlay the mutagenic anomaly.
Charles and Moira look at the DNA structure after the computer modified it and Moira asks Charles if he has ever seen such a vile sight. ‘The worst part is, as near as we can tell, the anomaly has effected each victim’s genes. As if this wee intruder is mutating itself with each new victim’. Xavier replies that, no matter how repulsive the thought, he is afraid that the two of them must accept the reality that something - or someone - has released a virus on the unsuspecting mutant populace. Moira recalls her recent time on Genosha caring to the handful of sick and dying, and tells Charles that she was hoping against hope that it was strictly a mutate problem caused by their accelerated biologies.
Xavier throws his hands into the air as he declares that, similarly, the information he has been gathering over the last several weeks has proven inconclusive until this moment. ‘We can no longer ignore the obvious’ he declares. Moira replies that she cannot believe the Fates can be this cruel. ‘Is pain and suffering - death and dying - always going to be the legacy of being born a mutant?’ she asks.
Moira’s question provokes an unexpected response ins Xavier’s mind. In an instant he realizes where that word - legacy - was used with such regularity he thought it was a code, and feared it was a warning.
Child of innocence, demon of hate. Smiling girl in a field, frenzied teen in a war zone. A flower in her fingers, a sword in her hand.
Little girl, mutant sorceress. What a combination. A creature who has seen more of time from both sides of the unending path than I ever could hope to. She has lived then and now, here and there. Earth present, past and future. Limbo never-where forever now.
What would her future bring? What would the onset of puberty trigger? Would little Illyana become a teleporting mutant in the care of the children of the atom, or a demoness apprentice in a nether-region even the denizens of Hell fear to mention?
In time, one would find out. But time is something not everyone has much of. No matter the age, no mater the desire. My legacy may strike anyone born of mutant blood. From the oldest of the old…to the youngest of the young.
‘Dear God, please…no…’ Xavier whispers as he recalls seeing those words in the files of the mysterious timelust villain called Stryfe. A word that merely pricked at Xavier’s mind suddenly flares like a danger signal - and his heart grows cold. He touches Moira’s shoulder and tells her that he understands it is difficult for her to talk about, but points out that she is the only person with hands-on experience in treating the disease. ‘What can you tell me about its treatment?’ he asks. Moira hangs her head and replies ‘Precious little’.
While Colossus sits on a couch next to his sleeping sister, Illyana Rasputin, he watches her, and Moira tells Xavier that in every one of the cases she has been involved in, the results are exactly the same. ‘What I’m trying to tell ye, is there is no treatment. Once contracted…this virus is terminal!’ and with that, Colossus puts Illyana’s Bamf doll next to her, and switches off the light….