X-Force Annual #3

Issue Date: 
October 1994
Story Title: 
In Deep (first story)<br>Siryn Song (second story)

First Story: Fabian Nicieza (plot), Mike Wieringo (penciler), John Lowe (inker), Pat Brosseau (letterer), Ariane Lenshoek (colorist)
Second Story: Jim Krueger (writer), Arnie Jorgensen (penciler), Bud LaRosa & John Lowe (inkers), Jeff Powell (letterer), Dana Morsehead (colorist) Lisa Patrick (editor), Bob Harras (group editor), Tom DeFalco (editor in chief)

Brief Description: 

(first story): On the Ani-Mator’s Island, Dani Moonstar contemplates the recent events in her life that have led her to become part of the Mutant Liberation Front, whom she is currently having a training session with - the remaining members: Forearm, Feral and Wildside. Meanwhile, in China, 3-Peace - Jade Dragon, the Collective Man and Nuwa - are discussing their plans for how to help other mutants in their country, when they are placed under arrest to Snake, one of China Force. However, Reignfire, leader of the MLF, comes to their aid and makes them an offer they cannot refuse - join forces with the MLF and he will help them in their cause. Dani spends some time with her horse, Darkwind, and is aware of former associate, Bird-Brain, watching her, but Bird-Brain doesn’t want to see her. Dani checks on her personal diary and contemplates the past some more, including her former mentor, Charles Xavier. Reignfire, somewhat suspicious of Moonstar, interrupts her, they discuss trust, before he asks her to get the others ready for their next mission. In China, Snake and the rest of China Force - Ox, Rabbit and Rat - are gathered by officials who want 3-Peace stopped. 3-Peace’s mission has begun, with Feral and Nuwa breaking into a facility to get some information - however they are attacked by China Force. During the confrontation, Reignfire kills Rabbit. Later, Reignfire gives 3-Peace a “prep” talk, before they embark on the next mission - infiltrating the facility where Chinese mutants are imprisoned. Moonstar and Feral are ordered to remain on guard while Reignfire leads 3-Peace - into a trap! China Force are waiting for them, and it is revealed Reignfire made a deal with the Chinese government after killing Rabbit and learning they can offer him something he wants. Clearly upset, Nuwa uses her powers to render everyone immobile and makes her escape with Jade Dragon and Collective Man in tow. They are then confronted by Moonstar, who is faced with a dilemma - does she let them escape, which is what she wants to do - or take them down? Dani realizes that Reignfire left her here to test her, and she lets herself be taken down by Nuwa’s powers. Later, back at the MLF headquarters, Reignfire informs Moonstar that the Chinese government do not think she has anything to do with 3-Peace escaping, but Moonstar can tell that Reignfire suspects her. Dani then turns again to her memories, and the dream of Charles Xavier, all she has to get her through the night. (second story): Siryn has returned to Cassidy Keep, and has been having feelings about her long-dead mother. One stormy night, she hears a lullaby, and is lured to a nearby cave, where she discovers Murphy Keep, and inside, an elderly woman singing to a non-existent baby. The elderly woman also mentions her husband, which Siryn finds no trace of. The elderly woman seems to half understand what Siryn is saying, but seems disorientated, possibly senile. However, she does give Theresa some comforting thoughts, telling her that even though her mother is gone, there are others she can rely on. The next morning, Siryn and her friend Kelvin Doneghann go to the location of Murphy Keep, only to find it gone, as if it was never there. Kelvin thinks Siryn dreamed it all, but Siryn is certain it wasn’t a dream, and tells Kelvin that she is returning to the States.

Full Summary: 

First Story:
The Atlantic Ocean…a small island, not quite deserted - home to the terrorist faction known as the Mutant Liberation Front, currently involved in a training session. Danielle “Dani” Moonstar leaps out of the path of an energy beam and thinks to herself that night air burns with the smell of hot ozone as he lets loose with his powers. Dani tells herself that she thought this was getting easier, that every day, a little bet less of the guilt would bleed through. But she was wrong. ‘But then I’ve been wrong about a lot of things lately, I guess’. she admits, although knows that the one thing she cannot afford to have been wrong about - that is her decision to risk everything she believes in an infiltrate this terrorist faction. Danielle drops into a small ditch, recalling how she has tried to cling on to some pieces of her past, like developing an improvised Danger Rom practice session, so they MLF can develop team coordination. Dani saw no other way to hone her abilities with arousing suspicion, as her powers went through some transitions - again - after returning to Earth. Dani recalls her powers over the years - the ability to pull fear-images from someone, then to seeing a “Death-shroud” around people destined to die, after becoming a Valkyrie of Asgard, the chooser of the slain, now, finally, something simple and easily defined has developed - the power to create psionic “energy arrows”, which nicely scrambles a target’s neural-synaptic control, which she does to Richard Gil a.k.a. Wildside, her somewhat psychotic teammate. Michael “Forearm” McCain and Maria “Feral” Callasantos run past Wildside who starts babbling like someone wired on drugs, Dani’s power has that effect. Danielle continues moving before Forearm and Feral can catch up to and wonders what she is becoming. She points out that the island has some pretty rough terrain, but after the MLF’s last base in the Caribbean was destroyed, they came here, to the Ani-Mator’s abandoned facility, because it provided a great ready-made headquarters. Hiding under a ledge, Danielle remarks that the rocky cliffs are second nature to her as she grew up in the Colorado Rocky Mountains, but Feral and Forearm are both city kids, born and bred. Danielle knows that so long as she stays downwind from Feral, Maria will not pick up her scent. Dani knows this because she was trained by her father, a chief of the Cheyenne. She can hear Feral sniffing up on the ledge, and decides that Feral is nastier than ever since she defected from X-Force to join the Mutant Liberation Front. ‘But I should be okay…unless of course the wind changes direction’ Dani thinks to herself, which, unfortunately for her, the wind does change direction, and Feral detects her, instantly leaping down off the ledge, and lunging at Moonstar. Feral has no self-control and her claws rake across Dani’s arm, Dani feels the blood - it’s hot, but the sting is cold. It shocks her into action, and when one has been trained in self-defense techniques by the likes of Wolverine and Nightcrawler like she has been fortunate enough to have been, you have been trained by the best. Dani rolls, and tosses Feral, backwards over her, knowing that the ice-cold water will either calm her down because she hates it so much, or drive her over the edge even further! Feral emerges from the water, coughing, she furiously warns Moonstar ‘You gonna die for that one!’. Forearm makes it down to the ground now, while Dani tells herself that she was right, the water calmed Feral down, for if she was really mad, she wouldn’t have threatened her, she would have just don’t it. Moonstar glances at Forearm, who has just picked up a large boulder, and decides that since Michael keeps getting stronger and stronger, putting some distance between the two of them is the key to survival, and she makes her way up the ledge. Forearm calls out to Dani, telling her that she is setting him up real well, while Dani thinks to herself that Forearm is not a bad guy, and despite everything she actually likes him, although that is possibly because she and Michael have a mutual hatred of Feral and Wildside. Dani is confused about one thing though, that is Forearm’s reason for being a part of this team. Moonstar slides back down the ledge, and Forearm drops the boulder, but grabs Dani in his four arms, not with strong enough grip to break her ribs, but firm enough to tell her that she isn’t going anywhere. Dani improvises, and shoves a psionic arrow into Forearm’s face, apologizing, but telling him that if he had concentrated more on pinning her hands down, then he wouldn’t have left himself open to her attack. With her three teammates down, Dani tells them that it was a pretty pathetic display, and remarking that having lost Reaper in battle, Tempo to cowardice and Locus to the teleportation incident which sent her and Sunspot to the unknown, they would think the rest of them would start getting the message they are all walking targets with tombstones just waiting to have their names carved in them. Moonstar takes her mask off when the other three gather around her and she tells them that if they want to survive what is coming then they are going to have to perform better in battle than they have been. ‘So you keep saying!’ the drenched Feral snaps, before exclaiming ‘I’m asking the same thing I asked Cable when I was with X-Force - WHY? Why should we be busting our humps jumping through hoops for you?’ Annoyed, Danielle clenches a fist and remarks that they all have their reasons. ‘You’re doing it because you were offered the chance to cut loose - to be free of X-Force’s rules. And my reasons, furball, are my own, understood?’. ‘Understood’ remarks Forearm, pointing out that none of them owe each other any explanations, but declares that there problem is with the guy who brought them together to begin with. Forearm asks why their leader is never here, and where he is now, to which Dani replies that he is not very far away - preparing for their future - doing whatever is necessary. Meanwhile, in China, specifically four hundred miles southwest of Shanghai, in the small town of T’ung-Ling, where three young people, rebels in the struggle for freedom in this teeming land, gather in the hopes that on this day, they have found the answers for which they have long been searching. They have called themselves 3-Peace, a plan on words, as well as a symbol of the freedom they seek. Tonight, as they sit around a table, they hope, might be the first night of the revolution. Dei Guan a.k.a. the Jade Dragon asks how his companions how they can help but not be excited about this, to which Han Tao-Yu a.k.a. the Collective Man replies that he is a little older, and has therefore been in this struggle longer. ‘Ph, a bitter cynic at your age?’ asks their female companion, Nuwa, asking what hope the new China will have if the three of them think and speak like the enfeebled dinosaurs they are trying to force out. Suddenly, a figure dressed in a trench coat steps into the small restaurant, ‘The same hope it had, girl, before the traitor opened his mouth - NONE!’ he exclaims. Nuwa asks her companions if they should reveal themselves, to which Tao-Yu replies that it would seem the newcomer knows who they are already. ‘And way all of you would prefer to play this game is fine by me!’ the trench coat-wearing man exclaims. ‘As you wish then, military man!’ Dei Guan exclaims, transforming into his dragon form. The Collective Man shows how he gets his name as he produces replicas of himself, each of them announcing part of the sentence: ‘This is not our preferred approach!’. ‘But it is mine!’ exclaims their opponent, who reveals himself as Snake of China Force, stretching out of his trench coat and sliding upwards, he announces that he has dreamed of the opportunity to bring to justice the notorious Jade Dragon and Collective Man. Nuwa steps forward, telling Snake that he neglected to include her in his little witch hunt, which is lucky for him. Nuwa is about to announce what she can do, when, suddenly, something - or someone zooms past Snake in a whirlwind motion, getting Snake so disorientated, then smashing him through the wall. The Collective Man asks Nuwa if that was her, to which Nuwa replies that it wasn’t, explaining that her mutant power to turn a target against himself would only have served to give their government “friend” a peaceful slumber. ‘Then who?’ asks the Collective Man. ‘HIM!’ exclaims the Jade Dragon, motioning to the new arrival, hovering above them, ‘Yes, me. The man you came here to meet in the first place! The man who has a proposition to offer you…you may call me Reignfire!’ The feared leader of the Mutant Liberation Front exclaims that he is capable not only of helping 3-Peace define their goals, but of helping them to achieve them also. Grinning wickedly, he exclaims that all he asks of them is that once they have accomplished their objective, they remember, payback and share their vast resources…with the Mutant Liberation Front! Back on the Ani-Mator’s Island, Dani remarks to herself that it is so spooky at night, like a bad sci-fi B-movie from the Fifties that her former New Mutants teammates Cannonball and Sunspot used to watch when they all should have been sleeping. ‘We were so young. But it’s only been a few years. Why do I feel so old now?’ Dani wonders as she reigns in her horse. ‘Easy, girl - don’t keep fighting me!’ she exclaims to her winged horse. Moonstar knows the answer to why her horse keeps fighting her - because everything has changed. She is no longer a New Mutant anymore. Instead, day has become night. Leading her horse along the terrain, Dani recalls how beautiful her horse, then known as Brightwind, was, all white, a flying horse of Valhalla. Now though, she is called Darkwind, and characterizes much of the burden Dani herself carries around these days. Suddenly, Dani hears some noises close by, and knows who it is. ‘Bird-Brain? I can hear you out there!’ she exclaims. Teary-eyed, Dani tells Bird-Brain, a one-time associate of the New Mutants that she knows he is watching her. ‘I’m not going to bite, you know!’ she exclaims. But Bird-Brain squawks back that Dani is different than before. Leaving Darkwind outside a cave, Dani recalls how she came to this island many years ago with the New Mutants, and the innocent bird-like creature they found and named Bird-Brain. ‘By the Great Bear, we were so naive…’. Dani looks at the various equipment and machines in the cave, and notes that while Bird-Brain’s creator, the Ani-Mator, is gone, his experiments all remain, and even though the MLF have taken over the Island, they are all still afraid. ‘I guess I can’t say that I blame them’ Dani admits, recalling that Feral has already hunted two of them down. ‘As much as I don’t agree with her methods, I guess I cant blame her for being who she is’ Dani decides, before declaring that, sometimes, life doesn’t offer them an easy set of circumstances. Dani wonders why she feels so guilty about this cover-up, and decides that the answer is pretty obvious. Standing by a large computer, she exclaims ‘Computer: voice-activated command: personal diary file: Danielle Moonstar’. The computer asks for an access code, which Danielle enters as she recalls how the others have suspected she has been keeping a running diary, using it to flesh out the conflicting thoughts in her head and to help her keep her sanity in this double life. Two images of Dani appears on the screen, one of how she appeared in her original New Mutants costume, and head-shot of how she now appears. Looking at herself, Dani thinks that her MLF teammates might know she is doing this, and be suspicious of her, but they will never figure out her password - never. ‘I am still a Cheyenne. I am still a mutant. I am still passionate about the things I believe in - and the people I care for. But I’m also different. I’m stronger’. Dani decides that she is willing to risk her own life if necessary, to undermine this deadly terrorist organization. ‘Back then, Sam would’ve popped Star Trek II into the VCR, and - I would’ve been too busy laughing at Shatner and Montalban to hear the message, “The good of the many outweighs the needs of the few…or the one”. Dani knows though, that she was younger back then, and her own problems mattered more to her than the bigger picture. Looking at a headshot of her former leader, Professor X, Dani decides that he knew though, he knew the potential she had, even if she herself didn’t. ‘He knew I had the capability to be team leader - that he could trust my judgment’. ‘Was it worth the effort, Sir? Am I betraying your trust right now?’ Dani asks, clenching a fist, before asking if she is making a terrible mistake. Suddenly, a voice behind Dani exclaims ‘If you didn’t have the courage and steel - to make the choices we will be forced to make, old friend - I would never have asked for your help to begin with!’. It’s Reignfire, so Dani orders the computer to close her file, while Reignfire tells her to gather the others, as their plans are near fruition. ‘Freedom for our people draws near - and a safe haven will soon be had for us all…and all it will take is our participation in the destruction of a people!’. Meanwhile, in Beijing, inside a government services building called “The People’s Protection Agency”, known to a very few as China’s version of Project: Wideawake, created to seek out, remove, contain and control the growing mutant population within the country’s borders, Snake is meeting with several officials, explaining that he would have apprehended the dissidents then and there, if not for the interference by the unknown mutant. ‘That is not welcome news at all’ one of the officials tells Snake, before declaring that the dissidents who foolishly call themselves 3-Peace must not be allowed to increase their number. ‘It could be very dangerous’. The official asks Snake, pending their ability to looking further into this situation, if he and his team are prepared to meet and quell the opposition. Flanked by three others, all dressed in the same blue and white uniform, but with their own animal symbols on their chest, Snake replies ‘Indeed we are, Sir. Just give the order…and China Force will see that those dissidents are terminated once and for all!’. Four days later, the Mutant Liberation Front find themselves at a military satellite tracking station, fifty-seven miles outside of Shanghai. In order to accomplish their mission and help 3-Peace, they first have to gather more information on where this country’s mutants are being kept. Reignfire’s plan is to break in cleanly, so Feral and Nuwa are sent in together. Moonstar wonders if Nuwa knows what she is getting herself into, if she realizes the price she may pay for the sake of her cause. Feral lunges at two guards and slashes them to bits, shocking Nuwa, who grabs Feral and asks her what is wrong with her. ‘What?’ Maria snaps back. ‘You killed those guards! There was no reason for that!’ Nuwa exclaims. Feral continues on, remarking that they are two less people who can pick up a rifle and shoot a mutant in the back. Feral tells Nuwa to wake up, ‘You’re fighting a war here, right? So start fighting it!’. Moonstar tells herself that the neophyte 3-Peace have to understand how quickly their dreams of peace can turn into a nightmare. Danielle recalls how, during the preparations for this mission, that this facility they are breaking into was being used to search for mutants within the borders of China, using a newly developed satellite relay network which works in a way similar to that of Charles Xavier’s Cerebro mutant detection system. Fortunately, Moonstar’s side has Nuwa on it, who, ironically, is the person who is responsible for devising this system to begin with. Moonstar decides that it is not hard to see that this mission is pushing Nuwa to the edge. Fortunately, Nuwa rigged up devices which have blocked the MLF and 3-Peace’s mutagenic signatures from the tracking scanners. Near the control room now, Feral and Nuwa stand ready, and Nuwa tells Feral that, this time, her way will work better. ‘So, allow me, please to handle this part’ she tells the feline mutant. ‘Yeah, I’ll believe it when I see it’ Maria mumbles, before Nuwa’s eyes glow green, a humming noise can be heard and everyone in the room collapses. ‘Better to - what is your American expression - “Kill them with kindness”?’ Nuwa asks, following Feral into the control room. Feral checks one of the men and exclaims that they are not dead, just sleeping. Nuwa explains that her mutant abilities, for lack of a better description, can create a tranquility wave. ‘I was attempting to be ironic’ she mumbles. Feral just grunts, ‘How sweet’. Nuwa and Feral stand at one of the consoles as Nuwa gets to work, ‘I take that then, as a sign of begrudging approval?’ she asks, before telling Feral that violence should never be the only option, that there is always a better solution to the problems that face them. ‘Says you’ Feral mutters, before suddenly picking up the scent of some unexpected arrivals, announcing to Nuwa that they have some serious company here - indeed, it’s China Force! Snake tells his teammates that “the cat-girl” knows they are here and orders them to attack. Feral tells Nuwa that they should see if her method can keep working now. Moonstar and the others continue to wait outside, and can hear what is going on inside, while recalling the information they gathered on China Force, whose membership is currently at four - Snake, Ox, Rabbit and Rat - and are government agents who were given artificially enhanced powers. Rat lunges at Feral, claws outstretched, while Rabbit tells Snake and Ox that they must be quick and take Nuwa down, physically. Nuwa exclaims that in order to do that they must first make contact, and leaps out of the way, causing Ox to crash into some equipment. Snake slides towards Nuwa, asking her if she is always so calm and confident, and suggests he could squeeze some of that confidence out of her, when suddenly, several others grab him - ‘Or perhaps not!’ they all exclaim - it’s the Collective Man, split into many selves. The Collective Man begins to stretch Snake in many different direction, each asking ‘What is the American colloquialism? Should I make a wish?’. Ox calls out to Rabbit, exclaiming that the reinforcements have arrived, and asking what he should do. ‘You should go to sleep!’ the Jade Dragon exclaims in his native Chinese. ‘What he said - whatever that was!’ Forearm agrees as the two powerful mutants smash Ox across the control room. Wildside takes care of Rat with a distortion wave, but that’s not the end of that battle, as Feral never likes to lose, so she pounces on Rat, ‘You die, mouse!’ she snarls, until Moonstar fires a psionic arrow at Feral, causing her to leap off Rat and turn to Danielle, asking her what she thinks she is doing. Wildside stands at Moonstar’s side as Dani remarks that Feral’s accent gets worse when she is annoyed, to which Feral snaps that her claws get even sharper too. ‘Wanna see?’ she asks. Dani tells Feral to take a chill-pill, assuring her that they can get what they came for without killing anyone. Even though Moonstar is able to diffuse the situation right here, she knows that it is always just a matter of time before this powder keg of a team is going to explode again. Rabbit darts across the room, until she stops suddenly, ‘Who?’ she exclaims, ‘Trapped in my headlights!’ declares Reignfire, shinning his powers at her. Rabbit urgently replies that she doesn’t understand English, but Reignfire doesn’t care, instead he blasts her with his powers, sending her careening across the room. ‘No. But I’m certain you understood that, didn’t you, child?’ he asks, standing over her body. Reignfire turns to Moonstar and assures her that he respects her views and admires her…restraint, but warns her not to confuse the fact that although they may not need to kill, that does not preclude the fact that a little lesson in fear must be taught now and again. ‘You certainly don’t have a problem with that…do you?’ he asks. Despite her face hidden by her mask, Moonstar is clearly angry, but flanked by the others, she replies quietly ‘No…no problem at all’. Nuwa takes the information and materials they need from the tracking station, and four hours later, all of them drained both emotionally and physically, they finish setting up camp, twenty miles outside their true destination. Danielle stands apart from the others, but still listens to everything they say - it’s her job, she has to, it’s the only way she has a chance to stop all of this. ‘In deep, and treading to keep my head above water’ Moonstar remarks to herself. Dani adds that Reignfire killed Rabbit just to prove a point - a life destroyed just so that Dani will not cross the line. ‘But I already have crossed it’ she thinks, before declaring that Reignfire has to be stopped. ‘And may the Gods help me - even if it means brining him down’. Nearby, Reignfire talks to 3-Peace, while Forearm and Wildside chat nearby, and Feral crawls along the ground. Reignfire tells 3-Peace that all their actions to date would have the Chinese government believe that they are planning a violent overthrow of their rule. Nuwa tells Reignfire that she regrets the fact that he felt it necessary to murder someone in order to continue the ruse, to which Reignfire claims he does also, but that they cannot be fooled into thinking they will accomplish their goals without shedding any blood. Dei Guan assures Reignfire that 3-Peace are not the naive idealists he seems to think they are, to which Reignfire turns from them and reminds them that they asked for his help to free all mutants whom their government has secretly imprisoned. ‘With them freed, you hope to band together with the humans who also strive for change. You seek a dream of co-existence which will show the people of your country how change is for their own good. Why ever would I think you’re naïve idealists?’ Reignfire asks. Moonstar just narrows her eyes at his comment. Looking at 3-Peace, Dani decides that they are good people, hopeful of making a difference in a hard, cold world. ‘Nothing Reignfire says can take that from them’ Dani knows, but wonders if 3-Peace realize, ultimately, how futile their dreams are. ‘Do they know that by coming to the MLF, they’ve asked the foxes to guard the hen house? Do they have a clue what they’re about to do to them? What kind of people they’re really dealing with?’. Dani wonders what she herself is going to do if she is put into the position of shattering 3-Peace’s dreams. ‘I don’t really know anymore. And even worse, I’m afraid to find out. Afraid if push comes to shove…I may have to save Reignfire from himself’. Danielle has a restless sleep, not because of the hard ground or the sleeping bag. When morning arrives, the MLF and 3-Peace reach the ironically named Citizen’s Rehabilitation Center, ten miles out of Shanghai. What it really is, however, is a prison for mutants. The sky explodes, suddenly, and without warning. ‘What is happening?’ a soldier cries out. ‘That storm, came out of no where’ someone else exclaims. Reignfire makes his move, striking everyone down, swiftly. Rendering every single person walking outside the grounds of the prison unconscious. ‘I could have predicted this’ Danielle thinks to herself. Watching Reignfire, Danielle knows what she must do. She notes that Reignfire’s powers have grown so tremendously, but even that cannot stop her from executing her plan. His powers spreading, Reignfire begins giving out orders: ‘Attack! Crush any who would oppose us - as they would seek to crush you!’. Reignfire shouts that when all is said and done, these humans must be sure to know the price that is paid for confronting the Mutant Liberation Front. ‘We do. And they will’ Danielle thinks to herself as she leaps into action, alongside her MLF “teammates” and the heroic 3-Peace. But, as she fires a psionic arrow at a soldier, in the back of Moonstar’s mind, there is the growing awareness, that time is running out. She observes the Mutant Liberation Front shove the soldiers aside with seeming effortlessness. Doing what is expected of them. ‘The Mutant Liberation Front. But Liberation for whom?’ Dani wonders. She recalls how, when Reignfire found her after she fell from Asgard, he said to her that they all need to be free. ‘His exacts words were: “Liberated from what is expected of us, so we can so what is necessary. Liberated from oppression now, so that we may never become the oppressor tomorrow. Liberated from shackles of the Dream, so that our lives do not become a nightmare”.’ Dani decides that the worst part about it is that she believed every word her said. Dani understands that Reignfire believes that every action he takes, no matter how harsh, is justified, in order to “prevent the destruction which is coming”. Reignfire hovers over Moonstar, the MLF and 3-Peace, with soldiers laying all over the ground, he remarks ‘That was well done’, to which Nuwa, standing with the Collective Man and the Jade Dragon, tells Reignfire that his words, actions and those of his people are so contradictory to the reasons of their alliance, that it becomes far too easy for 3-Peace, as fighters, to see how easily they could purpose of their cause. Reignfire tells Nuwa that there will be times which demand actions they may personally abhor, but still must be taken in order to ensure the survival of their species. ‘Some situations cry for restraint, some for passion. Those who stand in the way…are destined to die!’. Reignfire exclaims. Reignfire remarks that each must decide for themselves, and declares that he plans to be one of those who survive, before turning Moonstar and Feral and ordering them to remain here on guard. ‘The rest of us have a jail break to attend to’ he remarks as he leads Wildside, Forearm and 3-Peace onwards. Dani watches them go and thinks to herself that Reignfire is recklessly indifferent to what stands in his way, but that she is starting to see a way she can help him - and those around him. Moonstar decides that the others march inside too calmly, too much in control. Dani hopes that 3-Peace is thinking “This has to be too easy”, unless of course they are so overwhelmed by the ferocious precision with which Reignfire and his MLF do their jobs, that they completely trust him. ’If that’s the case…then they’re lost…and may the Gods help me…then so am I…’. Inside the complex, Reignfire and the others stand before a large gate, Reignfire exclaims that it is the main detention holding wing. ’Walking through this door then begins out march to freedom!’ he announces, before turning to Forearm and asking him to help these people take the first step. ‘Sure’ Michael replies, using his incredible strength to smash through the door. Danielle thinks to herself ‘They’ve broken in. How surprised are they going to be…by what they find inside’. Indeed, a look of horror spread across 3-Peace, ‘No…by all that is right…why?’ Nuwa asks as they look upon China Force, who are flanked by dozens of soldiers. Reignfire just grins and replies ‘Because, Nuwa, I’m sorry to say, for the sake of my needs and those of our people, your little band of “freedom fighters” are completely expendable!’. Snake announces ‘You are under arrest, rebels, for unlawful acts of sedition against the People’s Republic of China!’. 3-Peace swiftly turn to Reignfire, ‘You have betrayed us! Why?’ the Collective Man demands to know. Nuwa suggests that the leaders of her country are in a far better position to give Reignfire what he wants. ‘Correct, Nuwa’ Reignfire replies, asking how he could refuse to strike up a bargain with 3-Peace’s government when they were offering him things 3-Peace couldn’t? The Collective Man remarks that they saw Reignfire kill Rabbit, ‘How could they -’ he begins to ask, but Nuwa replies that they must have been double-crossed after that, and exclaims that Reignfire, the butcher, used them to show the government forces just how powerful he is, then bartered their freedom away for his own needs. Nuwa asks Reignfire what it was that her government offered him: ‘Sanctuary? Immunity? Military hardware?’, before declaring that 3-Peace will not abandon their dreams and hopes without a fight. With that Nuwa uses her powers to render everyone else except her teammates immobile, and as they make a quick exit, Nuwa calls back ‘Ironically enough, Reignfire, that is a harsh lesson we have learned from you’. Nuwa tells her friends to keep running. ‘Let the cowards sleep in a bed of their own guilt!’ she exclaims as the trio burst through a window. Jade Dragon tells Nuwa not to become over-confident, to which the Collective Man agrees, and exclaims that he had forgotten, but that Reignfire must have planned for their possible escape. Indeed, Danielle stands before them, psionic arrow ready, she is the rear-guard, the last resort, and wonders why Reignfire would keep her back here. ‘To keep my away from the horrible thing you were doing in there?’ she wonders, when, suddenly, Feral lunges at the Jade Dragon, only to be taken out of action by Nuwa who renders her immobile. ‘Or did you think I could help somehow?’ Dani wonders, before warning 3-Peace to stay where they are. Moonstar wonders if Reignfire was expecting 3-Peace to escape, and if so, was she put out here in order to be tested? Danielle tells 3-Peace that she really didn’t want it to come down to this. ‘But it looks like we don’t have much choice, do we?’ she points out, before telling them that she cannot let them escape. ‘This is not your way, Moonstar!’ the Collective Man exclaims, remarking that they do not need to know Moonstar in order to see what is truly inside of her. ‘How can you do this to us?’ the Jade Dragon asks. ‘Do you not believe in the same things we do? Freedom for out kind? Peace for our world?’. Moonstar replies that she does, but that it is not that simple. ‘There is so much you don’t understand!’ she tells them. Nuwa angrily asks Danielle that in her mind then the ends will justify the means. ‘When all is said and done, Danielle Moonstar, and you stand triumphant, will you look around you - you will see that in truth, you won nothing! There is nothing of value and meaning left in your life!’. Moonstar decides that Reignfire must have put her out here to be tested, and thinks that Reignfire knows what is in her heart - how could he not? ‘We’ve known each other a very long time’ she reminds herself. Dani wonders if Reignfire will be secretly satisfied, or furious, with the only real choice she has available to her. Two days later, one hour after Reignfire returns to the Ani-Mator’s island, where he finds Moonstar in the lab, but stands in silence, not saying anything to her. Dani breaks the silence, asking if the Chinese army was able to find 3-Peace. Reignfire replies that they did not, and adds that the military does not blame Moonstar for 3-Peace’s escape. ‘Nuwa’s powers, as you said after you woke up, are rather powerful - in an amusingly contradictory way’. Reignfire adds. Reignfire announces that his bargain with the Chinese government is rescinded but that they do not think Moonstar or Feral acted covertly to assist the escape of 3-Peace. ‘And what do you think?’ Danielle asks. ‘I think…you…test me, old friend’ Reignfire replies, telling Dani that he thinks she is still trying far too hard to play both sides of the fence. ‘Hardened soldier and conscientious objector, all at once’. He remarks that he has no proof Moonstar has done anything to hinder his cause, it is merely an assumption based on his knowledge of her. Reignfire warns Dani that if he ever were to obtain evidence that she had betrayed him, that would be unfortunate for the friendship they always shared, as well as for her own well-being. ‘That is, were I to ever find such proof, of course…’. Reignfire leaves the lab, and Dani spins around, worried, she leans over the computer. ‘Oh, Lord…he knows I let them go!’ she thinks to herself, confused by the fact that he walks out and lets her live. ‘Is it a sign the friend I knew is coming back?’ she wonders. ‘Or is he playing with me…again?’. Danielle knows that, according to Reignfire, only the strong survive. ‘I have to remember that. I have to be strong’. Danielle accesses the computer and pulls his per personal diary. ‘I have to be strong enough to make sure that I finish what I’ve started - and I have to continue to be surrounded by people who would as soon put a knife in my back as consider me a comrade. I have to continue to miss my friends, my family - and everything I ever cared about’. Dani tells herself that she thought this was going to be easier, but knows she was wrong, and realizes that she may soon need to ask friends for help. ‘But I know that alone, in my confusion, there’s something I can cling to for sanity’ Dani tells herself, as the computer announces that it is awaiting voice access code. Teary-eyed, Dani states her code: “You have extraordinary gifts, but they can harm you as easily as others…”. Dani hugs herself, ‘Some of the first words that I remember Charles Xavier ever saying to me’ she recalls, wondering if Charles would think she is doing harm now - or trying desperately to help someone who cannot help himself? ‘To move one person from a nightmare beyond reckoning - to give him - back the dream. A dream which is all I have left, to get me through the night…until tomorrow comes…’. Second Story:
Cassidy Keep, on the Coast of Ireland, where a storm currently rages - thunder roars and lightning flashes over the massive castle which was built hundreds of years ago by the Cassidy clan, which, to this day, still stands, seemingly untouched by the world’s outrage. A different sort of storm took this castle and all within in a long time ago - for it was here that two cousins entered a bitter rivalry for a woman they would both outlive. One of the cousins was Sean Cassidy who would go on to become the X-Man known as Banshee, currently serving as headmaster to Generation X. The other, Black Tom, who became a criminal. Their rivalry was passed to the next generation, to Sean’s only daughter, Teresa Rourke Cassidy, who was forced to choose between the love of her true father, and the man who raised her as his own. Theresa - known as Siryn deputy leader of the irrepressible X-Force, has returned to Ireland to make peace with her troubled past. Her friends and remaining family have tried desperately to reach out and help her - but she continues to withdraw into herself. ‘What?’ Theresa exclaims, sitting upright in bed. Theresa puts on her costume, trench coat and gloves, before opening the window and peering out into the night. It is not the storm that has waken her, something else - something that pulls and tugs at her insides. ‘It doesn’t make sense’ she thinks to herself, knowing the last thing she should be hearing out here is a lullaby! Theresa takes an oil lamp, and putting her jacket hood up, flies out her window into the storm, making her way down the cliffside, she reminds herself how her mother died long before she can remember, so feels the song striking at her heart as it dodges the rain and rides along the wind’s moaning pleadings - beckoning her into the night’s savage embrace. Down on the shoreline, Siryn follows the lullaby’s call and discovers a cleft in the rock - the mystery beginning to reveal itself, as there is a small opening, and through it, Theresa finds a wooden door, covered by stone. Were she not a mutant, this door, closed off by tons of rock, would be shut to her forever. But Theresa’s pain was not the only thing passed down to her by her father, as she also inherited his sonic scream - a scream that can do more harm than good - in this case almost brining part of the cliff down around her. ‘No!’ Theresa exclaims as the rocks tumble around her, but she is able to fly herself out of harm’s way. The wind chills Siryn’s bones, rattling them against the emptiness she feels inside, while the lullaby continues to exert it’s gentle pull. Siryn cannot help but be haunted by thoughts of a mother she never knew. Those same thoughts are compelling her to go inside this newly discovered area. Stepping over the fallen rocks, she pushes the rotting wooden door. It heaves and sighs as it opens. Her small frame fills the large doorway, and looking around at this cavern, Theresa whispers ‘Oh my…’. Immediately, the lullaby stops, almost in answer to Theresa’s question. This is part of an old keep, not unlike her home, but something else calls to her, offering both warmth and enlightenment. Siryn sees a light in a room up a staircase, so makes her way there, faintly hearing a murmur, the lullaby again, but this time meek and timid. The stairway is moss-covered, but the lullaby becomes less faint with each step. Entering the room, Theresa can hardly believe her eyes - an old woman is standing over a baby’s crib, singing the lullaby. ‘Hello?’ Theresa asks as she approaches the old woman, who seems to ignore her. Siryn sees that the crib is empty, and swallows hard - there is nothing here but an old woman and her song. Suddenly, the old woman turns to Theresa, ‘Oh, dear. I’m sorry. Hello’. Silence hangs in the air, Theresa thinks to herself that even the maddening lullaby would be better than this. Suddenly, the old woman speaks again, introducing herself as Glori Murphy, and asks Siryn to pardon her lack of hospitality, explaining that she hasn’t had any guests in quite a while. There is silence again, before the old woman remarks ‘I can guess what you’re thinking’ with her thick Irish accent. ‘Sometimes I think it was our clan’s sins that cursed us so. A long time ago, on a night like this, Murphy Keep was claimed by the powers of the world. And you’re the first visitor we’ve had in almost thirty years!’. The old woman turns to the crib, ‘Isn’t that right, Maggie?’ she remarks as if speaking to a baby. Glori turns to Siryn and tells her that they need to be quiet as the baby has gone to sleep. Siryn follows Glori downstairs, thanking her for the cup of tea she has just given her, Siryn explains that the lullaby called out to her, and reveals to Glori that she lost her mother when she was very young, so had never heard one sung like that. ‘I’m not exactly sure why Ronald doesn’t come on and talk with us. I swear that husband of mine can be exasperating’ Glori replies, ignoring Theresa’s comment. ‘You know men. I swear sometimes I think he’s in another world’ Glori remarks, while Siryn takes a look around, staring into the darkness of the cavern she sees no one. ‘You live like this?’ Theresa asks. ‘Exactly’ Glori replies, before exclaiming ‘Where are my manners?’ and offering Theresa some more tea. ‘We should have known the castle would fall one day, where it was built, I mean. We all simply lived too close to the edge for too long’. Siryn sits down at the table and begins to humor the old woman, ‘I’m sorry your husband isn’t joining us. He must be a good man. But you’re cut off from the world. How do you deal with it?’ she asks. ‘The problems just go and get worse if you don’t have anyone to share them with’ Glori replies, before remarking that if she didn’t have Ronald, and her little Maggie, that she would swear she would go mad. ‘I can see you feel alone, dearie - otherwise I don’t think you would’ve heard my singing’. Siryn tells Glori that she has a father, and friends, but that she sometimes misses her mother so much. ‘We’ve all lost people we’ve loved, but you need to find others to lean on’. Glori tells Theresa that it is time to move on, and to know that other people can fill the space that her mother left. ‘When I was a wee girl, my mother once told me: “A thousand drops of water can still hollow out the strongest stone…”.’ The next day, ‘My God, what happened?’ Siryn exclaims as she stands at the entrance to the Murphy Keep - which is no longer there. Theresa’s friend Kelvin Doneghann asks her if she is sure this is why she lured him down here. Theresa tells Kelvin not to joke, assuring him that Murphy keep was here. Kelvin tells Siryn that there is no such place, and reminds her that he is a reporter, so needs facts and truth. ‘I need reality - or did you speak to a ghost?’ he asks. ‘Are you trying to tell me - are you suggesting - that I made it all up?’ Siryn replies, adding that the storm may have washed it all away. Kelvin smiles and tells Theresa that she may have dreamed the whole thing. ‘It could have been some figment of your imagination’ he suggests. Siryn tells Kelvin that she has made reservations to go home, to America, back to X-Force and her father. ‘Whatever you want to believe happened here last night Kelvin Doneghann…it was real enough’….

Characters Involved: 

First Story:
Dani Moonstar (Former New Mutant, currently with the Mutant Liberation Front) Feral, Forearm, Reignfire, Wildside (all Mutant Liberation Front) Darkwind (Dani’s horse) Bird-Brain (Former associate of the New Mutants) Collective Man, Jade Dragon, Nuwa (all 3-Peace) Ox, Rabbit, Rat, Snake (all China Force) Patrons and staff in a Shanghai restaurant
Members of the People’s Protection Agency
Chinese soldiers
Soldier and staff at the Citizen’s Rehabilitation Center Second Story:
Siryn Glori Murphy
Kelvin Doneghann

Story Notes: 

This Annual comes with a rather excessive amount of pinups:
Cable & Domino by John K. Snyder
Warpath by Larry Stroman
Shatterstar by Bryan Kong & Mike Sellers
Grizzly & Domino by Steve Epting
Deadpool by Ken Lashley & Batt
Feral by Mark Pennington
Boomer by Val Semelks & Bob Wiacek
Shatterstar by Jim Vern & Andrew Pepoy First Story:
This story is narrated by Dani Moonstar This story takes place before the events of X-Force (1st series) #40-41. Feral defected from X-Force to the Mutant Liberation Front in X-Force (1st series) #28. The diminished MLF roster is due to Locus going missing and Tempo quitting the team in X-Force (1st series) #28, and Reaper was transported to the Ultraverse in All New Exiles #Infinity. Dani remained in Asgard in New Mutants (1st series) #87 as a member of the Valkyries, and was first seen back on Earth - cast out of Asgard - in X-Force (1st series) #27. Bird Brain is a rather comical associate of the New Mutants from New Mutants (1st series) #55 through to #61, where he has been remaining on the Ani-Mator’s Island since then. Jade Dragon is a former associate of Alpha Flight, who sought refuge in Canada from his native country. [Alpha Flight (1st series) #59-69] This makes his first appearance since those issues. He has not appeared since then and his post M-Day power status is not known. The Collective Man is one of the “International” heroes that made their first appearance during the original Contest of Champions. Since then he made a couple of minor appearances before appearing here. Some time later, he began appearing more frequently. This is the first appearance of Nuwa. 3-Peace have only appeared as a group in this issue. China Force is the Chinese government’s own team of super powered operatives. Ox, Rabbit, Rat and Snake first appeared in several Alpha Flight (1st series) issues, attempting to bring the Jade Dragon back to China [Alpha Flight (1st series) #64-66, 69]. Operatives Horse, Dog and Monkey appeared in the Agent: Graphic Novel, during which Horse was killed. Dog and Monkey have not been seen since then, and while Rabbit died this issue, Ox, Rat and Snake have not appeared since either. Dani’s comment about her and Reignfire knowing each other for a long time was of course made when everyone believed that Reignfire was actually Sunspot. It would appear that the editors/writers had not decided that Dani was an undercover agent of SHIELD at this time, as her reasons for being with the MLF were at this time to help Sunspot, but when he was later revealed not to be Reignfire, the SHIELD story was brought in. Second Story:
Kelvin Doneghann is a friend of Siryn’s as seen in X-Force (1st series) #31.

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