Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters
Rachel exits the front door of the school and manages only a few steps before screaming out at the top of her lungs. The X-Men inside hear her cries of anguish and leap to action. Magneto thinks they are under attack. As the not-so-merry band of mutants makes their way to the front door they are shocked at what they see outside. The landscape of their yard has been transformed into a barren desert. There’s sand and sun as far as the eye can see. As the X-Men crowd around Rachel they spot Kitty off in the distance standing over a figure lying in the sand. They wonder who it could be. Rachel tells them it’s their postman who collapsed when the scenery changed. They question what they should do about the crazy turn of events. Kitty, meanwhile, tries dragging the postman back to the mansion. As she ponders what happened she calls out to her friends for help. Nightcrawler ‘ports in only to be sent right back to the mansion’s doorstep. He collapses in Colossus’ arms muttering something about looking through the gates of Hades. Colossus suggests he go, but Storm decides Wolverine’s a better choice, with his healing factor and all. Wolverine takes off with the heat bearing down hard on him. He feels famished all of a sudden and the skin on his body starts pulling tight over his bones. Wolvie reaches Kitty and tells her he’s taking over. She turns to look at him, bearing the same taut skin as he. She tells Wolverine they need to hurry because the postman’s dying. Wolverine tells her to take a look at herself. She tells him not to worry about her, that the postman’s near death. Wolverine tells her they need to leave, but Kitty refuses to leave the postman’s side. She accuses him of being selfish. Wolvie, intent on showing what he cares about, pops his claws. He jams them into the postman’s face, much to Kitty’s surprise. Suddenly, the desert landscape disappears, and with it the postman. The Xavier grounds are back to normal. Seconds later, the gang’s back inside taking care of Kitty. They decide to search the grounds for the would-be psychic assailant. Rachel performs a psi-scan while Rogue takes to the air for an aerial sweep of the grounds. Neither of them finds any hostiles. Storm lays a cold compress on Kitty’s forehead, to which she tells Ororo she’s ok, the danger has passed. Logan lights up a cigar and says his instincts are telling him the danger is still there, their attacker will be back. Magneto heads off to Cerebro to see if he can track down the mysterious enemy. Wolverine tells him it won’t do any good. Hours later, Colossus is outside swimming in the pool. Nightcrawler teleports in and they have a brief discussion on Colossus’ difficult workout regimen. Nightcrawler refers to Piotr as the Tin-Man from The Wizard of Oz before teleporting away. Colossus keeps swimming his laps, but takes to heart what Crawler had to say. He wishes he didn’t have a heart to break just like the real Tin-Man because when Kitty was attacked he was afraid. As Piotr continues swimming his towel lands in the pool and wraps around his head. He can’t get it off and it drags him under the water. He transforms to his armored form and tears the towel asunder. As he gets out from the pool he begins threatening Nightcrawler for his little prank, but Nightcrawler isn’t there. Instead there stands a steel tower as high as any skyscraper. Colossus begins calling out for his teammates. He starts panicking. Storm, Wolverine, Nightcrawler and Magneto show up and ask what his problem is. Piotr stares in disbelief as each of his friends now sports metallic skin. Wolverine tells him the world’s become a hard place so they need to be hard too. “...or we die” Nightcrawler adds. Magneto tells him they need to be hard, cold and in control like him. Colossus reverts to human form and tries convincing his friends they’re not in control, that humanity gives life meaning. He tells them to look at him he’s human too. Storm tells him humanity is pain and that he needs a shield. They start attaching metal sections to his body. Colossus tells them to stop. As they place the last piece, his mask, they tell him he’s armored against pain, he’s invulnerable. Colossus stands triumphantly as he understands he no longer has to fear for failure, pain or sorrow. He yells out that he’s finally free. Then he realizes he’s back in his bathing suit and the tower and his friends are gone. Storm draws the curtains and peers down at Colossus who is crying in Nightcrawler’s arms. She tells Magneto their foe has struck again. She reports Colossus is physically unharmed. Magneto voices his frustrations, he feels helpless. Storm offers that might be the whole point. Magneto talks about his old days where he would have acted out not caring of the consequences. Storm says it must have made life much simpler. Their conversation is interrupted by Kitty who asks if anyone wants to join her for lunch. Magneto and Storm enter the kitchen to find everyone there except for Colossus, who lost his appetite and went to bed according to Rachel. Kitty offers to make him a bowl of her mom’s chicken soup to cheer him up. Kurt jokes that Kitty’s off to get herself some munchies. Kitty tells him to relax, she can eat if she wants. She grabs the refrigerator handle and a cloaked, skeletal hand seizes her wrist. Kitty tries to pull free, but the mysterious being grabs hold of her other arm with a powerful grip. The cloaked figure asks Kitty if it’s time for lunch, and adds that she looks hungry. The figure places his hands on Kitty’s face, much to her horror. After removing his hands, Kitty’s face is emaciated. She falls to the floor starving. The cloaked figure offers Kitty a plate of steak and corn. Kitty begs for the food. The figure explains he was cooking all morning to make this meal. As he hands over the plate, Kitty’s withered, shaking hands reach for it. When she touches the plate the food melts away. All that’s left are flies and maggots, making their way through the rotten remains. Tears begin streaming down her face as she asks the cloaked figure who he is. The figure reaches up to its hood and pulls it down to reveal his face. “I am misery’s maitre d’, the chef of starvation, waiter to the waifs of the world, hash-slinger to the homeless!” he replies. He lists some more descriptive details of his existence before telling Kitty that his friends call him Hungry. Hungry commands Kitty to starve. She sits there curled up on the floor feeling like she’s wasting away. At this point Nightcrawler walks in and finds Kitty lying on the floor muttering about something called Hungry. He has just enough time to wonder what this “Hungry” thing is before he too is assaulted. Nightcrawler finds himself in the past, on the night when he killed his foster brother, Stefan. With the gypsy caravan in the background and Stefan at his feet he stares up in anguish at the images of the parents that abandoned him. He faces his doubts and inner fears and is overwhelmed. He feels he failed the X-Men when they looked to him for leadership. It was his faith that kept him strong, but he now admits that that too is gone. A spirit woman appears who offers to show Nightcrawler the way. Kurt asks if she’s the enemy. She tells him she can make him into a hero. Nightcrawler immediately accepts her offer. She tells him to regard the cross that has appeared behind him. He turns about and stares up at the religious symbol. He comments about the one man who sacrificed himself on the cross to save the world. He walks out of the light cast down from the cross and into the shadows. He claims to not be the same kind of man. The spirit points out that with his death it would allow another to breathe his air, take his space, and eat his food. “Viewed another way, what matters the death... of a demon?” she adds before disappearing. The rest of the X-Men walk in to find Nightcrawler collapsing to the floor. Kitty scoops him up from her position and holds him tightly. Later, Magneto decides to try Cerebro once more, despite his previous failure to locate their attacker with the tracking device. Rogue also performs another aerial sweep of the grounds. Wolverine takes to the woods to try and track down their foe. Rachel sits cross-legged on her bed as she determines this might be the chance she’s been waiting for to show everyone she deserves the Phoenix mantle and to make up for her mother’s past transgressions. Storm, meanwhile, is down in the infirmary caring for the three victims. Storm’s thoughts turn to her comrade’s loss of hope, their loss of a will to live. She’s frustrated that there’s nothing she can do to help those she loves. Magneto stares down at the Cerebro helmet, at the reflection of his face. He places it on his head and gets nothing. He tries reaching further out, but is attacked by a screeching orange beast. The beast punches through the Cerebro helmet, through Magneto’s head, and clear out the other side. The Entity has gained access to Magneto’s mind. He awakens to find himself lying supine on cold earth. Toad, one of his former minions, stands over him proclaiming the good news that his servants have decimated all humans. In the background mutants begin chanting, “All glory to Magneto!” Magneto sits up and asks what’s happened. Mastermind tells him humanity has been wiped out and homo superior now reigns. Wolverine comes over and hoists Magneto on his shoulders. He informs the bewildered leader that he killed all the remaining human prisoners as ordered. Sauron hails, “All glory to Magneto!” Wolverine carries Magneto towards a nearby hilltop where all of his followers are gathering. Blob tells Mags that a lot of the animals and crops were killed during the genocide, which might lead to problems down the line with their kids. As he chomps down on his burger he yells out, “All glory ta Magneto!” Magneto reaches his destination and is flanked on either side by Tessa and the Scarlet Witch. None other than Hitler himself steps forward to congratulate the Master of Magnetism on his clearing out of the genetic deadwood. “What an apt pupil you were! I salute you!” he finishes. Magneto, still unsure of things, thanks the former leader of the Nazi regime. Scarlet Witch tells him it’s time for his speech. Magneto stands atop the hill, towering over his subjects. As he speaks, he seems a bit unsure of himself. He discusses the hardships and struggles they faced in their quest for victory. He tells them they were right, and that even if they weren’t there’s nobody left to accuse them. In the foreground a deteriorated hand pops up from the ground. Legions of the undead rise from their graves and march their way toward Magneto and his people. Magneto can only watch in horror at the masses of dead slowly making their way towards him. He hopes they will understand his vision and why he had to do what he did to reach it. The dead trample over Magneto’s soldiers and begin reaching out to him. He stares at his impending death. He knows he deserves this and has no right to scream. Meanwhile, Rachel is still in her bed trying to psychically locate their attacker. Her telepathic powers are overwhelmed and she can’t get a grip. She grabs her head with her hands as the whole world enters her mind. She feels the suffering of the planet and fears for her sanity. Rachel transforms into the Phoenix to contain the overload and promises to ease their pain. She falls through a vortex that opens in the floor and finds herself in the dystopian future from whence she originally came. Rachel is no longer the Phoenix, but a hound. She tries to make a break for it, but she’s wearing a collar and someone is holding on to the end of her leash. Rachel cries out not wanting to hunt again. Someone tells her she’s the hunted. She turns around to find about a dozen hound versions of herself holding her leash. They accuse her of betrayal and she pleads with them that she didn’t want to. The taunts keep coming and all Rachel can do is say she’s sorry. She asks for forgiveness and the Rachel hounds dissipate. In their place appears the visage of the Phoenix. Rachel cries out for her mom and the Phoenix responds to her call. Rachel lifts up her arms and the Phoenix brings its head down. The Phoenix says it will kiss it and make it all better. The Phoenix takes the form of Jean Grey as it asks if Rachel will follow in her footsteps. Jean wraps her hands around the sides of Rachel’s face. Rachel says she wants to be just like her. Jean smiles and tells her she’s the best and that she must alleviate the suffering of the world. She pushes off on Rachel and tells her to kiss it and make it better. She then blasts Rachel away telling her to put them out of their misery as only a Phoenix can. As Logan wades through the pond on the Xavier grounds he senses the Entity’s presence. That’s when the sun moves behind the clouds and darkness envelops him. When the sun returns he finds himself naked, with normal hair and no claws, as if he was a baseline human. He looks around and senses a shape in the shadows watching him. Out from the shadows comes Wolverine. Wolverine torments Logan about his past and the questions that have plagued him for as long as he can remember. He offers to give him all the answers he needs, all the secrets. The only thing Logan has to do is beat him. Logan is nervous because he knows better than anyone nobody beats the best. Wolverine goads him, telling him to give it a shot, and then leaps at him. He slices Logan across the chest and arms a few times. Logan tries dodging, ducking, dipping and diving through the brush to avoid the onslaught. Cornered, Logan stands with his back against a large tree. As Wolverine jabs forward at his head, he ducks, causing Wolverine to get his claws stuck in the tree trunk. Logan maneuvers about and presses Wolverine’s claws up against his own throat. Logan resists the urge to kill him and lets him be. This shatters the vision and Logan finds himself back to normal. He proudly proclaims himself to be human as the Entity dissipates into nothingness. And moves onto Storm who finds herself staring up at a circus barker. She demands to know why he’s attacking them. He shouts down to her to follow him down the hall of mirrors. Storm tells him she’s in no mood for games. She receives a pie in the face as he tells her he is. The circus barker skips down the hall of mirrors telling Storm she’ll see all the different Ororos that have ever been and yet to be. As Storm makes her way she sees a pregnant version of herself in a nightgown with hair rollers lining her head. The next reflection is of her as a cheerleader, followed by an older lady baking a cake donning a heart-filled apron. Storm starts yelling out in angry disbelief. She sees herself as a small fairy and then a seductress, sprawled out on a bed wearing red lingerie. Storm orders him to stop the madness. She tells him he has no right. He tells Storm her heart and soul know the truth. She admits they may be facets of her personality, but is angry at being toyed with. She receives another pie in the face. She starts chasing after him in the darkness and stumbles into some sort of arena, where piles and piles of pies lie sitting in the middle. She receives yet another pie in the face. The Entity is now a clown and begins throwing pie after pie in her direction. He blows raspberries at her and asks her if she’s having fun. He tries provoking her into joining him in the fight. He taunts her, telling her she’s not good for anything. Storm comes close to giving in when she spots the onlookers in the arena. They’re all starved and malnourished. The clown tells her to ignore them and concentrate on him. He tells her they’re in the middle of a war. She tells him she only wants peace, and then offers the pies to everyone in the crowd. This breaks her free of the vision and she finds herself back in the infirmary. Storm understands how the others ended up they way they did, the Entity knew her dreams and weaknesses and was able to strike at the very core of her being. She goes about rallying the troops, telling them the battle is not yet over. Colossus tells her it’s useless. She tells him it’s not so, that the Entity plays with their mind, placing their hopes and fears amidst truth and lies. Magneto cuts her off and asks why, for what reason. “To hurt us,” she replies. They all agree he did a pretty good job except for Rogue who wonders why he never attacked her. Storm points out that they’re under attack and they need to do something about it. She tells them they’ve never backed down before and aren’t going to start now. She reminds them of all the hardships they’ve faced before and asks them if this is much worse. Nightcrawler says it is because they are all vulnerable against this psychic attack, and even Rachel, the only one with psychic powers, could do nothing to stop it. He asks Storm how she thinks they can defeat it. Storm admits she does not know. Rogue suggests telling it jokes. Storm starts to reply, but is cut off when Wolverine pops claws and slams them into the coffee table and says, “I’m done with talkin’!” That the Entity left him alive was his mistake. Wolverine says he’s ready to pay back the favor. Nightcrawler adds that he will go along to keep Wolverine out of trouble. Storm says they’ll all go. Rogue asks where. Rachel admits she had a connection with the Entity during her attack and thinks she knows where it might be. Soon after, the X-Men are aboard the Blackbird heading east. Inside the cabin the X-Men sit in silence, not making eye contact with each other. Rachel is the first to speak when she voices her concerns over facing the Entity again. Storm tells her they’ll face him because they must. Rogue wonders what’ s in store for her since she has yet to face him. She’s afraid of what will happen to her. Later, the Blackbird makes its landing in the arid heat of an African desert. The X-Men, clothed in white robes, make their way to an encampment of African people. When they near them they are shocked to find so many starving, weak and helpless. Rogue wonders if it’s the Entity’s doing. If so, she says they must stop him. Storm asks what the greater need is. Colossus asks what can they do when they are so few and they are so many. That’s when Wolverine hears a Lockheed Hercules transport coming in fully loaded with food, clothing, medical supplies and shelter. The anxious Africans crowd around waiting for the plane to make its stop. The relief workers on the ground tell the crowd to get back, but the plane is gets too close. Kitty notices the propeller nearing the crowd and tells her fellow mutants. When the pilot on board can’t stop it in time Nightcrawler drops the disguise and teleports in. He grabs as many as he can, about six, and takes them to safety. He worries about the rest he couldn’t get. That’s where Rachel comes in, free from her disguise as well. She places a telekinetic shield in front of the blades that pushes the people back and out of its slicing range. Rachel takes notice of how easy it is to push the people back; she can feel their weakness, that death hovers near them. The X-Men help unload all the crates. They do this plane after plane after plane. They don’t forget the reason why they came, but can’t help but serve the greater good, to help those in need. Yet for all their work nothing seems to change. Wolverine busts Colossus taking a break. He tells their strongest member they’ll rest when they’re done. Colossus asks when that will be, that things seem so hopeless. He also reminds Wolverine they should be hunting the Entity. Wolverine tells him this is more important. The X-Men set about helping with everything from feeding, tending to the sick, comforting the dying and burying the dead. For once they’re accepted without any hesitation. This lasts for days, and one night prompts Kitty to discuss the helplessness she feels and how it’s the worst feeling she’s ever had. Colossus tells her it’s a lesson in humility. Colossus gives an example of the irony of their survival. When they chopped down the tree to make the fire they’re sitting around, they removed essential ground cover, which will allow the wind to sweep away the topsoil, which will leave a sandy surface too low in nutrients to grow crops. Colossus sighs and says he has no answers. Across camp, Rogue tries feeding a dying boy some food. She can feel death near him, and suddenly the boy reaches out to her face. He touches her and Rogue absorbs his psyche. All she senses is a lifeless void. The child died even before touching her. Rogue cradles the bloated body against her and cries out to God. But it’s not God who’s causing this she remembers. Rogue stands up, tears streaming down her face. She proclaims she’s had enough. She knows the other X-Men are close to giving up, but not her. She decides to take on the Entity herself. She flies off to the campfire where she finds her comrades asleep. One by one she steals their powers, preparing for the battle that lies ahead. Storm wakes up and beholds the multi-faceted Rogue. She asks Rogue what she’s done. What must be, she replies, and flies off. Storm yells for her to stop, but Rogue doesn’t listen. Storm doesn’t believe Rogue can win against the Entity alone so she follows her on foot. Rogue combined Magneto and Rachel’s memories to find the location of the Entity. She stands outside what looked like a sand dune, but as she uses her stolen powers, she uncovers the entrance to a temple. She walks inside and finds the place in ruins. A group of vampire bats come screeching at her. She leans against the wall for support. Along the wall there’s an opening and a lizard-like face peers out of it, unbeknownst to Rogue. The Entity smashes through the wall and grabs a hold of her. Rogue tries absorbing the Entity, but instead the Entity’s essence takes over her body. Storm sees this happen as she enters the chamber. The Entity senses Storm hiding, gathering her thoughts. The Entity teleports in behind Storm, surprising her. Storm delivers a high kick and demands the Entity release Rogue. The Entity refuses, saying it is too comfortable in her strong body. Storm takes off running. She climbs up a pillar and sneaks into another room, but the Entity just phases through the wall and is upon her. Storm leaps off the edge of the overhang and onto a towering statue. The Entity realizes what Storm is, a mutant. The Entity tells Storm of the past when her people tried to defeat him, but were defeated instead. They built the temple to try and appease him. He fed off their despair. Storm wonders who he’s talking of. She wonders if it’s her African ancestors, that maybe she has some genetic memories of them. Her thoughts are interrupted as he blasts her off the tower. The Entity says he will kill her and feed of her death agony. The Entity finds it amusing that he’s actually going to kill something himself. Storm lands on her feet and plans her strategy. All she needs to do is survive until the absorbed powers go away. Storm tells the Entity he’ll have to wait because there are a thousand places to hide in the temple. The Entity lets loose with his telekinetic powers and obliterates everything in the immediate area. Storm falls to her knees and thanks him as they are now outside in the open desert. The Entity is confused by the thanks, but charges forward to kill her anyway. Nightcrawler teleports in and snatches her. He teleports a few times until he makes it back to camp. He tells her he saw the message Storm left in the sand and apologizes for arriving late. The Entity is sad to lose Nightcrawler’s power, but is still determined. He takes off and flies over to the encampment. Colossus grabs hold of his leg as he flies over his position. He slams the Entity into the ground. The Entity’s fears are realized. The X-Men have awakened. Wolverine goes after him next sending a powerful punch his way, but the Entity ducks. Wolvie goes for the gut this time, but his hand flies clean through the phased body. Then the Entity smashes Wolverine on the back of the head, sending him to the ground. The Entity comes in with a flying kick at Colossus. The mighty Russian falls. Kitty pops out from under the ground and grabs hold of the Entity’s leg. She tells everyone the Entity can no longer phase. The Entity kicks her too, sending Kitty to the ground. The Entity laughs at their feeble attempts. He knows they won’t truly hurt him, knowing they’d only be hurting Rogue. He feeds off their despair and grows stronger. The Entity flies off, apparently done with the fight. Magneto orders Nightcrawler to stop him and the German teleports in midair and kicks him in the stomach. Kitty urges Rachel to try and save Rogue. Rachel uses a bolt of telepathic energy in the hopes of finding Rogue’s psyche. She makes contact and removes the Entity from her body. Magneto lets Rogue down easy on the ground. The X-Men rush over to check on her. Nightcrawler reflects on the situation and wonders aloud if they’ve really won anything. Magneto says that Storm surviving and Rogue being free is a victory of sorts. Rogue counters that it’s meaningless, the Entity still lives. Storm offers her own opinion. She tells her friends the theory on how the human race began in Africa and that maybe the Entity was born with them as the ultimate primal mutant. She thinks it will always be there to feed off the misery of the people. Rachel agrees, saying she felt it has existed for as long as the human species. And she guesses it will continue to live due to the never-ending suffering that is humanity. The next day, more relief planes enter the area. The X-Men get to work unloading the supplies. With the previous night’s battle still fresh in his mind Nightcrawler asks his teammates why they think the Entity decided to attack them, why at this particular time. Storm thinks it might be the rise of Homo Superior. As disgusting as it sounds, she thinks mutants might be a different taste to the Entity, which may have excited him enough to pursue them. Storm also thinks it might have been out of fear. Magneto and Rachel were able to detect him. He also could have gone after them as a test, to see if he could be defeated. Rogue’s still not happy with the outcome. Storm reminds Rogue the Entity does not cause misery, but feeds off of it. She says the Entity is not evil in and of itself. Nightcrawler gets angry as he feels they’ve served no purpose coming there. He feels as though everywhere he goes his faith suffers another hit. He doesn’t need to feel helpless anymore, he needs a victory. Kitty puts her hand on his shoulder and points out the only way to defeat the Entity is to get rid of all the misery in the world. She tells Nightcrawler there’s no really way on winning, but she’s going to keep unloading the planes and try not to think about it. As night falls the X-Men try to feed a little kid some soup, but he won’t take it. Logan gets all angry that they’re going to lose another one. Rogue tells him sometimes when the children are so weak they just give up. Then the boy actually takes the spoon and swallows the soup down. Wolvie smiles at the toddler and the toddler smiles back. Wolverine brings Nightcrawler over to explain something to him. He uses the kid as an example of something good. The kid had no super-powers, only hope, and without that the will to live is gone and the kid is finished. Storm interjects that it could have happened to any of them. If each of them faced the Entity alone, without the team, they may never have made it. Instead they drew strength from each other and survived. Nightcrawler complains that they still didn’t win and may have to fight the battle again. Storm tells him that might be the answer, that they are always willing to continue the fight. Storm goes off on a monologue, “You counter despair with hope. You strive forever for the best you are capable to be! Therein lies the victory!” She continues saying it’s everyone’s battle and that they’ve discovered the nature of their foe and how to fight him. The only thing left is to do it. Kitty turns to Wolverine and tells him she can still feel the Entity, watching, eager, hungry. Wolverine agrees, but says so are they. And so they sit around the campfire and wait for the morning, when more planes will arrive with more people to help. Together, mutant and human, they wait... and hope.