Turkana County, Kenya:
‘HEEEELLPPP!’ a young woman screams as she and another girl race barefoot across the barren ground, chased by wild dogs as a figure rises from the dust behind them. ‘You should not have come back, Abuya!’ the armored figure calls out as it lumbers towards the woman, who leap over a gully running between two pieces of land. The dogs follow, as does the looming figure, who raises a very large axe. ‘You bloodline is anathema here!’ ‘No! Plea-’ one of the women begins, before the figure swings his axe, and decapitates her. The other woman, who has fallen to the ground, screams, while one of the strange dogs is beside her. The figure emerges from the dust, ‘I am MERUDA!’ he booms, as the dogs appear to be made out of sand, they shift into winged demons. Energy crackles around Meruda and his heavily-armored body. He boasts that he is vengeance and death, and looking down at the one remaining woman, tells her that she is his.
The Jean Grey School for Higher Learning:
‘So what are we looking at?’ Wolverine a.k.a. Logan demands as several of the X-Men have gathered in a communications room. The Beast a.k.a. Dr Hank McCoy examines some reports and announces that there is a new elemental who calls himself Meruda. The Beast informs his teammates that he has cross-checked all the reports matching his skill-set from the date of the first murder - there are scores of beheadings and dismemberments - limbs and vital organs removed and many of the attacks focus on Ororo’s mother’s tribe - or on anyone who gets in the way.
Ororo “Storm” Munroe frowns, while Wolverine asks if it could be a tribal vendetta. ‘Possibly’ the Beast replies, suggesting that if Meruda suddenly found himself inhumanely powerful, he might start settling old scores. Bobby “Iceman” Drake, Warren Worthington a.k.a. Angel, Angelica “Firestar” Jones, the alien Warbird and Rachel Grey are also in the room, when Kurt “Nightcrawler” Wagner teleports in.
‘What’s going on, ‘Ro?’ Kurt asks his friend. Ororo hangs her head and informs him that her aunt phoned, and that her cousin, Abuya, has been abducted and her friend was dismembered - her heart was cut out. ‘Gott im Himmel…! We have to get her back!’ Kurt gasps. Ororo asks Hank if Meruda is a mutant, to which Hank replies that he could be, but more likely an Inhuman based on the date his abilities activated. Wolverine declares that, either way, he is everything they stand against - murder and mutilation are terrorism, pure and simple. ‘I say we go in now - and we go in hard’ Wolverine adds. Storm tells him that she appreciates the thought, but points out that they can’t all go. Warbird asks about T’challa, whether he could assist, but Storm informs her that their marriage is over, and she doesn’t want his help. ‘This is my family, what’s left of it…’ her voice trails off. ‘And you’re our family. Your problems are our problems’ Kurt tells his friend, putting a hand on her shoulder. Wolverine cracks his knuckles and announces that Jean-Paul, Rachel, Warbird and Angel will stay here, while the rest of them are going with Storm. ‘Let’s show this punk what he’s dealing with’.
Later, the X-Men’s jet has landed in Turkana County. Wolverine and Storm are outside, assessing their surroundings, and inside, Nightcrawler remarks that he didn’t even know Storm had a cousin. ‘To be honest, I thought her family died in Cairo’ he adds, pointing out that Storm doesn’t talk about them much. The Beast explains that Storm tries to protect them, hide them from scrutiny, so this is her worst nightmare. ‘She does seem quiet…colder, somehow’ Kurt adds. The Beast remarks that he knows this mood, and adds that he would not like to be the guy that did this when they find him. ‘If we find him’ Firestar points out. ‘Oh, we’ll find him…Logan’s the best there is’ the Beast declares.
‘What was Abuya doing out here anyway?’ Wolverine asks Storm, who explains that she was getting in touch with her roots. ‘I did a similar thing when I was young. I walked from Cairo to the heart of Africa, trying to find myself’, before asking Wolverine if he has had any luck. ‘Ain’t a matter of luck’ Logan replies, pointing out that you can’t miss the scent of blood with fear - or the tracks that this creep leaves. He points to some blood on the sand and informs Storm that Meruda chased Abuya through here, bringing her down over there, and cutting the other girl’s heart out where she fell, before carrying Abuya off in that direction. Logan radios into the X-Jet and instructs Hank to start scanning those craters fifty miles west of here. ‘Will do’ Hank replies. When some locals approach the X-Men, Wolverine alerts Storm: ‘Heads up. Here comes your fan club’. ‘Ororo… great goddess of the storm…our crops wither and our cattle hunger. We humbly beg you -’ one of them begins, severa l goats behind them, one of them holds a knife to one of the goats, while another of the locals gets down to their knees.
‘Ah… thank you… but please get up. I’m not that person anymore! No - no sacrifice. I’ll bring rain. I promise. don’t worry’ Storm assures them.
Inside the jet, Hank reports that he is getting something - there is a lot of geothermal interference, but it looks like a gathering of some kind. ‘In an old volcano? Geez… super villains are so predictable’ Iceman mutters.
Back outside, an elderly woman coughs in front of Storm. ‘Can I help you?’ Storm asks. ‘The Wind Goddess… the deadly stand storms… they’ll come again. This is tough country…’ she begins, before Wolverine tells Storm to move it. ‘Er… yes. Yes, it is…I’m sorry…I must go’ Storm tells the old woman, turning from her. ‘The gods give and they take… it’s nothing to do with you’ the old woman utters, before the X-Jet rumbles skyward. Wolverine instructs Hank and Kurt to hang back, to cloak the ship and take a covering position, while the rest of them go in quietly and scope around.
And, inside the volcano: ‘MERUDA! MERUDA!’ some people chant, while bones, body parts and weapons are laid out on a pentagram, and Meruda stands on some raised rocks. ‘Brothers in metal - hear me!’ he calls back to them. ‘You were all I had before the gods blessed me with these powers - before I emerged reborn from the cocoon of metamorphosis. When my tribe were wiped out you took me in. And the bonds we formed made us stronger - they empowered us to forge a new order!’ he declares.
‘Um, I got the rhino horn you wanted, Meruda. I’ll just put it over here with the other body parts…’ a man explains as he does so.
‘With blood and bone, I call upon the dark gods!’ Meruda shouts. ‘ARISE! ARISE!’ the locals gathered chant, when suddenly, ‘Oops! Knocked over a few candles, sorry!’ the man in the pentagram exclaims.
‘How dare you interrupt the summoning ceremony!’ Meruda shouts angrily, casting energy towards the man, who falls to the ground. Sand creatures rise, and Meruda instructs them to take this snivelling imbecile away, and bring forth the soul sacrifice. ‘Come, Fenech the Foul! Come Yakuba the Bloodless! With the spirit of this girl, I command…’ Meruda begins, while, on the ridge of the volcano, Storm, Wolverine, Firestar and Iceman peer down. ‘Oh, God! Abuya!’ Firestar utters. Monitoring the situation inside the X-Jet, ‘Oh my stars!’ the Beast gasps. ‘Do something!’ Nightcrawler tells him as the power levels on the monitor rise significantly. ‘We can’t risk an eruption!’ the Beast exclaims.
‘Arise - Gawa, Lord of the Undead!’ Meruda beckons, and as Abuya lies in the middle of the pentagram, energy rises from her, ‘Arise and feast on the murderous witch! Feast on Ororo Munroe!’ A hideous creature, Gawa, Lord of the Undead, rises. It’s body has several tentacles for legs, and gaping teeth-filled mouths on its shoulders. Several arms carry weapons. Its eyes, blank and white. ‘$&#%! He lured us in!’ Wolverine exclaims. ‘He wanted me here!’ Storm gasps. Wolverine instructs Storm to stay back, and orders Nightcrawler to get Abuya. Iceman moves into action on his ice-sled, encasing one of Gawa’s hands in ice, while Wolverine leaps at the horrid creature and shoves his claws into its flesh, and Firestar starts blasting it with her microwave energy, exclaiming ‘Magic! I hate magic! What the hell do we do against magic?’ As Nightcrawler teleports in and grabs Abuya, Wolverine tells Firestar that it still has to move, so just slow it down and keep it away from Storm. ‘Yeah, easier said than done!’ Firestar mutters.
As Nightcrawler teleports back into the X-Jet with Abuya, the autopilot is activated. ‘Is she still alive?’ Kurt asks Hank, who checks her and radios Storm, informing her that Abuya’s body is cold, but his guess is that her spirit still lives - in that monstrosity. He adds that if her spirit doesn’t return soon, then there is nothing anyone can do for her. The X-Jet hovers in the air, near the volcano, as Firestar flies upwards, closer to Gawa’s face and declares ‘Urgh! The stench of this thing…it’s like a chemical weapon’. Storm sees Meruda flee the volcano and radios the Beast, asking if they take Meruda down, whether Abuya’s spirit will flow back. ‘Yes! That could work…’ the Beast supposes. ‘Then he’s mine! If Meruda wants war…I’ll give him war!’ Storm announces as she flies off after him. ‘But -?’ Firestar begins. Wolverine tells Angelica to let her go, as she can handle it.
‘Going somewhere, Meruda?’ Storm asks, lightning crackling around her clenched fists as she swoops down closer to him. ‘Yes…to more familiar ground - recognize it, yet? From your great trek across Africa?’ Meruda calls back as a sandstorm engulfs them, and he creatures more sand demons and weapons of sand which he hurls towards Storm. Her vision clouded by the sand storm, Ororo slams into a large rock face. ‘Uhh… why lead me here?’ she asks when she gathers herself. ‘Because this is where they died!’ Meruda calls back. ‘Who died?’ Storm asks, the sand starting to clear around her. ‘Who? My family - my tribe - you killed them, Storm!’ Meruda exclaims. ‘I didn’t -’ Storm begins, but Meruda shouts ‘I watched!’ The sand bursts forth, wrapping around Storm, as Meruda declares that the sand weeps with his memories. ‘So you may see what I witnessed - all those years ago!’ he exclaims.
Storm sees herself as a girl, watching as T’Challa was captured. She sees a girl who struggled to do the right thing - with no idea of her power. She tells this to Meruda who shouts ‘Liar! You summoned a wind or a sand storm to save your little friend… which grew so powerful that it tore the flesh from his family’s bones - from his sister - from his tribe. ‘How do you think it felt? Sand ripping eyes from sockets - like a thousand knives, red with blood!’ Meruda exclaims. He tells Storm that she was to blame, and that the gods have empowered him to take vengeance, to emerge from their nurturing mists and take a life for every lie. ‘NO! I was twelve! I didn’t know!’ Storm shouts, casting the sands from her, but Meruda tells her that she didn’t care, that she was lost in herself. ‘Let me teach you how it feels, Storm… to die like that!’ he roars, casting more sand towards her. Storm screams.
Back at the volcano: ‘This thing is unstoppable!’ Firestar calls out as she continues to blast Gawa with her microwave energies. ‘It’s shielded by magic - so regular weapon’s ain’t gonna -’ Wolverine begins, before Gawa shoves one of its swords into his shoulder, and Wolverine starts to fall. ‘NOOO! Damn it to hell!’ the Beast exclaims as he leaps from the X-Jet, forcing himself downwards, he grabs Wolverine before he can hit the ground, and they land on one of Gawa’s tentacles. Hank tells Logan to keep still. ‘If the creature is enchanted…then I bet its weapons are too’ he supposes as he takes the large sword stuck in Wolverine’s shoulder and tosses it upwards - where it strikes Gawa in its side, causing the creature to roar. ‘Yes! They can penetrate its shield - they can hurt it!’ the Beast declares. Firestar, Wolverine and the Beast all take one of the large swords from the pentagram, and Firestar alerts everyone to the fact that the creature is heading towards Ororo. ‘Then pick up those machetes - and bring it down!’ Wolverine exclaims.
‘You’ve run enough, Storm!’ Meruda declares as Storm starts to fumble through the air. ‘Stay close - and suffer!’ Meruda tells her as he attempts to strike her with energy. But Storm gathers herself, ‘Run? I flew here to end this…’ she points out, retaliating by sending a lightning blast towards Meruda, which clashes with his energy blasts. ‘You conjure wind and lightning like a special effect, Meruda - but you don’t understand the weather! This is my domain!’ Storm boasts. Sand demons appear alongside Meruda as Storm falls back against some rocks, Meruda warns her that he is stronger than her, as his ancestors’ pain gives him power. ‘You don’t understand!’ Storm calls back. They move towards each other, the sand demons alongside Meruda, while cloud forms around Storm, images of some of her earlier looks appear including her white 90’s costume, her punk costume and her Asgardian costume. ‘All elementals yield to the power of Gaia - a power you cannot hope to control! Surrender now - before this tempest you’ve conjured consumes you!’ Storm suggests.
‘Ha! Gaia? That jezebel! She bows before me on trembling knee! For I am vengeance - I am death!’ Meruda exclaims. Energy strikes Storm, blood gushes from her head. ‘Ah, poor Storm. Lost in the anguish of defeat?’ Meruda gloats. ‘No…I am not anguish. I am rage!’ Storm retorts, rising, arms outstretched, ‘I am the gathering tempest - I am the howling wind - the roar of rain - the voice of thunder!’ she shouts. Wind rushes around her, lightning crackles in spectacular display: ‘I am STORM - Ororo Munroe - Windrider - Weather Witch - goddess of these lands - and you… you are NOTHING!’ Meruda falls backwards, ‘Argh - my lightning - I’m losing contr-’ Meruda begins, as his own red lightning strikes him, and he falls out of the sky, and lands in some water. Crocodiles see him and swim towards him.
‘Keep stabbing! It’s going - down’ Wolverine tells the others as he shoves one of the large weapons into Gawa’s chest. The horrid creature then collapses. ‘Thank God’ someone calls out, while, in the X-Jet, the Beast announces that the spell is broken, and Abuya gasps for air as she wakes.
‘Abuya!’ Storm calls out as she returns to the others, who are gathered near the water. ‘Ororo!’ Abuya utters as the Beast holds her. He puts her down as Storm and Abuya embrace. ‘I owe you my life!’ Abuya tells Storm. ‘Ah, sweet Abuya. You’re safe! Thank the goddess!’ Storm declares. ‘So…Meruda thought you killed his tribe?’ the Beast asks. ‘Yes…there was a fatal storm here, the day I saved T’Challa. It’s always haunted me’ Storm explains. The Beast tells Storm that she doesn’t know they are connected and points out that her powers were just developing. ‘Your physiology hadn’t adapted. Controlling the weather is incredibly complex - it took years to fully master’ he reminds her. ‘I get what you’re saying, but I can’t let it go. I just can’t’ Storm responds. Kurt reminds her that she has saved countless lives, no one could have done more. Storm looks away from her friends, gazing skyward, she tells him that she knows they mean well, but that she made a promise. ‘Would you give me a moment??’ she asks. ‘Sure. Whatever you need, ‘Ro’ Logan replies.
The world soaks… a gentle rain, at one with nature, just enough to sate the scorched earth, the crops, the cattle. The locals wave goodbye to Storm as she takes to the sky, rain pouring down over them. Storm comes to a stop on a rock cliff, a cool breeze caresses her skin, lightning fading with distance - thunder chasing the edge of this nightmare away. ‘It’s not true’ a voice calls out. ‘What?’ Storm gasps, turning, she sees the old woman standing on the rocks. ‘Meruda’s story. The wind… the deadly sand storms… they came regularly back then. They’ll come again. This is tough country, the gods give - and they take… nothing to do with you’ she tells Storm, adding that Meruda just needed someone to blame. ‘How do you know?’ Storm asks. ‘…I was there!’ the old woman exclaims. ‘You were…what?’ Storm gasps. ‘You heard… but did you listen?’ the old woman replies, as she vanishes.
Storm stands on a ridge and overlooks the savannah before her. A herd of elephants moves before her. The sun sets in glorious display. She thinks that the clouds dissipate and the wind calms, mergence gently with surrounding weather. The pressure lifts. ‘They called me a goddess here, but that was never the whole story’ Storm thinks to herself, recalling that she was also a girl, trying to find her way, trying to do the right thing - and some things never change.