X-Men: Sanctuary # 2, Fan Fiction by Kyle Phoenix

X-Men: Sanctuary Issue # 2 
Hellfire Descent
By Kyle Phoenix

Selene, The Black Queen
International Resource Center, Paris, France:

Not as imposing as the J. Edgar Hoover FBI building, the French locale had imparted a stylistic look to the first ever center for the compilation of crime from the entire planet. More importantly and to Warren, Jean-Paul and Dani's purposes, it had set up a division specifically designated to the investigation of superhuman crimes. While ACLU and civil rights laws in America banned such an autonomous agency, by holding its headquarters outside of the United States and acting as a research agency, the IRC could advise law enforcement agencies all over the planet. However the one precursor to such broad information exchange was that it was available to everyone, to any citizen with a legitimate reason for query. Warren had lobbied hard with several of his political friends in the states as he couldn't give a direct financial donation because he felt that the Center should provide an unbiased legal facility should mutants need legal help. The provision of a legal resource center and a fund to hire legal representation had been the one point he had unrelentingly pushed on and achieved in his backing of the IRC.
"This is most impressive, Worthington, and in France, no less. That does add a bit of class to the whole set-up," Jean Paul said as they waited patiently in a conference room.
"It was going to happen eventually, a law enforcement bureau exclusively dedicated to super humans, particularly mutants. Putting this into place may not stop individual countries from creating them but it will give us an in as to their work," Warren answered, forcing himself to be calm, they were all dressed in conservative suits and had been treated politely by the reception staff but Warren seemed on edge.
"I take it you're worried about this mission?' Dani asked, tugging at the collar of her prim silk blouse. They'd all agreed that though it was known they were X-Men it was best to arrive extremely low key. To that end Dani had acquiesced and was in a pants suit in a dull brown collar, her hair tied into a single severe braid, she felt like all of the repression of the Xavier Institute had reared up into one ugly outfit for her less than a week after rejoining. But her discomfort was passing; it was evident in his slight scowl and slight mental discomfort that Warren was deeply concerned.
"X-Men missions have remained clandestine for a reason from the beginning. Sometimes we find scenarios that aren't as black and white as judicial systems make them. I got a lot of my suggestions incorporated into the set-up here but acting as a liaison to the X-Men makes me feel of dual allegiances. One day that double edged sword will nip me in the ass," Warren admitted as the doors opened and two men walked in. Both looked like Federal officers, dark suits and trim haircuts but it was clear that they were from different agencies. The Asian man bowed politely to the X- Men while the other man warmly shook Warren's hand, smiling.
 "Tom, you old dog, I see you finally got them to let you come over here full time!" Warren grinned then introduced his teammates. "Tom Calendula, Danielle Moonstar and Jean Paul Beaubier."
"Pleasure to meet you both." Tom shook both of their hands then gestured to his the man alongside him. "This is Natsume Shikibu. From Japan's equivalent of the FBI. Each country is trying to have a rep here so as to avoid problems by having a national representative and agency go to person," Tom explained. He was a tall ruddy man who was clearly from the Midwest with his All American looks and bright blue eyes that complimented his gregarious nature. Shikibu on the other hand was a thin man with calm brown eyes who only nodded to Tom's words, neutrally.
"It is a pleasure to meet the acquaintance of the X-Men," Shikibu said, his voice low but firm. "I am aware of your reputations." There was brief quiet in the room at that neutral compliment which wasn't elaborated on, positively or negatively.
"I also see that the X-Men you brought along are the ones with Canadian government and SHIELD security clearance," Tom winked at Warren as they all sat back down around the table. "No Rogue? No Gambit? Warren, you're learning how the game works, eh? Not that I would press taking them in for questioning as some agencies would have us do on sight of some of your groups associates."
"The X-Men in all of our incarnations have members of less than reputable pasts. Prof. Xavier and I hope that I can spearhead a more international and law enforcement accessible group. What you see here are the core members of that off shoot," Warren said carefully.
"Excellent spin," Jean Paul said dryly and everyone in the room laughed politely.
"Down to business, we got a nasty one here, folks," Tom said then took a remote control out of his pocket and clicked on the wall monitor. "The mutant known as Channel has never been directly photographed, nor do we have any fingerprints or physical description on him. What we do have is crime scene photos and several emails from him to the Japanese FBI."
"Taunting us to capture him," Shikibu added and it was obvious that he was holding in his anger.
"He's killed seven people so far that we know of and we have two fresh crime scenes of his still under lockdown in Tokyo in case you want to take a look when you get there, Warren." Tom slowly flicked the remote and pictures of seven faces flashed onto the screen, five men and two women.
"All mutants?" Dani asked and Shikibu answered.
"Yes, from DNA scans they are. Four of the victims were the Murasaki family----low level precogs with an ability that obviously passed from the parents to their two children. The abilities were manifested as high aptitude scores for the father, the mother did Tarot card and I Ching readings and the two children both excelled at sports because of their ability to anticipate their opponent's moves. This correlation was only noticed upon investigation after their death. To their friends and neighbors they seemed like a perfectly normal family who simply were instinctively gifted. Our parapsychologist forensic expert says that their abilities would have remained low level for the course of their lives and never been of substantive value," Shikibu explained.
"Or your government would've rounded them up?" Dani asked, clearly reading between the lines of what he had so carefully and precisely explained.
Shikibu stared at her with that same impassive, neutral expression then nodded. "All first world governments have means to keep themselves alerted to the presence of mutants. The Murasaki's posed neither substantive value nor threat to my country."
"Moving on," Tom interrupted. "Then there were three American victims: Sean Tanenbaum, an Israeli citizen in Japan with his wife on vacation. Upon further questioning of Mrs. Tanenbaum and their friends and family it seems that Sean possessed several advanced degrees in science obtained within five years after his twenty-first birthday though he showed very little aptitude in high school. He worked at a pharmaceutical company in Tel Aviv and though the Israelis are being circumspect, we suspect he had the mutant ability to produce drugs. A man of less than thirty with a worth of close to fifteen million is not from just being the best chemist in the room. "The last two victims are what helped us to put together a definitive trail and target. Anna Reese and David Lamb, both Americans working in Japan, Tokyo specifically though Mr. Lamb traveled often. Ms. Reese was working her way through her final year of school, an exchange program from NYU and Mr. Lamb is an executive with Shaw Industries. We back tracked and Mr. Murasaki was an employee of Ion Digital, a subsidiary of the Yashida Group and Shaw Industries and Mr. Tanenbaum's company has a twenty percent stake in it by Shaw as well."
"Mr. Shaw, upon questioning of possible connection, admitted receiving several email threats and has promised to increase his personal security. He specifically asked though of the Center that if the threat were from a mutant that we reach out to the X-Men for their aid," Shikibu added.
The three X-men knew that Sebastian Shaw was the Black King of the Inner Circle of the Hellfire Club, premiere enemies of the X-Men for years and a powerful mutant himself. Why he would ask for their aid was a mystery, surely he couldn't fear one lone mutant killer?
"How were the victims killed?" Dani asked.
"Mr. Murasaki killed his entire family and then himself. Mr. Tanenbaum attacked several patrons at a restaurant, holding them hostage for two hours. It looks like he tried to escape and then hung himself in the basement of the surrounded restaurant when it was evident he couldn't escape. Reese jumped off of her balcony and David Lamb strapped twenty pounds of C-4 to his chest, walked into a meeting full of thirty of Shaw Industries top executives and pushed the button. It was common knowledge that Mr. Shaw was to attend the meeting but then had a previous engagement so it was a message to him, not a direct attempt on his life. At the scene of each crime is a black silk scarf with an embroidered "C" for Channel on it and of course his emails to the police describing the murders in detail from the inside of the crime scenes," Shikibu explained.
"Channel is some sort of telepath then who can physically control his victims and bend them to violent acts and then suicide," Jean Paul summarized. "Why he's doing this in such a grandiose fashion seems to be something he'll probably rant at us during our battle with him. They always rant at the end, you know."
Tom chuckled. "That's what we believe. His emails to us promise that he will kill Sebastian Shaw within one calendar month. Logistically to hide Mr. Shaw for an entire month is impossible with his schedule especially since we're dealing with someone who can be present and kill with his thoughts. Therefore Mr. Shaw has refused to amend or change his schedule in any way. He says that he's confident you X-Men at his side will keep him safe. His next public appearance will be at a gala dinner in Tokyo tomorrow."
"The X-Men will be there and we'll capture Channel and turn him over to the Japanese authorities," Warren promised.
"That would be most appreciated. I will see to it that there are suitable arrangements made for his detainment. Now if you'll excuse me," and with that Shikibu left the room without even so much as a backward glance.
"Who shoved the bug up his ass?" Dani muttered.
"Natsume is a good guy. Helluva of cop, citations up the whazoo from back in Japan but you have to understand, you super types come in after the carnage. We're there picking up the pieces, seeing what new heights super powered maniacs can take murdering too. It hurts that all we're starting to become now is reporters and photographers, hoping that you or the Avengers or Spider-man even will stop these lunatics. It's frustrating," Tom said tiredly. "The IRC is suppose to level that field out, give us more access to agencies around the world. Merge our databases and increase our skill set. But here we our, our first big threat, calling in the X- Men. That stings a cop. Particularly one with so much honor and integrity built into his culture."
"Mr. Shikibu should try launching his body into these frays against lunatics and would be world conquerors. I'm sure a few rounds with someone like Magneto would open his eyes to the fact that he might enjoy being benched every once in awhile," Jean Paul snapped.
Warren spoke up, seeing the debate could only lead to ruining a good relationship. "We'll do our best. We'll leave this evening on my jet. Thanks, Tom, we'll stay in touch."

"We don't have all day, Amara, if you want to go see Paris. The others will back this evening and then we're out of here!" Bobby yelled at the closed bedroom door.
"I'm coming, I'm coming!" Amara snapped then whipped open the door and Bobby actually heard Paulie stumble over a chair behind him as they looked her get up. The skirt was long, almost to her ankles with casual sandals but she only wore a bikini top with it. She had a pink blazer hung over her shoulders, her hair pulled back severely and huge shades on.
"Goddamn, girl!" Paulie grinned.
"You know, Amara, it wouldn't it wouldn't be rude if you put on say a blouse of a t-shirt or hell even a large necklace to cover your----uh----- uh----cover those---you know," Bobby blushed. He could remember when she had been a teenage girl a few years ago at the mansion when she was one of the New Mutants and now she was------Charlize Theron came to mind.
"This is summer. I am appropriately dressed. Are you two going to trot along after me or will I have to call the concierge for a nanny?" she snapped.
"A nanny?!" Bobby balked. "Hey, young lady, we're your chaperons, not the other way around. Don't get it twisted."
"However," Paulie interjected with a grin, "if you would like to chastise a bad boy like me, I may not feel the spanking but I will appreciate it."
"Gods help me," Amara muttered and pushed past them and out the door.
On the elevator, Bobby tried to remain nonchalant as he pulled out a folding map. "So where will it be? The Louvre? Eiffel Tower? A nice sidewalk cafe to wile away the day?"
Amara took out a platinum American Express card. "Let's see how much damage we can do to this," she suggested.
"Uhhhhh....isn't that your school card, like we all have, strictly for necessities and emergencies?" Bobby said, seeing where this was going.
"You realize of course that while I don't know much about Roman history, I am willing to be like your Caesar or Marc Antony, you are so my kinda girl?" Paulie grinned.
Amara pushed them both against the wall, leaned in close and spoke in a low husky voice. "Let's get a few thing clear...."
Paulie looked down at her supple chest. "Man, my nose ain't as clear as-----."
She cut him off. "I am back in this mutant circus to get my life back on track. By life, I mean my future. Drake, you've spent your whole life doing this and Paulie, Gods know you have no other options or skills."
"Hey!" both men said in unison.
"Silence!" she barked then returned to a husky whisper. "Now, in a few hours either Warren or Dani, in primary Xavier leader mode, will call us on one of our cell phones announcing that we are to return to a grand suite, that I didn't even get a decent chance to enjoy, to grab up our overnight bags to launch ourselves head long into another meaningless mutant brawl."
"I wouldn't call them meaningless.....," Bobby said thoughtfully.
"Now those I would call meaningful in fact," Paulie appraised, his eyes still admiring the view.
Amara's arms next to each of their heads flashed molten as a threat.
"I like quiet."
"I will shop. I will use this credit card to purchase myself a wardrobe befitting a woman of my standing who is after going to yet another mutant fisticuff will be permanently living in an abandoned Australian outback town. Now the two of you can follow me, perhaps even hold a door or two, learn to carry my packages like good vassals. I might even feel charitable enough to ignore you inane chatter about me that you two juvenile clods insist upon bumbling through but if either of you try to stop me, I will throw a temper tantrum that with include an seismic event like this continent hasn't seen in centuries. The Sanctuary team is large, we can spare two of you if you were oh, laid up in the hospital by said hypothetical event, I think. Have I made myself clear?"
"That would be crystal."
"Waterford, even."
"Delightful," Amara said and gave them both a beaming smile then returned to normal as the doors opened in the lobby. She stepped out, her cares gone for the next few hours and an unlimited credit line in her hand. It was a good day.

San Madre, Argentina, South America:

It was unusual for the town to be so queit. But David was turning twelve today and he knew that was a special day. For such a small village to celebrate each child's birthday was a wonderful thing and today was his day. It hadn't always been this way. In fact he could remember back to when he was eight or nine that the custom had started. That was when the changes had come. When San Madre had stop working for the sugar cane factory eight miles away in the fields that everyone over fifteen worked for. There had been a time when the only to look forward to was when a boy or girl turned fifteen so that they could go to work with their parents and be recognized by adults.

Then the Change had come. That's what the other children David's age called it. The Change when what seemed like overnight the town refused to work in the fields or the factory. There had been visits from the bosses, threats but the townspeople stood calmly, and as one, said they would not be returning. The Holy Sister who ran the new church had organized them to rebel and promised that they be able to feed their families if they trusted her. And they had. Not at first, David remembered but within a night, they were her followers. There was food and constant work for the adults, all day and all night it seemed like. But the children only noticed briefly and didn't have time to care as life didn't change. Everyone just went in shifts to do work at the Church. In a village that had been forsaken by the sugar factory when they refused to show up, they had become invisible, travelers even coming to the town and staying.
There was always a place for a new person.
Some of the parents had worried but then they went to the Holy Sister and came back calmer, ready to work for her. It seemed strange to David because his Poppa had been so proud of being a foreman at the sugar factory but what little boy noticed meant little as long as everything was going well. Soon the town swelled, more and more people filling it up over the years, all working together for the Holy Sister, all having plenty of food and money and bringing in more and more supplies. The trucks that had only come once a week to San Madre started coming every day and then soon San Madre had bought it's own fleet of trucks to bring in all kinds of things, metal things, David saw from his bedroom window.
But the ways of adults were strange, perhaps this is just how things changed, had always changed, what did he have to compare it to? His parents and older brothers and sisters were happy so he was happy.
Most of the other children were babies or his age and older but there were no new babies. He had remembered that seeming odd. As long as he could remember before the Holy Sister had come, his cousins or older siblings were always having babies but no more. That was strange, now that he thought about it. In fact, he even felt a little scared and the air smelled funny. He felt dizzy in the humidity, he hadn't eaten his breakfast that morning because he'd been so excited about coming to the Church at exactly four o'clock. Everyone patted him for months leading up to now and told him what a contribution he was making, how special he was, how good he was. All of the other children that had turned twelve or were older now worked in the Church. Turning twelve meant you were allowed not just inside like for the Sunday services but downstairs into the part where everyone worked.
David wished he had eaten. He was feeling so dizzy and the Church was so close that he didn't want to look like a baby and throw up or faint before he got there but there was an overpowering stench all around him. Like sewage or like the time his grandfather had slowly died in the other bedroom, a rotting smell. But how could the whole town smell like that? The adults would know. They would've fixed it. It they were out that is. Which none of them were. Flatbed tricks were parked quietly by the sides of the streets and stores were closed in honor of his birthday.
And for the first time that seemed strange to David. All the anticipation he had built up for this day seemed.....weird. Forced. Everyone else was happy for his birthday to come but somewhere deep inside he had dreaded it. This was different from going to work at the sugar factory when you were fifteen.
This was wrong.
David stopped in his tracks. His head feeling distinctly clearer after the wave of nausea passed. Everything seemed strange to him. The taste of his food seemed strange in hindsight to him now. Nothing tasted right. Had tasted right in a long time. But it was all the same food as always, right? It was all so confusing. He wished he had someone to ask but all the children twelve and older worked in the Church and were always consumed with their work, never wanting to be with the younger children. That seemed strange now too.
The huge white church, taller than any other building in San Madre didn't look right now. It was almost four stories high and a glistening white but it seemed.....wrong. How long had it seemed wrong? All these past Sundays he'd come to it, gone inside and.....? David couldn't remember what he did inside the Church. What did he do inside the Church? What did anyone do there? His Poppa, his Momma, his brothers and sisters? Everyone in the town? What did they do in there?
A spark, a connection, a deep understanding.
He hadn't eaten his breakfast this morning was why he was having all of these questions. Something was wrong! Something was very wrong. He looked around him at the empty streets, the closed windows and saw the faces watching him. They'd been there all along hadn't they while he'd trotted towards the Church. All of them just silently watching.
The Church doors swung open and the Holy Sister came out.
But her face was lighter than his like an Anglo  she wasn't in white like he had dreamily thought before. No, this time she looked different. She looked twisted.
"Come, David," she smiled at him.
And the smile, the corners of her mouth going up, her white teeth gleaming in the sunlight made him scream. He screamed at her smile because he knew that her happiness was his death.

Shiners Town, near Ayers Rock, Australia:

Peter was tired. Not so much from his journey from the beyond but at his confusion, at the constant sense of not being sure he was doing the right thing. That coming to this land, seeking out people who had once been his friends but probably thought him dead was a good idea. Though he knew returning from the dead and the Beyond was an X-Men specialty.

He got off of the bus that has brought him this far, locked around the small town and wondered if they would be able to help him. His directions were off. He couldn't find the X-Men's town. He calmly walked past dozens of Aboriginal families who just watched him with baleful eyes, eyes that had seen much in this world and the dream world not to be surprised by the young man. Peter had left his hair long after returning from the Beyond because he just felt more comfortable that way, liked the way it cushioned his head when he laid down to sleep. His body had lost some weight since coming from the Beyond, from all of the travel and lack of food. He would have to pay more attention to his physical needs rather than just rushing into trying to find the X-Men.
Coming upon a general store, he walked in confidently and smiled brightly at the man behind the counter and the woman who was stirring a soup on hot plates in the corner. Though the store wasn't as packed with luxuries as the one's Peter had seen in Sydney, he liked it more. Basics. That he understood from growing up farming. Fresh fruit and vegetables and staples like grain and such made him yearn for his mother's garden back home, the delicious meals she had sewn and reaped from the earth.
The medium height Aboriginal man looked up at the impossibly handsome young man who stood well over six feet but seemed to have such a genial twinkle in his eye and warm smile. A gentle giant, the man thought.
"Hello, my name is Peter," he introduced himself and shook the man's hand.
"'Ello, Pete. I'm Dave and that's Emelda. Take it you came in on the jaunter?" he grinned.
"Jaunter? Oh, you mean the bus. Yes, yes, I did."
"Most people just pass through."
"Pass through what?" Peter asked curiously.
"Shiners. Here. The town. A young fellow like you should be in one of the cities being a model with a mug as pretty as yours," Dave teased.
"Oh, that's because of the metal. The constant affect on my skin causes asymmetricalness."
"What metal?"
"In me."
"Ah. Metal. I see. Iron acting up in the blood?"
"No. Not iron exactly."
"Uh huh. So what can we do you for, Petey?"
"Well, I'm lost."
"I'll say," Emelda said from the hot plate then stared calmly at both men when they turned to her. "No one comes to Shiners who ain't born here or got folk here."
"Emelda is right on that one."
"Oh, my family isn't from here," Peter smiled.
"The accent was a dead giveaway," Emelda chuckled.
Peter laughed too. "I don't even notice it anymore."
"Long as you're clear enough," Dave nodded.
"No, no, the metal doesn't make my body clear," Peter corrected.
"Back to the metal are we?" Dave said perplexed but enjoying the circling conversation and pleasant young man. People were milling about the doorway to watch and listen to the stranger. Strangers were great fun.
"How can we help you?" Emelda asked pointedly.
"Well, the soup smells good," Peter said honestly. "Could I buy some?"
"Of course," Dave said and nodded at Emelda who took a large mug down from a shelf and ladelled the young man some food.
Peter nodded gratefully and reached into his duffel bag and pulled out a fistful of shiny dollar coins. "Sorry, I don't have paper money. But I made these in the Beyond."
"Of course you did," Dave laughed as he looked at the American silver Dollars. "Lucky for you we got an exchange place here in town. We accept American."
"Oh, I'm not American."
"Not with that accent," Emelda pointed out.
"The soup is delicious, thank you. Could you also help me find my friends? Well, actually they're more like family," Peter asked.
"If we can, Petey. But with that accent and them looks on your mug, I doubt your family is from here," Dave said.
"They're the X-Men, they're very famous."
Dave nodded at the name. "That they are. We got CNN out here, we know all about the mutant issue."
"Really? Well, I'm looking for the X-Men, they lived around here in a town awhile ago and now I'm here to find. This is where I remember them being. Can you help me?" Peter's face was so guileless and his eyes so trusting that Dave felt a sense of protectiveness towards the young man.
"I'll try. I know of who you mean but I don't know where they're at."
"Then you can call Kitty."
"He has a cat?" Emelda chortled.
Peter shook his head. "No, no, not that kind of cat. Katherine "Kitty" Pryde," he took a crumpled up piece of paper from his pocket and handed it to him. "She knows me. She's in America but I couldn't get there. If you call her, she'll know how to help me. But you have to tell her that it's Peter Rasputin from the Beyond or else she won't think you're for real."

"Now this is the life!" Paulie said as the flight attendant aboard Warren's private 747 handed him another glass of champagne. He gave the young woman a bright smile and she rolled her eyes and went back to the front cabin.
"It has its perks," Warren mumbled, adjusting his tailored tuxedo jacket, with his wings strapped down it was always an awkward fit. He was also concerned about leading a team where with the exception of Bobby, he only knew these people from occasional meetings and computer files.
"Yeah, Warren does live the high life, all right," Bobby agreed from the table where he and Jean-Paul were playing cards.
"I will admit it is certainly better accommodations than my days with Alpha Flight," Jean Paul said.
"Hey, JP, I read about your Canuck team, what kinda shit was that? You guys were like inmates running the asylum," Paulie laughed.
Jean Paul turned to face him and was about to snap when he saw how interested his new teammates were in his answer. He paused and regrouped his thoughts. He had made a commitment to the X-Men, to being a team player for some of the very reasons why Alpha Flight hadn't worked. He wasn't as saccharine in his feelings as feeling the mutant outcast in the world and wanting to belong. He was rich himself, nowhere close to the stratosphere of the Worthington fortune but certainly enough to last him an affluent life. And the whole row about mutant rights and peaceful coexistent weren't paramount in his political concerns but somehow getting it right, being a member of a team, helping young mutants was important all of a sudden. Or maybe the Alpha Flight had never had a specific mission other than protecting Canada whereas the X-Men were more personal in their commitment regardless of national borders.
"Alpha Flight's infrastructure wasn't as steady as the X-Men's after Guardian died..the first time. And times have changed and I've found myself wanting to explore new things. New affiliations," he said then returned to shuffling the cards at super speed, his mood was dark and it was obvious that he didn't want to speak on it anymore.
"Well, if this is how the X-Men live then I'm signed up for life!" Paulie laughed then sank back into the plush seat, stretching in his custom tuxedo. "First class travel, tight threads and babes getting ready in the back---who could ask for anything more?"
"Paulie, you're new to this scene. You've only got the Magneto fight under your belt, you might want to tone it down a notch. It's not all this high class living, you know. Our Sanctuary base is in the middle of nowhere in Australia, not exactly a resort," Bobby reminded.
"Whatever, ice cube, I was working the streets doing all kinds of jobs while you were sporting the snowball look. I got moves and experience that I know this team could use a taste of. Why else would Xavier call me in?"
"Pity?" Bobby deadpanned and Jean Paul chortled.
Warren walked over to one of the windows and stared out into the midday sky, his thoughts taking a dark turn as he calculated how long it would take them before they got to Japan. He had confidence in his teammates, even in his ability to lead but the death of sixteen million in Genosha, the political wranglings that the IRC had taken to construct and more importantly the prejudice Shikibu had shown them, worried him. Not every battle could their powers overcome and it was starting to look like the world, or more specifically humans, were gaining a foothold in getting rid of mutants rather than figuring out new ways to co-habitate with them. Killers like Channel scaring the hell out of people wasn't helping either. As much as he despised Sebastian Shaw, Warren could see Prof. X's push for the X-Men to protect him publicly. Mutants sorely needed some good press these days.
Chill out, Wings, you're making me nervous too, Dani said through their psi rapport that was fixed due to her mental connection to anything of an animal nature.
So now you're getting full thoughts? Warren thought to himself, having known Phoenix for so long and then dating Psylocke, he was accustomed to women knowing his thoughts. He sensed that Dani found it more of an intrusion than he did and he laughed to himself as he had measured her moods of shutting him out periodically over the past few days.
My connection to you is stronger than yours to me. Which means you broadcast and I spend a lot of time editing your flighty thoughts from my own. Relax, Warren, we've got a good group here and Kurt's team in Australia should we need backup.
You know the Hellfire Club as well as I do, Dani, these missions always go awry, particularly when we're going in to stop a mutant serial killer. I don't want anyone getting hurt, he thought and for a brief moment his thoughts drifted to the dead Betsy Braddock. The grief came back and Warren almost succumbed to it but this time there was a presence with him, Dani shining in his heart, not unlikely being in love. Being connected to someone.
I know much about death, Warren. Trust that she's at peace, Dani assured.
"That is a good color on you with your hair," Amara said in one of the private staterooms on the 747 as she and Dani changed for the party.
"Wha---? Sorry, I was lost in thought," Dani mumbled as she looked at the slinky black dress she had been holding up to herself in the mirror. She gently closed Warren out again, their rapport was both infuriating and delightful in its intimacy. In so many ways he was closed off from sharing his deepest feelings with anyone behind his mask of being a playboy and bon vivant. And she...well, she hadn't made a lot of time for attraction and romantic intimacy over the years.
Amara twirled around in the golden lame dress that looked like a second skin on her. "What do you think?"
That I hate the voluptuous super model you've turned into, Dani thought sourly but smiled, it was a beautiful dress and her one time friend did look amazing in it, the spaghetti straps barely holding in what she lovingly called her truest volcanoes.
"It's amazing that Warren knows so many designers to have these one of kind dresses ready for us on such short notice," Dani said looking at the racks they had to choose from.
"Rich doesn't look so bad, eh?" Amara chuckled and sipped a glass of water.
"Rich doesn't impress me as it does you."
Amara shook her head, "Not impress. Miss. I miss it. I know that sounds shallow but it hasn't been easy finding out my whole life was a whim of that bitch Selene. I'm by no means poor but she robbed me of what I thought I was, could do. This, Warren's wealth used to be a shadow compared to mine and now I am but a speck compared to his. Because of that woman's manipulations. I don't even want to discuss losing my homeland, my memories, my whole life torn asunder so that she could re-create days she missed thousands of years ago. And my mother, Dani, it was never cleared up exactly why and how she was responsible for her death. Allison Crestmere is an orphan, her family vanished with her years ago. All I have left is the illusions she gave me. And for that life rape I am eternally her enemy."
"Is it going to be a problem if she's at the party?" Dani was concerned about the history between the two women becoming violent in person; Warren had relayed the same anxieties to her earlier.
"No, Danielle. I can and will control myself unless she steps out of line and tries to harm one of us. In fact I may have a surprise or two for her myself," Amara said then turned back to the vanity table to finish her make-up.
"Meaning?" Dani turned, completely focused with alarm now.
"All the times in the past I've met her, I was a girl. My Nova Roma father's little girl. A young thing awed at the modern world, all will and class but no savvy. These past couple of years has taught me to grow up real fast," Amara said bitterly.
"The Hellions?" Dani asked of her teammate's past villainous association.
"I wanted to belong somewhere and you know as well as I do that when the New Mutants dissolved into Cable's violent little pets of bombastic testosterone, it wasn't a welcoming fold for women like us. And Charles, piously pure in principle, wants us to put our heads on the chopping block for a pittance and a pat on the head. I had to make my way. In many ways I was an orphan as adult. I was angry. The Hellions were my lashing out. I did some therapy, took control of what little money I had and focused on being the only person I know how to honestly be: Amara Aquilla and Magma."
Dani slipped on her garters and shoes. Silks and leathers so soft and delicate she was almost afraid she'd rip them to put them on. Once on though she felt like she was still nude. The dress slipped over her head, the billowing black and full bell sleeves creating a wonderful effect with her hair free flowing as she moved. "Charles can be a bit shortsighted and at the same time dangerously insightful."
"What do you mean?" Amara asked.
Dani opened her travel bag and took out a suede covered Bowie knife. "He recommended me for SHIELD training under one of his friends in the Mutant Underground. I spent a year after my time in Asgaard learning how to further my psi abilities and ultimately not rely on them."
Amara giggled as Dani slipped the knife into her garter strap. "Surely, there will be metal detectors, Dani? You can't hope to get that inside."
"Plastic as sharp as titanium and a ceramic handle. The kind of weapon made to take out Magneto at close range with not a trace of metal in it. I've got a few other surprises up my sleeves too. The Hellfire Club has a reputation for psionic bafflers at all of their parties and club houses. I'll be next to powerless in there," Dani winked as she slipped on several tribal bracelets and earrings. "I'm always prepared. But back to Selene. Unofficially, I'm Warren's deputy leader. I can't allow you to go in with anything but the mission in mind, Amara."
"No worries, Dani, my grudge with Selene won't be played out tonight, she's immortal and I'm patient."
"Amara, let's get this clear up front. No confusion. You stay on the side of the Archangels or I'll help you join them. Clear?" Dani said darkly, allowing a bit of her Valkyrie death mask to seep from the shadows of her face.
Amara hesitated, unsure if she could challenge this Danielle Moonstar with all of her SHIELD and Asgaardian training. This was either a stunt to keep her in line or the truth. And the one thing Amara knew of Dani was that she was proud of the fact that she didn't come from people who bluffed.
"Crystal," Amara whispered and added Dani to her mental list of obstacles to be dealt with.

Sanctuary Township, Great Sandy Desert, Australia:

The Blackbird came to a rest on the hard earthen ground in the center of the deserted town between several buildings.

"You certainly know how to make an entrance," Chamber chuckled.
"Why be discreet?" Nightcrawler shrugged as he, Cecelia, Karma, Chamber and Talisman disembarked. "With the exception of Frenzy there's no one for miles and miles, we have the whole town to ourselves."
"Ignore him, Kurt. Jono is still on a celebrity kick. This is the man who didn't even show up to any of our training sessions," Shan laughed. "Holed up in your room still mourning losing Sugar Kane!"
Chamber shook his head. "Nope. Away on a secret mission for the Professor, luv. That Kane business is behind me. I'm ready to start a whole new chapter."
"Well, hello there!" Johanna Cargill waved as she came out of the building across the street. "I thought you would land on the outskirts."
"My God, how hot is it?" Cecelia groaned and took off her long sleeved shirt so that she was down to a t-shirt and shorts. She pinned up her braids and went onto a front porch to get out of the fiery sun. Going from the cool interior of the Blackbird to Hell wasn't what she had exactly expected.
"Our uniforms will afford us some protection but we will all get serious tans from this sun!" Shan laughed, slipping on a pair of Ray Bans  She was glad that her hair was shorter, it would be murder to have it sopping with sweat in this climate. She glanced at Talisman who stood quietly to herself. In fact she'd been quiet the whole flight down from New York. Shan knew that Liz Twoyoungmen's powers were suppose to be mystical in nature but that she was genetically destined to possess them. Somehow in the Professor's brain that made her a mutant, a pseudo mutant, new kind of mutant. Whatever. What he hadn't prepared them for was how remote the young woman was. Not directly anti-social just lost in her own thoughts or a book. She was pretty though, Shan had to give her that. Now Johanna all ripped muscles standing so confidently looked like an Amazon. Shan shyly couldn't decide which extreme she thought was more attractive.
"That's one of the drawbacks of this place. Average temperature is one twenty on really hot days. My invulnerability gives me some protection from it so I don't even notice it too much anymore," Johanna explained. She was a head taller than most of them except for Jono who was wrapped in bandages up to his nose to keep his psionic field in check. Other than that most of them were decked out in shorts and khakis they looked like casual vacationers, not world savers. Well, with the exception of the blue skinned Nightcrawler. She had expected Archangel and Iceman to be with them, the only ones she'd met with serious violent history back when she was working for Apocalypse and they in X-Factor. But no such luck. She'd have to wait for the inevitable bad feelings and mistrust a few more days while the other half of the team made their way down. In some ways the waiting was worse than the bad feelings they might hold.
"Certainly hotter than Canada but I've been on some hot digs in New Mexico," Liz said and introduced herself to Johanna. :Liz Twoyoungmen aka Talisman. I've traveled a bit. Been here once myself. This is a great place, full of history. Well, not here but the continent. Aboriginal history," she held up a book she'd been reading. "I was doing research."
"Ah. Yeah, lots of caves and stuff to explore. Ayers Rock is over that way. Beautiful. But quite a trek. There are two SUVs over there for such trips. Smaller towns around here, maybe a hundred miles out. Once that Gateway guy shows up we'll be able to travel instantaneously to Sydney where it's really hopping," Johanna smiled. She wasn't sure if she felt like the maid or a third wheel or a stepchild but Talisman had extended herself as if she was just a normal person, a member of the team. Kurt, Jono and Cecelia were still a bit stand offish and Shan seemed to coolly detached behind her shades. At least no blows had been exchanged. Part of Johanna had been tensed for that. Worried that they would kick her out. Sanctuary had become her home in the past few months, all alone. She wanted them to like her so that they wouldn't ask her to leave.
"It will be easier to transfer the supplies and everyone's stuff from the Blackbird from here rather than the landing area. We understand from the schematics that there's plenty of living space to choose from?" Cecelia asked.
"Yes, there are half a dozen small frame houses and almost twelve intact buildings. I've wired them all with comm systems but they're still a little messy and bare. The warehouse building for basics has kind of been the two storefronts over there. Furniture, sundries. Food and such is kept underground and then I was going to convert the large building over there to a cafeteria so the huge fridges are there. All the power is up and running so you can just wander around or tap into the comm system for any questions. Basically walk around, see what you like and it's yours," Johanna smiled goodnaturedly.
"Danke, Johanna, you've done a wonderful job," Kurt grinned then vanished in a burst of brimstone and reappeared inside of the Blackbird. While he knew that Johanna was to be their ally and had worked hard to get the town ready for conversion into a full time base, Kurt had read the files on her. Her association with Apocalypse and Magneto and then her betrayal of the Genoshans had left him with mixed feelings about her. Being well over six and a half feet tall with corded muscles that reminded him of the She Hulk didn't help to allay his fears. However he had prayed on it and found that forgiveness should be his goal with her, that at best she was neutral now, a clean slate t be painted upon as she wished. After all, hadn't his foster sister Rogue started out in much the same fashion? Kurt pushed down several anti-grav platforms, close to six feet wide that contained each present X-Man's personal belongings in luggage and boxes. "Well, personally I want to be closest to the labs and the medical buildings, I'm not exactly a desert girl like Liz here," Cecelia leaned on the bar of her grav lifter and headed into the building right cross from the Blackbird muttering that she wasn't going far in this heat.
Something is wrong here, sister, Tran whispered within his sister's mind.
Go away, Tran, there is nothing wrong here!
Sister, there are many things I know and one of them is the stench of evil, he insisted.
Frenzy is setting us up for an ambush? Shan asked in alarm knowing that for all his dark ways, Tran still needed her body to survive, to cling to a semblance of life.
No. The Black woman knows nothing of this but she has been touched by it.
"I can definitely feel the improvement but the Reavers must've done a lot of shit here, the place will need a good cleansing spell," Liz said, her fingertips touching the air and light sparkles appearing. "Once we get settled I'll get on it. Some wards around here couldn't hurt either. "I'll take an apartment in one of the buildings to the East over there and then set up some power points."
"You think it's necessary?" Kurt asked skeptically.
"Kurt, my brother senses residual darkness here as well. He insists that something passed through here recently," Shan added and received a feeling of chiding from her brother. She had waited until a stranger had verified his claim, he was stewing that she obviously didn't trust him. She let him feel the resentment at sharing a body with him and he backed down. Left to his own thoughts and she hoped for the millionth time, not some diabolical plan. Their awareness of the others thoughts was spotty at best and while emotions were easy to separate and recognize, specific plans weren't. Shan promised herself that her association with the X-Men would end this dual imprisonment she had with her non-corporeal twin brother.
"Johanna? Anything unusual out here?" Kurt asked the nearly seven foot tall woman he wasn't used to craning his neck up to talk to someone that he was suppose to be leading. She had such a determined look on her face, even when she smiled that he couldn't help but give her a wide berth of arm reach space. She looked like she wasn't constantly angry or ready to snap. Everyone went silent as they watched her answer.
"No, nothing out of the ordinary. I've been laid up with a sprained back I got excavating the area up the block that's to be a swimming pool. I took some meds and slept through the last day like a baby," Johanna shrugged then when she saw the naked suspicion in Kurt's eyes, snapped. "Oh, yeah me, Dr. Doom, Galactus and Apocalypse set up a trap for all of you here so that we could rule the world."
Jono was the first to start laughing and they all shared a relieving chuckle.
"I'm sorry, Johanna, I didn't mean to sound like I was accusing you of anything, my apologies," Kurt smiled and shook her hand.
"Hey, even I was a super villain once. Shadow King? More men have been in this body than....well than I would prefer," Shan said wryly and everyone laughed again.
"Back in my Gen X days I was in a tangle with Dracula, Lord of the Vampires," Jono threw in and the hilarity ensued.
Kurt added. "We fought him once, Storm was possessed. Well we've all been possessed at some point, right?"
"Possession? Who hasn't been?"
"Happens all the time."
"I have it as a super power."
"For a time I even blamed my father for my mother's death and abandoning me as a child and tried to destroy him and Alpha Flight," Liz chuckled and everyone went silent. "Well there's a Jerry Springer show for you," Jono guffawed and they all started laughing again. "Johanna, you mentioned a pool?" Liz smiled.
"Yeah, it's almost done, it just needs water added from one of the underground natural streams. After the muscle pull I figured I'd lay off such heavy work until there was some back-up here," Johanna said.
"Well then let's get settled and then reconvene in the main building for a meal and then a plan of the week's work, ok?" Kurt suggested.
They all agreed and Shan pushed her belongings on the anti-grave sled towards building Cecelia had gone into knowing that it held one of the three elevators to the subterranean levels of the advance technology base below. She'd been studying the specs and schematics for months now. The sooner the base was up and running, the sooner more mutants in training and children from the Institute could come here, including her brother and sister.
The Black woman was not telling the truth.
Tran! Be still! I sensed no duplicity in her. You see darkness in everything and one.
And you, sister, do not possess the clarity I do with our gifts. If we are to work as a team within a team you must take my opinion and warnings as truth and not as sibling bickering!
Shan hesitated. He was right. What use would she be to the X-Men if she was constantly doubting what amounted to another member of the team? Fine then, Tran, we will wait until dark and I will let you fly to discover the source of the darkness you sense.
Good, sister. At last you are learning that we may be yin and yang but must always work in harmony.

Sebastian Shaw

Tokyo, Japan, Yashida Towers:

"This is such bullshit!" Bobby Drake grunted yanking at his cummerbund and Jean-Paul hit his hand away at super speed.

"Drake, do not embarrass me!" Jean-Paul hissed as they stepped off of the elevator onto the roof garden where the Hellfire Club party was in full swing.
"Embarrass you? Everyone thinks I'm your date!" Bobby said through gritted teeth. "No offense, Jean-Paul but isn't Paulie more your type?"
"Relax, Drake, I am a public mutant and the Hellfire Club knows your face. Paulie is adequately blending into the background without compromising that we've infiltrated their party on several levels. Besides you don't have the musculature development that interests me," Jean-Paul said tiredly. Was it such a leap for Xavier to have taught his precious mutant puppies tolerance of not only genetic but sexual orientations?
"What the hell does that mean?" Bobby said offended through gritted teeth.
"Silence or I will create a spectacle with you that will mean nothing to me, having done it before but will change your entire existence," Jean- Paul threatened and Bobby opened his mouth then closed it.

"Well, well, Warren, Danielle, Amara, what a pleasure!" Sebastian Shaw boomed as the three approached the kimono attired Black King of the Hellfire Club. The glint of pure animosity in his eyes rivaled only by their own but he was also clearly amused at their presence. "And my, Danielle, you have filled out deliciously," he looked her up and down lasciviously, leaving no doubt as to his thoughts. "Amara, as always, the princess in need of thawing."
"Mr. Shaw, heard Ororo's friends kicked your ass royally a while back," Dani smiled from Warren's right arm.
"You can give a common man riches but he will still act like a stable boy," Amara said between gritted teeth.
"Sebastian, we've kept our part of the deal. We're here to help you stop this killer," Warren said tightly. "Let's not complicate this with false sentimentality, eh?"
"As always Warren your succinctness belies the intelligence none of us credit you with. I wasn't sure you'd make it. Glad to see that Charles kept his word," Shaw chuckled.
"Charles is a man of his word," Amara said from Warren's left.
"How is Nova Roma these days?" Shaw asked then corrected himself. "Oh, that's right it was just a stage for puppets. Much like your current position, I expect, Amara. Now you need the crumbs that fall off of anyone's dish, yes, pet?"
Dani felt Warren tense as she had, Shaw had struck directly at Amara's sorest point, her lost past. Neither was sure how she would react.

Amara smiled and slipped from Warren's arm to Shaw's in one fluid motion. They all wondered if she was going to burn him, literally. "Be a man and not a boy, Sebastian, I appreciate your wit not baiting."
Sebastian laughed heartily. "Whatever happened to that fiery temper we all knew and found so incorrigible?"
"Perhaps she had it sucked out of her," Selene purred, appearing next to them in the blink of an eye. Dani almost went for her knife, the images of Death swirling around the woman were overpowering. Dani noticed that simply standing near Selene brought Death images from the heads of others. The woman was a walking possibility of massacre.
"Ah, Sebastian's slag shows herself," Amara grinned.
"Yes, I feared was going to miss you, my dear. Like having the life sucked out one's self or someone close, yes?" Selene whispered, smiling, white teeth gleaming within a long tangle of ebony hair and a dress that revealed more leg and cleavage than anyone else at the party. But Selene's bearing, the dark, hungry look in her eye dared anyone to step out of line and make a crass remark. Her response guaranteed to be lethal.
Warren tensed and saw Jean-Paul and Bobby drawing closer out of the corner of his eye. The history between Selene and Amara, the latter's mother supposedly killed by her was well known throughout the team. He spoke up first, not knowing how much longer the verbal barbs could continue before someone lost control. "Shaw, we're here about the serial killer. You've staged this party to bring him out and we're here to capture him. Old scores can be settled later."
"True, Warren. Channel, as the killer calls himself, has made several attempts on my life. I suppose I am considered the high end of the kill ladder."
"If not the food chain," Dani muttered and Warren mentally chided her.
"As you know from the briefing the police sent Charles, seven mutants have been confirmed killed here in Japan alone in the past two weeks. All with the mark of this Channel chap. Because of my recent troubles with your...other friends lead by Ororo, I cannot use my own considerable resources to find and destroy him. So I called in hired help, much as I do for other menial tasks."
"Translation: my ass has been whipped so many times I'm not sure I can take Channel down," Dani snickered.
"Calm your squaw, Warren lest I do it for you," Shaw said coldly.
Dani was about to deck the sanctimonious ass for the slur when Warren stepped so close to Shaw's face that she had to strain to hear his threat. "One push, Shaw. Right off the roof. I may not be blue anymore but I still know how to kill without remorse."
Warren stepped back to hold her arm and the darkness receded in him so quickly that Dani was shocked. Perhaps there was more to the man than gloss and money suggested?
Shaw seemed chastised and nodded. "Point made and taken." "Worthington, good to see you've still got it in you. We wouldn't want our members to be lacking in temerity," Selene chuckled. "Never know when a position may open." She wrapped her arms around Shaw's waist and free arm and they all understood that she was threatening her King surreptitiously.
"Hard to believe we're all on the same side tonight, isn't it?" Amara chuckled as she, Shaw and Selene made their way across the room. It didn't escape Dani's notice how comfortable Amara seemed on his arm. Was she doing it to protect the man or to irk Selene? Too many cross hostilities going on to be sure.
I should've pushed him and been done with it! Warren thought angrily.
It wouldn't have made your defending of my honor any less gallant. Thanks, Dani psi replied.
Warren looked at her and for a moment she was lost in his beautiful blue eyes and he smiled that resplendent smile that she pretended didn't make her feel like a schoolgirl. Can't let anyone insult my War Chief, now can I?
No, we can't have that now.
When this is over----?
Yes, definitely---.
---have to---

Paulie felt like a schmuck.

He hadn't even noticed that his tuxedo had been different from the others until it was too late.
"Hey, Paulie, you wanna get that shrimp platter out there?!" his boss yelled at him and Paulie snatched up the platter and stalked onto the roof garden as a waiter.
Ace in the hole, my ass! He thought angrily on the plan Warren had outlined to him. Seems like no one knew who he was in this bullshit celebrity party gone mutant Hellfire Club so he was to blend in and stay close to Shaw if possible. If he wasn't wanted halfway around the world, Paulie would've skipped out by now or better yet went up and asked Shaw for a job. He knew that Sebastian Shaw routinely made the Forbes 400 and if he could have the "I'm So Hot, I'm Cold" Princess Magma on his arm then he had the moves Paulie wanted.
Look at all the pretty ladies who were looking right through him like he was a plant because of the dumb towel and food tray he was carrying. The only positive point to this whole shit was that Drake had gotten fixed with being Jean-Paul's date. That was a hoot and a holler. Drake tried to act all cool but he didn't have the same City skills, Paulie did and the flair for not being offended by "alternative lifestyles". Word was Karma was a dyke too. But that was ok, she was as flat as the tray he was carrying. He'd bide his time and wait out Magma or maybe even Ms. Death, Psyche herself. Both looked fucking amazing coming out of the state room on board the plane earlier this evening.
Paulie smiled at someone he was positive he'd seen in a movie a few months ago as he glanced around the rich and famous, nary a serial killer in site.

"You were correct, sir. Several of the guests have been identified as X-Men."
"Yes, I see them. I see mutants most clearly."
"How do you want us to proceed, sir?"
"Shaw is our primary target but an X-Man or two's heads in a box might make an interesting proclamation to Xavier. Zero in the scope rifles and target six of the Hellfire royal guard for me, please, Camus."
"Yes, sir."
"Let us show them our capabilities."

"Did you see that?" Jean-Paul asked Bobby.
"See what?' Bobby said stuffing a spinach puff in his mouth then following it with a glass of champagne.
"Stop feeding your face and pay attention. I saw something strike someone in the crowd!" Jean-Paul hissed and focused his line of sight on the party goers and the night skyline, looking for the subtle disturbance he'd seen before. Could it have been merely a trick of light?
Bobby looked over the gala gathering, he and Jean-Paul were on the balcony of the garden, a level above the main floor to give them a full field of vision. "I don't see anything. Are you sure?"
"Of course I am, you moron! It must've been very fast. It must've been-----there several more!" Jean-Paul said then opened his comm link. "Warren, I'm seeing some sort of transparent projectiles heading at high speed into the crowd. I think because I'm used to looking at things so fast I can see them. Do you copy?"
"Can you confirm a target for me?" Warren replied. "Is it Shaw?"
"No, but I can find the shooter," Jean-Paul said and an instant later speed off of the side of the building.
"Everyone, form tight on Shaw, our killer may've just made his move," Dani said over the comm link and several of the bionic Hellfire Club guards dressed as dark shaded security moved in to surround Shaw. Without warning six of them turned and pulled out their automatic weapons and opened fire at their employer.
Acting in concert, two X-Men used their bodies to shield Shaw from the onslaught. Magma super-heated her body and the bullets harmlessly melted within inches of her as Paulie tackled Shaw, his invulnerable form deflecting the rest of the shells. Selene seeing both an opportunity and danger had vanished in the wink of an eye, noticeably leaving Shaw to fend for himself.
"Who the hell are you?" Shaw demanded of Paulie who was covering him with his body.
"Uh--------an X-man?" Paulie gulped not even sure where the burst of speed and courage had come from to throw himself in the line of fire like that. His augmented strength and speed plus near invulnerability were constant surprises to him when he used them instinctively.
"C-can't breathe----!" Shaw gasped and Paulie noticed the blood on Shaw's kimono. He'd been clipped one. "Those are my men firing on me. My men!"
Warren didn't hesitate as he ripped his wings free of the silk straps that kept them tied down under his jacket and barreled into the tuxedo clad Hellfire guards that had fired on their boss.
"Bobby, I'm going to need back up!" Warren shouted over his comm link to Iceman who was already sliding down a frozen ramp, ice blasts striking the guards.
"Right with you, Archangel!" Iceman said.
Magma blasted two of the guards with lava bolts, reigning in the height of temperatures she could've produced because of the screaming, fleeing crowds all around them. And where was that cowardly whore Selene? Shouldn't she have used her considerable powers to defend Shaw?
Warren used his wings to slam two of the bionic guards through the glass wall into the atrium below as Iceman froze another two in blocks of ice up to their necks.
"Shaw's shot!" Paulie shouted to Warren.
"Keep us covered, I'll check him out!" Dani shouted as she kneeled next to Shaw, he was barely conscious and rasping for air. She quickly examined the wound in his chest. Pierced lung. She debated letting him literally bleed into his lung and suffocate, an excellent way to kill a man who could absorb kinetic energy and turn it into strength but her word to Xavier won. As long as she fought alongside the X-Men she'd play by their rules. She ripped Shaw's kimono and shoved a swatch into the gaping wound then took out her Bowie knife and expertly cut a hole into his trachea.
"Shit! You watch ER or something?" Paulie said in shock.
"You learn a lot after years on an Asgaardian battlefield," Dani said then turned back to her other teammates. "Don't worry, we've got it here, Warren."
"Good, I'll go back up Northstar," Warren said, his concern and plan shared with Dani instantly. He briefly wondered if this kind of psionic rapport is what made Cyclops and Phoenix such a formidable team. He took to the night air, his eagle like eyesight having locked on to the building half a mile away Northstar had flown to.
"Years----?" Paulie questioned of Dani's comment but his words were lost to the flurry of action as Archangel took off and an iced up Iceman coming over to put an ice cap on Dani's makeshift bandage. With a slight swivel of his hand, Iceman created an ice straw and Dani calmly popped it into the hole she'd cut in Shaw's throat.
"Nice work, chief," Iceman said then looked around for more hostiles. Most of the guests had run inside off of the roof and were hurrying down stairs and elevators. In the space of few minutes they were practically alone on the deck.
"Not too shabby yourself, Popsicle " Dani nodded back then went over to one of the downed guards he had frozen in place. "There's some kind of control dart in his neck."
"T-to supersede their motor control and adaptive programming?" Shaw gasped, trying desperately to sit up.
"Is that possible?" Iceman asked him.
"It seems to be," Paulie snapped.
Dani pointed to the last of the guests who were rushing to the elevators inside to escape, "Iceman, Magma, make sure they get out of here safely, we'll protect Shaw."
"What about her?" Magma said, having reverted to her fiery form, pointing to an unconscious Selene on the floor. "She must've been trampled by the crowd or shot by one of the guards."
Dani knew where this was going with Magma, the lack of caring in what happened to Selene and at the same time. "I'll get her out of here, we've got to get to cover. We've got a sniper situation here."
"Leave the witch, Psyche, she would do the same to us!" Magma said indignantly.
"Magma, work out your drama on your own time. Right now, get those people loaded onto the elevators!"
Magma's body swirled with energy but she turned and followed Iceman inside hurrying guests through the large doors towards the elevator banks. Her parting glare at Dani had let her know that the argument was far from over.
Paulie picked up Shaw. "I've got him. You get her, we've got to get to cover if there's a sniper out there."
Dani kicked off the uncomfortable heels and grabbed up Selene who suddenly lashed out at her, the blow striking her in the head. Dani rolled to her feet as Selene unsteadily stood up. "Get out of me!!"
"Don't you mean off?" Dani said and her psi bow and arrow appeared, a shaft flying at the Black Queen.
"No, you fool, that's what he needs!' Selene screamed as the psi arrow struck her in the stomach and she caved over, her mind weakened by the attack.
"What the hell is going on here?" Paulie said as Dani cautiously formed another arrow to fire at the crouching woman.
Dani gritted her teeth, she was seeing multiple images floating above Selene. Death. An astral figure of a man. Even a figure of Selene. All of them seeming to be in a struggle. But for what? She glanced at the unconscious Hellfire Guards and understood. "Paulie, it's possible I just helped Channel take over Selene's body."
"More than possible!" Selene screamed as she suddenly stood up, hands crackling with eldritch energy in front of the X-Men. "Give Xavier my regards, tell him Channel said hi!" she shrieked maniacally and then the roof seemed to melt, concrete and steel, bending to her mutant powers, sending the X-Men and Shaw sliding over the edge seventy hundred stories above the Tokyo streets.

Archangel had the advantage of tracing Northstar with his eagle like eyes and the fact that Northstar's comm link was transmitting his location as half a mile way inside of a half constructed skyscraper. When he got there he wasn't surprised to see an unconscious man on a terrace, a high powered rifle neck to him. Northstar stood over the man who was clothed in a maintenance uniform holding a jar with thin nearly transparent needles inside.

"Is that the killer? Channel?" Archangel asked as he landed next to him teammate.
"Now that's a difficult question to answer. This man is named Camus a loyal associate of Channel. It seems that he spotted this body coming towards him and had the foresight to randomly open fire," Northstar said calmly, having switched from his tuxedo to X uniform somewhere along the way.
"Somehow Channel got six of Shaw's guards to open fire on him. He's wounded but not dead." Archangel leaned down to look at Camus then glanced up at Northstar. "Did you just say.'this body'?"
"Very astute," Northstar said and kicked Archangel not once but half a dozen times in the chest in the time it took him to speak. "You see, Archangel. This is me, after a form." Northstar grinned, holding the canister. "I am a unique mutant who possesses others through these projectiles. Amazing, no?"
Archangel was sure he'd be badly bruised in the morning as he back pedaled into the office behind him to get some space from the co-opted Northstar. "So I'm talking to Channel now?"
"Yes," Northstar said then slammed both of his fists into Archangel dozens of times in less than a second. "My, my, this speed thing is wonderful, isn't it?"
Archangel staggered against a wall, he was no match for Northstar in speed or close quarters but he had to suspect that Channel needed time to adjust to his new form. He dropped to one knee, waited until he saw the first hint of Northstar moving then lashed out with his wings at the furniture in the room. Desks and chairs created obstacles for Northstar and Channel not proficient in the use of his powers had to slow down to dodge each object. It was a blunt tactic but the distraction allowed him to go crashing through the closed windows and back into his element.
"Oh, this will be fun!" Northstar said and flew out of the window after Archangel.

Sanctuary, Great Sandy Desert, Australia:

Kurt couldn't help but be impressed by the Situations room of the Sanctuary base. Computer screens covered cavern walls almost 40 feet high, with the latest technology and Shi'ar integrations built in, he was sure it matched the Institute in America. He sat at the one control board casually flipping through the security systems, looking at the 3 square miles that officially and legally were Sanctuary the township and he was pleased to have been given the opportunity to help manage this next important step in Prof. Xavier's goals. His initial tenure as an X-Man and then leader of Excalibur and then back to the X-men had kept him focused on the importance of mutants and humans having a co-existence dialogue and also areas where mutants could feel safe. The Genoshan tragedy, another of God's mysterious ways had torn Kurt into a tailspin. His heart cried out for vengeance not only against Cassandra Nova but also the humans who afterward had celebrated the island nation's destruction.
For now Sanctuary was a closely guarded secret but once complete construction was finished, Kurt envisioned a small city where mutants didn't have to fear annihilation.
"How goes our eyes in the sky?" Liz asked as she stepped off of the elevator and into the vast room.
"The town is fully functional and every square inch accounted for. The only areas where there is no video surveillance are our personal quarters. Johanna is busy on the other side of town doing the first excavations for the underground hangar. When Magma arrives she'll have her work cut out for her in tunneling to connect all of the buildings and hangar to this main base," Kurt smiled as she sat next to him, her arms full of blue prints and data pads for each of the buildings.
"I know everyone had some reservations about Johanna but I've triple checked all of her mapping and construction work, everything is above board."
"Yes, she may've been confused about her allegiances at one point in her life but she does seem comfortable working with the X-Men now."
"Yes, that concerns me," Liz said cautiously.
"I'm sorry?"
"My coronet of power," she said with an exaggerated raising of her eyebrows up at the bandanna she wore to cover it, it's invisibility spell, taxing when not absolutely necessary to maintain, "gives me full protection from psi interference. Are you all aware of the low level confidence wave Xavier broadcasts?"
"Excuse me!?" Kurt was baffled, the implications of what she was suggesting of his mentor for years was something akin to blasphemy.
"Don't get me wrong, Kurt, it's only natural. But the professor------ how should I say?----bolsters everyone around him. Those of you that have worked in-depth with him on psi shields and such are the most affected."
"Liz, you are new to your gifts. Their origin in your being a technical mutant but their mystical affects making you one of the most unique students since Illyana Rasputin, perhaps you've misunderstood what you sense?" Kurt said gently, trying to polite remind her that though they all knew her power was supposedly generations old and prophesied she was still a women in her early twenties and her experience in Alpha Flight not enough to question Charles Xavier's intents.
Liz had known this would be a sensitive subject to broach. While Xavier's goal was noble, his methods of gathering so many to follow him, giving up any chance of normal lives for the exact edict of his dream would look to any sorcerer like mystical coercion. Xavier's immense mental powers were the perfect equator to him being able to cast "spells" over people, perhaps even unbeknownst to him.
"You're studying to be a priest, correct, Kurt?" Liz said, trying to take a different route.
"Yes, yes I am," he answered warily.
"Do you know of the Chakran of Glory that emanates from certain beings?" "Yes, like the Pope supposedly possesses?" "And within the Sacree Nation, me? Dr. Stephen Strange? Those who are of a high order on the mystical plane?"
"Yes, I know of it. Divinity touched beings. I will admit that I feel like you're similar to Phoenix and the Professor, as if you look through me rather than just at me, like a telepath."
"Well, yes, that's when I haven't reigned in my mystical "self" for lack of a better term. I would appear like a high order telepath to you. That's what I'm implying about Charles. He has a psionic "glory" about him."
"And you're suggesting, this is why we follow him? That he's somehow gently influencing us? Reinforcing his goals within us?"
"Yes. I don't want to offend you and I can only soften the blow by suggesting that none of you ever had a chance against someone as powerful as him. But he's the most powerful telepath on Earth, Kurt. Don't you believe somewhere in there he would have an extra charismatic aura to him?"
Kurt shook his head. It made sense but he needed to think on it more, to think past his loyalty to a man who had been like a father to him. "I must think on this. Have you mentioned it to the others?"
"Please don't. I've been on many teams. We're at a most fragile stage where we're here by choice in the middle of no where, the suggestion that it's mentally influenced might not sit well with anyone here or on Warren's team."
"Ok, but do know that the mystical wards I've placed around this town will dampen Xavier's effect on everyone over time. You'll see what is influence and choice within yourself, as will the others the longer we spend time here."
Kurt looked at her suspiciously. "Was that always part of your warding spells? I was raised by a high order sorceress and knew her daughter as well, it's not a normal warding addition."
"I'm new to this, Kurt. Fumbling through how to do this. It was never my specific intent, no," Liz lied so smoothly that for a moment she was worried that her answer sounded too practiced. Xavier may've suggested that the X-Men would help her when the Reckoning came but even the old man didn't know that she needed his influence cut form them for them to side with her. No one could serve two masters. And with the power assembled in these mutants, she wasn't going to let this gathering slip out of her hands for its uses.

Cecilia had commandeered the building behind the one where she and Shan had taken apartments as a medical facility. It was one of the few buildings equipped with an elevator and integrated electrical and solar power generators. While she hoped there would never be a need like the Morlock Massacre she had read about in the files for massive triage units, she could see it comfortably handing a hundred patients. It would've been an honor to be in charge of such a large facility, if there had been more than 4 others and the disembodied spirit of Tran floating around but in time there would be plenty of students here. The Institute had several hundred new students on its roll already with the numbers increasing every week. The point of Sanctuary would be to alleviate that burden within a year and Cecelia could see herself teaching a host of biology and medical courses as well as treating injuries.
While it wasn't the life she had planned for herself and last night looking out at stars that were a world away from the one's she knew in New York, she'd felt like an exile, Cecelia had finally accepted that also being the X-Man in training Spike meant that her life had to change. She would find a way to embrace that change and not run from it because after her experiences with the Neo and Kick addiction she knew that she needed to be someplace where she was safe and the world was safe from her.
Sitting at her small office desk and looking on the data pad she saw that the A/C was up and running, which was a huge relief. In less than an hour the entire complex would be cooled form the constant infernal heat that was outside. She walked to her window and saw Shan in a sports bra and shorts going for a bra and realized that soon this town would be a flesh palace. It simply wasn't an environment conducive to wearing a lot. Cecelia wasn't ashamed of her figure, maybe fifteen pounds heavier than Shan and Liz but she sure did feel self conscious in her uniform. Only the long trench coat she'd added to it, ostensibly for the medical supplies and biological analysis data pad she carried, made her feel more comfortable. It often seemed like all of these X-Men loved looking like professional athletes.
A crash of glass from the other room caused her to jump and turn.
"OK, who did that?" Cecelia barked, storming into the hallway. No one was there but there was a tray of glasses smashed on the floor by one of the laboratories, as if someone had run out quickly and knocked it over by accident.
Cecelia hesitated for a second. Could they have an intruder? Wasn't the security system around the town state of the art, not to mention Liz's mystical hoodoo on the place? Could someone have breached it already? And to what purpose? Cecelia reached for one of the wall comms to call Kurt when she felt the air flutter behind her and then a hand clamped down on her mouth.

Shan focused on the acid jazz beat booming in her ears from her Walkman as she saw by her eye marker that she was about a mile from the town outskirts. Two more miles out and then back in would be a good run for the day. It felt good to use her muscles, to feel the harmony of Tran meditating on their form while moving. She knew that he received impressions and stimulation from her movement so they'd become exercise freaks. While her thoughts were segmented from his unless she chose otherwise, his were completely open to her. And he was miserable, his existence never physical even when she allowed him to usurp control and materialize in the physical world. For many months his thoughts had been obsessively about finding himself a new body and she'd pushed him a far corner of her mind, like a constant migraine.
But time had soothed him. Balanced him in ways that he wasn't in the physical world. While she still knew that he had a far greater capacity for darkness than she ever would, she also knew that his commitment to their being X-Men was true. Perhaps even truer than hers, his hope was that one day they would come across or Xavier would discover a cure for his condition. A mindless body that a telepath could transfer his essence into. He would need a high order telepath such as Xavier to do that and more important Shan's cooperation to release him.
Sister, what is that? He asked suddenly.
What is what?
To your right. Pay attention, he admonished.
Shan wasn't entirely pleased with the fact that he seemed to utilize her senses so much better than she did. It was a condescending annoyance to know that he saw everything she did, even when she wasn't actively paying attention to the thing he was. Like someone using her body in an enhanced way, she often wondered if there was ever an "off switch" with them. He didn't require sleep so he was aware while she slept of their surroundings and delighted in telling her of them or of begging her to leave on the television for his amusement while she slept.
Shan spotted the distortion he was talking about, sun light refracting off of something behind an outcropping of rocks.
Probably scrap metal.
Too large. Investigate.
Tran! Come on, I doubt it's anything.
Shan, please, I have a feeling about this. I think it may be linked to that odd sense of darkness I felt earlier. While our abilities on the physical plane may be merely possession of others, within this mental limbo I have a degree of attunement to your instincts. Things you wouldn't notice or automatically dismiss, I have more of a conscious time to process.

"Terrific," she muttered out loud and ran towards the outcropping. When she got closer she could see it as if sunlight was shining down on and then reflecting off of something a few feet above the crowd outside of a cave.
Any ideas?
he suggested. If it's some sort of cloaked area there may be people there. We're less vulnerable in my state.
Shan thought and with a mental click melt her body suddenly become insubstantial and transparent and then masculine. Mentally she felt as if she were switching places with Tran, taking a backseat in his head.

Thank you for this modicum of decency, Tran smirked at the shorts and tank that appeared on him, as she had worn in reality.
You are going to explain one day how you can masculinize anything I'm wearing when we switch, right?
When I understand it myself, I will.
Tran moving like an astral form flew across the expanse at the speed of thought and into the cave mouth expecting more cave only to find himself inside of space suit.
Uh oh, Shan thought looking at the ship's interior.
What? I can't access your memories and thoughts! You have to tell me! Tran thought angrily.
Tran, this is a Shi'ar ship. The Shi'ar have officially cut off all contact with Earth and any of its citizens because of Cassandra Nova's actions. This must be a spy ship of some kind. We have to warn the others.
Look at the seating. Only two seats, one or two people. And from the back area here I'm getting the same emanations of evil. Tran moved closer then phased through the back door and Shan screamed within his head.

Thank you,
Kyle Phoenix
Email: kylephoenixshow@aol.com
Website: http://kylephoenixsite.com/
Blog: http://kylephoenixshow.blogspot.com/2012
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