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Volume 1 -- Issue 13 -- Bedazzeled Download Issue
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Bedazzeled
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Born with extraordinary powers, the X-men fight for peace in a world that hates and fears them. Professor Charles Xavier, their mentor and founder of the Xavier Institute for Higher Learning, has been training his students for years to tackle the changing times as human/mutant affairs become more complex.

Recently, the X-men endured a grueling ordeal at the hands of Weapon X, a mysterious organization bent on turning mutants into weapons. Led by Dr. Cornelius and General Wraith, the organization was originally after Wolverine. But after the X-men thwarted their first attempt to re-capture him, they struck back and were able to capture not just him but the entire team. The X-men faced a grim fate, but they escaped and defeated Weapon X with the help of their longtime foe, Magneto.

After the ordeal, Magneto offered the X-men a chance to join his Brotherhood. But they refused when they learned that he helped Weapon X capture them. Embittered, Magneto left with the promise of more conflict. And given their history with the master of magnetism, there is little doubt that this is a promise he would keep.

Despite Magneto’s warning, the X-men continue with their efforts to better human/mutant relations. One such case has emerged outside concert halls across the country.


Atlanta, George – Southside Concert Hall

“Hey hey! Ho ho! The Dazzler tour has got to go! Hey hey! Ho ho! The Dazzler tour has got to go!”

“Mutants are a danger! Not an entertainer! Mutants are a danger! Not an entertainer!”

The various chants of large protest groups crowded around the streets leading to the famous Southside Concert Hall. The heart of Atlanta Georgia had been turned into a powder keg of anti-mutant activity as crowds flocked from nearby regions to protest this event. News cameras and media outlets from all across the nation converged on the area. What started as a concert was quickly becoming a volatile situation in the ever changing course of human/mutant affairs.

At the center of it all was the star of the show, Alison Blaire. She was leader of an emerging band popularly known as Dazzler. She was a guitarist and she sang lead vocals. But her musical talents weren’t the main attractions. It was her mutant powers that drew the crowds. She had the unique ability to turn sound waves into dazzling light displays. It was a power she developed unexpectedly when she was a lounge singer and showgirl in Las Vegas. Some people reacted with awe while others reacted with terror. But whatever their reaction, they came to her shows.

Three years and countless deals later she sought to graduate from regional stardom to the national stage. She took all her savings and moved to Hollywood where she hoped her big break would come. It was a far cry from her less than glamorous upbringing in Philadelphia, but it was a necessary step. She also got an agent to help in her path to stardom. It began by taking her act on the road. But she quickly learned that people in certain areas of the country weren’t nearly as tolerant as they were on the west coast.

“And I thought the protests in New Orleans were bad,” mused Alison as she gazed outside her trailer window, “Tell me again why we’re doing a show here of all places?”

“It’s part of the business, Ali girl. If you want to strike it big, you gotta put your name out there,” said her agent, Kirby Jackson.

“But why bother in areas like this? They clearly don’t want me here and I doubt they’ll buy my record.”

“It’s not just about selling merchandise. It’s about drawing attention!”

“Isn’t that what my first televised performance is supposed to do?” she complained, “How is being surrounded by protesters going to help my image?”

“Just take a moment to look beyond the protesters,” coaxed Kirby, “You may have drawn the attention of the anti-mutant crowd, but you’ve also drawn the attention of every media outlet within a five state radius. It’s all adding to your level of exposure. You never would have gotten this back in Vegas!”

“I was never afraid a riot would break out in Vegas,” said Alison, hugging her shoulders, “I’ve played in hostile crowds before, but never this hostile.”

“Don’t think of them as hostile. Think of them as publicity fodder. One way or another, they’ll draw more attention. More attention means more interest. And more interest means better deals. You do want that, don’t you?”

Alison Blair looked away from the protesters. She wanted to be a performer since she was four. She remembered how her mother told stories about her days as a lounge singer. It helped inspire her to pursue her own dreams. She and her father always told her she had great talent. It may have just been parental encouragement, but Alison took it seriously. Even after her mutant powers manifested, her parents encouraged her to use them to accomplish her dreams. But lately it seemed they just made things complicated.

“Of course I want it,” she said distantly, “But I didn’t get into this business to get caught up in human/mutant affairs. I got into it to be a star. I don’t want my mutant powers to take precedent over my performance.”

“I understand that, Ali,” said Kirby, trying to sound encouraging, “But you have to face facts. We’re a slave to circumstances in this business. You being a mutant and an up and coming performer can’t be separated. You can either fight it or work with it.”

“I’m not trying to fight it. I’m just trying to balance it. I want to be known as a performer who happens to be a mutant, not a mutant who happens to be a performer.”

“And the only way you’ll get that is if you show everybody just how good a performer you are! The path to stardom isn’t laid out by a red carpet. Sometimes you gotta trek through a little mud in the beginning!”

“At least tell me it’s going to get easier over time.”

“I wish I could, Ali. But that’s the nature of the industry. Just take it one show at a time. You’ll get there! Trust me!”

Alison rolled her eyes as she retreated to her desk and mirror. Her father warned her about agents. He said whenever they urged her to trust them that usually meant they were just as clueless as she was. It was not an encouraging sign. But she worked too hard for this to turn back now. Her desire to be a star outweighed her concerns about getting caught up in human/mutant affairs.

“My mom once told me great performers make great sacrifices. I hope I’m up to it,” she sighed as she looked over her Dazzler outfit, “Get the crew ready. We better get everything in place.”

“At a girl!” said Kirby, giving her an encouraging gesture, “You just worry about performing. I’ll worry about everything else.”

The young took a deep breath and set aside her anxiety as she started preparing for her show. Those protesters weren’t getting any less hostel. This was set to be the biggest night of her career thus far. She had best make it count.


Meanwhile

Far from Alison’s trailer and just outside the crowded streets, the Brotherhood of Mutants watched the scene from a rooftop. Lance, Pietro, Wanda, and John wore civilian clothing. They were trying to keep a low profile. It wasn’t easy since Toad and Blob’s appearance were so hard to hide. That’s why they were staying back only as support. Their orders were clear. They were not to draw attention to themselves until the time was right.

“Now this is my kind of mission!” said John, “A sunny day in the big city and crash a concert! Can’t go wrong with that!”

“We’re not just going to crash a concert,” said Lance as he looked out over the crowds through a pair of binoculars, “Magneto sent us here for a reason. We’ve got cameras, protesters, and all the tension you could ask for. It’s important we provoke this in the right way.”

“And you think you’re qualified to do the provoking? Aside from your stunt during the Weapon X debacle, you haven’t done anything for our cause,” said Wanda skeptically.

“Give me a break, Wanda! It’s not like your old man lays everything out for me!” shot Lance, “But if you want to see my worth, just you wait. I’m in charge of this operation for a good reason!”

“You had a fling with this Dazzler chick back when she was a showgirl. How does that qualify you to lead?” scoffed Pietro

“If you want to find a better way in, be my guest,” said Lance harshly, “But bear in mind you’ll be defying your dad and we both know how much you hate that.”

Pietro scowled the rebellious young man. Lance hadn’t been in the Brotherhood long, but he acted as though he had already earned his spot with them. But he had done little to prove himself. He spent much of his days lofting about, watching TV, and strumming his guitar. He didn’t seem nearly as dedicated and only contributed when he had to.

“So what’s your plan, fearless leader?” said the speedster dryly.

“You’ll see,” said Lance with a mischievous grin, “One way or another, this show is gonna rock the world!”

As much as Pietro, John, and Wanda resented following Lance’s lead, they went along with him. For his sake and theirs, Lance had better get this right. He had a chance to get in Magneto’s good graces and he wasn’t going to make light of it. The world was about to get a taste of the coming revolution and they make sure everybody, human and mutant, heard their message loud and clear.


Xavier Institute – Back Yard

It was a nice sunny afternoon in Westchester as the X-men took advantage of it. Much of the team was lounging around outside, taking in the fine weather after a busy day of classes and training. Scott, Logan, Bobby, and Warren were on the basketball court playing a little two-on-two. It was Scott and Bobby versus Warren and Logan. It was just supposed to be a friendly game, but given how competitive Logan and Scott could be with each other it quickly turned into a battle.

“Come on, wings! Pick up the pace! Play defense already!” bellowed Logan after Bobby just hit a fade-away.

“I’m trying!” said Warren, short of breath, “But just because I can fly in the air doesn’t mean I’m as fast on the ground.”

“Stop makin’ excuses! That’s the third time you let popsicle duck past you!”

“Well maybe if you weren’t so pre-occupied with fouling me, you might take a moment to use a little strategy,” taunted Scott as he caught the ball from Bobby.

“Don’t get coy with me, Slim! You’re still only up by six!” growled Logan.

“And it’s only going to get wider,” smirked Scott.

“Not if I have anything to say about it, bub!” he said as he snatched the ball.

Logan and Scott got into position, looking as though they were playing in the NBA finals. Bobby and Warren followed suit, but not with nearly the intensity.

“Remind me again how a friendly game of two-on-two turned into Scott vs. Logan round 543?” said Bobby as he caught his breath.

“I had it at 544, but hell if I know,” said Warren, still panting, “I’d almost rather be cleaning the Danger Room.”

“You’re just saying that because you’re losing,” grinned Bobby, “Suck it up for a few more rounds and if they want a best of seven, we’ll ditch and get burgers.”

“Deal!”

While they were going at it on the court, Hank and Ororo stayed back and enjoyed a nice picnic together. It consisted mainly of light snacks like cookies and crackers, but the food wasn’t nearly as important as just having some time together outside their teaching duties. Jean later joined them after having taken a test that ran late and shared in the snacks. She also kept a close eye on the game to make sure it didn’t get too out of hand between Scott and Logan. Rogue was there as well, but she sat off to the side on a picnic table and watched the game from her own end. She was smoking her afternoon cigarette as was her custom, but she was smiling a lot more than she usually did.

Her shift in her overall mood was apparent for everyone. The Weapon X affair had been a trying ordeal and it was still fresh in their minds. But for Rogue it yielded something more. The power inhibiting collars Weapon X used to keep them in their cells offered her the first ray of hope since she got her powers. With the technology in the collars, she had a means to touch again. Hank spent hours on end analyzing them. While neither he nor the Professor understood the technology behind them or where they came from, they did work and they did give them something they could use to help her.

And their timing couldn’t have been better. Since Weapon X she spent even more time around Scott. Her intentions for doing so were clear and if she could touch, that meant nothing would hold her back. While many saw that as a good thing, Jean wasn’t so sure.

“Would you like another cookie, Jean?” offered Ororo, “At the rate Hank is eating them they won’t last much longer.”

“That’s okay. Knock yourselves out,” said Jean, not taking her eyes off the basketball game with the boys, “I’m not big on raisin oatmeal anyways.”

“You and most of the others,” said Hank as he grabbed another handful of cookies, “Although how anybody could not develop a taste for these savory morsels defies all notions of taste.”

“So says the man who also puts mayonnaise on baloney sandwiches,” said Jean with a slight chuckle, “I’m not that hungry anyways. I just wish I could relax more on a nice day like this. But it’s always stressful when I have to keep an eye on Scott and Logan when they get involved in anything competitive.”

“You have my sympathies,” said Ororo with a reassuring smile, “But is that the only thing bothering you? You look more troubled than stressed.”

Jean sighed as her gazed drifted over towards Rogue, who was still puffing away on her cigarette smiling as she watched Scott make an acrobatic jump shot.

“It’s not that I’m troubled. I just still get the feeling that Rogue’s got some lingering hostility towards me. I had hoped we patched some of it up after the Weapon X affair, but now that she has that power inhibiting collar I’m not so sure.”

“Why do you say that?” asked Hank, “Rogue’s been nothing but upbeat since I deciphered that collar for her. I haven’t seen her smile this much since she arrived.”

“Maybe to you, but I still sense that feeling in her,” said Jean, not taking her eyes off Rogue, “She wants to make a move on Scott and she thinks I’m an obstacle.”

“Well are you?” asked Ororo.

“Of course not!” she said defensively, “I’ve already made it abundantly clear to her that I’m not trying to come between her and Scott. But she just can’t seem to wrap her head around that. It’s like I’m an affront her personal life!”

“Calm down, Jean,” said the African woman, “I’m sure she’s just being stubborn. She does have a tendency to get worked up.”

“I know, but I wish she would stop hounding me about it,” said Jean with a bitter sigh, “What does she want me to do? Stop being friends with Scott? She knows that’s not going to happen. So why does she keep pushing this issue?”

“With all due respect, Jean…maybe she’s picking up on something you’re not,” said Hank.

Jean turned towards her long time teacher and teammate curiously.

“What do you mean? Don’t tell me you’re taking her side, Hank,” she said.

“I’m not taking any sides,” he said innocently, “But you should consider the possibility that while you are trying to be reasonable with her situation, perhaps subconsciously you still harbor lingering uncertainties.”

“You mean I’m saying one thing and meaning something totally different?” said Jean skeptically, “Hank, you know me. I’m not like that.”

“I’m not saying you are. But you said it yourself. Scott is and always will be your best friend. It’s only natural to be defensive when someone comes along looking to get close to him. Now that Rogue can touch, it may not sit well with you deep inside and you’re letting it show without being aware of it.”

Jean was silent for a moment as she digested Hank’s words. She shifted her gaze back to Scott, who made another skilled jump shot. When he saw her looking at him he smiled and she couldn’t help but smile back. Then she looked back over towards Rogue, who was smiling at him as well. But she seemed a little annoyed that he hadn’t looked her way first. It was pretty telling. Jean found herself feeling a little guilty now because maybe what Hank was saying did have some merit.

“I see what you mean,” said Jean distantly, “Maybe I am still a little worried about her getting close to Scott. I guess I’ll have to try harder to accept it. I owe it to her and to Scott for that matter after how hard he’s been trying to accept me and Logan.”

“I’m sure she’ll come around. And so will you,” said Ororo with a look of encouragement, “I believe something like this could be good for Scott and Rogue. But I am curious as to how someone like Scott could handle someone like Rogue.”

“That I’m not worried about,” said Jean with a humored grin, “If you knew anything about the last girl Scott dated, that thought would never cross your mind.”

“I can vouch for that,” laughed Hank, “But I agree. This could be beneficial, especially for Rogue. Charles and I have been working so hard to help her accept her powers. Now that she can control them to some extent, it should definitely help. I know personally how difficult it can be trying to accept what you are when you feel like you have no control.”

“And yet you manage,” said Ororo, slipping in closer to his furry grasp, “Control is a difficult thing to grasp, but it helps make sense of the world.”

“Very well put, my dear,” said Hank with a manly grin.

Hank affectionately draped his gorilla-like arm around her and pulled her into a warm embrace. It brought a warm smile to her beautiful face. She always enjoyed his warmth and loved the feeling of his soft fur. She had a warmth all her own as well and even liked to tease the soft fur of his body with her tender gestures.

“That reminds me,” said Ororo as she twirled the hairs of his face around her finger, “If you’ve been able to make those collars work for Rogue, have you been able to make them work for Scott? You did say he has a difficult time controlling his powers as well.”

Jean and Hank’s expressions shifted. Ororo was still new here so she didn’t know the full story on certain issues. Scott’s power was one of them.

“That’s…a bit more complicated,” he said, “Even I couldn’t begin to tell you the complications of such matters.”

“Why not? Doesn’t Scott want to control his powers as well?” asked Ororo curiously.

“It’s not that, Ororo,” said Jean, who knew this issue all too well, “It has less to do with his powers and more to do with his past. And that’s a very touchy subject.”

“Oh…I see,” said Ororo distantly.

The African woman may not have known the full story, but she could tell by the look on Jean’s face that there was a lot more to it. She had enough of her own touchy subjects to understand what they entailed. Since she was still getting to know everybody here, she couldn’t understand those issues until she better understood the history behind them. And that took time.

“Don’t take it personally, Ororo. We all have our difficulties,” said Hank with a reassuring look, “Some take more than others to bring out. You just have to be patient.”

“I suppose you’re right,” she sighed, “I guess that kind of insight will come with time.”

“I hope it does,” he said with a smile.

She smiled back and leaned in to kiss him. Jean smiled at the sight, but remained uncertain of her own situation. She looked back over at Rogue. If the look on her face as she watched Scott was any indication, she would make her move soon. And she was going to have to deal with it. Subconsciously or not, she had to get over it the same way Scott had to get over her and Logan. But that was easier said than done. Looking back over at the game, she saw that it was still going strong. Logan just blatantly fouled Scott, literally shoving him into the pole of the basketball hoop as he did a lay-up. They started arguing again, leaving Jean to wonder just how difficult this could get.

Scott and Logan continued to argue and Warren and Bobby were forced to back off. Rogue started laughing as she put out her cigarette while Hank and Ororo tried to ignore it and share a tender moment. Jean sighed to herself as she prepared to step in and play referee like she always did. But then they all got an urgent psychic message.

‘X-men, please report to the War Room. A situation has come up in Georgia that requires our attention.’

Scott and Logan fell silent. They still exchanged annoyed glares, but they would have to set this aside for now. Their X-men duties always came first.

‘We’re on our way Professor.’

Scott grabbed the ball and started walking towards the mansion. Logan followed close behind.

“We’ll finish this later, Logan,” said Scott.

“Whatever, one-eye,” said Logan, “But next time, I pick the game.”

Jean caught up with them to keep another fight from breaking out. It seemed to work when she hooked arms with Logan, but the tension was still there. At least for Bobby and Warren, it meant they could finally take a breather. Compared to getting caught up in a game between Logan and Scott, a mission seemed a lot less chaotic.

“Never thought I’d be so glad to get a mission,” said Warren.

“Tell me about it,” said Bobby, still trying to catch his breath, “So long as this doesn’t involve monsters, aliens, or Magneto I’ll take it.”


War Room

“A rock concert?” exclaimed Bobby in a rare show of enthusiasm for a mission, “Our mission is to go to a rock concert in Atlanta?”

Bobby and the rest of the team were in full uniform, not knowing what to expect when they gathered in the War Room. Professor Xavier had been working here for the past two hours on the main console. The X-men assumed he was trying to track down Magneto or remnants of Weapon X. But when he revealed it involved a concert, they were all noticeably surprised. But it was in a good way.

“Yes, but it’s not just a concert, Iceman,” said Professor Xavier, “This event involved an up and coming mutant performer. Some of you may have heard of it. Her name is Alison Blair, but she’s more popularly known as Dazzler.”

Xavier brought up a promotional image of the concert on the computer. Bobby was still in a state of shock, but the rest of the team tried to keep it serious. Some, however, couldn’t help themselves.

“Wow…I’m liking this mission already,” grinned Warren at the attractive picture of her.

“You would, pretty boy,” said Jean with a wry grin, “I’ve heard of her. She supposedly has these powers that allow her to put on dazzling light shows while she sings.”

“Through sound wave photonic redistribution to be precise,” said Hank as he looked over a read-out, “Quite a brilliant yet destructive manifestation if I do say so.”

“You don’t know the half of it. It’s part of what made her such a big draw back on the west coast. There was this one show in Los Angeles where she actually damaged the roof of a concert hall, but no one seemed to care. She sold out her next three shows.”

“Since when do you keep up with the teenie-bopper culture, Jeannie?” said Logan, who was the only one who didn’t look too enthused about this mission.

“You didn’t think those stacks of Cosmos I keep in my room were just for show, did you?” she quipped, “They did an article on Dazzler a few months ago. She’s trying to go national, but so far her mutant powers aren’t making that easy.”

“That may be an understatement, Marvel Girl,” said Xavier as he began typing on the console, “See for yourself.”

The Professor brought up a new image on the screen. It was a video feed of a news report right outside the concert hall in Atlanta. And Xavier showed he wasn’t exaggerating. It looked like a war zone. Huge anti-mutant crowds had gathered in the parking lots and choked the surrounding roads. They were chanting anti-mutant slogans and harassing concert-goers as they tried to get to the concert hall. Some even pelted busses with eggs, rocks, and whatever else they could get their hands on. It was quite the affair. Even the local news anchors had to duck in order to avoid the onslaught.

“This has been the scene for the last two hours as the concert draws near. Angry protesters are doing everything they can to stop this concert. They see it as a front for the mutant agenda and they won’t have it. Riot police have been called in, but the city Mayor has reiterated that should concert officials fail to maintain the peace he will cancel the event. But representatives of the Dazzler tour have made their intentions clear. The show will start as scheduled, but as you can see that may not be up to them.”

Xavier stopped the feed after the report. It was a bleak assessment by many standards. The anti-mutant crowd looked pretty determined to get their cause some national attention and so far they were succeeding. This Dazzler girl had a lot of guts to put on a show in a hostile environment like this. But with such a volatile situation, it may do more harm than good.

“Damn, you’d think they were protesting a satanic heavy metal band or something,” said Bobby.

“That’s southern hospitality for ya,” said Rogue dryly.

“So what’s the mission, Professor?” asked Scott, “Do you want us to go down there and keep an eye on the crowd?”

“It’s not the crowd that concerns me, Cyclops,” said Xavier as he closed the video feeds from the console, “It’s a disturbing signal Cerebro picked up on an hour ago. Apparently, the Brotherhood has taken an interest in this event.”

“The Brotherhood?” said Ororo with renewed concern, “For what reason would Magneto want to get involved in a concert?”

“Maybe he’s a fan?” shrugged Bobby.

“If only that were the case,” said the Professor, “But I suspect he has other plans. He’s sent Quicksilver, Pyro, Avalanche, Blob, Toad, and the Scarlet Witch in full force. This concert is set to be nationally televised. If he wishes to cause a scene that would further stifle human/mutant affairs, this would be it.”

It made sense. Magneto always did have a hunger for the spotlight, literally in this case. And they were still reeling from the mess they made in Detroit with Lance Alvers. Another debacle like that was not going to help their cause. Magneto had gotten the better of them too much lately. It was time they strike back and show they could take him on.

“So we fly in, beat the pulp out of those clowns, and get out before those protesters get too cranky,” surmised Logan, “Sounds like a plan.”

“And with any luck Dazzler will give us some backstage passes for helping her out!” said Bobby optimistically.

“Don’t get too ahead of yourself, Bobby,” said Xavier with an amused grin, “But be careful, X-men. Magneto made it clear during our last encounter that he intends to make his move soon. I can’t be certain that this is it, but it is likely that this is another important step in whatever it is he has planned.”

“Any idea on just what that plan entails, Professor?” asked Ororo.

“Not yet,” sighed Xavier, “For now, your mission is to find out what the Brotherhood is up to and stop them from agitating the situation. If possible, help the authorities keep the protesters from getting out of hand. Bear in mind Magneto always has an ulterior motive. So be careful and stay vigilant.”

“We always do,” said Scott in his assertive tone, “Let’s go, X-men.”

Scott led the team out of the War Room and towards the hanger. Warren, Bobby, Hank, Ororo, Logan, and Rogue followed close behind. It wasn’t a typical mission by any stretch, but it was definitely a step up after what happened with Weapon X.

“Sweet! Finally, a mission we can get excited about!” said Bobby.

“Too bad you already have a girlfriend,” smirked Warren.

“Oh like you’re going to sweep her off her feet in the middle of protests and an attack from the Brotherhood.”

“Hey, you never know,” shrugged the winged mutant, “In the X-men, stranger things have happened.”

No one argued that. They seemed to encounter new twists no matter what the circumstances. It was the nature of their work. But one could only hope. It would be nice if Warren could get a little action. With so many others hooking up lately he was starting to feel left out. Even after what happened with his last relationship, it couldn’t hurt to put himself out there a little more.

Most of the team had left the War Room and were on their way to the hanger. But before they had all left, Professor Xavier pulled Rogue aside.

“Rogue, could I have a word with you?” he asked.

Rogue stopped and turned back, looking over towards Scott and letting him know that she would catch up. She was a little anxious about the look the Professor was giving her. She already had a good idea on what this was about.

“What is it, Professor? Ah don’t wanna hold the team up,” she said.

“This won’t take long,” he assured her, “I just noticed you’ve been wearing your inhibiter collar ever since Hank and I gave it to you. And I’m a little concerned.”

“What’s there to be concerned about?” said Rogue defensively, “Ah’m just trying to enjoy bein’ able to touch again. Ah had a hard enough time dealin’ with it when y’all were tellin’ meh Ah might never be able to control it.”

“It’s not that, Rogue,” he said, maintaining a calm tone, “But it’s worth reminding you that the nature of your powers is very unique. There’s no guarantee that the inhibitor will work forever.”

“Ah know. You don’t need to remind meh of that,” she said bitterly, “But ain’t that just all the more reason to enjoy it? If Ah ain’t gonna be able to touch forever, Ah wanna make good use of the time Ah got. And if ya think Ah’m gonna end up a total basket case the day this thing stops workin’, don’t worry. Ah won’t let that happen.”

“I believe you, Rogue. But my concern is that by suppressing your powers constantly like this, you’ll forget at some point that they are still a part of you. They’re as much a part of you as any other part of your identity. At some point you’re going to have to accept that. And being able to suppress them like this may make that more difficult.”

Rogue stood in a bitter silence. She tried pushing this issue aside. Since she got her inhibitor collar she had been so happy. Being able to control her powers freed her from the prison of her own body. And it was so easy. All she had to do was put the collar on, flip a switch, and that was it. It was easy to forget that this was a part of her. In a ways she didn’t want to accept that. But she could see where the Professor was coming from.

“Ah know Ah’ve gotta accept that Ah’m a life-draining parasite at some point,” she said, “But with all due respect, Professor, can it wait?”

The Professor wheeled towards her and put his hand on hers in a comforting gesture.

“I’m not saying you shouldn’t enjoy your newfound freedom, Rogue,” he told her, “I’m just saying you need to maintain perspective. These powers are and always will be a part of you. I won’t claim to understand the hardships you’ve endured, but I can say with certainty that you’ll only make it harder for yourself if you try to avoid this. Do you understand?”

His tone was sincere and his eyes were honest. Rogue still wasn’t used to seeing that in someone after dealing with Mystique for so long. She still disliked the notion of accepting this isolation, even when she could control it now. But as cynical as she was about the world, she believed this man when he said he was concerned. And she saw the reason behind it.

“Ah understand,” she said, “But Ah can’t promise you Ah’ll accept it anytime soon.”

“I know. I only ask that you do your best,” said Xavier, “And you have many friends here that will help you every step of the way.”

“Yeah, Ah’m still gettin’ used to that too,” she said with a smile, “Is that all?”

“That is all, Rogue,” he nodded, “Go ahead and catch up with the team and good luck.”

Rogue nodded back and ran off towards the hanger. They were probably ready for take-off now and were just waiting on her. As important an issue as her powers were, the mission needed her focus. She would have plenty of time to deal with this later.

For Xavier, watching Rogue run off left him with some lingering uncertainty. Helping mutants control their powers was at the very core of why he began this school. But there was a fine line between control and suppression. Rogue wasn’t his first student to deal with this and she certainly wasn’t going to be the last. That fragile balance between control and suppression seemed to be at the heart of the deepening conflict between humans and mutants. Magneto and his Brotherhood threatened to upset that balance. And it was up to his X-men to keep it during this fragile point in human/mutant affairs.


Southside Concert Hall – Backstage

“Dazzler! Dazzler! Dazzler! Dazzler!”

The deafening, synchronized cheers of thousands of fans reverberated through the vast concert hall. The show was set to begin in fifteen minutes and everyone was brimming with anticipation. Alison Blaire stood backstage, looking over the vast crowd. There wasn’t an empty seat in the house. She had played large venues before, but this was one of the biggest. And while it was refreshing to see people chanting her name in admiration, she was still nervous.

The protests were still going on outside and her security crew said it was getting tenser as the show drew near. The police already had riot gear around the perimeter of the building and all roads had been closed off. That didn’t stop some from harassing her fans and crew. Her agent was on the phone the whole time, talking to the promoter and the mayor trying to maintain order. If it got too bad then they would have to pull the plug. But with the crowd cheering and TV cameras rolling, that wasn’t an option.

‘This is it, girl. You’re in the major leagues now. I sure wish the circumstances were better, but you’ve worked too hard. It’s now or never.’

Alison took a deep breath as she checked her appearance one more time. She was wearing her custom made outfit, which consisted of skin tight black pants and a matching black halter top with streaks of yellow sparkles covering every area. It was meant to personify the nature of her powers. It wasn’t as revealing as the outfits she wore in Las Vegas, but it made her look more like a real musician. And that’s what she was going for.

“That looks good on you,” came a deep voice from behind her, “I seem to remember you wearing a lot less when I last saw you.”

Alison abruptly turned around, only to see the last person she ever expected. It was him, Lance Alvers, her former band mate and ex-boyfriend. She hadn’t seen or spoken to him in years. Now all the sudden he was here backstage, looking as rugged and tough as ever. For him to show up here on the most important night of her life was a total shock, and not in a good way.

“Lance?!” she exclaimed, “What are you…how did you get back here?!”

“Calm down,” he coaxed, “Is that any way to talk to an old flame?”

Alison was bewildered and outraged. But Lance kept his cool and approached her in a domineering manner.

“Relax, I told the guys in back I knew you. I showed them an old picture of us and he let me through,” he said, “You remember…the one from Chicago two years ago? The kid-friendly version, of course.”

Alison blushed profusely. She knew what picture he was talking about. It wasn’t her proudest moment to say the least. But then again she could say that about her entire relationship with this man.

“Lance I…I don’t have time to deal with this!” she exclaimed, “If you came all this way to spark something between us again, you’re going to be disappointed! We broke up for a good reason, remember?”

“Yeah…I remember,” he said, his tone shifting somewhat, “I was immature, angry, and out of control. I see that now. But things are different. I’m part of something greater.”

“This isn’t another one of your rag-tag band proposals, is it?” said Alison skeptically.

“Far from it, Ali. This isn’t about music, stardom, or fame. This is about who and what we are. Before you go out onto that stage, parading around as an ordinary singer, it’s worth reminding you that you’re not ordinary. And you never will be.”

“You came all this way to remind me of that?” scoffed Alison, “I got plenty of reminders just getting here! Or did you not see the angry protesters outside?”

“I know. I saw them. But I’m not here to remind you. I’m not even here to stop you from going out on stage.”

“Then why are you here?” she said strongly, “Tell me so I can have the nearest bouncer throw you out on your ass!”

Lance scowled at her harsh words. But he held back his anger and moved in closer. He placed both hands on her shoulders. She didn’t pull back though. She may not have appreciated his presence, but there was no escaping that she once had feelings for him.

“There’s a war coming, Alison. A war between humans and mutants,” he said ominously, “Those protesters you see outside? They’re just a prelude. Sooner or later you won’t be able to ignore it anymore. This world isn’t big enough for humans and mutants. One side will eventually win out. If you want to be a star, it will only work for one. And you can’t be much of a star when your kind is being oppressed.”

It was unclear whether he was threatening her or warning her. But Lance sounded serious with every word. And that was saying something because he rarely took anything seriously when they were together. It left her at a loss and even more anxious than before. Lance gently cupped her chin and looked at her with an affectionate gaze.

“That’s all I wanted to say. I’ll go now. Just remember that before you get in too deep.”

Without another word he pulled away and walked off, leaving Alison Blair in a daze. She wasn’t sure what to make of it. She was almost tempted to run after him. But then she heard the chanting again and heard the lights and speakers come to life. The cheers grew as the curtain was about to rise. Some of her band mates were already gathering on stage, preparing their instruments for the big show.

“Come on, Ali! Let’s go!” exclaimed her drummer.

“I…I’m coming,” she said, grabbing her guitar and shaking off her daze.

The countdown had begun and Alison was about to take center stage. While she stood nervously with her band, Lance Alvers smiled to himself as he slipped away to a secluded area backstage behind the speakers. Once he made sure no one was looking he took out a small communicator and activated it.

“Pietro…Blob…get ready to make your move,” he said assertively, “It’s show time!”


Outside Concert Hall

Just as the show was about to begin, the protests really intensified. The protesters failed to keep the concert-goers from entering the hall. The police barricades held strong, keeping lanes open despite the constant pelting of protesters. But when they ran out of people to heckle they started getting restless. If they couldn’t stop people from attending this concert then the only logical step was to stop it directly. And for a number of very dedicated anti-mutant protesters, no amount of police barricades could hold them back.

At this point the anti-riot division of the city police stepped in. They had practically surrounded every entrance, barricading the perimeter to keep to keep protesters from storming the building. They were all armed with transparent body shields and rubber pellet grenades. But they were grossly outnumbered and frustration was fueling the chaotic mob mentality. Even the news crews were starting to pull out. But a few unlucky vans were hijacked and filled with protesters. Some looked poised to crash into the barricade and plow inside. It was not looking good.

“PULL THE PLUG! PULL THE PLUG! PULL THE PLUG!”

The angry chanting of the crowd was getting louder as several riot officers fell back to avoid some heavy pelting by stones and bricks.

“What’s the word from the mayor, sir? When do we start firing back?” asked one of the officers to his superior.

“Are you kidding? We fire one shot we got a full blown riot on our hands! And the mayor is NOT going to be responsible for that!”

“But it’s already a riot! What does he expect us to do! Wait until they run us over?!”

It didn’t look like a fight they could win. The protesters were just too determined. The anti-mutant crowd was not letting up and if they couldn’t fight back, then it was just a matter of time before they broke through and stormed the building. It was going to be bad enough for them and a lot worse for the unlucky concert-goers inside.

From within the crowd, a number of protesters climbed up the two hijacked news vans. They could tell by now that the riot police weren’t going to fire back. They just had to keep pushing. One of the protesters atop the van happened to have a bullhorn. With a full view of the surrounding crowd, he turned it on and spoke passionately to his comrades.

“Attention fellow citizens! Have we the people made it clear enough that we do not want the mutant agenda in our city?”

“YES!” the crowd responded.

“Have we the people made it clear that we will stand by and let this mutant filth continue?”

“YES!” the crowd responded even louder.

“Then let us, the people, take action! Together, we will stop this madness!”

“YEAH!”

The police braced themselves as the protesters encouraged the vans to push further. But before they could get in position, a slithery green tongue shot out and snatched the bullhorn from the lead protester. Then suddenly, a new voice echoed into the crowd.

“I say it’s high time that you the people shut the hell up!” bellowed Toad proudly, who was perched atop Blob’s massive shoulder, “Or better yet! Blob and I can shut you up!”

“And I’m liking these odds!” grinned Blob as he cracked his knuckles.

The bewildered protesters turned around to see two imposing presences push towards them. Blob with his tall, obese, imposing figure struck fear and horror into them. It was just the reaction he had been hoping for. They caught them off guard. They followed Lances plan, driving up to the heart of the protest in a large black van disguised as a news van. Their only orders were to cause chaos among the already wary protesters. It was an order they was all too easy with their dominating presence.

“A mutant!” exclaimed one of the protesters in terror.

“Not feeling so brave now, are we?” grinned Blob.

With sinister intent, Blob charged through the crowd at full speed. Only the foolish tried to stop him. Most were wise enough to get out of the way. He literally bowled over protesters, knocking a few out and really injuring others in the process. Then when he got to one of the vans, he gripped it from behind and lifted it up in a show of raw strength. Several protesters fell off and more ran in terror. Blob was loving every minute of it.

“You wanna mess with mutants? Go ahead! I’ll crush all of you!” he proclaimed.

Then in a further show of strength, he heaved the van into the air so it crashed into a large cluster of nearby cars and posters covered in anti-mutant slogans. The vehicle impacted with a deafening bang. Metal warped as sparks flew, igniting the gasoline and causing an eruption of flames that further terrified the protesters. Even a number of riot police fled. Blob and Toad relished it, laughing hysterically at the sight of the once organized protesters descending into chaos.

“Ha! Look at ‘em run!” laughed Toad, “They’re losing their minds!”

“Yeah! Can’t wait to see how everybody inside is gonna freak out!” laughed Blob.

That was the next part of the plan, which was sure to get much more attention. But they weren’t done causing chaos out here yet. Toad looked over to the other van that the protesters had been using as a rallying point earlier. Most were trying to flee, but the man with the bullhorn from earlier was still trapped on top. He was struggling just to keep his balance. Seeing another opportunity, Toad nimbly leapt from Blob’s shoulder and landed right on top of the van before the anxious protester.

“So you don’t like mutants, huh?” he said bending down and leering over the man.

“Get…get away from me you freak!” exclaimed the man as he tried to back away.

“Oh no you don’t!” said Toad as he grabbed the man by the collar, “You’re lucky I’m not too big on manners. Otherwise I’d really rough you up. But since you don’t like me and I don’t like you, I’ll settle for some old fashioned fun, mutant style!”

With a firm grip on the man’s collar, Toad snorted loudly and then spat out a blob of his distinct green slime. He made sure this was extra thick, covering the man’s face completely and sticking hard like glue. The man nearly gagged when he felt the foul smelling substance on his face and tried tearing it off. But it was going to be a while before this stuff came off. Toad erupted in laughter as he watched him struggle. He casually kicked him off the van, landing on the hard pavement below.

“HA HA HA! That’s right you dumb shits! Run in terror!” proclaimed Toad triumphantly, “The Brotherhood is taking over! And there’s nothing you can do about it!”

The chaos continued with Blob going on a rampage, grabbing anything heavy he could and throwing it in any direction. Some protesters tried to fight back by throwing stones and bricks, but it did little to slow them down. If anything, it only made them madder.

The chaos was growing as the fires from the exploded cars spread and people ran for cover. This chaos did not go unnoticed by the X-men. They had just arrived over the scene in the X-jet. As they flew in close to analyze the situation, they saw that the Brotherhood was already leaving their mark.

“Looks like the opening act is underway,” commented Bobby as he gazed out the window, “Blob and Toad sure know how to make an entrance.”

“And in full view of the news cameras too,” muttered Rogue.

“So long as those cameras are rolling, we might as well stop them,” said Scott as he maneuvered the jet so it was just over the building, “Marvel Girl, you and Storm take care of Blob and Toad. Also see if you can help the local authorities quell the riots.”

“Will do, Cyclops,” said Marvel Girl as she and Storm got out of their seats, “We’ll try to get that on camera too. Some extra PR for our side could never hurt.”

“Also try and keep the chaos from getting inside,” added Scott, “If only Blob and Toad are outside, that could only mean Pietro, Wanda, and the others have other plans. That’s why Wolverine, Iceman, Rogue, Beast, and Angel will follow me inside. Our goal is to find the rest of the Brotherhood and stop them from doing any damage!”

“A little late for that, Cyke,” grunted Logan as he got out of his seat as well, “They’re already making their point. The best we can hope for is to make it hurt!”

“Do I sense some excessive pessimism, Wolverine?” commented Beast, earning him a growl from the feral mutant.

“Let’s keep it from getting too excessive,” said Scott as he activated the auto-pilot, “You have your jobs, X-men! Let’s move out!”

“And here I was hoping for an appropriate ‘let’s rock’ pun,” sighed Iceman.

“Maybe next time,” smirked Warren as gathered with the team around the hatch.

With the plane now steady, the door was opened and the X-men flew out into the chaos. Guided by Marvel Girl’s telekinesis, the team split off into their two designated groups. Cyclops’s group landed behind the riot police near the front entrance where they quickly stormed inside. Marvel Girl and Ororo stayed airborne, turning their attention to Blob and Toad. They were still making their presence felt, but the entrance of the X-men hadn’t gone unnoticed.

“Check it out, Blob! We’ve got X-men!” proclaimed Toad.

“And we got the pretty ones too,” grinned Blob, “This should be fun!”

With his new targets in sight, Blob grabbed the other van that Toad had been standing on and lifted it up over his head. Then with a powerful grunt, he spun it around and threw it up into the air towards the two X-women. They flew out of the way to avoid it. But the van kept going and was heading right for a group of riot police. Marvel girl saw this and took action, aggressively pushing her telekinetic powers to catch the van in mid flight and lower it safely to the ground.

“Ungh!” grunted Marvel Girl as she let the van down, “These two are fighting dirty, Storm! We better end this before they can do any more damage!”

“Indeed! You take Blob I’ll and I’ll take Toad!” she said as she flew in lower.

“Blob?! How is that fair?”

“If you know of any force of nature that can topple someone like that, please let me know!” responded Storm, “Just attack the one part of him that isn’t unmovable!”

Despite the mismatch, Marvel Girl understood what she was referring to. Blob was an immovable force, but his mind was as vulnerable as any other. And if they were going to make this quick they had to work efficiently. But that didn’t mean Blob and Toad were going to make it easy for them.

“You think you little pipsqueaks can hurt me?” boasted Blob, “I’ll crush you like a bug!”

Blob grabbed the nearest heavy object he could find, which happened to be a couple of police motorcycles. With another angry grunt, he threw one towards Jean as she hovered overhead. She caught it in mid-air with her telekinesis, but before he could throw the other she began an attack of her own.

“Looks like someone needs a time out,” smirked Jean.

“Ha! I’d like to see you try!” he laughed.

“I love it when they say that!”

Closing her eyes, Marvel Girl focused her telepathy on the vulnerable mind of the oversized mutant. She then launched her attack with a special psychic probe. Professor Xavier always taught her that entering someone’s mind without permission was highly unethical, but when innocent lives were at stake there were some techniques that were acceptable. And Blob quickly felt it. He let out a sharp grunt and started stammering uncontrollably, dropping the motorcycle in the process.

“Ungh! Get out of my head!” he demanded.

‘Take it easy, Freddy. Just think of this as a psychic lullaby.’

The oversized mutant groaned as he became dazed and drowsy. He looked dizzy and completely drained of energy. He struggled to keep his balance. Then he unexpectedly smiled and yawned.

“Hnn…night mommy,” he said.

Then with a hard thud, Blob collapsed onto the pavement and fell into a deep sleep. He even began snoring loudly. It was as peaceful as Marvel Girl had ever seen him. And to keep him from causing any more trouble, she made sure her attack was extra thorough.

“Sleeping like a baby,” She grinned, “It’s almost as adorable as it is disturbing.”

While Jean made sure Blob wouldn’t wake up for the remainder of this battle, Storm kicked up a wind storm around Toad. The nimble mutant knew he couldn’t attack her directly without risking a bolt of lighting. So he tried to stay away from anything metal and used his adhering powers to endure with the wind. But that only went so far.

“Come on, babe! Show me what you got!” said Toad as he leapt around constantly, “Hard to hit a moving target, isn’t it?”

“Not as hard as you might think,” said Storm as she stepped up her powers.

Her eyes glowed brighter as she formed a miniature tornado around her and directed it towards Toad. As it approached it grew even larger, kicking up winds so strong that even his sticking powers couldn’t keep him grounded. At first he tried to avoid it, but when it saw it grow in size he was left with no other choice than to run.

“Aw man, no fair!” he exclaimed.

He tried to leap behind the nearest van, but halfway into his jump the tornado got him and started whipping him around in a whirlwind at high speeds. Storm was careful to keep the winds from being lethal, but they were strong enough to keep the nimble mutant at the mercy of nature.

“Ahhhhhhh I think I’m gonna be sick!” he groaned.

“Relax Toad. This isn’t even an F3,” assured Storm, “But please do yourself a favor and take a breather like your friend.”

Storm kicked the winds up a little more to reinforce her point. Then she carefully led him back down onto the pavement next to Blob. Once he landed he tried to get up and walk, but he was too dizzy and disoriented to take more than a few steps. He also gagged a bit, having to cover his mouth and swallow the contents of his stomach. Even for him, that was not a pleasant feeling.

“Hnn…there goes my appetite for the next three days,” he groaned.

The young mutant then collapsed and slipped into unconsciousness. Now both he and Blob were neutralized. Storm and Marvel Girl hovered over them triumphantly. It hadn’t been much of a fight, but they got the feeling these two weren’t meant to defeat them. They were just here to cause a scene. And in that sense they succeeded. The news cameras never deviated from them. Hopefully watching the X-men neutralize them helped with their image.

But despite their triumph over Blob and Toad, there were still crowds of protesters swarming the area. And since the chaos had died down, they were starting to converge on the area again.

“Look! More mutants!” exclaimed one of the protesters, “It’s an infestation!”

“Get them!” yelled another, “Get all the mutants out of here!”

A number of protesters gathered rocks and debris and started throwing it at the two X-women as they did with Blob and Toad. Luckily it wasn’t as much as before. A good chunk of the protesters had wisely fled. But some still had a desire to keep heckling them. Storm and Marvel Girl were just left to roll their eyes.

“So much for gratitude,” sighed Marvel Girl as she deflected some of the debris, “We better keep them from getting rowdy again.”

“Leave that to me,” said Storm, “You help the police. I’ll hold them back with some rain.”

“Better make it a downpour,” she sighed, “We need to give Cyclops and the others as much time as possible. I have a feeling they’ll need it.”

Storm nodded and kicked up a quick little squall. Soon clouds appeared overhead and rain began pouring, prompting many of the protesters to back off and find shelter. A few tried to brave it, but they were easy targets for the police. Marvel Girl helped them, clearing away the debris and making it easier to re-establish order. Some were still suspicious of them, but they all appreciated the help. Hopefully this would give them some good press. But it still depended on how the others handled the situation inside.


Inside Concert Hall

Alison took a deep breath as she stood with her band waiting for the curtain to rise. She could still hear the chants of her fans in the packed concert hall. The noise was deafening, but it wasn’t loud enough to mask the sound of her pounding heart. She had done countless performances in the past, but none were ever this big. She tucked away all doubts and uncertainty as she put on her confident, star-worthy face. Her band mates were in position and the time had finally come.

The stage crew gave her the signal and slipped off stage so it was just her and her band mates. They were all in position now. They just needed to hear the word. The cameras were rolling and untold millions were watching. This was the culmination of everything she had ever worked for and finally it was within her grasp.

‘Here we go, Ali. This is it.’

The lights dimmed and an array of neon lights inundated the crowds, prompting the cheers to die down a bit as the announcer came online.

“Ladies and gentleman and viewers tuning in from across the nation, the Southside Concert Hall is proud to bring you the sights, sounds, and experience of one of the fastest growing acts in the country! From the small stages of her home town in Philadelphia, she comes to you tonight live with her awe-inspiring performance that have drawn attention far and wide! Please give it up for the one…the only…Dazzler!”

The crowd erupted in a roar of cheers as the lights flashed and the curtain rose, revealing Alison and her band to the world. For a moment she was blinded by the stage lights and overwhelmed by the sight of a packed concert hall, filled with cheer fans wielding Dazzler signs and apparel. In what felt like the blink of an eye her uncertainty and anxiousness faded and the joy of being on stage took over. With a confident smile, she walked up and grabbed the microphone.

“Thank you! Thank you, Atlanta!” she proclaimed, “Before we begin, let me ask you all one thing! Are you ready to be dazzled?”

A new wave of cheers gave her a clear answer. These people came to see a show and she was going to give it to them, protesters or not.

“I’ll take that as a yes!” she said as she turned to her band, “Hit it guys!”

Fueled by the cheers of the audience, the band began playing the opening verse of their first song. Alison was already revving it up, forming her trademark energy flashes that caused a huge uproar from the audience. It was just a prelude. She wanted to give everyone a show they would never forget. She started playing her guitar, throwing in a few extra power chords to really get the audience warmed up. It was all starting to come naturally to her as it had during countless other performances. It seemed as though the hardest part was behind her. With this new spirit, she prepared to start singing.

That’s when it happened.

A sudden burst shot out from one of the surrounding lights that on Alison. It momentarily blinded her, but she kept on playing. Then more lights exploded and more sparks followed. Soon her guitar and every instrument in her band started sounding different. They were all suddenly consumed by a strange purplish aura. It was then Alison realized that something was wrong. The audience didn’t seem to realize it, but then it got worse. The same purplish aura surrounded the array of loudspeakers and suddenly, a deafening high pitched tone erupted at full volume.

It was then the cheering stopped and everyone realized something was wrong. Before even Alison could react, a new presence emerged from rafters above the stage and a new voice echoed from the speakers.

“Hello Atlanta!” proclaimed Pietro as he, Wanda, Pyro, and Lance descended onto stage in full uniform, “Sorry to crash the show, but the Brotherhood of Mutants has a message to deliver! And this seems as good a place as any!”

When Alison saw this she was horrified. She heard of the Brotherhood, but never saw them up close like this. And when she saw Lance with them she was even more enraged.

“Lance?!” she exclaimed, “What are you doing?!”

“What does it look like, Alison? I’m doing what I have to do,” he proclaimed.

His face then contorted with determination as he focused his power and created a powerful seismic wave that shook the whole building. It caused most of Alison’s band mates to flee the stage. Others in the audience started to panic and turn towards the doors.

“Oh man this can’t be part of the show!”

“Forget this! I’m not sticking around for a mutant stunt!”

But before anybody could leave, Wanda Maximoff used her hex bolts to close the doors and seal them. It was a sign of dominance that struck a feeling of helplessness into the crowd. When Alison saw this she felt a great anger consume her. This was supposed to be the biggest night of her life and now it was being ruined. Using the noises of chaos from her audience she started forming a series of energy blasts.

“Lance you dirtbag! You and your thug friends are ruining my concert!” she exclaimed.

“Sorry Alison, but I warned you,” said Lance as the then turned to Wanda and nodded.

Wanda nodded back and used her hex powers to paralyze Alison and stop her powers. She dropped her guitar and collapsed to the floor with a pained groan. This caused even more chaos among the crowd as people kept trying to break the doors down. Even the camera personnel were trying to flee. But Pyro stepped in and stopped them, using his flame throwers to put up a wall of fire to keep them at their posts.

“Not so fast, mates! You’re going to keep broadcasting, you hear?” he commanded, “Otherwise we’re really going to have to heat things up!”

The camera crew nervously nodded and returned to their posts, directing the cameras back up on stage.

“They don’t pay us enough for this,” groaned one of the workers.

“Shut up!” shot Pietro as he grabbed the microphone from the paralyzed Alison, “The Brotherhood has a message and the whole world is going to listen!”

Wanda stepped up the intensity of her powers, forcing the spotlights to center on the stage again. Pyro formed huge balls of fire and sent them flying around the hall, forcing people to stop trying to get away. It left the audience trapped, reminding them that it was the Brotherhood who was now in control.

“You’re on, Pietro!” said Lance, “Make it short and sweet so we can blow this place!”

“Don’t worry, this won’t take long,” grinned the speedster.

With the microphone in hand he stepped up onto the stage and tapped the microphone, ordering everyone’s attention. And even though many were still fighting to get out, they had no choice but to listen.

“Attention all humans! Listen and listen good! This is a message from the Brotherhood of Mutants! For too long our kind has been abused and oppressed by your corrupt society for no other reason than being different! Even in this country that claims to be free, you look down on mutants while only propping up those who entertain you like Dazzler! This isn’t a concert! It’s a freak show!”

His powerful words echoed throughout the concert hall, striking fear and uncertainty to all those who listened. And the cameras picked up on every word, broadcasting it across the country and possibly to the world. Despite boos and heckles from the audience, Pietro kept going.

“We’re here to set her and every other mutant in the world free! There’s a revolution coming! Human dominance is coming to an end! If any mutants out there are watching this, I urge you to join us! The stage is set for a new order to arise! And if you wish to be a part of it then…”

Suddenly, he was cut off. Before he could finish a bright beam of red energy shot out onto the stage and knocked the microphone right out of Pietro’s hand.

“Augh! What the…”

“Do us all a favor, Pietro. Shut up,” said the annoyed voice of Bobby Drake.

Pietro, Wanda, Lance, and John looked up towards the rafters in the ceiling. There they saw the X-men descending towards them an ice slide formed by Iceman. Cyclops, Wolverine, Rogue, Beast, and Angel were all poised to attack, having gotten into position from an entrance on the roof. The Brotherhood didn’t look surprised by their sudden entrance, but they still looked very annoyed.

“X-men, I should have known!” groaned Lance.

“Yes…you should have,” said Wanda, “I’ll take them out!”

“Not this time, Wanda!” said Cyclops as he leapt off Iceman’s slide and onto the stage.

Before Wanda could hit him with a hex bolt, Cyclops fired another concentrated optic blast that hit Wanda head on and knocked her back into a speaker. This freed Alison from her paralyzed state and freed up some of the locked doors that were being kept shut, giving the audience some much needed relief. But not everybody left.

“Are you sure this isn’t part of the show?”

“I don’t know, but I’m sticking around to see how this turns out! When else are you going to see a mutant brawl?”

While the Brotherhood took defensive positions, Angel flew in fast and scooped up Alison so she wouldn’t get caught in the cross-fire. Wolverine, Rogue, Beast, and Iceman joined Cyclops on stage where they looked to make their stand against the Brotherhood.

“Hey, I’m a big fan,” smiled Angel as he flew away from the chaos.

“Ungh…who are you?” she groaned.

“Don’t worry. We’re the good guys. We’ll take care of the Brotherhood. You just worry about your encore.”

She was dizzy from Wanda’s hex bolts, but she was okay. And she felt a lot better knowing someone was going to oppose these thugs. She heard of the X-men as well, but never saw them up close. Already she was starting to like them.

Back on stage Lance wasn’t about to let the X-men stop them now. The cameras were still rolling and they could make an even bigger statement by taking down the X-men in front of everybody. It would also go a long way with Magneto.

“You X-men are going down!” proclaimed Lance as he stood next to Pietro and Pyro, “And this time the whole world will see it!”

“All they’ll be seein’ is you getting your ass kicked from here back to sorry dump you came from!” growled Wolverine as he drew his claws.

“We got you outnumbered and outgunned,” reminded Cyclops, “Why don’t you save yourself the trouble?”

It wasn’t a threat the Brotherhood took seriously. It didn’t matter if they were outnumbered. They weren’t about to retreat now.

“Pryo! Roast them!” ordered Lance.

“My pleasure, mate!” grinned John.

Pyro turned his flame up and formed a massive ball of fire above the stage. It was so hot the X-men had to back off a bit, but they were quick to counter it.

“I got this one!” said Iceman.

The young mutant boldly ran up to the ball of fire, braving the heat, and struck back with a powerful ice burst. This helped quell the flames, but Pyro kept trying to heat it up to overcome Iceman’s bursts. While they were locked in a struggle, Avalanche began another wave of tremors that caused the area to shake more violently. This time it was so intense some of the large speakers started to wobble. A few were on the verge of toppling over and crushing audience members too crammed to get out of the way.

“Beast! The speakers!” ordered Cyclops.

“I’m on it, Cyclops!” affirmed Beast as he leapt across the stage and held the speakers back with his animal strength.

“He keeps that up this place ain’t gonna hold!” said Rogue as she and the others struggled to keep their balance.

“With all these people still inside? Not gonna happen!” said Cyclops strongly.

He took aim at Avalanche and prepared to take him out as he had Wanda. But before he could fire a shot, Quicksilver ran in at super-sonic speeds and dropped him with a hard kick to the chest. Rogue was able to catch him, but the speedy mutant wasn’t going to give him another shot. He ran around for another blow, but this time Wolverine got in his way. With his claws drawn and his predatory focus on him, he wasn’t going to be as easy to fool. Quicksilver wisely backed off, but only to prepare himself for another attack.

“Think you’re fast enough, Wolverine?” taunted Pietro.

“You’re as fast as you are dumb, Quicksilver!” retorted Wolverine, “Come on, give me your best shot, bub!”

Spurred by his taunting, Quicksilver launched his attack. But in his reckless actions he did exactly what Wolverine wanted him to do. The feral mutant braced himself for impact, not indicating in the slightest that he was going to get out of the way. Then just as Quicksilver was about to strike, Wolverine made his move. He plunged his claws down into the stage floor below, anchoring himself in place, and ducked. Before the speedster could get out of the way, he ran right into him and tripped over him. And because he was anchored into the ground, he was sent flying through the air at high speeds until he impacted the drum kit of the band.

He was left in a world of pain. Not far from him Wanda was still recovering. When she saw what happened to Pietro she rolled her eyes.

“Damn it, Pietro!” she groaned.

“Hang in there, Witch. It’s almost over,” said Rogue, who ran after the downed speedster.

Pietro groaned as he tried to pull himself up. But before he could, Rogue grabbed his face with her bear hand and drained him. Once he was out cold, Rogue had his energy and his super speed. And she quickly put it to good use, running over towards Wanda before she could get up and taking her out with a solid punch to the face. She could have easily drained her too, but having one Maximoff twin in her head was enough.

With the Maximoff twins out of the fight, Avalanche and Pyro kept trying to hold their ground. But even they knew the battle was turning against them. Even the crowd seemed to pick up on it because they were cheering as the X-men gained the upper hand. It was discouraging and Avalanche wasn’t going to take it.

“I’ll bring this whole building down if you don’t back the hell off!” he threatened as he triggered more tremors.

“Cyke, will you shut him up already?” growled Wolverine.

Without Pietro to attack him this time, Cyclops fired an optic blast that hit Avalanche hard in the chest and knocked him back. Despite the blow he tried to get up and fight on, but Wolverine stepped in to finish him off. He stood over him and placed his foot over his neck, his claws drawn as he leered over the defeated teen.

“Do yourself a favor. Give up now while you’re in one piece. Because if those cameras weren’t rolling I might have to cut of more than that stupid mullet of yours,” he growled.

Lance Alvers wisely followed his advice and groaned as he passed out. That left only Pyro, who was still trying to keep his fires burning against Iceman’s blasts. They had been deadlocked since the fight began and Pyro showed no signs of letting up. He didn’t even care that his comrades had been taken out. He just kept firing away, ready to burn this whole building to the ground if he had to.

“Ha ha ha! That the best you can do, Ice-baby? I’m not even breaking a sweat!” taunted the Australian pyromaniac.

“Anytime you guys feel like helping would be greatly appreciated!” grunted Iceman.

He didn’t have to wait long for assistance. While Pyro was focused on Iceman, Angel flew in from behind and delivered a finishing blow by drop kicking him to the ground.

“And here I was thinking you liked a challenge, Iceman,” teased the winged mutant.

“Listen to that guy drone on for more than two minutes and then talk to me about challenges,” groaned Iceman as he struggled to catch his breath.

Pyro groaned as he tried to pick himself up from Angel’s punishing blow. But before he could Rogue ran up to him and Quicksilver speed and drained him, effectively ending the Brotherhood’s little tirade. They already caused quite a bit of damage. And much of it was televised as well. But at least it was over now.

“That’s the last of them, mates,” said Rogue in an Australian accent, “Ah damn! Now Ah’m talkin’ like this nut!”

“It could be worse. Now we just have to worry about the aftermath,” said Cyclops as he, Wolverine, Beast, Angel, and Iceman gathered in the center of the stage.

“Don’t we always?” sighed Beast.

The X-men looked out over the crowd, which was still in disarray as a result of the whole affair. A good deal had left, but a surprising majority stayed and watched the battle that ensued. It was kind of awkward being in front of so many people like this. Usually people just fled. But instead of the usual fear and disgust, there were a few looks of admiration. Then to their surprise, they heard a round of cheers.

“Way to go, X-men!”

“This beats the hell out of a concert!”

“Yeah! X-men! X-men! X-men!”

The cheers soon spread and before they knew it, most of the concert hall was cheering X-men. It was an unexpected yet welcome feeling. The team of mutants stood awkwardly on stage, not knowing what to do. They also noticed the cameras were still rolling. For once they made an impression worth garnering attention.

“Okay, I stand correct,” said Beast with a smile.

“Ah’ll take it over angry mobs any day!” said Rogue.

The X-men just stood awkwardly and waved, not knowing what else to do. So long as they were in the spotlight, they might as well use it in a positive way.

While they were soaking in a rare round of praises, Alison Blaire emerged. Angel had flown her to the corner of the stage away from the fight. But the danger had passed and she owed it all to the X-men. This day had already taken many turns and it left her at a loss. But she was still gracious and tried to keep her head up as she walked back on stage.

“Miss Blaire? Are you okay?” asked Cyclops upon seeing her.

“I’m fine,” she said distantly, “Thank you, X-men. I owe you big time.”

“Well it’s not every day we get to kick the Brotherhood’s butt and get some good face time, so let’s call it even,” said Iceman.

Alison smiled as she looked at her saviors and then back at her audience. She was glad it was over without any serious damage being done, but her big night was still ruined.

“It’s just too bad they had to do so much damage,” she said, staring bitterly at the unconscious Lance, “I thought this concert was going to be my big break. I finally had a chance to show the world I’m more than just a mutant and these punks just had to come along and mess everything up.”

“Yeah, they have a talent for that,” said Angel with a comforting gesture.

“Now my concert is ruined! I’ll have to wait even longer to get my chance.”

Angel and Iceman tried to console her. They may have stopped the Brotherhood, but not before they made a serious impact on this girl’s dreams. This night clearly meant a lot to her. It wasn’t just about overcoming her mutant powers. It was about her fulfilling her lifelong dream. In a ways it wasn’t that different than the aspirations of the X-men. She had their empathy.

But some weren’t totally convinced that this night was lost. Scott looked out at the crowd and then back at Alison. The cameras were still rolling and everything was still in place, even if it was in disarray. It wasn’t an irreparable situation.

“We’re sorry about the Brotherhood, Alison,” said the X-leader, “But the audience is still here. You still have a chance to give them what they came here to see.”

“How? The Brotherhood wrecked all our equipment!” exclaimed Alison.

Cyclops turned towards Hank, who seemed to pick up on what he was getting at.

“Hey Beast, remember that time we hooked up that stereo system to the X-van?” he said.

“Oh I remember quite fondly, Cyclops,” said Beast as he cracked his knuckles, “Give me thirty minutes and a toolbox and we should be good to go.”

“What do you mean?” said Alison with a confused look.

Cyclops and Beast just smiled. Rogue, Angel, and Iceman picked up on it as well. Wolverine did as well, but being Wolverine he wasn’t the smiling type. Even though the mission was over, that didn’t mean the X-men had to stop doing their part. Alison Blaire deserved a shot at her dream as much as anyone else.

“To coin an old phrase, my dear Alison…the show must go on.”


Later

An hour after Scott, Hank, and the rest of the X-men went to work the show was back on track. Alison and the X-men first helped the authorities haul the Brotherhood off. With them behind bars, hopefully Magneto’s plans would be put on hold. Once they were gone they went to work on the equipment. With Jean’s telekinesis, Hank and Scott’s expertise, and careful coordination with the others they got everything back up and running. They reset the speakers, fixed the lighting, and cleaned up some of the mess the Brotherhood left behind. Once everything was ready Alison and her band took the stage again and began the show. This time, there would be no interruptions. The X-men made sure of it.

Much of the crowd returned to see the show. Many of the protesters had left and Alison’s agent managed to negotiate a deal to let the show go on later. He even managed to keep the broadcast deal. With word of the Brotherhood attack spreading so quickly, the ratings spiked and the networks jumped at the chance to cover it more. It gave Alison’s show even more publicity than before and she wisely took advantage of it.

When everything was ready again, she took the stage with a newfound confidence and determination. Having survived an ordeal with the Brotherhood, getting up on stage in front of so many people didn’t seem as daunting. She coaxed her band into doing a full show and sang her heart out. She pushed her powers to new limits, putting on a dazzling light show with her powers the likes of which she had never done before. It was tiring, but very rewarding when she heard the cheers of her fans. She also made sure she gave the X-men their due credit. They stuck around for the show via backstage passes.

“Thank you, Atlanta! Thank you for sticking with me and making this night truly special for all the right reasons!” she called out to her audience, “But save your cheers for the real stars of the show! None of this would have been possible without the X-men! This next song is dedicated to them! Thanks you guys! You’re true heroes!”

More cheers erupted as Alison turned around and waved to her new friends backstage. Scott, Jean, Bobby, Warren, Hank, Ororo, Logan, and Rogue all waved back and smiled. It wasn’t every day they enjoyed such praise for their deeds. Even in a world that hated and feared them, they could still leave a positive impact.

“Coming from a hot, up-and-coming pop star, that feels so good,” grinned Bobby.

“Compared to the thanks we usually get, I’ll take it,” said Warren.

The team continued to sit back and enjoy the show. Bobby and Warren soaked up the cheers. Logan, who wasn’t much for music, just stuck close to Jean and smiled as she danced to the music. Hank and Ororo stayed close as well, treating this event as an impromptu date. But they weren’t the only ones to take advantage of this situation.

Scott watched the show from afar, just standing aside and watching his friends enjoy themselves. Rogue was with him, now wearing her inhibitor collar and staying close to him. She could tell he felt a little left out seeing Logan hang around Jean. She had seen that look on his face one time too many. So long as they were making the most of this mission, she might as well take a chance herself.

“Having fun, sugah?” she said as she clung to Scott’s arm.

“Considering the circumstances, I’d say this turned out well,” said Scott, “We go from a fight against the Brotherhood to sitting backstage at a concert.”

“Sounds like a fair trade,” she said with a smile.

Scott smiled back and watched as she leaned in closer, no longer afraid of hurting him through touch.

“Not a bad way to spend a first date, huh?” she commented.

Scott turned towards her with a look of shock.

“What? When did this become a first date?”

“Ah didn’t say it was. But…if ya want, we could make it one,” said Rogue wryly.

Scott blushed, unable to stop himself from grinning. He felt pretty foolish. He was supposed to be the controlled leader and Rogue had him in a precarious position. But he didn’t mind. It had to come up sooner or later and Rogue never was one for patience.

“Scott, you know as well as Ah do that there’s been somethin’ goin’ on between us,” said Rogue in a more serious tone, “And so long as Ah have control, Ah wanna explore it. Remember how Ah once trusted you when mah powers were out of control. Now Ah’m askin’ you to trust me. So come on. Why not give us a try?”

“I…I want to,” said Scott nervously, “I like you, Rogue. I really do. But are you sure you take this step?”

Rogue answered his concerns not with words, but with actions. With that sassy smile that was so distinctive, she pulled him into a deep kiss. At first Scott was caught by surprise, but he quickly found himself kissing back. For too long, he had been lamenting over Jean and Logan. Now he had a chance to move past it and get close to someone that really intrigued him. He wasn’t sure where this would lead. But he was willing to find out.

“Does that answer your question, sugah?” grinned Rogue as they parted.

“I’d say so,” said Scott, smiling back, “Now let me give you mine.”

Now it was Rogue’s turn to be surprised as Scott pulled her into a kiss of his own. But she didn’t fight it either. She just smiled and kissed back. Their actions didn’t go unnoticed, earning a few cheers coming from the others. It also earned them a look from Jean Grey, but she didn’t say anything. She just hid her solemn reaction and let it happen. This was a moment for Rogue and Scott. They deserved to enjoy it. But it still made her feel strange inside. She wasn’t sure why, but it was sure to cause a new range of issues between them.

It had been a trying ordeal with Dazzler and the Brotherhood. It was bound to lead to even more conflict. The Brotherhood didn’t just cause a scene like this for no reason. They always had a purpose. Their intentions were still a mystery and Xavier and his X-men were definitely going to have to be more vigilant. But for now, they were content to enjoy themselves and relish their triumph.


Next Issue: Underworld Part 1

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